Pastor Sherry’s message for October 4, 2020
Scriptures: Ex 20:1-21; Matt 21:1-14
The story goes that a Jewish medieval astrologer, named Moshe, prophesied that the king’s favorite horse would die soon. The king got really angry with Moshe, both because his horse did die shortly after Moshe had foretold, and because the king believed Moshe’s prophecy had brought about his horse’s death. So the angry king summoned Moshe to present himself immediately and demanded of the astrologer, “Prophet, tell me when you will die.” Being a shrewd man, Moshe figured out this meant that the king intended to kill him, so he thought fast and replied, “I don’t know when I will die, but I do know that whenever that happens, the king will die 3 days later.” Needless to say, the clever Moshe lived a long life.
In our Gospel today (Matt 21”33-46), Jesus is similarly prophesying the future fate of His enemies, the Jewish religious leaders, through a parable. Jesus tells them and us that the King (God) created a lovely vineyard (the nation of Israel). Referencing the Song of the Vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), which I read last week, Jesus’ listeners in the Temple would have known He was talking about the nation and God the Father. They would have remembered the passage and its description of the loving care with which God established His vineyard: He terraced the land;
- He removed the rocks and stacked them to form walls around the vineyard;
- He planted the vines, watered, fertilized and pruned them.
- Additionally, He built a watchtower within it from which to see thieves trying to steal His grapes, or anyone who would want to damage or destroy the vineyard.
But despite all God’s loving concern, the vineyard only yielded sour/wild grapes. So, fed up, God allows ruin to come the His vineyard. He removes His “umbrella of protection” over it. The wall is broken down; the vineyard is trampled; no rain falls to irrigate it; and thorns and thistles compete with and eventually replace the choice vines. In fact, Israel was destroyed by Assyrian invaders in 722 BC, and Judah by Babylonian invaders in 587 BC. They had by then enjoyed many more that second chances.
Now Jesus essentially retells that story with some new details:
Jesus says the King was absent. We know that God is omnipresent, always around/with us. But the Jewish religious leadership had encouraged a distant relationship with God in which obeying rules substituted for personal contact. Consider how the people at the end of our Exodus passage today want God to remain far from them. His thundering and lightnings scared them, so they asked Moses to speak to God so they did not have to deal with Him directly. They felt safer having an intercessor speaking to God for them. (By the way, don’t many of us also fear intimacy with God?)
Now, the King had entered into a sharecropping kind of arrangement with the tenants (Jewish religious leadership). They were to manage the vineyard, but also pay Him a certain percentage every year; i.e., they were to worship only Him, in a heartfelt way, and give Him the tithe off the top.
Because God provided sun, rain, protection, and blessing, they should have been willing to give Him what He asked. However, they beat one prophet, killed a 2nd, and stoned a 3rd. It’s bad enough that they were ungrateful; but they also abused the very ones God sent to set them straight, to hold them accountable. Nevertheless, our longsuffering God then provided them a second chance and sent another delegation of perhaps more noteworthy prophets. But the result was the same. These leaders abused them as well. Finally, in a surprising move, God then sends His Son. Perhaps they thought the King was dead? With a weird sort of logic, they decide they can kill the Son and inherit the vineyard. If there is no heir, they reasoned they could claim the land because they had worked it (assuming possession is 9/10ths of the law). So they indeed kill the Son–Jesus is now, within the parable, predicting His death at their hands.
Then Jesus asks the crowd (including the leaders), …when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will He do to those tenants?
They knew. They knew and replied that, (v.41) He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and He will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give Him His share of the crop at harvest time.
These new tenants will be Gentile believers and Jewish ones too. These will be the yet to be birthed Christian Church.
Now Jesus lowers the boom: He reminds them of the capstone, the cornerstone from Psalm 118:21-22. There is a foundational rock that will carry the weight ofthis Church. That Rock is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And He prophesies, Therefore, I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but He on whom it falls will be crushed. The Jews who reject Christ as Messiah will lose out. Christ will invest instead in those who follow Him, Messianic Jews and non-Jewish “Christ-followers.” Accepting Jesus is the watershed choice, the crucial decision-point.The religious leadership rejected Jesus and one generation later, divine judgment was meted out upon them: Titus of Rome staged a 3 year siege of Jerusalem. Historians believe there were by then as many as 1 million personswithin the walls of the city. Titus cut off their food supply, hoping to starve them into surrender. Historians report some were reduced to cannibalism. When the Roman forces did eventually break through the city walls and gates, Titus’ forceskilled the sick, the very young, and the elderly, and enslaved and deported the remaining inhabitants. He also totally demolished the Temple,even to plowing up the Temple foundation and burning the marble stones. Everything Jesus foretold came to be.
I could be wrong, but I think the Christian Church needs to consider long and hard how similar we have become to those ancient Jewish leaders. Have we moved to a cultural faith, going through empty motions? Or are we maintaining a vibrant, living relationship with Jesus? I don’t believe God will spare us any more than He did Jerusalem, if our sins are similar to theirs. This is why I have called upon us to pray for revival in our country. This is why I have urged us to become aware of our sins and to confess them daily to God. This is why I have encouraged us to ask God to forgive us for walking so far from Him. We have broken our promises to God and badly need another, second chance.
There is a song, “The Heart of Worship” that bears on this issue:
When the music fades and all is stripped away,
And I simply come, longing just to bring something that’s of worth,
That will bless Your heart…
I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have
You search much deeper within…You’re looking into my heart…Thru the way
I’m coming back to the heart of worship,
Cuz it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.
We don’t have to be shrewd, like Moshe. We won’t be able to out-think God anyway. We just need to love our God and serve Him as He desires.
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams