Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 7, 2019
I Will Send My Beloved Son
How have you been doing with your Lenten fast? Have you sustained your extra devotion or prayer that you vowed to do? Have you maintained your abstinence from whatever it is that you vowed to give up? Here on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we almost to the end of the season. Let me encourage you to continue taming and training your flesh to obey you rather than rule you. During Lent we can get wrapped up into the things we do or don’t do, focusing on our success or failures more than on the things of Jesus that this season is intended to highlight.
This week’s readings should check us when we begin to think to much about ourselves and too little about God’s grace and the gift of His Son’s life for ours. Even so, we would expect readings with a strong emphasis on our wickedness and need for repentance during Lent. Yet, this fifth week, we get something a little different in our Old Testament and Gospel readings. The Epistle might seem to fit a little better as it calls for the loss of everything in this life for the gain of the life that is to come in Christ Jesus. But the reading from Isaiah is sweet gospel promise as is the reading from Luke.
As we look to the parable told by Jesus, we should note it is during the last couple of days leading up to His crucifixion that He tells it. The confrontation with the religious leadership in Jerusalem is reaching its peak. Leading into this parable, Jesus was asked by the chief priests and scribes where He got His authority to do the things that He did. He did not directly tell them but in coming to this parable He makes clear that He speaks and does the things that He does as the Son sent by the Father. He does them out of an authority that uniquely and particularly belongs to Him as the Son, the beloved Son of the Father that is in heaven.
While many parables were not so easily understood, this parable of the wicked tenants is very transparent. The man that planted the vineyard is God. The vineyard is Israel and the tenants are the religious leaders that were given care over the people for preservation and multiplication. Each of the servants sent to the tenants to collect some of the fruit from the vineyard was a prophet sent by God. As the parable goes, the tenants mistreated the servants as Israel had mistreated the prophets.
When the owner sends his beloved son thinking that the tenants may respect him, we begin to cringe because we know what is coming. We know that the tenants are truly wicked and we can’t believe that the owner of the vineyard would be so naïve as to believe that they would respect the son. The action of the owner is unreasonable. It is unbelievable. It is outrageous. It is every bit as unnatural as the streams that Isaiah speaks of the deserts. It is a new thing that nobody would ever attempt to do other than God.
The audience before Jesus is incredulous at the conclusion of the parable: “Surely not!” they say. Never would God remove from their care the stewardship of the kingdom on earth. They are even so presumptuous as to think that God could not wrest the kingdom from their hands just like the tenants believed that were in control of the situation. In this parable, Jesus lays out a brief history of God’s interaction in time and the unfaithfulness of those He left in charge. Jesus predicts His own crucifixion and God’s judgment against those that refuse to accept the Son.
When confronted, Jesus doesn’t argue but directs again to the Scriptures that have long foretold what God would do. Jesus quotes from Psalm 118. This Psalm is one of great joy over the steadfast love of the Lord and all the great victory He wins for the righteous. It speaks of what the Lord is doing that is marvelous in the eyes of the beholder. But as Jesus goes on to say, that the cornerstone upon which this new thing is built is a stone of stumbling for many. That which is reason for rejoicing is also the cause of lament. The very stone that is the head of the corner, from which every other stone is aligned and lain, is also that which is rejected by those stewards and craftsmen that have been rejected by God.
We see in this parable that the same word works as law to condemn the self-righteous while it works as gospel to free the one who believes that the beloved Son sent was sent for her. As Jesus looked directly at those in the crowd with hardened hearts, His words condemned them in their thoughts and their schemes, while in speaking this parable and looking at you, He expresses that steadfast love of God that He would not hold back His Son but send Him forth to be slain for you.
The parable was spoken to a particular people at a particular time in history but we should understand that the same expectations remain for the “others” to whom the vineyard was given. Certainly there are still those that coop the vineyard for their own desires and their own earthly gains. The judgment that the owner levied against the first tenants will be levied against every tenant that refuses to cultivate good fruit. The expectation for good fruit that is given to the owner still remains. Therefore it is incumbent upon us that only the pure Word of God be preached and taught in our churches; that the fulness of the Scriptures be believed and expounded upon; that the sacraments be administered rightfully as they were instituted; and that the lives of the saints, the branches on the vine, produce good fruit, yielding it up to the owner.
Good fruit is the loving of God above all things and loving the neighbor as we love ourselves. It is the doing of the Ten Commandments, confessing and believing only that which is part of the true Faith, praying only to the Triune God and trusting that only He can provide for your every material and spiritual need. The verse following our reading relate the discussion about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus says to give him what is his, that which has his image on it but to give to God what belongs to God. That would be the things upon which His image is inscribed. That would be you and every aspect of your lives.
Paul puts it very succinctly for us in today’s Epistle reading, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.” We are to die to self, as we have attempted in our Lenten fast and we are to cling to the gift given to us through faith in Jesus, that is, a right standing before God, the owner of the vineyard.
Our place in the vineyard is by grace. It is solely by God’s selecting of us for a place there. It is not a place that we can earn or purchase, yet once placed there, we are not to remain idle but expected to produce the good fruit that is the result of faith.