Patience Beyond Compare
A sermon preached on Matthew 21:33-43 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on October 18, 2020.
Patience. Patience beyond all comparison. The entire Old Testament is a history of God’s patience. Even though Adam and Eve destroyed the beautiful perfection he had just created, God responded with patience beyond compare and promised a Savior. The next generation, Cain killed his own brother…and God again responded with patience as he called out to him asking where his brother was. Yet, God’s patience does end. God put a curse on Cain that all people would know of forever. Many years later, God’s patience did come to an end and he decided it was time to start all over and end the world. Yet, God’s patience kept him true to his promise of a Savior and he kept Noah and his family alive on the ark. Yet, he patiently reached out to the people as it took years and years for Noah to build the ark.
Yet, even as God had claimed the Israelites as his people, time and time they had turned away from him and time and time again he was patient with them. He sent prophet after prophet to turn his people away from their sin and toward him. But eventually, even God’s patience would run out…and he showed his answer to this problem in a parable today.
It was Tuesday of Holy Week. In two days, Jesus would be arrested, face a mockery of a trial, and cruelfully be executed. Yet, here is Jesus patiently preaching in the temple reaching out as much as he can. The religious leaders come and question Jesus saying “By what authority are you doing these things?” In patience, Jesus saw their unbelief and as Pastor mentioned last week, he still reached out to them. But he also warned his patience would end with this story.
There’s a landowner, that’s God. He plants a vineyard, he nurtures it, and he finds someone to care for it. God, of course, is the owner of everything. We will confess that in a few minutes when we say “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” God patiently cares for his vineyard and you.
The vineyard? When Jesus spoke of a vineyard to first century Jews, they would have immediately thought of Isaiah 5 where God calls the people of Israel his vineyard. If you see a bald eagle nowadays, you think of America. If you see a Maple Leaf – Canada. When these Jews saw a grape vine – they thought of Israel. It was their symbol, there were even grape vines carved into their temple. God wanted them to remember that they drew life from him like a vine and they were to produce fruit in return.
The tenants? They’re kind of like the old style share croppers who don’t actually own the land but they tend to it and then share a portion of their harvest with the owner at harvest time. But they’re greedy and return nothing. At the end of the parable even the religious leaders questioning Jesus understood who he meant these people were – it was them, the religious leaders of the day. They were supposed to lead the people in God’s Word and reap the harvest for God. Rather, they realized they could make a lot of money by telling people what they wanted to hear. They led the people away from the truth by making them think they could earn heaven themselves. They pointed away from God and to their own works. It happens today still. I don’t like what the Bible tells me about living with my girlfriend, my lifestyle, or how I spend my money; so I find someone who tells me what I want to hear. And false prophets today make a lot of money by ignoring what the Bible says about lifestyles or by telling you that being a Christian will make you rich.
So the owner sent servants to the tenants. God sent servants to the religious leaders of the Jews. He sent prophets. The prophets spoke the truth to God’s people. They told the people to turn away from their sins, but the Israelites rejected them and treated them much the way the servants in the parable were treated. Jeremiah had a miserable career. Isaiah supposedly was sawn in two. It still happens today. 800,000 Christians were killed for their faith around the world in the past decade. I was once recommended a book written by a former lesbian who came to faith and followed God’s will for her lifestyle. What happened? She was shunned by all her friends.
And here’s where the parable takes a turn that defies logic. The owner sent a servant and he was beat up. So what does the owner do? He sends another servant, and then another and another all of them being mistreated, beaten up, or killed. And so did God. Prophet after prophet was mistreated – no wonder Jeremiah once wished he hadn’t been born.
But, you know it’d be all too easy for us to just talk about the Israelites and not think about ourselves. And it would be all too easy for us to become like those wicked tenants. There are times I am greedy like those tenants. I tell God it’s my money, my time, my body, my whatever and I’ll do as I see fit. There are times I have brushed aside God’s Word because it’s not what I want. There are times that I act like I know better than God. So what does God do with those tenants? What does God do with me and you? That’s the point Jesus is making in this parable. He keeps sending his servants, his prophets, over and over again with patience beyond compare. But when that didn’t work, what did God do? I’ll send my son, perhaps they’ll respect him.
What? There is no way I would send my son into a situation where I knew he would probably be hurt. Yet, what does this owner do? He sends his son after many servants had even been killed. And of course what happens? The tenants take the son outside and kill him. And Jesus asks the religious leaders what the owner will do. “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” And that is exactly what God ought to do with this wretched tenant. I deserve a wretched end in hell.
So what does God do with this tenant, and these tenant? Just as surprisingly as the parable, he sent his very own Son. You see, the Son and the landowner were in it together. The Son willingly went. That’s why Jesus came. He lived a perfect life in our place. He fulfilled God’s will. Yet, like the son in the parable, he was taken outside the city to a hill, and he was put to death on that hill. His death on the cross has paid for your sins. You are forgiven. Jesus died for the sins of the world – and that includes you and that includes me. The Bible says of Jesus, “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity (or sins) of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). It hurts to say, but God did see me as one of those wicked tenants. But he responded by sending his Son to die for me. Now he sees you and me as his forgiven children – his family.
And Jesus leaves us with this last warning and encouragement. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes…He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” Here Jesus calls himself the capstone, other places he uses the term corner stone. It had the same point. Depending on what you were building, you made sure your cornerstone or your capstone was the one stone that was absolutely perfect. If that stone was good, the rest of the building would be good.
Jesus says when we’re foolish enough to think we don’t need him and we try to do things on our own, that’s when we fall on that capstone and we shatter. But if you build your life on Jesus that perfect capstone, that perfect cornerstone, that’s how you build a foundation for your life. Start with Jesus as the foundation for your marriage. Starting a business? Build on Jesus. Battling to overcome an addiction? Build on Jesus.
But when you feel the weight of your sin, when you speak to someone who knows they have sinned against God and feel the weight of the world on them – look to this parable for how God views the world, how God sees justice – with amazing patience. He sends his Son and by his death and resurrection, we’re forgiven. Feeling crushed by your sin? No matter how crooked a stone you are, that sin has been covered and paid for, crushed by Christ. Amen