April 2, 2017
Many say they don’t believe in Christianity, they don’t believe the Bible, because it is so unbelievable. It’s just a bunch of fables/fairy tales. Seas splitting, donkeys talking, whales swallowing people, driving out demons, raising the dead, calming storms, walking on water, come on. More fundamental, think about it, that a God would create everything there is, to include people, all the while knowing those created in His image would rebel against Him. Why would He do that? Then, in response to that rebellion, God would ultimately send His own Son to quell the rebellion – to win the hearts of rebellious subjects. I will admit, it is an unbelievable story. But, I also believe it to be true. You see, Jesus tells us the entire story this morning. In 12 verses, He tells the story of the Bible. And in doing so, He reveals the purpose of the admittedly fantastic, unbelievable story of the Gospel.
Are you on the fence today – not sure whether to believe 2000 years of church history, 3500 years of biblical history, not sure whether to believe this story about Jesus, not sure whether to believe me or your parents or the tugging of the Holy Spirit on your heart – or instead, to believe your friends, the rising number of atheists/unbelievers, and maybe even professors who call it all ridiculous, religious myth? Christians are becoming a minority, you know. Old-fashioned, outdated, fundamentalist, out-of-touch, irrational, racist bigots.
There are some unbelievable parts to the story. And I will also admit something else – while there is much evidence to support the truth of Christianity – it is, in the end, the Christian faith. It takes faith to believe. So listen to your heart today – my prayer has been that the Holy Spirit will make rebellious hearts subject, skeptical hearts open, even dead hearts alive, to believe.
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Mark 12 in our continuing study of the book. Again, we come to a text today – actually, a parable Jesus tells – where we find some unbelievable parts to an incredible story. I want you to get that. Parts of this story don’t make sense. Why would God do what He did? But as we look closer, I think we’ll see why – why the story contains unbelievable, yet undeniable truth. Mark 12:1-12 form our text today, but let’s begin by reading the story Jesus tells in verses 1-9a.
Stop right there. What would you do? Well, first you say, I never would have sent my son – that’s crazy. There are some unbelievable parts to this story – sure, it’s a parable about a vineyard – common enough, but what the owner does is the stuff of ridiculous myth, right? Until you stop to realize, this is exactly what happened. Before we get to that, let me give you the outline of the text:
- The Parable (1-9) – we’ll spend much time there.
- The Application of the Parable (10-11) – this is where we’ll see the why.
- The Response to the Parable (12) – it’s one response you can have – to dismiss it, get angry, but there are other responses.
I want you to remember, Jesus has just entered His passion week – His last week prior to being crucified on Good Friday. The last 5+ chapters, a full third of the book, cover that last week. It began with His triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. As the crowds were crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David, Hosanna in the highest!” the religious leaders were infuriated – why don’t you tell your followers to be quiet? They didn’t believe the story, you see. And without realizing it, they became part of the drama.
On Monday, Jesus cleansed the Temple, which made them even madder. On Tuesday, He began teaching in the Temple, which began the verbal battles. The religious leaders had just about had it. So, they confront Him – by what authority are you doing these things – things like accepting the praise of the crowds, things like making a mess of our temple, of healing and teaching in our temple. In other words, Jesus, who do you think you are?
And the battle lines were drawn, the gauntlet was thrown. For the rest of chapter 12, Jesus spars with these religious leaders – chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees. And while He wins every battle, they think they win the war with His crucifixion on Friday. They just didn’t realize it was intermission – the grand finale called the resurrection was coming on Sunday. And they didn’t realize when He died, He died for rebellious sinners like them. Like you, if you believe the unbelievable story.
As the battles begin, we find at this point, Jesus goes on the offensive. After somewhat side-stepping their question about His authority – although, as we saw last week, He did answer their question – Jesus launched into this parable, which frankly condemns them.
Now, remember, a parable was a teaching method Jesus used to communicate spiritual truth. A parable takes common, everyday events, and lays them alongside spiritual truths to illuminate those truths. We’ve seen Jesus talk about seed and sowers, and mustard seeds. In Matthew, he also talked about wheat and tares, merchants and pearls, yeast and bread, fish and nets, shepherds and sheep, and now, vineyards and owners and tenants. All common, everyday things His hearers would have understood.
But, we also remember Jesus said He spoke in parables so believers would understand, but unbelievers wouldn’t. Don’t miss that. The unbelievable parts of this story – of course, they are unbelievable to unbelievers. But we’re also going to find, the unbelievers there that day understood enough to know this parable was about them. Is it about you? Do you dismiss the Son, too?
Which brings us to this parable. Again, Jesus starts with some common events. We learn of a landowner who decided to plant a vineyard on his land. He built a wall around it, very common. The wall made of stones or briars would keep wild animals and marauders out. He dug a winepress, of course, because if you’re going to raise grapes, you did so, typically, to produce wine. The winepress was usually carved out of rock or dug in hard ground, lined with stones, and plastered. There was an upper basin in which the grapes were pressed, usually, by foot – yum yum. Then, the grape juice would make it’s way out through a trough to a lower basin, a vat where it would be gathered in wineskins to ferment, which probably didn’t take that long, given its beginning.
The owner also built a tower in the vineyard to guard his investment. Finally, the new vineyard was rented out to vine growers. They would tend the vineyard with the understanding they would receive a certain percentage of the produce for their wages. The owner could expect the majority of the harvest. All of this was very common. So far so good, no big deal.
As harvest time approached, the owner sent a slave to his vineyard to collect his percentage of the harvest – after all, it was his vineyard. But, in a matter-of-fact fashion, we’re told the vine-growers took the slave, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. The word for beat is literally to whip, to beat repeatedly, to remove the skin – they beat this guy till they flayed his skin – they took his hide off – this was an awful beating. It go increasingly worse – the second slave they wounded in the head – not sure exactly what that means, but it’s seems they beat him on the head, and treated him shamefully. We’re not told how, they just did it. The third one, they killed. Matthew says they stoned him. That doesn’t mean they drank the wine together – stoning was the common form of capital punishment. They picked up huge rocks and beat him to death.
You see, apparently the vine-growers thought if they got rid of the owner’s slaves, if they just ignored their responsibility and accountability to the owner, they would be able to keep the entire harvest for themselves. It actually goes beyond that. Jewish law said if they were able to prove they worked the land without having to pay rent for three years, then the deed to the land would pass to them – they would become the owners – kind of like squatters rights. That’s significant, because we see the landowner sent three slaves to the vine-growers. Probably not over a period of three years, but the point was there. The vine-growers were not only trying to steal the produce, they were laying claim of ownership to the vineyard.
Well, after the first slave was disposed of, the landowner sends another then another. It keeps happening Mark says, so with many others, beating some, killing others. Amazing. Okay, you think, it’s time for the owner to come in a clean house. It’s time for him to show up, claim his property, and do away with these miserable vine-growers. But that’s not what he does. This is where the parable takes on some strange, ridiculous, unbelievable, myth-like elements.
Notice verse 6 – “He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” What? That’s not right. Who in their right mind would do that? This is crazy – who would send their own son into a place of danger like that – to an awful, uncaring, murderous group of thugs? No one would. Would you? Would you send one of your kids to get the wine? No way. This is crazy – this is fiction – it would never happen that way. No one would put up with that kind of rebellion, and no one would send his or her own son to such a worthless lot of people, would they?
Are you beginning to understand the story? Beloved Son has already been used twice in Mark – at the baptism of Jesus, and at His transfiguration, when the Father’s voice was heard from heaven – this is My beloved Son. At this point, we, the readers, know the owner is God, the beloved Son is Jesus. That God would send His own Son to a group of murderous thugs, knowing they would seize Him, beat Him, whip Him repeatedly, flay His skin, abuse Him, and kill Him. Are you starting to get it? What would cause God to do that to His own Son? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all? For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. Are you starting to get it? This is an unbelievable story with undeniable truth. God loves us to the point of incredible, unbelievable, self-sacrifice.
Again, the elements of the parable are obvious. The owner is God. The vineyard could be the world, but here, it is specifically Israel. The religious leaders knew that – Jesus is basically quoting Isaiah 5 – we don’t have time to look at that, but there Isaiah speaks of God planting a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug around it, removed its stones, planted the choicest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it, and dug a winepress. He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. The vineyard in that story was Israel. Here, Jesus is taking the parable a step further – He says the problem with Israel is its worthless vine growers – the religious leadership. Chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees – you’re the problem. Why? Because they had erected their own system of righteousness and rejected God’s own Son.
The slaves in the parable, of course, are God’s prophets. God had sent servant after servant, prophet after prophet, to Israel, to call them back, to speak truth into their lives, and they had been mistreated. Jeremiah 25:4 says, “And the Lord has sent you all His servants the prophets again and again, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear,” More than refusing to listen, they abused and killed the prophets.
They had the prophet Jeremiah beaten and put in stocks. Later, the king’s men had him lowered into a cistern where he sunk to his neck in the mud, and left him to die. In Jeremiah 26, we read that they killed Uriah the prophet with the sword. And in II Chronicles 24, we find that they stoned the prophet Zechariah to death in the court of the Temple. In the very house of God, they killed one of God’s prophets. And it continued to the present day – let’s not forget their rejection of John.
That’s what Jesus was referring to. They had beaten some, they had killed some. But listen – God, who is rich in mercy, sent His own Son to the vine-growers – to these leaders of the nation of Israel, and more than that – God sent His own Son to a rebellious world who would kill Him. Now, this is where the parable breaks down a bit. God didn’t really expect them to accept His Son – which is all the more amazing – He knew they would seize His Son and kill Him. Jesus Himself told them that six months ago. It was the incredible, unbelievable reason for which He’d come.
And it’s not like these religious leaders reasoned among themselves, “look, it’s God’s Son, it’s the Messiah, let’s kill Him.” But, the point is, they had received enough evidence to know it was God’s Son – just like many of you. He had demonstrated who He was by His works and His words. They should have known. But they were so committed to maintaining their positions of authority, to living their own lives, the lives they liked, they were so bent on keeping their status in the nation and the Temple, that they refused to see and believe. There is a sense in which they were exercising squatters rights – this is ours, we refuse to recognize your identity and authority, we refuse to give it up, and we will kill you to protect what we think is ours. We like our rebellion.
I want you to understand, this is amazing. No one would do this – no one would send his own son to eminent death, for the sake of others, except in the face of great love. Ephesians 2, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” That’s the why of this unbelievable story – to magnify His goodness and grace.
Romans 5, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is a story of amazing, unbelievable, unfathomable love and mercy and grace. Who would send His own Son to die for such miserable, wretched people? Who, but God. And why did the Son, Jesus, have to die? What was the purpose? Peter tells us clearly – He bore our sins in His body on the cross. The perfect Son of God took our guilt and our punishment that we could be forgiven and made righteous. The debt is paid – forgiveness is available to a rebellious people – to all who believe.
As Jesus finished telling the parable, He asked His hearers to apply it. He asked them, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? Jesus answered the question for them, “He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others.” The truth of the parable is that judgment would come on these religious leaders – and to all who chose their rebellion against God, and the vineyard will be given to others – those who understand who owns the vineyard, to those who believe. Likely, here, since He’s talking the religious leaders, Jesus is saying, future spiritual leadership will be given to the apostles, to the church.
Jesus goes further in applying the parable in verses 10-11. Point two, but I’m only going to speed through these next two points on the way to our conclusion. Read those verses with me.
Jesus changes the metaphor a bit, from agriculture to architecture, but He’s still quoting Scripture to these guys who were supposed to know the Scripture. Once again, perhaps with sarcasm, Jesus says, did you never read the Scriptures – this passage specifically. It’s found in Psalm 118, in case you didn’t know. And what’s really interesting is this: it’s the same chapter the people were quoting from on Sunday during the triumphal entry when they were saying, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
That’s significant. While the people, for a time, recognized Jesus’ as the Son of David and ascribed to Him Messianic praise, the religious leaders would reject Him, and ultimately crucify Him. And yet, Jesus says, the Stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. He is vindicated, because this happens according to divine plan – and Jesus is raised from the dead, just like He said. The cornerstone in a building is the most important stone – it has to be perfect, it is laid first, and all others are laid in relation to that stone. The builders will select stones for the building – these will work, this one won’t. Jesus says, the stone the builders, the religious leaders, thought was of no value, actually became the chief stone. He says, while the religious leaders will reject the Son, kill Him, He is the most important stone, and will become the cornerstone. And notice, this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous [or astonishing] in our eyes.
In other words, this is crazy stuff – who would have thought this stuff up? This is astonishing – who, but God would bring this about? The sending of His own Son, the rejection of His own Son, as the way to make Him the chief cornerstone – as the way to bring about our redemption? Who would do that but God? This isn’t legend, this isn’t myth, this something only God could and would do. It’s marvelous – and magnifies His amazing grace.
If you haven’t heard anything else, hear this. Jesus brings the metaphors together. He says to these religious leaders, you’re right. By your own words, as wicked vine-growers, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to other people, to people who will produce the fruit of it. Who are they? Those who realize who the owner is, those who realize they have nothing, that everything belongs to Him, that they must come broken into the kingdom. Peter said it this way in I Peter 2:4-10.
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”[there it is – those who don’t reject Christ, but believe on Him – those are the ones who get the kingdom] 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve [who dismiss it as myth, who chose to live in rebellion], “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,”
8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
The Kingdom belongs to those who turn from their sin and rebellion, and falling in brokenness on the stone, and trusting His grace and His mercy. Otherwise, hear this, the stone will fall on you and scatter you like dust – literally, pulverize you.
Which brings us quickly to our last point and our conclusion – The Response of the Religious Leaders to the Parable. Read it with me (verse 12).
I want to say to you today, there is a sense in which Jesus is speaking about you, too. You see, you have a choice to make. You can have one of four responses to this message today.
First, you can say, this is crazy. This is the stuff of myth. No one would do this. And you can dismiss the claims of Jesus Christ like people have done through the centuries around the world. But the fact is, you have to close your eyes to the facts – to the unbelievable yet undeniable truth of His existence and His awesome, powerful life. You can cover your eyes, you can stop up your ears and refuse to believe it, shrug it off, and go away, unchanged.
The second response is, you can get angry, just like some of the religious leaders of that day did. What do I mean? You can get angry that someone is telling you, you’re wrong. You’re in sin, and the sinful choices you make are not done in a vacuum – they are committed against a holy God. You can get angry that someone would dare to call you to account – to tell you that there is coming a day when you will give an account for your life – when you will have to deal with the stone we call Jesus Christ. You will have to answer to God. And you can get angry that I’m telling you, the stone will pulverize you.
Or, the third response is one of faith. You can choose, given all the evidence, that Jesus was who He said He was – that He is the Son of God, sent that first Christmas by the owner of the universe, to willingly die for your sins. And you can choose to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone – the most important foundation stone of all of life. And you can come to Him broken, mourning over your sin, seeking His forgiveness and His salvation. Peter, in one of the first sermons he ever preached, said it like this:
10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…
11 “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone.
12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
This third response is to believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God, and that He died for miserable wretches like you and me.
And the fourth response, I trust, is for the majority of people in this room. Most of you are already Christians. You’ve already accepted Christ as the chief cornerstone, the capstone of your life. And I want you to be overwhelmed with the truth – that God the Father, the landowner, the owner of all creation, sent His Son to die for you. That is an amazing story.