Text: Luke 20:9-20
Date: Lent V + 3/17/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. For when He came He didn’t appear, in the words of Malachi, “suddenly…like a refiner’s fire” (Mal 3:1-2), like a military tyrant committing a coup d’état over Satan’s earthly lordship, or like a threatened city manager appointed by a governing God who is only interested in turning citizens into slaves. No, His coming was at first quiet and peaceful as an infant in the hills of Bethlehem. For He came not for a quick fix but to be on a journey, a journey that would prepare Him, then commission Him, then test Him and then send Him like a warrior into battle. But this battle was like none other that has ever been fought since the beginning of the world. For this was the battle to deliver all people, the whole creation from its slavery to sin and death. And it would take nothing less than confronting sin and death itself with such holiness and power so as to let it expend itself totally on Him that He might triumphantly take it away. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Blessed is the King who came on a journey of salvation, for us and for the whole world.
We are now in Lent, the tracing of the end of Our Lord’s journey to the betrayal of Maundy Thursday and the cross of Good Friday. The closer He comes to His goal the more threatening become the circumstances. Today’s Gospel ends with the ominous words, “The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him…. So they watched him and sent spies…that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up”—to death. Though the very next words we will hear and sing next Sunday are the happy and familiar words of praise, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” these words will die off quickly. And then the sinister forces, reminiscent of the angel of death at the first Passover, will gather in threatening darkness around Him.
On Good Friday we hear the Reproaches, words of the Lord against His people, against us, the Church, to which we reply with a plea for mercy. They begin with the call to attention in the words of the prophet Micah, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” and then the startling command, “Answer me!” God’s mighty deeds of deliverance in the past are laid before us as an indictment of not only our lack of thankfulness but also our neglect and even rebellion in the face of God’s mercy and grace to us.
One image of the Church in the Old Testament was that of a vineyard. “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard” begins Isaiah 5. But then it laments our sin and rebellion, in the words of the final Reproach, “What more could have been done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?” And then it asks, “My people, is this how you thank your God? O My people.”
Our Lord came on a journey, a journey to harvest the fruit of God’s vineyard. Those fruits are the fruits of faith and love; saving faith in the mighty acts of God for our salvation, and love—love for God in true and pure, thankful worship of Him alone, and love of neighbor in works of service.
The Old Testament is the record of how God, through the ages, sent servants, prophets, to check out God’s vineyard, to see the fruits of faith and love it was producing. Yet when they appeared on the scene—every one of them!—God’s people, who are but tenants and not owners of God’s vineyard, beat them, sent them away to death empty-handed, and treated them shamefully, time and time again—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and all the rest till Malachi and a man named John the Baptist—all of them rejected and sent away empty-handed, losers, no results!
Jesus had told stories, parables like that of Isaiah, of God’s people, the Church like
unto a vineyard that produced no fruit or only rotten fruit. But I would have you notice in today’s parable the vineyard IS producing fruit. The problem was not no fruit. The problem was the refusal of the tenants to give the owner, through his servants, “some of the fruit of the vineyard.” In a sense, though this parable is spoken in judgment against the official leadership of the Church, it seems that Jesus still allowed that there were, still, people yielding the fruits of faith and love among His people, but that they, the scribes and chief priests, were suppressing them.
But now His journey was coming to an end. Or, let us say, it’s conclusion! Would the outcome be any different from that of the servants sent before Him? O, it would be worse! For His enemies would not only treat Him shamefully but seek to dethrone Him, to steal and destroy God’s property, His people and world by killing God’s beloved Son, the rightful heir of the vineyard.
That’s as far as He told this parable to the people, the scribes and chief priests perceiving that He was speaking against them. He ended with the threat that, as a result of their killing Him, the Owner of the vineyard would come and destroy the previous tenants and give the vineyard to others. “When they heard this, they said, ‘Surely not!’” Now Jesus had gotten their attention.
On Easter Sunday, and every first day of the week throughout the year, we celebrate the victory of the Owner’s beloved Son. On that Friday called Good, the tenants threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. But they were only the means by which He faced the sin of the world and death through sin. He drew all sin, yours included, into His sacred flesh. That sin, yours included, did its work and killed Him. But death only appeared to win. For through the tomb of His three-day rest, His holiness destroyed the power of death. Having risen to life again in triumph, the words of the psalm were fulfilled, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:22-24). We will sing those words with the fruit of faith both next Sunday and on Easter. We will give God alone our worship and thanksgiving with the fruit of the love we have received from Him. Our faith and love will overflow in service to one another and the whole world, redeemed by Christ the crucified.
Let us continue to follow our Lord on His journey that we may recognize how He transforms our lives to be but a journey of daily repentance and faith and love until He brings us to “the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).