Several months ago, a good friend sent me a message that was meant to be helpful. He offered me an unsolicited suggestion related to a hobby of mine that I wasn't really looking for outside input on. I politely thanked him, but also felt a little annoyed with his suggestion. A few hours later, after I had time to digest his message and research his suggestion, I realized he was right. I sent him a second message with a more genuine thank you than the first.
Why is it so difficult for us to receive outside help and recommendations? Could it be that once we make up our mind about something we find the task of remaining teachable too tiresome? Could it be that we sometimes idolize our own opinions and preferences? Could it be that we've developed a hardened heart?
What do we do when we receive instruction, opinion, or correction? Do we hear the messenger or do we "kill" the messenger? What does Scripture teach about this dilemma?
I. Don't worship something you're only borrowing
During the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus often spoke in parables. A parable is a brief story that's meant to illustrate a deeper, spiritual reality. Jesus spoke this way in order to help us understand deeper concepts by comparing them to circumstances we might already find familiar. He also spoke this way in order to conceal information from those who opposed Him, while sharing truth with those who trusted in Him.
The parable Jesus shared in this passage is sometimes referred to as "The Parable of the Wicked Tenants" or "The Parable of the Vineyard." And it begins by speaking of a man who had planted a vineyard. Once that vineyard was planted, it was rented out to tenant farmers who would care for it and give a share of the produce to the landowner in return.
People sometimes debate the interpretation of parables, but the context of this passage helps us understand what Jesus was getting at. The landowner is God, the vineyard is the nation of Israel, the tenant farmers were the religious leaders. In the coming verses, Jesus will also speak of the landowner's servants which is a reference to the prophets, the landowner's son which is a reference to Jesus, and other tenants which are the Gentiles.
The problem that's about to be illustrated is a problem of unbelief that bears itself out in covetousness and idolatry. The religious leaders who had been called to care for the spiritual well-being of the people had instead displayed a profound disbelief and a desire to own and control something that never belonged to them in the first place.
Even though it's early in this parable, there's a good lesson for us here. Everything we have is borrowed. Our time, treasures, and even the people that have been graciously placed in our lives are "borrowed". What we often call our own actually belongs to God. The things we have on earth are only ours to use, steward, enjoy, and appreciate for a very short season of time. We haven't been called to selfishly covet or worship something we're only borrowing. Rather, we're called to find contentment in a permanent relationship with Christ.
II. Listen early in the conversation
For almost two years, I have been involved in a project to record the entire Bible and share it freely in podcast format throughout the world. People listen to it every day in places I'll probably never set foot. I started recording the book of Genesis and I'm still working my way through all the books of the Old Testament. Even though I have read these Scriptures multiple times in my life, the process of reading, recording, editing, and previewing these Scriptures each day has been helping me to learn and notice new things that didn't catch my attention before.
One of the amazing themes we see in Scripture is just how much the Lord cares for His people. He could have left humanity to fend for ourselves after we rebelled against Him, but He has never been content to allow us to wander in darkness. Time after time, He makes the effort to reveal the truth about Himself to us.
One of the most notable ways that stands out when you're reading through the Old Testament is how many prophets the Lord sent to the people of Israel to help them understand truth, repent of their sin, and walk in the freedom that comes when you trust in the Lord. But what did Israel do to many of these prophets? Were they well received or were they rejected? Were them embraced or were they executed?
Isaiah was sawn in half.
Amos was tortured then executed.
Micah was killed.
Habakkuk was stoned.
Jeremiah was stoned.
Ezekiel was slain, etc.
In this passage, Jesus said that this was typically how the servants of the landowner were treated when they brought the landowner's message. Instead of receiving the message with gladness, they ignored what was being said. Instead of living with a soft, teachable heart, the tenant farmers were rejecting the very truth that could save their lives.
Ironically, when you read through the Old Testament prophets, you begin to see just how frequently they spoke of Jesus who was to come. They revealed that He was the one who would rescue and redeem lost humanity. They spoke of His birth, death, and eventual reign on this earth. They shared details about when and where He would be born. And you would assume the religious leaders would have been adept at understanding that those prophesies were being fulfilled right in front of them, but instead of embracing Jesus, they rejected Him.
There's a line in a song by U2 called "Every Breaking Wave" that I have found instructive and I think it also applies here. In that song, it says, "It's hard to listen while you preach." I think that's a useful word of caution that speaks to the struggle Jesus illustrated in this passage, as well as the struggle we're all wrestling with to some extent. It's easier to talk than it is to listen. It's easier to express what we already think than it is to be taught.
Because of their hard, unbelieving hearts, this group of leaders were rejecting the teaching of the prophets and they were rejecting the teaching of Christ Himself. How readily do we listen to His voice? Is Christ invited to speak into our lives?
III. Dream beyond an earthly inheritance
The prophets were sent to Israel, one at a time, but effectively, their teaching was rejected. Then, just as was promised, Jesus came. Now His teaching and presence was being rejected as well.
Why does this happen? From our perspective, it probably seems crazy that this group of people who had been given so much information and so much divine help would reject the very one that all of the prophets and all of the Scriptures were pointing to. But there's a common reason this happens. Most people on this earth struggle to dream beyond an earthly inheritance. We get stuck in a spot where our greatest dreams, sources of hope, and deepest joys are all centered around earthly things. We aren't thinking beyond the few brief decades we've been entrusted here.
If your faith is in Christ, you've been promised a permanent inheritance in His kingdom that isn't subject to the limitations of earthly treasurers. It doesn't spoil. It doesn't fade. It is reserved for you by the Lord.
The desires of your heart will be where you consider your greatest treasures to be located. Christ invites us to dream beyond a temporary, earthly inheritance.
IV. What happens to those who reject the Son?
As this parable comes to an end, Jesus foretells what will happen to those who, like the religious leaders of that era, reject Jesus Christ. In the short term, Jesus made it clear that the unique relationship the nation of Israel enjoyed with God was now going to be extended to the Gentiles. When Christ shed His blood on the cross, He did so to atone for our sin and inaugurate the New Covenant. Under His New Covenant, all who trust in Him, whether Jew or Gentile, are united into one body called the Church. We become family with one another and family with Christ Himself.
Those who reject Christ, however, have nothing good to look forward to. They reject His fellowship now. They reject His offer of forgiveness. They reject His gift of everlasting life. And, as they have chosen, they will experience what Scripture refers to as eternal death and conscious suffering for all time.
What are we doing with Jesus? Do we welcome His presence in our lives and accept the gifts He offers to those who trust in Him, or do we reject the message of His gospel and reject the pleading of those who selflessly point to Him?
© John Stange, 2017