DUNCAN/Parables against the Pharisees
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Matthew 21:33-46. The parable, the story, and the explanation around this passage break easily into 3 sections. If you look at verses 33-41 you will see the story telling about the rejection of Israel of its own Messiah. The Son, the Messiah, is finally rejected, and killed by those who are vine-growers in Israel. And then if you look at verses 42-44, you will see Jesus explain and apply the parable according to Scripture. In those verses, He pronounces His judgment, His word of judgment, against the chief priests and against the Pharisees. And then in verses 45-46 you will see the reaction of those same chief priests and Pharisees when they understand the import of what Jesus is saying. And I would like to look at three things with you. First, that God’s love and patience are unparalleled, and our sin is dire. Second, that God’s kingdom will be established, despite Israel’s rejection. Third, that it is sometimes hard to tell the wounds of a friend.
I. God’s Love and Patience are Unparalleled, and Our Sin Dire
The first thing I would like you to see is in verses 33-41. As Jesus tells this story, surely one of his great concerns is to show the spiritual leaders of Israel, and to show to unbelieving Israel as a whole how hard their hearts have been towards God. God has sent the prophets to them. God has sent John the Baptist to them. God has sent His own Son, and He has experienced in each of those sending’s a rejection by unbelieving Israel. And yet even as that picture is painted for us by our Lord, we see the love of God displayed in this parable. In fact, I would like to propose to you that here we see God’s love and patience are unparalleled in human experience, even as we see the dire consequences of a hardened heart of sin.
The details of the parable, as we have said, represent very significant things. The vineyard represents Israel. That’s an image drawn from Isaiah chapter 5, verses 1-2. The landowner is God. The vine-growers are Israel’s spiritual leaders of the day; and down through the ages, those who in unbelief have rejected the rightful rule of God. And it, of course, also represents the whole nation in its unbelieving rebellion against the Messiah. The servants are the prophets sent by God to speak His word, and to stake His claims in His vineyard. The landowner’s son is Jesus Christ Himself. And so, Jesus is telling a story about just what the chief priests in parables are doing to Him. They are abusing Him, and in but a few days, a few hours, they will take Him outside the walls, and they will kill Him. And Jesus is holding this up as a mirror and saying, “This is what you look like to God. You are in rebellion against the truth.”
This parable is for us. This parable is for any people who have experienced the religious privileges which have been heaped upon us in the church of God, where the word of God has been given to us, where faithful ministry has been given to us. And in face of those privileges, if we harden our hearts against God’s word, if we harden our hearts against his rebukes, then we are standing right where the chief priests and Pharisees stood. We must not misuse the privileges of God. We must not forget the kingdom belongs to the lord. We are just His servants. We are His humble servants to hear and to do. He desires us to produce fruit in accordance with our repentance; and that fruit to give back to his praise and glory. And now all of us are called thereby to self-examination when we come to this parable. This parable isn’t just about them. It’s about us.
II. God’s Kingdom Will be Established Despite Israel’s Rejection
I’d like you to see a second thing here in verses 42-44 where Jesus pronounces His judgment against the chief priests and Pharisees. We learn again that God’s kingdom will be established despite Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. Jesus turns and questions the people who are standing around them, and immediately turns to an explanation of the parable. He takes them to Psalm 118, and basically, He says this, “Have you people never read what it says in Psalm 118:22-23?” Those verses refer to the rejection of the chief cornerstone, or the capstone, by the builders. Their proximate reference is to David and to Israel, but Jesus has said, ultimately these words apply to Me, and do you not see that in the Psalms it was predicted that those who were in the place of the builders of God’s kingdom were going to reject the one who was the very cornerstone of the building. It was predicted so long ago, and it has come about in Christ. And so, before them they have one of two choices. They can either be a part of that kingdom and be blessed, or they can oppose it and be crushed by the stone of the kingdom.
III. Sometimes it is Hard to Tell the Wounds of a Friend
And that leads us to the last thing that I’d like to share with you today. If you look at verses 45 and 46, we see the reaction of the chief priests and the Pharisees. And let me say, as we look at this passage, this passage reminds us that sometimes it is hard to tell the wounds of a friend. As Jesus comes speaking this message of judgment against people who have usurped the authority of God, even Jesus’ message of warning contained a message of love.
The way we respond to God’s word of rebuke to us in the Holy Scriptures is a mark of the presence or absence of grace. If you find yourself responding to God’s warnings and rebukes by rebellion, “I don’t care about that. I don’t care what the word says.” Or if you find responding to those rebukes and warnings by apathy, “so what. That’s fine for others. It’s fine for the preacher to say that. It’s fine for the preacher to think that. He’s religious. He’s supposed to think about things like that.” Rebellion or apathy puts you right where the Pharisees were. And that’s why this parable isn’t for them. It’s for us. We don’t stand back in cold, detached judgment of them right now. We stand under the word. But in the warning, see the hope. Because Jesus is saying, “You deserve to be like Aachan with a pile of stones over your judged body, but by My death, I’ll give you the vineyard if you’ll but trust in Me.” And that’s the message of this word for us this day. May the Lord bless it to our hearts.