There will be a harvest (October 18, 2020)
There will be a harvest
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There will be a harvest. That is meant to sound both as a stern warning and a comforting promise. I feel like I’ve said that a lot recently. But that’s the way the Law and Gospel work. It is a stern warning to those on one side, and a comforting promise to those on God’s side. It’s two sides of the same coin. There will be a harvest. Ultimately, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps 24:1). So, which side are you on? Are you standing in the way of God and his harvest? Or are you bringing him the fruit of his vineyard?
There are many parts to the parable that Jesus told. It starts out like this, “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place” (Mt 21:33). The landowner is God. The vineyard is God’s people, for whom he did so many things – planting, building a wall around, digging a winepress, and building a watchtower. God wants and gives all the best for his people. He loves and cares for his people. He provides for them, protects them, shows his love with no expense spared. The tenants, then, are the religious leaders. They were responsible for tending the Lord’s vineyard – his people – and returning a harvest of fruit – fruits of the Spirit. The servants, who were later sent are the prophets that came before Jesus. And the son, of course, is Jesus.
“When the harvest time approached, [the landowner] sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way” (Mt 21:34-36). This really did happen to the prophets. There wasn’t a one who wasn’t persecuted. Many of them were physically beaten and mistreated. In Hebrews chapter 11, known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter of the Bible, in reference to the prophets, the writer notes, “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Heb 11:35-38). Those who escaped with their lives barely eked out an existence. Lacking many of the essentials of life, constantly on the move, some even living in caves and in the wilderness.
These harsh words were pointed straight at the religious leaders, who were given the task of caring for God’s people – tending his vineyard – and returning a harvest of fruit. Yet, for centuries they did not heed God’s messengers – the prophets. And now, they were rejecting Jesus too. They knew this parable was an accusation against them. It says in the very next verses, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them” (Mt 21:45). And yet, this pointed judgment ricocheted off their stony hearts. “They looked for a way to arrest [Jesus]” (Mt 21:46). And yet, he still lamented, just days later, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt 23:37).
Although I haven’t beaten, killed, or stoned anyone, I do warp, twist, and kill the messengers at times. I saw their message in two where it convicts me, and ignore the parts that are inconvenient for my sinful desires. I too beat, kill, and stone the prophets whenever I abandon God’s clear word and commands and twist them to suit my sinful desires. I don’t even think I have to go through the whole list. I think even the first 3 commandments are perhaps some of the hardest here.
“You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). Have I loved other things more than God? Have I set myself up as a god when I understand that his message is pointed straight at my sin and I don’t like it, so I rewrite it or twist its meaning – cutting it out from the rest of Scripture?
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (Ex 20:7). Does my language change based on my situation? Am I as innocent as a lamb on Sunday morning or when around my parents, but then besting the sailors when I lose my temper or am around certain friends?
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Ex 20:8). Do I place a permanent block in my schedule every week – set aside to hear God’s Word? A block of time that will not be removed, skipped, or forgotten no matter what comes up?
The list could go on, but you understand the point. These are messages from God that his servants bring. And do I treat them the same way as the tenants treated the servants? If so, then hear what the owner will do to those tenants: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end” (Mt 21:41). He will kick them out of the vineyard and give it to someone else.
But before he does that, the owner sends one more. “Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (Mt 21:37-39). Do you see the faulty logic here? Killing the son and previous servants is not a way to get on the owner’s good side to benefit from the wealth he has. And, they were already enjoying the inheritance! They were given the privilege of caring for the vineyard that the landowner planted, walled, completed with amenities, and protects. They were benefitted already when the vineyard produced fruit. But they refused to accept the authority of the master and his Son. They rebelled against him. Refused to acknowledge his rightful authority.
The leaders of Jesus’ day recognized that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. They wanted the inheritance for themselves, but there is no inheritance for them when they refused to accept him as their Savior. And what will the landowner do to the tenants when he come? He will bring those wretches to a wretched end… and will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.
So, how do you treat the master’s Son? Will you reject his Word as you reject the servants? Or will you receive him as God’s loving act of mercy. Once more, he comes to you. This time, not through servants or prophets, but sends his own Son. He takes on your very flesh. He walked this very earth. He knows your burdens. He sees the injustices and sinfulness. He takes it all onto himself – becoming sin for us – and burying it with him in the grave! “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (Jn 3:17).
I find that very interesting about this parable. After all the servants he sent. After all the times the tenants disgraced and abused the landowner’s goodness, he still sends his own son. And not with armed cavalry ready to enact swift judgment. No! He sends his son in love and mercy. Reaches out one more time. Reaches out to the tenants with forgiveness and grace. One last time before the final judgment.
Yes, there is judgment for all the times we’ve mistreated and killed his servants, when we twist or abandon his Word. Yes, we deserve, like the tenants in the parable, to be brought to a wretched end. Yes, we have at times rejected God and sought our own glory, our own comfort, our own way. But God sent his Son, our Savior, in mercy and forgiveness. He reached out to you in love – not bringing judgment upon you just yet. But giving you a lifeline by which you are restored.
Remember, there will be a harvest. One day the owner, the Lord God, will return! When he does come, how will he find you? Abusing his servants and rejecting his Son? Or, respecting his messengers, and receiving his Son? “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you” (2 Cor 6:2).
What does it look like, then, to be a tenant during the harvest who will give God his share of the crop at harvest time? For the spiritual leaders of God’s people – given the honor of watching over a portion of God’s vineyard: Be humble, accepting correction and guidance when needed, that you do not accidentally or purposefully mislead believers and keep the truth from them. Be faithful in your duties of proclaiming and teaching the word that God’s vineyard may produce fruit for him. For the fathers and mothers – given the joy of raising little shoots: Nurture your children with the Word regularly – not neglecting God and his Word. Work on the soil in your household that it may be healthy and produce abundant fruit. And model what you expect of your children in your own lives. For each one of you, responsible for your own soul: Be rooted in the Word of truth. Cultivate and produce fruits – gifts from God – and put them to use in service to God, planting seeds as you use your unique gifts.