The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Turn on and tune in to any televangelist/TV preacher, and you will (guaranteed) see a very large audience sitting before this boisterous fellow as he pontificates some message about money (usually). Most propagate a gospel of health and wealth; that is, God wants you healthy and wealthy and he never wants you have an unpleasant moment and the reason you aren’t rich right now is because 1) you aren’t giving enough or 2) your faith hasn’t reached that point yet and if you are not rich, you are cursed. Heretical to core!

In Jeremiah 18.12, we see the reaction of people to the message preached: “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart'” (ESV). We see that the best preaching may be rejected. But we also see that the duty of the faithful preacher is to bear his testimony even if it be rejected. The rejection may be attributed to the pride of men or to the stubbornness of his will. However, the truth preached is never affected by the rejection of it. Of all the televangelists I have watched, never have I have seen an empty or half-filled auditorium. Instead, the preaching is met with a roar of applause from a filled to capacity audience.

In Luke 20.9-18, we see Jesus saying some very hard things not to an overflowing, capacity crowd at the synagogue, but to those who were still following. In fact, as we saw in Round 1, the things he is saying are causing showdowns with Him and the religious leaders. In these verses, Jesus tells a parable to the people concerning the rejection of the message and messanger by the people.

The parable is fairly straightfoward: a man plants and let’s out a vineyard, a pretty standard practice during this time. He goes away for a long time. After a time, the man wants some of his fruit and sends a servant who is beaten and sent away empty-handed. Another servant comes and is beaten and mistreated, also going away empty-handed. A third is sent and wounded and then thrown out. What’s a vineyard owner to do? Ah, he will send his son, his beloved son and those rascally tenants will respect him. Sadly, there is no respect for the son; they kill him in the vineyard.

Here is the grand scheme of redemption in human history in miniature. The servants sent are prophets sent by God, raised up to preach and prophecy. They are shamefully treated, beaten, some are killed (though not mentioned directly here) for the message they bring. All throughout history, God has sent men to preach righteousness (see 2 Peter 2.5) and men have been casting off the high calling of God. And not just any men or any people; even his people Israel rejected the mighty preaching of the prophets.

From eternity God has always determined that He would send His Son to the “vineyard” which is the nation of Israel (since the vineyard is a specially selected place for growing vines). And the plotting evil heart of man devised the wicked scheme of crucifying the Son of God. Little did they know they were enacting and fulfilling the grand plan to save man which sprung from the eternal mind of God. However, for their continued and persistent rejection of the purposes of God for their life, God was coming in wrath and was to give Israel’s special selection (biblically it is “election”) to others, namely the Gentiles.

What an astonishing report from Jesus. The people seemed to have understood and gotten the message for they cry out, “Surely not” or “May it never be!” This is the only occurance of this strong and emphatic statement anywhere in the New Testament save for Paul’s writings. This is outrageous! It is horrible! How can this be? But Jesus looks the people eye-to-eye to point them to Scripture. He quote Psalm 118.22 concerning the rejection of the stone which becomes the cornerstone. Here is Jesus in prophecy. He would become the stone of offense for some and the rock of salvation for others.

Verse 18 shows us the unique nature of rejecting Jesus. Those who reject Christ may think they have delivered a serious death blow to religion. They may believe they have surely stomped underfoot God and Christ and everything holy. Such could not be further from the truth. Indeed, a rejection of Christ and His claims is to fall on the rock and be broken to pieces, i.e. destroyed. Likewise, these rejectors end up beneath the stone, cruched to death. Literally the Greek says he will be ground to powder or dust. Some believe this points to the future judgment. Here is the awful end of those who reject Christ.

Too many have made the message of Christ and the message of God palatable. Everyone wants money (though we are to bee free from the love of money) so they will flock to the preacher who preaches health and wealth. People want to be entertained so they flock to a “worship” service that is filled with smoke, lights, and a full orchestra. People want their ears tickled so they pack the auditoriums of those men who speak cooing words that are “just right” for them. Here is my message for all those preaching those messages and for those listening to them: Repent, before it is too late. Do not be broken to pieces or crushed by the rejected stone. Repent

Jesus v. His Opponents, Round 1

As a preacher, there is a reticent concern of mine that one day while I am preaching someone will stand up and cause a scene. I have heard of this kind of thing happening to some preachers I know. In fact, recently a congregation had their worship interrupted by militant Taoists. I suppose no one likes interruptions, but they must be dealt with when they happen. One day, Jesus was teaching and preaching the gospel in the temple when he was interrupted by some opponents of his (scribes and chief priests with elders of Israel). We read about this confrontation in Luke 20.1-8.

Their Demands

In verse 2, we see the demands they make of Jesus. Again, I picutre mid-sermon, making a point about the gospel of the kingdom of God, the crowd is enthralled, hanging on his every word (see 19.48)…when one of the religious leaders shouts out, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority” (ESV, emphasis mine). Really? Well, I suppose it was a good question. We want to do “bible things in bible ways” and “call bible things by bible names” – in other words, get to the original authority. I think we can appreciate this to a degree.

But at the same time, this is an open affront to Jesus and his power. The word “authority” (Gk. exousia) means “power” or the right to act in such a manner. So they are asking what power does Jesus claim to be doing this (which they have previously accused him of using the power of the devil to do his miracles) or who gave him his power (God, man, demons). Where did his power come from to do “these things.” What things? Teach and preach perhaps (context). But perhaps even reaching back into ch.19 and the cleansing of the temple. Who gave Jesus the power to do this? By the way, these questions have already been answered during his ministry: it is by the “finger of God” that he healed and cast out demons. The marvelous deeds (miracles) were more than just side-show attractions; they were designed to be signs of who Jesus is (the Christ, the Son of God) and where he has come from (heaven). These opponents are missing it.

Their Dilema

Jesus meets their demands with a question: What about John’s baptism? Where did it come from? Here is a very good discussion tactic: answer a question with another question. It is an interesting question and presents His opponents with an interesting dilema. And they recognize the dilema! Should they say from heaven, they’re stuck…should they say from man, their stuck. But you dig a little deeper and you see the impact of this. Jesus is introduced by John as the one whom John had been preparing the way for: the Lamb of God. If these opponents say John’s baptism was from heaven and John gave Jesus the divine stamp of approval, why are they refusing to follow Jesus? In other words, why do they not believe Jesus? Conversely, should they reject the heaven sent messanger John, their popularity and influence is in serious jeopardy with the people, something they can’t afford to happen.

Their Defeat

Realizing their defeat, they cannot answer. They do not know how to answer Jesus. Their ignorance delivers a serious blow to their prestige. So you have these interpreters and copyists of the law, these people who were experts of the Law…and they answer, “We don’t know.” But here is the rub: this is not a story about Jesus outwitting these poor, pathetic proponents of the Law; this is all about the rejection of divine authority by these “crooked, cringing hypocrites.” Authority is staring them in the face as they make their demands: God in the flesh stand before them in absolute humility. John’s message had divine apporval and prophectic mandate. Again and again, Jesus put on clear display the hand of God and the doctrine of God. But these “blind guides” refused to accept the divine authority and failed to recognize the true purpose of God for their lives. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego facing the fiery furnace, Jesus facing his opponents who in a few will put him death in essence says, “I have no need to answer you in this matter.” Round 1: Jesus.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Since we are 2000 yrs. removed from the time, we have difficulty (I believe) understanding the concept of temple worship and the strong connection between Judaism and the temple. I mean, in our society we have do have the Mormons with their temples which they build nationwide; in that sense we might gain some appreciation of temple worship…if of course we are Mormon. If not, the notion is still somewhat vague and perhaps mysterious.

But to Jesus it is clear that he has very strong feelings about the temple of God – and as well he should! This was the place of worship of Jehovah God, the Almighty Sovereign of the universe. It was a place of consecration, dedication, sanctification. It was holy ground. So when Jesus comes on the scene and sees this place of consecration turned into a place of desecration, it should not surpirse to see he goes berserk.

The Purification by Jesus

We last left Jesus near Jerusalem. In v.45 he enters the temple, thereby putting him Jerusalem since the temple is in Jerusalem. The first thing he does is starts whipping tail and taking names. Here is righteous indignation Jesus, furious at the way man is treating the sanctuary of God. Its become a common thing, not a holy thing. Its just business as usual…until Jesus shows up. Now’s the time of reckoning. He starts driving out “those who sold” – that is those who exchanged currency (for the temple had its own currrency, sort of like amusement parks or arcades only take certain coinage/money) and those selling sacrificial animals (those which are brought from outside were usually found with blemish). Jesus explains his actions in v.46: “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (ESV). He quotes Scriputre as to why he is doing what he is doing. The people have not learned anything and are repeating the same grave error that their forefathers committed (Jer 7.11). This was the dwelling place of God and they have defiled it. Hence, it is needful for Jesus to purify it and correct these errors.

Indeed, we are in need of a cleansing of the temple ourselves. Though we do not have a temple building, we are the temple of God (1 Cor 3.16-17). And that temple is to be holy. It should be a “house of prayer.” Yet how often do we rob it of its dignity, integrity, and glory by engaging in secret and public sin. If you are a Christian, Jesus has entered the temple (your body, see Eph 3.17). What has he found in you?

The Plot against Jesus

Here is the dillema for the religious leaders: they are furious against Jesus and want to “destroy him” (that is, rub out his life) but even though he is “daily in the temple” teaching the people, they are powerless to do anything for the people love him. But these men are active in their search to kill Jesus and they will continue to work to find an opportune time to catch him (more on this in the coming chs.). In the meantime, Jesus is enjoying a time of popularity as the people “were hanging on his words” (lit. hanging on his lips). Despite the depth of his doctrine, the height of his purpose, the strength and straightforwardness of his charge, the people love him and are themselves daily in the temple.

We see the earnestness of these people as they clamor for the Word of God. What a striking contrast we make when we compare our own appetite for the Word. Many of us are starving to death spiritually because we do not hang on the lips of Jesus. We do not hunger and thirst after righteousness and therefore we are never filled, though ever starving!