Don't Let History Repeat Itself!
O Lord God, send Your Spirit to bless us as we gather to worship this day. Move us to repent of our sins, to rejoice in Your forgiveness, and to bear fruit in our lives as we strive faithfully to serve You. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
The Lord compares His Old Testament people to a “vineyard”—planted with utmost care, but which ultimately produced inferior “wild” grapes. What should be done in such a case? The Lord warns His unfaithful people that He will destroy them in view of their unfaithfulness!
St. Paul urges us to join him in pressing toward the “goal” of the calling of God in Christ. There are many who will oppose us as “enemies of the cross of Christ,” but let us persevere, knowing that our citizenship truly lies in heaven, not on this earth!
Text: Matthew 21:33-43
"Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" They said to Him, "He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons." Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it."
In Christ Jesus, the Son of God and our only Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
How important is faith in Jesus Christ to true religion? How important is Jesus Christ to the eternal salvation of any human soul? The Bible answers those questions very clearly. It says with reference to Jesus, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:23), and “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The rejection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and mankind’s only Savior is spiritually fatal, for it deprives those rejecting Him of the true God, and it removes any possibility of eternal salvation.
Our juniors and seniors took special note of these facts when studying Judaism this past week in our Comparative Religions course. Judaism claims to follow the Old Testament scriptures, yet it rejects Jesus Christ—the Savior promised in those Scriptures. While those who practice Judaism observe Old Testament religious festivals, such as the Passover and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), those festivals have been stripped of their true meaning. Those festivals were intended to be pictures of the sacrifice that the promised Savior would make in order to free mankind from sin and the tyranny of Satan. Without Jesus Christ—that Savior, Judaism does not worship the true God. Without Jesus Christ, Judaism offers no hope of salvation, for their vain attempts to gain salvation by keeping the Old Testament laws will inevitably fail, for as the Bible asserts, “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His (that is, God’s) sight” (Rom. 3:20).
In our text today Jesus warns the Jewish leaders and people of His day not to reject Him, for in so doing they would deprive themselves of God’s kingdom and all of its blessings. Unfortunately, the warning of Jesus went unheeded. The vast majority of the Jewish people of that day did reject Him and the result was the destruction of the Jewish nation and the passing of the God’s kingdom to others. My dear friends, DON’T LET HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF!
Let us not reject Jesus and lose the kingdom of God! The day was the Monday of Holy Week, five days before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ earthly ministry was near its end and His work of redemption near completion. He had faithfully proclaimed the truths of His Father in heaven, calling people to repentance and faith. While a rather small number of people had enthusiastically embraced Jesus and His teachings, the vast majority of people had not. For many, the teachings of Jesus were viewed as “hard sayings” (Jn. 6:60), and they, losing their earlier enthusiasm, simply left Him and went home. For others, in particular the religious leaders—the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests, opposition to Jesus had reached a feverish pitch. This was particular true after Jesus had driven those buying and selling in the temple out of the temple claiming they had made God’s house into a “den of thieves” (Mt. 21:13). St. Luke reports that at this point, “The chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him” (Lk. 22:2).
It was in this highly charged atmosphere that Jesus, while teaching in the temple, offered this parable of warning to His own people and, in particular, their religious leaders. He said, “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.” The landowner in the parable, of course is God, while the vineyard is His Kingdom of grace. The vinedressers were the Jewish people in general and their religious leaders in particular. God had chosen them as His special Old Testament people. They had been entrusted with the promise of the coming Savior on behalf of all of mankind. They had received God’s civil and moral law to protect and guide them. They had been given the ceremonial law, much of which we specially intended to foreshadow the coming sacrifice of the Savior. What privileges these people enjoyed, but what happened?
The parable went on, “Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” God, who invested so much in His vineyard, expected to receive back fruits of faith. He expected heart-felt devotion, mercy, justice, and a sincere effort at godly living, but instead when God sent His “servants,” the Old Testament prophets, to preach to His people, they did not receive them. They abused them—beating some and killing others. The “son” of the landowner represents Jesus, the promised Savior and Son of God, sent by the heavenly Father to bring salvation. The vinedressers in the parable killed the “son,” even as the religious leaders of the Jews planned to do to Christ—even as they would do only five short days later.
What would the landowner do? Jesus asks those listening and receives their answer, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus then responds by quoting the Psalmist and offering a startling revelation of what was at stake for God’s Old Testament people, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you.” Jesus Christ was the “stone” about to be rejected by His own people. He would become the “chief cornerstone” of the New Testament church. The big question was whether or not the Jewish people would continue to share in God’s Kingdom, or whether it would be taken away from them and given to others. As history reveals, the vast majority of the Jewish people and most of their spiritual leaders steadfastly resisted Jesus and ultimately lost their share in the kingdom of God. After turning Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion and then rejecting the miracle of the resurrection, they were finally destroyed in 70 A.D. when the armies of Rome besieged and burned Jerusalem, dispersing the Jews throughout the then known world.
My dear friends, has history repeated itself? I am afraid it has. Northern Europe was the center of Reformation activity in the 16th century, but already in Luther’s day there was a cooling towards the gospel and the work of God. Luther warned his beloved German people that if they did not appreciate the gospel, God would give it to someone else, causing it to leave just as a rain shower passes from one spot to the next! If you travel in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, or England today, you will find churches empty and the vast majority of people live their lives in unbelief. The Lord has taken His kingdom away and given it to others!
History not only repeated itself, but will again wherever individuals respond to the gospel with indifference. Our country, our congregation, we as individuals have been so blessed by God, and yet the temptation is to take the gospel for granted. It is so easy to fall into a pattern of failing to hear God’s word regularly, to apply it casually and selectively in our lives, and to compromise it rather than to spread it. My dear friends, let us not deceive ourselves into believing that we can entertain a casual attitude towards God and His kingdom without experiencing His judgment. “God is not mocked!” We will “reap what we sow” (Gal. 6:7). DON’T LET HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF! Let us not reject Jesus and lose the kingdom of God!
Let us rather embrace Jesus and bear fruits worthy of His kingdom! Jesus warned those people listening in the temple that day, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” God has “reconciled the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19), and it is His distinct desire that “all men…be saved and…come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). The sad fact, however, is that the “way to destruction is broad, and there are many who go in by it,” while the “gate” and “way” leading to everlasting life are both “narrow” and “difficult” and there are “few who find it” (Mt. 7:13-14). My dear friends, are you and I among the many or the few?
Let us embrace Jesus in faith and pray that He might fill our lives with the fruits of faith—love, peace, joy, contentment, patience, concern, and long-suffering. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). We abide in Jesus when we listen attentively to His word, repent sincerely of our sins, and strive honesty to love both our God and others in our lives. We cannot say that we are producing godly fruits of faith and love our God, when we speak and act wretchedly over against one another. Children, you are not producing fruit when you disobey your parents or act disrespectfully to your teachers or others placed in authority over you. Parents, you are not producing fruit when you do not both discipline and love your children, thereby seeking to bring them up in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). We are not producing fruit when we possess a callous attitude towards those in need of our help, or when we continuously press our personal advantage in all of our life dealings. As Isaiah told the people of his day, the LORD was looking for “justice” and “righteousness” in the lives of His people. As St. Paul told the Christians of the first century, they were to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Where is help needed? Let us go there! What is it that needs to be done? Let us do that! Should we fail, and we will for we must deal with our sinful flesh throughout our lives, then let us humbly ask for God’s forgiveness, rejoice in the fact that we possess that forgiveness, and then go forward intent upon seeking God’s glory and bringing everyone around us blessings!
Luther’s while explaining the Third Petition addresses these issues and his thoughts can serve to guide both our attitude and actions as we close this meditation: “God’s will is done when He breaks and stops every evil will and plan of those who do not want us to hallow His name or let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, of the world, and of our own flesh. His will is also done when He gives us strength and keeps us firm in His Word and in faith for as long as we live.” May God’s will be done in our lives to His glory and for our blessing! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting