Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (C)
March 21, 2010
Text: Luke 20:9-20

This morning our Lord speaks another parable about another prodigal man of means, meant to teach us about our prodigal God. The word prodigal, again, means wastefully or recklessly extravagant. In the parable ordinarily called “The Prodigal Son,” we find out that while the rebellious son is wasteful and reckless with his inheritance, so also his father is reckless, prodigal, with love for his son and receives his son back by grace, without any merit or worthiness in him, and out of pure mercy and love restores his son to his original status. This morning we encounter a vineyard owner who is prodigal in his dealings with the tenants of his vineyard. He is reckless as he seeks to bring his tenants to repentance over their hostile takeover of the vineyard. And once again, in this parable, we learn of God’s heart for us. We learn the great lengths to which our gracious God goes to bring us to repentance, to grant us salvation, to include us in His Kingdom. But so also we learn of the other side of the coin in this parable. God’s patience will come to an end. In spite of these great lengths to which our God goes to bring us back to Himself, His invitation can be refused. There is no such thing as irresistible grace. God does not force anyone to believe in Jesus Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins. Finally, God gives those who resist Him, and who harden their hearts, what they want: He leaves them alone. He leaves them alone in their sin, and in their death, and in their condemnation. And this is a great tragedy, because when this happens, these unbelievers find themselves outside of the vineyard, outside of the Kingdom, in hell, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There was a man who planted a vineyard and let the vineyard out to tenants. Notice that the owner of the vineyard has done all the work of preparation. The tenants only have to tend the vineyard and, when the appointed time comes, give the owner his share of the fruit. The rest is theirs. It is a very generous arrangement for the tenants. But the tenants don’t see it that way. You see, while the owner of the vineyard is generous to them, they don’t want to be governed by him. They are not satisfied to be tenants. They want to have the vineyard for themselves, to run as they see fit, and they want to store up all of the vineyard’s fruit for their own use and profit. And so, when the appointed time comes and the owner sends a servant to collect his share of the fruit, the tenants beat him, and send him back to his master empty-handed. Now, already at this point, most of us would have called the authorities in to evict and arrest these wicked tenants, but not this prodigal vineyard owner. What does he do? He sends another servant! And this one they also beat, and in addition, they treat him shamefully, dishonor him, and send him likewise to his master empty-handed. Surely this time the owner will call in the authorities. But no, he sends yet a third servant! And this one they severely wound and cast out of the vineyard.

What is the vineyard owner to do? It’s like watching one of those frustrating movies where we know what the main character should do, and he’s just not doing it. Here we see the vineyard owner sending servant after servant to men who clearly have no intention of giving up the goods, and the mistreatment of the servants is getting worse and worse. We’re jumping up and down, screaming at the television screen, “Send in the troops! Teach those rascals a lesson!” But we’re dealing with a prodigal vineyard owner. “What shall I do?” he asks himself. “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him” (Luke 20:13; ESV). Brilliant! That will definitely work! And what happens? When they see the son walking down the road, they say among themselves, “Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours” (v. 14). “Let’s kill the owner’s only son, so that there will be no heir, and then we can have squatter’s rights.” So these violent, rebellious wretches take the son and they throw him out of the vineyard and kill him. The prodigal vineyard owner made a bet, and lost. Or did he?

For the prodigal vineyard owner is God, and the vineyard is His people Israel. The tenants are those called to tend that which God has planted, tend the spiritual life of Israel so that it produces the fruit of repentance and faith, so that the people of Israel are prepared, in fact, for the very coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The tenants are the chief priests and scribes, the religious elite. God sent servant after servant, prophet after prophet to His vineyard to collect the fruit, and what happened? The prophets were beaten, treated shamefully, wounded, persecuted, rejected, sent away empty, many even killed. What is our God to do? He acts prodigally. Out of great love and longing for His people Israel, He sends His beloved and only-begotten Son. He sends Jesus. And what happens? The chief priests and scribes, the Sanhedrin, the religious elite of Israel say to themselves, “Let us kill Him, so that the inheritance, the vineyard, the Kingdom of God, may be ours.” And kill Him they do. Oh, it’s at the hands of the Romans to be sure, but it is the chief priests and scribes pulling all the strings, manipulating the action, stirring up the people, and maneuvering to bend Pilate to their will. They take Him out of the holy city, out of the vineyard, out to the place called Golgotha, the “Place of a Skull,” and there they crucify Him.

Did God lose that day? By no means! This is why we call that tragic Friday “Good.” For in the death of the Son, Israel and all people are redeemed. The vineyard is saved! Because this Son that was killed, this stone that the builders rejected, and that the tenants rejected, has become the cornerstone. And upon Him is built the new Israel, the holy Church of God, to which you and I and all believers in Christ belong. He who died is risen. The Son is still the Heir. And He shares the inheritance with His people who turn to Him in repentance and faith, who trust in Him alone for forgiveness of sins and salvation.

But what of the tenants? “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (v. 16). This is the other side of the coin in the story. Our God is prodigal. He is patient, longsuffering, abounding in steadfast love. He does not desire the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil ways and live (Ez. 18:23). But finally there is an end to the time of grace. God does not force anyone to believe in Him and in His Son, Jesus Christ. God does not force anyone to be saved. Just as no one could argue that the vineyard owner didn’t do enough to win back the hearts of the tenants… if anything we would all agree that he did way too much… so no one can argue that God doesn’t do enough to win the hearts of sinners. No one can argue that God didn’t do enough when He sent prophet after prophet, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the others, and finally John the Baptist. And when all those prophets were rejected, mistreated, beaten, killed, what did God do? He sent His Son. And the Son Himself, out of great love for the chief priests and scribes, called them to repentance. But they would not. They would not have Him. Their condemnation is just. They will be destroyed and the vineyard given to others. And that is just what happens. In AD 70 the Romans sack Jerusalem and destroy the Temple. The preaching of the Kingdom of God, the tending of the vineyard, is given to others, to the Gentile believers in Jesus, along with every believing Jew, the new Israel, the holy Church of Jesus Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the stone that has been rejected. He was beaten and scourged and mocked and spit upon. And then He was crucified. But He did all of this for us, for you, for me, for all people. And though He died, He is dead no longer. He is risen. He has become the cornerstone of the Church, which is you, the holy believers in Christ, as St. Paul says to the Ephesian Christians, “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:19-21). This afternoon we add another living stone to the Holy Church in the Baptism of little Charlotte Hiscock, thanks be to God! But here’s the thing about this Stone that is Christ: Everyone is broken by it. You either fall on top of this Stone, being broken to pieces, dying to self, crucifying the old sinful nature, being drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism as little Charlotte will be this afternoon, so that Jesus can raise you up to new life and bring you into His vineyard and under His government, so that He can give you the inheritance of the Kingdom. Or, if you continue to reject this Stone, it will fall on you and crush you. And after being crushed, there is no new life, no entrance into the vineyard, no inheritance. You want to fall on the Stone and be broken in repentance, rather than have the Stone fall on you and crush you in condemnation. You either have Jesus as Savior, or you have Him as Judge. And don’t think that the judgment in the parable only applies to the chief priests and scribes. You are the others to whom the Lord has given the vineyard. But if, after making every effort to win back the hearts of the tenants, the Lord still cast them out of the vineyard and destroyed them… If the Lord did not spare Israel after they rejected Him, He will not spare you if you reject Him. So do not harden your hearts. Rend your hearts in repentance. Jesus has sent you many servants: the prophets, the apostles, and the pastors. And most prodigal of all, He has sent you His Son. Believe the preaching and cast yourself upon Him.

In our sinful flesh we always want to buck the governance of God and have the vineyard for ourselves, for our own selfish use and profit. We don’t want to obey His commandments. We want to determine our own right and wrong, our own course. And so we reject the preaching. But now we are baptized into Christ. We have been broken into pieces and raised to new life in Christ. And now this is our daily reality. That old sinful flesh is daily put to death. The new man daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity. The new man in us yearns for the governance of God, yearns to return the fruit of repentance and faith to Him. And so unlike the wicked tenants, the Church prays, as we did in our collect, that God, on the basis of His great goodness, would look upon us, behold us in our rebellion, and extend His mercy to us, forgive our sins. The Church prays that God would govern us in spite of ourselves, that we may be preserved and brought to eternal life.

Beloved in the Lord, what a prodigal God we have. He recklessly lavishes His mercy upon us. For our sakes, for our forgiveness, He sent His Son for our redemption. And now He sends us His Word and graciously calls us to repentance and faith again and again, Sunday after Sunday, daily even, in every contact with His Law and His Gospel. And as if that were not enough, in this way He gives us His Son, crucified and risen, for our eternal life and salvation. This morning He gives us His Son in the Supper of His body and blood. It is another gracious, prodigal call. Come, dear Christians, receive of His mercy. Be governed by Him, and so receive the inheritance by grace. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16; KJV). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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