The Tide is High
"The Tide is High," if you're a Baby Boomer you think The Paragons 1967. If you're a Gen-Xer you think Blondie 1980. If you're a Millennial you think Atomic Kittens 2001. If you're liturgical, you think Passiontide. Passiontide is the final 2 weeks before Easter. It starts today. Passiontide is the first extended commemoration of the Lord's passionate suffering for the world's sins. The tide is high in Passiontide.
The original song is about a tide rising against a man's love interest and how he's not giving up. The first line is "The tide is high but I'm holding on." This is what Jesus tells the people in the parable in our text. He is holding on to His vineyard. He's the One who planted it, and He doesn't "rent" it but gives it out. Yet He retains ownership as we see by the fact that in due season He sends not for "some of the fruit" but "from the fruit of the vineyard." Finally, Jesus is called literally the Lord of the vineyard when He gives it to others.
It's Jesus' vineyard. He dug the furrows to be planted according to Psalm 129: "Plowmen have plowed My back and made their furrows long." Jesus is the Promised Seed from which the vine sprouted. He watered the vineyard with His tears. He sweated as He pulled up the thorns that threatened to choke the life out of it. And He fed this vineyard with His own Body and Blood.
What you have before you is the great 1950's Western where a man has sacrificed, suffered, sweated, and bled to carve out his place, and now the railroad, or Indians, or land baron rush him like an incoming tide, but he holds on. He holds on despite it having poor soil. He holds on despite it being more rocks then soil. He holds on despite it being advantageous to let go. The railroad will pay him more than the land could ever be worth to him in dollars and cents. To the Indians the land is sacred. To the land baron it's a piece that will finish a much larger plan. But still he holds on.
Jesus does too. Even though all He expects to get from a fallen vineyard is sins. That's right; what did Jesus come into the world seeking? What did John the Baptist say he saw Jesus carrying away? "The sins of the world." You think Jesus comes into His vineyard here seeking your money? Jesus owns all the gold in all the mines and banks in the world. You think Jesus comes here seeking your blood, sweat, and tears as you do His work for Him? No, He comes seeking your sins, your guilts, your wrongs because that's the fruit of sinners whose righteousness is only filthy rags. Confession of your sins and faith toward Jesus forgiving them is the fruit Jesus seeks.
The tide rushes in trying to make Jesus let go of His vineyard, but He's holding on. He sends messengers to get our sins and despite them being beaten, shamed, and wounded, He holds on. And who do you think those messengers are? In a Western they're evil: railroad men, hostile Indians, or hired guns. In the vineyard they're good: the prophets in the Old Testament, and apostles and pastors in the New.
The tide is high, but Jesus holds on. That's the first line of the song. The third line is, "I'm not the kinda man who gives up just like that." You should hear the word man emphasized. We don't want to lose sight of this. As we begin the Passiontide where God is pleased to crush His Son, the tide of sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, crying, sweating, and dying is rising not just against God the Son but the Son of Mary. In the parable when those in the vineyard confess that the Son is the heir, they are referring to the Man Jesus. Jesus is heir of all things not as God but as Man. As God, He's the Creator.
In funeral sermons, I've pointed out that the elderly to whom God gives their mental facilities till they depart is a blessing to us but it's difficult for them. They know exactly what is happing as their body winds down, breaks down, breaks up, and their soul is taken from their body. As True God in flesh and blood, Jesus knows exactly what is happening to His body that is every bit as human as yours only better. He's perfect. How much more pain do perfect nerve endings feel? How much more does someone with a perfect sense of smell, smell their own sweat and fear? How much more do the flames of hell torture the Body of God? It's the stuff of horror movies when the man becomes a fly, a wild animal fleeing for its life, or a domestic animal headed for butchering while still having the mind of a man.
Jesus is not the kinda of man who gives up just like that. He holds on at all cost to save His love interest which is fallen humanity or in the case of our text His fallen church. And rather than give up just like that or any other way, He gives, and gives, and gives till the last full measure. That's not just blood, sweat, and tears, that soul, life, all. And in our text He does this on a perhaps. "Perhaps they will respect My Son," says the Father.
This is the only use of this Greek word in the New Testament. It's found in the Old in Jeremiah in the context of "Perhaps they will listen." This is after the Lord has sent them prophets again and again seeking the fruit of His vineyard, their sins, and they haven't repented, haven't believed He would heal all their iniquities, forgive all their sins. They haven't listened, but the Lord says perhaps they will if I send them one more messenger.
Would you send your son to men that had beaten, shamed, and wounded the messengers you sent before? If you were the son being sent would you go? I would do neither but the true God did both. The tide is coming in and not gently like it does on the Gulf Coast but forceful and deep as it does on the Pacific. But the Father sends the Son into the tide, and the Son willing goes on a perhaps. Perhaps they will heed His pleas and give them their sins. Perhaps they'll hear His promise to blot out all their iniquities, to not remember any of them anymore.
But they don't, do they? No, they threw Him out of His own vineyard and then killed Him. Jesus wouldn't give up. He wouldn't let go. He is like those free divers who use a 200 pound sled to take them down hundreds of feet into the water. As long as they hold on, they go down, down, down, and Jesus held on because He's not the kind of Man to give up just like that. He held on till He died. But that wasn't the end of Him or the vineyard. No that enabled the vineyard to be given to the whole world. Before, the only way in was through the Jewish nation, now the gateway to the vineyard is wherever the Gospel of forgiveness is preached.
The tide is high. We've heard how Jesus in the face of the high tide kept holding on and we heard how He's not the kind of man that gives up just like that but gives and gives till He gives His all. That's the gist of the first and third lines of the song. The second line is, "I'm gonna be your number one." If we're going to wade into the Passiontide that will eventually culminate in Jesus saying in the words of the Psalm, "All Thy waves have gone over Me," we have to see all the ways Jesus is our # 1.
First He is the #1 sinner. Paul says God made Jesus to be sin. You feel that way sometimes. We sing it too. "I am all unrighteousness; false and full of sin I am." Yes, we're full of sin, but Jesus was made to be sin. God says of His suffering Servant, "Who is blind but My servant, and deaf like the Messenger I send?" Jesus was treated as we should be. We are blind to spiritual things, but He who could see everything clearly was treated as we deserve to be. We are deaf to the words of the Lord, but He who was the Word incarnate was punished for our deafness. You know Paul calls himself the "chief" of sinners, but as we wade into the Passiontide who alone is slapped, bludgeoned, tortured, and crucified for sins? Not Paul. Not Peter. Not you. Jesus.
The Passiontide is rising and Jesus is our # 1 Sinner and He is our # 1 Savior. Paul doesn't just say that God the Father made Jesus to be sin. He says, "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." We see this saving aspect in the Peter-look. You remember that look. It recalled Peter in the Passion history after he had so miserably denied His Savior. Well Luke only uses this particular word for look' two places. When Jesus looks at Peter and here when Jesus looks at the people in our text. This is not a look to break or crush them but to call them.
The breaking and crushing are for those who reject the Stone refusing to give Him their sins or faith. With this look Jesus lets them know they are the others to whom the vineyard is now given. Jesus is seeking their sins, their trust, their salvation, their redemption. And He seeks ours not one whit less than He did theirs.
Jesus is not just our # 1 Sinner and Savior. He is our # 1 Swimmer. The Coast Guard has Rescue Swimmers. These are men who jump from helicopters into roiled waters to rescue people. I had 2 of them in my congregation in Louisiana. These were stout, in-shape men, and they knew their job was to jump into storms, rising tides, hellish waters to save many times just one person.
What I am saying is that had you been the only person in all history caught in the high tide Jesus would still have jumped into the Passiontide to rescue just you. And like the Hound of Heaven this Rescue Swimmer keeps after you. He strokes towards you with every call to repent and to let go of your sins that are sinking you. He strokes towards you with every promise that He has finished paying for your sins. He strokes toward you drowning in the water till He grabs you with Word and Sacraments and the helicopter of grace lifts you to safety. The tide is high but the Passiontide is higher. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday in Lent (20160313); Luke 20: 9-19