Believe it or Not
Believe it or not, on September 15, 1917, Marshall Walter Pitman of Wharton, Texas shot a bullet from his pistol down the barrel of a man who was trying to shoot him. Believe it or not, in 1809 Count de Montendy road 861 miles in 6 days on 1 horse. Believe it or not, the world's largest rabbit weighs 42 pounds (www. ripleys.com). Believe it or not, you ain't heard nothing yet. Jesus parable is as amazing as anything Ripley's Believe it or Not has ever found.
Believe it or not, there can be sour unbelief in the face of sweet grace. You don't really catch the sweetness of the grace because of the way the insert translates two words. A man plants a vineyard all right but he doesn't "rent" it. He "gives it out." At the conclusion of the parable Jesus says the owner will "give" (didomi) the vineyard to others. In the beginning Jesus says the owner ekdidomi's the vineyard. That these can be understood as meaning the same things is clear from Matthew's account of the parable. He uses give out' where Luke has give.'
The other word that trips you up is "tenants." The insert has "when the tenants saw" the son. Well, if they're tenants that means they're renters. The word translated "farmers" at the beginning of the parable is for no reason later translated "tenants." A Greek dictionary says it means "a tiller of the soil, husbandman, a vine dresser" (http://www.blueletterbible.org/georgos. 9 Mar 2013). The KJV translates it "husbandman," we'd say "farmer", all 19 times it occurs in the New Testament.
Remember this is a parable. The vineyard stands for the Lord giving Israel the kingdom. This was an act of grace. Moses says, "The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples" (Dt. 7:7). Neither did the Lord give them the kingdom because they were more faithful than the people around them. They weren't; Abraham was an idolater like the rest of the people of Ur. Israel in Egypt worshipped the Egyptian gods too.
Yet the Lord gave them the kingdom, and not "at harvest time" but literally "in season" the owner sent for the fruit. He wasn't being unreasonable. It was his vineyard and its crops were in season. And what did the Lord come seeking from His people? We talked about this a few weeks ago. He came seeking repentance and faith. He came preaching drop your loads of sin, of guilt, of shame that you can't carry and give them to Me. Believe that I and will carry these away from you.
Believe it or not, they wouldn't do it. The parable has the owner sending servant after servant even though they were beaten, treated shamefully, wounded and thrown out. This is the prophets whom Jeremiah repeatedly describes the Lord sending with these words, "And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention" (25:4). Later when Stephen asks these leaders "Which one of the prophets didn't you persecute" (Ac. 7"52), they have no answer because they persecuted them all from Able to Zechariah as Jesus says in Luke (11:51). But believe it or not, centuries of unbelief didn't sour God's grace. In the end, He sent His only beloved Son to them.
Believe it or not, there can be sour unbelief in the face of sweet grace, and believe it or not, there can be sweet grace in the face of sour unbelief. Remember parables show you inside the heart of God and man which you can't see on your own. Here Jesus shows us the Father deliberating this way, "What shall I do after they have beaten, mistreated, and wounded every prophet I ever sent then? I know; I will send My Son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect Him." You've got to be kidding. Would you do that? Would you send your only child into a situation in which many of your employees had been hurt? Would you risk the wellbeing of your beloved child on a perhaps? "Perhaps they will respect Him?"
Believe it or not, that's what God the Father did. So much did He want their sins, so much did He want them to believe His Son would carry them away from them, He sends the Son in person. Grace so amazing, so divine is unbelievable. But it gets better. The Old Testament church casting out and killing the Father's Son was the means of giving them the vineyard in the first place.
This is the mystery Paul talks about in Ephesians 1. That God could know people as blameless and holy in Christ even before the foundation of the world. This is the mystery of Revelation. The Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world. God saw the whole world through rose colored glasses you might say, glasses that were tinted red by the shed blood of His Son, even before the world was created. So everywhere He looked in Christ, He saw not sins but holiness. That's how God in Christ dealt with the world from eternity, but there came a point in time, that the Son would actually have to shed His holy blood. Now is that time.
Believe it or not, by rejecting Jesus as their Savior, by delivering Him to the State for killing, they were fulfilling God's plan to save them. Why do you think Jesus in Gethsemane stopped His disciples from defending Him? Why do you think Jesus didn't call on the legions of angels He could have to deliver Him? Why do you think Jesus said to His disciples that no man takes My life from Me, I give it? Jesus only dies on the cross once it's is finished. If Jesus was killed or even gave up His life before every last single guilt, shame, doubt, gossip, unbelief, lust, or failure was paid for, there would still be sins that needed paying for and they just might be yours.
Well if this is case, why are those who rejected and delivered Jesus up guilty? This is the same question reason asks about Judas. If he was only fulfilling God's plan why isn't he to be praised? For one, God never forces anyone to do evil. Two, God knows what will happen from the beginning. He saw that sinful man would reject His sweet grace in unbelief. They would kill His only beloved Son in a crazy attempt to get the kingdom. He uses their very evil plan to shed His Son's blood to work the greatest good of paying for the world's sins to give Him rose colored glasses.
Their unbelief, believe it or not, extended His kingdom. Their putting to death the Son didn't end the vineyard. It enabled the owner to give it to others. Before Good Friday, the prophets and the Son too, were only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Once the Son dies while having the sins of the world on His back, once that payment is received by God the Father and acknowledged on Easter by raising the Son, the Son goes out preaching repentance and forgiveness to all nations. He sends baptizers into all nations. He says whosoever sins His people forgive they are forgiven. He says whoever calls on the name of the Lord is saved.
Believe it or not, you know both the sourness of unbelief and the sweetness of grace. You know the grace of God giving you the vineyard. He has put you in His Holy Christian Church, and He sends for the fruit of repentance and faith in due season. He invites you to "draw near with a true heart and confess" your sins unto God your Father. He invites you to cry "Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy." He invites you to plead, "O Lamb of God that takest away the sin of world have mercy on us." By the Word of the Law still dimly readable in your fallen heart and by the clear Law written in the Bible, you have been given all that is necessary to give the Lord a harvest of true repentance.
But don't stop here. Believe it or not, it's for the sake of the Absolution that follows that we have the Confession of sins. Are you giving the fruit of faith the words of Absolution produce? Do you believe the words of forgiveness I speak are the Lord's? You should because I stand here in His place and by His command. He can command me to send your sins away from you because He owns them. He pled guilty to them on Good Friday and died to pay for them. When the words of Absolution from my mouth ring in your ears, the fruit the Father is looking for is you saying, "Amen, Amen, yes, yes, I am forgiven."
Believe it or not, you know both grace and unbelief and for this reason you do what the people in the text did. They couldn't bear to hear that the leaders of the church would be judged. They would be killed by the owner of the vineyard. They say, "May it never be." This is the default position of unbelief in our world. People think as long as they believe no one will ever be judged for sins, then they won't be judged either. This is wrong. This is unbiblical, but believe it or not, Jesus doesn't respond to this unbelief in wrath but with even more grace.
The insert says, "Jesus looked directly at them." This is the same word for look used when Jesus looks at Peter in the high priest's courtyard. It's a warm, recalling, winning look. Jesus says in effect the Stone doesn't have to crush you as it did the church leaders who rejected Him. Jesus is the Rock that followed the OT church in the wilderness and gave the water of salvation to all who drank in faith. Jesus is the Capstone under which all may find shelter from God's judgment.
Believe it or not, just because church leaders end up lost doesn't mean ordinary folk have to be. The text begins by saying Jesus "went on to tell the people this parable." It's for your sake He speaks it. Ordinary people think church leaders must be closer to God than they. But the prophets preached against the leaders of the church in the Old Testament. Jesus preached against them in His day. Luther in his own. Our Book of Concord says: In regard to the condemnation of false teaching it is not our intention to mean persons who err naively. Neither do we wish to condemn whole churches. Our confession condemns only the false and seductive teachings and the stiff necked teachers (Preface, 20).
Believe it or not, even if every pastor, teacher, priest, or pope was crushed by the Rock of Ages, He still would cleft to admit into the vineyard sinners fleeing their sins. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday in Lent (20130317); Luke 20: 9-19