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THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS

Matthew 21:33-21:46
Key Verse: 21:38

Through the parable of the two sons we learned that mind-changing based on the words of God is life-changing and it leads us to the kingdom of God. Today Jesus says, “Listen to another parable.” Through parables he wants to enlighten the minds of people. Matthew’s gospel is in a sense the gospel of parables. Today’s passage is the parable of the tenants. It reveals the fundamental problem of his chosen people and that of all mankind so poignantly. We can think about God’s love and what kind of relationship he wants from us.

First, the owner and the tenants’ relationship (33-41). Look at verse 33a. “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower.” What kind of landowner was he? The landowner was a hardworking one. He planted a vineyard, putting a wall around it, digging a winepress in it and building a watchtower. Owners are owners; they are not workers. Usually, owners let their servants do the work. But this landowner was different. He himself worked hard for the vineyard, walling, digging, and building. This labour of his own meant he poured out his whole heart on this project. It was the best vineyard. Isaiah 5:1,2 says, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard. My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.” This reminds us of the Creator God, who planted a garden in the east, Eden with all kinds of trees pleasing to the eye and good for food (Ge 2:8,9).

What did the landowner do after preparing the vineyard? Look at verse 33b. “Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.” This showed that the landowner did not make the vineyard for himself, for his business purpose or pleasure. Not at all. It was for the farmers, for their good. We will this. He rented the vineyard to some farmers. To us, the word “rent” may not be that appealing. When we hear the word, “rent”, we think of the owners who make a lot of money through renting. Rent fee should be paid to the owner without fail. Otherwise, the tenants will be kicked out. Again, this landowner was different. Look at verse 33b again. “Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.” He did not stay there to supervise how the farmers worked and check whether they paid the rent fee regularly. No. He went away on a journey. He went away from them. He gave them full freedom to work freely in the vineyard using their own management skill. And it was not a short journey, but a long journey.

We can see further what the owner’s heart desire was. Look at verse 34. “When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” He did not send his servants suddenly at an unexpected time. He sent them at the harvest time, a very reasonable time, and it was to collect his fruit. He did not send them to collect all the fruit, but some of the fruit of his (Mk 12:2, Lk 20:10). Here the farmers were called tenants. As tenants their giving some of the fruit would be their acknowledgement of the landowner’s ownership and the expression of their thanks to him for all his provision. That was all that the owner of the vineyard wanted. In that, the relationship between the owner and the tenants of the farmers would be possible. In such a relationship the owner wanted the tenant farmers to maintain the blessing and be free and happy.

How did the tenants respond? Look at verse 35. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.” What a horrible response! The servants did not do anything wrong to them. However, the tenants were so violent. Actually the farmers were privileged ones as some farmers to whom the landowner rented the vineyard. Why did they become like that? Probably, when they saw the servants, they were surprised because they didn’t work hard and had nothing to give. When the landowner came to know how the tenants treated his servants, it was unbelievable to him. He doubted his ears and still wanted to trust them. So he sent other servants to them, more than the first time. He must have wished that they would change their minds and attitude. But to his great dismay, the tenants treated the second group of servants in the same way they treated the first. The situation looked worse and it seemed that the owner could not go on this way anymore.

Yet, what did he do? Look at verse 37. “Last of all, he sent his son to them. They will respect my son,’ he said.” It exhibits that the owner wanted to trust the tenants to the end, no matter what. Sending his son to such a violent and vicious group of people was too risky a thing for him to do. However, in doing such a hazardous work, he wanted to trust their respect. He said, “They will respect my son.” By sending his son as the last resort, the owner indeed did everything he could do. He had one single undying desire to have a certain relationship with the tenants in terms of trust and respect. He truly loved them, for love always trusts and always hopes (1 Corinthians 13:7). He showed them his love to the end.

Did the owner’s love attempt work out? Look at verse 38. “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” His love enterprise was completely ruined. Here we can clearly see why the tenants acted so violently and brutally: It because they wanted to take the vineyard. They wanted to be the owner. They were not satisfied with the tenants’ position. They wanted to get even the inheritance right by killing the son, the heir. They were greatly mistaken. They were deluded.

Here we can think about the fundamental problem of the tenants. In the owner’s blessing given to them by his grace, the farmers forgot who they were and how they were blessed. They were privileged to be tenants and caretakers for the specially planted vineyard. Yet, they were not aware of it. They were not thankful. As time passed by in that state, they felt that they were bothered by the thought of the owner. They did not want to recognize the owner who planted the vineyard and rented it to them. They were seeking a way to be free. Then their minds degenerated to the point of thinking that they could be the owner of the vineyard. In that degenerate mind they killed even the owner’s son. This is exactly how the first man and woman fell. When they forgot who they were and how they were blessed with no acknowledgment of God and his love, they were degenerated until they were tempted by the devil, who spoke to them that God is like tyrant and told a lie that they would be like God.

What God wants from his people is acknowledgement of him. He said in Hosea 6:6, “…I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledge of God…” He said continually in 13:4-6, “…I am the LORD your God, who brought you, out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Saviour except me. I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” God also expressed the same kind of agony and sorrow in Isaiah 1:2-3, “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Not acknowledging God as God and then taking all things for granted is the fundamental problem of mankind. In that own-man mentality is formed. In extreme cases, it draws a man into the delusion that he is the centre of the universe, even to be worshiped. By October 31/2011, the population of the earth reached 7 billion. When I think about the food provision, I wonder where all the food for them comes everyday. People can say that earth produces all the food and feeds them. But when we think more about it, how can the earth do such a thing by itself? The earth is just material with no life, less than a human being. It is good to have earth day and celebrate it. Some people might say that scientific progress has led to the increased agricultural productivity—i.e. human endeavour. But if it is done without acknowledging the Creator, how nonsense it is! It is true that the greatest and fundamental problem of mankind in each generation, especially in our times is not recognizing the Creator God. Then there is no way to know who they are. Many just insist that my life is my own and full of own man mentality. To them, their wealth, position and all they have now are their own, and they don’t want to lose those things. To them their attachment to such things is more important than their relationship with others. It is unthinkable for them to have a certain relationship with God from whom in truth all things came from. When the chief priests and the Pharisees claimed that their religious establishments were theirs, their minds were deteriorated to the point of killing Jesus the Son of God.

In light of this, those who recognize God who is the Creator and the owner of all blessing are beautiful people. When Job heard that all his cattle and even all his children were dead, he got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:20,21). Job was truly the one who recognized the LORD God, who is the owner of all things. We can also think of Joseph’s life. He acknowledged God in times of suffering and in times of success. When he was sold as a slave in Egypt by his brother and also put in prison being falsely accused, he acknowledged God and trusted in him. His relationship with God was not damaged. When he became Prime Minister of Egypt and the power of Egypt was in his hand to use, he deeply recognized God. He knew that the position and power came from God and he was a steward of the blessing. So he used them to serve God’s purpose of saving many lives at the time of global recession. He also used them to lead his brothers to repentance so that the foundation of 12 patriarchs was laid. His relationship with God was well maintained.

We need to deeply recognize that God is the creator and he is the owner of everything. Your prettiness, handsomeness, health, intellectual power, all came from him. Even my very life came from him. This view of oneself is very significant. As soon as we claim that something is our own, our relationship with God is in jeopardy and so is my relationship with others. Thankfulness disappears and our minds and hearts become crooked. When we truly think of ourselves, we cannot be our own. For he created us and then purchased us through his Son Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:19,20). We are his, doubly confirmed. Truly we are what we are by his grace. When we acknowledge, we can have a right vital relationship with him. “By the grace of God I am what I am” may be our own philosophy deeply imbedded in our hearts.

What would happen to those who killed the son? Would they take the inheritance? Look at verses 40, 41. “‘Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied.” They knew that the tenants were wretches and invited the wretched end to themselves. Their reply indicates that it is a self-evident truth. Look at verse 41b. “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” It shows that the owner’s love enterprise will never fail, but be carried on and on to the fulfillment. When the Jews could not bear the blessing of being the tenants, it was given to other Gentiles. The history of God is that his blessing is given to those who can bear it.

Second, the rejected stone; the capstone (42-46). Look at verse 42. “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” Here through the words of the Scriptures Jesus teaches the religious leaders that he would be thrown out and killed like the son in the parable, but he the rejected stone would become the capstone. The capstone is the foundation stone of a building. How could the rejected stone be the capstone? Humanly, it was impossible. The Lord would do it. When Jesus was crucified on the cross in obedience to God’s will, God would raise him up. Through his death and resurrection, the kingdom of God would be restored. It is truly a marvelous thing.

Look at verse 43. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Here we see further God’s heart desire for his people. He eventually wanted to give the kingdom of God to them. As for the kingdom of heaven it is not to be rented but given. When they rejected the relationship with God, they would lose everything, even the kingdom of God which was supposed to be given to them. It will be given to a people who will produce its fruit. Here as we studied, the point of producing its fruit is having a certain relationship with God in terms of trust and respect, that is love. In the right relationship God would give everything and anything to his people, even the kingdom of God. This is God’s heart desire. God wants his people to be happy in the kingdom of heaven with thankfulness and due respect.

Look at verse 44. “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” This is the destiny of any individual who rejects the relationship with God through the Son Jesus. No relationship with God is self-destruction. Look at verse 45. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.” The spiritual condition of the chief priests and the Pharisees was beyond human understanding.

Thank God for Jesus’ teaching of the parable of the tenants. May God help us to be a people who can acknowledge God and his blessing and have a right relationship with him in terms of trust and thanks and due respect.

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