The Other Side of Judgement

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 7, 2019 — Deacon Rex Watt

Isaiah 43:16-21 / Philippians 3:4b-14 / Luke 20:9-20

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Many things in life have two sides: coins; football, baseball and basketball games; and arguments just to name a few.  It has been said that if you visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and take time to walk around the statue of our 16th President, that you will see his countenance change from one side to the other.  On one side, he looks downcast, as if he is considering the consequences of the war that tore his country apart, costing the lives of over 600,000 people.  From the other side, there seems to be a slight smile on his face, as if he is considering the freedom so many people gained, and that his nation was no longer divided but united and stronger than ever.

The parable of the wicked tenants also has two sides.  It speaks a severe pronouncement of God’s judgement upon the house of Israel, particularly its leaders, for their rebellion and rejection of God’s grace.  However, our Lord also speaks this parable to us today, as members of the new Israel, the holy Christian Church – the “others” referred to in verse 16.  Fortunately for us, it is not a pronouncement of judgement or Law.  This parable lets us view the other side of judgement: God’s grace in Christ.

One the one side, the parable summarizes Israel’s wicked response to God’s patient dealings with them and His judgement upon those who reject His grace.  God had graciously brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, “making a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” as our OT reading depicted.  He brought them into the Promised Land, which He gave to them, and made them a nation to be reckoned with despite their continued rebellion and apostacy.  Israel would sin, and God would send a judge.  Israel would sin again, and God would send another judge.  Israel sinned again in asking for a king, so that they could be like all the other nations around them; and when the kings led the people astray, God would send prophets.  One after another.

Jesus picks up on this when he tells the parable.  He purposely uses the image of a vineyard because over and over in the Jewish Scriptures, Israel is likened to a vineyard (Isa 5:7).  Jesus tells the people that a man established a vineyard and let it out to tenant farmers.  A tenant farmer was not the owner of the land, he worked the land for the owner, and he could keep a portion of the fruit of the land as his pay; but the crop, the fruits of the land belonged to the owner.  When harvest time came, the owner sent a servant to collect his due.  The tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  So, the owner sent another, and the tenants not only beat this one, they treated him shamefully and sent him away empty handed.  Third time is the charm, right?  The owner sent a third, and this one they wounded and cast him out.

If that were your employee, what would you do?  Every time that you send a representative to collect your rent, your share of the crops, they keep getting treated worse and worse. So, what would you do?  I know!  You’d send your son, wouldn’t you?  Your beloved son.  Your only son.  “What!!” you say?  “Are you nuts?  I’d fire those good for nothing tenants and get me some new ones.”  Alas, dear saints of Redeemer, God’s ways are not your ways.  The owner of the vineyard (the Greek text says ‘Lord’ of the vineyard) sends his son, his beloved son, his only son.

“But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir.  Let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’”  And they did just that.  They did it in the parable and would do it for real in a few short days.  They killed the son alright, but they got the inheritance thing all wrong.  Jesus concludes the parable by telling the people that the owner (Lord) of the vineyard will come and destroy those wicked tenants, but he’s not going to hire new tenants; he’s going to ‘give’ the vineyard to others.

When the people heard this, they were aghast!  “Surely not!” they said.  “μή γένοιτο”  May it never be!  A phrase used by the Apostle Paul frequently when he is stressing that something is not possible.  “ No way Jesus!  Not possible!”  Then Jesus “Looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”   Jesus is looking directly into the eyes of the people and saying, “Look at me…read my lips!”  He is the rejected son.  He will be killed.  He will be the stone rejected, but become the cornerstone, the foundation stone of a new vineyard – the Church.

The Apostle Paul clearly enumerates that Jesus is the cornerstone of this new household of God in his letter to the Ephesians: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross….  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but 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 2:11-21).

You dear saints of Redeemer are part of the new people of God.  Paul says that you who are in Christ, are a new creation (2 Cor 5.17).  He wrote, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, [even] upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:15-16).  You, dear saints, are part of the “new thing” that God promised to do as foretold by Isaiah.  You, dear saints, have believed the Gospel; that Jesus became flesh for you to fulfill the commandments of God that you could never fulfill on your own; to suffer God’s wrath on your behalf, and die the death appointed for you on Calvary.  This Jesus, your Jesus, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and the Jewish leaders thought they had won the victory and the inheritance would be theirs.  But God had other plans.  Jesus rose from the dead and became the cornerstone of a new people of God.  In your Baptism you were made part of that new people of God.  You have received that “water of Life” promised by Jesus to the woman at the well.  It is the “water in the wilderness, [the] river in the desert” that gives you drink during your earthly pilgrimage as His chosen people, a people whom He formed for Himself, that you might declare His praise.  He gives all this to you purely out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you.  Purely out of His grace, which is the other side of judgement.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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