Whose responsibility is it to care for the Lord’s vineyard, the Church? Rightly answered, it’s all of us who have been called by the gospel and given faith. By this faith, we love the Lord and produce abundant fruits of faith in His service. Conversely, there are those who reject their Savior and live for self. In the case of such individuals, invariably the judgment of God is not far behind. Our God patiently seeks fruit from his people.
May we cherish the fact that the Lord has saved us and granted us heavenly citizenship. May we never take this fact for granted. Rather may we see that God has brought us to faith by the gospel and now God has richly endowed us with the gospel of Christ to call others into his kingdom. Lord, help us to be faithful stewards of your gifts and live as citizens of heaven!
FIRST LESSON Isaiah 5:1-7
The song of the vineyard starts out as a beautiful love ballad. Israel is God’s own vineyard, and he gave her everything she needed. After planting vines, a farmer normally had to wait two years for the first harvest. Isaiah tells us that God was not idle after planting. He built a tower, a press—this vineyard had everything needed. No expense was spared. What a surprise then, when God came to look for fruit and found only “stinking things.” When God speaks in verse 3, who could disagree with him?
Like the vineyard, Israel lacked nothing. God took her from Egypt and planted her in the Promised Land. He drove out her enemies and made her secure. She had the Law, the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the prophets. What more could God have done? Yet when he came to harvest, there was no fruit. In fact, God found the opposite of his intention! God looked for “justice” but found “bloodshed.” He looked for “righteousness” but found “cries of distress.”
It had a beautiful beginning, but the song of the vineyard has a harrowing end: God himself will tear it down. When God looks for fruits of faith in our life and finds them lacking, couldn’t he ask the same question of us, “What more could I have done for you? I planted you in baptism; I bought you with blood; I guarded you with angels.” This song leads God’s people of every generation to self–evaluation and self–condemnation. Such a song leads us to repent and cry, “Lord, have mercy!” Let us never receive God’s grace in vain, but pray that we might produce the fruits that our beloved seeks.
Isaiah 5:1–7 —1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 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. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” 7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
SECOND LESSON Philippians 3:12–21
Paul encourages us to live up to what we have already attained. God has given us the kingdom of heaven by faith. We are the people he promised would produce its fruits. So let us do exactly that. Let us live drastically different lives than the people of this world who worship their stomach and their shame. Let us with free hearts do everything that pleases our Lord and Savior.
The inspired apostle puts to rest two notions that war against the gospel of our salvation. Some assert that we can achieve holiness already in this life. This arrogance excludes grace. Although we strain toward heavenly perfection, we know that our holiness in this life comes from the Savior alone. Others make a mockery of Jesus’ forgiveness by using it as a license to sin. They are earthly minded. But our citizenship is in heaven, where our omnipotent Lord Jesus will transform our bodies for the ultimate perfection and freedom!.
Philippians 3:12–21 —12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
GOSPEL Matthew 21:33–43
Jesus’ words in the Gospel highlight the patience of our God as he seeks fruits of faith. Could God have done anything more for Israel? The point here is the amazing patience the owner displays. What owner would continue to send servants when they were treated this way? Who would ever answer such barbarity by sending his only Son? The patience of God with Israel is without comparison. Even Jesus’ enemies had to agree that the only just end for such tenants was judgment. The owner’s Son looked his enemies in the eye and proclaimed that opposing him was impossible. Killing the Son means defeat for his enemies and victory for God as prophesied in Psalm 118. God will lift his Son from death and use the stone rejected by men as his capstone. Let Jesus’ enemies be warned. You can oppose the Son actively and you will find yourself on your face. You can ignore the Son at your peril and you will find yourself ground to powder. Israel’s leaders refused to produce the fruits of repentance and faith. As a result, the kingdom of God will be ripped away and given to a different nation. The point is not that he will give the kingdom to Gentiles, but that God’s kingdom doesn’t belong to an ethnic group, but an ethical group: those who produce its fruit. The nation to whom is it given is the body of believers. Whether they are prostitutes (Matthew 21:32) or members of the Sanhedrin (John 19:39) or Gentiles who are of the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:16), the kingdom belongs to them by faith.
Matthew 21:33–43 —33 “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. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 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.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 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.