Sunday, 7 April 2019

Vineyards - Isaiah 5 / Matthew 21

God sings a love song! Isaiah captures it in Isaiah 5, about the one He loved and His vineyard. Note that vineyards are long term investments, they take much work, time and resources. It involves clearing stones, planting, building a watch-tower and so on. It is therefore not cheap love - the lover invests those resources and looks after the vineyard. But quickly the love song turns sour. By verse 3 it is no longer a power ballad but more like Blues music!

The lover is perplexed. How could the vineyard yield so badly. In verse 5 the mood turns to anger - the owner will come and do away with this vineyard, it is no good, not fit for purpose. Let it be a wasteland, with no rain or cultivation. It can turn to briers and thorns! Verse 7 spells it out: the vineyard is the nation of Israel, God's people, but they have not produced fruit. It has a double hit which is a clever rhyming word-play in Hebrew: he looked for justice but found bloodshed, he looked for righteousness by found distress.

Jesus tells a story, also of a vineyard. A vineyard that receives investment, with a wall, a watch-tower and planting. The vineyard is given to some people to look after it, to manage it, and produce good fruit. Yet those tenants turn bad and do not produce fruit for the rightful owner. The owner sends people to warn them, but they are treated badly. Finally the owner sends his son, the one he loves, but tenants turn on him and kill him, saying 'this vineyard is surely now ours'.

So what will the true landowner do to those bad/corrupt tenants? What is the right thing to do? We know the answer - it is of course to come and forcibly remove them - to throw them out!

Jesus clashed with the religious elite of his day. They had their institutions, their way of doing things, but they were not fruitful. In fact worse they were unjust and trampled on people. Note that they were sincere, they even prayed and did some kind of worship. Yet the institution had become their god, they had lost relationship and connection with the real living God. What is to become of them? Jesus spells it out and it is a sticky end. In their rejection of Him, they would be rejected and thrown out: v43 says 'The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will bear fruit'. In other words to a new people, a new Israel, a people of God drawn from the nations to be fruitful.

This statement was shocking to all the people listening. In the Luke version they say out loud 'God forbid' and you can hear their gasp. The Jewish leaders knew exactly what Jesus was saying, they knew he was talking about them.

Decide for yourself: Why did Jesus use the vineyard image? Why was it so emotive?
  • the people were into vineyards, so it was a natural image to use?
  • it was a useful image, but its relation to Isaiah 5 was just coincidence?
  • the people (especially the leaders) would know the Isaiah 5 scripture already, and would immediately connect it with Jesus own story about a vineyard?
Are we being fruitful for God, or protecting our own self-interests, creating our own institutions? Hence the key question:

Key Qn: [IN] Is God prodding you to re-focus to His fruitful purposes?
Challenge: Let the Son meet with you

It is easy for us to make our own goals, but are they the fruitful ones God desires for us? Yet what does God do? He sends The Son, and with him actually comes invitation. Lets not treat him badly but instead let him meet with us - hence the challenge.

Remember God's desire for us is fruitfulness, and through the son He will restore, tend, invest and re-enable you to be fruitful. We cannot take God for granted, for surely He could replace us just as much as the previous people. But keep remembering that His desire is that we are fruitful, and He has given us much to be fruitful with: all that we have and all that we have been given is for us to be stewards with (i.e. like tenants). It is not ours, but rather invested in us to be stewards with, to work the vineyard, and produce fruit.

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