“The Amazing Grace of God in Dealing with Sinners”

(Matthew 21:33-43 – Pentecost 20 – October 18, 2020)

Matthew 21:33-43 – 33“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” 41They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.”

Dear Redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ:

Imagine you have an important message to send to people you loved. It includes warnings about enemies who threaten their life, and instructions about how they can be kept safe until you come. Because of the urgency of your message, you send it ahead of you by a trustworthy messenger. But when the messenger arrives, the very ones you seek to protect mistake him for an enemy, beat him up and send him back to you. In your loving concern, what do you do? You send another messenger, and another, and another, urgently repeating your message; but each time, they mistake him for an enemy and kill him shamefully. Finally, because these people’s lives are in danger, and you love them too much to see them destroyed, you decide to send your own son to them. Surely they will recognize him, take your warning to heart, and be saved. But to your great sorrow, they shamefully mistreat and kill even your own flesh and blood. Yet in your undying love for these people, what do you do? You continue to extend your love to them, reaching out with your message about how they might be saved from their true enemies.

Such a scenario is hard to imagine. Who of us would go to such great ends, seeking to save those who respond so hurtfully to our love, even when we make the greatest sacrifice for them? Yet it is the way of God in dealing with humanity. Jesus’ parable pictures “The Amazing Grace of God in Dealing with Sinners”: 1) Patiently sending servants of His Word, 2) Lovingly sending His Son as the Savior, 3) Graciously extending His Kingdom to all.

1) Patiently sending servants of His Word

First, we see the amazing grace of God in dealing with sinners, as He patiently continues to send servants of His Word, despite the rejection He sees. Jesus pictures it in the parable: “There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them”(vs. 33-36).

This parable pictured the spiritual condition in Israel. In Isaiah 5:1-7, God describes how He had planted Israel like a vineyard. He provided the best conditions for their spiritual growth. He set them on fertile ground and cultivated them in a special way among all nations – giving them His Law and covenant, pointing them to the Messiah who would come as the Savior of sinners. But despite His special care, Israel had become like a vineyard that produced wild grapes. They rebelled and broke His covenant. False religious leaders led the people away from worship of God into idolatry and sin. The people did not see the great spiritual danger they were in. Satan, by his lies, had filled the land with enemies of God’s truth and salvation. The life of many souls was at stake; if they died in such a state of impenitence and unbelief, they would perish forever.

Like the landowner in the parable, God sent His servants among the people – messengers of His Word. Faithful prophets brought His urgent message to those souls in danger – like the message of Ezekiel 18:30-32: “‘Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘Therefore turn and live!'”

In love, God sent prophet after prophet to warn the people of their spiritual danger. They urged them to flee to safety by turning from falsehood and idolatry, to the truth of God and His salvation for sinners. As God sent His Word among them, He looked for the fruit of repentance, faith, and obedience. Yet how often, like the servants in the parable, God’s prophets and His message were rejected. This is how it came to be that, when Israel’s Messiah came to them, as He stood in God’s temple He cried: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

Have you ever felt the hurt of such rejection? Maybe in your concern for a wayward soul, you tried to reach out in love and share God’s truth and salvation in Christ. Maybe you repeated your efforts, because you did not want to see that soul lost. But in return for your love, you felt their rejection, whether by hot anger or by cold indifference.

But Jesus’ parable leads us to examine our own response to God’s Word. In many ways, we are like that well cultivated and cared for vineyard. As God provided special privileges to Israel, giving them His Word and promises until the coming of Christ; so now He has provided His Word richly among us, declaring all His promises fulfilled in the Savior who has come for us.

Yet God sees the dangers we face, with spiritual enemies on every side. He sees Satan influencing the world with his lies that oppose God’s truth, seeking to bring souls to eternal ruin. God sees how easy it is for us to get used to the constant drumbeat of falsehood in our society, in our schools, in our media, in our entertainment. Everywhere, we hear the doctrine of the devil that says: “Throw off the constraints of the Bible and live how you please, follow your heart.” As in Israel, many religious leaders who should oversee and protect souls by God’s truth, instead preach what itching ears want to hear and lead people to feel comfortable in sin.

God also sees the enemy within us, in our sinful nature – that part of us which wants to wants to follow its own desires and live as it pleases. In love, God warns us against danger for our good. At times, it may be hard to hear, when His Word convicts us: “These new friends are leading you astray; don’t follow them!”… “These desires you entertain are leading you into the devil’s trap; crucify the flesh!”… “This sinful habit, this addiction, is overcoming you; give it up!”… “This bitterness and lack of forgiveness in your heart is consuming you; get a new heart!”… “These harsh and critical ways are hurting others; put on love!”… “This example you are setting is leading others astray; amend your ways!”… “This unnecessary activity is leading you away from My Word and Sacrament; turn back!”…

Sometimes, when God sends a faithful servant, to speak His truth in love and confront our sin, our natural response is to get defensive and reject the messenger. But why does God confront us with His Word? It is only because He loves us, and does not want us to fall into spiritual danger and ruin. It is because He wants to lead us to safety, in the path of repentance and faith. And above all, He wants to speak to us His Word of forgiveness, through the saving work of His Son.

2) Lovingly sending His Son as the Savior

Now in the parable, Jesus leads us to see the amazing grace of God in dealing with sinners, in lovingly sending His Son as our Savior. Jesus says of the vineyard owner: “Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him” (vs. 37-39).

There is something unreal about a man, whose servants were mistreated and killed by the vinedressers, sending his own son to collect his share of the harvest. Who of us would risk the life of our child, among those who had shown themselves murderous enemies? But it illustrates God’s amazing grace and loving desire to save sinners, lest they perish. He sent His Son into the world, with the hope of bringing the fruit of repentance and faith, salvation and eternal life.

There is also something unreal about vinedressers killing the landowner’s son, expecting to get his inheritance. Here Jesus pictures false teachers in Israel, who were jealous as He preached with authority and performed miracles, drawing people’s hearts away from their leadership. They wanted to inherit God’s Kingdom for themselves without His Son getting in the way. Soon after this, they would have Jesus cast outside the gates of Jerusalem and crucified.

Yet even as sinners carried out evil plans against the Son of God, nailing Him to a cross, God was carrying out His gracious plan to save sinners, taking away their sins at the cross. God’s prophet Isaiah had foretold it, as he prophesied about the Messiah: He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

This is why God sent His Son into the world, to be sacrificed for the sins of us all. Now Jesus is the only one who has ever rendered the fruit of a perfect life God demanded from every human; and He presented His whole life as a harvest before His father, which God now counts to us for righteousness. Then Jesus took all our sins to the cross, where He suffered and died to take them all away from the sight of God. And having done everything to work out our salvation, He bowed His head and committed His spirit into His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46). Then the Son of God rose from the dead to share His gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life with sinners everywhere.

3) Graciously extending His Kingdom to all

In this, we see the amazing grace of God in dealing with sinners – in graciously extending His Kingdom to all. As Jesus spoke of His Kingdom, He did so with a warning and a promise.

To those who rejected Him He gave a warning: Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus replied: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (vs. 40-41, 43). By rejecting God’s Son as their Savior they remained in their sin, under judgment. Since many in Israel rejected Him, He would bring His Gospel to Gentiles, many whom would produce fruit of repentance and faith by the Holy Spirit.

Yet even as Jesus spoke to fiercest enemies, we hear in His Word a gracious promise – a loving invitation to repent, believe, and inherit His Kingdom and salvation. He quoted Psalm 118:22: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (vs. 42). The Son who was rejected by men, would rise to become the chief cornerstone of God’s Kingdom. It is not a physical kingdom in a certain nation; it is a spiritual Kingdom. It is His Church of believers in every nation, including Jews and Gentiles. All believers have Christ and His saving truth as our unshakeable foundation. And as Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, not even the gates of hell and all the power of Satan, can overcome His Church.

Today, we see the amazing grace of God, as He continues to extend His Kingdom to sinners. Even in the face of fiercest of enemies, in times of persecution when many of His servants have laid down their life, yet He continues to send His Gospel to the ends of the earth. He is bringing His grace and forgiveness to sinners everywhere, through His Word and Sacrament; with the promise that whoever believes and is baptized will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The Gospel is bearing fruit as sinners are being brought to repentance and faith.

Now by the grace of God, through the faith He worked in our hearts by His Holy Spirit, we are joined to Him who is the Chief Cornerstone in His eternal Church. We rest our hope squarely on Him who died for us, and rose again to give us His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. How do we respond to the amazing grace of God, as we continue to hear His message of love among us, as we see His undying love for us in Christ, and as we look forward to sharing in His heavenly Kingdom of Glory? We offer our lives as fruits of harvest to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us! We offer Him the fruit of thanks and praise, as we say:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.