Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We love stories. People have always loved them. Around the campfire, dad tucking the children in for sleep, tales about family escapades… and Jesus’ parables. Some folks say that Jesus’ stories, his parables, are earthly stories with heavenly meaning. I think it’s much simpler than that. Jesus’ parables are Jesus-parables. In other words the stories Jesus tells are about him. It’s the simplest rule to keep in mind when reading and hearing them. Without that, people won’t understand them. When the disciples asked him to explain the parable of the sower…
he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ ” (Luke 8:10, ESV)
The secret is knowing Jesus and seeing Jesus in the parable. It is about him. The hard part is that we are going against our sinful nature. You see, whenever we start to talk about religious ideas we go into a kind of auto pilot. Our first thought is us. In fact, without the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word that’s all human religion is, human work to raise up humans. Any example you look at is going to show that. Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc, they are all religions about what people do. Christianity is the only religion that is really about what God does, and the key to it all is Jesus. His life, death and resurrection are actually God doing, God saving.
And so today we have this parable. And right here in the middle of it we have a great example of this very thing I’ve been talking about. Before I read it again I want to set up the context and remind you of the keys to interpreting parables. First the context:
This is probably Monday after Palm Sunday. Remember Jesus rides into Jerusalem surrounded by people shouting, “Hosanna! The king is here.” He weeps over Jerusalem’s upcoming destruction. He goes into the temple, the “home territory” of his enemies, and flushes out the money changers. Then comes this important sentence:
And [Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. ” (Luke 19:47–48, ESV)
So Jesus’ enemies confront him in the temple asking where he gets his authority. He shuts them down by asking,
“I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luk 20:3–4, ESV)
They are afraid of the people. If we answer “from heaven” Jesus could ask why they didn’t believe what he said. If they answer “from men” they were afraid of the people’s reaction because the people knew he was from God. So they answer “We don’t know.” So Jesus doesn’t answer their question either. The tension is thick. The people are hanging on Jesus words. The priests and scribes have blood in their eyes. Then Jesus tells the parable… not to them but to the people.
Now the parable: Remember the two helps in interpreting the parable. First, it’s about Jesus. Second, watch for the thing that would never happen and that’s usually describing what Jesus is doing.
And [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 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 threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Ok so it’s about Jesus. It’s pretty obvious that the son in the parable is the Son of God. The servants are the prophets. The vineyard is God’s people who reject prophet after prophet and finally Jesus. But take care. The thing that would never happen isn’t that the tenants would kill the son. According to the law of the land, this actually could happen. And the tenants would be in a good position to take the property because the landlord was out of the country. It’s the people who hear the parable that tell you what’s out of place. When Jesus says,
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”
Do you see what they’ve done? They have made the parable about them losing the vineyard. Almost like saying, “That could never happen!” They are thinking, “God would never do that!” That’s what we are likely to do too. When we hear it we start asking questions like, “What do we have to do to not be like the people in the parable?” Do you see how we automatically center it on us? Jesus tells them they’ve missed the point. Listen:
But he 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 directs them back to the main thing, him. He is the son who will be cast out of the vineyard and killed. He is the rejected stone. In a matter of days they are going to see it in all its bloody detail. God’s glory, his work for us, God doing what is needed, is actually accomplished by the rejection of his son. In the garden the priest’s thugs arrest him and beat him. In an illegal trail they condemn him. They force Pilate to put him to death on the cross under threat. And so Jesus dies just as he tells in this parable. Rejected! He is the cornerstone. The parable is about him and his work for us, his people. On Wednesday nights we’ve been singing the Magnificat. It’s Mary’s song about God’s great reversal in Jesus Christ. God working to undo injustice. God turning the world’s order upside down. God doing things like no one else would do them. Jesus talks about it like this. You may have wondered why that song is so prominent in that evening prayer service. Listen to some of the words:
The meek exalted.
Full are the hungry;
Empty, the wealthy—
O sing the greatness of God the Lord!
© 1991 Stephen P. Starke. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100012735.
It’s not a song about the rich getting their comeuppance. It’s about God turning making everything right again in Christ, the rejected stone becomes the corner.
And there’s even more here than meets the ear… Jesus says:
‘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.
It’s a quote from Psalm 118:22, and an explanation. I want you to notice something here too. He says everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces. He’s not just talking about the scribes and priests that rejected him. He’s not just talking about today’s religious leaders that lead God’s people astray with false teaching. He’s not just talking about popes and pastors who push their works before the work of Christ, he says everyone. Yep, he means you and me, too. Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken. He does that to us. We must be broken and crushed. Otherwise we fall into to our old selfish patterns. We make ourselves the center of our religion. Over and over again Our Lord breaks us with the law. He doesn’t do it the way we do. We use the law to show how good we are. See I keep the law. I haven’t stolen from my neighbor even though he deserves it. I haven’t cheated on my husband, even though I could do much better. No, Jesus uses the law to kill us. He shows us that we must be perfect, and nothing short of perfect will do. When we see our sin clearly, we fall at his feet and call on him to save us. He does. The stone the builders rejected becomes the corner stone. He was cast out of the vineyard and onto the cross for us. We are forgiven. He is our savior. In repentance, the gift of faith, we broken sinners cling to Jesus for forgiveness and receive it. Those who reject him, he falls on them and they are crushed.
Jesus is the ultimate stumbling stone. Jesus is Christianity, not good works of any kind, not transforming culture, or getting good laws through the legislature. Jesus only. Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus the rejected stone. Jesus for you and me.
And that’s how the text ends today too.
The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. (Luke 20:19, ESV)
It all begins just as Jesus told in the parable. Amen.
The peace of God the passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.