Matthew 21:33-46 Part 1

Today we see the third of the (so called) parabolic “sayings” of Jesus to Israel’s elders and priests.  And as we’ll see again in a few moments this event in the temple was a very public shaming of them.  And as far as they were concerned the humiliation was not going to go unpunished.

In the first exchange, Jesus’ authority to do and say the things He was doing and saying was questioned.  But He turned the authority question back on them by proving that if they hadn’t the necessary authority to judge the credibility of even one prophet, then why should He respond to that authority!

Then in the second exchange, Jesus exposes their lying hypocrisy.  When John the Baptist first came on the scene the elders of Israel didn’t pronounce “yea” or “nay” concerning him (as the first saying suggested); and neither did they study what he was doing and saying in order to teach and prepare the people.  And now that they actually see all these things happening (the prostitutes and tax collectors – the “rabble” of Israel [remnant] entering the Kingdom), they still will not now sorrow and believe him!  Because that would be an admission of former error; and the sanhedrists would lose face and their authority base if they ever admitted to error!  “Appearance was everything.”

But the promised Elijah had come, preaching repentance and baptizing; the remnant of Israel had recognized him and esteemed him to be the forerunner of Messiah; and now, in their opinion, God’s Messiah has arrived as promised.  They had sorrowed and believed him; and they had followed him into the city and into the temple itself.  This was a giant step on their part.  And it is very significant indeed that this encounter occurs in the temple, as we’ll see later.  It wasn’t just “by chance” that this exchange happened when it did and where it did.  When we come to an examination of verse forty-two this will become clear.

Now.  Jesus will not let the elders and high priests just turn around and leave with the degree of public humiliation they had already suffered.  He continues to question them and to speak to them from the Scriptures.  And whatever subtlety of meaning had existed in the first two exchanges is done away with in the third.  Whatever embarrassment the elders and priests had experienced before was now going to be multiplied exponentially.

And, naturally, the degree of humiliation and embarrassment one suffers is going to affect the degree of one’s covetousness and vengeance, isn’t it?  These men were so defeated and so shamed that their public reaction was to attack Jesus and seize Him and kill Him – to use the manipulated public law, which they, over the period of decades and centuries, had developed for their own use and purpose – to destroy Him for (what they would call) His “insubordination” and His “blasphemy”.  What it actually was, was their human pride – pride which would not allow themselves to be shamed in public.

It can be said from here to the end of the age that this was a mammoth confrontation of ideas and traditions and religions and philosophies; and that here is the great, cosmic display of warfare between Satan and God!  But, as you can see, there is no warfare!  There is no giant confrontation of ideas here!  What it comes down to is simply the haughtiness of the human ego! – that fallen and cursed man thinks very highly of himself.  And when he’s told the Truth about himself (especially in public) he reacts with haughty insolence.  He may even become violent.  Many times he does become violent.  In the history of the Church there has been great violence; all of it centered around the Gospel.  Pride and the Gospel don’t get along very well.  The fallen, cursed human ego and the Gospel don’t get along!

In Jesus’ case there was great violence.  There was great humiliation of the self-glorified elders and priests of Israel.  And the more He exposed their true nature; the more He opened them up for all to see; the more He “divested” them of their public image, the more angry and violent they became.

Like a modern-day tennis player or movie star, or a politician, to the leadership of Israel “image is everything”.  These men had deconstructed the Word of God and reconstructed absolute Truth for the sake of image.  The true nature of hypocrisy was “de-nuded”.  The “language’ of the Scriptures; the “language” of the Gospel; the “language” of God and salvation and worship and law and freedom and Kingdom and nationality – all was decomposed and recomposed for themselves and for their own image.

And this public expose’ here in our text of the true nature of fallen and cursed men (bent on appearing otherwise) was the impetus for the murder (annihilation) of the source of that expose’!  You see, this simple thing is the crux of this whole matter.  People will react violently at the exposure of the Truth about them.  Saying what Scripture says about men and women and children – in the words that Scripture uses is very provocative!

And that’s the way it’s been since the resurrection of Christ.  The Church has always insisted on preaching the Truth – the absolutes of God – in the language of God.  And the Church – i.e., its prophets, its ministers, its teachers, its elders – the Church has invariably been the focal point for violent attack.

When the local mores admitted it, there were beatings and killings in the middle of the night; or there were violent confrontations and even wars fought.  But when those things were inadmissible, then there were threats and angry words.  And transfers of Church memberships and terminations of ministerial employment… all because of the language of Scripture!

But the very center of the issue has always been, and always will be, the revelation (by the Word of God) of the reconstructed, hypocritical self-image that cursed, fallen man has built up of himself!  People just don’t like it when the preacher (or teacher, or elder) knows who they really are inside and what they’re thinking!  Really, the only way they know those things, of course, is that the Scriptures describe us so well!  And the language of Scripture is so specific and descriptive!

And I think that this is the very reason that the issue of language comes up so many times – even among us who are reformed and Biblical!  What kind of language do we use in preaching?  Do we use the Biblical words and phrases and descriptions of concepts, or do we deconstruct the language so it all “goes down” easier!?  What words do we use in teaching; in conversations with one another; in exhorting each other to do better; in teaching our children?  What kind of language do we use in describing events and history and cultural things?  And what do we say upon becoming angry?  What’s the Christian language of anger?

In a world in which appearance – or image – is “everything”, how do we communicate?  God has given us language in order to communicate with Him; and with each other about Him and according to Him!  The language was created by God and has a supreme, divine value and purpose!

And it is the Word spoken – i.e. language – which God has chosen to use to bring His cursed and fallen elect to Himself in His Son!  First it is His spoken Word; and secondly it is His spoken Word proclaimed!  It is language.  But it is the disintegration of that language that we encounter, most of the time, in the world!  And the ones building that “image is everything” hypocrisy are reconstructing the language for themselves.

So do we describe their situations in their own language?  Do we use the disintegrated, deconstructed language of the chaotic world order – in order to describe the situation?  (That seems rather foolish.)  Or do we describe their condition in the language that God divinely provided?  The human situation is not at all the same as the human condition!

I read an article recently in which a German poet was quoted as saying, “Where do I place depth?  Why, on the surface, of course!”  The Scriptures, the language of God’s Revelation, is the very Door to the knowledge of man’s condition.  It was in his situation that man’s condition was revealed by God.

The Biblical language is spoken to man.  The “depth” is made evident to the “surface” – not the other way around!  One doesn’t hide the “depth” in order to placate the situation; one brings the “depth” to the surface to reveal the condition!

So the language of Scripture must not be “deconstructed” in any way – it mustn’t be disconnected from its God-ordained creation and become whatever man wishes it to be; for fallen man will use the deconstruction for the benefit of his self-image, on the surface, as did these elders and high priests of Israel.  Rather than a subjective, human invention, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke the words that revealed their condition publicly; and being opened up for all the world to see their hypocrisy, the leaders of Israel became very, very violent men.

The “appearance” of righteousness; the appearance of truth; the appearance of piety… “Image is everything”.  But it will not stand the scrutiny of the Light of God’s Word.

When Jesus pressed these men concerning their condition before God, and did so before the crowds, they couldn’t stand the Light.  So they did what was best for them in order to protect their self-image:  they schemed to annihilate the source of their embarrassment.

But let’s look at the text.  It’s most interesting.  “Hear another parable,” Jesus says.  Or “saying”.  It’s almost as if these men were trying to turn away and leave, and Jesus stops them dead – “Hear another!”

He’s turned them from their authoritative position and taken the authority away from them.  And now He’s the One doing the examination.  He’s opened them up for derision and ridicule from the crowds of “rabble” – they wouldn’t even take a position yea or nay on John the Baptist.  And then they were stung by the fact that the “dregs” of society are seen to be going into the Kingdom right before their eyes; and, yet, they themselves won’t sorrow and believe that John was sent from God.  They’re too interested in protecting their “image” – their “place”!

And now Jesus closes in with the final blow from God’s revelation – treatment of the prophets and the Son of God Himself.  The parabolic saying is taken, in its essentials, from Isaiah chapter five, verses one through seven, in which Israel is seen as a vineyard which didn’t produce.  The Isaiah passage is a prophetic parable of judgment upon Israel in which the entire vineyard is destroyed!  And Jesus, with great purpose, takes His parable directly from there.

In our Matthew text, the lord of the house has done everything.  He planted the vineyard; put a hedge fence around it; dug the vat; and built a castle-like tower in it.  All of those things have great historic interest, but have little to do with the text; so I’m not going to take the time to describe them.  The point is that the property owner – the Lord of the house – did all these things.  The implication being that God has done everything for Israel.  They are there and they are who they are because of Him.  And all they had to do was be His in obedience.

Now, as we saw last Lord’s Day you can’t force all the people, places and things in a parable.  This parable has a main point just like all the others.  In history, God sent prophets to call Israel to repentance.  But in the parable, the servants came to get the owner’s harvest.  We don’t force that.  We accept the fact that these are “ones sent” (prophets-apostles).  That’s the point.

When the oikodespotes – the house despot, or lord – finished building the vineyard, He let it out to husbandmen – growers, tenants.  And what he expected was to receive the harvest!  He wanted to take possession of his fruit!  This wasn’t a cash deal with a monthly rental; it was a tenant farming situation in which the growers would give the owner the possession of his harvest as agreed.

But when he sent slaves, or servants, after the fruit of his investment, rather than taking possession of the harvest, as verse thirty-five says, the growers took possession of them!  And the growers flayed the servants, murdered them and stoned them.  Jesus is relating the atrocities of Israel toward God’s prophets who were sent by God to confront Israel concerning its condition!  And remember, when God’s Word exposes man’s condition, man is likely to become violent!

Now, don’t get involved with the profit, or the fruit, here; the point is that servants were sent!  And when they were treated with treachery, the owner, an absentee landlord, sent some more who were greater (and maybe more numerous) than before.  And the growers did the same to them! (verse thirty-six)  And there is an implication here of the incredible forbearance of God toward Israel and its leadership!  He kept on sending more!  And greater!

And the greatest implication of the forbearance of God is this landowner’s decision to send his own son to them, even after they had abused and killed his slaves!  He said, they will revere, or respect, my son!

But when the son, (again, sent by his father), came to collect the harvest, the growers, seeing that he was the son and heir of the vineyard, took him away from the vineyard and killed him!

Now, as Jesus is telling this parabolic saying to the elders and priests of Israel, it was becoming very dramatic.  Looking right in their eyes, He was describing them to them!  He was telling them what they were now doing!  They’ve kept it under cover of hypocrisy, but Jesus reveals it all before the crowds of people.  Each generation of Israel’s leaders had done the same to the servants, but this generation had the heir Himself!  The Son!

He was relating their past with regard to God’s prophets – including John the Baptist; and He was prophesying what they were about to do to Him, The Son!  The servant/prophets were sent, and you killed them, He said; and now that the Son has been sent, you’re going to kill Me too!  You will take Me outside the vineyard and destroy Me, because I am the heir to My Father’s Kingdom!  Right now you are thinking that if you kill Me you can retain all the rights to the Kingdom/vineyard!

Now, we have a lot of work to do with some of these words next Lord’s Day, such as “inheritance” and “heir” – and some of the grammar as well.  But it is well for us to see this morning that, according to John chapter eleven, the elders and priests had, indeed, already conspired to kill Him!  So Jesus was telling them what they had already conspired to do!

After He raised Lazarus from the dead, the Gospel of John says that they had a Sanhedrin council meeting during which it was decided to destroy Him.  And the reason given was that the people were believing Him; and the Romans would send their armies and the elders and priests would lose their places!  The nation would no longer exist, and these men would lose their places!

Caiaphas was the chief of the high priests that year, and he made the comment at the council meeting that it was appropriate that one man should die for the nation!  And if Jesus died, then the nation would be saved form Rome; therefore His death would be their salvation!  So Jesus was right, wasn’t He?  They were thinking that if they killed Him, they could keep the nation!

Do you see how language can be so disconnected from God?  Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega.  And He is the Word made flesh and dwelt among us.  He was sent from God.  And when His Word is proclaimed, it is His voice that is heard by God’s people.

And that voice addresses the condition of men.  Many times, upon hearing the Word proclaimed, man will react violently – with atrocities, abuse and maltreatment.  Because they don’t wish to be exposed for what they really are.

But a deconstructed language will not do that.  A deconstructed language has been separated from the Creator of language.  And therefore it has no meaning.  It does humor man in his “image is everything” hypocrisy.  And of course it leaves him there to suffer the consequences of his own sin.

Next Lord’s Day Jesus asks the elders and priests a question concerning the parable.  And their answer is a judgment on their own actions.