Pastor Eric Schroeder - Midweek Lent 4 - Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Text: Luke 20:9-19

Watch Service Video

He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. 13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’

14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!” 17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

These days, you have to be careful what you say in public. All it takes is one person to record something controversial and spread it around, and before too long you might be famous in a way that no one wants to be. If you make a powerful person mad, he or she can make your life difficult in a hurry. If you offend a big group of people, who knows what might happen if they get worked up enough? Everyone has opinions, whether they are about politics, economics, sports, or religion. It’s so easy to make enemies.

As we continue following Jesus in his Final Steps, we can’t help but notice that Jesus had enemies, too. They were powerful people, influential, and especially dangerous by this time because they felt so threatened by Jesus and his popularity. They weren’t used to anyone challenging their teachings and making them look bad. They weren’t used to anyone so bold, so brave that he would not only claim the authority to teach apart from their endorsement—he even threw out vague (and sometimes not so vague) claims that he was sent by God.

So they tried to trap him, thinking that if they pressed him enough, Jesus would make a mistake that they would pounce on and he would be responsible for his own undoing… but no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t trip him up. This account falls right in between two such failed attempts. Both times Jesus sees through the act and turns their questions around on them, making them look foolish when he shows his wisdom. Jesus doesn’t back down at all. He meets the challenge head on, and confronts those who hate him so much.

He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.

So far, this sounds like everyday life in that part of the world. It’s a regular business deal. The farmers get to farm on a nice piece of property, and the owner gets a percentage of the produce. Surely there was a contract ahead of time to set the terms…

But the tenants beat him [the first servant] and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

You can almost imagine the widening eyes, maybe even the gasps of the people who had gathered to listen. This wasn’t business as usual. It was criminal. It was ruthless and rebellious. And it would get even worse in what might seem like a confusing twist.

13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

According to the laws of that day, under certain conditions, if the owner died leaving no heir, whoever claimed the estate, especially the current occupants, was allowed to have it. So in Jesus’ parable, these wicked tenants must have figured that violence and murder gave them the best—or at least the cheapest—way to acquire the property for themselves. Of course, they were wrong. In the end, what they longed for was taken away, along with their lives.

If we’ve heard parables before, though, we have to know that it’s not just an interesting story; the parable has a lesson to be applied. As tragically as the story ended, the reality for Jesus’ enemies was even more disastrous. Jesus confronted his enemies, and with this story, Jesus convicted his enemies. He revealed that the history of God’s people rejecting the prophets wasn’t just a thing of the past; only recently, John the Baptist had joined a long list of God’s servants who were mistreated by the corrupt religious leaders and rulers. Now God had sent his own beloved Son, and our final verse gives a preview of what is to come. 19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

Apparently their hatred toward Jesus won out over their fear of the people. We know that because within 72 hours of this conversation, Jesus would be hanging on a cross. A midnight arrest and a speedy, unjust trial show just how urgently they felt the need to rid the world of Jesus of Nazareth. Little did they know that his death on the cross was all part of God’s eternal plan. And tragically, little did they know how much Jesus loved them, and how he was dying for them and all of God’s sinful enemies.

As harsh as these words might sound, see the love behind the warning. 17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” God had a construction plan that would not fail. With or without the support of the religious establishment, God’s Son would be the cornerstone of faith, the source of stability and salvation for all who trust in him. Those who reject Jesus have nothing solid to stand on, because trusting in anyone or anything else is building on a foundation that will crumble away and lead to destruction. Those who persist in their rebellion against God by rejecting his Son will all be condemned eternally, crushed under the weight of their sins because they reject the forgiveness Jesus won for all.

Like the people who heard Jesus’ parable, don’t we all echo their reaction? “God forbid!” Let’s all take a moment and be sure we are not resting our confidence in ourselves here. If we were, we’d be just like those proud and arrogant enemies of Jesus who were so bold in their determination to get rid of him. In fact, if we’re all completely honest, we have to confess that we have something major in common with them: they weren’t the only ones who killed God’s Son. If indeed he died to pay for the world’s sins—and he most certainly did—then every single one of us has contributed mightily to the cause.

And here’s the really scary thing. Within each one of us, there still remains an enemy of Jesus. In Romans 8, we read this: the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. We’ve all felt those urges, to let our sinful mind take control. Far too often, we have given in to sinful desires. We’ve acted more like enemies of Jesus than children of God. We’ve spoken more like those who reject Jesus than those who stand firm in the faith. Don’t we all wrestle with rebellious thoughts and shameful desires every day? God’s law convicts us the same way it convicted the Jewish leaders. We don’t deserve anything good from him, whether in this life or in eternity.

But Jesus still loves his enemies. That’s why he submitted to his Father’s plan, despite all he would suffer. And by God’s grace, Jesus’ love for his enemies won out over the sin of the people. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the full debt of our guilt, satisfying God’s justice and securing our salvation. God could have rejected every one of us, but instead he chose us to be connected to Christ as our cornerstone. Now, for Jesus’ sake, here’s what we are: fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

What a miraculous turnaround, that Jesus has taken each one of us, his enemies, and brought us into his household. His forgiveness turns rebels into the redeemed, slaves of sin into sons and daughters, the convicted and condemned into the converted and consoled and comforted, connected to Christ as our cornerstone now and forever. May his Spirit never leave us, but live within us and work through Word and Sacrament to keep us close and bring us ever closer to our God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.