Text: St. Matthew 21: 23-32, especially these verses:
For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
The Lord told the Parables of Vineyard just before and just after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was entering the vineyard of the Lord, Jerusalem. The Lord planted the true vine in the Temple by His Name abiding in the Temple during the time of David and Solomon. The Parable of the Tenants in the vineyard is the climax of our Lord’s Parables of the Vineyard, which follows the today’s Parable of the Two Sons. Vineyards are joyful places! Rockbridge County has it’s share of vineyards and wineries. Vineyards, then and now, were primarily for one purpose: wine making. This time of the year, autumn is that joyful time in a vineyard, the press of the grapes, after the growing season of careful pruning and tending to the vine, is the fruit of the harvest. Israel is the Lord’s vineyard. The Church is His vineyard. The Lord calls His people into His vineyard.
The Father called his sons to work in his vineyard. The first son who said No, afterward “changed his mind”. In the parable, Jesus does not say what changed the first son’s mind. This lesson is bracketed by the holy example of John the Baptist. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness”. The tax collectors and prostitutes said No to the Lord’s gracious call to work in His vineyard and changed their minds. What changed their minds? Their minds were changed by John’s preaching and teaching. It was not John’s vestments of camel hair nor his diet of locusts and wild honey that changed their minds. The Word of God changed the minds of the tax collectors and prostitutes. They heard the Lord’s just Word of judgment over their sin. They heard the gracious call of the coming Messiah, the Christ to enter into His vineyard, His reign, the kingdom come. Jesus said the tax collectors and prostitute believe in the Word and the Word changes minds, puts a new heart within us, and the soul lives.
The second son said I will but did not go. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness”. Note what Jesus said, “John came “to you”. Jesus did not say John came “to them”. It is as if the Lord said to the chief priests and elders: “My son, you can not find fault with John the Baptizer, as if he were some careless person of no value. His life was godly. His care for you was great, and yet you did not pay attention to him.” The father loved both his sons. The second son said, Yes, I will work in the vineyard. What changed the second son’s mind, that is the chief priest and elders, if you will, the church leadership, the pastors and priests, not to enter the vineyard? Jesus tells us: they did not believe the Word of God preached by John. I think the chief priests and elders knew the preaching of John was from heaven. The chief priests and scribes could not bring themselves to see themselves as sinners also. John’s Baptism was for all, including the religious elites. Those who think they are spiritual, apart from Christ Jesus, do not consider themselves as part of the ‘great unwashed’. They knew if they said, “from heaven”, then they were implicated along with the scum of the earth, the tax collectors and whores. The will of the Father is to believe in His Son whom He sent into the vineyard, who wills no one to be standing idle saying Oh, Look at my spirituality, my good works, how our program will save the church. Instead, He calls by His Word which sets us on our feet in His certus sermo, certain word. God’s Word is free and frees. Paul wrote from prison to his brother pastor that though Paul was bound, “But the Word of God is not bound”( 2 Timothy 2:9).
Not believing or believing the Word of God, written, spoken and fully, the Word made flesh is still the great divide in these gray and latter days. The Word made flesh entered into Jerusalem on a donkey, into the vineyard of Jerusalem and He said three times before His triumphal entry, over the course of a year, that the Son of Man was to be mocked and derided, spat upon, crucified, buried and rise again. The Word is mocked, derided and sinful man tries to crucify it and say with glee, The Bible is not true! It is interesting to point out that Mormons do not do that to the Book of Mormon, nor Muslims with the Q’uran. But many Christians and Jews, so called Biblical scholars do so to the written word of God with relish. They teach at too many seminaries. Why? Because the Bible is actually the truth of God’s own Word for us sinners. The devil goes after only the truth of his enemy above’s Word.
Does the devil really want people to heed the Lord’s gracious call into His vineyard, His Word, the Word of His reign? The way of righteousness is the way of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. This is our mind which is yours in Christ Jesus, as it is written in the great hymn from Philippians epistle for today. He did not count equality with God as something to be grasped…it can not be grasped…He emptied Himself. As C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape letters, his fiction of letters of Screwtape, chief tempter in hell to a sub-tempter. Screwtape can not stand, nor understand the Enemy Above’s “ inveterate love of those two legged vermin”. The Lord does you know, loves you. Human love finds that is which is pleasing to it, God’s love seeks, find and creates what is pleasing to the Lord. I may find ‘love’, but God finds us, broken and half-hearted creatures. True love does not seek anything for itself, but for you. Again, the father in Jesus’ parable loved both his sons…as in another parable with a prodigal father and two sons, the younger son who ran away and spent the father’s fortune on himself and the elder son. He loved them both. The Lord’s parables are finally masterpieces of fiction, but by those masterpieces, the Lord does not portray at all a fiction: the way of righteousness which is the Way of Jesus’ Cross. Not a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ…gift. The Lord’s, “…every call, every urging, every impelling motivation, occurs solely for our own sake, so that we may work in the vineyard and also become partakers of the reward” (Johann Gerhard). Is the reward salvation? Yes, but Gerhard knew we cannot earn it, we can learn of it and by it. As we prayed Psalm 25: 1-10:
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
The reward is the Lord Himself. Holding onto to sin, or a sin, is death. Repentance is letting it go as He has bourn it upon the Cross. As Ezekiel preached about sin, cast it away. It was cast upon the Lamb of God. He leads us more and more into His truth and teaches us in the fruitfulness of His vineyard in the faithfulness of Father’s Word incarnate in His Son: I am the vine ye are the branches…without me you can do nothing (cf. John 15:5). “I am the way, the truth and the life, not comes to Father except by me” (John 14:6).
The way of the Cross is the sign of eternal life. The Lord’s resurrection validates His authority to forgive that we live.
The way of the Cross is His resurrection, “holding onto the word of life”(Philippians 2) at His Table.
The way of the Cross is humility: “counting others as more significant than yourselves.” Paul knew what it was like to think of himself as more significant than others. As Jesus revealed Himself to Paul as the very God who counted others as more significant than Himself as He bore their sins, even Paul’s. Paul counted, as he said, everything as loss and gladly in know Christ as Savior. As we prayed Psalm 25: 1-10:
“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way.”
The cross is the way of righteousness, hearing and believing and so obeying His Word, dying to sin and arising in Christ in His forgiveness, “..that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2).
Where is the Lord’s Vineyard? It has been here in the community room of the Library and next week at the Old Buena Vista fire house. It is true that the Church is not primarily a building but His people. Wherever Christ is, there is His people. As He promised, where 2 or 3 gather together in My Name, there I am (Matthew 18). Where His Supper is, His Body and Blood, and His Word is His forgiveness in His Church, His vineyard. In the Name of the Father and of +the Son and of the Holy Spirit.. Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keeps your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 adapted from a Johann Gerhard Sermon