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Vineyard’s Gonna Vineyard?

04 Apr

“A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time…” 

–Luke 20:9

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What does the word “institution” mean?

That’s a word that represents a big idea. One definition is “a society or organization founded for a religious, educational, social or similar purpose.”

Another definition is “an established organization or corporation of a public character specifically”.

Why do I bring it up institutions here? Well, because in the parable from our Gospel reading today, the vineyard represents God’s assembly, or church.

And the church, along with the natural family, is one of His core institutions in the world.

That might not be what you thought of right away when I brought up institutions. Perhaps when you hear the word “institution” your mind goes to things like schools, companies, the military, and other political, well, institutions…

And perhaps you also think about how these things often become corrupted.

Especially today, many of the institutions we might think about seem to be losing their way, as they fight against God’s institution of the family, which of course is produced by His institution of marriage between one man and one woman for life…

And yet, even if they aren’t at war with God’s natural institutions, many go astray in a more common way.

What do I mean?

Well, even relatively good institutions seem to lose their way, that is, they stray greatly from the needs they were created for, from their original purposes…

They often seem to be seeking to preserve themselves for the sake of the people who run them. To both survive and thrive primarily or even just for those people.

And they seem to do everything they can to do protect themselves against all the things they perceive to be threats to their power, their status, their privileges…

They just show that institutions are gonna do what institutions are gonna do…  

And this even happens among God’s people! His society, His assembly, His church…

We see this in Martin Luther’s day, for example, don’t we? During the Reformation?

Luther lived during a time when the leader of God’s church in the Western world, the Pope, was actually saying things like “since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” 

And not only this, but some of the top defenders of Rome were saying that because the church essentially owned the Bible they could decide how it was to be used and interpreted! Some of Rome’s highest-ranking theologians even claimed the authority of the Gospel existed because of the Pope’s authority,  

And you can bet that when Luther insisted that Christians really could be sure that they were Christians – that is, that faith in Jesus Christ could give them certainty, many in Rome were not happy.

For how would the church’s power and influence continue without the offerings from people trying to earn their peace with God? 

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And as in the days of the Reformation… so also in the days of the Old Testament and in Jesus’ day as well. 

We see something similar happening in our Gospel text for today, don’t we? Again, we see a corruption of the church, the institution God had established, an institution failing to do what it was intended to do.

To say the least, right?

The parable talks about how no less than three servants were sent by the owner of the vineyard and all were beaten! These represent God’s prophets.

In the Old Testament, we see how the Lord entrusted the spiritual care of His people Israel to patriarchs, priests, and yes, prophets (and, yes, even a few political rulers like David, who basically doubled up as a prophet!). 

And what does the New Testament go on to tell us about God’s direction of His people? 

By way of summary, perhaps we can’t do much better than what the book of Hebrews says:

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe….”

And as our Lord Jesus Christ is our ultimate authority He too understood and respected authority… 

For instance, even though we remember Him looking out over the crowds of lost people and mourning because they were like sheep without a shepherd…

…we also should not forget that Jesus nevertheless says this of the religious rulers: 

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach…”

“Do everything they tell you?” Was He joking? 

Not at all. 

Is not the patience, forbearance… tolerance of our Lord remarkable? 

Surely, even as Jesus goes on to sharply criticize these men, He also desires for them to be the shepherds God meant them to be… even ordained them to be… in the institution that God had established.

To be like Elizabeth’s husband, the faithful priest Zechariah! Or the Pharisee Nicodemus and Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea…

Instead, though, what do we see from almost all of those who were in charge of the temple, the synagogues, the Sanhedrin… the core institution and sub-institutions of Israel…?

We see abject hostility towards Jesus and His ministry!

…they persecuted the one Hebrews goes on to say is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” – this One who came to reveal the Triune God’s heart of love, gentleness and forgiveness!

“How could they miss such wonderful truth?” 

How in the world could they miss the import of what they were planning to do? 

How could they not see that there was something greater than institutional success – their success – at stake here? 

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Well, to get our answer we might want to look to the Apostle Paul here, who at the beginning of Romans 10 tells us that those in Israel, having a “zeal without knowledge,” sought to establish their own righteousness and hence did not submit to God’s righteousness.

Not only this but the Scriptures also tell us that they were envious of Jesus and hence handed Him over!

For these men had a twisted pride related to their status as God’s stewards… and they loved the praise of men that status afforded them!

Institutions are going to do what institutions are going to do…

They were not about to sacrifice their influence and privilege!

So what do these religious leaders end up doing? 

They sacrifice the true Lamb of God, the Heir to God’s Kingdom….

As the hymn “My Song is Love Unknown” puts it: 

“…But men made strange, and none

  The longed-for Christ would know…

…[t]hey rise and needs will have

  My dear Lord made away;

A murderer they save,

  The Prince of life they slay….”

Again, their pride and their envy and their works-righteousness could not see it… 

Even if, at some level, they really knew who Jesus was and what they were doing…

For the parable directed at the teachers of the law and chief priests had said: “…[b]ut 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.’

And yet… and yet!

God actually used all of this evil for good – even telling us that He planned on doing a new thing though this: He planned on saving us through their terrible actions even from before the beginning of time…. 

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“Well, preacher…” you might be thinking, 

“These are some good points… and I can see why God would then give the vineyard to others, which I assume are His disciples and us Gentiles… ”

At the same time, though, how bad are things really today? How relevant is all of this extreme stuff about corrupt spiritual institutions for us?” 

Well, I pay some attention, and I think it can be pretty bad.

Apart from the power and grace of God, institutions are going to do what institutions do…

Even so, I know there are standout churches! 

I know there are faithful pockets of faith, hope and love! 

That said, let’s always remember that even in the best churches today… we all fall short of God’s glory…

-We might not be relying on our own righteousness, but it’s easy to take an unhealthy pride in our involvement, even sometimes feeling that we might well be doing God a favor by participating in the work that He invites us to find joy in!

-And it’s easy to get so excited about letting others know all the good that we are doing that we forget about emphasizing the most humble and simple and wonderful gifts of them all, that make it all possible… 

-Knowing “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb”… 

-Remembering “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

-Believing “God loves me dearly…loves even me…” 

-Praying “Jesus, Savior, wash away; All that has been wrong today…” 

-And we might not be filled with envy or jealousy, but it’s easy to get caught up in busy-ness and want recognition. So much so that we might come to resemble Martha more than Mary, who Jesus said had “chosen the better thing”.

And we, buoyed by pride, might not be fixated on our status in this or that institution, but we might perhaps be too willing to ignore, and hence forget, our deep roots and heritage found in the fullness of the Scriptures, in the church’s rich history… just like the prophet Isaiah warned God’s people in chapter 8 of his book: 

[Run] to [God’s Word] and to the testimony! (2x) 

If [others] do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them!” 

How ready are we to be students not only of the world and of our culture but, first and foremost, God’s word? 

That we might be able to recognize opportunities to bring it to bear? 

How ready are we to, as Peter says, give an answer for the hope that is within us? 

Or, as Paul exhorts us, to take every worldly philosophy captive for Christ? 

Well, some might say here:  

“Yes, there’s always work to do, but at the same time, things can be much worse in the church and often are! Have you paid attention to the news about…!”  

Yes, I get it – none of us can ignore great public scandals. At the same time, let us magnify our own sins first and take the specks out of our eyes!

For there is more than enough for us to repent of every day, brothers and sisters, so let us not hesitate to do so here too, and in joy!

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In the book of Isaiah we hear “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God endures forever.”

And in our Gospel, standing among those who got lost in their desire to survive and thrive in the midst of life’s riches, cares, and pleasures…

-Jesus was simply upholding this word, glorifying His Father simply for who He is and proclaiming His deeds with all His might!” 

-He was fulfilling the prophecies God’s institution was supposed to be focused on!

-And He was, therefore, simultaneously meeting the deepest longings and needs of faithful men and women like Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Nathaniel, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea!

Even if the Chief Priests, Pharisees and others felt their world being turned upside down, they shouldn’t have.

For Jesus was no political revolutionary… radical as He surely was!

He was doing just what God had planned from the beginning!

Faithfully passing on like a baton the Promise that gives life, true life!… and that was finally fulfilled in Him!

So:

“Lord, please renew and revive us always, and give us your peace. That we not only conserve for ourselves and our children your Holy Word, but do so for all people, all nations, far and wide! 

Make us those who pass on the church’s song!”

Don’t doubt for a minute that He hears and answers that prayer and gives us peace in His Son!

The peace that passes all understanding, and the peace that makes it possible for us not only to be the church that can meet our neighbor’s physical needs, but the most important needs… our eternal needs as well!

Even in the midst of the worst kinds of sufferings!

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Sufferings… 

They rise and needs will have

  My dear Lord made away;

A murderer they save,

  The Prince of life they slay.

    Yet cheerful He

    To suffering goes,

    That He His foes

    From thence might free.

Never forget. 

The Father looks into the eyes of His Son, the Only Begotten Son whom He loves… And He says: 

“They’ve now killed one servant after another… I want You to go now…” 

And the Son cheerfully goes, en route to walking out of that grave in victory!

But in the midst of that true earthly glory – that resurrected glory that ushers in the coming new heavens and earth and where we will reap with songs of joy! – let us not forget to fix our eyes on the cross….

Never was love, dear King,

  Never was grief like Thine.

    This is my Friend,

    In whose sweet praise

    I all my days

    Could gladly spend.

O Lord, thank You for Your forgiveness and life that You give us even now through your cross! 

And Lord, grant us that we may know you even more, evermore!

And that we… that this institution… ever pass on this sure hope until You come again!   

Amen.

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Posted by on April 4, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

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