Rejection of the Kingdom
October 8, 2023 |Rejection of the Kingdom|Matthew 21:33-46
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This morning we will pick up where we left off last week. In case you were not here, or as a refresher. We have come in our journey through the book of Matthew to the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry before the cross.
In the beginning of this final week, Jesus has come into Jerusalem in a triumphal display, violently cleansed the temple, and began healing and teaching in it. He comes back the next day to begin teaching in it again when he is confronted by a group of religious leaders, made up of Pharisees, elders of the people, and scribes, most likely representing the ruling counsel of the Jews, the Sanhedrin.
This confrontation centers on the issue of his authority to do the things he has been doing over the last couple of days.
After turning the question from where did his authority come from to whether they could tell the difference between heavenly and earthly authority, Jesus gives them a parable about two sons and their response to the authority of their father. After applying it to them and their refusal to recognize John the Baptist’s ministry, he gives them another parable, commonly known as the Parable of the Tenants.
This is by far, the most allegorical parable that we have looked at in Matthew.
What that means is that almost every detail in the parable has a connection to the real world. Often in Jesus’ parables, we try to find the main point and we rightly understand the minor details to simply be the means by which the message is delivered.
For instance, I had this conversation this week about our parable from last week. The point is easy to see, the one who truly obeys is the one who does the will of the father, not the one who says he will. So we do not dig deeper looking for further meaning, in the identity of the two sons or what one’s rebellion means for his sonship, in the fact that Jesus uses a vineyard over a field, not in the details of his statement, go work in the vineyard today. Many times, by trying to connect every point we can lose the forest for the trees.
On this particular occasion though, as one of the last few parables Jesus uses, he fills it with details that help us understand it better.
Almost every detail is both important and key to our proper understanding of what Jesus is saying.
It serves as a microcosm of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel, summarized from a prophetic standpoint.
All of this will become more evident as we make our way through the parable. But before we get to it, we ask why did Jesus give this parable in the first place?
Having illustrated their failure to recognize the authority of John and the hypocrisy in their speech vs their lives when it comes to obeying God with one parable, Jesus now gives another parable with a much more shocking application.
Jesus seemingly wants them to understand that failing to respond to the authority of John and now himself is bigger than the rejection of these individuals. Jesus now illustrates through another parable that rejection of their authority is rejection of the kingdom of God itself which, as we will see, has dire consequences for these religious leaders as well as all those under their spiritual leadership.
Far from being just an historical lesson on the interaction between Jesus and this group, there is a warning for us as well. If there were consequences for their rejection of the kingdom, we should make sure we are not rejecting it as well.
My prayer is that today, as we better understand Jesus' condemnation of their rejection, we will also be able to answer the question: why does anyone reject the kingdom of God?
With that question in mind, I am going to give you three failures that contribute to rejection of the kingdom of God.
Let’s read the text together. Matthew 21:33-43
Matthew 21:33-46 (ESV) 33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
With the text before us, I want to show you the first failure that leads to rejection of the kingdom.
We reject the kingdom of God when we fail to understand who it belongs to.
In the parable, the tenants reject the owner’s attempts to collect what is due to him because they have a distorted view of ownership. In their minds, the owner is gone, has been gone for some time, they have been working this land and therefore it belongs to them. If he will not recognize that, they will take it with force. So they rebuke his servants one by one, refusing to give up one ounce of the wine produced from the vineyard.
Now it is easy for us to look at them and scratch our head. Isn’t it? Didn’t they know what they were getting into when they leased the vineyard? Doesn’t it make sense that they will have to pay for their occupation, use of, and benefits from the vineyard?
But if we stop and think, doesn’t this resonate with each one of us?
Are we never tempted to think we deserve something, that we have a right to something, that is not necessarily ours?
Hasn’t this been a problem since the beginning?
Wasn’t Adam and Eve’s disobedience centered around this very thing? God gave them use of his garden, and unlimited access to all the resources, save one. Then with just a little push, they forgot who owned the garden, reached out and took what was not rightfully theirs and were put out of the garden by its rightful owner. This was part of the first rebellion, assuming usage equals ownership.
If I asked you how many of you owned a car, almost all of you would raise your hands, if I asked how many of you owned a home, many of you would raise your hands. But if we pressed into that question a little bit, most of us would have to put our hands down.
Because we financed the car, because we have a mortgage. That is we do not own these things, banks and lenders do.
But we don’t think like that normally do we?
It’s my car, I can drive it where I want to, it’s my house, I can use it like I want to. Being endowed with usage privileges is not the same thing as owning something. Don’t believe me, stop paying your car note, stop making payments to your mortgage company.
It is the same way with these tenants. They are acting like they own this vineyard and all that goes with it, when in reality they have simply been leased usage privileges.
Allegorically, how are we to see this situation Jesus paints?
God had created the nation of Israel and their spiritual privileges, they are his.
This is represented in the work the master of the house does before he leases it to the tenants. He planted the vineyard, he put a fence around it, he dug a winepress in it, and he built a tower in it.
In a similar way, God had called Israel to himself, given them the law, the prophets, the tabernacle system, he had done all of the work establishing Israel as his people.
He owned it all. But that certainly wasn’t reflected in their actions as a nation, time and time again, was it?
So he sent prophets to call them back to himself, which they rejected and sometimes killed.
They began acting like their religious and spiritual privileges were their own and as not belonging to God. This is what Jesus is condemning. They were failing to understand that they belonged to God, that their religious system belonged to him, that he was working among them in men like John the baptist. Because they were so convinced of their own ownership they failed to recognize the owners actions.
What does this mean for us today?
The church belongs to Jesus, all our spiritual privileges ultimately belong to Christ.
He is the obedient son, He is the living God, He is God with us. He is the rightful heir to all things.
But to go further, he is the creator of it all, we live, breathe, and work because he enables us to.
Some of you may be in danger of rejecting the kingdom of God because you feel like you own your life. That is to say, because you have been given usage privileges, as it were, that you are your own.
The Bible says as members of the church, we are not our own, but rather we have been purchased with a price.
It also says that we will all be called before God to give account for the way we spent our lives. If that doesn’t speak of ownership, nothing does.
We reject the kingdom of God when we fail to understand who it all belongs to, that is the first failure, the second failure that leads to rejecting the kingdom of God is…
We reject the kingdom of God when we fail to receive its messengers.
The servants that are sent in the parable are clearly the prophets of God that he sent to his people. Men like Isaiah and Jeremiah, men like John the Baptist. Sent to call his people back to himself, to remind them of his ownership and to call them to obedience.
Just like in the parable, the nation rejected prophet after prophet.
Jesus sums it up later in Matthew when he laments over Jerusalem, the center of the nation of Israel.
Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV) 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
How patient is God represented here as the master of the house who sends delegation after delegation of his servants to call these tenants back into right relationship with himself. Even after they rebel against him, rather than destroying them he sends another servant, seemingly willing to forgive their actions if they will repent and deliver to him what is rightfully his.
Until finally, the man sent his beloved son, saying surely they will respect my son. Which can either mean, surely they will revere him or surely they will be shamed by their actions and repent.
Of course, the parable unfolds showing us that neither of those things happened. They, desiring to once and all be free from the master of the house, decide to kill the son as well.
It isn’t hard to see the prophetic way Jesus is detailing what will happen in just four days, when he is seized, taken out of Jerusalem, and put to death on the cross.
Jesus clearly identifies himself as the son of God. He is no ordinary servant, he has a unique relationship to the Father.
It is one thing to reject the servants, it is another to reject the son. This is when Jesus asks them, what will that master do when he comes?
The answer? He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
We miss the play on words here between wretch and miserable, but it is practically the same word. Those evil men will be put to an evil death. Those miserable men will die a miserable death.
They say their actions deserve punishment. Ironically, by condemning these tenants, they condemn themselves. By rejecting the messenger of the kingdom, they were rejecting the kingdom.
How does God speak to us today?
Listen to what the author of Hebrews says.
Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV) 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
What is the implication for us today? The same that it was for these religious leaders.
The Father, like the man in the parable, has sent his last messenger, his one and only son.
Reject him and there remains no further messenger.
There is salvation in no other name. Amen?
God is still calling men and women to repent and respond to the Son.
Listen, I have no prophetic message for you, and neither does anyone else. If someone claims to be a prophet or has a prophetic message from God, run from that person.
The only responsibilities the messengers of the kingdom have now is the singular one we have been entrusted with, listen to Jesus, the very son of God. My job, anyone’s job who gets the privilege to speak on behalf of the kingdom of God is to point to Christ as God’s final message to the world.
If you fail to respond to Jesus, there is no other way. This is what he declared to his disciples in the coming days after this parable, John 14:6 (ESV) 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Reject Jesus and you reject the kingdom of God. Period.
We reject the kingdom of God when we fail to understand who it all belongs to, that is the first failure, the second failure that leads to rejecting the kingdom of God is we reject the kingdom of God when we fail to receive its messengers, the third and final failure this morning is…
We reject the kingdom of God when we fail to produce fruit in it.
Let’s go back to the parable for a minute. They had everything they needed to produce fruit.
Jesus goes back into the scriptures to pull this imagery from Isaiah.
Isaiah 5:1-4 (ESV) 1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
It continues Isaiah 5:7 (ESV) 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!
The similarities between this prophetic word and Jesus’ parable are striking.
God had given his people everything they needed to produce his fruit. What does he look for? What does he call fruit? He looked for justice, he looked for righteousness.
These twin fruits may be summarized by right treatment of others and righteous acts. Essentially he looked for an obedient people that reflected their God in their spiritual fruit and he found oppression and chaos.
The people had not produced fruit consistent with what God had provided for them.
I mean, we get this right? If we prepare the ground, cultivate it, plant good seed, we do not expect to come back to poisonous fruit or thorns growing where we planted good seed.
This reminds me of another parable that Jesus gives in Luke. Luke 13:6-9 (ESV) 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
The people had failed to produce the fruit God expected and in his final effort, he sent his son so that it would bear fruit. Jesus pronounces to these religious leaders, because they have not produced the things of God, and since, as a nation, they had failed to produce and now were rejecting the son, God was going to take the kingdom from them and give it to those who would.
The kingdom is not lost, the vineyard is not lost, God’s purposes will carry on, but the nation of Israel would be supplanted by a new people, composed of Jew and Gentile alike.
This is Jesus foretelling what will happen in the coming days. God is going to make a new people, people that will produce his fruit, whether they are ethnically Jewish or Gentile.
We see this play out in the pages of the book of Acts.
As the people of God, God has given us everything we need to produce fruit. He removes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, he indwells us with his Spirit, Ephesians 4:11-16 he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
In another place, Paul says it this way,
Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;
What does God expect from those who have been given the Kingdom? That they will produce fruit marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
Shortly before this parable, on the same morning, on their way into Jerusalem to this encounter with the religious leaders, Jesus sees a fig tree in the distance.
Matthew 21:18-19 (ESV) 18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
This was a prophetic act by Jesus paralleling what God would do to his people when they failed to produce fruit consistent with who they presented themselves to be.
Let me ask you this question.
What would Jesus find if he rooted around in your life looking for fruit? Would he find it, or would he find only leaves, only the appearance of fruit?
If we learn anything from this admonition to these religious leaders, it ought to be the danger of rejecting the kingdom by failing to produce its fruit.
The Apostle Paul picks up on this warning in Romans 11 when he warns those in the church to not become proud, not to become arrogant, but to be reverent towards God who is able to graft in those who come to him through faith and remove those from his tree who lack it.
The point is to not presume because you are connected to the church in some way, because you grew up in it, because your family is in it, because you visited it, that you are part of it.
What is the distinguishing factor? The production of fruit. Indeed, Jesus says if you are connected to him, you will produce fruit!
Could it be the lack of fruit in your life is evidence of your rejection of the kingdom?
We began this morning asking the question. Why does anyone reject the kingdom of God?
We looked at three failures that can contribute to its rejection.
A failure to understand who it belongs to, a failure to receive its messengers, and finally a failure to produce its fruit.
As we close this morning. Here is where I want to land.
How do you know if you have rejected or received the kingdom of God?
Just work yourself back through the questions.
Have you come to understand that your life is not yours, that it belongs to God?
Have you received his messenger Jesus Christ and his call to repent and believe?
Have you produced fruit consistent with someone who is in the kingdom of God?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, praise God.
If you are unsure if these are true in your life, ask God to reveal where you are rejecting the kingdom of God and give you the grace and mercy you need to humble yourself and come to him in faith.
If you are waiting, waiting for a sign, waiting to get your life together, waiting to be in a better place, etc… hear me. The son has come. The time is now. The day of salvation is at hand. The master of the house is returning and when he does he will separate those that are his and those that have rejected him.
This is the warning that went unheeded by many of the religious leaders in Jesus’s day, may it not go unheeded here this morning.
Let us pray.