This morning, I’m hovering over a story Jesus told to the chief priests and elders after they asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matt. 21:23). Jesus has refused to answer them directly because they have refused to deal with the claims of John the Baptist honestly. But Jesus proceeds to tell them a couple of stories. The first is about a son who said he wouldn’t but eventually did, and of his brother who, although he said he would, didn’t (Matt. 21:28-32). Then Jesus tells them another story (Matt. 21:33-46). A story involving a master of a house who builds and then leases out a vineyard. A story involving those who leased the vineyard and said they’d work it. A story involving the master’s son who came to collect and was killed. And, as I’m chewing on it, at it’s core, I think it’s a story about fruit.
I think if, in the past, you were to have asked me why the tenants abused the master’s servants and killed the masters son, I would might have responded, greed. Though the vineyard had been built by the master of the house and leased to the tenants to work it, when the first set of the master’s servants were sent to collect their portion of the crop, they were refused because the tenants didn’t want to part with any of it. But something I read in Jesus’ application of the story, is making me think otherwise this morning.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lords doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:42-43 ESV)
It’s that phrase, “a people producing its fruits,” which caught my eye. And, not to over think the parable as it’s main message is the rejection of the master’s son, I’m wondering if the tenants’ issue wasn’t that they didn’t want to share the fruits, but that they had no harvest to share from. They had worked the vineyard, but had nothing to show for it. Though the master expected to share in a certain crop from their labors, they had followed another agenda, and had nothing to return to the master. Thus, Jesus’ application, it would be given to a people producing its fruits.
In the Old Testament, Israel had been likened to a vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). A vineyard that instead of yielding profitable fruit, bore instead “wild grapes.” That picture of the ancient Israelites was now being applied to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The kingdom had been announced to them . . . the vineyard presented . . . yet they did nothing with it. It wasn’t just that they didn’t want to share in the fruit of the kingdom, it was that they had nothing to share. Instead, they had worked their own agenda and not the Master’s. And, refusing the Master’s will, they refused the Master’s Son, masterminding His death. And so, says Jesus, the kingdom will be given to others. Others who will produce the kingdom’s fruits.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17 ESV)
Not an exhaustive list of the kingdom’s fruit . . . but a good start. Righteousness . . . peace . . . and joy . . . all in the Holy Spirit.
The Master has built the vineyard, the kingdom, on the foundation of the imputed righteousness of Christ to all who receive the gift of God’s salvation. Through His Son’s death on the cross, peace has been provided to remove the enmity between holy God and sinful man. And the vineyard has been seeded with inexpressible joy for those who believe — the joy of not only knowing sins forgiven, but the joy of a hope of eternity in God’s presence. And we have been given the power to participate in all this through His Holy Spirit.
And from this vineyard, the Master desires fruit. And so, says Jesus, He is redeeming a people that they might be producing kingdom fruit.
That His church may continue to be such a people. By His grace . . . for His glory.