As Workers in God’s Vineyard…

The story is told of a painter who once exhibited a picture of a monk in his robes. Looking at the picture from a distance, the monk appeared to be in a position of prayer - his head bowed over a book; his eyes cast downward in humble adoration; his hands clasped upon his chest. From a distance it looked like the monk was praying.

But, as one drew nearer, the appearance of the painting changed dramatically. On close inspection the viewer saw that the book was not really a book at all – it was a punch bowl over which the monk hunched. And his hands clasped at his chest were not the hands of prayer. They were the hands of a man who was squeezing lemon juice into the bowl before him. Underneath the painting an inscription read: “A hypocrite is one who neither is what he seems to be, nor seems to be what he really is.”

That picture and inscription easily describe the people to whom Jesus told this parable. They were the chief priests and the elders of the people. Just like the monk in the painting, upon closer inspection these leaders in Israel were not what they seemed to be – they were not faithful servants of God. And they did not seem to be what they really were – unbelievers bent on serving themselves. They were hypocrites, pretenders of the faith who abused and misused a God-given position for personal consideration and gain.

As we hear what our Lord said about their fate, we would do well to consider who we are in His kingdom and what we are doing with the position or things He has entrusted to our care. How do we measure up with our work in His vineyard?

May the Holy Spirit graciously guide our study to see that As Workers in God's Vineyard we are to I. remember Him in His love; and we are to II. respond to Him in love.

 

I. Remember Him in His love.

Jesus' parable was about a vineyard. In the Bible the people of Israel were sometimes pictured as a vineyard, with God as the owner or caretaker. That's what Isaiah said most clearly in the OT Lesson today when he wrote, “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel” (Is.5:6). Now, what's the purpose of a vineyard? The purpose of a vineyard is to produce grapes which the owner will harvest. Likewise Israel's purpose was to produce fruits of faith for the Lord. Isaiah wrote that the Lord “looked for justice” from them; He “looked for righteousness.” He looked for things from them that reflected their love, reflected their attachment to Him as their blessed Savior God.

To help them be that kind of a people, He showered them with His love . God, the “landowner,” provided everything that was necessary for His vineyard to be productive. After He had carefully planted each vine, He built a wall around the whole thing to protect it from wild animals. A winepress was dug out of the underlying rock so that those who took care of it didn't have to provide one or run the risk of losing anything by transporting the grapes elsewhere. He had a tower built, both for shelter and burglar control

In this picture we are reminded how God in His eternal love took care of His people to keep them with Him. He separated them from all the other heathen nations of the world so that they would not fall away from Him, too, just like the nations had. He sought to protect them from the onslaught of the devil and his wicked angels, sending them prophet after prophet to act as their spiritual watchmen (Ez.3:17). In His love God provided richly for their protection and upkeep. What a generous “landowner” He had been.

And then, in His love He became the trusting owner, turning His beloved Israel over to caretakers – the priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people. They had nothing to do with, no responsibility in providing anything for the vineyard; God had already seen to it. What they were to do was to take care of it all and to ready His people for the “harvest time.” He was generous, gracious, and trusting to them. Think of the risks involved there.

Someone has said that “to love is to risk.” If you reach out in love to another person, you in a sense take a risk. That person may reject you or disappoint you or even betray you. Chances are that you might be among those who have been “burned” in this. You took a “risk.” You cared deeply about another. That person spurned you. Now you carry an emotional scar. In many cases the hurt becomes so deep that it's hard to take the risk of loving again. Yes, to love is to risk.

And God, you might say, is the biggest risk taker of all. He is ready to risk everything, whether it was for His OT people whom He described here as His vineyard, or for you.

In love for you “He took a risk” by planting you into this world, by making you His own and protecting you in the waters of Holy Baptism and in His Word. He took a great risk in handing the souls of His people over to others, to pastors and teachers and other types of church leaders. In our families He took a great risk in handing the souls of His precious little children over to us parents. In the congregation He took a great risk in handing over the care and concern for each to one another as brothers and sisters in the faith. Think of what a risk for Him that His. Who has the greater ability to provide and to see that everything works out right other than He? But in His love, and you might say in His trust, He hands His vineyard over to other workers to work it and to care for it.

Sad to say in the history of Israel the people and especially the leaders in their sin took advantage of His love. They acted like they were concerned about God, but in the end they cared only for themselves. He had given them such blessings to enjoy, to share with others, and to protect - not just earthly blessings but eternal ones. He had given them such advantages as His people and workers . But in their sin they turned away from Him and refused to acknowledge Him, using all the blessings for their personal advancement. In the end they even killed His Son whom He sent to them for their good. Why? Because all they could see was themselves and their own ambitions.

It has been said that selfish ambition and greed all too often and all to easily cause us to forget God's presence. As present-day Workers in God's Vineyard, may God have mercy and protect us from becoming like they.

But you know, dear friends, God still takes risks, you might say. That's the nature of His love. He doesn't treat us like mechanical robots on the end of a button that He pushes and controls with His might. He graciously treats us like beloved sons and daughters. The Bible says He considers us as co-heirs with Him of eternity. Because God is love, He takes risks with us.

But that's the nature of love. And in the greatest display of it ever, when we all had become like Israel and its leaders in going our own way in sin, He sent His Son to the vineyard. That Son was killed on the cross for our sin. But through that we now are saved and all who believe it will not perish.

As vines and Workers in God's Vineyard , remember Him in His love... and then respond to Him in love , genuine love, not hypocritically, not going through the motions that appear from a distance to be love, but respond to Him in genuine love.

 

II. Respond to Him in love.

One could hardly say that the leaders of God's people had responded to Him in love . That would be a gross overstatement. They did anything but respond to God in love.

Prophet after prophet, whom God had sent, they killed. And then they got down to the Son Himself. Not only did they kill Jesus, too, but it was premeditated murder – they planned it ahead of time, just like the parable indicated when it said, “When the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

When Jesus spoke this parable, He was speaking directly to His would-be murderers. He told them right to their faces how they would bring to a head everything that their wicked fathers had begun. Why? Because they neither honored nor respected God or His Son, but refused, simply refused to respond to Him in love . They only saw Him as a threat to their own enjoyment and position of leadership.

This was not a sin of ignorance; this was an act of unbelief. Still, God sent His Son not only knowing what could happen, but actually knowing what would happen. And He sent Him that it might happen. And Jesus went ahead with it, fully aware of their murderous plans.

In the end they were punished for their sin, and all those workers of the past who did not repent of their rejection of Jesus, are in hell. The same will be true of the present and the future until the Lord returns. You see, dear friends, as the Bible says, “God will not be mocked.” You cannot hide from Him what you are really doing. He expects a return on His investment in you, in me, in all. He looks for our honor, respect, and our response of love.

But love cannot be forced, love cannot be commanded; it responds , it flows not because it has to, but because it wants to. God wanted to send His Son to die for our sakes. Why? Because He loved. Not because He saw something worthy in us. But because He loved and cared; and so He took that risk.

You know, it's a gracious blessing from God that our love does not have to come about in the same way. He had no reason to love us because of our disobedience, but He did. We, on the other hand, are blessed to have every reason to love Him – from our creation, to our daily preservation, to our heavenly protection, and above all to our eternal salvation. Nothing in us brought any of that about. He just did it.

You see, dear friends, our love to Him is not a response that is forced or commanded. It is a love that takes in all that He in grace has done for us and reacts to it. As He loved us, so we love Him and one another. As Workers In His Vineyard respond to Him in love.

So, as the Holy Spirit enables us in faith, we resolve this day and every day to rededicate our lives anew, not to us and our advancement, but to the Lord Jesus and His kingdom. We offer Him the fruits of faith, the best fruits of faith that He so fervently desires and so richly deserves. We live and work for Him and make our lives count for God as we show forth the praises of Him who made us His vines planted in Christ and His workers laboring in the vineyard. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus' sake. Amen.