“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Luke 20:18)
Either way, you’re dead. Either you fall on Jesus in broken hearted, empty handed, beggarly repentance or you get crushed by the weight of your own salvation crashing down against the resistance of your own self-justification. But either way, you’re going to be broken when you encounter Jesus.
Jesus told a parable against the unbelief of Israel. A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenant farmers who were supposed to tend it and give a share of the harvest. He sent a servant to collect, and he was beaten and sent away empty-handed. He sent another, and he was mocked and scorned and sent away empty-handed. He sent a third, and they wounded him and cast him out. He sent his son. “His beloved son.” And they took one look as the son and said, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours.” And they threw him out of the vineyard, and they killed him.
Stop here for a moment and consider. What sort of tenants are these? They’re living by the good graces of another who asks nothing more than a reasonable share of the harvest. Is this any way to treat a man’s servants? Beat them, mock them? Is this any way to treat the man’s son, his beloved son? To drag him outside the vineyard and murder him? Is this any way to get title to the inheritance?
The story seems so over the top. Nothing like most of Jesus’ other parables. This one seems almost surreal. How could anyone act this way? And yet amazingly, this is precisely how Israel behaved! When Jesus said it wasn’t fitting for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem, He was referring to all the prophet God had sent to Israel who were despised, rejected, scorned, abused, killed.
Hebrews chapter 11 talks about this: They suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. According to legend, Jeremiah was stoned to death, Isaiah was sawn in two, Amos was tortured, and the list goes on and on. This at the hands of their own people.
To understand this, you need to understand that the Word is always a rejectable and rejected Word. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive Him.” The rejection of the prophet was the rejection of Christ who was on their lips and whom they typified with their lives. In other words, the prophets bore the death of Jesus in their own bodies. The rejection they experienced was not their own but Christ’s. The scorn they experienced was not their own but Christ’s. Their death was not because of who they were, but because of whom they represented. Christ was the target. The devil, the world, our sinful flesh all want the Son dead. And like the son in the parable, Christ goes out from the Father, the beloved Son, to the vineyard God planted, His Israel, and He is cast out and crucified by the very tenants whom God Himself had placed there.
At our Good Friday, a week from this Friday, you will hear the traditional “”improperia,” the reproaches, in which God laments over his vineyard, His Israel. The broken heart of the Father who sent His Son looking for faith, only to be rejected:
Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended You? Answer Me. For I have raised you up out of the prison house of sin and death, and you have delivered up your Redeemer to be scourged. For I have redeemed you from the house of bondage, and you have nailed your Savior to the cross. O My people. (Micah 6:3-4)
Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, leave us not to bitter death. O Lord, have mercy.
Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended You? Answer Me. For I have conquered all your foes, and you have given Me over and delivered Me to those who persecute Me. For I have fed you with My Word and refreshed you with living water, and you have given Me gall and vinegar to drink. O My people. (Jeremiah 2:6-7)
Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, allow us not to lose hope in the face of death and hell. O Lord, have mercy.
Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended You? Answer Me. What more could I have done for My vineyard that I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? My people, is this how you thank your God? O My people. (Isaiah 5:2-4)
Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, keep us steadfast in the true faith. O Lord, have mercy.
Some people mistakenly hear these reproaches as an indictment of the Jewish people, but they’re not. While they certain address Israel, they also address the church too. Our sin put Jesus on the cross as much as Israel’s rejection. In fact, you might say that Israel’s rejection was part of our salvation. “The stone the builders rejected has becomes the cornerstone.” The rejected rock becomes the cornerstone and capstone of salvation. God takes the worst that the world can throw at Him, the crucifixion of His Son, and He makes ultimate good out of it: the salvation of the world.
We don’t really get this parable, or the reproaches of Good Friday, if we don’t see ourselves as those wicked tenants who beat the servants and killed the Son. We do that too. We do that in all the ways we reject the Word, whether not hearing it, not learning it, not inwardly digesting it and taking it to heart. When we make worship and the sacrament something optional. When those inspired and inerrant Scriptures sit dusty on our shelves because we haven’t bothered to take and read.
We despise the Word and heap stones on the prophets when we ourselves refuse the Word of forgiveness and absolution and instead attempt to assuage our guilt by our own self-justification. We despise the Word and we crucify Christ all over again when we add something to what Jesus had done, even the slightest little religious thing, as though Jesus had never said “it is finished.”
In the parable, the landowner evicts the tenants and gives the vineyard to others. At one level, Jesus is talking about the land that Israel occupied, which was indeed taken away and given to others, and no amount of political force or military might is going to change that. At a deeper level, He’s talking about the mystery of His kingdom, the stewardship of grace that was entrusted to Israel but would soon be given to another steward, the church, a mixture of baptized Jew and Gentile, into which you have been baptized as well. You are the new tenants, not by your doing, but by God’s baptismal grace in Christ. You are heirs, not by your doing, but by the death of the Son.
And that’s the the twist of this parable. The death of the Son becomes the life of the world. The death of Son grants the inheritance. The death of the Son is our forgiveness, our life, our salvation, our justification.
There is no neutrality with Jesus. No comfortable middle position. No place where you can hold Him at a safe distance. As Simeon said prophetically that day when he held the 40 day old Jesus in his arms, “This child is set for the rising and falling of many in Israel.” It’s either faith or unbelief when it comes to Jesus. You either fall on Christ by faith with your sin, your brokenness, your lostness, take up your cross and follow him like Simon of Cyrene, or you end up crushed by the sheer weight of judgment coming down against your own self-righteousness.
The apostle Paul experienced that in his own life. He had been trained as a Pharisee, the very people against whom Jesus had spoken this parable. He had been at the head of his class at the seminary. He had mastered the religion of righteousness under the law. And yet he says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Resurrection to life in Jesus awaits you. Press onward toward the goal, the way a runner runs the race, not looking down at his feet, not looking over his shoulder where he’s been, but looking straight ahead at the finish line and the prize, resurrection from the dead and eternal life.
Fall on Christ the Rock, and He will forgive you. Fall on Christ the Rock, and He will save you. Fall on Christ the Rock and He will raise you to life.
In the name of Jesus,