Vineyards, Palm Branches, and Capstones

“Investing? Hillside property, zoned agricultural, SW exposure, prime site for developing vineyard.” That’s not an ad for land in Yamhill County, Oregon’s wine country, but it might have been one if there had been a Judean Herald. In Matthew 21:33–46 Jesus tells a story about such an investment property.

Heed the warnings about the vineyard. The vineyard pictures the kingdom of God. You notice that this parable does not need to be interpreted. The hearers knew Isaiah 5, and got the point. The parable deals with a common scenario, of an absentee landlord and his tenants. Jesus modifies details in the parable to emphasize the terrible nature of sin and the longsuffering character of God. The imagery was not only relevant to the day, but it also reflected God’s earlier call to his people to live in covenantal faithfulness.

This story has a point. The Lord requires an obedient response. The owner repeatedly required obedience from his tenants. The Lord required obedience, and when it did not come, he responded with the curses of the covenant. Even Jesus listeners could predict the fate of the wicked tenants, verse 41. The demand for obedience is intensified by the arrival of the Son. To reject the Son brings ultimate judgment. Continue to beware of the curses of the covenant. Even the chief priests and Pharisees got the point of the parable, verse 45. “[S]onship involves a higher dignity and a closer relation to God than the highest and closest official status known in the Old Testament theocracy…. [T]he Son is the last, the final, ambassador, after the sending of whom nothing more can be done. The Lord of the vineyard has no further resources; the Son is the highest messenger of God conceivable.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, p.161)

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Whose Authority?

“Says who?” “Ask why!” Some skepticism of authority can be helpful, but beware of questioning God’s authority, as Jesus points out in Matthew 21:23–32.

Submit to Christ’s authority. The chief priests and elders questioned Jesus’ authority. They seem to be focused on authority, particularly on anything happening or being taught without their say so. Certainly there are those today who not only question, but even object to any authority structure in the home or in the church. But beware of reacting against an erroneous view by simply emphasizing the opposite. Remember what Jesus said about authority in Matthew 20:24–28. The setting is the temple courts, where Jesus is busy teaching. The leaders of Israel interrupt with a demand that Jesus explain his authority for “doing these things.” “These things” may include the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, the healings there, and the praise of the children, as well as his present teaching activity. The question arises in a culture that had a strong tradition of citing authorities. They think that the question puts Jesus in a box. If he tries to cite human authority, they are the current authorities in the temple. If he claims divine authority, they can charge him with blasphemy. Jesus challenges their question with one of his own: John’s baptism, was it from heaven, or from men? The priests and elders discuss the implications of either answer. To admit that John’s baptism had a heavenly origin, would invite the challenge: why didn’t you believe him? And the obvious alternative, that was merely human in origin, would be politically unacceptable, given the people’s respect for the martyred prophet. Thus they simply responded lamely, “We don’t know.” But Jesus does have authority. His teaching was different, Matthew 7:28,29. He spoke with the authority of his Father, not citing rabbis who might happen to agree with what he was saying. His authority is not only that of the God-man, but there is a specific messianic authority that belonged to Jesus. He exercised it while on earth, but it became most fully his upon his powerful resurrection. Thus he could claim that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him, Matthew 28:18.

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A Fig Tree and Mountain-Moving Faith

Would you have wanted to witness the miracle of Jesus recorded in Matthew 21:18–22?

Beware of being unfruitful! This miracle warns of God’s righteous judgment. This miracle is unusual in that it is a miracle of judgment or cursing. The fig tree was disappointingly void of fruit, and Jesus pronounces that it will never bear fruit. Most of Jesus’ miracles were beneficial, merciful acts. Matthew’s account does not conflict with that in Mark 11. Mark gives more of a chronological report, while Matthew’s is topical. The withering of the fig tree is a visual warning to an unfaithful nation, to an unbelieving covenant people. It is associated with the cleansing of the Temple. It precedes the parables of the tenants and the wedding banquet, and Jesus’ pronouncement of woes on the Pharisees. The miracle is set against the background of judgment in Jeremiah 24. Jesus had come to his own, and his own refused to receive him. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed. The judgment about which Jesus warned was going to come. “The withering of the fig tree… is a prophecy of the judgment that would overtake Israel on account of its barrenness.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, p.68)

God requires you, his covenant people, to be fruitful. Old Testament Israel was warned of the covenant curse that would come upon faithless disobedience. Note how the curse upon rebellion is described in terms of crop failures, Deuteronomy 28:38–42. Israel in Jesus day was about to reject the Messiah, and judgment loomed on the horizon, Matthew 24:2. The Pharisees and others who prided themselves on being children of Abraham, but who rejected the Messiah and plotted his death would fall under God’s covenant curse. Jesus warns you to be fruitful. The church today is God’s covenant people, and he expects fruitfulness. Jesus would soon warn his disciples that they had to be fruitful and abide in him, or they would be subject to pruning by the Father, John 15:1,2,5,6. We tend to think of being fruitful in terms of witnessing to others and seeing them come into God’s kingdom. While that aspect cannot be excluded, fruitfulness is a richer concept. Bearing fruit means living as one united to your Savior. It means displaying the fruit of the Spirit in your life. It includes all that you do to the glory of God.

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Triumphantly into the Temple

Jesus not only entered Jerusalem in a triumphal parade, he continued on into the Temple. As he continued his triumphal entry in to the temple (Matthew 21:12–17), his actions and words challenge you to re-evaluate how you respond to him. Ask yourself, do I respond to Jesus the way that I should? Are we as a church being the kind of church that the Lord wants us to be? In what ways do I need to be cleansed? How should we be worshiping? Do you appreciate the three-fold office of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah?

Acknowledge Jesus as your gentle King. You are familiar with the story of the Triumphal Entry, the major event of Palm Sunday. Finally Jesus is willing to be hailed as the messianic King. He clearly accepts the majestic, messianic titles of “Son of David” and “the one coming in the name of the Lord.” At the same time, his actions send the message that his followers, both outside Jerusalem that day, and today, need to change their expectations as to who he is. Matthew details Jesus’ instructions to bring a donkey and her colt. The actions bring to mind Zechariah’s prophecy of the gentle character of the King in Zechariah 9:9. He shows his gentleness even in making sure that the formerly unridden colt has its mother next to it as it is ridden. The Son of David is following, in reverse, the path that David has used as he fled from Absalom, 2 Samuel 15:30, and likely retraced when he returned to the city.

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The Compassion of the Son of David

We try to make facilities accessible to those who have physical challenges. But in the days Jesus walked on earth there was little that blind men could do except to beg. In Matthew 20:29–34 you are introduced to two of them—and to the One whose heart goes out to them.

Trust Jesus as the Messianic King. Jesus is on a journey. Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Matthew keeps reminding you of the journey, Matthew 19:1; 20:17. Jesus has made the purpose of his journey clear, Matthew 16:21; 17:12; 20:18,19. A large crowd follows Jesus, perhaps hoping to witness the inauguration of an earthly kingdom. Certainly the disciples had been thinking along that line. At Jericho two blind men appeal to him. They were doubtless sitting by the road in order to beg from travelers going to Jerusalem. Harmonistic problems can be resolved. Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43 mention one blind man, Matthew and Mark place the incident as Jesus is leaving the city, Luke as he is entering it. Mark and Luke are under no obligation to mention both—the focus on Bartimaeus. There may have been an old city of Jericho and a newer, active town.

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