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)

Respond to the Son with trust. Jesus identifies himself as the capstone promised in Psalm 118. Jesus challenges you to understand the Scriptures: “Have you never read in the Scriptures?” The quote is from the Hillel, the Psalms sung at the celebration of the Passover feast. That Psalm had been quoted in the shouts by the palm branch waving crowd during Jesus’ triumphal entry, verse 9. Jesus challenges you to see that the Scriptures focus on him as the Messianic Redeemer. Jesus is the stone which the builders rejected. He came to his own, and they did not receive him. As he spoke the leaders of Israel were plotting his death, verse 46. The consequences of rejecting the Messiah are crucial. Those on whom he falls are crushed, verse 44. But through that rejection the Lord makes the stone the capstone (or cornerstone). His rejection by Israel led to his betrayal, crucifixion, and death by the end of the week. But in that death he was not a victim. Rather, by his obedient suffering he conquered sin and death, and paid the penalty for all of the sins of all of his people. His death was to be followed by his resurrection and exaltation. He is the cornerstone on which the whole church is built.

Jesus calls you to produce fruit to the glory of God. Because of their rejection of the Messiah the kingdom would be removed from Israel and given to a people who would produce fruit. The judgment would be more sweeping than the people’s response indicated (verse 41), because the One rejected is none less than the Son of God. The kingdom would be taken from Israel and given to the gentiles. “[I]n its entire view and interpretation of the OT, the NT is undergirded by the thought that the Israelitish dispensation has its fulfillment in the Christian, The whole economy of the old covenant, with all its statutes and ordinances and throughout its history, points forward to the dispensation of the new covenant. Not Talmudism but Christianity is the rightful heir of the treasures of salvation promised to Abraham and his seed.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 397) The expectation of covenantal obedience continues. Produce fruit to the glory of God. Above all, recognize Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God, as the ultimate representative of the Lord of the vineyard, as the stone which has become the capstone. As you come to the Lord’s Table, examine yourself as to your relationship with Christ.

See yourself in the vineyard, and ask, what am I doing? Am I living in rebellion against the Lord of the vineyard? Am I about to suffer his wrath? Or, do I acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as the true Son of the living God? Do I give him, not just a portion of the crop, but my whole self, my whole life? Is my trust really in him? Rejoice in that!