A Warning Story
Preached by Jason Abbott
There is nothing safe about Jesus. If you trust in him, you’ll find him always meddling with your life—constantly needling areas of pride and sin and autonomy in you. He’s not warm and fuzzy in that way. He’ll break you down piece by piece so as to remake or recreate you. The result is good. But, he’s not safe.
On the other hand, if you oppose him, you will find yourself more and more enslaved to that opposition. You’ll find his teaching harder and harder to listen to. You’ll find his very name annoying. You’ll find your heart is progressively lifeless and cold to the idea of a savior. In this way, interacting with him can be dangerous. It can harden your heart to God’s mercy.
And, this is the picture Jesus paints for us in the story he tells in today’s text. Just listen to his warning parable.
9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
This parable is about two main things: (1st) It’s about the hardness of hearts. Jesus warns about the dangers of hardening our hearts. (2nd) It’s about the patience of God, for now. This story depicts the long-suffering character of God the Father, while simultaneously warning us that his patience will not last forever.
Let’s look at each of these.
1. The hardness of hearts.
What’s clear is that Jesus tells this story as a warning to the religious leaders who are opposing him. The context indicates it. In the 1st verse of next week’s text, Luke makes this clear by recording how those very leaders understood this parable. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luke writes:
The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on [Jesus] at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them (v. 19).
Now, remember this is just one interaction among many, many interactions Jesus had with the religious leaders. His ministry had consistently challenged them. He taught as one with authority; they didn’t like that. He critiqued their traditions; they didn’t like that. He outwitted them and made them look foolish during debates over theology; they really didn’t like that. He performed miracles and hobnobbed with sinful, common people; they didn’t like that.
I think, consequently, it’s fair to say that the religious elites didn’t instantly accelerate into violence. They didn’t, in a moment, decide to “lay hands on” Jesus in order to have him crucified. Rather, theirs was a progressive hardening of heart towards him. One negative interaction with Jesus prejudiced their next interaction with him, until they eventually hated him—certain that he performed his miracles by the power of Satan (Luke 11:15), certain that he needed to die.
This is how it works. I’m sure many of you know precisely how it happens. You have an ugly interaction with somebody—some kind of a misunderstanding that heads south. You go away thinking about what they said to you, and what you wish you had said to them. You find that you can’t let it go—you can’t move on. Pretty soon, you’re talking to friends about that person; you’re poisoning the well when it comes to them. And, before too long, you’ve totally demonized him or her. Your heart is ice cold when you think about them.
And, there’s a danger in this. When we allow our hearts to become calloused over time, we also allow our ability to see and know the truth to become calloused and hard—the truth about the other person and the truth about ourselves. A person, who’s created in the image of God, becomes a demon to us. And we, though feeble and sinful, become certain of our viewpoint and totally righteous in our own sight. A hard heart preaches these kinds of lies.
This is where the religious leaders find themselves when it comes to Jesus. And, it’s dangerous. They have chafed at his authority in this passage of Scripture. Do you recall Benjamin’s sermon from last week? Do you remember the question they brought before Jesus? “Who gave you this authority?” they asked (Luke 20:2). His authority—in clearing the temple, in receiving praise as he entered Jerusalem, in assessing and teaching God’s laws—offended the leaders. And, at this point, they’ve had enough. Their hearts are now completely hardened towards this Rabbi. They want him out of the way. They cannot, and will not, see the truth about Jesus, and they’re blind to the truth about themselves.
Hardening your heart to Jesus is a dangerous thing! And, you’re not immune to it. In fact, you’re prone to do it. Just think about the following questions.
- How do you use what you’ve been given—money, power, talent, etc.?
- Are those things under your authority or the Lord’s authority?
- If you’re confronted by Jesus’ claim to authority in an area of your life, would you be willing to give him control over it?
Or, consider how you would answer these questions; they’ll tell you a lot about authority and who has it in your life.
- Who do you believe sex is for? Is it intended primarily for you?
- Who is food for? Does it exist foremost to make you happy?
- Who is fashion for? Who is family for? Who reigns over these areas?
The world will tell you they’re yours, that you reign. But, that’s not the view of the Bible. That’s not what Scripture says they’re for. God’s word says they’re for God’s glory. God’s word says they’re under God’s authority.
So, inspired by the Spirit, Paul and Peter urge you to submit to the authority of Christ in all things and in every area of life. Listen to what they say in unity.
…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:27).
If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11).
These texts, and many others in the Bible, tell you who really has authority over all things and who those things are really for. Our hard hearts will surely rebel against this truth, and the world around us will preach a different gospel than this; but, make no mistake—all things, including you, were created by and for the Lord. As Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Watching the Super Bowl commercials last Sunday evening, it was apparent to me how restless secular hearts are. Product after product vying for our loyalties! Yet, you don’t need to zoom-in on a specific commercial to unveil the restlessness; rather, just pan-out on our culture as a whole. Just think about what keeps it going or what makes it tick.
Bechtel and I were thinking about this phenomenon last Tuesday afternoon. And, he pointed to Time Square as an indicator or symptom of our restless hearts, how we long for something to satisfy us. You see, all of the neon blinking-lights and jumbo movie-screens in Time Square don’t create a longing and restless heart in us. Rather, the longing and restless heart in us created the signs. In other words, things like Time Square and Super Bowl commercials exist because of our desires, because we are looking for something to make us whole—something to fill us up. What is that something for you?
The Bible tells us it must be relationship with God through faith in Christ. Nothing else will satisfy that longing. Only Christ’s authority in you can!
Friends, the more the religious leaders came up against the authority claims of Jesus and denied those claims, the harder their hearts became to the good news Jesus personified and accomplished. And, the more we give ourselves over to sin, the more we hold Christ’s reign at arms-length in certain areas, the more we deny that Jesus has full authority over us—the harder our hearts become; it’s dangerous! It’s giving sin and Satan a foothold in your life.
Well, let’s move to the second thing this passage is about.
2. The patience of God, for now.
Jesus quotes Psalm 118 in this text and makes other Old Testament allusions as well (cf. the stone imagery in Isaiah 8 and Daniel 2). I won’t get into all of this, but we should recognize that none of the references or allusions would’ve been lost on the religious authorities. They were tracking with the implications of the story and these scriptural references. They understood precisely what Jesus was saying to them and about them here—as well as, what he was saying about himself.
So, what was Jesus saying about them? What was he saying about himself? What’s the bottom line? Here it is in a nutshell.
The “stone” passages that Jesus quotes in his interpretation of the parable of the Vineyard Tenants explain the parable as an accusation and a threat against the Jewish leaders, and at the same time they communicate a veiled claim of Jesus to be God’s authoritative and decisive representative.
In other words, Jesus tells the leaders: You’re the faithless vineyard workers. You’re the rebels stealing the vineyard owner’s property. It’s you who have abused and mistreated and killed the owner’s servants. You’ve done this with the prophets of God to Israel. This is a harsh condemnation of them.
Simultaneously, Jesus is giving them an answer to their previous question: “Who gave you this authority?” He didn’t answer them immediately but does here. He says to them: I’m the heir. I’m the owner’s only son. I have complete authority over this vineyard. And, just as those vineyard workers wanted to murder the heir, you want to kill me. Friends, Jesus says: God is my Father; I am his Son.
These are the kinds of assertions Jesus often makes concerning his identity and his authority. These are the types of stories he regularly tells about who he is and why he’s come. And, it’s a warning. For those who reject God’s beloved Son, judgment will come. It’s a warning. As Jesus says:
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others (vv. 15-16).
This is about the time you wonder how this point can be about a patient God. This seems to highlight a wrathful God. This seems to highlight a vengeful Father. This seems to highlight his swift, harsh, and final judgment. Yes. That’s precisely what Jesus’ parable highlights for us. But, we have to keep his story in its context. We have to recall where this story is being told and whose lips it’s on.
In actual space-time history, here stands the vineyard owner’s son—the heir. God the Father, knowing full-well that they wouldn’t respect his Son, nevertheless, sent him to make peace. And, God the Son, knowing full-well that the rebel tenants would reject, mock, and kill him, willingly came, nonetheless. Jesus warns them because Jesus loves them. The Father sends the Son because the Father loves them; God is patient with all these rebel tenants, in order that his longsuffering-kindness towards them might lead them to repentance and salvation (Romans 2:4).
I have five children. And, when I warn one of them concerning something, it’s a sign of my love for them and my patience with them. There are many times when I’m not patient with them, and no warnings come before they get punished. That’s not loving. That’s not longsuffering. That’s not like God.
Friends, we are still living in the time of God’s patience. But, it isn’t forever. It will not last forever. That day is approaching when the skies will be rolled-back, and Jesus will return. And all those who have rejected God’s authority—all who’ve rejected God’s Son—will face the Father’s eternal rejection. This is what the Bible calls hell—the Living Stone, Jesus, whom they have rejected will fall upon them and crush them (v. 18). They will be eternally undone.
But, for us, that is not today. Today we can hear this warning Jesus gives us, and we can fall upon (trust upon) the Living Stone and be broken to pieces (v. 18). We can be humbled and broken-down, knowing that our Lord will reconstruct us—burying our dishonor and raising us to glory in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:43).
 Augustine, Saint Augustine Confessions, (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5).
 G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson: editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 362.
 Ibid., 365.