By Simon ManchesterSunday 17 Dec 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 16 minutes
When the Queen had her 60th anniversary of being the queen, one of the newspapers produced an article about her and put, I think, 50 Things You May Not Know About the Queen.
Number 48 was that one of her favourite movies was a movie called Deliverance, which I gather is quite a gritty movie and has a banjo or ukulele piece in the movie. Apparently, she liked the movie so much she bought herself a ukulele to learn this little piece. It’s quite a staggering thing to learn about the Queen. At the end of the article, it said, “49 of the 50 of these items are true.” And it’s evident that that was the bizarre made up fictional idea about the Queen.
We turn to the fine print of the scriptures on Sunday because without it we will be misled. And that’s why we’re turning, week by week, to the Word of God, to the fine print of the Word of God and we are continuing in Mark’s Gospel.
We’re in Mark chapter 12. We are not opening the Bible for our amusement this morning, we’re not opening it for punishment, we’re not opening it even to have a good argument, we’re opening the scriptures to learn and to be changed. And the beautiful thing about the Word of God is that it can sometimes change your perception of God himself. You know what it’s like when you are arguing with somebody, and you build up, in your mind, a case about how wrong they are. And then, you get the opportunity to meet, and you sit, and you have coffee or lunch and a whole lot of your prejudice, and your bias disappears. And it is possible, in our sinfulness, to build up a resentment toward God or disappointment with God as if we have been living our lives very reasonably and he’s not been reasonable. And then we turn to the scriptures, and the scriptures change our perception, and they change our bias. And they tell us how reasonable, in fact, how infinitely reasonable he is and how unreasonable perhaps we are.
So, Mark chapter 12, is a parable and is really in a way a summary of the whole Bible in 12 verses. It’s a lesson in the greatness of God, that he is greater than we think he is and that we are worse than we think we are.
Jesus is in the great temple of Herod. It’s a place where he should have been very warmly welcomed, but in fact, he’s being attacked in the very temple. And we saw last week that he’s being attacked verbally by religious leaders who have come up, and demanded that he explained his authority. And because they’re closed to the answer about his authority, he closes his mouth and doesn’t answer their question.
Then suddenly Chapter 12 he began to speak, he began to speak in parables. This story is sort of like a hand grenade going over the wall. They’ve closed the door; they don’t want to listen to Jesus. And this parable comes as a hand grenade lobbed over the wall.
I hope you know that parables are not cute little stories where Jesus is dumbing things down, but a parable is very much a two-edged sword so that if you’ve got a receptive heart, you’ll be helped by the parable, and if you’ve got a non-receptive heart you’ll probably be hindered by the parable. It’s a two-edged sword.
Although Jesus told probably 40 parables that are listed in the New Testament, Mark, for some reason, only gives us two, two significant parables.
One is Mark chapter 4, The Sower, and here Mark chapter 12, The Vineyard. And both of them are parables of opposition but also victorious outcome. I thought of all the things that we could say about this parable, we would perhaps begin by looking at the parable under this heading, that you cannot fault the communication of Jesus.
Here he is with a group of people who don’t want to hear what he wants to tell them and he continues to communicate in a way which will subvert their opposition. You cannot fault the communication of Jesus. So last verse of chapter 11, “I won’t tell you,” says Jesus. The first verse of chapter 12, “Maybe you’ll hear this”, and he tells them a parable. It’s a little bit like that event in the Old Testament where David the King had committed adultery, and murder and nobody was getting through to him until Nathan, the Prophet, went and told him the story of the man who’d stolen a sheep belonging to somebody else. And that little story got through.
Here Jesus is communicating to get through. So he’s not closed towards people in general. He may be silent when people are hostile, but his great delight is to reveal himself because the Bible tells us he is light. And the way Jesus communicates is through creation. All the people of the world have been placed in the theatre of his creation.
He communicates through history, so sending prophet after prophet after prophet, even when his people were drifting and not listening. And then, he communicates in person by coming to visit the planet and leaving proofs behind that he has visited the planet. And then he communicates in words and deeds, which we can read of in the New Testament.
So even if you close the door, he’s perfectly capable, to slide a story under the door, which is what he’s doing here. Apparently, when the solar eclipse took place in America, one of the things the hospitals had to face was all the people who came in, who’d put sun cream on their eyeballs hoping that this would help them to look up at the solar eclipse. It’s hard for us to believe but people are capable of almost anything, aren’t they? And we live in a community that is doing almost anything to make sure that it doesn’t look at the most impressive person the world has ever seen. It’s quite bizarre, isn’t it?
Some of our brightest, most successful, and maybe even famous friends, are strangely avoiding Jesus and he is communicating, communicating, communicating and communicating. And he does this, not because he’s desperate, but because we are desperate and he is kind. So this parable is one example, it’s such a clear parable that when he finishes, verse 12, the opposition knows exactly what he’s been talking about and they wish they could destroy him.
What is the parable about? It’s about a man setting up a vineyard and putting some workers or farmers into the vineyard. And then expecting fruit from the vineyard, sending servants to collect the fruit and receiving back hostility. That’s what the parable is about.
Why does Jesus tell the parable? I presume that it is very much to convict. It’s to accuse or condemn, or show the people, especially the religious leaders, just how guilty they are. It says to the religious leaders, do you realise God is the rightful owner? Do you realise that your hostility to Him is evil? Do you realise that his son has come, the rightful heir and do you realise that you are going to do evil to him?
It’s a very convicting parable. It shows them that they are in the dark. That God is not in the dark, that they are. And I also suspect that this parable is very much to convert. He wants, if possible, to change their mind and change their direction and change their destiny.
So this is not a parable that forces them to their doom or which leaves them no option. I suspect the hope of Jesus is that they’ll be shamed as they listen and they will turn.
Here is my first point, you cannot fault the communication of Jesus. He tells us exactly what we need to know.
On Friday night, when I was walking around the block, 10:30 at night, as I sometimes do, walk around the block, I passed a man, a very large man, shaved head, cigarette in his left hand and his right hand ten balloons. Do you know why he had ten balloons in his hand? Neither do I. I didn’t ask him. All I said as I walked past was, “You just don’t see enough tough looking men with ten balloons at 10:30 at night.”
There is something which has not been communicated, and you will never know. But you cannot say that about the Son of God? Everything that is needed to be understood he communicates.
Second, you cannot fault the character of God. You might read this parable and think, “Gee, this is a fairly scandalous parable. This is a disaster.” But if you read the parable carefully, I think you’ll see that Jesus is setting out the character of God very carefully. And he’s also, by contrast, setting out the character of humanity very carefully.
Look at verse 1. You’ll see that Jesus speaking a parable said a man, meaning, of course, God Himself, planted a vineyard, put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.
Here is a clear indication from Jesus that God is a caring owner. The vineyard is a picture of his people. The Old Testament regularly described the people of God as a vine. A vine is an attractive word, isn’t it? It’s not the people of God or a weed or just a tree with leaves but a vine, a productive vine. And here, you notice that God puts a wall or a hedge around to protect and also to define who his people are. And then he builds a winepress because he’s got purpose for the people, it’s to be a productive people. And then he builds a tower, which will watch for enemies. And then he puts farmers in to give them employment. They’re not owners but they’re stewards. And then he leaves them to do their work. What more could he do? He’s a very caring owner.
Secondly, verse 2, he’s a very fair owner. He goes to look for fruit or produce at the time, at the right time, what we might call harvest. He sends a servant to collect what is rightfully his. He’s not calling out of season and demanding the impossible; he’s not sending his servants to another farm and saying, “Give me what is yours.” He’s sending his servants to collect what is his. He’s utterly fair. Nobody could accuse him of being oppressive. And if the workers rose up in some rebellion or revolt, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. And then, you’ll see in verses 3 to 5 that he is amazingly patient. God is amazingly patient. In fact, he’s patience almost defies belief. We’re not quite sure whether we could be this patient. There’s this queue of servants who are being sent. There’s a queue of prophets being sent to Israel, and they are repeatedly being beaten or even killed. And this is historically true. And no doubt as the leaders were listening, they recognised that this was the record of their nation. And then you’ll see that God is supernaturally gracious.
Verse 6, he sends his son. And again, this staggers belief, doesn’t it? What owner, in his right mind, having just watched his servants get beaten and killed sends his son? Suddenly the whole equation has moved out of the natural into the supernatural.
What sort of God would send his son into a world that would kill him? What sort of a father would give his boy over to killers? And the answer is a very loving father who recognises a very great need. And he’s going to work it all for good. That’s what we’re dealing with here, isn’t it?
The behaviour of this farmer is not natural; it’s supernatural. Paul says, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” And then, finally, you see that God is sovereign judge. Verses 9 to 11, the workers turn on the son, and they kill the son. And now every option has been tried. And notice, the son is the last of the line. There’s nobody to come after Jesus. And because the options have all been finished, down comes the judgment.
Verse 9, those who have rejected the son will be destroyed. And yet the whole plan, the whole evil plan is going to be turned around like putty in God’s hands and used for good. The son they kill is going to turn out to be the saviour and the stone they reject is going to turn out to be the keystone. And so here they are, they’re in the physical temple planning how to get rid of the son of God, and the son of God is planning how to build a spiritual temple. It’s an absolute prime piece of sovereign wisdom and wonder. And how kind God is, as we look at this parable, how patient he is, how kind he’s been to this world, how kind he’s been to this country, how kind he’s been to this city. You think there’s anybody in this city who could turn around on the last day and say, “I just had no information. God was holding out on me.” How kind God has been and how kind he’s been to you, and how kind he’s been to me. We have no excuses.
How brilliant is God that he’s going to take this process of evil and turn it into a process of salvation? Only God could do that. So there’s the picture of God. You cannot fault the character of God. But also notice that there is a human portrait being painted here because the parable is aimed, of course, at Israel’s leaders, but Israel’s leaders are typical of humanity. You see in verse 7 that these leaders, this is one of the most remarkable things I discovered in doing some reading this week.
In verse 7, the leaders know who Jesus is. They’re not ignorant. They can’t turn around and say, “Gee, nobody told us. We’ve made a big mistake.” They know exactly who they are attacking. And they’re attacking him because they want control, they want the inheritance.
The sad irony is that by attacking him, they will lose the inheritance. I’ve told many times that when I worked in the UK and worked with Dick Lucas, he used to say that occasionally, he would be speaking overseas, and on one occasion, he was speaking overseas with an interpreter, I think, it was in Japan. And the interpreter was a lady who was completely disinterested in him and what he was about to say. It was a Good Friday.
I remember she came up to him and she said to him, “Mr Lucas, can you tell me the main point of your talk.” And I think she was expecting him to say, “Well, it’s Good Friday, and the talk is going to be how God is full of love for everybody.” And Dick said to her, “My main point is this, given half a chance, we will do away with our maker.” And he said suddenly her eyes opened as if to say, “Well, now you’re talking. This could be interesting.” And that’s the message of Good Friday, isn’t it?
On the one hand, it’s the message of God sending his son. On the other hand, it’s the message of the human race, if possible, getting rid of its maker, which is exactly what we see around us. And we would be like that if God had not intervened and brought us to our senses and to our knees.
If you want to know how deep the sin is, look at verse 12. Having been told the dreadful story, having been told the full extent of the evil, having been told enough information to embarrass them, they then begin to do exactly what the parable said they would do.
So when Christianity comes to us with power, when the gospel comes to us with power, it does two things. It opens our eyes to our sinfulness, sickness and need. How kind is God to reveal that to us?
And of course, it takes us on to the Savior, the doctor, the one who will make us well and whole. And you never become a Christian unless you follow the sequence unless you see the sickness and go to the doctor or you see the sin and go to the Savior.
If you keep on saying to yourself, “I’m a good person, I’m a good person. I’m a good person,” well, you don’t need Jesus. But when God begins to change you, he brings you to an awareness of sickness, sin and his salvation. And he’s able, and he’s willing to bring this change about, isn’t he? It must have been devastating when Jesus said to these religious leaders, “Have you not read this? Did you miss it? Here you are, you’re the experts in reading the Old Testament. Did you miss the point? Did you miss the verse that says that there’s going to come a time where the very key to the future is going to be rejected?
Psalm 118 is a key text quoted in 6 New Testament books. The stone the builders rejected becomes the keystone. But people are very, very slow, aren’t they, to face up to their need.
Australian journalist Greg Sheridan wrote an article on human evil, a very interesting article, where he says that when something like a massacre takes place, the human race is just incapable of facing the facts of personal evil. So, he said, “This is what we do. We begin to focus on the heroes of the survivor. We begin to focus on those who’ve been great. That’s about all we can really cope with.” And then he says, “We then begin to tell the leaders what they must do next.” Anything but ask the question, what’s wrong with us? Why are we like this? He goes on to say, in the article, we’ve removed the transcendent and so we’ve got no answers. And he finishes by saying that the mantra “follow your dreams” is not working, especially if your dream is to go and shoot people.
So you see Mark 12 is a beautiful picture of the character of God, but it’s also a devastating portrait of the human heart. You cannot fault the character of God. And then, thirdly and finally, you cannot fault the claims of Christ.
What does this parable say to us this morning? It would be a great pity if I preach this, and you listen to this and then we walked away, and we said it was for someone else? Something’s wrong when it happens. And I don’t want to read into Mark chapter 12, what isn’t there, but I think it is safe to say that there is a serious challenge in this parable and there is a special comfort.
The serious challenge is that God is a fruit seeking God. And, therefore, we have to ask ourselves the question, forget about what my minister wants of me, that’s pretty irrelevant, forget about what other people want of me, forget about what the devil tells me, but if I find myself before God and I think about what His Word says he wants of me, is he finding it?
He asks that I put my faith in Jesus, has that fruit appeared? So that my confidence is in Jesus.
He asks that I be a person who keeps repenting, not because it’ll save me but because I need to throw away those things that are going to dishonour him and ruin me. Are we repenting? Is the fruit of repentance real? Are we growing or are we still in a kind of a spiritual preschool? Have we reached the age of 70 but spiritually we’re about three? Is it possible that the best years are behind us and now we’re just coasting and drifting? I’m simply asking you if God comes looking for fruit according to his word, would you be able to say, “He’s invested in me, and he’s producing fruit?” That’s the question, the serious challenge.
And the second is a very special comfort. And that is that Jesus here can look his opposition in the eye and say, “You have no idea how wonderful things are going to be.”
The word he uses in verse 11 is “marvellous.” It’s not a word we use very often, but it’s a good word. He says, “When you’ve done your worst, when you’ve rejected me, when you’ve rejected the stone, and I have fulfilled my part as Savior, and the keystone is in place, and God begins to build his temple, the end result is going to be beyond belief.” It’s as if Jesus is holding in his hand the DVD of human history. And he looks at the Opposition, and he says, “Yes, you’re in a great position of power, it seems, but not for long. And I’m in a great position of weakness, says Jesus, but not for long. Because what looks to be terrible is going to end up in a triumph. I have the film; I have the DVD.” And those of us who own New Testaments, we have the same film. We have the same New Testament. And we can take this very special comfort, which Jesus beautifully and brilliantly communicates, even to the opposition, that everything is going to turn out to be marvellous. And this is not fiction. This is something that he’s proved himself, in the dying and the rising, and will complete in the final resurrection.
So, you cannot fault the communication of Jesus, and you cannot fault the character of God, and you cannot fault the claims. He has a claim to fruit, and he has a very great comfort for his people.
Let’s bow our heads and pray. We thank you, our gracious God, for what we see in your word. We thank you for the picture of your very great and gracious character. We thank you for revealing something of ourselves to us. We thank you that you go on being patient and kind, communicating, offering a pardon, offering salvation. We pray, Heavenly Father, that you would help us to be a fruitful people. We pray that you would work in us and through us what is pleasing to you. And we pray that you would also strengthen us to be a hopeful, a confident and assured people, knowing that as Christ has risen, is seated on the throne, there will be a great triumph after the trouble. We ask it in Jesus name, Amen.