How good are you at listening?

Sunday 11th October 2020

Isaiah 25:1-9

Matthew 22:1-14

What are some of the differences between listening to the radio and watching TV?  Radio involves one of our senses whist TV involves two.  Tuning in to the radio often requires careful listening, whilst watching TV can be done carelessly; you’re not really listening to the words, just looking at the images.

Throughout Scripture God is calling us to listen to Him.  We are to pay attention and listen carefully.  How many times did you hear your parents or teachers say something along those lines?  How good were you at listening?  Did you answer the right question, complete the task correctly according to the directions given to you?  Or did you do what you thought you were asked to do, but because you weren’t listening properly you missed the mark?

Does this sound familiar?

The Bible shows us how important it is to listen to God.  As God’s Children the Israelites quickly forgot what God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt.  They failed to listen and spent 40 years walking round in a big circle.  That meant that most of those who remembered escaping Egypt had died before they could get into the promised land.  They had seen it, but they didn’t get there.

Listening is so important.  Without listening we can end up not getting all that God wants us to have. Perhaps you see this in your life.

As God’s people we are not just to inwardly receive the Word but are to outwardly live it before those we share our lives with.  When we do this we will show God’s wisdom and be considered wise and understanding (Deut. 4:6).   You see God is, and always has been deeply interested in the witness of His people by giving the Word to the world.  As Christ’s Church we have a vital mission and if we lose enthusiasm to communicate the news of Jesus, we soon start turning our energy in on ourself – with disastrous effects.  Perhaps you can see where this has already happened.

Context of the wedding banquet parable (Matthew 22:1-14)

So what does this parable say about listening to God?  This parable, the Wedding Feast, is the third that Jesus spoke to the religious and political leaders during His final week in Jerusalem.  The first was the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32) where Jesus describes the chief priests and religious leaders like two sons, and connects them to the son who appears to obey but does not.  The second was the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) where Jesus shows the religious leaders that He is well aware of their plot to take ownership of His kingdom and to kill Him.  In the final parable, that of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus again shows these men how they are wickedly rejecting the kindness and graciousness of God who has invited them to the wedding feast of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This parable looks at how etiquette and bad manners can escalate into violence.  The wedding party began as convention dictates.  A first invitation (a sort of “Save the date!”, which has become popular again) is followed by the summons carried by the host’s servants when the banquet is ready. This is when things start to fall apart.

First, the invited guests simply refuse to come, and when the second call comes, they treat the invitation as a joke and go about their business.  Did you notice that it is not because the invited guests could not come to the wedding feast, but that they would not come (see Luke13:34)?  Everyone had an excuse.  How tragic, and how indicative of human nature, to be offered the blessings of God and to refuse them because of the draw of mundane things.

More than bad manners are at stake, for some invitees even assault and kill the servants.  In his anger the king  then escalates the confrontation by sending in his troops to destroy both the perpetrators and their city. Apparently, the king has judged their bad behaviour to be the opening salvo of a rebellion that must be quelled.

Nevertheless, the party is ready, and the king is determined that it will go ahead, and so the servants are sent out again, this time to the very limits of the territory, (That is what v9 means). They are to bring in everyone, “good and bad” (v 10), so that the hall will be filled.  When the King plans a party, the party will go on!

We need to listen carefully to God’s Word.  How well have you responded to God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom?

You see, just as the king provided wedding garments for his guests, God provides salvation for humanity.  Our wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ, and unless we have it, we will miss the wedding feast.  Righteousness is found by believing the Word, and the Word is only found in and through the cross of Christ.  The cross is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) and involves us recognising our sin, confessing it and walking away from it with the help of Christ’s power dwelling in us.  We simply can’t do it on our own!

Those who try to do it on their own, who try to get in without going through the cross, will be thrown out into the darkness.  This darkness is existence without the love, grace, mercy and compassion of God.  This is why Christ concludes the parable with the sad fact that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” In other words, many people hear the call of God, but only a few heed it.

The self-righteous Pharisees who heard this parable did not miss Jesus’ point. In the very next verse, “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15).

I see this Parable of the Wedding Feast as a warning to us.  Are we listening to God’s Word?  God’s provision of salvation is only found from listening to and then obeying the Word, not on our own good works or religious service.

We are always to keep listening to what God is saying to us.  The Word is God’s brilliant gift to us.  It stops us from insulting Him and thus destroying ourselves.  The enemy, the devil, is great at attacking our faith.  Having a lukewarm faith is not healthy.  Often when we feel lukewarm it is because of our small attention to God’s liberating Word and too much attention to non-liberating things.

The Word is full of wonderful incentives to return to God wholeheartedly.  Know, believe and live in the knowledge

  • that God “will not abandon or destroy you” (Deut. 4:31),
  • that “beside Him there is no other God”, (Deut. 4:35),
  • that it is His desire to save all people (1 Tim2:3-4, 2 Pet 3:9)

In Jesus we have a safe place to run to, for in Him, the Word, we find pardon and peace.  The heart of God is for all people to be safe.

When the writer of Hebrews calls us to “hear [the Lord’s] voice” (4:7), he also calls us to “approach God’s throne” where our High Priest Jesus Christ has perfect sympathy because He is unhardened by sin and has an endless supply of perfect mercy and grace. Trust what Jesus, the Word, says as you listen to Him.

Time to think

First read Isaiah 25:1-9 and Matthew 22:1-14

Perhaps with pen/paper or journal write down your thoughts as you consider the following questions….

  1. Listening is so important.  Without listening we can end up not getting all that God has told us, or shown us He wants us to have.  Where do you see that in your life?
  2. How well have you responded to God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom?
  3. What warnings does this parable show us?
  4. What impact does being lukewarm for Jesus have on our faith?
  5. Referring to the text above what are we to live in the knowledge of?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. Can you think of occasions when your failure to listen to God’s word for you led to unwelcomed problems in your life?
  2. The Word is God’s brilliant gift to us.  Ask God to show you where the sin in your life is causing the brilliance of this gift to be tarnished?  Confess this and receive God’s forgiveness.  Then rebuke the enemy’s schemes to dull the brilliance of God’s Word in your life.  Finally declare that you will fill your life with the Word.

Trust what Jesus, the Word, says as you listen to Him.

Prayer Response

  • Give some time as you start your prayer to noticing the immense hospitality of this king. ‘Invite everyone you find to the wedding!’ he says. That is God’s attitude to everyone on earth, and to you. Be grateful for this.
  • What of the man without a wedding robe? This part of the story is to highlight that we need to fill our lives with loving action. It is not a preview of eternal punishment, because God loves everyone even when they don’t reciprocate.
  • God, you are always looking out for us and inviting us to fill the place that is set precisely for us. Let me pray and work for the good of others so that there may be no gaps at your wedding banquet, and that I too may be there.

Stumbling block or cornerstone?

Sunday 4th October 2020

The parable of the tenants, Matthew 21:23 – 22:14

33‘Listen to another parable: there was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall round it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower.  Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35‘The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them in the same way.  37Last of all, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said. 38‘But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.”  39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40‘Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’ 42Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes”? 43‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  44Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.’ 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.  46They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

The context

Chapter 21 starts well for Jesus… He enters triumphantly into Jerusalem!  But immediately controversy is aroused.  He cleanses the temple (21:12-17) and curses an unfruitful fig tree (21:18-22). The chief priests and elders asked Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things?” Jesus countered by asking, “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” When His critics refused to answer Him, Jesus refused to answer them. He then responded with three parables of judgement:

  • The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32)
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-46)
  • The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1-14)

It’s accepted that the Parable of the Tenants is an allegory—a story in which each of the elements (people, things, and happenings) has a hidden or symbolic meaning:

  • The landowner/Lord is God.
  • The vineyard is the nation of Israel.
  • The tenants are the people of Israel or its religious leaders.
  • The servants/slaves are the prophets.
  • The son is Jesus.
  • The other tenants are most likely the church, although some scholars find other meanings for tenants.

Understanding the allegory this way shows us the meaning, that…

  • God established a covenant with Israel (planted a vineyard).
  • God sent the prophets (his servants/slaves) whom the tenants (the Israelites) killed (see 1 Kings 19:10, 14; 2 Chronicles 24:18-22; 36:15-16; Acts 7:51-53; Matthew 23:29-39).
  • God sent his Son (Jesus) whom the tenants (the Israelites) killed.
  • God put the original tenants to death (pronounced judgment upon Israel).
  • God leased the vineyard to other tenants (the church) who will “give him the fruit in its season” (v. 41).

The people to whom Jesus was speaking would recognise the vineyard imagery from Isaiah 5:1-2 where the landowner planted a vineyard, built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine vat.  These are the same elements that Jesus used, but with a subtle difference.  In Jesus’ story, the outcome is not the destruction of the vineyard but is instead its transfer to “other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season” (v. 41).

This landowner must be wealthy.  He spends money freely to make this an excellent vineyard even though it won’t produce fruit for at least four years.  It would be possible to plant a vineyard without a fence or wine press or watchtower, and that is what most landowners did.  This landowner, however, does everything right, – everything! He spares no expense in making this a first-class vineyard; a vineyard that lends itself to efficient operation; a vineyard that gives the tenants every advantage.

So looking at this parable as an allegory, we see that God has done everything possible to give Israel every advantage.  He has established an everlasting covenant with them.  He has led them through good times and bad.  He has given them the Promised Land as their inheritance, and He has given them the law and prophets to guide them.

In due course the vineyard bears fruit, yet the tenants do not fulfil their agreement – they refuse to hand over the owner’s fruit and they beat and kill those who he sent to collect what was rightfully his.  It’s important to know that this is a story of God’s grace, because in real life the landowner would send soldiers to punish his tenants.

Israel did not treat God’s prophets well.  They killed Zechariah by stoning him (2 Chronicles 24:21)They beat Jeremiah and placed him in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:2).  They killed the prophet Uriah (Jeremiah 26:21-23), and “killed your (God’s) prophets that testified against them to turn them again to you (God)” (Nehemiah 9:26).  (See also Matthew 5:12; 23:29-37).

So the landowner sends his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” (v. 37). The son, as the father’s heir and official representative, acts with the father’s full authority and is entitled to the same respect as these tenants would show the father.  But they seize him, kill him, thus attempting to seize his inheritance.

The point Jesus is making is this… that He is God’s Son sent to redeem the world, and that the Jewish authorities are going to kill him.  Murdering the son outside the vineyard will correspond to Jesus’ death on Golgotha, outside Jerusalem (27:33, see also Hebrews 13:12).

When Jesus asks them what the landowner would do they respond as Jesus expected – “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” (v. 41).  In this verse, the chief priests and elders pronounce judgement on themselves as they tell Jesus how unfaithful tenants should be treated.  As Matthew wrote his Gospel after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., perhaps he associates this judgement with that event, as well as with the call of the Gentiles.

I think this parable is showing us what God is looking for, and what Jesus showed us…God is looking for people who will bring forth fruit.  What kind of fruit?  Holy lives, – lives lived in accord to God’s will.  God won’t judge me based on the number of sermons I have preached or the number of people I have baptised.  He will count me, as He will all of us, as fruitful if we have been faithful.

Don’t let the kingdom of God be taken away from you (v44).  This verse warns us that the cornerstone becomes a stumbling stone for the unfaithful.  Don’t stumble over Jesus the capstone.  Remember to live a righteous life, and as I said last week, you should live a life believing the Word of God, for in His word is power, the power of life! 

Someone once said, “You can’t break God’s laws; you can only break yourself on them.”  A practical illustration of this principle has to do with the law of gravity.  God in His grace has created gravity to anchor us to earth.  We can use other physical laws to counter gravity to permit flight, but the person who tries to ignore gravity or who miscalculates its force can find him/herself crushed by its power.  So also the person who fails to live according to God’s will can find him/herself crushed by God’s power.

This should serve as a warning for us.  The day will come when God will demand an account, and the stone, intended to provide a strong foundation, will crush those who have failed to position themselves in proper relationship to it.

Those who Jesus was addressing knew He was referring to them.  As with the previous parable about the two sons this too is about them and their disobedience.  But they couldn’t do anything because the crowds saw Jesus as a prophet, (v46).   The ordinary people in the crowd had little power as individuals, but together their influence was sufficient to block the actions of religious leaders who have considerable power.

More often than not throughout the Gospels, crowds are usually loyal to those like John the Baptist and Jesus.  Such lives reflect the presence of God.  So as a Christian how are you reflecting the presence of God?  But we know the end of this story.  Soon, and very soon, a crowd will turn on Jesus and shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him” (27:22-23).  Will those be the same people who favour Jesus now?  We don’t know, but we do know that human nature is fickle and feckless.

Which crowd are you in?  The one that stays loyal to Jesus, living holy and righteous lives, or the one that denies who He is, and is prepared to deny Him and thus crucify Him? 

Living Thoughts

Digging into God’s word

First read Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:9-17 and Matthew 21:33-end

Perhaps with pen/paper or journal write down your thoughts as you consider the following questions….

  1. God spares no expense.  Where have you experienced God’s amazing generosity in your life?
  2. Someone said, “You can’t break God’s laws; you can only break yourself on them.”  Is God a just and fair God?
  3. How are you reflecting the presence of God? 
  4. Which crowd are you in?  The one that stays loyal to Jesus, living a holy and righteous life, or the one that denies who He is, and is prepared to deny Him and thus crucify Him? 
  5. Particularly at this moment in time many are concerned about their economic health.   How would you quantify the Godly health of your heart?

Digging deeper into God’s word

  1. Today’s readings from Isaiah, the Psalm and Matthew all refer to the vine as a metaphor for the Jewish people, with a common theme of fruitfulness.  Where in your life are you seeing God’s fruitfulness?
  2. The wicked tenants, acting out of selfish greed, saw people only in terms of what they represented for their own ends.  Jesus shows in word and deed that true fruitfulness and meaningful productivity lie in living out ideals of justice, kindness and humility.  To whom is Jesus asking you to show justice, kindness and humility?  How are you to achieve this?
  3. Living fruitfully means living and behaving in a way that supports and enables those around us to live more fruitful lives.  How can we as individuals and as a church, God’s worshipping community in this place, encourage and support those around us to live more fruitful lives?

A point of interest… “Listen to another parable(v. 33a). This is one of only three parables to be found in all three Synoptic Gospels (see also Mark 12:1-13; Luke 20:9-19)—the other two being the Parable of the Sower (13:1-23) and the Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32).