Open your heart to receive the truth.

When I was a child, my father owned a grocery store that I worked at regularly.  My siblings, cousins, and other family members worked there as well.  At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how unique and special that was, but looking back at that experience, I’m grateful for the time that allowed me to serve with and spend time with our extended family on a weekly basis.

 Partway through my college years, my father decided to sell the store.  I was honestly shocked when he made the decision because that store had been in our family for three generations.  In some ways, I think we based some level of our sense of family identity around that store (even though that’s not really wise to do).  But once the store was sold, it was time for my father to consider other business ideas.

 Eventually, he decided that he wanted to focus on residential real estate that he could rent to tenants, and he bought multiple apartment buildings.  It was a business that he loved, but as he purchased additional properties, his available free time diminished.  As best as we could, we tried to convince him to hire a property manager to help reduce the burden of running his business alone, but he never did so.  Over time, that decision caught up to him and he had to transition out.

 When a person owns a decent portfolio of rental real estate, hiring a property manager makes a lot of sense.  Historically, this approach has also been used in certain forms of agriculture as well.  In Mark 12, Jesus tells a story about a man who owned land that he converted into a vineyard.  He then leased that land to tenant farmers who would farm the land for him in exchange for a share of the profits.  The story Jesus shared was about much more than entrepreneurship and economics, but He started with these concepts because they were familiar to those in His original listening audience.

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country.”  (Mark 12:1)

 Jesus faced a lot of opposition during His ministry.  The majority of His opposition came from religious leaders who really should have been supporting Him.  Quite regularly, Jesus would teach in parables to help explain concepts that these leaders should have understood.  He also wanted to make deeper-level points that exposed the motives of these leaders’ hearts.  As Jesus spoke of a vineyard that a man planted, established, and protected, He also referenced people to whom this vineyard was leased.  Who do you suppose Jesus was referencing while sharing these examples?

When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.  (Mark 12:2-5)

 From an economic standpoint, it’s common sense that if a landowner leases his vineyard to tenant farmers, eventually he should expect payment from those whom the property was leased to.  Commonly, that might be anywhere from 25% to 50% of the crop.  So the landowner sent a servant to collect payment, but the tenant farmers beat him up and sent him back with nothing.  Other servants were also sent and they were either beaten, shamed, or killed.  It’s a very sad and troubling picture that’s being painted here, but who do you suppose Jesus was really speaking about?

 In Isaiah 5, Israel is spoken of as a vineyard that was planted by the Lord.  Look at what that passage reveals;

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard:  My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?  (Isaiah 5:1-4)

 In sharing this parable, Jesus was alluding to Isaiah 5.  The man who planted the vineyard is a reference to God.  The vineyard was Israel and the tenant farmers were the religious leaders of the day.  The servants that were sent by the landowner were the prophets and others that the Lord had raised up to proclaim His message in the land.  But the Lord’s messengers were rejected, and in rejecting them, they were rejecting God Himself who sent them.

 Recently, I came across a video of a man who offers financial commentary online.  He took a break from his typical commentary to speak about some of the “deeper-level” thinking he was doing.  Eventually, he started to wonder about the existence of God because after observing the orderly nature of creation and the natural laws that are at work all around us, it seemed to him that a deity must exist, yet he wondered why that deity didn’t reach out to us and reveal Himself to us.

 In light of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done, I found that man’s comments both sad and entertaining.  God has reached out to humanity in many ways, and He has made a point to reveal Himself to us all throughout the course of human history.  But like the tenant farmers, we’ve rejected God’s messengers.  We’ve particularly rejected the ultimate messenger, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  That was the issue Jesus chose to address in Mark 12:6-8.

He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.  (Mark 12:6-8)

 As Jesus shared this example, presumably in the temple area, the religious leaders started to fume.  They knew what he was getting at.  They caught the gist of this parable and understood that Jesus was speaking of them. It was they who had rejected the prophets and the Son of God.  But of course, they didn’t agree with His assessment.  In their minds, they weren’t rejecting God’s messengers.  There was a part of them that thought they were honoring God and honoring the prophets by opposing Jesus.  In their minds, Jesus was a blasphemous teacher because He spoke of Himself as being one with the Father, able to forgive sin, and eternally self-existent.  In light of these assertions, they wanted Jesus dead, just as the tenant farmers wanted the landowner’s son dead.

 There’s so much in this parable that I think applies to our generation as well, just as it applied to the generation it was first delivered to.  Many people that you and I know are happy to enjoy the blessings of God, but reject dedicating the fruit of their lives to His glory.  They want the best of this world, but seek it while rejecting the counsel and the presence of Jesus in their midst.

A few years ago, I was part of an online meeting.  It was a meeting that was put together for various podcasters who created content in multiple genres.  I love interacting with people who create and record shows, so I was happy to be part of the meeting.  As various people were speaking, one particular man made mention of his faith in Jesus and how that impacted the content he created.  As a fellow Christian, I certainly identified with the man’s comments, but I could tell not everyone in the meeting was pleased.  One particular podcaster was rather vocal in his opposition and expressed his desire that the name of Jesus no longer be mentioned in the group.

What’s so troubling about the name of Jesus?  Why would a mere reference to Him spark so much opposition?  I think it’s rather easy to identify why that might be an issue.  When we speak of Jesus, we can’t help but allude to who He is and what He taught.  And if He indeed is God who took on flesh, His words carry weight and authority.  He has the right to make demands of us and expect certain fruitful activities to take place in our lives as the outpouring of genuine faith in Him.  But if we don’t believe in Him, it’s likely that we won’t even want to hear His name mentioned because we also won’t want to have expectations placed upon our lives other than what we place upon ourselves.

 In the end, what will come of a life that rejects Jesus?  That’s explained in Christ’s parable as well.

What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;

11 this was the Lord's doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”  (Mark 12:9-11)

 As Jesus concluded His parable, He quoted from Psalm 118.  Jesus explained that those who rejected the landowner’s son would be destroyed and the vineyard would be given to others.  Please understand that if you’ve placed your trust in Jesus, the vineyard has now been entrusted to you.  Jesus, the stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone of the church.  He is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  This is the Lord’s miraculous way of taking a sad situation and turning it around for good.  Jesus came for His own and they rejected Him, so now His attention has turned to the people of the world who are invited to become part of His eternal kingdom.

And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.  (Mark 12:12)

 These words and this analogy truly disturbed the religious leaders who hated Jesus, but at the moment, there wasn’t much they felt like they could do.  They wanted to arrest Jesus, but because so many people were fascinated by Him and hung on every word He said, they worried that doing anything that directly opposed Him would cause the crowds to come against them, so they left and continued to scheme and plot against Him in private.

 Mark records these events that took place just prior to the crucifixion of Jesus so that we can understand more about who Jesus is and just how hard the hearts of men can become when our hearts are set against Him.

 In simple terms, there are really only two kinds of people in this world.  There are those who welcome the teaching and presence of Jesus, and those who bristle against His very being.  The Father invites us to listen to His Son, trust Him completely, experience the blessings of eternal union with Him, and delight in the joy of being part of His kingdom forever.

And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”  (Mark 9:7)

© John Stange, 2024


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