Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BAD TENANTS (Matthew Chapter 21)

God’s kingdom was being held hostage by religious leaders, leader who had no heart for the King.  The Kingdom belonged to Him, but they didn’t see it that way.  They were religious.  They wore religious garb.  They spoke of religious matters, did religious things, and observed religious rules--but they were as whitewashed tombs. Their hearts were hard and their eyes and ears were closed to truth.  They ruled over the kingdom.  They deemed it theirs.  They held it under siege.  It had a form of godliness, but God was not in it (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).  They used the kingdom for their own selfish purposes.  The King was not welcome there (Cf. John 1:11, 3:20; Revelation 3:20).

Israel was God’s vineyard, “for the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7).  He planted the vineyard (Matthew 21:33).  He provided everything necessary for its success—He “put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower” (Matthew 21:33).  “He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines” (Isaiah 5:2).  Indeed, God’s vineyard, Israel, had the benefit of “the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises” (Romans 9:4).  “What more was there to do for (His) vineyard, that (He) did not do for it” (Isaiah 5:4)?

It should have borne fruit, but it did not.  It should have rendered profit to its Owner, but instead, under wicked caretakers, it yielded only “wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:4).  Like the cursed fig tree, it bore no fruit (Matthew 21:19).  The fig tree is unique in that fruit comes first, then the leaves.  A fig tree with leaves but no fruit is a worthless tree.  Its flourishing façade but an empty promise (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).  Jesus cursed the tree (Matthew 21:19).

The vineyard was held hostage by the religious leaders.  The King, newly inaugurated, came to receive His kingdom.  He did not like what He found.  The center of His Kingdom, the temple, was to be called a “house of prayer” (Matthew 21:12-13), but instead it had become a place for commerce.  It was to be a place of worship, instead it was a “den of robbers” (Matthew 12:13).  For a fee, money could be changed.  For a fee, sacrifices could be bought.  There is much money to be made in religious profiteering.  Jesus had cleansed the temple at the start of His ministry and He cleansed it again (John 2:13-17).  Still, to this day, there are those who seek to profit from God (Cf. Acts 8:18-19).

Jesus told a parable to illustrate the problem.  The master planted a vineyard, and when “the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit”, but they “took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another” (Matthew 21:35).   He sent other servants, they “did the same to them” (Matthew 21:36).  Through the ages God had sent His prophets to warn His apostate people.  Still the continued in disobedience and idolatry and in all their wicked ways.  Rather than heed God’s warnings, they mistreated the messengers (Cf. Matthew 5:12; Acts 7:51-53).  God’s vineyard was under siege.  “Finally He sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” (Matthew 21:37).  And they should have.  They had every reason to.  He had proven to them His worth.  His true identity had been clearly evidenced in “the wonderful things that he did” (Matthew 21:15).  But they refuted the evidence.  “Come,” they said, “let us kill him and have his inheritance” (Matthew 21:38).  “And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (Matthew 21:39). 

Jesus addressed the parable to the religious leaders (Matthew 21:23).  They understood what He was saying.  He was the cornerstone.  But they rejected Him.  Their doom was assured (Matthew 21:43-44).  But rather than heed His warning, “they were seeking to arrest Him” (Matthew 21:46).  They would soon do that and more.

Bad tenants are nothing new and they still exist.  Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20).  Don’t be deceived—the temple might be full of people, but why are they there?  The tree might be bushy with leaves, but is there any fruit?  The vineyard belongs to God, but who is running the show?  Good tenants worship and serve their Creator.  Bad tenants serve only themselves (Cf. Romans 3:25).  Our Creator has dealt with plenty of bad tenants.  We are all tenants before Him, Jesus alone can make us to be good ones.

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