What More Could He Do?

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 20:13

Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.”

Luke 20:13 rsv

As I speak to you today, I feel a deep sense of sadness over all that has happened in what used to be Yugoslavia. It’s not only that hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted from their homes. It’s not only the slaughter of so many defenseless people. What depresses me most is what lies behind all that, the enormous hostility between these rival ethnic groups. We’ve been witnessing not only cruelty but the most terrible vengefulness. Unthinkable atrocities like the burning of babies and gouging out the eyes of captives have become commonplace. One observer reports that this is like the worst hate of other wars multiplied to a power of ten. For some involved, the only comfort left is the thought that one day either their children or grandchildren may be able to avenge these evils. And so the cycle of hate and murder goes on and on. It’s hard to believe that people can view each other with such extremes of malice. There’s a tragic depth of evil in human behavior that baffles us all.

I feel something of that same heaviness when I read this story that Jesus once told. See if it affects you that way. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 20, verse 9:

“A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant; him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, `What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “God forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’?”

SHOCKING WICKEDNESS

How can we fathom the shocking wickedness of these tenants? They are renting an owner’s vineyard. He has trusted them with the care and maintenance of his property during a long absence. Expecting to receive regularly the fruit of his vineyard, he sends a servant at harvest time to collect the rent. He expects his agreed-upon share to be handed over.

The tenants show his emissary no respect whatever. They beat him. They take from him all that he has and cast him out. Later the owner sends another servant on a similar errand. This man also is beaten and shamefully abused. Months later, it’s still another harvest time. A third servant comes from the distant master. This one the tenants wound more gravely. They show an implacable hatred toward the man who has employed them. They refuse to return to him anything of what is rightfully his. They pour the cruelest contempt upon all his messengers.

But that isn’t all. The worst is yet to come. The distant landlord decides to send someone with more authority to settle this matter. He commissions his only son. But this produces no change of heart in the tenants. In fact, it seems to incite an even more venomous hostility. They see this son as the master’s heir. Perhaps the old man has died and by getting rid of this boy they will remove every obstacle to their own designs. The vineyard will belong to them. So they forcibly expel the master’s son from the vineyard, drive him off his own property and proceed to put him to death.

We’re confronting more than greed here, aren’t we? More even than cruelty. There’s something monstrous, something unthinkable about this.

AMAZING FORBEARANCE

But then, there are other dimensions to the story which also seem larger than life. How can we understand the astonishing patience of this landlord? He’s a man with armed forces at his disposal. He could have reacted with violence to the first hint of disloyalty, driving these tenants out, claiming what was rightfully his. But he doesn’t do this. When the tenants reject and abuse his first messenger, he does nothing. After a while, he sends another servant, this one also alone and defenseless. When the second is terribly treated, he responds by sending a third, equally vulnerable. This one is more grievously wronged. The master does nothing.

Already such forbearance seems almost beyond belief. What landlord would tolerate this continued withholding of rent, much less the violent, abusive treatment of his messengers? What can be in this owner’s mind that he keeps sending his servants like sheep to the slaughter? What regard can he have for his messengers that he would keep exposing them to this kind of treatment?

Now all three of his messengers have been subjected to the same abuse. There can be no doubt about the settled hostility of these tenants. Anyone should have been convinced by now that the only way to deal with them is with swift retribution. But it doesn’t come. See this landlord. He’s not fuming with rage. He’s not planning an armed assault. He’s musing to himself, soliloquizing! “What shall I do?” he asks himself. And instead of the obvious response, “Stop tolerating this outrageous behavior,” he comes up with a plan that seems to us almost ludicrous, “I will send my beloved son; it may be that they will respect him.”

Can you believe that that is possible? Is there any grounds for such a fond hope? And is he willing to risk the boy he loves more than his own life to find out? It appears so. He goes through with the plan. He sends his son.

The results are predictable. The tenants do what their previous conduct would have led us to expect. They have shown no respect for the master. They will show none to the son. He is to them an enemy, an obstacle to be thrown out of the way so that they can take possession.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

“Well, it’s just a story,” we say. “Stories don’t have to correspond to reality.” Nothing like this would ever happen in real life – or would it?

Think for a moment about God’s dealings with His ancient people Israel. He had revealed Himself to them, acted on their behalf, placed them in a position of privilege. How did they treat His messengers, the prophets? Isaiah, the herald of faith, we’re told was sawn in two. Jeremiah was tortured, thrown into a well, finally murdered by his countrymen. Elijah was driven into hiding, Zechariah stoned to death, John the Baptist beheaded. Can that be possible? These were spokesmen for God, but they were despised and destroyed by the very ones who claimed to worship God.

But there’s more. When God sends His Son, the malice and rage of his people burst all bounds. They try Him on false charges. Though He has never wronged anyone, they treat Him like the vilest of criminals. They subject Him to mockery, spitting, and the scourge. They condemn Him to terrible agony on a cross outside the holy city. Is it possible that they could hate Him so? Suddenly, Jesus’ grim tale becomes believable. It’s a hint of real history. It actually happened that way in Jerusalem around a.d. 30.

Then there’s this landlord and his strange behavior. To us it’s inconceivable that any man in his position would have acted in this way. But God did! He is the One who sent His prophets, rising up early and sending them one after another in spite of the abysmal treatment they received. And when all of them had been shamed, rejected, sometimes tortured and killed, He didn’t stop. When we deserved the worst, He gave His best. When the world was ripe for judgment day, God sent Christmas instead. By all human logic, He played the fool, didn’t He? He walked right into it. He gave His Son to be crucified, His heart to be broken. Stranger than the wildest fiction, this long-suffering love of God!

Happily, what God did goes beyond the limits of the story. The landlord, after the death of his son, brought swift judgment on the heartless tenants and gave the vineyard to others. But God, though He brought judgment on His rebellious people, had something greater in mind. He raised His Son from death to endless life. Having died for those who murdered Him, Jesus rose to offer forgiveness and new life to all who would believe in Him. In the gospel, the beloved Son is exalted to the Father’s right hand and crowned as Lord of all. The very stone which the builders rejected becomes the head of the corner. God overturns the worst evil human beings can do and makes it serve His purpose of amazing love. And now there’s mercy even for the worst of us.

Why do you suppose Jesus told this parable? We’ve seen the end of the story. The vinedressers are punished, the vineyard turned over to others. The climax is rejection, loss and doom. Why did He tell us about that?

It was surely to expose what His enemies were about to do, to lift up the persistent love of God in heaven and to reveal Himself as the only Son. It was never meant to be just a declaration of what is or even a prophecy of what would be. Jesus must have told it with anguish, perhaps with tears. It was a wake-up call, an urgent word of warning, a summons to repent.

And why did the gospel writers include it in their narratives? Again, not simply to explain what happened on Golgotha. This story became part of the gospel. Even the crucifixion could not destroy the invincible, seeking love of God. Christ is risen. Now in the light of all this, in spite of all this, there is hope for guilty rebels, for selfish vinedressers, for all whose sins have caused God’s Son to die. And the message of astounding mercy goes out, “Believe in Him and be at peace.”

And that’s what needs to happen with us. We may have been Christ-rejecters once, but we need be no longer. We live on the other side of Easter morning. We’ve seen now how God vindicated His Son, how the rejected One has come to reign. It’s for us now to admit that we are the guilty ones who wanted the vineyard for ourselves, who would not listen to God’s messengers, would not give Him what is His due. Yes, we are the ones who made His coming necessary and whose sins caused Him to die.

Yes, and confessing that, we affirm that it was for us that God sent His messengers and revealed His will. It was for us that He sent His Son. God so loved the world, so loved you and me, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. This mercy beyond all the telling is extended to us. And when at the cross we see both our sin and the marvelous grace of God, we can offer ourselves gladly to His service. The great motivation for a life of faith and obedience, devotion and service, is just this: God’s unspeakable kindness to undeserving people like us.

Let me ask you, “What more, friends, could God have done?” Will you today confess your sins and your faith in Jesus? Will you now commit yourself unreservedly to Jesus Christ? Ask yourself, “Does love like that deserve from us anything less?”

Prayer: O God, we stand amazed both at the depth of our own sin and the wonder of Your grace. Turn our eyes, we pray, on Jesus the Savior. In His name. Amen.