To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Let me repeat that question. To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want?
Today’s text gives us glimpse into what is most likely the Tuesday of Holy Week, before we begin the journey of Holy Week. And what we see is that the religious leaders were willing to go to any length necessary to get what they wanted. They wanted Jesus to be done for, at any cost. So, they set out to try and trip Jesus up so that they could do away with Him. Then, and only then, they thought the nation of Israel would be theirs again, and all the power to go with it.
Before their moment of so-called triumph though, Jesus called them out with a parable. It’s called: The parable of the wicked tenants.
Our text tells us that there was a man who planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants. The man is God. The vineyard is Israel. The tenants are the religious leaders.
The man went away for a long time, but when harvest came, he sent a series of servants to receive his share of the produce, since he was the owner. These servants that were sent were the Old Testament prophets sent to Israel to proclaim a message of repentance. But instead of being received well by the tenants, they were all brutally abused. The first one they beat and sent away. The second one they beat, treated shamefully, and then sent him away. The third one they wounded and cast out.
The owner proceeded then to ask himself what he should do. He resolved to send his beloved son thinking they would respect him. But instead of respecting him, they saw it as an opportunity to seize the inheritance. The tenants concluded that since the son was being sent, this must mean that the owner had died. They thought the son was coming to collect his inheritance.
So, the tenants gathered together and devised a plan. A sick and sinister plan. A wicked plan. They surmised that if they would kill the son, the land would become ownerless. The tenants could then claim squatters’ rights and press for ownership. Then the vineyard would be theirs.
So, that is what they did. They threw the beloved son out of the vineyard and killed him. But the owner was not dead as they had presumed. So, in response to this heinous act, the owner decided that he would come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. (Pause)
When those listening to Jesus heard this parable come to its conclusion, they were not impressed at all. But Jesus still pressed forward citing a passage from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
A stone can be stumbled over and a stone can crush. Either way, it is an image of judgment. And so is this parable. It is a message of judgment against the chief priests, scribes, and elders who constantly rejected Jesus and His authority by failing to see their need for repentance.
But instead of repenting when they were shown their sins yet again, their rejection of Jesus only boiled over. They sought to seize Him at that very moment because they knew this parable He had spoken was told against them. But knowing that the time wasn’t quite right with all the people still gathered around supporting him, they focused their attention on trying to set Him up. They gathered together and devised a plan. A sick and sinister plan. A wicked plan. They would send out spies who would pretend to be sincere, in hopes that they could catch him in something that he said, and then turn him over to the jurisdiction of the governor. (Pause)
To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? The religious leaders in Jerusalem revealed that they were willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to get what they wanted. Even Caiaphas, the chief priest, said: “If we let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” So, they made clear that they were willing to kill to get what they wanted.
To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? The Bible makes clear that as human beings, our sins begin as a desire. And those wants and desires are born and bred from a sinful, selfish heart. So, to what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Will you sacrifice your moral convictions? Will you sell someone else out? Will you skip Sunday services? Will you hide something in hopes of not being caught? Will you cheat someone out of what is rightfully theirs? Will you bribe someone to get your own way?
To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Recently, the news has been swamped with stories about celebrities who used their wealth to bribe their way to get what they wanted. And what they wanted was for their kids to be able to go to college at prestigious schools. So, be it that they used their position as past-donors, or that they promised to be future donors, either way, they were showing the extent they were willing to go to in order to get what they wanted…and it is going to cost them legally in the long run.
But it doesn’t stop with bribery. This week someone killed four people in Mandan, North Dakota. Why? I can only guess it was to try and get what they wanted. Why did someone kill a college student in South Carolina? It must have been to get what they wanted.
To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Little did the religious leaders know, that what they wanted would be the very instrument that God would use to carry out His plan of salvation. This is how marvelous our God is. He takes what is evil, and reverses its very purpose and uses it for good. What was about to happen only three days later, was the most remarkable 180 degree turn that has ever taken place.
Just think about it. Next week, we are going to behold the intensification of Satan’s forces as he used the religious establishment to accomplish his goal. The religious leaders would continue to seek Jesus to put him to death. They would breathe down his very neck with every step that He would take. Then Satan would enter into Judas who would then offer to turn Jesus over. All to the delight of those religious leaders as they looked forward to taking Jesus down.
And that is what they did. Those same leaders would soon mock Him, beat Him, falsely accuse Him, drag him off to Pilate, call for the release of Barabbas over Him, and then lead the people in the chant calling for His crucifixion.
Just like the son in the parable of the wicked tenants who was thrown out of the vineyard and killed, so it was for Jesus. He was thrown out of Jerusalem carrying His own cross, nailed to it, and left for dead.
It is no wonder that Jesus wept over Jerusalem as Holy Week began. These were His people, His family, His church, and they all rejected Him.
For the Jews, their fate would come just as the parable foretold. In A.D. 70, Jerusalem would be destroyed, and not one stone would be left upon another. All that they had wanted, and were willing to do anything to get their hands on, would be left in a pile of rubble.
Indeed, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” But as the Psalm continues, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
What is such a sad story of rejection by the religious establishment two thousand years ago is what we cling to as the hope of our salvation. As we prepare to enter into Holy Week, we are once again brought face to face with the Greatest Reversal. God reversed a plan meant for evil and He made it good.
In fact the day it all came to its climax, is even called Good. Good Friday. It is good because the death of Jesus should have been our death. We should have been left there to breathe our last…to be left to face eternal condemnation. But we have a God whose goodness was manifested in the sending of His Son to die in our place…to reverse our fate away from eternal condemnation.
Jesus revealed that He was willing to do whatever it took to get what He wanted. Jesus didn’t kill, but with the greatest reversal, He laid down His life to get what He wanted…you. Jesus wanted nothing more than for you to be with Him for all eternity. So, He did what it took by dying your death.
As we prepare for Holy Week, we are given this text to ponder the severity of what it truly means to reject Jesus. And we are also given the opportunity to ponder the great extent Jesus went to in order to save us from our sinful, selfish wants and desires and the death that goes with it.
In the greatest reversal, He takes what is ours and places it upon Himself. And then what is His, becomes ours. His perfect life, His death, His resurrection. All of it. Because everything He did, He did for us. Because He wanted to. Because He loves us.
So, instead of condemnation, we get salvation. Instead of death, we get life. Instead of hell, we get heaven. Thanks be to God for His great reversal He won for us! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.