Palm Sunday – Sermon 49
Prayer to start
May the words of my lips and the thoughts of our hearts be graciously received for the Glory and Honour of our Lord Jesus Christ
Who’s in charge? – Who’s the boss in our lives?
Is it the wife? – the kids? – the bank manager? – our work?
What about in church – who’s in charge here?
Is it Keith – does everything he says goes? – or the churchwardens – as representatives of the Bishop? – or the Bishop himself –
Who’s church is it anyway?
When the question is put like that – most of us have no difficulty in answering – we put God at the top of the list – in both situations
But do we really act as if God is in charge? – Do we really give Him the top seat – and most important place in our lives ?
Or do we treat Him as the silent partner – who pays the bills – but gets none of the profits ?
That was certainly the case in Isaiah’s time –
First Point Song of Isaiah
The prophet Isaiah was one of the giants of Jewish history – the Shakespeare of Hebrew literature –
He spent most of his days in the corridors of power – serving as advisor to the kings of Judah – and helping to set the future course of his nation –
the civil war had split the country in two – Israel in the north – and Judah in the south – and Isaiah lived in the more pious south.
When he began his work the nation was strong and healthy – but Isaiah saw signs of danger ahead – the people were abusing their power – harassing the poor – indulging themselves in drink and expensive clothes – instead of righting wrongs – they were inflicting them – they were doing little more than playing lip service to God intentions -.
On Israel’s boarders Assyria was gaining in strength – and Judah’s position was becoming vulnerable – there was talk of an alliance – but Isaiah knew that any reliance on an outside power – or wealth – or force other than God – would lead to disaster –
Isaiah reminds them of this in his vineyard song –
He sings of a carefully attended vineyard provided with everything that it needs – a fertile soil – well prepared ground – quality vines. So confident was the owner of the outcome – that He built a watchtower, put a wall and hedge around it – for protection – and provided a permanent store for the wine.
Israel is the vineyard and Judah its choicest plant
If anyone here has been to Jerusalem and stood on the top of the Mount of Olives – from his words you could almost imagine that he was singing about Jerusalem itself –
His beloved – the owner expects the best – but instead the vineyard produced wild grapes – that were good for nothing
The difference between a good grape and a sour grape – is the level of care it receives –
the Grace lavished on it by God – had had no effect – the vineyard remained as if that Grace had never touched it – as if their relationship with God was unimportant –
Where did the fault lie? – clearly not with the owner – but with the vine-dressers who were put in charge of it – what shall the owner do?
there was only one thing to do – abandon it as a bad job – deprive it of its fertility – let the cattle – the surrounding nations – trample it under foot – thorns and thistles choke it – The land and the people of Israel are to no longer receive God’s protection
But Isaiah’s message of warning – went unheeded.
Samaria fell to the Assryians in 722BC – and a mass deportation from Israel began. – King Ahaz of Judah believed he could secure prosperity for his people through an alliance with the Assyrians – but this was short lived – and Judah’s end came through with the Babylonians in 586 BC.
The destruction of Jerusalem – and its Temple – vindicated the message of Isaiah and the other prophets – and the people started to listen again. Out of the ashes – came a new understanding of what it meant to be – people of God – and from it a new hope of a final deliverance – through the coming of a suffering servant – a new vine dresser who will prune and bring forth new shoots
That new vine dresser is Jesus –
Point 2 The wicked vine dressers
Luke places Jesus in the Temple – teaching to the crowds – He had just ridden triumphantly through the streets on a donkey – upset the moneychangers tables in the Temple – and was now teaching to the crowds – when He was confronted by the Pharisees and Scribes – “Tell us – by what authority you are acting like this?” –
nearly 500 years after Isaiah – Jesus delivers that same message of warning of destruction to the establishment – but this time with a twist –
In Jesus’ parable – the vineyard is again the Nation of Israel and the tenants – the rulers. The messengers – are the prophets – like Isaiah – who were persecuted and rejected – and not regarded as having authority over them –
So eventually – the vineyard owner sends His Son – “perhaps they will respect Him”
But the tenants in their wish to have total control – see it as an opportunity to get rid of the rightful heir – and fling Him out of the vineyard – and kill Him –
Here Jesus is pointing to Himself – and His coming crucifixion –
Jesus tells them plainly who He is – and why He is here – He lays down an unmistakable claim to be God’s Son – deliberately separating Himself from the succession of prophets –
He tells them that the tenants – are to be “dashed to pieces” or “crushed” and the vineyard given to others. Jesus will be a stumbling block to those who refuse to acknowledge sin – and crush those who oppose Him –
Jesus’ quotation about the corner stone which the builders rejected was one of the favourite quotations of the early church – as a description of the death and resurrection of Jesus –
Death did not take Jesus by surprise – many times He made reference to it – He knew that God’s purpose would be fulfilled inspite of the evil choices that the people would make – His death – far from being a disaster for the owner – was at the heart of God’s plan to save us
Jesus was nailed to the cross – and after
three days rose from the dead – to established a new vineyard – with Jesus at its head – to care and nurture new vines – and to yield choice grapes
Jesus was sent to claim what belongs to God – to return what has been taken from Him – and to re-establish the relationship between the owner and His people – Only through Jesus will the rulers sin and the separation between God and His vineyard be finally overcome
Point 3 Applying the parable to us today
So nearly 2000 years later – how would we measure up if we apply that vineyard message to us today –
To find out we have to ask ourselves some questions –
Are we choice grapes or wild grapes – good grapes or sour? – Has God’s love – through the cross – changed our lives?
Is the Kingdom of God and our relationship with Him the greatest treasure we could ever receive?
Have we made the best use of God’s Grace – to produce the best possible harvest for His Kingdom
The Holy Spirit gives each one of us special gifts to us
e – to build up the life of His church – something to be willingly given in service to others –
As Paul writes – Just as a Body has many different limbs and organs – so each Christian has a different gift and distinct part to play –
there are lots of things we can do – just look at the inside cover pages of the magazine – and you will see a long list of areas of service –
Here in Lymm – our church is – God’s watchtower looking out for and caring for the people in our community? – nurturing their growth – in understanding the Bible? – helping them to come to know the person of Jesus Christ – Are we playing our part in producing a rich harvest for His Kingdom ?
In Jesus’ image of the vineyard – as far as the relationship with the owner is concerned – it’s out of sight – out of mind – all take and no give – does that sometimes describe our relationship with God?
When we are away from St. Mary’s – how often do we involve God in our decisions – how often do we come to church expecting to get something from God – when He should be getting something from us –
The parable tells us of the love and patience of God – He gives them chance after chance to respond – but the tenants saw this as a sign of weakness not strength – and tried to take advantage –
Sin is failing to give God His proper place in our lives. – The sin of the Tenants was that they refused to give the owner His due – and would go to any lengths to hold on to it –
We are God’s choicest vines – He cares for us through the work of His vinedresser – Jesus –
But vines require constant care to keep them productive – they need pruning – the ground in which they are –planted needs plowing and keeping free of weeds
Pruning can be a bit of a shock – it means cutting away – the unfruitful parts of our lives – confessing them to Jesus – and starting again – Dead and useless branches have to be discarded and thrown on the fire
Our relationship with God is a constant learning and renewing process – through Bible Study – prayer – and depending on the strength of the Holy Spirit –-
We have to take our lead from Jesus and the Holy Spirit – Only then will the quality of the fruit in our church increase –
Grapes are an important part of the Hebrew diet – and harvest season is always one of special happiness – of song and thanksgiving – We are God’s new wine – we have a lot to be thankful for
When we start out with Jesus – we are under new management – all that we are and all that we have belongs to Him – it’s the most joyful commitment we can possibly make –
Jesus speaks with God’s authority – He is the cornerstone of all God’s activity –
to build our lives on anything other than a relationship with Jesus will result in failure and God’s judgment
For us there is only one team coach – and only one way to lead – by loving God – and serving others through Jesus Christ –
Prayer to Finish