Prelude, Purpose, Plan
What kind of faith is saving faith? Is saving faith without visible evidence or a faith that produces fruit?
Let’s understand that Christians carry fruit for the kingdom.
Let’s look at the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46 and what God requires.
Matthew 21:33 The Vineyard
In Matthew 21:33 Jesus tells a parable that included a winepress to produce wine. In at least six places the Bible calls wine a blessing from God (Numbers 18:12; Judges 9:13; Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 31:6; Ecclesiastes 10:19; Zechariah 10:7) when used responsibly. A vineyard is a considerable investment of time and money, hence the tradition of a security tower. This purposefully exaggerated story points out the sheer idiocy of killing God’s prophets and God’s Son. What did the landowner want? He wanted faithful tenants to “collect his fruit.” The vineyard is God’s kingdom (vs. 43) belonging to “a people who will produce its fruit.”
Matthew 21:38 The Inheritance
In Matthew 21:38 Jesus tells a story of tenant farmers during grape harvest. “But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’” The problem with tenants not paying their rent is not new. This is far worse. These tenants beat the rent collectors and killed the owner’s son in an effort to take ownership. This is about the murder of Jewish prophets and Jesus. This is about the persecution of anyone who threatens ecclesiastical power bases. When we bury Jesus’ words under vain traditions, are we killing the Son to take ownership of the Church?
Matthew 21:39 The Murder
In Matthew 21:39 we read about tenant farmers hoping to seize the son’s inheritance. “So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.” The owner is absent. He has not been seen for a long time. Maybe he will never return. Perhaps they delude themselves that they can get away with this because immediate consequences seem far away. Do we think that we can get away with sin? How many sins in the church are committed because we think that God is a long way off? Do we delude ourselves that God is not looking? He may not immediately act, but God is always looking.
Matthew 21:40 The Owner
In Matthew 21:40 Jesus spoke of ownership of property. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” God is the real owner. The laws of eminent domain, sometimes called compulsory purchase or expropriation, give human governments rights over property. Ultimately God owns our properties. Our tenancy of the earth has not always been good. The property of the kingdom of God is also in human hands. Both Jews and Christians have persecuted God’s messengers and his Son. We too are guilty of disobeying God. As the current tenants in the kingdom of God, what will He say to us when He returns?
Matthew 21:42-44 The Stone
In Matthew 21:42-44 Jesus said that the stone which the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. A cornerstone is the first stone laid in masonry construction. All other stones are set in reference to it. Our faith is oriented towards Jesus, not the faulty edicts, confessions, canons, and traditions of mere humans. If we fall or stumble at Jesus (1 Peter 2:8) we will be broken, and if He falls on us like grapes at harvest, we would be crushed. Let’s not reject our Rock, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Matthew 21:43 The Kingdom
In Matthew 21:43 Jesus informed certain Jewish leaders that “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” The kingdom of God is future but also has an important present dimension. The Greek word for kingdom can also be translated as God’s rule. God’s rule is always generous and fair. Jesus’ message was of a kingdom both now and forever. Salvation is for now as well as eternity. God can save us out of our present troubles as well as from death. Being saved means a special relationship with God. We are citizens of heaven when God rules our lives.
Matthew 21:43 The Fruit
In Matthew 21:43 we read that God’s kingdom will be “given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” This follows the parable of the vineyard, picturing former tenants who killed the servants of God and His own Son. We are all replacement tenants. Our role as the new tenants, is to produce the fruit pictured in that grape harvest. God is not interested in counterfeit fruit, outward pretense, man-made rituals, national conceit or meticulous adherence to the letter of the law. That is the flesh. God wants spiritual fruit, the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8), love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Matthew 21:45 The Tenants
In Matthew 21:45 we read, “Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.” They are the evil tenants in the parable. Ultimately all of humanity has rejected God. Yet, God persists sending His servants. He even sent his Son but we killed Jesus too. Our civilization rejects the love of the one who created us. Loving the unlovable is difficult and loving those who hate you is almost impossible, except with God. God loves us enough to rescue us from ourselves. Our ways are self-destructive. We are incapable of managing this earthly estate upon which we are God’s tenants.
Matthew 21:45 The Application
The ancient Quadriga helps us see the parable of the tenants in four dimensions. The literal, fleshly meaning is a betrayal by murderous tenants. The spiritual meaning has three parts, an allegory of those who killed the servants of God, a moral of how we should act, and eternal implications. Some would eventually kill the Son of God, and the kingdom would be given to others. Are we evil tenants, who figuratively kill the servants of God, and Jesus by living lives of unrepentant sin? Are we the faithful servants? Are we a faithful people bearing the fruits of the kingdom? Are we among those who are being given the kingdom?
Saving faith is not a dead faith without fruit but a living faith that produces much fruit. God has given his kingdom to a people who will produce its fruit. What fruit is God producing in us?
Matthew 21:33-46; Numbers 18:12; Judges 9:13; Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 31:6; Ecclesiastes 10:19; Zechariah 10:7; 1 Peter 2:8; Matthew 3:8; Galatians 5:22-23