Summary: Jesus sacrificed himself as a voluntary substitution for our sins. This Good Friday message uses the parable from Matthew 21 as a demonstration of the world around us.
Jeffrey Ebert shared this story about an incident in his childhood. He wrote:
When I was five years old, before factory-installed seat belts and automobile air bags, my family was driving home at night on a two-lane country road. I was sitting on my mother’s lap when another car, driven by a drunk driver, swerved into our lane and hit us head-on. I don’t have any memory of the collision. I do recall the fear and confusion I felt as I saw myself literally covered with blood from head to toe.
Then I learned that the blood wasn’t mine at all, but my mother’s. In that split second when the two headlights glared into her eyes, she instinctively pulled me closer to her chest and curled her body around mine. It was her body that slammed against the dashboard, her head that shattered the windshields. She took the impact of the collision so that I wouldn’t have to. It took extensive surgery for my mother to recover from her injuries.
In a similar, but infinitely more significant way, Jesus Christ took the impact for our sin, and his blood now permanently covers our lives. (from Edward K. Rowell & Leadership Journal, 1001 Quotes, Illustrations & Humorous Stories for Preachers, Teachers & Writers, “Blood of Christ, pg 204)
Tonight, similar to Jeffrey’s mother, we look at the sacrifice given on our behalf. We have the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on our mind. The story is a familiar one, which we hear each year on Good Friday. Because the cross looms so large in our faith story leading up to the crucifixion, it’s as if it is happening all over again. We were not eyewitnesses to the event, yet the image of Christ crucified, is so indelibly inscribed on our spiritual memory that this comes to us, as no ordinary day. Like the car accident, we see the blood of a savior, taking the cuts, bruises, and pain, that we sinners are more fitting to receive.
Tonight, we’re going to look at another parable that Jesus taught as He looked toward the cross. We read a portion of this parable in the Matthew 21 responsive reading earlier in the service. During the week before his death, Jesus was in the temple being drilled by the Chief Priests and Elders, concerning by what authority He claimed to do what He had been doing.
Parable of the Wicked Tenants
In response, Jesus told this parable to those who were plotting his death; a damning parable, for the religious elite of Jerusalem. He told it to them in the Temple courts a few days before He was crucified. This parable is clearly a call for repentance – one last chance offered by the owners Son. But as the religious leaders turn in unbelief, this story is a pronouncement of God’s judgment on those who have unfaithfully tended God’s vineyard.
His listeners would have known Isaiah 5:1-7 where God’s kingdom is compared to an unproductive vineyard. Jesus’ story tells of a land owner who spent time meticulously preparing a vineyard which likely included tilling the soil, erecting the support fences for the vines, digging a wine press, and ensuring it was good and right for raising a harvests. He then leaves this vineyard to be cared for by tenants, with the assurances that they will share part of the harvest with the owner. When harvest time arrives, he sent servants to collect his share of the harvest. The tenants beat one of the servants, stoned another, and killed a third. Next, he sent even more servants, but they received the same violent treatment. Finally, he sent his son, sure that the violent tenants would respect him. But they even killed his son. Vainly they hoped somehow to get his inheritance.
Like Nathan confronting a sinful King David, Jesus asked the religious leaders what the vineyard owner would do to the tenants, when he came to confront them in person. They responded by saying that he would kill the evil tenants and lease the vineyard to others who would rightly share the harvest. Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 about a rejected stone becoming a cornerstone. He tells them that the kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to others who bear fruit. It is a masterful use of story and question, leading his listeners to condemn themselves.
Matthew tells us that the Chief Priests and Elders understood the parable. They were the violent tenants. The vineyard, or the kingdom, was not his or hers to own. It belonged to God, and they were its stewards. The servants they had beaten, stoned, and killed were the prophets sent to Israel to prepare them for the Messiah. And the vineyard owner’s son in the story? He was Jesus himself, the Son of God. Soon, he knew, they would kill him. Through this short story, Jesus pronounces judgment on the religious establishment of Israel. Over and over, the religious leaders rejected the prophets, the prophecies, and the warnings of God. In its place, they made their own religion of good works and self-righteous as though they could stand before God with their own holiness. They took over the vineyard as if it was their own and not God’s.