By J.R. Miller
"Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey."
The parable interprets itself. The people of Israel were familiar with the use of a vineyard as an image or illustration of themselves. The prophets had employed it. It is easy to explain the parable in its historical sense--but it has a reference also to us. God is continually planting vineyards and leaving them in the care of farmers. He has placed one in your care--it is your own life. He has placed in it many vines, which, if well tended and cultivated, will produce rich fruits. He has put a hedge about it, the walls and defenses of your own home and of the Church, and the restraints and safeguards of Christian friendships and associations. You were not born in a heathen land, your life open and unfenced like a public common, to be trodden down by every unholy foot. God has made every provision for His vineyard that is necessary for its fruitfulness. It is well watered--the influences of Divine grace flow all through your life. He has done for His vineyard all that could be done. It is yours now to keep and care for, not as owner--but as tenant. You are not your own; you belong to Christ (see 1 Cor.6:19); your life is His, and you are to keep it and cultivate it for Him. You are really one of God's tenants. He has "assigned" to you a little vineyard, for whose care and cultivation you are responsible. You He does not compel you to obey Him, to keep your heart, to bring forth fruit; you are free--but He holds you accountable for the way you keep your vineyard.
The analogy is followed: "When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit." This is the way the farmers were to pay their rent; they were to give to the owner each year a certain proportion of the fruits of the vineyard. God expects us to return something to Him of the fruits of the vineyard He has assigned to us. It belongs to Him, and he has done all that needs to be done to render it fruitful. He expects a proper "rental." The rental of this vineyard was to be paid, not in money--but in the fruit of the vineyard itself. This is suggestive. God is not satisfied with the mere giving to Him of money or of a portion of the earthly possessions that may belong to us. Of course, our money is part of our vineyard and should pay rent, too; a share of its fruit or earnings should be returned to God, to whom it all actually belongs. But the vineyard proper is our own life--and we are to pay our rental to God, the owner, in the fruits of our life--in love, obedience, worship, honor, service. No amount of money will ever satisfy God--if we do not also love Him and do His will.
This businesslike illustration of our relation to God is very suggestive. We are His tenants, and all we are and all we have belong to Him. Every tenant must pay a proper rent, or he cannot remain on the property that has been assigned to him. The larger our vineyard and the greater our privileges and blessings--the more rent we must pay. If we do not thus make suitable return--we are robbing God.
The reception given to the servants sent to receive the rental was not merely discourteous, it was cruel and an act of rebellion: "The farmers took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third." The servants who come to us are those that God sends to us to call us to duty. Of course, none of us ever treat the messengers God sends to us--as His ancient people treated the prophets. We do not beat our teachers and preachers. We do not stone them and kill them. We are very kind to them. We show them courtesy. We even love them very much and, as a rule, we listen with great respect to what they have to say to us. We never think of arresting them and putting them in prison or of sawing them asunder. Surely, then, this part of the parable cannot have any application to us.
But, wait a moment. On what errand are the servants sent? What is their request of us? They come to get the rental which we owe to God, to receive the fruits which are His due. We do not beat the messengers--but do we grant what they in God's name ask from us for Him? Do we give up our sins--when they ask us to do it? Do we yield our hearts to God and begin to love and obey Him and live for Him--when they ask these things of us? We are very respectful to God's servants--but we go on in our evil ways, and they carry back nothing from us, no fruits, to the God whose we are. We treat the messengers with high honor--but the message we disregard and Him who sends it to us we reject and neglect. Nothing is sadder to the heart of a pastor or teacher than this, that while those to whom he bears God's message treat him with finest courtesy and gentlest love, and are kind to him--they do not learn to honor God and love and serve Him.
"Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way." We read the story of God's dealing with His ancient people, and wonder at His marvelous patience with them. Though the treated His servants so badly--He continued to send others. He seemed never to tire of trying to bless them. But is it not our own history as really as it was theirs? As soon as we are old enough to understand anything, God begins sending messengers to us--loving mothers, faithful fathers, godly pastors, teachers and friends, the voices of conscience, of the Scriptures, of the Spirit, the leading of Providence. But we hear the calls--and then go on as before, unheeding, despising, sinning. But God does not grow weary. He continues to send His messengers. Not only is this true of the impenitent--but to every believer He sends again and again, seeking for fruits--and finding none. We never can measure God's patience. But we must remember that there will be a last call.
"Last of all, he sent his son to them." Mark says, "He still had one to send, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them" (Mark 12:6). There is a matchless pathos in these words when we think of them as referring to God and defining the acts of His love and mercy. All he had left now was his son. His servants had all been sent, and the last of them had been killed. There was no other messenger that he could send unless he would send his son. If he gave him--he gave all, for he had not many sons--but one, his only-begotten son. "Finally he sent him to them." He kept nothing back, spared not even his own son, in his great desire to have men reconciled to him. Thus the sending of Jesus was the climax of a long history of gracious acts of love.
There is another thought here. He sent his son last. Then there is no messenger of mercy after Jesus. He is God's best and final gift. There is nothing more that even God in His infinite power and love can do to induce men to be reconciled. When men reject Christ, they throw away their last hope of mercy--they lose their last opportunity. No other messenger will be sent--no other can be sent.
"This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance!" The rulers killed Jesus that the power might still be theirs. There are many now who reject Christ for very much the same reason. They think that the way to get liberty, pleasure and gain--is to thrust Christ altogether away from their lives. To become Christians would interfere too much with their plans, perhaps with their business, or with their pleasure. They think that Christian people make great sacrifices. But the Bible puts it very differently. It tells us that those who receive Christ, instead of losing--gain a glorious inheritance; they become children of God, and if children, then heirs to an unfading inheritance. The rulers killed their best friend--when they killed Jesus. Had they accepted Him, they would have received His inheritance, becoming "joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). Rejecting and killing Him, they lost the very inheritance they thought to seize! Those who now reject Christ, reject the only One who could give them eternal life. Since Christ is God's last messenger of mercy to men--the rejection of Him is the thrusting away of the last hope of mercy.
"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone." They did not think Jesus suitable to be their Messiah, and so they rejected Him; now, however, He is the King of glory. The very men who rejected Him and crucified Him, when they awake on judgment morning, shall see Him whom they thus despised sitting as their Judge. But again, we must not apply it to the first rejecters only. A great many people now think Christ unsuitable to be their Lord. They do not consider it an honor to be called a Christian. They blush to own His name or enroll themselves among His followers. They do not care to build their life on Christ. But He has now the highest honor in heaven. The highest angels are not ashamed to own His name. Redeemed spirits praise Him day and night. The Father has exalted him to the throne of power and glory. Why then should sinful men be ashamed to own Him as their Lord? They should remember further that God has made Him the capstone of the whole building not made with hands. No life that is not built on Him can stand. If men ever are saved--it must be by this same Jesus whom they are now rejecting.