Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: Today as we continue our journey through the parables of Jesus, I just want to remind you of an important principle when interpreting parables, which is that we should not over-interpret them. It is tempting for many scholars and pastors to start reading all kinds of allegorical meanings into parables such as the one before us today, but I am going to try to resist that temptation and highlight only those features of the parable that can clearly be seen to have meaning in the context in which the parable is given. I am going to try to stress only those aspects of the parable that Jesus Himself seems to stress in the way that He relates the parable in the context.

Thus, for example, we will not be getting into fanciful interpretations of what the numbers ten or five might mean with respect to the virgins, or talk about whether or not the oil stands for something. Jesus did not clearly attach any important meaning to such details, and neither shall we. So, without further ado, let's make our way through this parable verse by verse.
NKJ  Matthew 25:1 Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
As He had done in the Parable of the Wedding Feast (in Matt. 22:1-14), so here again Jesus makes use of the bridegroom metaphor to refer to Himself as the Messiah. The metaphor is used this way in a number of places in Scripture. For example, in the Old Testament, Hosea spoke of the days of the coming Messiah by means of this metaphor:
NKJ  Hosea 2:19-20 I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; 20 I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD.
Then, later, John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, took up this imagery to describe both the ministry of the Messiah and his own relationship to that ministry:
NKJ  John 3:25-30 Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!' 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.' 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
And then, of course, Jesus also used this imagery elsewhere to refer to Himself:
NKJ  Matthew 9:14-15 Then the disciples of John came to Him [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
This imagery can also be found in the teaching of the early Church. For example, the Apostle Paul used this imagery in a way similar to that of John the Baptist to describe his own ministry for Christ:
NKJ  2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
This imagery was also used in the revelation received by the Apostle John while on the island of Patmos, in which he saw a vision of the return of Christ:
NKJ  Revelation 19:6-9 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 Then he said to me, “Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' And he said to me, 'These are the true sayings of God.'”
Of course, in the passage before us today, Jesus is also making use of the additional imagery of the maids who await the coming of the bridegroom and of the following celebration.

D.A. Carson helpfully describes the first century background for this imagery:
The setting is fairly clear from what we know of the marriage customs of the day. Normally the bridegroom with some close friends left his home to go to the bride's home, where there were various ceremonies, followed by a procession through the streets – after nightfall – to his home. The ten virgins may be bridesmaids who have been assisting the bride; and they expect to meet the groom as he comes from the bride's house, though this is uncertain. Everyone in the procession was expected to carry his or her own torch. Those without a torch would be assumed to be party crashers or even brigands. The festivities, which might last several days, would formally get underway at the groom's house. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 513)
In the context of this passage, Jesus is using imagery that reflects these practices in order to refer to His second coming. Thus the ten virgins represent those who await His return at the end of the age, at which time the celebration will begin.
NKJ  Matthew 25:2-4 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
Notice here that the important point is not how many virgins there were – ten – or how many of the virgins were wise as opposed to how many were foolish – five each – but rather simply that some were wise and some were foolish. And the difference between the wise and foolish virgins is seen in how prepared they were for the coming of the bridegroom. Those who were wise cared about the role they had been given, which was to be ready to shine their lights when the bridegroom arrived, so they made sure not only that they brought their lamps but also that they brought oil to put in them. Those who were foolish, however, really didn't care enough to be ready, so they brought their lamps but didn't bring any oil to put in them.

Now, it would seem that all of them claimed to care about the wedding and the coming of the bridegroom. Otherwise why were they there in the first place? And why did they bother to bring their lamps? But as we shall see further on, not all who claim to be friends of the bridegroom truly are.
NKJ  Matthew 25:5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
There are two points in this verse of which we should take special notice.

First, Jesus says that the bridegroom was “delayed.” This is important because Jesus is telling His disciples in advance that His return will be delayed from their point of view. In doing so, He has warned all of us that this will be the case, so we should not be surprised that Jesus hasn't come back yet. This is one reason why later in his ministry Peter didn't want believers in the early Church to be surprised that Jesus hadn't come back yet, and we too would do well to remember his words:
NKJ  2 Peter 3:1-12a Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), 2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God....
Yet Peter was simply repeating the lessons he learned from Jesus, who has prepared us for this delay, and He warns us in this parable to be ready for His return throughout the period of delay.

Second, notice that “they all slumbered and slept.” That is, both the wise and the foolish virgins slept. This means that we cannot read anything negative into this detail, especially since Jesus indicates nowhere in the parable that this was a problem. As John Piper observes in his treatment of this verse:
All ten slept, not just the foolish. This is not sleeping on the job of life. Sleeping is part of the job. What sleeping signifies in this parable is simply the ordinary activities of life. We are not called to go up on a mountain and gaze idly into the sky as we wait for Jesus. We are called to do our work. Then rest. Then do some more work. Blessed is the servant whom the master finds doing his work when he comes (Matthew 24:45). All ten slept because sleep is part of the normal rhythm of life that we should follow as we work and rest and wait for Jesus. (Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, Past and Future)
I agree that the issue isn't whether or not they slept when they were tired. The issue is whether or not they were ready and whether or not they were ready at all times, even when they were awakened by the coming of the bridegroom. This becomes clear as we look at the rest of the parable.
NKJ  Matthew 25:6-9 And at midnight a cry was heard: “Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” 7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9 But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.”
The wise virgins should not be seen here as being selfish, but rather as being just what Jesus has called them – wise. And this can be seen in the fact they they are prepared to shine their lights. The reason that they will not share with the foolish virgins is that they cannot share with them. For they are supposed to be prepared for the bridegroom, and if they allow the foolish virgins to create the same problem for them that they themselves are facing, then no one will be ready for the bridegroom. In other words, the wise virgins are not driven by selfish interests but by the interests of the bridegroom. And they are not going to take part in the foolishness of those who are unconcerned about the bridegroom and who are thus not ready to meet him as they should be.

This teaches us that each one of us is individually accountable to be ready for Jesus' return. And as much as we might like to make others ready, we cannot. Each one is responsible to be ready for himself or herself. This accountability is also quite clearly emphasized by our Lord Jesus in what He says next, for He goes on to describe what happens to both the wise and the foolish virgins.
NKJ  Matthew 25:10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
Those who are ready get to take part in the celebration, but those who are not ready will be shut out. I think Vernon C. Grounds captures the application of this passage well when he writes:
George Morrison, one of Scotland's most popular preachers in the early 20th century, was known for a sermon titled, “The Ever-Open Door.” And on his deathbed he exclaimed, “It's open for me now, and I'm going through.” As a believer, he surely did go through the door into glory. That door won't always be open, however. Someday the door of grace will close and unbelievers will be shut out of God's presence forever. 
The eloquent English evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770) once preached on the text, “. . . and the door was shut” (Mt. 25:10). One man in the audience was overheard saying to another, “So what? Another door will open.” But as Whitefield continued preaching, he said, “There may be someone here who is careless and self-satisfied, and who thinks, 'What does it matter if the door is shut? Another will open.' Yes, it will--the door to the bottomless pit, the door to hell!”
When time runs out, and God shuts the door of salvation, the door to doom, darkness, and despair will open. But today, if you trust in Jesus Christ, you enter the still wide-open door into eternal life. Have you walked through that door? (February 7, 1996, entry of Our Daily Bread)
That is a point I hope we will all consider seriously as we think about this parable, for the Lord Jesus is telling the parable to warn us even now that, although His second coming is delayed, we never know when it will happen, or when our time will run out while we are waiting for it. This is why Jesus is so loving as He continues to warn us and goes on to tell us of the plight of the foolish ones. 
NKJ  Matthew 25:11-12 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” 12 But he answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
This verse reflects a previous, similar teaching of Jesus, which is found in the Sermon on the Mount. And it is one of the most frightening passages in Scripture!
NKJ  Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
The point of both of these passages is that many may claim to know the bridegroom – the Lord Jesus Christ – but that doesn't mean that they truly know Him. And the difference between those who truly know Him and those who don't in this parable is seen in their readiness for His coming. There will be many professing believers who will be surprised in that day!

I am reminded of a saying of John Newton, the writer of the classic Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace”:
If I ever reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there. (As cited here)
I agree that it will indeed be a wonder that any of us will be there, but I don't think we need to worry about whether or not we will be there so long as we are trusting in Christ and looking for His return. To be sure, He does give us this parable as a warning, but it is also an encouragement for those of us who really do trust in Him. For we will also take seriously the primary lesson of this parable, as Jesus goes on to state it.
NKJ  Matthew 25:13 Watch [γρηγορέω, grēgoreúō] therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
Once again Jesus stresses what He had earlier told the disciples, namely that no one knows the day or the hour of His return (recall Matt. 24:36). And here is an important reason to “watch” for His return. 

The word translated watch here is grēgoreúō, which means “literally watch, be or keep awake (MK 13.34)” and “figuratively be watchful, vigilant, alert (MT 24.42)” (Friberg #5683, BibleWorks).

Thus, Jesus is saying that His true disciples will live their lives as those who are prepared for His return, always vigilant, always alert, always seeking to do what He has called us to do as we wait. And this includes most especially seeking to fulfill the Great Commission by taking the Gospel to a lost and dying world.

As Richard Bauckham has written, “The delay of the parousia [the second coming] is filled with the mission of the church” (as cited by Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 518).

Conclusion: Just as the virgins were supposed to have had their lamps ready to shine, so we are to shine for Jesus. As He also told the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:
NKJ  Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
This is the way we must live so as to be ready for His return! And if we are living this way, we shall look forward to his return with joy! Let us, therefore, trust in His enabling grace to make us faithful servants as we look for His coming. Let us pray that He will make us those who may say with faith and joy, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Parable of the Two Servants (Matthew 24:45-51 Teaching Outline)

Jesus tells this parable in the context of His prophecies about His future return and the signs that will precede it. An important emphasis of this teaching is on the fact that we do not know when He will return. Indeed, He tells His disciples that this is one fact of which they can be sure, when He says in verse 36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Thus, this parable deals with the time between Jesus' ascension and return, a period in which His disciples will live with uncertainty as to the time of His return. The master in the parable, then, represents Jesus, and the servants represent those awaiting His return.

Introduction: Haddon Robinson illustrates the basic point of this parable well when he writes:
A teacher tells her young students, “Class, I'm going down the hall to the school office for a few minutes. I don't expect to be away long. I'm sure there won't be any trouble. I'm trusting you to work on your assignments while I'm gone.” Fifteen minutes pass, then 20, then 40. Suddenly the teacher returns. Dennis has just thrown an eraser at Carol, who is doing her math. Steven is standing on the teacher's desk making faces. The students carrying out the teacher's instructions are delighted at the teacher's return, but Dennis and Steven wish she hadn't come back at all.
Jesus is coming back! That stands as both a warning and a promise throughout the New Testament, as in today's reading …. It's good news or bad, depending on who hears it.
In church we sing songs like “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we “proclaim the Lord's death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). On Sunday morning, the second coming of Christ sounds like great news. But during the rest of the week, are we as ready for His return? Jesus is coming back! It may be soon. It will be sudden. Is that good news or bad? It's up to you. (Our Daily Bread, March 8, 2003)
Well, that is exactly what the parable before us today is all about – whether or not we will be ready for Jesus' return. It tells us about a good servant who is ready and an evil servant who is not ready. So let's take a look at 1) lessons to be learned from the good servant, and 2) lessons to be learned from the evil servant.

I. Lessons Learned From the Good Servant (vss. 45-47)

There are at least three lessons we can learn from the example of the good servant in this parable:

1. A Good Servant is Faithful

First, his faithfulness is seen in his wisely trusting that the master will return. We are told in verse 45 that he is a “wise servant,” and as such he knows to trust that the master will return. Why else would he take his responsibilities so seriously? Notice also the contrast later drawn between this servant and the evil servant, who apparently has some doubt about the master's return when he says, “My master is delaying his coming” (vs. 48).

This also nicely fits the context of the parable, in which Jesus has promised the disciples He will return and has told them to look for it. For example:
NKJ Matthew 24:30-31 “hen the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
NKJ Matthew 24:42-44 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour  your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
But watching for Jesus' return entails a life of obedience to Him, which leads to the next way in which the servant's faithfulness is demonstrated.

Second, his faithfulness is seen in his commitment to the task his master has given him. We are told in verses 45b-46 that he was “made ruler over his [the master's] household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.”

In contemplation of this parable, Klyne Snodgrass rightly speaks of both the patience and the impatience a believer must possess:
How can the church acknowledge both its own long history and its lively hope without looking silly? Both patience and impatience are legitimate and necessary responses. Given the NT emphasis that no one knows the time and the length of time that has passed, patience is required, for God's timing and purposes never fit our agenda. Patience undergirds the faithful living which is the primary concern of this parable. The wise and faithful Christian is the one who understands the significance of the end and actively serves, whether the time is long or short. Impatience is called for as well. We should be impatient with those who assert they do know the time and draw eschatological charts. We should be as impatient with those who deny the importance of Jesus' future vindication. Further, we should be impatient for the End to come, weary of evil and longing for the time when evil will be set aside and righteousness is established. Christian faith is always faith on tiptoe, looking to that day, and because of that day, living in accord with such anticipation. (Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 504)
This leads us to the next point.

2. A Good Servant is Ready for His Master's Return

As we have seen in verse 46, Jesus says that the good servant is blessed because, when the master comes, he is found doing what he was told to do. Thus, the servant was ready to give an account of what he had done when the master appeared.

If Jesus were to come today, would you and I be found faithfully obeying what He has called us to do? I hope so, because we will have to give an account to Him of how we have lived!

And this leads us to the third point regarding the good servant.

3. A Good Servant is Rewarded

We are told of the good servant in verse 47 that “assuredly, I say to you that he [the master] will make him ruler over all his goods.”

This promotion definitely comes as a reward to the good servant for his faithfulness and fits nicely with Jesus teaching elsewhere regarding rewards. For example:
NKJ Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
NKJ Matthew 16:24-27 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
The good servant is the one who looks for a heavenly reward from his Master, the Lord Jesus. And for him the comforts and delights of this world pale by comparison. Thus, he will always focus his life on faithful obedience to what Jesus has called him to do.

II. Lessons Learned From the Evil Servant (vss. 48-51)

There are at least three lessons we can learn from the example of the evil servant in this parable, and these contrast with the three lessons we learned from the good servant.

1. An Evil Servant is Faithless

First, his faithlessness is seen in his lack of trust that the master will return. Notice in verse 48 that the evil servant “says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming.'” And in verse 50 we see that he is “not looking for” his master's return at all!

Second, his faithlessness is seen is his lack of commitment to the task his master has given him. Not only does he not properly look after those entrusted to his care, he mistreats them terribly! In verse 49 we are told that he “begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards.” This description depicts a life of carelessness about the master's priorities, which most notably concerns the care of one's fellow servants. He is like the person who claims to love the Lord, but who does not love his brother. As the Apostle John warns us, “If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).

In other words, such a person is a hypocrite, which is exactly what Jesus tells us about this evil servant in verse 51, when He says that the evil servant will have “his portion with the hypocrites.” This, then, is a person who claims to be a true servant of the master, but in reality he is not, and his manner of life has demonstrated it!

2. An Evil Servant is Unprepared for His Master's return

This is clearly seen is verse 50, where Jesus tells us that “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of.”

Now, remember that the good servant didn't know when the master would return either, but he was ready when the master came because he was ready all the time. In contrast, this evil servant is never ready!

But what makes this so bad is not just that he is evil in his treatment of others – as we have already seen – but also that he will get what is coming to him, as we will see next.

3. An Evil Servant is Punished

This is what verse 51 is all about. There we read that the master of that servant “will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

But what precisely does this mean? There are at least three aspects of this punishment that we need to consider.

First, when Jesus says that the master will “cut him in two,” He is using graphic imagery to describe the terrible punishment such a wicked servant deserves. He must be speaking figuratively because it is highly unlikely that a master in first century Palestine would actually have done such a thing to one of his servants. In addition, it is hard to conceive of why a master would bother to assign a servant a place with the hypocrites if he has already literally been chopped up. And this leads to the next thing we should notice.

Second, when Jesus says that the master will “appoint him his portion with the hypocrites,” we have here an instance where the language of final judgment intrudes into the parable, for the parable in context definitely refers to a judgment that will take place after Jesus returns. That such hypocrites are in reality unbelievers can be seen in several other references Jesus makes to hypocrites in this Gospel. For example:
Earlier in Matthew: NKJ Matthew 15:7-9 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Later in Matthew:  NKJ Matthew 23:13, 15 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in … 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Third, when Jesus says that there shall be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων), He is using a phrase that he typically uses to speak of the excruciating physical and emotional torment of the final judgment, which He clearly has in mind in this passage. [Note: On this phrase, see also Matt. 8:12 (Luke 13:28); 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30.]

Thus, Jesus warns those who claim to be His disciples that the truth of that claim will be seen in their faithfulness and obedience to Him as they await His return. And the truth of who they really are – even if it is not apparent now – will be made quite clear in the judgment that will occur when He returns. And this judgment will be terrible indeed!

Conclusion: The July 30, 2000 entry of Our Daily Bread drives home the importance of this parable's teaching:
Jesus never told His followers how to calculate the day of His return. Rather, He emphasized that our main priority is to make sure we're ready for Him, and that we are occupied in His service when He comes (vv.45-46).
A woman who lived by this teaching was shopping in a small country store. Several young people were just standing around doing nothing. Knowing she was a Christian, they began ridiculing her. “We hear you're expecting Jesus to come back,” they jeered. “That's right,” she replied brightly. “Do you really believe He's coming?” they asked. “Absolutely,” she answered. They said, “Well, you'd better hurry home and get ready. He might be on the way!” Facing them, she said, “I don't have to get ready—I keep ready!”
Are you ready for the arrival of God's Son? Will you be glad to see Jesus when He returns? If not, get ready now. Without delay, turn away from your sin and trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Then keep ready by walking in His will every day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14 Teaching Outline)

A couple of weeks ago we began to look at an exchange between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. There we saw that Jesus told them the first of three parables designed to challenge them and to expose their hypocrisy, the Parable of the Two Sons. Then, last week, we looked at the second parable, the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers.

This week, we will examine the third parable in this trilogy, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, which is introduced in verse 1 with the simple statement, “And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said ….” No other introductory statement is necessary, since the context of the previous two parables and the situation that occasioned them is assumed.

Introduction: Thomas Constable summarizes well the focus of this trilogy of parables:
The three parables in this series are similar to three concentric circles in their scope. The scope of the parable of the two sons encompassed Israel's leaders (21:28-32). The parable of the wicked tenant farmers exposed the leaders' lack of responsibility and their guilt to the people listening in as well as to the leaders themselves (21:33-46). This last parable is the broadest of the three. It condemned the contempt with which Israel as a whole had treated God's grace to her. (Notes on Matthew, e-Sword)
I agree that we will see a widening of perspective in this parable, as Jesus anticipates not only the destruction of Jerusalem but also the final judgment. We will examine this parable by dividing it into four scenes. In the process we will make our way verse by verse through the story, seeking to understand the lessons Jesus is teaching.

Scene #1: The First Invitation and Refusal

The first scene is found in verses 2-3.
NKJ  Matthew 22:2-3 The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call [καλέω] those who were invited [καλέω] to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.
There are three things we must notice here.

First, a marriage in first century Palestine involved more than just a wedding ceremony; it also involved a banquet, a point which will become clear in verse 4. Such a banquet could go on for days, with successive meals being offered to the guests. To be invited to such a banquet by a king for the wedding of his son would have been considered a great honor. But, in addition to the honor bestowed, it also indicates the idea of fellowship with the king. To be invited is to be treated like a friend of the king. So, the invitation should not have been viewed as an onerous duty, but a joyful privilege. What a great analogy for the kingdom to which we have been called!

Second, the king's son here must stand for the Messiah, Jesus, especially given the earlier references to Him as a bridegroom, not only given the context in which the parable is given here, but also because of the larger context of the Gospels, in which Jesus is repeatedly identified as the bridegroom. For example:
NKJ  John 3:25-30 Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.' 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
NKJ  Matthew 9:14-15 14 Then the disciples of John came to Him [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
Third, the unwillingness to accept the invitation of the king would have been considered an insult to the king and would be tantamount to rebellion. This means that Jesus is using this parable to accuse the Jewish people who have been rejecting Him as having a rebellious heart toward their King and His Son, the Messiah.

Application: This is a point we must always remember. God's invitation into His kingdom is a privilege and an honor, and those who refuse only show their rebelliousness toward Him. We are simply the messengers who tell people they are invited. When we faithfully issue the Gospel invitation, their rejection of it is not so much a rejection of us as it is of the King who has invited them. This reminds me of the days of Samuel the prophet, when the people of Israel asked for a king like the other nations had:
NKJ  1 Samuel 8:6-7 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”
Even so, when people reject us when we proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of God, we must remember that it is really God himself that they are rejecting. But He is patient in continuing to issue repeated invitations, as we see in the rest of the parable.

Scene #2: The Second Invitation and Refusal

The second scene is found in verses 4-7.
NKJ  Matthew 22:4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited [καλέω], 'See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.'”
Notice that the second invitation gives details about the greatness and the readiness of the feast in order to further entice the guests to come. So, even if they do not care about the king's son, they might perhaps at least want to enjoy such a great feast that has been prepared for them. But this was not the case, as the following verses show.
NKJ  Matthew 22:5-6 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.
Notice that the second refusal also gives details as to some of the reasons the guests refused to come. They were more concerned about their own lives and business than they were about honoring their king. Their own selfish concerns left them apathetic about the king's concerns.

Yet such apathy was mild in comparison to what the others did. They actually severely mistreated and even killed the king's servants. And this action was the most pronounced statement of rebellion thus far. But there is another reason that Jesus includes such a detail in the parable, namely that it further stresses a point made in the preceding context. For example, recall the previous parable – the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers – in which Jesus had highlighted the way in which the Jews had mistreated and killed so many of the prophets who had been sent to them:
NKJ  Matthew 21:35-36 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.
But then, despite the warning of the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the Jewish leaders still plotted to kill Jesus! Recall the end of chapter 21, which directly precedes the parable before us this morning:
NKJ  Matthew 21:45-46 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.”
Application: Perhaps many people today would not see this parable as applicable to them, since they do not seek to kill the messengers God has sent them to offer them His gracious invitation, but their rejection is still rebellion, even if it is nothing more than a self-centered apathy toward the things of God. May the Lord prevent any here today from such an apathetic, rebellious, unbelieving heart! Especially since such a heart deserves the wrath of God, as Jesus emphasizes in the next verse.
NKJ Matthew 22:7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.
I think this reference to the destruction of their city pertains to Jerusalem, which itself represents the people of Israel as a whole. Not only does the language recall the earlier destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians due to the peoples' rejection of God's messengers, but it also hints at the coming destruction of the city in A.D. 70 for the same kind of rebelliousness.

But the judgment of the king is represented not only by this act of destruction; it is also seen in his offering the invitation to others, which leads to us to the next part of the parable.

Scene #3: The Third Invitation and Acceptance

The third scene is found in verses 8-10.
NKJ  Matthew 22:8 Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited [καλέω] were not worthy.”
Notice that their unworthiness was due to their rejection of the invitation. They were not invited because they were considered worthy in the first place. Their rejection of the invitation revealed how unworthy of it they actually were. They rebelled because they were rebellious people to begin with, and thus the invitation offered to them was an invitation of grace all along.
NKJ  Matthew 22:9-10 “Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite [καλέω] to the wedding.” 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
The key point here is that, since those who should have been expected to accept the invitation in fact refused it, then those who otherwise would not have been offered the invitation were invited instead.

When Jesus refers to this invitation as being extended to “both bad and good,” I think He has in mind those who were good or bad in the sight of men, those who would have been considered faithful by the Jews and those who would have been considered sinners by the Jews. This reflects an emphasis found earlier in the context, in which, after telling the Parable of the Two Sons, Jesus had warned the Jewish leaders, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (21:31-32).

Those considered bad by the Jews would, of course, also include Gentiles, who we now know are also invited to the great wedding banquet of the Son, a fact for which I am supremely grateful!

Application: What a good reminder to us that the kingdom of God is for everyone. And we are told to share the invitation to the kingdom with everyone, whether they are society's accepted ones or those regarded as the rejects of society. All are invited, and all that accept the invitation may come.

But there will be some who appear to accept the invitation even though they do not really accept the King's terms of inclusion. This is seen in the last part of the parable

Scene #4: The Guest Without a Proper Garment

The fourth scene is found in verses 11-14.
NKJ  Matthew 22:11-13 11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Thomas Constable has offered what I believe to be a sound interpretation of the meaning of the guest without a proper garment:
These verses have spawned several different interpretations. One view is that the man who tries to participate in the banquet but gets evicted represents those whom God will exclude in the judgment that will take place before the kingdom begins. This view takes the man evicted as representing a Jew who hopes to gain entrance to the kingdom because he is a Jew. Since he does not have the proper clothing, the robe of righteousness, he cannot enter the  kingdom. The lesson Jesus wanted to teach was that individual faith in Jesus, not nationality, was necessary for entrance. This view seems best to me. (Notes on Matthew, e-Sword)
Indeed what is needed is to be properly clothed is a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, and this is the righteousness of Christ. Remember Jesus' earlier warning that, “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

I think that Jesus may also have a couple of Old Testament passages in mind here. For example, in the days of Josiah, the prophet Zephaniah made use of the banquet metaphor when he warned of God's coming judgment on Jerusalem:
NKJ  Zephaniah 1:7-10 “Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the LORD is at hand, for the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests. 8 And it shall be, in the day of the LORD'S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with foreign apparel. [Remember that the Jews were not supposed to dress as the other nations did, but, for example, had to put tassels on their garments – see, for example, Num. 15:38; Deut. 22:12] 9 In the same day I will punish all those who leap over the threshold, who fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit. 10 And there shall be on that day,” says the LORD, “The sound of a mournful cry from the Fish Gate, a wailing from the Second Quarter, and a loud crashing from the hills.”
Here the wearing of the wrong apparel clearly connotes rebelliousness toward God and His standards of righteousness.

In addition, the idea of God providing the proper garments for His people may be found in a Messianic passage from the prophet Isaiah:
NKJ  Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
The righteousness with which we are clothed is the very righteousness of God which comes through Christ alone and results in our being conformed to His image and then actually living increasingly changed and righteous lives before Him by the power of His Spirit. This is reflected in the the revelation that John received while on the island of Patmos. In it we are told that, when Jesus returns, His followers will themselves be guests at a great wedding banquet, which is referred to as the Wedding Supper of the Lamb:
NKJ  Revelation 19:6-9 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 Then he said to me, “Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
Application: Those of us who know Christ should always be thankful that we are not only invited to the kingdom banquet by the King to celebrate the wedding of His Son, but that we are also found worthy not because of any righteousness of our own, but only through the righteousness of Christ.

However, those who may profess to know Christ and to have accepted the invitation, but who are trusting in their own righteousness rather than being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, should beware of the great judgment that awaits them. For when Jesus refers in verse 13 to persons improperly clothed as being cast “into outer darkness” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” He is referring to the final judgment. This is His typical language to describe the judgment of hell as one of intense anguish and pain. It describes the fate of all who reject His invitation or who may profess to accept it while rejecting the garment of His righteousness. This is also why He goes onto warn the hearer in verse 14:
NKJ  Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
D.A. Carson has summarized the meaning of this conclusion quite well:
Many are invited; but some refuse to come, and others who do come refuse to submit to the norms of the kingdom and are therefore rejected. Those who remain are called “chosen” (eklektoi), a word implicitly denying that the reversals in the parable in any way catch God unawares or remove sovereign grace from his control. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 457)
Application: So, those who are chosen will accept the offer of salvation on God's terms! They will renounce their own self-interest and their own righteousness and will gladly agree with the Apostle Paul when he declares, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith ….” (Phil. 3:7-9)

Conclusion: I will conclude by asking all here today, Have you accepted the invitation to participation in God's kingdom? Have you seen that you have been given a great honor in that you have been extended an invitation to joyful fellowship with Him? If so, then you will also have accepted His terms and rejected your own self-interest and self-righteousness. And you will have accepted the righteousness of Christ as a free gift. If so, then join me in praise and thanksgiving. If not, then I hope you will recognize that today the invitation has been once again offered to you, and it is not too late to accept it. Trust in Christ as the one who died for sinners, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God to reign over all things.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46 Teaching Outline)

Note: Last week we began to look at an exchange between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. There we saw that Jesus told them the first of three parables designed to challenge and expose their hypocrisy. This week we will examine the second of these parables, the Parable of the wicked Vinedressers.

Introduction: Sometimes Jesus' teaching brings together several Scriptural themes in one place, kind of like a busy intersection on the prophetic highway. And this is the case with the teaching before us today. So, given that we will be having a bit of a “Sword drill” for this teaching, we won't waste any time getting right into the text. We will examine this parable under three headings: 1) Jesus' communication of the parable to the Jewish leaders, 2) Jesus' questioning of the Jewish leaders in light of the parable, and 3) the reaction of the Jewish leaders to the parable.

I. Jesus' Communication of the Parable to the Jewish Leaders

We see Jesus' communication of the parable in verses 33-39.

Although verse 33 begins simply with the statement, “Hear another parable,” it is clear from the preceding context that it is directed toward the Jewish leaders, “the chief priest and the elders of the people,” who were mentioned earlier in verse 23. The parable itself may be helpfully broken down into three scenes, and we will briefly consider each of them.

Scene #1: A Landowner Plants a Vineyard

The first scene is found in verse 33.
NKJ  Matthew 21:33 Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.
Many of these details are not in themselves of any real significance in understanding the point of the parable. They simply recount what would commonly be done with a vineyard, but they also help to connect the parable to a particular Old Testament metaphor referring to Israel as a vineyard:
NKJ  Isaiah 5:1-7 Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. 2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. 4 What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? 5 And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.” 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help. [See also Psalm 80:6-16.]
There is a significant difference between Jesus' parable and the Isaiah passage to which He clearly alludes. Whereas Isaiah pictures God seeking fruit in the vineyard, Jesus will focus His parable on the workers in the vineyard. This fits well with the fact that Jesus is addressing the religious leaders of Israel. At any rate, the allusion to the passage in Isaiah 5 provides a signal to the hearers that Jesus is talking about the relationship of God to His people, Israel, here represented by their religious leaders.

Scene #2: The Landowner Sends Servants to the Vineyard 

The second scene is found in verses 34-36.
NKJ  Matthew 21:34-36 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.
The “servants” sent to the vineyard must refer to the prophets that God had so often sent to Israel, who are often referred to as servants of the LORD in the Old Testament. A number of these prophets had been either beaten or killed for serving Him. For example:
NKJ 1 Kings 18:3-4 And Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly. 4 For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.)
NKJ 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: 'Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He also has forsaken you.'” 21 So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, “The LORD look on it, and repay!”
NKJ Jeremiah 19:14-20:2 Then Jeremiah came from Tophet, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the Lord's house and said to all the people,  15 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: 'Behold, I will bring on this city and on all her towns all the doom that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their necks that they might not hear My words.'”  20:1 Now Pashhur the son of Immer, the priest who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. 2 Then Pashhur struck Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.
NKJ  Jeremiah 37:15 Therefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they struck him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe. For they had made that the prison.
That Jesus had such men in mind cannot be doubted, especially given His later and more explicit words to those who rejected Him:
NKJ  Matthew 23:34-35, 37 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar … 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Thus the Lord had faithfully sent His servants, the prophets, to warn His people, but they had repeatedly beaten and killed them. and this is what the Lord Jesus has pictured for us in this second part of the parable.

Scene #3: The Landowner Sends His Son to the Vineyard 

The third scene is found in verses 37-39.
NKJ Matthew 21:37-39 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
The point here is that – even after the way his servants had been treated – the landowner was patient with the vinedressers, and sent his son to make his appeal even more personal. However, they killed the son too!

Now, Jesus had already begun to announce His coming death at the hands of the Jewish leaders. For example:
NKJ  Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
NKJ  Matthew 20:18-19 Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.
These earlier prophecies about His coming death were made to the disciples, but here Jesus alludes to His death when speaking to the the very chief priests and elders He had said would kill him. And that He intended them to get this is obvious, especially since – as we will see further on – they do, in fact, recognize that He is talking about them when telling this parable.

But, just so they won't miss the fact that such a response to the Son deserves to be judged and severely punished, He goes on to get them to admit this, and this leads to our second point.

II. Jesus' Questioning of the Jewish Leaders in Light of the Parable 

We find Jesus' questions to the Jewish leaders in verses 40-44. In these verses, rather than  give a brief explanation of the parable – as we have seen Him do on other occasions – here Jesus drives home the point by asking a couple of questions, which I have paraphrased for us.

Question #1: What do the people who reject the Son deserve?

This is the basic question found in verses 40-41.
NKJ Matthew 21:40-41 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” 41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
The Jewish leaders answer Jesus' question in the only way they can, with a clear admission that people who act as those wicked vinedressers acted deserve to be miserably destroyed and to have the vineyard taken away from them and given to others who will produce the fruit required of them.

This leads to Jesus' second question.

Question #2: What do the Scriptures say about this?

This is the basic question found in verses 42-44.
NKJ  Matthew 21:42-44 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? 43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
There are several things to notice in Jesus' rhetorical question and and the answer that He Himself gives to it.

First, in verse 42 Jesus cites Psalm 118:22-23, which was recognized as a Messianic psalm. Here it explains the response He has received from the Jewish leaders. They – as the builders – have rejected Him, but He will become the Chief Cornerstone in spite of their rejection.

In other words, God has a plan to elevate His Son, and they will not be able to do anything to stop it. And when it happens, it will be “marvelous in our eyes.”

Second, in verse 43 Jesus tells them that because of their rejection of Him the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to “a nation bearing the fruits of it.” This means that the kingdom will be given not to those who reject him, but rather to those who receive Him for who He claims to be.

Notice that Jesus essentially agrees with their own assessment about what should be done. This is basically what they had said in response to his first question. They had said that the landowner should “lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons” (vs. 41), and this is exactly what Jesus has said will happen. The kingdom will be given to others “bearing the fruits of it.”

Third, in verse 44 Jesus again quotes Scripture, but this time He combines allusions to two Old Testament passages:
NKJ  Isaiah 8:14-15 He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.
This citation provides the background for Jesus' declaration that “whoever falls on this stone will be broken.”
NKJ  Daniel 2:34-35 You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
This citation provides the background for Jesus' declaration that “on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

Thus Jesus indicates with either a direct quote or a clear allusion to three different Old Testament prophecies that what is happening is all a part of God's plan, a plan that cannot be stopped by the Jewish authorities who refuse to accept it. In fact, the plan even takes into consideration their rejection of Jesus! And it also foretells their judgment because of this! What a marvelous reminder that God is always in control, even at those times when we may not fully understand what He is doing, which, let's face it, is most of the time!

To those of us who believe in Christ, He is the Chief Cornerstone, the very foundation of our faith. But this same Jesus is a stone of stumbling and of judgment to those who refuse to believe in him. Peter would later reflect upon this very teaching of Jesus in his first epistle, and it is good to hear what he says:
NKJ  1 Peter 2:4-10 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” 7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
If this doesn't lead us to worship and thanksgiving for the grace that has been shown to us, then I don't know what will! After all, the only real difference between those of us who know Christ and the Jewish leaders who rejected Him is that God has been gracious to us. We have been chosen by God, as Peter reminds us. And this is what has made all the difference.

III. The Reaction of the Jewish Leaders to the Parable

We see their reaction in verses 45-46.
NKJ   Matthew 21:45-46 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.
The “parables” (plural) referred to here are both the Parable of the Two Sons (vss. 28-32) and the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (vss. 33-44). The chief priests and elders/Pharisees knew that Jesus was talking about them. But they still refused to really listen. Instead of seeing their sinful attitudes and repenting, they plotted to “lay hands on” Jesus!

Now, Matthew doesn't say precisely what this entailed, but we can assume that it wasn't there intention to give Jesus an encouraging pat on the back! No, they were intending some kind of harm, and we can have no doubt that their intention was to kill Him, just as He had said. The only thing that kept them from following through with their plans was the fact that so many of the crowd thought Jesus really was at the very least a prophet.

Conclusion: I would like to close today's teaching with a summary of a few of the lessons we should take away from this passage.

First, we should never think that knowing a lot about Scripture is the same thing as truly understanding what it says. After all, the chief priests and elders knew the content of Scripture very well, but they still failed to grasp the true significance of it. Let us pray always that God will open our hearts to His Word.

Second, we should be encouraged that God is sovereign over all things, that He “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11b). We should never allow ourselves to be discouraged when we encounter opposition to the word of God, for even this is a part of His plan and will work for His ultimate glory.

Third, we should remember that true faith always bears fruit. We cannot claim to be in the kingdom of God without a changed life to go with it. Most notably, we must ever demonstrate a willingness to hear what God has to say and to humbly submit to it. There are far too many professing Christians out there who drive away those who seek to faithfully share the Word, and they must repent of this Pharisaic attitude before it is too late.