Conversations With Jesus - #9
Two Parables and a Prediction
Today, three conversations Jesus had during His ministry. All three of them were very late in His ministry. All three occurred during the days between His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and His crucifixion. None of them were particularly happy ones, but they were important conversations, even for us - preparing people back then for what was coming as Jesus drew ever closer to His sacrifice on the cross and reminding us of the importance and the significance of His sacrifice, teaching us how we are to respond to what He did for us.
The first conversation for today is recorded in Matthew 21, beginning with verse 28. The conversation starts with Jesus telling a parable.
Jesus began with a question about a scenario He set up. “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, son, ‘Go and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I will not,’ but afterward he repented and went. The man went to the second son and said the same. That son answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two,” Jesus asked, “did the will of his father?”
Again, this is a parable, which means the scenario did not necessarily happen. It was a story told to make a point.
Who is represented in the parable. The man - the father - is God, who tells people to do this or that, in this case, to do His work in the world. The two sons stand for different ways of responding to God. Those who at first do not follow God’s instructions -specifically in Jesus’ day, people like tax collectors and prostitutes - but who eventually do follow God’s way. And those who talk the talk of being followers of God, but do not walk the walk - in Jesus’ day that included the religious leaders who claimed to be followers of God, but who liked their rules and regulations more than living out the love and mercy of God.
One type of person is reluctant, maybe even sassy, but eventually obeys. The other type readily agrees to follow God, but never gets around to obeying.
Which, Jesus asked, is better? Which one did - which one does - the will of his father - the will of God? The answer from those who heard the parable? “The first son did the will of his father.”
Jesus said, “That’s right. Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots [those who at first did not listen to Jesus, but by that time of His ministry were among those who followed Him - that type of person] will go into the kingdom of God before those” who only talk about obedience.
What is the mark of obedience? How can we know if we obey? What makes obedience possible? Te answer is in the last part of verse 32. There are two things. They are repentance and belief in Jesus.
Repentance is being sorry for whatever it is you have done or are doing wrong, but it is more than just being sorry, which is easy to say. Have you ever said that - “sorry” or “well, excuse me” - and not meant it? Repentance means being so genuinely sorry - so regretful - that you are determined, with God’s help, to never do that wrong thing again.
Belief is knowing Jesus is the Savior, but it goes beyond just knowing. It means making that knowledge - that trust - a part of who you are so it will affect every part of your life.
I had the opportunity to lead the youth class last Sunday morning. We did a lesson on Jesus. One of the items on the sheet we used was, “If Jesus lived in your town and attended your school, how would you answer these questions?” What group of people would He hang out with? What kind of clothes would He wear? What classes would He take? Where would He go to church? (Fortunately the class thought He would like to come here.) What music would He listen to? What TV shows would He watch? What would He do after school ?Where would He be Friday night? Would your friends like Him? What would He be concerned about?
The point of that part of the lesson was to think about what things Jesus likes and what things He would be part of, then compare that to what we like and do. Let’s all think about that, shall we? If what we like and what we do matches how Jesus would answer those questions, that is good. We can pray for the strength to keep that up. If there are discrepancies, that is when we need to realize the differences, repent of anything that is not holy, and believe in Jesus so much that we can match Him.
All that is important because, while Jesus is not a physical presence here, He is here with us spiritually.
And consider this. It is not as important what you have done in the past, as it is what you are doing now and what you will do in the future. As Jesus stated in today’s first conversation, doing is more important than saying. Even if you have not obeyed before, you can now. You can start now to do the will of your Heavenly Father. That will be appreciated by Him.
The second conversation for today is actually a continuation of the first. It is another parable, this one starting with verse 33. “Hear another parable,” Jesus said. “There was a householder [a landowner] who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country.”
As it was with the parable we just considered, the various parts of this parable all represent something. In this parable, God is the householder [the landowner]. The vineyard is the Jewish nation. The tenants represent the religious leaders of Israel. The ones responsible for cultivating the Jewish nation, working in the nation so its people would be fruitful for God. The hedge in nature was a thick thorn hedge designed to keep out wild animals and thieves. In the parable, it represents the protections given to God’s people. Wine presses consisted of two troughs hollowed out of rock or built of bricks, one trough higher than the other. Grapes were pressed in the upper trough. The juice ran off into the lower one. Towers were built for two purposes - to be a place to watch for thieves and to provide lodging for those who worked the vineyard.
That is what the things in verse 3 represent. That is a summary of all God had done for His people - giving them what they needed, offering them opportunities to be fruitful doing His work, providing for their protection.
As the parable continues, after providing all that, “the landowner went away,” the plan being that his workers would do their best and then share their success with the landowner.
However, that is not what happened. When the season of fruit drew near, the landowner sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. That, by the way, was and still is common with absentee landlords. The land is rented out. The payment comes in the form of money or a certain amount of the crop.
But in the parable, the tenants did not give what was owed. “They took their landlord’s servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. The landowner sent other servants, more than the first. The tenants did the same to them.”
After that, the landowner sent his son to the vineyard, saying, “Surely they will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, “they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him. That way we can get his inheritance.’ They took the son, cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
I read that such an occurrence was not all that unusual. There was, at that time, a lot of economic unrest in Israel. Working people were often discontented and sometimes rebellious. There was hope for gaining land through violence.
But again, this is a parable, which means Jesus was not sharing a crime drama. He had a spiritual point to make, which was this. The servants sent by God were prophets who had come in the Old Testament to try to persuade the Jewish nation, including its religious leaders, to know God’s word and obey it. However, over and over again those prophets had been mistreated. At the least they were rejected. Some were killed.
And now the son - God’s Son - Jesus - had come to persuade people to be right with God. He was about to be killed by those who thought they knew better than God.
Jesus knew what was coming. The leaders who heard this parable knew. They had been trying to eliminate Him for a very long time.
That is what makes Jesus’ question so important. Jesus asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” Those who heard Jesus, including the religious leaders in the crowd, said to Him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death.”
Wow. Talk about announcing their own condemnation. Condemnation that would come because the leaders - and many of the people the leaders led - had rejected Him and would continue to do so.
Which would result in the rest of the answer, which was that the landowner “would let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons,” which in this case refers not to people of the Jewish nation, but to non-Jews.
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard the parables, they perceived that Jesus was speaking about them, which increased their anger against Him. They wanted to arrest Him right then and there. However, they feared the rest of the people in the crowd that day, so He was not arrested at that moment.
But His arrest did come. For that, one more conversation, still drawing us closer to the sacrifice of Jesus, this one in chapter 26 of Matthew. A conversation that occurred the night Jesus and His disciples enjoyed the Passover feast together, which happened on the evening before His crucifixion.
First, a bit of background. The day before that feast, Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, had gone to the chief priests, asking them what they would give him if he was able to deliver Jesus to them.
As mentioned, there had been opposition to Jesus since almost the beginning of His ministry three years earlier. Many times leaders against Him had sought ways to eliminate Him, either by arguing Him down, which had never worked, or by killing Him. One time they had Him on a hill, ready to throw Him down the slope and kill Him. Another time they prepared to stone Him to death. Both times He was able to slip away.
The religious leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus, including after today’s second conversation, but they did not know how. Now here was Judas going to the chief priests, offering to deliver Him to them. They agreed. He asked for a reward. He was given 30 pieces of silver.
Why did Judas do that?
Maybe to force Jesus to take charge, which is what a lot of others wanted Jesus to do. Maybe to hide his crime of embezzlement of funds for the disciples. That was, in another report, something of which he was guilty. If Judas could get rid of Jesus before his sin was discovered, he might get off without a penalty. Or maybe he was tired of Jesus and did not know any other way to escape.
No matter what, it was an act of Satan. Satan directed Judas to do what he did.
The evening after Judas met with the chief priests, Jesus sat - He reclined, actually, but He was at a table - for the annual Passover feast. He was with the twelve disciples, including Judas.
We know that at the gathering, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, which was a display of humble service, which He calls us to do as well. We know that toward the end of the evening, Jesus served Communion, in which He predicted that His body was about to be broken and that His blood was about to be spilled.
Between those two things - as they were eating the meal - Jesus started a conversation with His disciples. He said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”
All the disciples were sorrowful right away, most of them because it was a shock to them that any of them would turn on Jesus, who had been their teacher, friend, and companion for three years.
For Judas, he must have wondered how Jesus had found out. Judas had gone to the chief priests secretly. he had told no one, least of all Jesus, what he had done or what he planned. How did Jesus know?
All the disciples were very sorrowful, and began to say to Him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”
Jesus answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with Me will betray Me.” All of them had done that or were doing it. They were at the meal together. But there was only one who did so right then. That one was Judas.
A few things.
First, I have always wondered why the other disciples did not do something to Judas at that moment. Maybe their minds were elsewhere, either enjoying the meal or feeling the tension that was building moment by moment. Tension that would soon result in Jesus’ arrest. But for some reason, the other disciples did not seem to comprehend what was going on. At the least, they did not do anything to change what was happening.
Second, think of the patience of Jesus. He did know who the betrayer was going to be. He could have struck Judas down right then - killed him or stopped him.
Of course, that could not have happened or Jesus’ mission could not have been completed. But what love. What devotion Jesus had to His purpose. Instead of stopping Judas or trying to counsel him away from following through with his plan, Jesus invited Judas to go and do what he had planned.
Which Judas did, right after he, too, asked, “Is it I, Master?” Talk about mock concern. Of course it was him - which he knew and which Jesus knew. Maybe he was simply trying to save face in front of the other disciples.
Which brings up this thought. Judas had every opportunity to turn away from his plan. He could have been so shocked about Jesus’ knowledge or so amazed at Jesus’ willingness to be the perfect sacrifice, he could have changed his mind. Of course, he had the 3o pieces of silver, but he could have thought of some way to return it. However, Judas did not change his mind.
Whereupon Jesus finished the conversation by saying that what was about to happen, including the betrayal, was going to happen, just as it is written of the Savior, but “woe to that man [Judas] by whom the Son of man is betrayed. It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
With those words, Judas left, but to finish the report, shortly after the incident with Judas, Jesus and the rest of the disciples left where they were eating. They went to the nearby Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed, after which Judas led a group into the Garden. The group consisted of religious leaders and some of their henchmen.
It was night. It would have been difficult for those determined to eliminate Jesus to locate Him - to identify the one they were after. That is where Judas came in. He, being a disciple, could recognize Jesus. He went to Jesus and, as the sign of which one was Jesus, kissed Him. With that, Jesus was seized and led away.
One more thing. When morning came, Judas suddenly realized he had done the wrong thing in betraying Jesus.
He repented of that. Evidence of his repentance was returning to the chief priests and the elders with them that morning. He admitted his sin to them. I think he offered them the 30 pieces of silver back. I imagine he tried to buy Jesus’ safety with the silver.
However, the religious leaders would not take the silver back, which upset Judas. He was upset, so distraught, he threw the silver down, left the temple, and went and hanged himself. That is of course not the correct thing to do when distraught, but it is what Judas did.
Three conversations. Three important teachings.
First, repent and believe. Hopefully, you already have done those two things. But if not, do them now. It is not too late to start. How pleasing that will be to your Father in Heaven.
Second, give God what is His, which includes the fruit of His vineyard, the vineyard being the world. He is the owner. He deserves the fruit of this world, that being our obedience and righteous living from us. Righteousness represented, as in the youth lesson last Sunday, in all we do and say and think and and wear and study and listen to. Let’s work for Him.
And third, let’s be amazed at Jesus’ willingness to be our perfect sacrifice. Again, He could have stopped Judas, but He did not. He was willing to go all the way to death to save us. Let’s be thankful for that.
And one more time, if you have not repented and believed, do not delay. Do those things now to show your appreciation for the gift of His sacrifice.
Today’s closing song, which will also be the benediction, is verse 1 of What Wondrous Love Is This.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!