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Isaiah 5:1-4, 7
The vineyard was so beautiful he just wanted to sing a song about it. The location was perfect, just the right soil, just the right angle to the sun, just the right climate. The fact that hour after hour of hard work was put into the vineyard was obvious. All around the vineyard there was rocky ground, but not a stone was found in the soil inside the vineyard. Every stone had been painstakingly located and removed. When it came time to plant, only the best and healthiest plants were used. A tower was built so that watchmen could sound an alarm if any danger approached. A wine press was made on site so that the grapes could be processed immediately without losing any freshness or flavor. It was hewn by hand out of stone. No expense or amount of work was spared. It was amazing, song-worthy.
Isaiah tells us what this vineyard represents. It’s God’s vineyard. It’s the house of Israel, the men of Judah, his Old Testament church. It’s the land flowing with milk and honey that God prepared for and gave to his people, driving out the stones of idol worshipers before them. It’s the fact that they got to live in houses they didn’t build and enjoy crops that they didn’t have to plant. God graciously provided them with everything they needed. He provided them with a tower, a temple where he was always present for them, a place where his name was proclaimed day in and day out. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe. He provided watchmen, prophets through whom he warned them of approaching danger, both physical and spiritual danger. Paul recites some of the great blessings God had showered on his vineyard. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. God planted Israel in a perfect place to display his splendor to the world, for the world power of Egypt was to the south and west, and the world powers of Assyria and Babylon were to the north and east. All the trade between these world powers had to pass through Israel, as did armies that wanted to make war against the other. Israel didn’t have to go to the world to proclaim the glory of the one true God, the world came to them. They were indeed a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
That was Israel, what about us? How do we compare? God has planted us in a wonderful location, in one of the wealthiest nations ever to have existed, where even the poorest among us have access not just to food and shelter, but heating and air conditioning, indoor plumbing, public or private transportation, and amazing communication devices. He has allowed us to enjoy peace and safety, freedom of movement, speech and religious expression like few other people in history have experienced. But more important than any of those things, he has planted his word in our hearts. He has brought us to know that he is the one and only true God, and that he loves us. He proved how much he loves us by sacrificing Jesus in our place and adopting us as his dear children and heirs with Jesus of eternal life. He has provided us with beautiful churches, but more importantly, with watchmen, pastors, teachers, and elders who proclaim and apply his word, help us grow in faith through the word, and warn us of spiritual danger. We are a planting of the Lord. He has showered us with physical and spiritual blessings galore that we are able to use to display his splendor in our homes, our towns and cities, and to the world. Very much like Israel, people from around the world are coming to us, to our schools and to our neighborhoods. We don’t want to stop taking the good news of the gospel to other countries, but we can look up and see that the fields are ripe for harvest right here too. Like Israel, we, God’s New Testament church, are richly blessed by God. We are a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
Whether we are God’s Old Testament planting or his New Testament planting, God is looking for, expecting good fruit from those he has so abundantly blessed. Considering all the hard work that he has done in providing everything needed to produce fruit and display his splendor, how did Israel do? What kind of fruit did they produce?
Instead of clusters of sweet grapes they produced sour, stinky, worthless grapes. What does that mean? Isaiah explains, He expected justice, but instead there was oppression. He expected righteousness, but there was an outcry.
He expected that people who knew his word, were blessed and loved by him, would point out what God calls evil and do all they could to avoid doing what God calls evil. They would heed his constant encouragement to protect the helpless and uphold the rights of the alien, the fatherless and the widow. That would be good fruit. But instead he saw those who claimed to know his word and to be loved by God doing what he calls evil; oppressing those who couldn’t help themselves for their own gain.
He expected that people who knew his word, were blessed and loved by him would treat people right. They would love everyone as God loves them. From a heart that was filled to overflowing with the unselfish love of God for them, they would let that love spill over to others. But instead he saw those who claimed to know his word, to be loved by him treating others wrongly so that the cry of those they abused was rising to heaven.
As a primary example, Jesus used his parable of the vineyard to point out that those God had sent as watchmen to collect his fruit were ignored and abused. And he foreshadowed what was in their hearts in regard to him. He was the son of the owner, but when he came to his own, his own did not receive him. He experienced the injustice of betrayal, false accusation, and finally execution.
You are a planting of the Lord. What more could he do for you than he has done? Not only has he showered you with physical blessings, he has kept his every promise and sacrificed his only son to pay for every debt you owe him. What kind of fruit are you producing? Is your life displaying his splendor, or are you using the blessings he has given you to gain splendor for yourself? Are you doing all you can to point out what God calls evil, or are you joining with those who do evil? Are you showing the kind of love to others that God has sown to you, or are you willing to misuse or mistreat others for your own advantage? In response to all God has done for you are you producing good fruit or sour grapes?
When Jesus finished his parable, the Chief Priests and Pharisees knew he was talking about them. They were the ones who were producing sour grapes. They were the ones who refused to give God the fruit he rightly expected. They were the ones who were planning to kill the son. But unlike David who saw himself in Nathan’s parable, they did not repent.
What about you? If we are honest, we have to ask the question, what more could God do for us? He has richly blessed us. He has given us the greatest blessing there could ever be. He has given us his son who has paid off our debt of sin in full. He has planted us as a vine in his beautiful vineyard through our baptism. He continues to shower us with this life-giving word and sacrament. Yet how often don’t we produce the sour grapes of injustice? How often don’t we move people to cry out to God for help because of our lack of love, because of our unrighteousness? Hopefully, we too see that these parables are talking about us, and with David, we say, “I have sinned. I have not produced good fruit. I have not done a good job of displaying his splendor.”
What a blessing that Jesus reminds us that the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Son who was thrown out of the vineyard and killed didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead on the third day just as he and the scriptures foretold. He has become the cornerstone. He is the foundation of God’s church, the foundation upon which God’s promise of forgiveness rests. He was righteous and just in our place. He took on himself the just punishment that we all deserve for not always producing the good fruit that God wants and rightly expects. He took on himself the punishment that we all deserve for the times that we have used his blessings to gain glory for ourselves rather than to proclaim his splendor. He took on himself the punishment that we all deserve for the times when we have not let the love that he has shown us flow from us to others. He took on himself the punishment we all deserve for the times when we have not carried out justice or acted in righteousness. He is the one, who as he began to suffer for our sins, called upon the Father to grant us forgiveness.
Considering all that God has done for us he has every right to expect us to produce good fruit. And even when we don’t, even when we produce the sour grapes of injustice and unrighteousness, even when we use what he has given us to gain things for ourselves instead of to display his splendor, he graciously points out our sinfulness, calls us to repentance, and tells us about how he has forgiven us in Jesus.
What more could he do for us! Stay close to God’s word and sacrament so that you are constantly reminded of his great love and goodness to you, and so that he may empower you to produce the good fruit of righteousness and justice; of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.