Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Vineyard and the Stone

Mark 12:1-12

Delivered 02/25/2007

The Bible often uses pictures and images to help us grapple with truth. The prophets and wisdom writers of Scripture leave us with so many of these that have woven their way into the fabric of our thinking. Seeing the Lord as our Shepherd or as our Rock of Refuge or our Hiding Place or the Lamb of God help us in understanding what God in Christ has done on our behalf. In our text this morning the Lord gives us two pictures: that of a vineyard and that of a Corner Stone.

If you remember, in our last study Jesus was "walking in the temple," and the "the chief priests, the scribes and the elders" approached Him and began to question His authority. Jesus answered their question with a question about John the Baptizer's authority which they refused to answer because they were afraid their answer would upset the people:

And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Mark 11:33 NASB)

It is unfortunate that a chapter break was put here. This is not a new subject but a continuation of our Lord's discussion with the Sanhedrin on the question of authority:

And He began to speak to them in parables: "A man PLANTED A VINEYARD, AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. (Mark 12:1 NASB)

As they questioned Jesus' authority, Jesus painted them another picture. It was a picture of a vineyard. Everyone understood what this vineyard represented. The vine, along with the fig tree, was a national symbol for Israel. As a matter of fact, at the very Temple where Jesus stood, there was a richly carved grape vine. This grape vine was sculpted around the door which opened into the holy place. It was seventy cubits high. The branches and leaves were made of the finest gold. The grapes were very costly jewels. It was first placed there by Herod, and over time, rich and patriotic Jews added to its glory by contributing a new grape or a new leaf. The vine was an exceedingly meaningful symbol for the Jews.

In this parable, the vineyard is Israel, the owner is God, the tenant farmers are the Jewish leaders, the slaves are the prophets that are sprinkled throughout Israel's history that the leadership has always rejected, and the only son is of course Jesus. Here we have a veiled prediction that Jesus would be killed by the religious leadership of His day. Jesus' authority comes from His Father who sent Him just as the son in the parable received his authority from his father. Thus Jesus was claiming higher authority than those in the Sanhedrin, who were mere renters in the unfolding plan of God. The claim of any one man to have authority greater than the Sanhedrin would have shocked a first century Jew.

And He began to speak to them in parables: "A man PLANTED A VINEYARD, AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. (Mark 12:1 NASB)

"He began to speak to them"­ In context, "them" clearly means to the deputation from the Sanhedrin. But as the whole incident had taken place in front of crowds of people, it also included the crowds.

Jesus begins His parable with a very familiar hallmark of the Middle Eastern agriculture, a vineyard. Jesus is quoting the opening stanzas of the parable of Isaiah Chapter 5, but makes a different application than the one found in that prophecy. His hearers would have recognized it from the start.

Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 And He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it, And hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. 3 "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. 4 "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? 5 "So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 "And I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it." 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress. (Isaiah 5:1-7 NASB)

God had, at the exodus, planted Israel, as it were. The Law of Moses defined that which God expected from His people. Seven hundred years later the Messiah Himself amplified that same message as He spoke to the dwellers of Jerusalem and to the men of Judah. He told them another parable and as He mentioned the buzz word "vineyard," they immediately knew He was talking about them.

Until we get to the end of the stanza, the words of Christ are almost verbatim. In the case of Isaiah's parable, the vineyard represented the house of Israel and the choice vine, Judah (Isaiah. 5:7). The point of the parable was that God had made every provision for Israel to live as the people of God, having protected them and nurtured them through many years. Yet the nation produced "worthless" grapes, and would therefore meet with the judgment of the Lord.

And He began to speak to them in parables: "A man PLANTED A VINEYARD, AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. (Mark 12:1 NASB)

Consider this lord's attention to detail as Jesus tells this parable: He put a strong wall around it to keep the wild boars from rooting up everything he'd planted and to discourage thieves making off with his crops. He dug a pit for the winepress; one shallow pit where the bunches of grapes were crushed, and one deeper pit to hold the juice as it flowed in. He built a watchtower for shelter, storage, and as a vantage point from which men could see the whole vineyard. He thought of everything; all provision was made for a great harvest and prosperity for the farmers. This was Israel in the holy land He had promised to Abraham when he left Ur. This was the land flowing with milk and honey to which He brought Israel after redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. Under Joshua, He planted His people in this land. There He left them for 1,400 years, or as Jesus says it in this parable, he "went on a journey."

In the Targum of Isaiah (the Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures), the tower is interpreted as the Temple. Thus many of His listeners would recognize the association of what He was saying regarding the Temple, and that His words thus included those who ran the Temple.

It was very common in the first century for an owner of a vineyard to leave, to go on trips, and not even live in the area. He would simply hire someone to (what we would call) manage the vineyard. Every year a percentage of the produce would go back to the owner. But if over a period of five years no produce went back to the owner, the manager assumed ownership of the vineyard. This was put in place in case an owner went on a trip and died. They did not have all the communication we have today. After five years it would be evident that he was not coming back, and they would take over ownership of the vineyard.

"And at the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. 3 "And they took him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 "And again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. 5 "And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some, and killing others. (Mark 12:2-5 NASB)

The word "vine-growers" is from the Greek word georgos, which can refer either to the owner of a farm, or in this case, to one who does agricultural work on a contractual basis. It is translated "Tenant" (NIV) or "husbandman" (KJV).

In this parable who do the vine-growers represent? The Sanhedrin or religious leaders of Israel, while the vineyard is nation of Israel itself. Somewhere along the way the vine-growers decided they wanted to be the owners. They took over the vineyard. Over and over again, God sent His prophets, who are the "slaves" of the parable. The nation, through its leaders, consistently rejected the prophets, rejecting them and their message. Rather than responding to them, they would beat them. They would even kill them. Prophet after prophet after prophet was sent and rejected.

We think of the 5th century prophet Jeremiah who received bitter treatment from the religious and political leaders in Judah­even being left for dead in a muddy cistern:

Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king's son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud. (Jeremiah 38:6 NASB)

Zechariah prophesied, being the son of Jehoiada, the godly priest that elevated the young Joash to Judah's throne after the tyranny of Queen Athaliah, and after prophesying, was murdered at the order of Joash who had turned away from the Lord (2 Chronicles 24:20-22). Israel and Judah resisted the merciful warnings of the prophets, again, taking matters into their own hands.

Elijah was driven into the wilderness by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Isaiah, as tradition has it, was sawn in half. John the Baptist had his head removed. This was the fate of many of the prophets; notice what the writer of Hebrews says:

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:37-38 NASB)

Commenting on Jesus' parable in Mark 12 Luther said, "If I were God and the world treated me as it treated him, I would kick the wretched thing to pieces." What would you do if this was your vineyard? Would you send in the troops? Would you round up your militia and march on those vine-growers and butcher all of them? Listen to what Jesus says:

"He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' (Mark 12:6 NASB)

What man would ever do that?

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. (Romans 5:7 NASB)

One would hardly die for a righteous man or a good man let alone a bunch of murdering mutinous vine-growers. Do you know what the next verse in Romans says?

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NASB)

There never was a more loving Father, and there never was a more loved Son. There had never been a time when the Father did not love the Son; He was the eternally begotten beloved one. In the beginning, before anything else began, He was there, and He was loved infinitely and unchangeably and immeasurably by His Father. They were always together, being loved and loving in return.

Jesus, in this parable, is telling His audience that He is not a prophet; He is the Son. That is the basis of His authority. He owns the vineyard. He has been sent by His Father to possess what is His. But they will reject Him and put Him to death:

"But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!' (Mark 12:7 NASB)

Instead of respecting His Son, the vine-growers saw an opportunity to take the vineyard for themselves. I suppose they assumed that since the son was coming alone, the father had died. They figured that if they killed the last heir, they would be able to take possession of the vineyard. So they took this son and killed him:

"And they took him, and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:8 NASB)

The implication in the story was absolutely clear. Now the Son had come to Israel, and they were fulfilling this prophetic parable exactly as our Lord described. They had failed to hear the long line of prophets that God had sent. Now they would reject the word of the Son, and they would kill Him. Jesus is prophesying His own death at the hands of these religious leaders. In a few short days, they will deliver Him to their own authorities and condemn Him to death.

Jesus is describing to them who they are, and what they are doing. And, indirectly, He is answering their question, "By what authority do you do these things?" He says, "Here is my authority: I am the owner of the vineyard. I am the rightful heir to it. I am the beloved Son whom the Father has sent.

"What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. (Mark 12:9 NASB)

Mark's account makes it look as though Jesus answers His own question, but Matthew makes it clear that Jesus asks the question, and it is the scribes and the chief priests who give the answer. Jesus tells the story, and says, "Now, in that story, what will the owner of the vineyard do?" Matthew records that the scribes and chief priests said,

They said to Him, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons." (Matthew 21:41 NASB)

Imagine this! Jesus is saying that He is the Son of God, that He comes in God's authority, that they will kill Him, and that God will not only destroy them, but He will give their leadership to the Gentiles. Notice how Luke's account renders this:

"He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others." And when they heard it, they said, "May it never be!" (Luke 20:16 NASB)

The response of the Lord's hearers is "May it never be!" This is from the Greek words me ginomai--"God forbid!" This is the only place in the gospels that this expression, common to Paul, appears. It is a thought almost too horrible to consider.

"He will come and destroy the vine-growers"­ Historically, how did God destroy the "vine-growers"? Forty years later, Roman armies came in, surrounded the city of Jerusalem and captured it, and the chief priests, the scribes and the elders were led away in chains into captivity, to be dispersed among the nations. God did exactly what He said He would do in this parable.

"And will give the vineyard to others"­God, through the Gospel, was preparing a new nation, which would take the place of the old in which only Jews and proselytes participated. That new nation was to create one new man from both Jew and Gentile through the work of the cross (Ephesians 2:11-22), and so create one brand new nation which relied not upon natural descent from one man but a spiritual rebirth in the one Man, Jesus Christ, bringing harmony to all true children of God. There's now no difference between Jew and Gentile (Col. 3:11, Rom. 10:12, Gal. 3:28, Acts 10:34-35) because the nation of God is built around Jesus­ it's become no longer geographical but multi-national.

Jesus then applied the lesson of the parable by an appeal to the Scriptures in typical Rabbinic manner. This method of finishing off a parable with a Scripture quotation is regularly found among the Rabbis.

"Have you not even read this Scripture: 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; 11 THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'?" (Mark 12:10-11 NASB)

Jesus questioned whether or not these religious leaders in Israel had even read the Scriptures' teaching on Messiah! That was quite a dig aimed at the chief biblical scholars of Jesus' day.

Do you remember in chapter 11 that on the triumphant entry, people quoted from:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. (Psalms 118:26 NASB)

Jesus pulled out His own quote from Psalm 118:

The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. (Psalms 118:22 NASB)

He is saying, This very Son that you are rejecting will become the cornerstone of the new temple, of the New Covenant--of a whole new way of life.

Notice who it is that rejects this stone: it's the "builders!" Who should have known a good stone when they saw one? The builders! This referred to the religious leaders, those who should have understood the Scriptures. Yet due to their spinning of God's Word to create a religion of self-dependence in legalism, they rejected Jesus Christ.

"THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED"­ the word "rejected" is apodokimazo, which means: "to reject (after scrutiny), declare useless." The rulers didn't just make a quick judgment error on the spur of the moment. This word indicates that they had a chance to examine the "stone" carefully and then reject it after reflection.

They were like a bunch of stonemasons, Jesus says, who thought a stone was useless. They studied it and decided that it was the wrong size and the wrong shape and the wrong materials: "Discard it!" they said, and they turned their backs on it, but it turned out to be the cornerstone, the most important stone in the building, but they could never see that. They put a big stamp on it, "REJECTED." They scrutinized Jesus Christ. They saw His holy life and miraculous works. They witnessed His power over demons. They heard His life-giving words. Yet because Jesus Christ did not fit the pattern they had in mind for a Savior, they rejected Him.

They look at this Galilean rabbi, and they think that He is merely in the way. A stone to be rejected and cast aside. What they cannot realize is that this stone is to become the foundation stone for God's covenant people.

"THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER STONE"­ When we think of modern day builders laying a corner stone, it is generally a small concrete box that contains current newspapers and other documents for future generations to break open and read about what took place during the era of construction. But it didn't have that idea in Jesus time. The corner stone was the key to the rest of the structure. The appropriate stone in size and shape would be placed strategically so that the rest of the building might take its alignment and form based on the corner stone.

With this metaphor, the biblical writers established that the kingdom God built would be founded upon Jesus Christ. Every detail in its dimensions, shape, size, and form relates directly to Christ. Without the corner stone, the building has no value. Paul expressed this clearly:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NASB)

Christ is the corner stone to such a degree that "the whole building," all the redeemed through the ages, are fitted and joined together into one, "holy temple in the Lord."

Peter picks up on the same thought:

And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 NASB)

Just as Paul did, Peter describes the body of believers as "a spiritual house" or a temple that exists for the worship, praise, declaration, and glory of our Lord. We're "living stones" that are joined to Jesus Christ "the living stone." He follows in the next verse by declaring Christ "a precious corner stone."

For this is contained in Scripture: "BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." (1 Peter 2:6 NASB)

Now, what is specifically implied in corner stone? We are not just built upon the person of Christ, as grand and wonderful as He is as the God-man. He is the corner stone, rejected by men­that is put to death on the cross and raised from the dead by the Father because He was our substitute before the wrath of God at the cross and in the resurrection.

THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'?" (Mark 12:11 NASB)

"And it is marvelous in our eyes." The present tense implies constant amazement on the part of all that understand what God has done in Christ on behalf of sinners. "Marvelous" translates a word meaning: "wonder, amazement," or something that is "an object of wonder".

These verses in Mark 12:10-11 are quoted from Psalm 118:22-23. Do you know what the next verse in Psalms is?

This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalms 118:24 NASB)

We sing this Scripture as if it's the day in which we're singing that's what we should rejoice over. While this is a good thing to do, it's the day of the rejection of the Messiah which the reader is to rejoice over, that God had it in His mind to seal the salvation of His people through the One being crucified on their behalf. The encouragement is to praise God for the work of the cross rather than for the literal twenty-four hour period in which we're singing it.

After quoting from Psalm 118 both Matthew and Luke add this:

"Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." (Luke 20:18 NASB)

Having established Psalm 118:22 as messianic, Jesus connects it with two other messianic verses about the stone. Isaiah 18:14-15 refers to stumbling on that Stone and Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45 refers to being crushed by it. The Son is on the one hand, a "stone of stumbling," a cause of stumbling to the Jews. This was our Lord's role at that moment in time. In a "passive" way (the stone didn't move, men stumbled over it), Jesus was a stumbling block to men who refused to acknowledge their sin and their need of a Savior. But this passive "stone of stumbling," whom the builders (the leaders of the nation) rejected, will also be an active agent in their destruction. Now, He is viewed as a moving stone, a falling stone that crushes and grinds His enemies:

"And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 "Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true, and its interpretation is trustworthy." (Daniel 2:44-45 NASB)

There is nothing enigmatic or hidden in this parable that Jesus gives to the Sanhedrin. This was "in your face" stuff. The teachers of the law, chief priests and elders flinched at the conclusion of Jesus' words because they knew that they didn't come out of this parable well. Nobody said, "What does all that mean?" as the disciples had asked almost three years earlier at the end of Jesus' parable of the sower. The men in the temple knew exactly what He meant:

And they were seeking to seize Him; and yet they feared the multitude; for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him, and went away. (Mark 12:12 NASB)

They knew this parable was about them, but because they were afraid of the people, they did nothing except walk away. They would settle this in a few days when they would arrest the Son and have him put to death just as Jesus predicted they would.

I want to close this morning by skipping ahead in time about two months to Acts 4. This would have been just a couple of months after the resurrection of Jesus. This would have happened in Jerusalem where all of these events took place. I think it would be fair to say that many of the religious leaders in Acts chapter 4 would have been the same religious leaders from the discussion a month before in the Gospel of Mark. In chapter 3, Peter and John heal a lame beggar in front of the crowd. Everybody knows it; everybody confirms it. Then chapter Acts 4:

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. 5 And it came about on the next day, that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; (Acts 4:1-5 NASB)

This is just months later from the discussion in Mark; these are the same people.

and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 And when they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-- by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone. (Acts 4:6-11 NASB)

Where do you suppose Peter got that answer?

"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." 13
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. (Acts 4:12-14 NASB)

The leaders of Israel are speechless; they have no reply.

But when they had ordered them to go aside out of the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 crying, "What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 "But in order that it may not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any man in this name." (Acts 4:15-17 NASB)

Isn't that remarkable! We are now a few months after the discussion in the Gospel of Mark. These are the same men. Now the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus have taken place. The evidence is so overwhelming that thousands upon thousands of people are turning to Jesus. These religious leaders confer together and say the fact that these men did a miracle is unmistakable: "Everybody knows it; we cannot deny it." In other words, there is no question this is true. At that point what we would like to hear is: "We were wrong." But what do they say? "We must shut them up so no one else will know." These men were blind; they rejected the Messiah and He crushed them to powder.

We are just a few days from the cross and things are really heating up. We are going to hear much more about God's judgement on the nation Israel.

What attribute of God stands out in this parable? Wrath! God is just!

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36 NASB)

Don't end up like the religious elite of Israel; trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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