A Real Life Parable – 03.28.2021

[Luke 20]

A few years ago, in Amsterdam, an angry man rushed through a museum until he reached Rembrandt’s famous painting called “Nightwatch.” He took out a knife and slashed it repeatedly before he could be stopped by security. In the same way, a distraught, hostile man slipped into St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome with a hammer and began to smash Michelangelo’s beautiful sculpture called The Pieta. Two cherished works of art were severely damaged. Now what do the officials do when something like this happens? Throw them out? Forget about them? Absolutely not. Using the best experts in the world, who work with the utmost care and precision, they make every effort to restore the precious treasures. It’s fascinating because today I want to show you that there is a God in heaven who does the exact same thing with the broken pieces of YOUR life.

Today is part four of our sermon series called Overcoming Obstacles and other Extreme Sports. In our journey through Luke we have made it all the way to chapter 20. We are in the endgame now, and when we come back to this series in May, we will actually finish the book of Luke. I have sort of a strange thing to admit this morning. This sermon is better than I am, it’s better than me. What I mean is that this past week I was studying the text and I discovered something incredibly beautiful, and there’s layers and parallels and depth. And when I saw it in the scriptures, it almost made me sad – because I know in the limits of my preaching ability, I’m not going to be able to fully capture what I saw. And so, as we begin, I want you to know what I’m trying to do today is point you to something I found in the scriptures and you won’t be able to fully grab onto it unless you spend some time in those scriptures yourself. I don’t say it every week, but I hope you do it every week – always read the text for yourself. Spend some time with God, and I’ll be praying that he shows you, what he showed me. And I’m just not sure I can fully capture that in my little message for you this morning.

In addition to our sermon series, today is also Palm Sunday, and so I’m going to back up just a little bit to show you the end of chapter 19. Jesus has now arrived at Jerusalem. This the big finale to the show, and he sends his disciples to go grab him a donkey he can ride into the city. So they get the donkey and it says, [read v.35-40]. So it’s like a party, right? People are just losing their minds – cheering and crying out to Jesus. Calling him the king, the one who brings peace and glory. And as with all parties, in the corner you’ve got your grumps. The Pharisees tell him, “tell your people to stop.” And Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Jesus’ name will be praised. He is glorious and worthy of worship and if we don’t do it – the rocks will cry out. I love that. And that’s a familiar picture. This is classic Palm Sunday. Jesus, donkey, palms, crying out, rocks – that’s the story.
But look what comes immediately afterwards. In the book of Luke, there’s no Segway, just jumps right into, [read v.41-42]. Jesus takes a look at the city of Jerusalem, and he breaks down in tears. Wishing they could see what’s in front of them. He says, if you could only recognize the things that make for peace. He’s basically telling Jerusalem, this story is almost over and most of you have missed it. Jesus is the one that makes peace. The presence of Jesus is what makes peace with God, peace in your heart, and peace in your life. I wish you could see the things that make for peace. [read v.43-44]. He predicts destruction, because they didn’t recognize the time of visitation from God. And there’s different levels to it. One the one hand, this is true in our lives. Without Jesus who brings us peace, there is destruction and pain in our lives. We go through a world of hurt without Jesus. But, on the other hand, I don’t know if you know this – but the actual city of Jerusalem gets destroyed just a couple decades after the resurrection. So he could be talking about the peace that Jesus brings to our hearts and our lives, OR he could be putting out a little prophecy about the actual city of Jerusalem. He sees the city, and he weeps. They did not recognize what would bring them peace. They did not recognize the time of visitation from God. They did not recognize Jesus.

[read v.45-48]. Jesus takes a little pitstop to drive out people who were selling things in the church. His passion for the church is amazing. He will not allow people to take advantage of the house of God. But then look at what it says in verse 47 [read v.47]. So Jesus enters Jerusalem – has a little cry session, has a little “beat up the bad guys” session, and he settles in a rhythm where he teaches in the temple every day. And every day he’s there, the chief priests, scribes and other leaders are trying to find ways to kill him. Now I want you to remember that, because that’s going to be very important as we look at chapter 20.

Now this is a little bit tricky, but very cool. Chapter 20, Jesus gives us a parable called the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. But what’s amazing is that he gives them the parable in the middle – while he is living – the parable. Parables are stories where all the pieces represent stuff, and supposed to teach us a lesson, right? SO he gives us the parable, and in my quest to discover what does the parable means – I realized that he is describing what he is going through at that exact moment. Let me show you what I mean.

Verse 9, [read v.9-16]. So that’s the parable. Man planted a vineyard, gave it to some tenants and then went away for a long time. He sent a slave, he sent a messenger, but the tenants beat him up and sent him back. The Tenants forgot who was in charge. They forgot who owns the vineyard. So he sends another slave, this time the tenants insult him and beat him up and send him back. Still a third time the owner sends a messenger, and they wound him and send him home. So the vineyard owner thinks long and hard – how can I reach my people? I’ll send my son. By now, you probably start to see the parable, right? God is the vineyard owner, we are the tenants. Jesus is the messenger. And every time Jesus comes to us, instead of listening, we beat him up and send him away.

Now, three times the tenants beat up the messenger, before they kill the son. Then I started to look at the rest of the chapter. Do you remember how the end of chapter 19 said that all the chief priests and scribes and leaders were looking for ways to kill Jesus? The whole rest of the chapter is basically like watching the wicked tenants try to beat up Jesus. Three times the tenants beat up the messenger before they kill the son. Three times the scribes and chief priests approach Jesus trying to trap him, before Friday gets here. Verse 19 tells us, [read v.19]. In chapter 20, Jesus gives us the parable of the wicked tenant, but he gives it to us – while he is LIVING it, in all the verses around the parable.

Wicked Tenant Number 1 – verses 1 through 8. [read v.1-7]. See, what I want you to notice is that it almost doesn’t matter what the question is – they don’t actually care about the answer. They are just looking for a way to kill Jesus. They frame like “I have some honest questions about you, before I can trust you with my life” – but secretly they never were going to trust Jesus. They are just searching for an excuse to reject him. And I can’t help but wonder how often do we do this to Jesus. I know there are moments in life when we have real questions, and that’s a good thing – to ask questions and seek answers. But how often do we come to Jesus, wanting to reject him. We tell ourselves we have questions, but underneath it – we just want an excuse to reject Jesus. First question was about authority and the baptism of John. (As if that mattered). Wicked Tenant number 2, verse 20-26, [read v.20-22]. Now I want you to see this for what it is. They want to paint Jesus as a rebel leader against Rome. They want the Romans to kill him, so they’re trying to get him to slip up, and again – the question is not even important. They are only asking because they want an excuse to reject him. [read v.23-26].

Wicked Tenant number 3 is right after that, where it says [read v.27-33]. The third time they come to try and beat him up, they ask him this obscure technical question about heaven. Basically, if a woman marries several men during her life, in heaven – whose wife will she be. And again, for the third time, the question doesn’t matter – because when we are in heaven, in the presence of the eternal glory of God, a little thing like marriage is not going to be an obstacle. Now, if you’re actually curious – Jesus does give the answer. There is no marriage in heaven. Which is kind of crazy, but there’s no more “til death do us part” because there’s no more death. There’s no more parting. Three times the wicked tenants try to beat up Jesus. And for a moment, I have a sense of victory. Yeah, they wanted to beat him up, they wanted to reject him – but he was too smart for them. He amazed them and they couldn’t beat him. It almost feels like a victory. But then I remember the end of the parable. I remember what happens on Friday.

Jesus says, [read v.17]. The parable of the wicked Tenants is the story of what happened to Jesus during holy week. But there’s another layer that I want you to see. That parable is also the parable of each of our lives. We are the wicked tenant. You are the wicked tenant. I know I am. How many times in my life has Jesus come to me, asking for my heart, and how many times have I beat up the messenger and sent him away empty handed. It’s easy to look at the wicked tenants who throw out the messengers sent by the vineyard owner and think, “Oh, I would never do that.” Or to look at the scribes and the pharisees and sadducees and think, “they just wanted an excuse to reject Jesus, because they’re the bad guys. I’m not one of the bad guys.” But the truth is that in every single one of our lives we have had a moment where we thought, “I want to be in charge, not you God. Me.” I want to build my house on a foundation of me. I get to be in charge. I decide when I want to be honest or good or selfish, I decide who I sleep with and when, I decide whether I want to be generous with my money or not, I decide who I serve in my life. Me, I’m the boss, I’m the god, I’m the owner of the vineyard. I’m going to build my life on me. Jesus looked at Jerusalem, a city of builders trying to build their life on a cornerstone of self-obsession. And he wept. Jesus said, “if only you could recognize what will bring you peace. If only you would recognize the time of your visitation from God.” If only you would build your life on the true cornerstone that will last.

The good news this morning is that God sent his son to die. In the parable of our real lives, God reaches out to us. And when we rejected his message over and over, we refused to submit to his authority. So God sent his son. Now here’s the final level of the story. The final layer I want to show you. In the parable Jesus told, the vineyard owner sends his son, and they kill him. Then the vineyard owner destroys the wicked tenants. The parable is Jesus’ real life – they try to attack him three different times, and then at the end of the week they kill him. But what happens then? Next Sunday. Does the son stay dead? And the vineyard owner comes in and destroys the wicked tenants? No… remember the resurrection! In the real story of Jesus’ life, he rises from the dead and offers forgiveness and new life to the tenants. Where the world might expect vengeance and punishment because we rejected the message – Jesus turns it around and offers forgiveness instead! The grace of God radicalizes the parable. Another way to say that might be, “the stone that the builder rejected has become the cornerstone.” God sent his son Jesus, on purpose, to die, so that he could rise. Jesus takes rejection and failure and death and turns it around in order to offer you forgiveness. God sent the stone, to be rejected, so that He would become the cornerstone.

Today is the beginning of a journey. In each of our lives we walk through Holy Week over and over. We all have our Palm Sundays – days where we rejoice and praise Jesus. Hosannah! We wave our arms and everything seems right with the world. Palm Sundays are the good days. We all have our Maundy Thursdays, where Jesus gets arrested, things get hard and we abandon him. We all have our Good Fridays in life, where our sin – the stuff we’ve done – we are a part of the death of Jesus. We all have days where we have been the wicked tenant. Those moments when we reject the authority of God. We throw away the foundation he offers us and try to make ourselves the center of our own universe. We’ve all done it. We rejected Jesus, we rejected the stone.

There’s an old story, I tried to verify that it was true, but it was so long ago – it’s become more like a legend. But in Scotland there used to be this huge mansion, where people would take vacations – sort of like a summer getaway for rich and famous people. One of the rooms was like a dining room, like a restaurant. As the story goes, someone bumped a waiter and he spilled a pitcher of soda water which left a really ugly stain on the wall. At the time, at a different table was Lord Edwin Landseer – who was a very famous artist in the mid 1800’s – and he asked, “Can I try to fix that?” And the legend holds that he took a piece of charcoal and with a few masterful strokes the ugly spot became the outline of a beautiful waterfall, bordered by trees and wildlife. He turned the disfigured wall into one of his most successful depictions of Highland life.[1] He took that ugly stain, and transformed it. That’s what God did with the resurrection. He took the ugly story of a real life parable, and transformed it into something incredible. And the whole point of all this complicated sermon, the whole point of literally everything I’ve said up front this morning – is to help you realize that God can do the same thing with your rejection.

We have all been the wicked tenant at some point. Maybe we are the first wicked tenant – questioning his authority – who are you Jesus, who do you think you are? Or maybe we are the second – trying to pit Jesus against the culture and politics of power. Or maybe we are like the third tenant – hung up on some obscure detail of faith, about what does heaven look like. But really the questions never mattered, we just needed a reason to abandon Jesus, like the disciples did. We have been the wicked tenants. We have held the hammer as the nails pierced his hands. But Easter is coming. It’s been a long journey to get here, but Easter is coming. The resurrection of Jesus takes the stone that we rejected and makes it the cornerstone. It takes the love that we threw away and makes it our foundation. What I’m trying to say is that if you’ve ever made a mistake in your life. If you’ve ever gone up against what Jesus teaches, challenged his authority, walked away from him, sinned against him, for whatever reason – Jesus offers you a second chance. Easter is coming. The resurrection changes the whole story.

The application today, the challenge I have for each of you is to let your cornerstone cry out. Let your cornerstone cry out. When Jesus wept for Jerusalem, there were two things that he wished for his people. First – he wanted them to recognize what makes for peace. If you want peace with God, and peace in your life – you need Jesus. Only Jesus can give us a connection to God, only the radical transforming love of a risen savior can set us right with the vineyard owner. Recognize what makes for peace. You need a connection to the peace maker, a connection to Jesus Christ. The second thing Jesus cried out was, “recognize your visitation from God.” If you want to put one stone on top of another stone – you’ve got to see how God has been working in your life. So I guess the challenge for this week is basically – keep your eyes open. Recognize what makes for peace, and recognize what God is doing in your life.

When someone destroys a masterpiece, you don’t throw it out. Because it’s a masterpiece, it is worth restoring. When we destroy our lives, with bad decisions, bad actions, walking away from God, God doesn’t throw our lives away. Because God is painting a masterpiece with your life. He takes the stain on the wall that we’ve created and transforms it into something beautiful. And I want to leave you with this. Easter is coming. The stone we rejected has become the cornerstone. So let that cornerstone cry out. Amen.

[1] Swindoll, The Quest For Character, Multnomah, p. 49.

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