Prepare Our Hearts – June 2, 2021

A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead.  If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Mark 12:1-12

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected 

   has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the Lord’s doing, 
   and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.”

If you asked a person off the street what the difference is between the Old and New Testament, chances are they would mention that in the Old Testament, God is depicted as a God of wrath, while in the New Testament, Jesus reveals His Father as a God of love. But I’m not so sure it is just random people who are unfamiliar with the Bible who think in these terms. If I am being completely honest, I have a tendency to think about God like this also, and to some extent, it makes sense. When we think of God in the Old Testament the first things that come to our mind are usually great displays of His power: flooding the earth; sending plagues upon Egypt; parting the Red Sea; crushing Pharaoh’s army; demolishing the walls of Jericho; empowering the Israelites to conquer Canaan.

It is true; God is a God of justice and power and His mighty wrath is clearly seen in the Old Testament. But in Exodus 33, when Moses pleads for the Lord to show him His glory, the Lord responds in a rather surprising way. Instead of saying, “Don’t you remember how I rescued you from slavery and parted the sea,” He instead replies in verse 19, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Then, God actually shows up in 34:6-7 and we read, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

So who is God in the Old Testament? How should we think of Him? When God shows up and describes Himself, He presents Himself as a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. God defines Himself by His unbelievable goodness. And, just as we read in the book of Hebrews about Jesus, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The Old Testament God is the New Testament God.

As Jesus spoke with a gathering crowd of religious leaders and Pharisees, He told a parable about a vineyard. In the parable, a wealthy man plants and fortifies a great vineyard and leases it out to sharecroppers. In exchange for living on and working a land that does not belong to them, the farmers agree to split the harvest with the owner of the vineyard. Everyone knows the deal from the beginning, and yet when it is time to collect their rent, the tenants rebel. The servant sent to bring back payment is beaten and sent away with nothing. Then the owner sends another, and another, and “many others.” Sometimes they beat the servants, and sometimes they are even killed.

Now, as Jesus is telling the parable, everyone in His listening audience certainly would be growing more and more upset. How dare these foolish renters treat the vineyard owner and his servants with such disdain! Who do they think they are? Don’t they know this is treason? Why did the owner not immediately come and seize back control of his rightful property and destroy the wicked after their initial rejection of the first servant?

And yet, the owner did not retaliate after the rejection of the first servant, nor the second, nor with the many others who were beaten, mocked, or killed. He continued to give them chance after chance after chance to repay what they owed. Finally, the owner sends his “beloved” son, the rightful heir of the vineyard, to make one final plea for restoration. As the son drew near, the wicked tenants thought that if they could just get rid of him, the vineyard would be theirs once and for all. Like the others that came before him, they killed the son and desecrated his body. What did the owner do now? He came with all of his might and power, destroying the tenants and giving what they thought belonged to them away to others.

The incredible thing about this parable is not that the owner destroyed the tenants—they clearly had it coming to them—but the remarkable patience he displayed in the process. Even the Pharisees understood that the owner of the vineyard was the Lord and Jesus was the Son. Martin Luther wrote of this passage: “If I were God, and the world had treated me as it treated Him, I would kick the wretched thing to pieces.” I agree with Luther, and I would have done so after the very first rejection, not waited until they had a chance to take the life of my beloved child.

What is the point of the story? What is Jesus teaching the religious leaders of His day? Simply this: God has been abundantly gracious and merciful. In His power and might He created the world and placed His people in it as stewards. From the beginning nothing ever belonged to them, all belonged to God, but not only did the people reject Him as their God, they continued to reject Him again and again and again. They despised His Word and rejected His messengers, and actually believed that they were the final arbiters of all that was right and good. The religious leaders had twisted the law of God into something that was possible for them to keep, but impossible for others. And when Jesus—God’s beloved Son, chief cornerstone, and Word made flesh—arrived on the scene and exposed their self-serving hypocrisy, they rejected Him as well.

God is gracious and merciful, but He is slow to anger, not “never” angry. God loves His children, and He wants great things for them, but to reject the Son is to reject the Father who sent Him. The religious leaders heard Jesus’ message and understood its meaning, and yet still they did not repent. As they left and went away, they did so with contempt on their lips and murder in their hearts.

But remember, the message of the parable is not to warn us of God’s wrath, rather it is to remind us of His mercy. The Pharisees and scribes were not the only ones to reject Him. You and I and every person born on this earth have rejected God. But God was not content with merely destroying the wicked, instead He made the way for His righteous wrath to be fully satisfied in another way, the way of the cross. The Son did not come to collect payment on behalf of the Father, but to become the very payment that was owed to the Father. The perfect Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Anyone who looks to the Son, and trusts in His cross, has life forevermore.

Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we believe that You are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Yet we also believe that we have done nothing to earn Your mercy and favor. Thank you for doing what we could never do for ourselves, and empower us to share this glorious message with the world. We ask in Your wonderful name, Amen.