20th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 21:33-43 Sermon
October 2, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
158 "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord"
307 "Jesus Shall Reign Where'er The Sun"
242 "Christ Is Made The Sure Foundation"
168 "O God Our Help In Ages Past"
IF ONLY I HAD….
TEXT: (vs. 33-39) “…There was a householder 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. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying: ‘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 and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
Do you spend much time and energy blaming someone or something for your problems? Many people do.
Sometimes we blame our problems on our health or physical appearance. People often say, "If only I were..." prettier, healthier, or whatever.
Sometimes, we blame our problems on things. "If only I had..." something or other, we say. Maybe a new car. Maybe a home of my own. Maybe a different house in a better neighborhood. Plenty of people say, "I need some good crack cocaine or crystal meth," or “I need another drink.” Maybe money is the issue. Many people say, "Oh, I wish my pockets were deeper!"
I'll grant you, we need some of these things to live. Some physical things are necessities. Some physical things are luxuries. Some things, like illegal drugs, are absolutely wrong. But, however you classify them, they're all things. Physical necessities, luxuries, illegal substances: They're all things. The real question isn't what things do you need to improve your life. The basic question is this: Are you hitching your star to tangible objects? Do you blame your problems on things that you want but you don't have?
If so, and if you're in the habit of grumbling, "If only I had," then you should come clean. Admit what you really are. You're an idol worshipper! "What'd you say I am?" I said that you, myself, or anyone else who hitches their star to objects or things, is an idol worshipper. After all, what's an idol? An idol is a dumb, lifeless thing to which people devote themselves. In pagan lands, you find people giving their time, their energy, their affections to idols, to dumb and lifeless things. So now, you blame your problems on things? You go around thinking "If only I had..." this, that or whatever? You strain your energies to get things? Sounds to me like 21st century, western idolatry.
In our text for this morning, we find Jesus using a parable. It’s a parable of a vineyard owned by a man who lived a long ways off. He had tenants working that vineyard, and they became greedy. So greedy in fact, that they would not give the land owner his fair share of the income. The land owner sends numerous servants, only to have them beaten and cast out. Finally the land owner sends his son, and the tenants kill him.
The obvious parallel here is that the vineyard represents the world, God is the land owner, the people of the world are the tenants, the prophets are the servants, and Jesus is the son whom the tenants kill. That’s the obvious parallel.
However in this story, we see something else too. We see some of the more base elements of human behavior. We see things like jealousy, anger, murder, and idolatry. We see the sins of the human race. And of course, we are all members of it.
I’d like to illustrate this with another story from the Bible. The story is about another vineyard, in the Old Testament. This story is one of the great “If only I had…” stories of the Bible, that shows how wicked people can be when they are controlled by sin. It's a story that shows how ridiculous this crazy appetite is, that so many of us have for things.
The story is recorded for us in I Kings 21, and it is called Naboth’s Vineyard. I’m going to paraphrase it a bit, however I encourage you to read the entire account in I Kings 21 for yourself.
The story of Naboth begins like this. "There was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria." (I'll interrupt reading the story here to tell you that Ahab was one of the most evil kings to ever rule over ancient Israel. He's the bad guy in this story). "Ahab said to Naboth, 'Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.'" (No problem so far. Ahab wanted the vineyard and so he offered to buy it. But from this point on, Ahab's insatiable greed takes over.)
"But Naboth replied, 'The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.'
"So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, 'I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.' Ahab lay on his bed sulking and he refused to eat.
"His wife Jezebel (now there's a name you probably know. Jezebel. The name personifies evil, and you're going to see why.) Jezebel came in and asked him, 'Why are you so sullen? Why won't you eat?'
"He answered her, 'Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, 'Sell me your vineyard, or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'
"'Jezebel,' his wife said, 'Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up; I'll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.'
"So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city with him. In those letters she wrote: 'Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that Naboth has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.' (Now this is one wicked woman! and she's doing it all to satisfy her husband's crazy greed, "If only I had....")
"So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth's city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people saying, 'Naboth has cursed both God and the king.' So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: 'Naboth has been stoned and is dead.'
"As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, 'Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.' When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard."
That's the story of Naboth's vineyard. It's a classic. It shows how terribly far you can go when you're devoted to things. It shows how destructive it is to blame our problems on things you would like to have but don't. Yes, we all blame and yes, we sometimes blame our problems on things we'd like to have but we don't. But if your record gets stuck on "If only I had, If only I had, If only I had,” then you'll be sulking and pouting just like Ahab did. Worse, your desire for things you don't have might lead you into worse sins, as Ahab's desire led to the murder of Naboth. If there are things you want to have but you don't have now, there are better ways to deal with your desires than sulking, pouting, and blaming your problems on things.
The better way is to be patient and wait on the Lord. In due time, He may give you what you need. If He doesn't, then keep on being patient, keep on putting your energies into prayer; keep on telling Him what thing you need. Or at least, what thing you think you need. Hindsight often tells us that some of the things we think we need; we really didn't need at all. I'm sure Ahab's life wasn't any better when he got that coveted vineyard that he thought he just had to have.
Tell the Lord in prayer what you think you need and patiently wait for Him to respond. Instead of blaming your dissatisfaction on things you don't have, instead of sulking and pouting, instead of constantly griping, "If only I had...," put your energies into patiently waiting on the Lord.
This advice isn't something that I just thought up out of the clear blue sky. It's from the Bible, from the Word of God. In James chapter five God says, "Be patient, fellow Christians, until the Lord comes." Then God gives an example of someone who wants something he can't have right now. The Bible says in James 5, 7-9: "See how the farmer looks for the precious crop of the ground and waits patiently for it to receive the fall and the spring rains. Be patient also, and keep your courage, because the Lord will soon be here. Do not blame your troubles on one another, fellow Christians, or you will be judged. You know, the Judge is standing at the door."
That Judge is Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is going to come to judge the world. That's right. Someday, today, tomorrow, a thousand years from now, God only knows, someday, Jesus is going to be seen in the clouds of heaven and He's going to judge all people, the living and the dead.
Now when He comes, we don't want to be seen as an idolater, do we? We don't want to come before the One who judges our eternal destiny, the One who can welcome us to heaven or send us to hell, we don't want to come before Him as someone who put our time, our energy, and our affections into earthly and meaningless things, do we? We don't want to look around and see ourselves numbered with Ahab and Jezebel and all the others who sulked and pouted and blamed their problems on things, "If only I had..." We don't want that.
What we do want is for this great Judge of the living and the dead to smile on us, to speak a word of commendation on our lives, and to welcome us into the eternal joys of heaven. It will be that way for us when we patiently take all our needs and wants, all our unhappiness and complaints, all our faults and failures, and yes, all our sins, to the Lord Jesus Christ. He who will judge is above all, our Saviour.
He who will be the judge of idolaters is the One who has earned forgiveness for all of us sinners. He who holds our eternal destiny is the One who died for your sins and mine, so that we need not be punished eternally for what we have done wrong. And, that includes the times when we've blamed our unhappiness on things we didn't have.
Jesus, who died for you and me, was raised to life and ascended to heaven itself. Since He conquered death and now rules from heaven, He is certainly worthy to receive our faith and our patient prayers. This Lord Jesus Christ, after He had taken the blame for your sins and mine upon Himself on the cross and after His resurrection and ascension, today sends His Spirit and Word to us. He personally tells each one of us, "You are forgiven. You, your sins, your insatiable and sinful desire for things, this has all been forgiven."
It's all by Jesus Christ, and only by Jesus Christ. This is the Judge whom everyone is going to see someday. Before you see Him as judge, He wants you to believe in Him as your only Saviour. And, that will make an eternal difference. Jesus says in John 5:24: "I tell you the absolute truth; the person who listens to my word and believes Him who sent me has everlasting life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."
We can't blame our unhappiness on things we don't have. Instead, we put our patient trust in what we do have, which is the good news of Jesus Christ who hears our prayers now and one day will come to take us to His heavenly place of perfect joy and satisfaction.
A recent survey found that 96% of Americans think that "everyone has the right to freedom and prosperity." Well, I've got news for those 96%: Many of us aren't going to find great prosperity. With brains and hard work, we're always going to be tempted to say, "If only I had..." Just like old Ahab and Jezebel, so many people today are like the line from the old Simon and Garfunkel song: "And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made."
I don't know who it was, but someone has written the following item of interest: Money will buy:
A bed but not sleep
Books but not intelligence
Food but not an appetite
Finery but not beauty
A house but not a home
Medicine but not health
Luxuries but not culture
Amusements but not happiness.
Money and things can do so little. Jesus can do so much. As it says in John 3, 15: “That everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Let us pray.
O Lord Jesus, someday you’re going to come and judge this world. What will you find? May you find billions of people whose lives were lived with faith and patient trust in you! May you find people who treasured your Gospel more than they prized the material things of life. May you find people who met the disappointments of their lives with joy by thinking about your redeeming love. May you find people who knew that prayers were always heard by You their Saviour. And Lord, when you come to take your redeemed people home to the joys of heaven, may we be numbered among the faithful.