The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 22, 2017
Live A Fruitful Life!
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As many of you know my wife Brenda loves to plant a garden every year. When we lived in Michigan I used to tell the children that when Mom is in her garden, leave her alone. That particular plot of ground is like her personal private sanctuary. She loves her garden. Before we moved here to California my entire contribution to the garden consisted of tilling it up— twice— and then helping to put up the fence to keep the bunny rabbits out. Every year mom’s garden does very well. Now while I used to tell people that the bounty of our garden was in direct proportion to how well that garden was tilled, in reality I realized how small my contribution was. Brenda is the one who plants and weeds and waters and fertilizes and dusts for bugs. She is the one who does all the work.
Now can you imagine what it would be like if we went through that whole process of preparing the soil, planting the seeds, watering and fertilizing and weeding on a regular basis but the garden produced absolutely nothing— or at least nothing but more and more weeds? If you can imagine the heartbreak a scenario like that would cause then our sermon text for today will be very easy for you to apply to your own heart and to your own life.
Today in this Old Testament parable the voice of the Lord God Himself is calling out to you and to me saying: Live a Fruitful Life! There are three things we want to see this morning. First, we want to see that God expects us to produce the fruits of faith in our life. Second, we want to see that God examines and judges the fruits of faith in our life. Finally, we want to see how God motivates us to produce the fruits of faith in our life.
The prophet Isaiah lived during a very turbulent time in the history of God’s Old Testament people. About twenty years after Isaiah was called to serve as a prophet of the Lord the Assyrians destroyed and deported the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God had allowed this to take place because of the wickedness and the idolatry of the people of the Northern Kingdom. After the fall of Samaria in the north Isaiah, who lived and worked mainly in the city of Jerusalem, clearly proclaimed to the people of the Southern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah, that unless they changed their own ways, unless they repented of their own wickedness and idolatry God would allow the Babylonians to conquer both Jerusalem and Judah.
It is in that context that the Lord uses this parable to remind His people that He expects them to produce the fruits of faith in their lives. Using a picture that was extremely familiar to the people of Judah the Lord compares His people to a vineyard. We are told, “He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit…What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
In His grace and in His mercy the Lord chose the descendents of Abraham to be His beloved covenant people. He guided them and protected them and blessed them like no other nation on earth. He led them into Egypt so they could develop into a mighty nation. With His mighty hand He led them out of Egypt and gave them the promised land of Canaan— a land described as flowing with milk and honey. He sent them prophets, priests and kings. He gave them His holy revealed Word and His holy covenant written down so that generation after generation could read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the very words of the Living God Himself. Like a loving parent He chastised His children when they wandered away from Him or rebelled against Him and then He forgave them when they returned to Him in repentance and faith. God did everything that could have been done so that His vineyard, His people, could produce “good grapes.” Sadly, tragically, when God came to His vineyard expecting to see the fruits of faith and trust and thankfulness all He saw over and over again was “bad fruit”— injustice, bloodshed and greed, wickedness, rebellion and idolatry.
The application of this portion of our text to your life and mine is both powerful and simple. In His grace and in His mercy the Lord God has done amazing things for you and me! He has fulfilled His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Promised Messiah has been born! He has lived a perfect life as our Substitute! He has been sacrificed on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins! (Pointing to the cross) He has risen from the dead for our justification! Through the power of the Holy Spirit God has graciously washed away all of our sins and created in our hearts the gift of saving faith through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. On a regular basis God spreads out before us the banquet of His true body and blood to give us the double assurance that all of our sins are forgiven and to give us the strength to live a God-pleasing life. He has given us His holy Word and provides us with ample opportunities to read it and to study it both in private as well as with the family of believers. When we look at all of the blessings and all of the grace that God has so richly showered up us we have to admit that the Lord can rightfully say of us what He said of His children of old, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?”
The question that you now need to ask and can answer only for yourselves, my friends, is this: When God looks into the vineyard of your heart and when God looks into the vineyard of your life does He see the fruits of faith that He is expecting to see? Does the Lord see a heart that is fully devoted to Him? Does He see a life that openly proclaims an overwhelming love and thankfulness to your Savior God? Not one single day goes by when God does not look into your heart and into your life expecting to see the fruits of faith. So ask yourselves— what does He see?
When God looked into the vineyard of His Old Testament church in the days of Isaiah He did not see “good grapes.” No rather, He saw “bad fruit.” As a result God judged His Old Testament vineyard, didn’t He. Here in our text He paints a picture of that judgment when He says, “Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
God’s judgment on the people of Judah was indeed carried out through the armies of Babylon. In 586 B.C. the beloved city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed. The Temple of the living God was first stripped of all its gold and silver and jewels and then burned to the ground. The people of God were carried way into exile.
Was this the last time God carried out such a severe judgment on His people— because they had become unfaithful to Him? No it was not. In our Gospel lesson for today (Matthew 21:33-43) Jesus used the very same picture of a vineyard to warn the descendants of Abraham that if they continued to reject Him as the long-awaited Promised Messiah, if they continued to remain unfaithful to the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the “owner of the vineyard,” the Lord God Almighty would take the “kingdom of God” away from them and give it to “a people who will produce its fruit.” Could that be why the Christian church today is predominately made up of Gentiles?
Does God ever carry out similar judgments today? Yes, He does. In countries where the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was once heard loud and clear, now there is not much more than the hollow clanging of philosophy and science and humanism (the teaching which says that man is the measure of all things.) Take Germany for example. Sadly, the birthplace of the Lutheran Reformation was one of the first places where so-called “biblical scholars” began to teach that while the Bible may contain the Word of God no one can say that the Bible is the Word of God from beginning to end. What a far cry from the stand that Martin Luther took on Scripture! Sadly, there are many churches right here in our own country who claim to be Christian and yet they deny the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, they deny the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, they deny that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life in heaven. At the same time they will openly support the gay-rights agenda and abortion on demand. A little closer to home you may know the names of people who once stood before the altar of the God of heaven and promised to be faithful to Him and to His Word even unto death, but now they rarely see the inside of God’s house except for maybe on Christmas and Easter. Will God’s judgment come down on such people, churches and nations? Absolutely! In this life God’s judgment may include taking the message of His Gospel away from them completely and giving it to someone who will bear good fruit. In the next life God’s judgment may be eternal condemnation in hell.
So I guess we had all better bear some fruit, right? I guess if we want to escape the fire and brimstone of God’s eternal judgment we had best come to church, right? And just to really make sure we are safe we should probably increase our offerings too, right? No, my friends. That is not the motivation the Lord wants us to have when it comes to living fruitful lives. The proper motivation for living a fruitful life is found in the opening verses of our text, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.”
Our motivation for living fruitful lives is simply put: God’s grace— what God has done for us and what God has given to us. Stop to consider all of the blessings that you have received from Gods’ gracious hand— both the spiritual blessings as well as the physical blessings. While we might not have everything we want who of us can say that God has not provided us with far far more than we need? Even those of you who lost everything in the fire know deep down in your hearts that the Lord your God is still providing you with your “daily bread” and deep down in your hearts you know that the good Lord will continue to bless you in the future. On a spiritual level this cross (Pointing to the cross) reminds us that God has graciously given to us the greatest blessings of all! Through faith in His Son we have complete forgiveness for all of our sins and an absolute guarantee of a glorious eternal life in heaven! Focus your heart; focus your life on what God in His grace has done for you and what God has given to you. When God’s grace is your focus then your motivation for living a fruitful life will be: love, thankfulness and joy.
And, of course, we now have even more opportunities than ever to live fruitful lives as a humble thankful response for the grace that our God showers upon us each and every day. As we heard last Sunday, if you make a donation to the Redwood Credit Union North Bay Fire Fund, every single penny goes to help the victims of these devastating wildfires. I’ve heard of other organizations that are making the same pledge. I’ve also heard commercials for organizations such as the Redwood Empire Food Bank which does a great job of feeding the hungry and the homeless. And as we shift from “survival mode” to “recovery mode” I am sure that there will be many opportunities for each and every one of us to say “Thank you!” to our Lord for all the grace He showers upon us by taking to heart our Savior’s words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). But, hopefully, it goes without saying that the very best thing we can do for anyone at any time is to follow the encouragement that Jesus gave to the man who had just been cleansed of a legion of demons: “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). Yes, my friends, living a fruitful life revolves around making sure that you openly give God the glory He deserves to receive for what He has so graciously done for you! (Pointing to the cross)
Brenda’s garden is just about done for the season. While she is still harvesting a few things for the most part the cycle has run its course and the plants are dying. In fact, as you drive through your neighborhoods look closely at the dried up shriveled leaves that are starting to blow around everywhere and the barrenness of trees that are left behind. Let those images serve as a powerful reminder to you, my friends, of what you do not want to let happen to your faith! God’s grace has made you a part of the fruitful vineyard of His Church. God’s grace has given you all the spiritual food you need to keep your faith alive and healthy and growing. Let the amazing grace of your Savior God now be your motivation for living a truly fruitful life.
To God be the glory!