Session #130 Stand By Fruit
Scripture Matthew 21:33-46
Summary Matthew 21:33-46 is a parable about the expectation and inspection of fruit. It is also about the rejection of accountability as well as authority. Applied to Israel, both the leaders and the nation did not fare too well. As Jesus’ kingdom community, how would the Church fare when the time comes for us to ‘stand by fruit’? How would you fare?
“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvellous in our eyes?’ “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet (Matthew 21:33-46).
We continue in the section where Jesus shares three parables, which are His collective response to the religious leaders’ rejection of His authority, as expressed through ‘The Parable of the Two Sons: Rejection of Instruction’ (Matthew 21:28-32); ‘The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers: Rejection of Inspection’ (Matthew 21:33-46) and ‘The Parable of the Wedding Feast: Rejection of Invitation’ (Matthew 22:1-14).
The title for this teaching is ‘Stand By Fruit’. ‘Stand By’ is a term used in the military to denote an inspection of sorts. If the officer or the sergeant calls for a “stand by bunk”, everything in the bunk will be inspected. If it is a “stand by rifle”, then the weapon must be clean and ready for inspection.
The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers is about an inspection of fruit. A vineyard, tended by the vinedressers, was expected to yield fruit. So, it is not a surprise that it would be inspected for fruit. Hence, ‘Stand By Fruit’. In this teaching, we will examine the vinedressers’ response and the resulting consequence.
Matthew 21:33-46 can broadly be divided into three parts: Jesus’ Parable (Matthew 21:33-39), Jesus’ Point (Matthew 21:40-44) and Leaders’ Plan (Matthew 21:45-46).
Here is a summary of the parable: There was a landowner who owned a vineyard. After preparing it, he leased it to vinedressers and left it to them. When harvest time came, he sent servants to inspect and receive the fruit as expected but the servants were mistreated and even killed. He sent more servants and it was the same outcome. Finally, he sent his son who got killed too.
It is a simple story with familiar and relatable characters and lots of drama. We could imagine how the hearers were interacting with the plot, and how they were feeling as they learnt about this rejection of inspection. Here, we will look at how the parable applies to Israel, represented by the religious leaders who rejected Jesus. Then, we will consider how the parable applies to us, the church, believers who have accepted Jesus.
In Matthew 21:33, the landowner refers to God. In the three parables, God is portrayed through three characters: from the father to the landowner to the king respectively. God as landowner prepares everything in great detail before leasing and leaving it to the tenants. This story is very common and relatable to the people listening to it who will understand the point immediately i.e. God is the owner, not the leaders or us though we like to think so as we like to be in charge. The vineyard refers to Israel. Matthew 21:33 is worded very closely to Isaiah 5:1-2. The people of Israel, especially the leaders would understand that this refers to them as well as to Israel. We notice the same issue of fruitfulness in Isaiah 5:2b,7. The vinedressers or tenants refer specifically to the religious leaders of Israel and at the same time, this rebuke extends from the leaders to include the people of Israel.
Next, we look at the representatives of the landowner. In Matthew 21:34, the first set of representatives (the servants) would refer to God’s prophets. As we read on to verse 35 to 36 on the servants’ fate, we recall the treatment of God’s prophets throughout Old Testament history. Jesus is reminding the leaders that if they reject God’s servants, they are rejecting God.
The next representative is the landowner’s son which refers to God’s son, Jesus. The tenants totally ignored and disregarded the landowner and even presumed the father was dead and killed his son so that they could become owners of the vineyard. Rejection of God’s son is ultimately rejection of God.
Next, let us look at the expectation of the owner. In Matthew 21:34 and throughout the story, the key term to note is ‘fruit’. The issue is again about fruitfulness i.e. to give account for fruit. For example, the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree is about fruitlessness. This term is also found throughout major themes in Matthew e.g. in Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist spoke of bearing ‘fruit in keeping with repentance’; in Matthew 3:10, Jesus preached about a tree and its fruit (bad tree- bad fruit; good tree- good fruit) and to discern false prophets, look at the fruit (Matthew 7:16-20) and in the parable of the soils, it is about good soil bearing good fruit (Matthew 13:8). It is also a key concept even in the Old Testament. If we are meditating on the word and living it out, we will be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruits in its season (Psalm 1:3). Therefore the expectation of the owner is ‘fruit’. This expectation leads to an inspection – stand by fruit. The people were rejecting this inspection because they either do not have fruit to show or they had the wrong kind. When they rejected the inspection, they were rejecting the authority. The leaders questioned the authority of Jesus and that was why Jesus shared these parables. The expectation of fruit pointed to the accountability and so the rejection of inspection meant that they were rejecting the accountability and therefore the authority. The leaders were saying that they were in charge and they knew what they were doing. They were their own bosses, their own authority.
After telling His story, Jesus was ready to reveal His main point by drawing out the answers from the listeners through questions (Matthew 21:40-41). The leaders’ answer was to get rid of the vinedressers and replace them with those who would render to him fruit in their seasons. This reaction is similar to David’s when he was confronted by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:5-7. The leaders gave the correct answer or the most natural answer i.e. this was what they would do if they were in that situation. We are also usually very good at passing judgement but not very good at evaluating ourselves.
Jesus rebuffed the leaders in Matthew 21:42: “have you never read the scriptures?”, that as leaders and teachers, they should know and Jesus then quoted from Psalm 119:22-23 (a Messianic Psalm) which the crowd had used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem and positioned Him as the Messiah. The ‘stone’ (eben) and ‘son’ (ben) quoted in this scripture is a play on words, a veiled reference to Himself as the Messiah. In the parable, the ‘son’ was sent and killed; rejected and in the scripture, the stone was rejected by the builders. The leaders’ rejection of Jesus as Messiah does not disprove His Messiahship. God has already predicted that the Messiah will be rejected. This was the Lord’s doing. The Messiah will be rejected first before He is later honoured and glorified and it will be marvellous in our eyes. In fact, this rejected stone will become the cornerstone/capstone (temple terms -builders and buildings) and may be a possible reference to subsequent destruction or removal of the temple system/cult, leading to the raising of another ‘temple’ – the house of God, the body of Christ. This is why Peter also quoted Psalm 118-22-23 in Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7 to declare Jesus as the Messiah.
The main point that Jesus was trying to put across so clearly was that the consequence of rejecting God would be that we would finally be rejected by God. In Matthew 21:43, Jesus told the leaders that the kingdom of God would be taken from the leaders (builders) and given to a nation, a people, a different group. This is a transference of leadership in Israel to a group of new individuals, more than simply the appointment of new leaders, but a community of disciples who will do the works God commands (fruitfulness). It is not that Israel will be completely replaced by Gentiles (ethne which is plural) but by a nation (ethnos which is singular). Israel, as the original kingdom community, will be replaced by another kingdom community. the church/ekklesia, comprising Jews and Gentiles, one new man in Christ and that is us. Those who have rejected Jesus will ultimately be rejected and broken by Him.
More importantly, while the translation for the word ‘cornerstone’ (or capstone or keystone?) is not clear, they all refer to the most important stones in the part of a structure. The cornerstone is placed right at the bottom of a structure, at the corner and so you can stumble over this stone and be broken (Matthew 21:44a); while a capstone is placed on top and when it drops on you, you will be crushed and broken and ground to powder (Matthew 21:44b). This is consistent with God’s kingdom being portrayed as a stone that crushes all other kingdoms in Daniel 2:34-35 and 44. The consequence of rejecting God and rejecting His representatives in the person of Jesus, the cornerstone/capstone/keystone, is that you will be rejected by Him. Even if you do not openly and actively oppose Jesus, anything less than genuine discipleship and bearing the fruits that come out of that will also lead to judgement i.e. the stone will fall and crush on any who does not live for Jesus. This is the point that Jesus is making very clear that, as the leaders were rejecting His authority, His inspection and everything about God and everyone sent by God, they will be removed and rejected.
After covering the parable and Jesus’ point, we now examine the leaders’ plan. The leaders now understood that Jesus was talking about them and decided that they needed to get rid of Him before He got rid of them. This was therefore a very clear rejection of Jesus’ authority. But they could not risk creating a scene and offending the crowds or upsetting the Roman authorities. We know how it played out. The leaders literally acted out the parable, thereby fulfilling prophecy. The vinedressers killed and murdered the son. The religious leaders would deliver Jesus to the Roman authorities to kill and murder Jesus. They did not take the main point into account. Jesus will return as the Cornerstone. They will be crushed and replaced. The kingdom will be given to another people, the ekklesia/church, a new kingdom community.
Next, let us look at how the parable applies to us as the church. It is too easy to just say we believe in Jesus and sing Cornerstone, and all is well. Let us recap the main issues. The authority of Jesus is from heaven i.e. ultimately, the authority from God. There is the issue of accountability there, the expectation of fruit. Therefore, we must always be ready for this inspection of fruit, stand by fruit.
The point is that if we believe in and accept Jesus, we accept His authority. When we accept His authority, we accept that accountability. By saying that, we are thus ready anytime, all the time, to bear and render fruit.
Let us look at the parable again to see how it applies to us as believers of Jesus Christ. The landowner is now Jesus, who is God. He is in charge, owns all things, and has all authority. The representatives are Jesus’ servants who remind, warn, awaken, etc. These are leaders and can also be the prophetic voices of our day. The vinedressers are now the church, the people of God; not just leaders, but every believer in Christ. We all belong to Jesus. We are all His stewards. We are expected to work the field, in the body of Christ and in the world. The harvest – fruit is expected, stand by fruit. Matthew was warning the church (both leaders and believers) of the same expectation and not to commit the same mistake and fall into the same predicament as Israel. Have we been faithful as the “new people” aligning with the Cornerstone? How would we fare if God called for an inspection today?
After all, judgement must begin with the house of God.
Implications and Issues to Consider
Firstly, Jesus is the owner. We are stewards and under authority and totally accountable. Have we disregarded the true owner of the vineyard? Do we take things into our own hands and set our own rules? Are we building our own kingdoms in our churches, ministries, our lives, our work etc or the kingdom of God? Are we doing what Jesus wants us to do?
Secondly, Jesus is very patient and gracious. He expects fruit but He waits for fruit. He understands it takes time, in season but He gives many chances and sends many reminders and warnings. Are we heeding, ignoring or rejecting? Have we taken for granted God’s patience and grace? Have we ignored repeated prophetic calls to wake up, to repent, to obey? Would we reject God’s inspection finally? Would we reject God’s messengers? Would we reject Jesus? For to reject all these things is ultimately to reject Jesus. Our Lord Himself spoke to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. He said to the church in Sardis, ‘Wake up! You have the reputation of being alive but you are dead.’ (Revelation 3:1-2) i.e. check your fruit, stand by fruit. He said to the church in Laodicea, “You are lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16) i.e. check your fruit, stand by fruit. Jesus is so patient and gracious. Would we be careful in the way we respond to this grace?
Thirdly, Jesus expects fruit. This should be obvious by now. To stand by fruit is to be willing to be inspected at any time and be faithful in the small things as these would train and align us for the bigger things. There are two broad categories of fruit that we are accountable for – the fruit of maturity where we are to be growing in things and in the person of Jesus; and the fruit of ministry as we are ministering to others, are we bearing good fruit? We know that we will not do this perfectly and it will always be by His grace and with His enablement. However, we must remember that we are still called to do our part (some will sow, some will water) and do our very best and God Himself will bring the increase by His grace. God and Jesus expect fruit. Are we ready for stand by fruit?
Finally, Jesus will judge. Do we know that God will eventually judge? It is not just about believing Jesus but also bearing fruit. Even if one does not actively oppose Jesus, anything less than genuine discipleship will lead to judgement – the stone will ‘fall’ and ‘crush’ such a person. The harvest can also refer to the end of age (Matthew 13) where there is a final inspection as we stand before the Lord on the bema seat. At that point in time, we give account, stand by fruit. What is the consequence? The leaders of Israel had the kingdom removed from them. Will unfaithful servants be removed from the kingdom? There were many references to servants of the kingdom being cast out with weeping and gnashing of teeth? Does this sound harsh? It does but we still remember His grace and yet, let us not take His grace for granted and receive His grace in vain.
In conclusion, the parable applied to Israel, the people of the kingdom also applies as well as to the Church, Jesus’ kingdom community, the people of the kingdom. Stand by Fruit
The point is that God is patient and will send His representatives and agents to remind and to warn. To reject or ignore these is to reject inspection; and the authority that comes with that inspection. Ultimately, it is a rejection of God which results in a rejection by God. As believers, let us be reminded that accepting Jesus as the Cornerstone means accepting His authority and our accountability to Him.Stand by Fruit
The leaders’ plan in response to Jesus was to get rid of Jesus. What is your response after hearing this parable? What is your plan and what do you plan to do about it?