Challenging Jesus’ Authority (1-8)
Jesus has entered Jerusalem. The twentieth chapter of Luke reveals the Jewish leaders and authorities challenging the authority of Jesus. The reason why is because of what Jesus just did in Luke 19. Jesus has approached Jerusalem with a large crowd of his disciples proclaiming him as the king who comes in the name of the Lord. The king and savior of the world has arrived. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the first place that he goes is into the temple. Jesus goes into the temple and condemns them for turning the house of prayer into a den of thieves. They were maintaining their sinful ways, not finding true repentance and life change, because they thought they were saved because they came to the temple to worship. But God saw their hearts and saw what they were doing and condemned them for it. Did you notice how Luke records the cleansing of the temple because it is important to the story of chapter 20? Notice that Luke does not record the turning over of the moneychangers’ tables. Luke does not record making a whip and driving out the sellers. Luke does not record any of these events. Look at how Luke records the cleansing of the temple: by his teachings. Every day Jesus is in the temple teaching. Jesus came to cleanse by his teachings. According to Luke, this is the crux of the antagonism and why the leaders are seeking to destroy him (19:47). His teachings are cleansing the temple. So the leaders are going to challenge Jesus’ teachings and challenge Jesus’ authority because he has decried their activities as turning God’s house into a hypocritical mockery.
The first challenge is in verse 2. The leaders want to know by what authority Jesus does these things or who gave him this authority. Jesus answers their question with a question of his own. This is a common way for the rabbis in that day to teach each other. If they will answer his question, then he will clearly answer their question. However, you will notice by his question to them that this is an answer to their question. Here is the question: was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Either John came as a messenger of God or he did not. One must either respond to John because he was sent by God or else he must be ignored because he was not sent from God. The answer to this question is important because John pointed to Jesus as the Christ. Jesus takes their question and does not dodge the question, but raises the stakes. The leaders understand that this is what Jesus has done. In verses 5-6 we see them discussing amongst themselves what answer they should give. Notice they fear the people will stone them, and rightly so. The Law of Moses taught that anyone who turned the people away from the Lord was to be stoned (Deuteronomy 13:10). So the leaders dishonestly say that they do not know. That is something children do. Why didn’t you do what you were supposed to do? I don’t know. Why did you color on the wall? I don’t know. Jesus puts the leaders in the corner with his question and their best response is, “I don’t know.” They are missing their opportunity for salvation because they refuse to approach Jesus with a sincere and honest heart. This gives Jesus an opportunity to tell a parable.
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (9-18)
Jesus is not going to merely tell a parable. But notice as you read the parable that Jesus is explaining his authority. The parable will assert his authority and also reveals the hearts of these Jewish leaders. A man planted a vineyard, leased it out to tenant farmers, and went into another country for a long while. Now, before we move forward, we should recognize the vineyard imagery. The people in Jesus’ day would have recognized the vineyard image as a representation for the nation of Israel. Many of the prophets depicted Israel as a vineyard that God had planted (Isaiah 5 is perhaps the most notable; see also Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 19:10; Psalm 80). So the time has come for the owner of the vineyard to receive some fruit from the vineyard. So the owner sends a servant to the tenant farmers for some fruit. Rather than give fruit, the tenants beat the servant and send him away empty-handed. So the owner sends another servant. But they also beat him and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. So he sent yet another servant and they wounded him and cast him out.
Before we move forward it is important to grasp what Jesus is picturing. Jesus is describing the Father sending his prophets to the nation, calling for fruit and looking for fruit, only to be mistreated by the nation. Listen to the scriptures describing this very scene.
“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. 4 You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, 5 saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. (Jeremiah 25:3–5 ESV)
All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem. 15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:14–16 ESV)
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? (Acts 7:51–52 ESV)
Please consider the graciousness of God. How many servants should the owner send before he deals with these wicked tenants? If we were the owner, the first act of these egregious injustice would have been dealt with swiftly and justly. Who would keep sending servant after servant to continually be beaten and mistreated? But this is exactly what God did. In verse 13 the owner of the vineyard decides that he will send his son. Surely they will respect his son, even if they have not respected all of his servants. The sending of the son is the last resort. This is the last opportunity. Surely they will respect him. No one more important could have been sent. Luke has shown us that Jesus is the Son (Luke 3:22; 9:35) and therefore Jesus is referring to himself as the sent Son who has come to look for fruit for the Father.
APPLICATION: The amazing grace of God. Is God not amazing? God sends servant and prophet to warn the people to turn back to him. Prophet after prophet is sent calling for the people to listen to him, to love him, and come to him. The people not only reject every prophet that came, but they were each mistreated. Each prophet was persecuted. Why does God keep sending prophets? Why does God keep sending messengers even though they are mistreated each time? This parable depicts the limitless depth of God’s love. God wants to save his creation. God will do everything he can to bring people to himself. So he decides to send his Son. This parable reflects the teaching that Paul would declare to the Romans, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Verse 14 reveals the hearts of the leaders of Israel at this time. “Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.” They foolishly think that they can seize the kingdom for themselves. They think the kingdom is theirs. These are temporary farmers working in a vineyard and the vineyard is not theirs. The Father owns this vineyard and they are only workers, not owners. But they think they are owners. In reality, this pictures the heart of human rebellion against God. They do not want to be servants. They want to be lords over the vineyard. They think they can do whatever they like in this kingdom. They think that they answer to no one. God stands in the way of these plans. So they throw out the servants and throw the son out of the vineyard and kill him. Notice again that Jesus is not going to be surprised at anything that is about to happen. He is predicting his rejection and his death.
APPLICATION: Seizing the kingdom. There are a number of ways that we can seize the kingdom for ourselves that we need to consider. Having the attitude that what matters is what I want is to attempt to seize the kingdom for ourselves. Here is what I mean. When we worship the way we want to worship than the way God says, we are supposing we can seize the kingdom for ourselves. When we determine which commands we will obey and which ones we will not follow, we are attempting to seize the kingdom for ourselves. When we want to keep our traditions rather than listen to the teachings of God and carefully examine his word we are seizing the kingdom for ourselves. When we look at Israel historically, this is what we see the nation doing. Rather than seeking the ways of God, they thought they were in charge and acted like they were focus. Everything was about them. God was about them. Life was about them. They did not see that everything is about God. Worship is about our Lord. Life is about our Lord. Everything we do does not go through the test of whether it is something we like or want but if it is what God desires. Go back to verse 10. What was supposed to be happening? The tenants were supposed to be giving to the owner. They acted like God was to be giving to them. The vineyard is not theirs. We must be about giving to God. Life is about what we give to him.
Jesus asks an important question in verse 15: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” Jesus does not look for a response but tells them what the owner will do in verse 16. The owner will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. The owner’s response is judgment. Notice their response. “Surely not!” They cannot believe it. They cannot believe that what they are doing is worthy of judgment and that the vineyard would be taken away from them. God is going to give the Gentiles the opportunity to enter the kingdom and belong to him and judgment is going to fall on the Jewish nation (which we will read about in chapter 21). But they cannot believe that they will be judged.
So Jesus proves his teaching by quoting Psalm 118:22 and asks them what the prophecy means. Turn to Psalm 118 and notice that this psalm is a declaration of praise and hope in God. Verse 1 begins that all should give thanks to the Lord because his steadfast love endures forever. Verses 5-7 show the tone of the psalm as the psalmist looks to God as a deliverer from the enemies. The point is that the enemies will be severely judged. Therefore the Lord is his strength, his song, and his salvation. Now let’s read verses 19-24.
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. 20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:19–24 ESV)
The righteous enter through the gate of the Lord. Though people had rejected Israel as unsuitable, God had chosen her to be the cornerstone for his great plan for the world. Think about how powerful this message is as Jesus uses this as a quotation for what the leaders are doing. The impact of this message is greater when we recognize that the psalmist goes on to say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26). Jesus ties the righteous to those who are proclaiming him as the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus reminds them by quoting the psalm that they are the ones who are rejecting the king. A psalm of national comfort now indicts them for their unfaithfulness. The King and his faithful followers who face rejection will meet God’s acceptance and exaltation. We can see why this would be a frequently quoted passage in the New Testament. The Christians would be the rejected and despised people but they are receiving God’s acceptance and would be vindicated in time. Jesus will receive the ultimate vindication. They are rejecting Jesus and will take him outside the city to be killed. But the rejected stone will shortly become the cornerstone when he raises from the dead three days later. Verse 18 explains what will happen, which comes from Isaiah’s prophecies (cf. Isaiah 28:16; 8:14-15). The stone becomes a point of stumbling. Regardless how the stone meets the rejector, the fate of the rejector is not good. A collision with the stone will leave you shattered.
APPLICATION: Rejecting the Son. The parable shows the foolishness of our rebellion against God. Notice the facets of our foolishness. First, we are rebelling in the face of his grace. God has given us blessings and kindness only for us to reject him as the giver of these things. Second, we are rebelling in the face of his patience and mercy. God has done everything he can to save us from our destruction. We are by nature children of wrath and God is correcting that problem by sending his prophets and by sending his Son. Yet, because we want to live how we want to live, we reject his merciful patience toward us sinners. Third, we are rebelling in the face of his kingship. We can rebel all that we want but it does not change the fact that Jesus is the cornerstone. Reject the stone all that you want, but he is the cornerstone and it was the Lord’s doing. Rebellion against the king does not make sense because he rule is established and will not be overthrown. There is no alternative but to submit to the king (illustrated with presidential elections. Once elected, there is nothing else that can be done but to submit). Fourth, we are rebelling in the face of his judgment. Anyone who stands against is going to be crushed and broken into pieces. Our rejection of Jesus will bring judgment. We have seen this in the last couple of lessons from Luke’s gospel. Doing nothing brings judgment because it is a rejection of Jesus’ command to take our mina and make a profit. Living how we want to live brings judgment because we reject the blood of Jesus and casting his goodness away as nothing. Let us not be foolish like these tenants. Let us give to God the glory, honor, and fruit that he is worthy of receiving from us.