Managing God’s Vineyard: Mark 12:1-12


Read the Transcript

Continuing our journey into the week Jesus was crucified, we come to one of Jesus’ more challenging, controversial parables. While the parable isn’t all that challenging to us living today, at least on the surface, it spoke in a powerful way to those living in the first century who heard His words in the temple.

Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will read it from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us that:

Then Jesus spoke to them in parables: “Once there was a man who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to tenants and left home on a trip. When the time came to gather the grapes, he sent a slave to the tenants to receive from them his share of the harvest. The tenants grabbed the slave, beat him, and sent him back without a thing. Then the owner sent another slave; the tenants beat him over the head and treated him shamefully. The owner sent another slave, and they killed him; and they treated many others the same way, beating some and killing others. The only one left to send was the man’s own dear son. Last of all, then, he sent his son to the tenants. ‘I am sure they will respect my son,’ he said. But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the owner’s son. Come on, let’s kill him, and his property will be ours!’ So they grabbed the son and killed him and threw his body out of the vineyard.

“What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do?” asked Jesus. “He will come and kill those tenants and turn the vineyard over to others. 10 Surely you have read this scripture?

‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless
    turned out to be the most important of all.
11 This was done by the Lord;
    what a wonderful sight it is!’”

12 The Jewish leaders tried to arrest Jesus, because they knew that he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

This passage is powerful because without clearly saying so, Jesus clearly challenges the religious leaders about their leadership and their attitudes towards God. This parable is profound in a number of ways. While some in the crowd listening to Jesus might miss the parallel in Jesus’ choice of describing a man building a vineyard, this detail would not have been missed by the religious leaders. While He could have described any type of farm, Jesus chose a vineyard because it referenced a key challenge towards Jerusalem and Israel in the book of Isaiah.

In Isaiah, chapter 5, we discover a powerful parallel:

Listen while I sing you this song,
    a song of my friend and his vineyard:
My friend had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug the soil and cleared it of stones;
    he planted the finest vines.
He built a tower to guard them,
    dug a pit for treading the grapes.
He waited for the grapes to ripen,
    but every grape was sour.

So now my friend says, “You people who live in Jerusalem and Judah, judge between my vineyard and me. Is there anything I failed to do for it? Then why did it produce sour grapes and not the good grapes I expected?

“Here is what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge around it, break down the wall that protects it, and let wild animals eat it and trample it down. I will let it be overgrown with weeds. I will not trim the vines or hoe the ground; instead, I will let briers and thorns cover it. I will even forbid the clouds to let rain fall on it.”

Israel is the vineyard of the Lord Almighty;
    the people of Judah are the vines he planted.
He expected them to do what was good,
    but instead they committed murder.
He expected them to do what was right,
    but their victims cried out for justice.

When we read about the religious leaders being upset about Jesus’ parable in our passage from Mark’s gospel, we clearly can see that they saw the connection with Isaiah’s passage. Isaiah’s passage leaves no room for interpretation.

This parable Jesus shared is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus make’s His big climactic statement a question, which the people listening respond to Jesus’ question with Isaiah’s answer. In Luke’s gospel, the people respond with shock and a little disbelief.

Seeing this minor discrepancy might make one doubt the gospel record, but these subtle differences draw our attention to the big truth that there were people present who responded in both ways. In this crowd, there were people present who made the connection to Isaiah’s prophecy before Jesus had even finished the parable, and people who were shocked to learn that there would be an eventual end to the owner’s patience.

However, this parable and Isaiah’s message point us to an interesting conclusion: While the evil tenants in Jesus’ parable are killed and the vineyard is turned over to others, Isaiah’s message describes the vineyard illustration as being equally about God and His chosen people. Isaiah’s message challenges those present by saying in verses 3 and 4: “So now my friend says, ‘You people who live in Jerusalem and Judah, judge between my vineyard and me. Is there anything I failed to do for it? Then why did it produce sour grapes and not the good grapes I expected?’

Isaiah’s passage draws our attention onto the big truth that God’s character is on trial. God gave His people every blessing and advantage He could imagine, and they still rejected Him. This then becomes a challenge to those who don’t believe in free will. While we might not understand every choice we make, and while not all choices are easy or even positive, we have been given the freedom of choice. If we humanity didn’t have a choice, then God is ultimately to blame for the state of this world.

God describes how He did everything for His people, and they still rejected Him. We could transpose this idea onto the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve eating the fruit, or even earlier when the Lucifer and the rest of the angels were created in Heaven.

When the angels were created in heaven, Lucifer included, everything was created perfectly. If Lucifer had been created in a way that bent him towards sin in any way, then he would not have been perfect, and his choice to hold God accountable for his own choice would be a valid argument. If Adam and Eve were created with the desire to sin, then God would be at fault.

However, just because God knows the future doesn’t mean those He creates don’t have the freedom of choice. In a similar way, just because you can re-watch a movie and the characters do the exact same things as the first times you watched doesn’t mean that the characters in the movie had no choice. In all cases, God created a perfect scenario with free will being given to those He created, and those He created chose to reject Him.

Jesus tells us in His parable that the vineyard would be given to others. However, just because this could symbolize the end of literal Israel being identified as God’s chosen people, we shouldn’t forget the big truth this parable teaches:

God gives everyone the freedom to choose Him or not. (This truth we find in Isaiah.)

And God is looking for a people who will return His portion of fruit to Him. While those in Israel may have rejected God, pushing God to look elsewhere, don’t think for a moment that means we are exempt from the same expectation. If we choose to not be fruitful towards God, we will face the same realization that the Jews did in Jesus’ time: God will seek out another group to focus on.

The challenge for us to remember is to be fruitful towards God, and to return His portion of what He has blessed us with.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and be sure to thank Him for what He has blessed you with. Be sure to return to Him His portion of what He has ultimately blessed you with. Remember that without God giving you life, you would be nothing, and this means that everything you achieve is because He gave you opportunity.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God and to discover what He is really like. While a pastor or podcaster can give you things to think about, only through personal prayer and study can you discover this for yourself!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 7: When Jesus shares about some evil tenants of a vineyard who refuse to give the owner his share of the produce, we discover how this parable challenged those in Israel on a profound level, and how this parable alludes to God being judged.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Believing Before Seeing: John 4:46-54


Read the Transcript

While Jesus had the reputation for being a great teacher, and as Someone who could heal pretty much anything, early on in Jesus’ ministry, before word had spread about this, we find a powerful event in John’s gospel that when we look at the details, this event might just be an example for us to follow.

For our episode today, we’ll be reading from the gospel of John, chapter 4, out of the New Century Version. Starting in verse 46, John tells us that:

46 Jesus went again to visit Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. One of the king’s important officers lived in the city of Capernaum, and his son was sick. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to Jesus and begged him to come to Capernaum and heal his son, because his son was almost dead. 48 Jesus said to him, “You people must see signs and miracles before you will believe in me.”

49 The officer said, “Sir, come before my child dies.”

50 Jesus answered, “Go. Your son will live.”

The man believed what Jesus told him and went home. 51 On the way the man’s servants came and met him and told him, “Your son is alive.”

52 The man asked, “What time did my son begin to get well?”

They answered, “Yesterday at one o’clock the fever left him.”

53 The father knew that one o’clock was the exact time that Jesus had said, “Your son will live.” So the man and all the people who lived in his house believed in Jesus.

54 That was the second miracle Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

I want to emphasize that last verse. This was only the second miracle Jesus had done after coming from Judea to Galilee. The first was turning water into wine – and though the water-wine miracle is impressive, it is nothing like healing someone who is about to die.

Perhaps Jesus had healed other people in Judea, and word had spread into Galilee about these healings and to the ears of this official. Regardless of the way news traveled, or even how this official knew to come to Jesus early on in Jesus’ ministry, the dialog between the official and Jesus is important for us to pay attention to.

John doesn’t tell us the official’s exact words, but his clear request in verse 47 was for Jesus to “come to Capernaum and heal his son, because his son was almost dead.” It is significant to note that this official came personally, instead of simply sending a servant or messenger with the request. This detail emphasizes that the official believed his request was too important to leave with a servant.

However, Jesus’ response is interesting. In verse 48, Jesus replies by saying, “You people must see signs and miracles before you will believe in me.” This response in some ways is odd. The official is asking for help with a clearly urgent need, and Jesus responds with a statement about belief. However, the reason Jesus answered the way He did was because the request was for Jesus to go to the place where the child was.

We don’t know if the officer had doubts in his mind or if he wanted to witness a miracle though this event, but with the way Jesus responds, it is logical to conclude that this may have been the case – that is, unless Jesus said what He said not for the man’s benefit, but for the disciples and those present following Jesus. Perhaps this response was aimed at pushing the crowd following Jesus and not as much at the official himself.

But in the official’s second request we see persistence. Verse 49 tells us the official again asks Jesus, “Sir, come before my child dies.

This persistence might be wise for us to model in our own lives. If God hasn’t appeared to answer our requests the first time we ask them, perhaps we need to keep praying and pushing forward with our request moving forward.

Jesus’ second answer is powerful. He doesn’t comply with the official’s request, but He does challenge the official in a way that satisfies the official’s request. Up to this point in the requests and conversation, the emphasis has been on Jesus going personally to perform the miracle, but Jesus’ second response in verse 50 is simply, “Go. Your son will live.

This answer satisfies the official, even if it doesn’t comply with his request, and John tells us that “The man believed what Jesus told him and went home.

On the way, the official learns that his son has recovered, and that it happened at the exact time of his conversation with Jesus. This event concludes in verse 53 by saying, “So the man and all the people who lived in his house believed in Jesus.

It is important to note that the official and everyone described in this last verse believed in Jesus, not because they had seen Jesus perform a miracle, but they believed in Jesus because of the promise Jesus had given the official. Someone skeptical of this event might dismiss this as a coincidence, but to everyone present in this event, Jesus’ promise about the official’s son, which the official believed at face value, resulted in the long-distance miracle.

In our own lives, I wonder if John included this miracle as a way of challenging those who would read about this miracle to take Jesus’ promises at face value and believe Jesus’ words regardless of whether we see any change immediately. This may also be included as a challenge to bring our miracle requests to Jesus in prayer and believe that He will answer them even if we don’t see Him actively move towards the situation.

This event includes a challenge for all of us about where our belief should be grounded. Jesus challenged those present on the idea that “seeing is believing”. Jesus and the official demonstrated a different approach: The official believed Jesus, and then afterwards, he saw the results of his belief. The official demonstrates a “believing before seeing” approach to faith.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

As you are living your life, choose to believe God’s promises and Jesus’ words before you experience them personally. In some cases, you may need to obey before you see, similar to how this official had to obey Jesus on faith and start his homeward journey without Jesus with him. Choose to trust God’s promises and expect to see an answer to your prayers when God’s timing is right. He knows much more than we do about the events in our lives and what the future holds, and it makes the most sense to trust Him with the timing of our prayer answers.

Also, as you read and study the Bible, look for examples of events that demonstrate a believing before seeing approach to faith. There are many more than this one event, and as a collection, we learn how to grow spiritually with God and the Holy Spirit leading and guiding us.

And, as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 6: Cam briefly looks at a long-distance miracle Jesus performed for an official, and we dig into the idea of what should be the foundation of our belief in Jesus.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Avoiding the Question: Matthew 21:23-32


Read the Transcript

Coming right on the heels of Jesus kicking the merchants out of the temple, and the Pharisees challenging Him about what the children were cheering, we discover a new challenge. It would appear that the following day, as Jesus arrived in the temple and began teaching the crowds, the chief priests collectively had decided that what had happened the day before had broke the chain of command.

In our passage for this episode, we discover the chief priests challenging Jesus regarding what happened. In the priests challenge, we can see multiple layers, and we can see many ways that Jesus could fail. Let’s read what happened, and discover how Jesus responded to these religious leaders.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 21, and we will be reading it from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 23, Matthew tells us that:

23 Jesus had gone into the temple and was teaching when the chief priests and the leaders of the people came up to him. They asked, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus answered, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things. 25 Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”

They thought it over and said to each other, “We can’t say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John. 26 On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That’s why we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.” 27 So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”

Most people stop reading here, right after Jesus declines to answer these leaders, but Matthew continues by sharing more of Jesus’ response. After Jesus tells these leaders that He won’t tell them who gave Him the rights they are challenging, Matthew continues in verse 28 by telling us that:

28 Jesus said:

I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think. The father went to the older son and said, “Go work in the vineyard today!” 29 His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but he didn’t go. 31 Which one of the sons obeyed his father?

“The older one,” the chief priests and leaders answered.

Then Jesus told them:

You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will! 32 When John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe him. But these evil people did believe. And even when you saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe.

In this passage, and in Jesus’ follow-up discussion with the religious leaders, we discover a powerful truth: Knowledge that is not applied is worthless. Verse 32 hits this point directly by saying, “When John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe him. But these evil people did believe. And even when you saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe.

The belief of the tax collectors and prostitutes was visible because they repented, turned to God, and away from their sin. The evidence of their changed lives should have been enough for these leaders to praise God, except that they were too inward focused. They couldn’t deny that John’s message brought results, but they didn’t like him because he wasn’t one of them – and because he challenged them regarding their character.

This also brings us to the truth that someone who knows they are living sinfully and apart from God’s will is more savable than someone who believes themselves to be living perfectly for God. It is harder for an arrogant follower of Jesus to be saved than it is for the most sin-filled, evil person who decided to change, come to God, and repent. Anyone who believes they don’t need to repent has just placed themselves in the same group these religious leaders are in, and this group risks losing their salvation.

Jesus’ parable in this passage teaches us a powerful truth that we all intuitively know to be true: Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words. You know your true friends by how they act towards you and how they treat you more than what they simply say.

Nowhere in this passage or parable does Jesus ever imply that lying is okay. The clear ideal would be for one son to say that He would go and help, and then follow up by going and helping. However, when given the choice between someone saying they will do something and then deciding to do something else vs. someone who says they won’t help but who ultimately comes to help, you and I would always prefer the one who came.

This is the same with God. The religious leaders talked like people who followed God, but their actions, and the way they treated others was nothing like God. In a similar way, while there are many true Christians in the world today who live and love others like Jesus did, it is also not difficult to find people who claim to be Christians who are act nothing like Christ. Also, we can look among the growing number of people who are not followers of Jesus, and while many are living evil lives, there are plenty of examples of people who act like Jesus even if they don’t know who He is.

I believe Jesus is challenging these religious leaders with the truth that it is easier for someone who cares, loves, and desires good to come to Jesus and be saved, than it is for an arrogant person who claims they know Jesus to be saved.

In our own lives, we can also learn from this truth. Regardless of whether we never knew Jesus or if we grew up knowing about Him from as long as we can remember, this moment in time is a new moment, and it is a moment where we can decide to humble ourselves before Jesus and let Him into our hearts.

An arrogant pride stopped the religious leaders from discovering and accepting Jesus, and arrogant pride in our own lives and hearts risks our own salvation.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and humbly come before Him with a repentant heart and a teachable spirit. There will never be a time when we have learned it all, and so we should always be willing to learn, grow, and move closer to God through every experience we face in life.

As you continue seeking God and growing toward Him, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself, to grow that personal relationship. While other people can help you on your journey, your relationship should be your own, and you should never let someone else stand between you and Jesus. Through prayer and Bible study, you can personally grow closer to God.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never chicken out of, or move away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 6: When some religious leaders challenge Jesus, we see Him skillfully sidestep the question, but then He immediately follows up with a challenge to them about the state of their belief. Discover what we can learn from what Jesus taught, and how this teaching is just as applicable in our lives today.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Secret Lessons from a Secret Meeting: John 3:1-22


Read the Transcript

During one of Jesus’ earlier visits to Jerusalem after starting His ministry, John’s gospel describes a fascinating secret meeting Jesus has during the night with a leading Pharisee. In this secret meeting is found one of the most famous verses in the entire Bible, and one of the most concise summaries of God the Father’s view of humanity.

However, while this summary is at the heart of Jesus’ response to the man named Nicodemus, in many ways, it is simply the starting point for our understanding of God the Father. Let’s read Nicodemus’ secret conversation with Jesus and discover what else we can learn from this discussion.

We will be reading John, chapter 3, using the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, we learn that:

There was a man named Nicodemus who was one of the Pharisees and an important Jewish leader. One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot be in God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus said, “But if a person is already old, how can he be born again? He cannot enter his mother’s womb again. So how can a person be born a second time?”

But Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born from water and the Spirit, you cannot enter God’s kingdom. Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit. Don’t be surprised when I tell you, ‘You must all be born again.’ The wind blows where it wants to and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. It is the same with every person who is born from the Spirit.”

Nicodemus asked, “How can this happen?”

10 Jesus said, “You are an important teacher in Israel, and you don’t understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we talk about what we know, and we tell about what we have seen, but you don’t accept what we tell you. 12 I have told you about things here on earth, and you do not believe me. So you will not believe me if I tell you about things of heaven. 13 The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.

14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. 15 So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.

16 “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. 18 People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. 19 They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things. 20 All who do evil hate the light and will not come to the light, because it will show all the evil things they do. 21 But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God.”

22 After this, Jesus and his followers went into the area of Judea, where he stayed with his followers and baptized people.

In this secret discussion, we find a number of interesting topics we could focus in on. As I was preparing this episode, I had planned to focus in on talking about how Jesus had used the phrase “Son of Man” in this conversation, and that this phrase would foreshadow how Jesus would often refer to Himself during the gospels.

But just now, as I read this to you, I don’t think I had ever noticed a different phrase. Before Jesus lets Nicodemus in on a secret, verse 13 says, “The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven”.

Even as I quote this, I am reminded of Enoch, who walked with God and according to Genesis 5:24, was taken by God, supposedly to Heaven, as tradition would tell us. This is later restated in the book of Hebrews, chapter 5, verse 11.

I am also reminded of Moses, who even though he died before entering the Promised Land with the children of Israel, was resurrected and taken to Heaven, and Elijah, who was one of the more famous Old Testament prophets. Both Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus later on in His ministry known in the event called “The Transfiguration of Jesus”, and this event is recorded in three of the four gospels.

I am challenged by Jesus’ description of the Son of Man in this regard, because we have three clear other individuals who appeared to go up to heaven prior to Jesus having come down. However, while this might be a reason for some to doubt Jesus’ words here, in the three cases we have before us that seem to contradict Jesus’ words, every one of these individuals was “taken” to heaven rather than ascending on their own.

This is a key distinction, because this also means that no one is able to ascend to heaven on their own. Jesus is the only one capable of taking people to heaven. While it is not politically correct to state this, Jesus is the only road that leads to Heaven. This is confirmed by our pair of famous verses, John 3, verses 16 and 17 which tell us: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.

This is simply a starting point, because Jesus hasn’t stopped talking. He goes on to describe in verse 18 and 19 that “People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things.

In our passage, like bookends on the famous set of verses, are a set of challenges for all of us.

The opening bookend challenges us to always depend on and believe in Jesus Christ, who is the Son of Man. While we might be tempted to think that we can earn salvation through something we do, we are unable and incapable of taking ourselves to heaven. Ascending to heaven is only something Jesus can do, and He promises to take us to heaven if we believe in Him, which is another way of saying that we depend on and trust Him.

The closing bookend tells us that belief in Jesus is the key to avoiding judgment. However, belief is not the only condition, because Jesus describes those who do not believe as people who did not want light, because they were doing evil things. Belief in Jesus is connected with living like Jesus, which means that we are living a life that represents God as best as we can, and these two things together are how we live a life that intentionally avoids the judgment. When we combine faith with a life that is surrendered to Jesus, we avoid facing the judgment.

With all this said, here are the “official” challenges I am leaving you with at the end of this podcast episode:

Apply both of these bookend challenges into your life. Choose to depend daily on Jesus for strength to face each day, and trust that He is the only one who saves. While those living in the Old Testament had the lamb as a symbol pointing forward to Jesus, through the gospels, we actually have the record of Jesus’ life and what He was like.

Also, choose to study this record of Jesus’ life personally and prayerfully for yourself. By prayerfully reading the gospels with the goal of learning what Jesus was like, you will let the Holy Spirit into your life and begin to let Him change you into the person that God created you to be.

And when this happens, never stop short or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 5: Cam focuses on Jesus’ secret meeting with a man named Nicodemus and he draws some challenges for each of us from what Jesus tells Nicodemus in their conversation.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.