Matthew 21:33a-c
Criminal Unbelief
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 21:33a Holman “Listen to another parable:”

The parable of the two sons dealt primarily with the religious leaders’ hypocritical unbelief, as evidenced by their rejecting John the Baptist. The parable of the vineyard owner deals with the criminality of their unbelief, which led to their belligerently rejecting and murdering Jesus. The parable is simple and understandable, using shock value to explain a profound truth.
Jesus’ knowledge about the leaders seemed endless. They “had heard from His lips much more than they desired, yet not half what they needed, and nothing compared with what He had to impart” (David Thomas).
Jesus refused to let up in His remarks about sin. His words kept coming. He continued speaking to evils of His day; those of the world, and those of His professed followers. If He were to speak audibly to us today, He would no doubt talk about the sins of our culture; He would speak for the unborn, for marriage between a man and a woman, justice for the poor, etc.
Jesus would also speak to us, His people, asking, do we love Him and each other as we should? Are we heeding the Great Commission, penetrating lostness? Are we working in His vineyard, sowing and reaping for a harvest?

Matt. 21:33b “There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard,”

The vineyard obviously referred to Israel (Isaiah 5:1ff). Though a tiny slice of humanity, Israel was set apart, like a vineyard, for God’s special affection and attention. Owners loved and carefully tended their vineyards.
The fact God’s people are His vineyard reminds us Christ-followers have huge privileges. This fact should make us always thankful and humble.
Be grateful God gives us opportunity to invest our lives in work that counts. The reward is great, though the work in a vineyard is hard, requiring almost daily labor, including dressing, supporting, pruning, protecting.
As a sidebar, I remind us we call the new churches we begin “plants”. The term helps us remember they need much care and work, and reminds us when God does His part, and we do ours, the harvest benefits are great.

Matt. 21:33c . . . put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built
a watchtower.

God gave Israel everything they needed to be spiritually successful. You can feel the Lord’s heartbreak as He asked of His people, “What more could I have done for My vineyard than I did?” (Isaiah 5:4). Believers, being God’s specially anointed handiwork, are given every advantage to win for Him. If we fail, we have no one to blame but ourselves. “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness” (2 P 1:3a). We fail only due to our weaknesses: lack of prayer, lack of focus, or lack of holiness.
God met Israel’s every need to make them fruitful. Around the vineyard, He built a fence to keep out thieves and wild animals. Believers, be comforted. Though the whole world rage against us, we are God’s divinely shielded protectorates. God is a “wall of fire” around us (ZC 2:5).
He provides additional safeguards for us by building among us a watchtower, a lookout to detect danger. God is not passive, depending only on a fence to defend us. He proactively watches over us with His own eye.
In addition to a fence and watchtower, the Lord provides a winepress for us. A winepress, usually cut in rock, had an upper basin, shallow and wide, where workers used their feet to crush the grapes. The grape juice drained through a pipe into a lower compartment, narrow and deep.
The imagery of a winepress being in our midst reminds us God expects fruit from our labor on His behalf. One, He should be seeing fruit of the Spirit. We must love Him. There is only one first right thing for believers to do. Love God first. We must love one another. I’m becoming burdened about this. I want our staff to love each other as a model others can follow. I want us as a church family to love one another as a witness to the world.
Two, God must see in us the fruit of harvest, the winning of the lost to Him. He wants us to grow in Him in the Kingdom, and grow the Kingdom for Him. He wants to see the lost found. We must bring the missing to Him.
The winepress begs for an answer, “Where is the harvest”? We live in a time of unprecedented mass exposure for the Gospel. I am proud of my Pastor-friend Michael Catt, whose movies (Courageous, Fireproof, Facing the Giants, Flywheel) are having a huge impact around the world. I am grateful for our television ministry, and for all the TV, radio, and Internet space being set apart to brag on Jesus. But here is my nagging anxiety; I fear we are preaching primarily to us. We’re not making a dent in lost-ness.
We have become too isolated, too far removed from the very fruit God wants us to harvest. I have long known this to be true, but a pile driver drove the full extent of my personal isolation deep into my soul as I read an author’s challenge in this area. He wrote, how long has it been since you had in your home for a meal someone who voted for a different candidate than you did for President? That hurt. Maybe we truly are preaching only to us.
If this is the case, we are missing out on a party of cosmic proportions. Harvest is the happiest time of year. If God chose to do so, He could do all the harvesting Himself, but He has decided to let us share in the celebration.
Harvest is fun. My first pastorate was in the middle of a Southeast Missouri cotton field. We were so far out in the country that no curtains were needed on the windows of the baptismal clothes-changing rooms. The year I was there, our farmers worried all summer long, especially when not one drop of rain fell in July. But then the rains came. After the harvest, they all came to church one Sunday in their brand new cars. It was a happy time.
Ingathering is a treasure, a time when we enjoy the results of all we are trained to do. God is gracious to invite us into this happiest of seasons.
The presence of a winepress in our parable is good news. It should kindle optimism in us. Jesus was obviously saying He assumed we would be able to reap a harvest of souls. The imagery of a harvest implied people who are ready to receive Jesus. A harvest is compliant. It does not resist reapers.
We need a baptism of confidence and optimism among believers in our country. We seem to be underestimating God’s power to convert sinners.
In the USA, the Holy Spirit, conscience, guilt, and spiritual emptiness are at work, as are the truth and beauty of the cross. USA believers need to rediscover optimism about the harvest. We seem to be drowning in a sea of pessimism that is choking our desire to even attempt to win missing ones.
If pessimistic, we likely will not try. When I played basketball, we sometimes lost before the game even began. Opposing teams would come out with such impressive warm-ups that we were destroyed before the first shot. It was psychological warfare, and worked very effectively. It still does.
By losing our optimism, and sinking into pessimistic despair, we miss a blessed feature of harvesting. It is meant to be a time of sheer gladness, the high point of the year, a time of enthusiasm unmatched by any other time.
Satan has duped us into thinking times are hard; no one wants to hear the Gospel. The reality is, next-door are many unbelievers readier to hear the Gospel than we are to tell it. Are you not noticing the huge amount of religious articles being put forth in secular media like ABC, NBC, CBS, our local newspaper, and the Economist? Why are secular markets abuzz about the spiritual? Do you think a revival is sweeping through them? I doubt it. They are talking up religion because their research indicates people are eager to hear about spiritual things. We need to join in this cultural conversation.