The Prophets: A Gang Untamed
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 21:33d Holman He leased it to tenant farmers . . .
They were tenants, not owners. God was the boss, the CEO. The leaders needed to learn this lesson. The laypeople did too. We in the USA especially need this reminder. It is true our leaders will answer to God for their actions, but always remember they lead by consent of “We the people”.
“The people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature” (President James Garfield, quoted by Dee Wampler in his book “Standing on the Frontline”).
National failures cannot be blamed totally on government and church leaders. There’s plenty of guilt to go around, at every level of our shared life.
Somewhere along the way, Israel’s leaders and people began treating God’s vineyard as if it were their own. They chose new rules to obey, and different ways to measure success, rather than retaining the ones God gave them. We have to be careful or we find ourselves following them down the same path. Laws can overrule grace. Legalism can choke love. Rules can overpower relationships. Rituals can drown out drawing close to God.
We know what the Vineyard Owner wants. He desires a full winepress, filled with the fruit of Godly living, and with the fruit of the harvest. He measures us by how much we love Him, and love each other, plus by how well we are touching the lost. Don’t change the metric to laws, legalism, rules, and rituals, or to liberalism, Bible skepticism, and unbelief.
Matt. 21:33e . . . and went away.
The owner, thinking details were in good hands, left. He went abroad, trusting His vineyard to the leaders and the people. What a compliment.
God is not a tyrant. He sets us free. Israel was granted liberty to choose for or against God, even with everlasting consequences hanging in the balance. This liberty has been called “the awful freedom”.
The Israelites were to be God’s people, to bring Him “fame, praise, and glory, but they would not obey” (JR 13:11). Thus, both were hurt. When God’s people live right, both God and the people win. God receives His deserved fame, praise, and glory; we enjoy sensing God’s “Well done” as we obey His Great Commandment and fulfill His Great Commission.
After God revealed Himself at Sinai to Israel, the vineyard He had transplanted from Egypt, He withdrew the obvious demonstrations of His presence. Jesus did the same after His resurrection, leaving us, at least in appearance, to ourselves. The Father and Son, by their seeming departures, made themselves equally accessible to all: “The just shall live by faith” is in the Old Testament as well as the New (Hab. 2:4; Rm. 1:7). God has treated us equally, having left to us the same faith and the same written word.
Matt. 21:34-35 When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to
the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his
slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.
As was customary, the owner of the vineyard expected to receive from the tenant farmers rent in kind, a percentage of the harvest. But the farmers cruelly mistreated the owner’s slaves. The reference is easy to figure out. The slaves were the prophets, whom Israel often abused mercilessly.
Jesus point blank said, Jerusalem “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her” (MT 23:37a). In the Old Testament, Israel ridiculed and scoffed the prophets (2 CH 36:15-16); slapped Micaiah (1 K 22:24); beat and jailed Jeremiah twice (20:1ff; 37:15). A king executed Uriah (JR 26:23).
Zechariah son of Jehoiada was stoned to death (2 CH 24:21). Jesus said the prophets served from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah (Luke 11:50-51). In Jesus’ day, the Old Testament was divided into three sections—Law, Prophets, and Writings—with Chronicles, which tells the story of Zechariah, being the last Old Testament book. By saying the Old Testament prophets ended with the death of Zechariah told in Chronicles, Jesus in essence excluded the Apocrypha from the Old Testament canon.
Matt. 21:36 Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and
they did the same to them.
God in mercy sent prophet after prophet. His vengeance came slowly. He repeatedly gave them chances to respond aright. Sin incomprehensible met a love incomprehensible. Mercy was (and is) extended to the nth degree. The tenant farmers could not wear out the Owner’s patience and love.
Priests, leaders, and Kings, performing ongoing rituals and activities, were more established than the prophets, who came at particular times with specific missions. They had a special anointing and commissioning for very limited specific tasks. They were “sent”, and a royal thorn in the side.
“There is no more remarkable historical fact than that of the uniform hostility of the Jews to the prophets. That a nation of such a sort as always to hate and generally to murder them should have had them in long succession, throughout its history, is surely inexplicable on any naturalistic hypothesis. Such men were not the natural product of the race, nor of its circumstances, as their fate shows. How did they spring up? No philosphy of Jewish history explains the anomaly except the one stated here. (They were) sent” (Maclaren).
Breaking all societal norms, the prophets were untamed, confronting kings, priests, and people by pleading and haranguing unapologetically for obedience to God. Why did God send these men? Was it for Himself? Does He intrinsically need our approval; if we rebel against Him, is He less God; does it dull the shine of His crown, or make Heaven less beautiful? He sent the prophets ultimately not for Himself, but for us. He loves His people.
Matt. 21:37 Finally, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my
son,” he said.
“Finally”–a painful word, intense as a death knell. The reference was obvious, self-evident. Jesus was claiming to be God’s Son. Christ was not just another prophet. He was above them. They were servants; He was Son.
The Father could have kept His Son, His beloved Son, His only Son, surrounded by adoring angels, but sent Him to us. The Father spared not His own Son. We did not spare Him either. Never did sin appear more sinful than when we rejected Jesus (Henry).
The religious leaders sloughed Him off. Don’t make the same mistake they did, and commit their crime. To look at God who gave everything and say, “It is nothing”, is criminal and deadly.
To reject Jesus is to reject our last hope. “He is God’s ultimatum” (Spurgeon). Nothing more than God Himself can be sent. No recourse remains if Jesus is refused. There’s no one else to send.