17 March 2013

The Vineyard of the Lord

Behold, the Lord, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, is doing something new, which the nations have not known, nor could they perform it.  The Lord, who opens a way through the sea, and brings His people through the mighty waters on dry ground; and who causes rivers to spring forth in the desert wilderness, to give drink to His people: He forms a people for Himself, and He gives them life, to the glory of His Holy Name.

He plants them as a vine, and cultivates them as a vineyard in a good land, that they might thrive and bear good fruits of faith and love.  Not because He is hungry or in need of produce and profit, but for the sake of His divine and holy love, with which He bestows life and grants salvation.

That grace of God, His own divine Love, is the reason and the purpose for which He plants His Vineyard, His people, His Church; and for which He daily and richly provides for His own and cares for them.  All of this He does, purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, so that they might live — so that you might live, and grow and flourish, and bear fruits after His own kind: In faith toward Him, and in love for others, for your neighbors in the world, and for all the nations.

Therefore, in love, He entrusts the care of His Church on earth to His people, in various ways, to each person according to his or her particular calling and station in life.  As each of you are called to be His own, and are planted in His Vineyard by His grace, so are you given a stewardship of His Vineyard in your own place or portion.  Thus are you given to care for others around you.  And so are you, also, cared for by your neighbors, and by those in authority over you: in body and soul, for this life on earth, and for the life everlasting.

The stewards of the Vineyard certainly include the pastors and professors of the Church, who are charged with the preaching and teaching of the Lord’s Word, for the benefit of His people.  But so, too, are fathers and mothers entrusted with care for their children; and brothers and sisters for each other; and teachers for their students, and students for their studies and their classmates; and doctors and nurses, engineers, accountants, cooks, and computer programers.  Wherever the Lord has placed you, whatever He has given you to do, that is where you care for His Vineyard in love; and that is where and how, by faith in His Word, you also bear fruits to the glory of His Name.

But then, because He works in this way, through various masks and means, through neighbors and governing authorities — because He chooses to care for His Church and for creation through His creatures — it may often seem that He has gone away “on a journey for a long time,” that He is far removed from the cares and concerns of His Vineyard; that He is uninvolved, and unobservant.

That is not so, but that is the temptation; and then, either to despair of His providential care, or to seize control of the Vineyard, to the extent that you are able, in the hopes of fending for yourself.

Nevertheless, the Lord has not forgotten His Vineyard and its needs; nor has He relinquished His care and cultivation of the Vineyard.  His “journey” is not a turning away or departure from His people, but His slowness to anger, and His withholding of the punishment that sin deserves.  He deals with His people, not directly, but through means, in order to be gentle with His Vineyard.

Thus, already from the fall into sin, and even to the close of the age, the Lord governs His people, His Church, by His Word of promise, and by the Word of His Prophets and Apostles: Written, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Scriptures, and continued in the Office of the Holy Ministry, in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The Lord is patient and long-suffering in sending His servants to preach to His people, and thus, by His Word, to bring forth the fruits of His Vineyard.  Thus have you heard in the Parable; and how He continues to do so, even in the face of rejection and refusal.  The treatment of His slaves, whom He has sent, is an attack upon His honor and authority, and yet He has persisted in peace.

Let this be a caution and encouragement to you: For as the Lord Jesus spoke this Parable against the scribes and the chief priests then, so has it been written in the Holy Gospel for your instruction.

Consider the stewards of the Lord’s Vineyard, and how, instead of producing the fruits of the Vineyard for Him, they seek to keep it for themselves, for their own benefit: not only the fruits it has already brought forth, but the entire Vineyard.

From the very first Garden, until now, it has always been this way: That man would take the fruit that God has not given — the fruit that belongs only to God — and that man would thus attempt to seize life for himself in that forbidden fruit, because it looks so good; and that he would likewise refuse to receive the true divine Life that God is freely giving by His grace.

The gardeners and vine-growers do not comprehend that the real treasure and true glory of the Vineyard is not to be found in itself, but in its Lord — in His gracious providence and good gifts; and that Paradise is not found in the pretense of self-righteousness, but in the presence of the Lord.

Even so, that true divine grace and glory of the Lord has ever been the case, and so does it ever remain, even after man has fallen into sin, into unbelief and disobedience.

Therefore, by His grace, in love for His Vineyard, the Lord God sends His own beloved Son, in whom His Church is gathered into being.  And His people do have life, through faith in Him; for, in Him, the Vineyard is fruitful and productive, to the glory of His Name.

Therefore, He sends His own dear Son, in grace, mercy, and peace.  And then what happens?

Happy ending?  Doesn’t sound like it!

As the Parable is drawing to a close, it would appear that everything has gone from very bad to much, much worse.  The Lord of the Vineyard has lost it all: His Vineyard has been taken over, and His beloved Son has been thrown out like rubbish and killed.  That is where sin, at its heart, is always aiming and leading: To usurp the glory of God by the rejection and murder of His Son.

And then, when it already seems too late to do any good, or to make any difference, the Lord of the Vineyard comes and destroys those vine-growers — and He gives the Vineyard to others.

Here is the new thing which God does!  Here is the Mystery of His Vineyard, which all the nations of the earth could never have imagined or pulled off.  It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous.

The rejection and death of the beloved Son is not only the height and culmination of sin, but is, in fact, the precious Cornerstone that God has set and established for the building of His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  Christ goes voluntarily to this death, knowing what will happen: He is the One who tells this Parable ahead of time, before it happens; and yet, He proceeds in love.

He goes to His death upon the Cross, handed over by His own people to the gentiles, in order to atone for the sins of all the people by the giving of His life and the shedding of His blood.  He lays down His life willingly, and He will take it up again, so that by His innocent suffering and death He might destroy death and remove its terrifying power from all the children of men.  He comes in peace and submits Himself to the abuse, to the beatings, and to His death by crucifixion, in order to reconcile the hostile world to His God and Father, by the Ministry of the Gospel of His Cross.

Thus, the judgment of unrighteousness and the destruction of sin is first of all borne by the beloved Son; so that, in this way, the Vineyard might be spared, and restored to its Lord, and given Life in His Resurrection from the dead.  So has He done, and so it is.  The Vineyard lives, and it is given — not rented or sold, not relinquished, not bartered or abandoned — but it is given to others: to all who believe and are baptized into Christ Jesus, who share by faith His Cross and Resurrection.

Make no mistake: Whoever does not believe will be condemned.  There is the coming judgment of unrighteousness.  There will be that final day of reckoning, when those vine-growers who reject the beloved Son and refuse to repent will be subject to the destruction of eternal damnation.

But now is the day of grace, in which the servants of the Lord continue to be sent in patience and in peace.  And now is the day of salvation, in which the crucified and risen Son of God comes to cultivate His Vineyard, His people, His Church, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness.

It is by His Cross that the whole Vineyard is forgiven.  And it is in His Resurrection from the dead that His Vineyard is justified, enlivened, and abundantly fruitful.  That is true for you, as well.

What, then, shall your fruitfulness be like, now, in Him?

By the measure of the world, and by the conceits of your own sinful heart, your fruitfulness is going to be found in what you manage to accomplish, to achieve, and to accumulate for yourself.

The truth is, though, that everything is determined by the Cross of Christ: Either unto repentance, faith, and life, or unto the judgment and condemnation of unbelief.  He is a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense, who breaks into pieces those who fall on Him; and who smashes into dust and scatters those on whom He falls.  But He is also the Chief Cornerstone, upon whom you are built.

Fear God, therefore, and repent of your sins.  And put your trust in Christ Jesus.  Remember the grace, mercy, and long-suffering patience of the Lord your God, who loves you; and that He did not spare His beloved Son, but handed Him over to His death on the Cross, in order to save you.

By the grace and Spirit of God, you know that your righteousness, your resurrection, and your life are not found in yourself, nor in your own works, but in this dear Lord Jesus, crucified and risen.

So it is that your good fruits of faith and love are found in the fellowship of His suffering, as you are conformed more and more to the Image of His crucifixion.  That is to say, not only that your old sinful self is put to death, but also that you carry the Cross and lay down your life in love for your neighbor, for Jesus’ sake.  And by the power of His Resurrection, He raises you up in faith each day, through the forgiveness of all your sins; until you also are raised up in glory at the last.

For you, indeed, are among the good fruits that He bears to the Glory of His God and Father!

Here, in the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection, is a pathway through the sea, and living water in the desert.  Here the Heir bequeaths to you the Inheritance of His Father: And the Fruits of this true Vine are given and poured out for you to eat and drink.  Here, then, in His Sacrament, lay hold of Him — Who here lays hold of you for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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