The last time we studied Mark’s gospel together we read how the Lord Jesus went into the temple in Jerusalem and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those who were selling doves and he wouldn’t allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. He complained that they had turned the temple — which was meant to be a house of prayer — into a den of robbers. And so, he drove them out of the temple.
On Wednesday evenings, we’ve been studying the book of Numbers. And in the early chapters we read that the Lord instructed the Israelites to arrange their camp in a certain way when they were in the wilderness. The tabernacle — which was a mobile version of the temple — was to be at the centre of the camp. The priest and Levites were to camp around the tabernacle. And then, the rest of the people were to camp around the priests and Levites. So, the tabernacle was at the centre; around it were the priests and Levites; around them were the people. And you see, the priests and Levites were located between the tabernacle and the people in order to act as guards; they were to prevent any of the people from coming too close to the tabernacle, lest God’s wrath break out against them. And so they were to protect the sanctity of the tabernacle — which was God’s holy dwelling place — and prevent anything unclean from entering it.
In a sense that’s what the Lord Jesus was doing in the temple. He is our Great High Priest; and as our Great High Priest he went into the temple and did what the other priests were meant to do, but failed to do: he was guarding the temple and he was protecting the sanctity of the temple by driving away the moneychangers and the sellers who had turned God’s holy dwelling place into a market and a den of robbers.
Verses 27 to 33
In the first part of today’s passage, the Lord was once again walking in the temple courts in Jerusalem. And the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and the elders came up to him. These were the religious leaders and the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court. And they came to him with a question:
By what authority are you doing these things?
It’s not immediately obvious what they mean by ‘these things’, but no doubt one of the things they meant is what the Lord had done when he last visited the temple and drove our the moneychangers and sellers. The religious leaders want to know:
By what authority are you driving them out of the temple? Who gave you the right to do these things? Who said you could do these things?
If they only had faith to believe in him, then they would not dare ask him such a question, but they would have fallen down before him and worshipped him, because the one they were talking to and questioning is none other than the Eternal Son of God who — with his Father and by his Spirit — made all things in the beginning and who therefore has the right and authority to rule over his creation and to do whatever he pleases with us. If they only had faith to believe in him, then they would have bowed before him as their Lord and God and given him the honour he deserves. But because of their unbelief and the hardness of their sinful hearts, they dared to question the Son of God about his right to preserve the purity of the temple.
And sinful people will always question the authority of the Lord. It began in the Garden of Eden, when the serpent questioned the authority of the Lord who had forbidden Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The Lord has issued them a clear command:
You must not eat that fruit.
And he gave them a clear warning:
If you do, you will surely die.
But why should you do what he says? Why should you listen to the Lord? Who gave him authority over you? Decide yourself what you will do and do not listen to him.
And it’s been the same ever since, because by nature we’re rebels. By nature we rebel against God’s authority. We do not want him to rule over us. And sinful people will always question the authority of the Lord. And so, here in Mark’s gospel, we read how the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders — all the people who should have known better — questioned the authority of the Lord Jesus:
By what authority do you do these things?
The answer is simple: He had the right to do these things because he’s the Eternal Son of God who had come from his Father in heaven to build his kingdom on the earth.
But the Lord didn’t answer that way. He did what Jewish rabbis are known for doing: he answered a question with a question. They asked him:
By what authority are you doing these things?
And he asked them:
Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men?
And, of course, from the way they discussed their answer to the Lord’s question, we see that they did not believe that John had come from God in heaven. They did not believe in him or in his message. But then, they didn’t want to admit publically that they didn’t believe in him or in his message, because they feared the reaction of the people who did believe in John.
So, how would they answer the Lord Jesus? They didn’t believe in John’s message; but they were afraid to say so. So, what would they say? Well, they dodged the question and claimed they did not know.
And although the Lord refused to answer their question about what authority he did what he did, the parable which follows is really his answer, because in the parable which follows he revealed that his authority to do what he did comes from the fact that he is indeed God’s Son. And in the parable which follows, the Lord also revealed their wickedness because they refused to accept him or honour him as they should. And in the parable which follows, the Lord revealed the fate that would befall them — and all who are like them — if they refuse to repent of their sinful rebellion.
Let’s turn to the parable which the Lord taught them at that time. He tells the story of a man who planted a vineyard. And he put a wall around it; and he dug a pit for the winepress; and he built a watchtower for it. So, it was a well-equipped vineyard; there was nothing wrong with it, but he had prepared it well. And then he rented it out to some farmers before going away on a journey.
At harvest time, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. Presumably this was one of the terms in the contract: they would rent the vineyard from him; and the rent to be paid was part of the harvest. However, look at verse 3: the tenants seized the man’s servant and beat him before sending him away empty-handed.
What would the man do? Well, he was patient with them and gave them another chance. He sent a second servant. However, they treated the second servant worse then the first: they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully.
What would the man do? Well, he was patient with them and gave them another chance. He sent a third servant. However, they treated him far, far worse than the previous two servants, because they killed the third servant.
What would the man do? Well, he was still patient with them and sent them many other servants. Do you see that at the end of verse 5? And they did the same as before: they beat some and killed others.
So, what should the man do? Well, it turns out he was a very patient man and he wanted to give them one last chance to keep to their agreement and to give him his rightful share of the harvest. But since they despised his servants, he would now send them his son. According to verse 6, there was no one else to send after his son. And according to verse 6, this was his only son, and he loved him. And he sent his one and only, his beloved son to the tenants, hoping that they would respect him, because after all he was the man’s son. Surely they will respect the son? They might have despised the servants; but surely they’ll respect the son?
But look what happened: when the son arrived, the tenants took the son and killed him and threw his body out of the vineyard. And lest we think they mistook the son for a servant, and killed him in error, we have the Lord’s words in verse 7 that they recognised him as the son and as the heir of the vineyard. They knew who he was and they knew precisely what they were doing. So then, why did they kill the son? They killed him because he was the heir; the vineyard would one day be his and they wanted it for themselves. You see, they did not want the son to rule over them; they wanted to own and to rule the land themselves without having the son to tell them what to do.
That’s the parable. What does it mean? Every parable means something and the Lord isn’t really talking about vineyards and farmers. So, what is he walking about? Well, the parable is actually a summary of the whole history of the people of Israel from the time of Joshua until the coming of the Lord Jesus. You see, back in Isaiah 5, the Lord compared the people of Israel to a vineyard, which the Lord planted and cared for. And now, in Mark’s gospel, we have the Lord Jesus, once again comparing the people of Israel to a vineyard. And just as the man in the parable planted the vineyard and made sure it was well-equipped, so the Lord God planted the people of Israel in the Promised Land of Canaan in the days of Joshua. And it was a land, flowing with milk and honey; a land like the Garden of Eden which had everything they needed so that they lacked no good thing. And over the coming years, the Lord settled them in the land and enabled them to defeat their enemies; so, at last, in the days of David, there was peace throughout the land. And the Lord, in a sense, put a wall around them, because he promised to protect them and to take care of them and to provide for them. So, the man in the parable who planted the vineyard stands for the Lord God. And the vineyard in the parable stands for the people of Israel. And that means the tenants in the parable stand for the leaders of the people — people like the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders — because the Lord appointed them as leaders over his people to take care of them just as the man in the parable left the tenants to take care of his vineyard.
But over the years, the religious leaders in Israel failed in their duty; they were not obedient to the Lord; and instead of taking care of the people, they were selfish and self-seeking; instead of teaching the people the will of the Lord, they led the people astray. The Lord was expecting them to be obedient to him, but they were not and instead of obeying him and taking care of his people in Israel, they were disobedient and self-seeking and they caused Israel to go astray.
And so, what did the Lord do? Well, just as the man in the parable was patient, so the Lord God was very patient with the Israel and its leaders and he sent them one prophet after another. So, the servants in the parable stand for all those prophets whom the Lord sent to speak to the leaders and to the people. And just as the tenants in the parable beat some of the servants and killed others, so the Israelites and their leaders persecuted the prophets and they even killed some of them. But still the Lord was patient with them, and he sent them one prophet after another to plead with them to repent and to return to the Lord with all their heart. But still the people and their leaders would not listen and they did not repent of their sins and they did not turn back to the Lord.
And so, finally, finally, the Lord God sent his one and only, his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Surely they will respect him? Surely they will honour him? Surely they will listen to him? After all, he’s the Son, and the Son of God has a far, far greater status than any of the prophets who went before him. The prophets were mere men, but this is the Eternal Son of God. And while there were many prophets, there was only one Son. And while one prophet followed another, there was no one else to come after the Son, because God the Son was God’s final and greatest ambassador; and if they rejected him, then there was no one else to send. So, surely they will respect him, for he alone was the Son of God and God’s final messenger.
But when God the Father sent his one and only Son into the world, the world hated him. And the religious leaders — the chief priests and the teachers of the law and the elders — rejected him and they refused to believe in him or to welcome him; and instead they plotted to kill him. Just as the tenants in the parable plotted together to kill the man’s son, so the leaders of Israel plotted together to kill God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
And what is amazing about the parable is that the tenants recognised the son and they killed him because he was the son; and they did not want him to own the land or rule over them. And the Lord seems to be saying that the leaders of Israel recognised that he was the Son, that he had indeed come from God in heaven; but they did not want him to rule over them. They did not want Jesus Christ to rule over them. And so, because of their refusal to yield to him, they killed him by nailing him to the cross.
And so, we see their wickedness. Not only did they question his authority, but they resented his authority and they hated that he had come from God and that he had the right and the authority to rule over them. And because they refused to yield to him, they killed them, when what they should have done was to bow before him and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; and they should have gladly submitted to his authority and asked him what they could do to serve him.
And still today, people refuse to yield to Christ the King. When they hear of him, they should bow before him and acknowledge him as King and offer to love and serve him all the days of their life. But men and women and boys and girls do not want to yield their life to anyone, least of all to Jesus Christ. They refuse to submit themselves to him, even though he is the one who — with his Father and by his Spirit — made all things; and even though he’s the one who loved us and who gave up his life for our salvation. Even though he is our Creator and our Redeemer, men and women refuse to submit to him.
Or — and this often happens — they’re willing to submit to him, but not in everything. Isn’t that often the case? There’s one area of their life, one compartment of their life, which they want to control and they refuse to yield control of that area of their life to the Lord. So, Christ can be my King, but not with regard to this part of my life. I’m going to keep control of that myself.
What about you? Have you yielded your life — and all of your life — to Christ the King? Have you bowed before him and submitted yourself to him, so that your heart’s desire now is to obey Christ your King in all things and in all areas of your life? Not in some areas, but in all areas. So, what you do; and what you say; and what you think; all submitted to Christ the King. In how you spend your time; in how you spend your money; in how you do your work; in how you use your free time; all submitted to Christ the King. In your relationships; your friendships; in whom you go out with; and in whom you marry; and in how you treat the people around you; all submitted to Christ the King. Is that you? And when you disobey him, and when you fall short of obeying him, instead of shrugging your shoulders because you don’t care, are you full of sorrow and contrition, because you hate to disobey Christ your King?
That’s what this parable is about: the tenants stand for the religious leaders in Israel who did not want God’s Son to rule over them. Who gave you the right to come into the temple and tell us what to do? And so, they stand for all those in every generation who do not want God’s Son to rule over them. And so, this is a parable which is addressed not only to the religious authorities in Israel, but to you and to all of us. God has sent his Son into the world. Surely they will respect my Son? Surely they will honour him?
In bringing the parable to a close, the Lord asked in verse 9:
What then will the owner of the vineyard do?
What will he do to those tenants who beat and killed his servants and who killed his one and only, beloved Son? What will he do? And that’s the crucial question, because the answer to this question tells us what God will do to all those who refuse to yield to his Son. What will the owner do? The Lord answers his own question in verse 9:
He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.
And who would disagree with that, because the tenants acted wickedly? Well, just as the man in the parable will come and punish those tenants who rejected his son, so God will come one day and punish those who have rejected his Son, Jesus Christ. And so, the Lord Jesus warns all who refuse to yield to him; he warns you about the coming judgment, when all who have refused to submit to him will be punished for ever.
But since it’s a warning — since it’s a warning about something that will happen, but which hasn’t happened yet — there’s still time to do what needs to be done; there’s still time to repent; to turn from your life of unbelief and rebellion; to ask God to forgive you; and to yield your life to Christ the King.
And Christ is a King, isn’t he? That’s what the quotation in verse 10 tells us. The Lord was quoting from Psalm 118 and he says the stone which the builders rejected has become the capstone. So, we’re to imagine a stone, which the builders cast aside; they did not want it and it lay in the rubble, seemingly forgotten and disregarded. But then, in the end, that rejected stone was taken up and put in the place of prominence. Though it was once rejected by the builders, it became the capstone at the top of the building which marked its completion. Well, just as the stone was rejected, but exalted, so the Lord Jesus Christ — God’s one and only, beloved Son — was rejected by those he came to save. He’s still rejected today. But after he was killed and his body was laid in the tomb, God raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place, to rule and reign over all things as King over all. And the day is coming when every knee will bow before him, and every tongue will confess that he is the Lord, he is the King, because the day is coming when he will come to earth in glory and power to subdue all his enemies and to punish all who rejected him. That day is coming; but before it comes, men and women and boys and girls are called to repent now and to submit to him now and to believe in him now, because whoever repents and submits and believes in him now receives forgiveness and peace with God for ever and the hope of everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.