The Owner's Son (Sermon)
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
The past couple of months, my family has been listening to the dramatized audio version of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. We recently finished the fifth book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There was a passage in that book which struck me and got me thinking about our topic for this morning.
In the book, King Caspian is on a voyage to find the 7 lost lords of Narnia. These 7 lords had served Caspian’s father well, but fled from Narnia when his father was killed and Caspian’s uncle usurped the throne. After Caspian defeated his uncle and reclaimed the throne, he decided to take a voyage to find these 7 lords and bring them back to Narnia.
The first place they land is called the Lone Islands. Caspian and his companions go ashore and are kidnapped by slave traders. As they enter a village, Caspian is sold. The man who bought him told Caspian that he reminded him of someone. He reminded him of his master, King Caspian of Narnia. To his surprise, Caspian tells him that he is “Caspian, son of Caspian, lawful King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands.”[i]
Here was the man’s response: “’By heaven,’ exclaimed the man, ‘it is his father’s very voice and trick of speech. My liege—your Majesty—‘ And there in the field he knelt and kissed the King’s hand.”[ii]
The governor of the Lone Islands response was much different. Lewis records the Governor’s thoughts when Caspian and his soldiers confronted him. “Inside, he was wondering if there were any way of getting rid of these unwelcome visitors. Had he known that Caspian had only one ship and one ship’s company with him, he would have spoken soft words for the moment, and hoped to have them all surrounded and killed during the night.”[iii]
Two drastically different responses, and as readers, we don’t need to be told which response was right and which was wrong. We don’t need to be told who was righteous and who was wicked. We don’t need clarification as to who was a friend and who was an enemy. We understand that Caspian, son of Caspian, deserved the loyalty and allegiance of the Governor.
The last two weeks, as we’ve studied the life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, we’ve discovered irrefutable evidence that He is the Son of God. We’ve listened to His Words. We’ve witnessed His works, and we know that He is the only Son of God.
As a result, we find ourselves in a similar position to those in Lewis’ novel. How should we respond to the King’s Son? How should we react when the Son of God arrives on the scene? The answer is simple and clear: When God sends His Son, you better listen to Him! If God decided it was important for His Son to be born as a man and come to earth, then we better realize it’s important for us to listen to what He said.
But if you’re familiar with your Bible, you know that the response to Jesus’ coming was like the Governor’s response to Caspian’s coming. Those who were left in charge looked for ways to get rid of the rightful heir to the throne. The religious and spiritual leaders of Israel didn’t want to submit, they wanted to silence the Son of God.
In Mark 12, Jesus confronts them with their rebellion against God, and their unwillingness to listen to the Son. He does it with a story. This story divides easily into three acts. Let’s read through the story and see how it speaks clearly not only to them but to us as well.
Act 1: Rebellion
(Mark 12:1-5 ESV) And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.
The first character that appears onstage is the owner. He lovingly and carefully plants a vineyard. Being wise and conscientious, he puts a fence around it to protect the vines from foraging animals, and he builds a tower inside to protect the workers from thieves and robbers. Near the tower, he digs a pit where the grapes can be pressed and made into wine.
Now that the vineyard is prepared and operational, he hires tenants to oversee the vineyard. They are to work the land, protect the produce, harvest the grapes and make the wine. With everything now in order, the owner sets out on a journey, leaving the vineyard in the care of the tenants.
Let’s think about this owner for a moment. What do his actions say about him?
He is responsible—he did everything necessary for the vineyard to thrive. He anticipated every threat and put the necessary defensive measures in place.
He is caring—before finding tenants to manage the vineyard, He made sure that structures were in place to meet the tenants’ needs.
So who is this owner? Can we identify Him? Turn to Isaiah, chapter 5. Jesus didn’t randomly choose the metaphor of a vineyard. His illustration had deep scriptural roots. The spiritual leaders of Israel would’ve understood the characters in this drama.
(Isaiah 5:1-7 ESV) Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!
The vineyard is the nation of Israel, and the owner of the vineyard is God Himself. He is the One who built the vineyard, the One who cared for the vineyard and the One who owns the vineyard.
If the vineyard is Israel, and the owner is God, who are the tenants? A tenant farmer is one who stands in place of the owner to care for and operate the vineyard. The tenants in Jesus’ story are the religious leaders of Israel. They were responsible to care for and protect the nation of Israel. They were to cultivate and nurture this unique possession of God’s.
But what happened to the vineyard under the tenant’s care? Instead of producing good fruit, it produced bad fruit. Instead of producing good grapes, it yielded wild grapes.
The tenants’ were to cultivate the nation so that there would be a harvest of good fruits—like obedience and justice. Instead, look at the fruit that was actually produced in the vineyard under the care of these leaders (Isaiah 5):
Instead of generosity, the vineyard produced grapes of greed (v.8-10).
Instead of discipline, the vineyard produced grapes of debauchery (v.11-12).
Instead of insight, the vineyard produced grapes of emptiness (v.13).
Instead of equity, the vineyard produced grapes of exploitation (v.18-19).
Instead of honesty, the vineyard produced grapes of hypocrisy (v.20).
Instead of humility, the vineyard produced grapes of haughtiness (v.21).
Instead of courage, the vineyard produced grapes of consumption (v.22).
When it came time for the harvest, the owner sent His servants back to the vineyard to collect what should have been good fruit. How were they received? Jesus said in His story that the first was beaten and sent back empty-handed. The second was struck on the head and treated shamefully—we can picture a man sent away naked with his hair and beard crudely shaved off. The third servant was killed. Every servant afterward was either beaten or killed or both.
Jesus is replaying the history of the nation of Israel. The leaders had led the nation away from God. Weeds of wickedness had strangled the fruit of righteousness. God had sent His prophets to tell the people to turn back to Him, and how were the prophets received? Listen to what the New Testament says about the way the prophets were treated:
(Matthew 5:11-12 ESV) “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Hebrews 11:36-38 ESV) Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
The three greatest prophets in Israel’s history were Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist. When Moses was leading the people, they constantly complained and griped. He was the victim of multiple attempted coups. Elijah had to run for his life when the king and queen of Israel ordered the execution of all the prophets of God. He spent years exiled in a foreign land. John the Baptist was mocked by the religious leaders before being jailed and executed by King Herod.
God sent His prophets as an act of grace. He sent them with words of life, “Come to me. Return to me. Seek me and you will find me.” But they refused to listen. Though He was the owner, though they were rightfully His, though He cared for them, they wouldn’t listen.
Israel’s history is a microcosm of human history. We have all ignored God’s commands. Our lives reveal the presence of unrighteous fruit. God in His grace has sent us His Word, calling us back to Himself. Have you listened? Have you responded to His gracious call?
Act 2: Murder
(Mark 12:6-8 ESV) He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.
If they killed His servants, why did the Owner send His Son? When the servants went, the Owner was appealing to the integrity of the tenants. He was trusting them to act decently to His messengers. But sending the Son was an entirely different matter. The Son was going as the Owner Himself. The only authority a messenger has is in his message. The Son’s authority was in His legal right as an heir. He possessed legal claim over the vineyard. One commentator put it in helpful terms: “The son goes as the father’s representative, with the father’s authority, to the father’s property, to claim the father’s due.”[iv]
When the Father sends His Son, His Son comes with the Father’s full authority. To see the Son is to see the Father. Jesus made this point in a discussion with His disciples: (John 14:8-10 ESV) Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
Jesus is the Son who came to the vineyard with the full authority of the Father. And the religious leaders treated Jesus exactly how they treated the Son in Jesus’ story. They conspired to kill the Son, and then they executed their plan. We see the accuracy of Jesus’ story in their response to His story.
(Mark 12:12 ESV) And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
Turn to chapter 14, let’s watch as Jesus’ story comes true.
(Mark 14:1 ESV) It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him,
(Mark 14:55 ESV) Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none.
(Mark 15:1 ESV) And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.
(Mark 15:9-14 ESV) And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”
(Mark 15:31-32 ESV) So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
The owner of the vineyard had sent His Son, and they killed Him. Turn back to our story in chapter 12. Look at verse 7. This verse lets us get into the head and heart of the religious leaders who killed Jesus. Why did they crucify God’s Son?
(Mark 12:7 ESV) But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’
They wanted to own the vineyard. If they killed the only heir, then they would by law be able to claim the vineyard as their own. They wanted to be in charge. They didn’t want to serve the owner. They thought they’d be better off on their own.
Does that sound familiar? If you have any awareness of your own heart, then it should. If you’ve ever stopped to examine your own wants and desires, your motives and decisions, then you should recognize the tenant’s reasoning.
Let me give you an example of how this same attitude often shows up in us. Brothers and sisters, do you ever worry? Do you ever bite your fingernails, twirl your hair or pace down your hallway? Why? Hasn’t God said that He would take care of you? Hasn’t God promised to meet your needs? Hasn’t God made it clear that He is sovereign and nothing thwarts His plans? Then why do you worry?
Your worry is because of your uncertainty that God will meet your need in the way you want it met. You’re not worried that God will lose control. You’re worried that God’s plans will not be your plans. You’re worried that God’s decision will conflict with what you want. Worry is a way of you saying, “It would be nice if I was in charge. It would be nice if the vineyard were mine. It would be nice if I was on my own. I’m scared God will mess up the plans I’ve made for my future.”
Another example—complaining. God built the vineyard. He built walls and a watchtower to protect it. He dug the winepress. He planted and cultivated the grapes, but it’s just not good enough. Instead of recognizing His grace and expressing gratitude, we complain about what we don’t have. “My neighbor’s vineyard is bigger. Her watchtower is made out of granite. He’s got the iwinepress 5.0, and I’m stuck with the original version.” Complaining expresses a desire to own it. We think it would be better if we were in charge. We’re sick of being told what to do. “Stop telling me to be content. I don’t want to be content.”
The desire to replace God with our own self-portrait is as old as mankind. The initial temptation was “to be like God.” The ancient serpent’s forked tongue hissed into Eve’s ear, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be in charge?”
The desire to be in charge—to be in control of our own destiny—is what drives religion. In reading through the Gospels, have you noticed that it is the most religious who most fiercely reject Jesus? Religion is about being in control. “If I do all the right things, then God has to accept me. If I give the right amount of money…if I participate in the right ceremonies…if I enforce strict moral rules…if I…if I…if I.” It’s about control. It’s about being in charge of our fate. It’s about controlling our own destiny.
Jesus blew that kind of thinking up. He lobbed grenades at it. He said, “God’s in control. You’re not. Your only hope is in submitting to the Owner—my Father.” The religious didn’t like that then, and they don’t like it now. They killed Jesus for suggesting it 2,000 years ago, and they ignore, reject and mutilate the biblical Jesus today. They create a caricature of Jesus that encourages their own self-righteous behavior.
Matt Papa captured this propensity to make a caricature of Jesus in one of his songs:
You won’t ever hear this song on Christian radio
Cause the Jesus that I serve is not safe
He’ll say take your cross and die
So if you want a comfy life
Stay away from Jesus
He says narrow is the gate and hard is the way
Hate the ones you love and love the ones you hate
Eat my flesh and drink my blood
But if your works are good enough
Stay away from Jesus
He says be either hot or cold, you can’t serve God and gold
Indifference is the road that leads to hell
So if you’re happy in your stuff and if 10%’s enough
Stay away from Jesus
The Jesus of Scripture—the one who confronts religious self-righteousness is dangerous to those who long for control. Friends, we can easily fall into this same trap. The religious aren’t some extra-terrestrial aliens. They’re friends and co-workers, and they’re often us. We walk in the steps of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. We want to be in charge of our fate and our destiny. We don’t want someone telling us what to do.
Listen, the religious leaders didn’t kill Jesus out of ignorance. They didn’t murder Him because He was an imposter. It wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. They killed Jesus because they knew exactly who He was. They killed Jesus because they understood exactly what He was saying.
The Owner sent His Son, and they didn’t want to listen to Him. The Owner sent His Son, and they didn’t want to submit to Him. That’s why they killed Him.
Act 3: Resolution
(Mark 12:9-11 ESV) What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
How will this story resolve? What will happen to the vineyard and the rebellious tenants? Jesus asks a question, “What will the owner do?” He forces the rebellious tenants—the religious leaders—to consider this question. By asking the question, he has brought the seriousness of their rebellion to light. No one would dare excuse the tenant’s murder of the Son. No one would dare justify the tenant’s revolt from the owner.
Those who reject Jesus Christ will not be spared. Those who refuse to listen to the Son of God will not be pardoned. The owner will destroy those who destroyed His vineyard.
Friend, you will one day stand before the Owner of the universe. You will be called into the courtroom of the Lord Almighty. When that day comes, only one thing will matter—did you listen to His Son?
On a different occasion, Jesus told the story of two houses. Both faced the winds and waves of God’s judgment. One house fell and was destroyed, and one house weathered the storm and stood strong. The one that remained was built upon the words of Jesus Christ. What is your house built upon?
(John 3:17-18 ESV) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Have you believed in the Son? Have you received Him? Have you listened to Him? If not, you need to right now.
Judgment isn’t the only resolution to this story. The tenants are condemned, but the vineyard isn’t destroyed. Instead it’s given to someone else. Jesus is looking ahead to the church. God’s special, chosen people will no longer gather as a nation, but as a church made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
In other words, the wicked acts of the religious leaders didn’t derail the plans of God. God would raise up a new vineyard built upon Jesus Christ. Jesus would be the cornerstone of God’s new creation.
This promise assumes the resurrection. Though the Son was killed, He wasn’t gone. He wouldn’t stay dead. He would rise again and found something new and unique. The tenants didn’t count on the fact that the Son would rise from the dead. That was an unwelcome surprise.
The church father, Augustine, wrote:
“But how will you insure that the inheritance will be yours? Merely because you killed him? Hold on! You in fact did kill him, yet the inheritance is still not yours. Do you not recall the psalm which says: ‘I lie down and sleep,’ and then adds, ‘I wake again’? Did you miss that point? … Let the earth be ‘given into the hands of the wicked,’ let the flesh be left to the hands of persecutors, let them suspend him on wood with nails transfixed, pierced with a spear. The one who lies down and sleeps simply adds: ‘I will rise again.’” [v]
Jesus quoted Psalm 118 and declared that it was speaking of Him. He was the stone rejected by the religious leaders, but upon which God would build the church. God used Israel’s rejection of Jesus to spread the Gospel to the whole world.
“This was the Lord’s doing” (v.11). What was the Lord’s doing? All of it. None of it was chance. There are no accidents with God. The rejection of the Son wouldn’t stop God’s plan to call worshippers to Himself. Through their rejection, He expanded the plan. He would build His church. The church might start as a seed, but it would become a mighty oak.
The church is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Everything centers on Him. Everything rests on Him. His words become the rule for everything we do together. So, the question for us as a church is this, does the Word of Jesus Christ rule our life together?
Churches are often ruled by individuals—whether a pastor or a prominent family. Churches can be ruled by tradition—that’s how we’ve always done it…”that’s how we did it before you got here and that’s how we’ll do it after you’re gone.” Churches can be ruled by numbers—we must be doing right because more people are attending. Churches can be ruled by what they think the Bible says. We are responsible to know what the Word says and to deliberately build our life upon it.
There are currently over 15,000 radio stations and almost 4,000 TV stations in the United States. If you were to visit the iTunes store on your computer, you would have the choice of over 20 million songs to download. Since iTunes was launched over 16 billion songs have been downloaded, and the average iTunes home library contains 7,160 songs. Mine has 2,163 songs and sermons. If you started at the first one and listened straight through to the last one, it would take you 7½ days without stopping. We have never had more options of what to listen to, and it has never been more important to listen to the Son.
Who do you listen to? We get up and turn on the television and listen to the Sportscenter anchors talk about last night’s game. We get in our cars and listen to talk radio rant about last night’s debate. We get to work and listen to the office gossip. We get home and listen to our family and friends. We turn on a movie or watch TV or read the paper. We are inundated by voices. Do you ever stop to listen to Jesus? Do you ever seek quiet so that you can hear Him speak to you through His Word?
Satan would like nothing more than to keep you listening to so many things—even good things—that you never stopped to listen to the one voice that matters. God sent His Son to this earth; nothing matters more than listening to Him.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: Scholastic, 1952) 46.
[ii] Ibid., 46-47.
[iii] Ibid., 58.
[iv] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 358.
[v] Quoted in Mark, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998) 166.