Israel, God’s Special Field
5 Now I will sing a song to my friend. This song is about his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a hill with very rich soil.
2 He dug and cleared the field of stones.
He planted the best grapevines there.
And he built a tower in the middle of it.
He cut out a winepress as well.
He hoped good grapes would grow there.
But only bad grapes grew.
3 My friend says, “You people living in Jerusalem,
and you men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard?
I did everything I could.
I hoped for good grapes to grow.
But why were there only bad grapes?
5 Now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will remove the hedge,
and it will be burned.
I will break down the stone wall,
and it will be walked on.
6 I will ruin my field.
It will not be trimmed or hoed.
Weeds and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard belonging to the Lord of heaven’s armies
is the nation of Israel.
The garden that the Lord loves
is the men of Judah.
The Lord looked for justice, but there was only killing.
The Lord hoped for right living, but there were only cries of pain.
4 Even if I am able to trust in myself, still I do not. If anyone thinks that he has a reason to trust in himself, he should know that I have greater reason for trusting in myself. 5 I was circumcised eight days after my birth. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrews, and my parents were Hebrews. The law of Moses was very important to me. That is why I became a Pharisee. 6 I was so enthusiastic that I tried to hurt the church. No one could find fault with the way I obeyed the law of Moses. 7 At one time all these things were important to me. But now I think those things are worth nothing because of Christ. 8 Not only those things, but I think that all things are worth nothing compared with the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Christ, I have lost all those things. And now I know that all those things are worthless trash. This allows me to have Christ 9 and to belong to him. Now that I belong to Christ, I am right with God and this being right does not come from my following the law. It comes from God through faith. God uses my faith in Christ to make me right with him. 10 All I want is to know Christ and the power of his rising from death. I want to share in Christ’s sufferings and become like him in his death. 11 If I have those things, then I have hope that I myself will be raised from death.
Continuing Toward Our Goal
12 I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that. That is the reason Christ made me his. 13 Brothers, I know that I have not yet reached that goal. But there is one thing I always do: I forget the things that are past. I try as hard as I can to reach the goal that is before me. 14 I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize. That prize is mine because God called me through Christ to the life above.
God Sends His Son
33 “Listen to this story: There was a man who owned a vineyard. He put a wall around the vineyard and dug a hole for a winepress. Then he built a tower. He leased the land to some farmers and left for a trip. 34 Later, it was time for the grapes to be picked. So the man sent his servants to the farmers to get his share of the grapes. 35 But the farmers grabbed the servants, beat one, killed another, and then killed a third servant with stones. 36 So the man sent some other servants to the farmers. He sent more servants than he sent the first time. But the farmers did the same thing to the servants that they had done before. 37 So the man decided to send his son to the farmers. He said, ‘The farmers will respect my son.’ 38 But when the farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the owner’s son. This vineyard will be his. If we kill him, then his vineyard will be ours!’ 39 So the farmers grabbed the son, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 So what will the owner of the vineyard do to these farmers when he comes?”
41 The priests and leaders said, “He will surely kill those evil men. Then he will lease the vineyard to some other farmers. They will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Surely you have read this in the Scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders did not want
became the cornerstone.
The Lord did this,
and it is wonderful to us.’ Psalm 118:22-23
43 “So I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you. It will be given to people who do the things God wants in his kingdom. 44 The person who falls on this stone will be broken. But if the stone falls on him, he will be crushed.”[a]
45 The leading priests and the Pharisees heard these stories that Jesus told. They knew he was talking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him. But they were afraid of the people, because the people believed that Jesus was a prophet.
So let’s talk about this farmer who planted all the vines and built the tower and wine press. Clearly this is an important story; it comes from the prophet Isaiah and the Jesus talks about it as well. Well, what does it mean? What are we supposed to learn from this? Maybe it is better if we review exactly what happened. The ground that was chosen was very good ground, the farmer took the time to clear all the stones so that it would be easy to plant, and the vines would not be choked out. It was walled off to keep out animals that might hurt the plants, and to keep people from walking though the field. A tower and winepress were built right there so that the grapes did not need to be moved to be made to wine. And yet, only bad grapes grew that could not be eaten or used for wine. As the farmer says, “What more could I have done for my vineyard? I did everything I could. I hoped for good grapes to grow.” What did the farmer do wrong?
Is it possible that the farmer did nothing wrong, and the field, so carefully prepared and tended, still failed to give good grapes? Let’s think about this in terms of playing a game. Games have clear rules to follow, whether it is Candyland or Softball. There are things you have to do to play the game and be successful. What happens when two people are playing a game, and both are doing what they need to do to be successful? Do they both win? Is that even possible? What do we think about the person who follows all the rules and does the right things, but still loses the game? Did they do anything wrong? What was the point of playing the game, or of planting a field? Do you play a game just to follow the rules, is that the automatic way to victory? Let’s see what Paul would say.
“. No one could find fault with the way I obeyed the law of Moses. 7 At one time all these things were important to me. But now I think those things are worth nothing because of Christ.” Paul lived a life where he followed all the rules, the Law of Moses. Paul’s reason for living was the follow the rules. If he played a game, he thought that he would win simply by following every rule. Just like the farmer thought he would get good grapes if he just did all the work in preparing things. But Paul realized something; he realized life was not about the rules, but about Jesus, and what he said. Paul knew that winning did not come through following the rules alone, but from something more. In a game it comes from enjoyment, in life it comes from trying to follow Jesus. “I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that.” If we follow the rules but never work to get better, we won’t win many games. If we plant vines but never learn from our mistakes, we won’t ever get good grapes. If we follow the Law but are satisfied with that, we will never make ourselves better. Life, like any game or task, is not simply about checking off a series of boxes. It is about always working to make ourselves better followers of Jesus. It is about constantly finding what God has laid in our path and working to make ourselves fit for those tasks.
It might not be everyone’s lot in life to be fast enough to run races in the Olympics, to be a major league baseball player, or win a Nobel Prize for chemistry. Even if you trained like an Olympian, or studied at the best science programs. It might simply not be what God has set before you. However, each of us has been given something that we can do in a great way, maybe in a way that is better than anyone else. Finding what that is, how we find it, and how we best fulfill the task is the work we can all do. This is what Paul is telling us to keep trying to reach; this is the prize that we each seek. It is not one that we choose for ourselves, nor is it one we can attain alone. To try to do it by ourselves is to be like the farmer, we can prepare the soil, build a wall, dig a winepress, but if we go it on our own, we can still get bad grapes. We must have help from God to truly reach our goal.