The 19th Sunday After Trinity October 2, 2005
15, 31, 245, 398
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
In Jesus’ name, dear fellow Christians:
If you wanted to express your deep love for someone, how would you do it? You could pick up the phone, and tell the person how you feel. You could write down your thoughts in letter form. You might choose to go for a quiet walk in a park where you could be alone with that special individual. You could buy a gift or send a bouquet of flowers as a token of your love. But perhaps one of the best ways to show love is through song. The words and music of songs have a way of communicating and touching the heart like nothing else can. The deepest feelings—ecstatic joy to the most profound grief—can be conveyed by the melody, chords, and voice used in a song. That is why there have been thousands of love songs written over the years.
God also chose to use a song to express His love—a love so strong that it overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, a love that has never wavered from eternity, a love directed toward the people of Israel, but also intended for all of us. Of all the love songs ever composed, God’s song of love is the greatest!
The life of any song is its melody. The melody moves it along and gives it form. The melody in God’s song is His divine love. Without it there would be no song at all. He compares His love to that of a landowner for his vineyard. The man showed his love in every possible way. He carefully picked out the perfect location on a fertile hillside. He spared no effort in preparing and working the ground. He planted only the very best vines. He provided protection by means of a watchtower, and even prepared for the harvest by cutting a vat for the wine out of rock.
God showed the same degree of love for the people of Israel. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.” [v.7] He planted them in just the right spot by rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land of Canaan, a place described as a land flowing with milk and honey. He provided for their protection by driving out all the heathen nations in the area. With the Lord on their side, there was not an army in the world which could stop them. The massive, fortified walls of Jericho crumbled to dust in just a few seconds at God’s command.
God showed His love by giving the people a tremendous leader in Moses. The Lord gave them His holy Law, and a long line of prophets. He provided a beautiful tabernacle and worship forms which were designed to assure the people of God’s continuing love and care. He gave them priests who offered sacrifices for sin, and prayed for the people. Above all, He promised that He would one day send a Messiah-King who would establish a perfect kingdom of peace, and who would rule eternally. God truly loved Israel in every way possible!
But His love is so great that it did not stop with Israel. He loves us too. He truly cares about your life and mine. He is not an impersonal, unfeeling Force as some think of Him. He says to you personally: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3 NIV). “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
He has shown His great love for us by planting faith in our hearts, and making us His own special people. Many of us were first brought to faith through baptism as infants, and so we have had all the blessings of being children of God as long as we can remember. We have had Christian parents, faithful Sunday school teachers, and pastors who have helped us grow in faith and understanding.
God has blessed us with a rich supply of His Word. We take it for granted that we have at least one, and more likely, several copies of the Bible in our homes. We can walk into almost any bookstore, and buy an inexpensive Bible in a translation which we can easily read and comprehend. It’s hard to imagine anything different, but in many areas of the world Bibles are scarce or non-existent.
We have a comfortable, well-equipped church building where we can gather to worship the Lord without fear of government interference. As a result of all these things, we can read or hear the message of salvation through Christ virtually any time we wish. What more could God do for us? He has also blessed us with various talents and abilities, earthly possessions, and a standard of living far beyond that of most people in the world. The Lord has shown tremendous love toward us!
In an ideal love song, the love expressed is matched by a corresponding love in the other person’s heart. The landowner who showed such nurturing love for his vineyard was looking forward to receiving a rich harvest of grapes in return. God had shown great love toward Israel. He had done everything possible for them. “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” [v.4] He looked for the fruit of justice and righteousness. He wanted His love to be reflected in the people’s love and obedience toward Him, and in love for each other. But what did He find? He saw bloodshed and heard cries of distress.
The verses which follow our text are a horrible catalog of Israel’s unbelief and sin. In their greed they added house to house and field to field, until they squeezed others off the land. They got up early in the morning to satisfy their addiction to alcohol. They lived for the pleasures of this life. They mocked God, and showed no concern for the needs of others. They rejected God’s prophets and their message. According to tradition, they stoned Jeremiah to death, and Isaiah was sawn in half by King Manasseh! Centuries later, they even killed God’s own Son on the cross!
What more could God do? Israel had turned her back on God’s love, and so the nation would become like a ruined, deserted vineyard. The Babylonians would sweep through the land destroying everything in their path, and carrying off the people as hostages. Jerusalem would become a ghost town, and the temple a pile of rubble.
As was true of Israel, God has every right to expect a bumper crop of fruit from us too. He has connected us to the perfect vine, for Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5 NIV). He has placed us in the perfect vineyard of His Church. He provides us with His loving care as the perfect landowner.
But what kind of fruit does the Lord find in us? Does love for God always beat strongly in our hearts? Do we show our love by our eagerness to use His Word in our homes, or are Bible reading and family devotions often preempted by other activities? Do we cherish our prayer time each day, or do we rush through a few well-worn prayers as fast as we can, just to be able to say we did it? Do we gratefully use our opportunities to gather in the Lord’s house with one another, or have we lost the wonder of all the Lord offers, so that we find ourselves in church only when we feel it’s convenient, and there is nothing else on our schedule? When we do worship, is our singing halfhearted? When God’s Word is read, do our thoughts wander off to how we are going to spend the rest of the day? When the collection plate is passed down the pew, do we resent it as another financial drain on an already tight budget?
When we compare, side by side, God’s love for us with our response, we have to confess that many times we have been content with producing a single, poor grape, or maybe even nothing at all, rather than a plump, full cluster. With the repentant people of Israel, we sadly admit: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3 NIV). “I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6).
Often a song will have several verses, but each verse will end with the same refrain. Throughout history there have been many sad verses telling of mankind’s sin and unbelief, but the Lord’s loving refrain of hope has remained unchanged. Even God’s stern warning of judgment upon sin was intended to serve a purpose of love. He doesn’t find pleasure in condemning sinners, and to those who turn to Him in faith, He offers a way out.
Even as He spoke about destroying the vineyard and abandoning it to briers and thorns, there is a promise of help in the very name which He uses for Himself. He calls Himself the Lord. It is the name Jehovah or Yahweh, which refers to God being the God of promise who told Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that through their family line all people on earth would be blessed. Isaiah prophesied that in spite of Israel’s sin, a virgin would conceive and bear a child who would be called Immanuel, that is, God with us (cf. Isaiah 7:14). God loved the human race so much that He Himself became one of us and lived here in this wicked, corrupt world in order to rescue people from sin and punishment. He would establish a new, lasting peace between people and God. In Him all sin would be forgiven.
Our help, too, lies in the refrain of God’s love for us in Christ. Yes, we are just as guilty as the Israelites of not producing the kind of fruit the Lord wants to see. By our sin we deserve God’s eternal punishment. But God’s love song to us is that there is no situation so hopeless, no life so bad, no opportunity so wasted that the Lord cannot restore and forgive. By His perfect, sinless life Jesus offers us the righteousness we need to be at peace with God. By the cross, Jesus rescued us from the punishment we deserve by suffering it in our place. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).
Through Jesus God calls us His perfect, pleasing, delightful vineyard. With the burden of guilt lifted off our consciences, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with love for God which then produces good fruit in our lives. With the past forgiven, we want to serve God in every way we can. We want to show love for Him by loving one another, and not just living for ourselves. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
There are some songs you can listen to over and over again and never grow tired of them. The words and music run through your mind all day long. You find yourself humming the melody in the shower or while driving. The song of God’s love is like that. How could we ever become tired of hearing that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)? That really is music to our ears! May God’s song of love inspire us to sing our own songs of praise in return! Amen.
When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I’m lost
In wonder, love, and praise.
Through all eternity to Thee
A joyful song I’ll raise;
But, oh! Eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.