Luke 20

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Some time ago someone said to me, ‘If I were God I’d make myself clearer.’. And I thought that was a pretty good statement or a pretty good question. So I set my mind to try and answer that question, ‘If I were God I’d make myself clearer’. We are going to have a look at Luke Chapter 20- I think this passage will help us look at that question. Luke chapter 20 and we will be looking at verses 9 to 19. Edward Tabash, a Beverly Hills lawyer addressed God at the University of California, and he said,

“If you are listening, if you are really there, show yourself right now. Perform a miracle. Show me something more that ancient hearsay to prove your existence.”

There was no response and so Tabash concluded quite obviously that there was no God. Someone said to me, he said,

“Martin, I would believe in God if I could meet him, if I could talk to him, if I could touch him. If only I could see God I would be convinced.”

You see, I think if we are honest, most of us have had those thoughts ourselves. Why doesn’t God show himself? Why doesn’t he perform a miracle? Why doesn’t he just make himself clearer? One author said, I quote, he said,

“Some mothers are angry with god as if he were a too busy parent who should have known better. People should not have children if they are not going to be good parents, and a god shouldn’t create people if he is going to leave them on their own in a latch key universe. No wonder some of us couldn’t care less about god.”

Now the parable that we have in front of us is a parable told by Jesus and Jesus seems to echo the same kind of thoughts. I’m sure you notice there in verse 9, the planter of the vineyard represents God, and the parable seems to affirm that there is a distance between us and God. It seems to affirm some kind of absence of God. Notice verse 9,

“He went on to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.’ ”

So Jesus tells this parable and he seems to understand that there is some kind of distance between us as people and himself. Let’s unpack the passage which I think will help us to answer that question ‘If I were God I’d make myself clearer’. Three questions I’d like to answer as we look at this passage, this parable that Jesus told.

First, What is the reason for the distance?

Its quite obvious here, verse 9, isn’t it that there’s a very real distance between the man who planted the vineyard representing God and the tenant farmers. And the obvious question as we read that is, Why? What is the reason for that distance? Now the Bible answers that question right in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis which is of course the first book in the bible. After God created man and woman, our fore-parents Adam and Eve, we are told in Genesis Chapter 3 that man and woman rejected God. They rejected God, they rejected his authority. By eating the forbidden fruit they effectively said to God, ‘We don’t need you. We don’t want you. We will live life in our own way. We will be our own gods. We will make our own rules. We will make our own happiness, our own world.’ And then you remember that after eating the fruit God came walking in the Garden in the cool of the evening. And then we are told, and its quite interesting, that its Adam and Eve who hid from God. It wasn’t God who hid from them. No, they hid from God. The apostle Paul in Romans Chapter 1 tells us exactly the same thing. He says in Chapter 1,

“Since the creation of the world God’s…. eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen,”. “…what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain…”. But men have “..suppressed the truth by their wickedness,…”.

So Paul tells us that everybody knows that there is a God. He’s an eternal God. He’s an immortal God. Its quite obvious says Paul from creation, and yet we have suppressed that truth by our wickedness. The word suppress is not a passive word. It is an active word. It’s a deliberate word. It’s the idea of holding something down; otherwise it is going to bubble up. It’s intentional. It is the kind of word you would use if you were a mother with a two year old child, and you try to buckle in your two year old child into the back seat of a motorcar. Well you have got to hold them down until the buckle is in otherwise the child is going to bubble up. That’s the word. We suppressed the truth intentionally, actively. You see the great shock of Genesis 3 and Romans 1 is that it tells us that the reason for the distance between us and God is not God, it’s us! We have rejected God. We have rebelled against God. We have said to God, ‘I don’t need you! I don’t want you! I will be the master of my own life! I will be the lord of my own destiny! I don’t want to live under your authority!’ You see, we don’t want someone else to tell us what to do. We don’t want God to be God in our lives because I want to be the God in my own life. That’s the heart of sin. Now have a look here at verse 10. That rebellion against God is patently clear here in this passage isn’t it? Notice verse 10,

“At harvest time he sent his servant to the tenants so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. he sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent him way empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.”.

So the tenants, these contract workers, these farmers, have rejected the owner’s authority. They have taken over the property as if it is their own. You see, what you have here is a unilateral declaration of independence. It’s a rebellion. It’s a bit like those pirates. Have you seen in the newspaper these pirates who have taken over an oil tanker on the east coast of Africa? Well that’s precisely what you have here. Those pirates took over the oil tanker. They took the crew, two British officers as hostages. They took it over as if it belonged to them. And that is what you have here in verses 10 to 13, they have taken over, these highjackers, these tenants, have taken over the world as if they owned it.

Now of course the bible tells us, that’s the heart of sin. Of course sin is when we lie and steal and commit adultery. But in sense those are the symptoms. The heart of sin is when we say to God, ‘I don’t need you. I don’t want you. I reject your authority.’. Like those pirates taking over that oil tanker we are taking ownership of this. This is quite obvious as you read this parable that the reason for the distance between us and God is not God, its us.

Second, What has God done to bridge the distance?

The second question that we need to ask as we look at this passage is, “What has God done to bridge the distance?”. What has God done to try and bridge this distance that we have between us and God? Well we have already seen here in verses 9 to 12 that God hasn’t abandoned us. The owner of the vineyard kept sending messengers. He kept sending servants to speak to the tenants. But in every case the tenants or farmers rejected the messengers. They opposed them. They beat them up. Notice verse 10,

“..the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.”

Verse 11,

“He sent another servant… also beat him and sent him away empty-handed.”

Verse 12 the same thing. Now the obvious question is that if the owner of the vineyard represents God and if the tenants represent men and women like you and me, who do the servants represent? Well we know from the rest of the bible that they represent God’s initiative to bridge that distance between us and Him. So in the Old Testament God sent prophets, his spokesmen who came to bring God’s message to his people. But they rejected them. They threw them out. They beat them up. In the New Testament we know that God sent John the Baptist, and John the Baptist came there to prepare the way for Jesus, to preach a message of repentance. But what did they do with John the Baptist? They beat him up as well! You see, what that tells us is that God has taken the initiative to bridge the distance between him and ourselves. You see, it’s quite obvious. God is not hiding. God is not the one who is far away. No, God has spoken. The God of the bible is the God who has spoken. He has revealed himself. He has taken the initiative to speak to us in human words, words that we can understand. It’s extraordinary, that the God of the bible, the one who created all things, has spoken, has revealed himself so that we can know him and we can love him. And he has spoken in words. He has spoken in human language so that we can hear him and we can understand him. Now that’s not illogical. That’s not unreasonable. Surely if we the creatures can communicate and speak in the most intimate terms and the most detailed terms, if we can communicate in words, in writing - well surely if the creature can do that so can the creator. Its not illogical at all.

But God has done more that just send the Old Testament prophets and new Testament messengers like John the Baptist. God has sent many other messengers. Let me mention three of them. The Bible tells us that all human beings are made in the image of God. Genesis chapter 1 verse 26,

“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ ”

That has enormous implications. But one of the implications is that if we are made in the image of God we have a longing to know God, to have a relationship with God. The animals don’t have that. The birds and the reptiles and the insects, they don’t pray and worship and sing Advent carols. Only human beings do that. You see, we are made in the image of God. We have a longing for eternity. We have a longing to know God. Augustine who was a great African theologian, said, ‘Oh God, you have made us for yourself and hearts are restless until they have found their rest in you.’. Do you remember the movie The Matrix where Morpheus says to Neo,

‘Let me tell you why you are here. it is because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You have felt it your entire life. There is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but its there like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.’

Isn’t that a great phrase, ‘like a splinter in your mind driving you mad’? You see that’s God’s messenger in our hearts, in our souls, a longing for eternity. A longing for something that’s more than this world, more than you can touch and see and smell and count. And yet people deny it. They will ignore that God given longing, that God given hunger and thirst, and the result is that there is a splinter in your mind driving you mad.

Another messenger that God has sent is our conscience. The bible says that everybody has a conscience, some knowledge of right and wrong. Paul tells us in Romans Chapter 2, he says that even Gentiles or non-believers have the requirements of God’s law written on their hearts. Imagine interviewing someone from the deepest jungles of Africa or South America. And you interview this man and he may have one or two or three or four wives, but if you asked him if its right for someone to come to your house and take your wife and sleep with her, of course he would say no. Is it right for your children to treat you just like one of their friends or their brothers or sisters? Well of course he would say no. Is it right for your brother or wife to lie to you? No! Is it right for someone to walk into your hut or home and just take what doesn’t belong to them? Well of course he would say no. What do we have there? We have at least four of the ten commandments, written on the heart. That’s the conscience. There are certain things we can’t not know. People deny that there is a conscience. They suppress it, they beat it up, but its there, one of God’s messengers.

A third messenger that God has given us is creation. Paul talked about that in Romans Chapter 1 when I read to you earlier on, that creation is a visible disclosure of the invisible God. That when we look at creation we see something of the greatness of God and the power of God. Think of the planet, think of the world. Think of how extraordinary it is. Think of the most intricate design that you have in creation and where you design you have a designer. Think of a beautiful sunset, the colours and the light. Of course you only have those once in six months here in Newcastle! Think of a little baby, just its beautiful hands, its feet, its ears. Think of the human ear. Did you know that the grand piano has two hundred and forty strings and eighty eight keys? But the inner ear has twenty four thousand strings, twenty thousand keys. There are four thousand wax producing glands in the inner ear preventing dust from going in and acting as an air conditioner. Did you know that? And when you have the most intricate design you have a designer! You see, its quite obvious that there’s a God. And yet men and women have suppressed it.

Back to Luke chapter 20 and have a look at verse 13. God has sent various messengers, prophets in the Old Testament. He’s given us a conscience. He’s given us creation. But we have rejected them. And so verse 13,

“Then the owner … said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.”

Well of course, Jesus is talking about himself. And tragically they didn’t respect him and they didn’t listen to him. Notice, verse 14:

“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said, ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

Of course Jesus is foretelling his own death here. And this evening we have had Advent carols where we remember the birth of Jesus. All babies are born to live, but this baby was born to die. That’s why the angels said to Joseph, “You shall call him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins”. That’s why he came. That’s why he was born. He was born to die. He was born to die in our place. You remember when he hung upon the cross, God took the sin and the garbage and the rubbish of your life and my life and placed it upon Christ. And God poured his judgement upon Jesus so that we don’t have to face the judgement of God. He died as a substitute. That’s why he came. That’s why he was born. Many years ago in North America when the North American Indians saw a great fire coming across the prairie, they knew they couldn’t outrun, they couldn’t outrace the fire. And so what they would do was that immediately they would start a fire right where they were, so that when the great fire, swept across by great winds, came upon them they stood right in the middle of the burnt grass, and they were safe, because grass doesn’t burn twice! That’s a picture of Jesus. Jesus got burned by God’s judgement. And those who trust in him won’t get burned because he got burned on our behalf. That’s why he died!

Third, What should be our response to what Jesus has done for us?

Let me close with one last question, “What should be our response to what Jesus has done for us?” Well notice verses 17 and 18. Jesus tells us that we really have only one of two options. Only two options, says Jesus, the first option is verse 17, “The stone the builders rejected..”, that’s of course Jesus who the religious leaders of the day rejected, well that stone “…has become the capstone”. Now the capstone was the cornerstone. Its like the foundation. And Jesus says ‘The one option is to turn to me and I will become the capstone, the cornerstone, the foundation of your life.’. And then Jesus says there is only one other option and that’s verse 18. That same stone, if you reject him, he will crush you in judgement. It is hard words, verse 18,

“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”

Jesus says only two choices, not three, not four, not five. No! Only two choices. Either he becomes the foundation of your life, the purpose of your life, the meaning of your life, the reason you are here, the reason you get up in the morning, - or you will face God’s judgement. Its one or the other says Jesus. You either accept me, or you reject me and face the consequences.

Let me close and ask you, where do you stand this evening? Isn’t it perhaps time to finally get right with God? Isn’t it time to stop ducking and diving and finally submit to him as God and to his authority? Isn’t it time to stop beating up his messengers and listen to him? Now I am going to pray a prayer, and you may want to pray this prayer. You may want to this evening. You have felt the Spirit of God pressing in upon your heart and your mind. As we have been praying and singing and listening to God’s word, you have felt the Spirit of God saying ‘Yes! Its time to get right, its time to submit to Jesus.’ And I am going to pray a prayer that will help you to get right with God. Now perhaps you are not ready yet to pray that prayer. We understand that and we appreciate that. But can I challenge you to read God’s word. Can I challenge you to stop beating up God’s messengers? Why don’t take Luke’s gospel, this passage we have been reading. Take Luke’s gospel and over the next two or three weeks you read one chapter per day, and before you read the chapters say to God, ‘Lord, if you are there, will you speak to me?’ Will you do that? Stop beating up his messengers. Ask God, if he is real, to make himself real to you as you read his word.

But perhaps tonight you are ready to get right with god. So will you bow with me your head and you heart as we turn to God in prayer. I am going to pray a prayer but let me tell you what the prayer is so that you know what it is and you can decide whether this is the prayer that you would like to pray. The prayer goes like this: “Lord I don’t understand it all, but I know that I need you. I know that Christ died upon the cross for my sin. Will you forgive me? Will you make me a Christian? And will you help me to live under your leadership?”

Now if you are ready to pray that prayer, you pray it just quietly in the back of your head, it’s between you and God and you repeat those words after me.

Lord I don’t understand it all, but I know that I need you. I know that Christ died upon the cross for my sin. Will you forgive me? Will you make me a Christian? And will you help me to live under your leadership? And Father we thank you that when we call upon you in need, when we call upon you for mercy, that you hear and you answer. Will you work amongst us even tonight? And we pray this for Christ’s sake.

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