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Rejected and Marvelous

Oct 08, 2017

Passage: Matthew 21:33-46

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost


In Jesus’ Name. Amen. What is it with the insane habit not to do things or take things or practice things that we can do easily – that are totally good for us – and yet, not take advantage of those things? In our enlightened information age, we know for a fact that even just 10-15 minutes of exercise every-day is good for us (not only physically, but mentally). We know why certain foods are good and yet how easy it is to go to the other ones instead? We know that actually smiling and purposely serving other people – even from just a psychological perspective – makes us feel better when we do. From a far-greater motive, however, we know that to serve others is an expression of faith and the action of love. So why don’t we do it more often? How hard is it really to bless someone with the truth of the gospel for all people? And yet how we shrivel and give up so many golden opportunities.

But not only do we not have more drive for the good things, but we go the other way, towards the bad. We get into habits of being combative and argumentative. It can become commonplace to complain and to criticize. Just conduct a simple experiment while watching media even just for an hour and ask yourself how much complaining and criticizing you hear in a 60-minute block. Can you detect my criticism of this problem? It won’t surprise you then that I also complain about it. It’s all around us. And it’s infectious. It puts us into a frame of mind that rejects the good and embraces the bad. This pattern is the way in which humanity demonstrates that what the Holy Scriptures identify as our problems, are really our problems.

The heinous attack in Las Vegas confronted us with the blunt force of evil. It’s shocking. And as we have tried to process it, we have heard from many sources the question, “Why?” As a result, top professionals are on the case. The question is being asked by law-enforcement, by psycho-analysts, by philosophers, and political and cultural commentators…and some theologians. We are all asking “Why?”

Because the question is compelling and because the crime was so grave, it means that looking into the man’s history is important: examining his family background, his associations, his medical condition, anything that recorded his thoughts and/or intentions…any clue that might help answer “Why?”

But dear Christians, the answer has already been given us. It is not a mystery. The answer in God’s Word is threefold: such things – and the compulsion in all of us to go the way of the bad instead of the good – is because of sin, the world, and the devil. The answers have been there in front of us for millennia.

More amazing than the darkness of our horrible maladies, however, is what the Lord has done for us in the meantime. He waits in love and mercy. He waits in kindness so that we would have time to repent and turn to Him and thus be saved from these three diabolical monsters all of which lead to death and condemnation; darkness and hopelessness. Why would anyone want to go in that direction?

St. Matthew’s gospel is a great help to us as we struggle with these things. In Matthew chapter 21 we hear of our Lord during the week of His crucifixion; the content of our gospel is just a few days before He would be murdered. And in this chapter, St. Matthew records three events that occur in the temple in Jerusalem, and then he records three parables taught by our Lord. Three temple events; three parables.

The temple events include the Lord cleansing the temple. When He saw the sinful ways of men wanting to profit from religion -- taking advantage of the people who had come to atone for their sins -- Jesus saw the bad and so He corrected it. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and He made a whip out of chords and drove them out. The bad was the greed of men; the good was the purity of the Lord…He brings His good to cover our bad.

The second event was the Lord miraculously healing the lame and the blind in the temple; and shouts were heard, “Hosanna to the Son of David (for the wonderful things He was doing)!” In the face of this great good, the bad came out. The religious leaders were deeply offended. There was a drive by the bad to push away the good that Jesus was bringing.

The third event was the basis for last Sunday’s message. It was in the temple where Jesus was confronted by the bad: the religious leaders questioning His authority. The good was that Jesus answered their question with a question: He wanted them and all who hear these words to know that He is the Savior from heaven just as John’s prophetic ministry was from heaven. The bad was to question, “What gives you the right?!” The good is the revelation that Jesus used His rights to save us from our enemies!

So with these three temple events on the good and the bad; Jesus taught – and still teaches – about these things. He, our great Savior, was not and is not overwhelmed by the bad, but He is the One who overwhelms. How many of those in Las Vegas who were shot on that terrifying night, received the ministry of angels to carry them to the Lord by the grace of God? How many who were shot received extraordinary love and sacrifice from those who saved their lives? How much true light did people see in that city that for nine minutes was shrouded by the darkness of evil? There was still good even in the face of the bad. And there is still good flowing today…The Lord works through tragedy in ways we can never imagine or suspect. He is still working good and more than a few people have come to the Lord as a result. From Steven Buuck, Executive Director of Faith Jr. Sr. High School, Las Vegas: “So, a tough day for our school and certainly our city, but we have a God greater than all this…(PSWD Special Edition email).”

Yes, we do, and His Name is “Jesus.” In those three parables the Lord is extending the bottom line that in-spite of all the sin and all the rebellion of His people Israel, He still continued to see His people as sons (family members!); as trusted tenant workmen given the privilege to serve in His kingdom; and as honored guests invited to the wedding feast. This is overwhelming love. Even in the face of rejection: He still called His people to repentance and to be moved to follow Him because He – in the greatest love – was saying, you’re still my people; I’m still your God!

To describe just how stunningly complete and all-sufficient His love and mercy is He described how He provided for Israel: He gave them His very own vineyard the promised land; He planted them securely and vowed to protect and provide for them through the hedge that surrounded them (namely His holy Law and covenant); He provided the winepress in the temple; He gave them the tower of the prophetic ministry to always keep His grace before them: showing them the coming of Messiah/The Christ. They lacked nothing. They had everything! They were rich beyond compare. This was the good.

But even when we have so much good staring at us, we get crazy and go the other way. This is sin. We listen to the allurements that deceive us (this is the world). We are entrapped by the enemy who seeks to devour us (the devil). In lunacy, we start to believe like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day that it’s better to reject Him than to accept Him. It is like saying that it is better to drink cyanide than to drink water.

We know we can be this way, but the Lord reminded His people about the phenomenal patience of God. He sent the prophets, His servants to those tending His vineyard. What is truly mind-blowing is that the more wicked Israel got, the more prophets the Lord sent. From Moses the first prophet to John the Baptist, the last, the Lord sent prophets for 1500 years before Christ to call His people to know His love. For 15 centuries the Lord was patient and filled with long-suffering. From 900 B.C. to 600 B.C. alone, He sent 13 prophets from Elijah to Obadiah; He sent two more during the exile and three more after it…and finally, John the Baptist (the overview provided by Buls, Exegetical Notes: Gospel Texts: Series A, Matthew-John Sundays after Pentecost, Fort Wayne: CTS Press, 1981. 73). And yet over-and-over again, they were rejected: beaten, killed, stoned…it’s interesting that the word “stoned” is listed after “killed” (you would think the order to be the other way), but the significance is that only blasphemers against God were to be stoned…in other words the rejection and darkness got so bad that the prophets of light, and truth, and love were treated like the enemies of God…that’s how crazy it got.

And finally God sent His Son. We might react. Didn’t God know what was going to happen next? Yeah, He did. But not only does how the Son was treated prove the nightmarish seriousness of sin; but it shows the astounding love and mercy of God. That’s how powerful God’s grace is. You could be drenched in the most faith-robbing rebellion; and as long as it is called today; God still comes to you through Christ!

But Jesus is also giving a warning. Verse 41 says “Badly, will He destroy bad men.” Christ is the answer to our terrible predicament. When we are in the maze that says there is only our sin, Christ comes and leads us to a new vineyard called His Holy Church. His plan was a new vineyard all along…one made up of Jews and Gentiles, but the key: made up of all nations of people who know Jesus and who confess that He is the good that overwhelms all their bad.

We are called to know Him as He is here revealed: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes (verse 42).” You say, “How can being rejected be marvelous? Easy answer: even though His rejection led to His being crucified…consider what His crucifixion led to! It led to His taking your curse away; it led to His putting your sin on Himself and covering it with His life-giving blood; it led to His glorious resurrection that overcame death: your death has gotten the death beat out of it. That’s why the rejection was marvelous; that’s why the Rejected One is the Marvelous One.

We can’t take Him from granted. He comes to us now as the cornerstone. This does not mean a foundation below – though He is also our foundation – but He is the “head of the corner”…the highest stone in a corner of the wall that is both conspicuous and structurally indispensable (France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans: Cambridge, 2007. 815).” It’s a unique identification for our Lord and Savior: sometimes the concept is described as keeping the building together, but that doesn’t even do it justice: it is more than that, the cornerstone or cap stone “governs every angle of both the foundation and the building itself (Lenski, 843).” Everything is defined and redeemed by this. All angles, all members of this temple – like you the baptized having been washed by Jesus’ blood and filled with life through Jesus’ resurrection – have your lives filled with light instead of darkness; your angles are clear; your structure is strong; your chaos has been wiped away by meaning and salvation; you are now in the strong building of the Body of Christ instead of a collapsing building of the world! Everything is different; everything is changed; life swallows death; faith overcomes unbelief; love is exchanged for destruction.

So we know Him now. You, the baptized into Christ – forgiven all your sins – won’t stumble on Him, because you know Him. But those who stumble and fall on Him, will be broken up; shattered; and those upon whom He falls, they will be judged for having rejected Him and they will be ground to powder. This is a terrifying warning, but Jesus came even for those who reject so that they could turn and trust in Him!

Jesus came for rejecters! He died for us even while we were rejecting Him. He came when we were lost and He became our cornerstone…our lives make sense the moment we are in alignment with Him…we have a new house: Jesus!