Track 1: The Fear of the Lord
God calls us out of this fallen world. He wants us to come apart and be separate os that we may have fellowship with him. The story fo the children of Israel is our story.
When God came down on Mount Sinai to speak with the children of Israel it was a frightening experience for them. From Exodus we read:
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” (Exodus 20:18-20)
Fear, however, kept the Israelites from wanting to come close to God. God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Anyone who is in the near presence of God becomes manifestly aware of their sin. Though the Israelites told Moses they would listen to whatever God said through Moses, they did not want to hear from him directly.
History proved them wrong. They did not listen actually listen to God because they wanted to hold on to their sins. Moses told them that the fear they experienced in God’s presence was designed to keep them from sinning.
A Holy God must judge sin. People fear God because they fear his judgement. He read in Hebrews:
For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30-31)
Is this fear bad? The psalmist tells us that fear of the Lord is a good thing:
The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether. (Psalm 19:9)
The Hebrew word translated as “clean” means “purifying.” Without a fear of God their is little desire to be purified. Obviously many people living in this world today have little fear of God.
In Proverbs we read:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10)
Fear is not the end of wisdom, however. Fear has to do with punishment. The Apostle John places fear in the perspective of the Gospel.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:16-18)
God is still calling us to come into his presence. Where do we stand today? Do we desire to get closer to him or do we stand back? The Apostle Paul did not stand back. In today’s Epistle we read:
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:8-14)
Paul understood that he was not going to be able to fulfill the righteous requirements of God’s law on his own. He needed to press in to God by growing in knowledge of Christ. Paul rejected himself and what he could accomplish on his own. Rather, his building block became Jesus Christ.
Jesus, in today’s Gospel, speaks about himself as the cornerstone:
“Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’? (Matthew 21:42)
Do we know Jesus as our cornerstone? He alone can satisfy the righteous requirements of the law. He alone can present us spotless before the Father in heaven. He alone can perfect us in love. He took our punishment on the cross so that we may boldly approach him by faith. Is he calling us today to come closer? If so, why would we stand back?
Track 2: The Unfruitful Vineyard
From today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah we have the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard:
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;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people 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 expected 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 it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
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 people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!. (Isaiah 5:1-7)
The house of Israel is the vineyard. God had great expectations for Israel. Of all the nations on earth God took great care to protect and nature Israel. He looked for Israel to produce fruit. They were to provide fruit upon which the whole world would feast. But this did not happen which brought judgement from God.
The psalmist asked:
Why have you broken down its wall,
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?
The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it,
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.
Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine;
preserve what your right hand has planted. (Psalm 80:12-14)
God tends his vineyard. He provides the sunshine of his love. He waters the vineyard with his Word and Spirit. God expects fruit in return. The plants must simply drink in God’s nourishment.
Jesus tells a parable:
Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” (Matthew 21:33-41)
How could anyone act so atrociously? How could they be so selfish? What could have possibly prompted the tenants in the parable to behave in such a bizarre way? Perhaps they wanted to prove they could tend the vineyard on their own, without the landowner’s help? Perhaps they decided that they should take ownership of the vineyard and eliminate the Landowners participation altogether? How could they be so evil? And how could we crucify the Lord of Glory?
Israel is still the planting of the Lord. God has not abandoned them. We are the ingrafted branches of Israel. We, therefore, are also the planting of the Lord, provided that we have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Do we see in our selves any of the characteristics that were in the tenants in the parable? Another way of asking this question: Are we producing fruit in our lives – fruit that remains. In John’s Gospel we read:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)
The tenants in the parable thought they could produce fruit on there own. But they could not. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees through this parable. Is he speaking to us today?
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” (Matthew :42-44)
If we are to produce fruit then we cannot reject Jesus, his teachings, and his gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. He is the vinedresser and we are the branches.