The Substitute. Is the Cat Really Away? Luke 20:9-18

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And he (Jesus) began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a 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.  And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’  But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”  But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’? (Psalm 118:22) 

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Luke 20:9-18 (ESV)

There is a saying about the human condition – “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” A good example of this can be seen when a class of young students is left with a substitute in charge who isn’t aware of, or doesn’t have the fortitude to enforce the regular teacher’s rules.  Chaos often ensues, because some children see the absence of the regular teacher as an absence of rules and leadership.  The substitute just doesn’t radiate the same authority or carry the same gravitas.

Who are we, and how do we act when we think nobody’s watching?

In Jesus’ parable, the tenants really didn’t care what the owner’s servants were trying to accomplish. They were just hired hands after all- substitutes- and the tenants knew that the servants didn’t carry any real authority to carry out any sanctions against them.  So they were just going to do what they wanted, because they were confident they could get away with it.

The tenants didn’t take the owner’s son very seriously either. In fact, they took the opportunity to do away with the son so they could take the vineyards as their own.

We can see some of the parallels of Jesus’ example today. Many people in today’s world do not acknowledge the existence of God, or believe that He is involved in the world and in individual lives. The “cat’s away” mentality among many people has led to widespread lawlessness and an increase of evil in the world.  Those without faith and trust in God are like the tenants who behave as if the owner doesn’t care what we do, or that the owner of the vineyard is powerless to do anything about our misbehavior.

Jesus makes it clear that even though the authorities of the world rejected Him and even put Him to death, that He is the foundation- the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To reject Him is to reject the life of the vineyard, to be banished and separated from God.

The way of the cross will break us- when by the grace of God we fall upon that Cornerstone we are broken, but broken in good ways. Our pride will be shattered. Our hearts of stone are replaced by soft hearts of flesh that God can use to His glory.  The haughty smirks are wiped off our faces. We fall to our knees and pray as the tax collector prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  We remember that in our baptisms we are daily washed in water and the Word.

The “cat” is not away.  Someone is watching, whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Someone who bled and died at Calvary to take away our sins and the sins of the world is involved in every detail of our lives. For the sake of Christ and of God’s kingdom, how we live and the witness we have in the world matters.

We still live in the now, but not yet, world. We are both saints and sinners, but we should not be living like elementary school kids looking to get as much mischief in as possible while there’s a substitute teacher.  We are called to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, because He is not away.  He is with us.

November 13, 2018- Jesus at the End of All Things- Matthew 24:1-14, Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:1-14 (ESV)

Christians have speculated on the events surrounding Jesus’ return ever since His ascension almost 2,000 years ago. Most scholars agree that Jesus made a clear reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD here in verses 1 and 2.

There are thousands, perhaps millions of people over the course of history who have tried to guess the date of end of time. The study of the end times is called eschatology. Almost all religions have some version of eschatology- because humans are curious and want to know when the end of the world is going to take place. People set dates and concoct all kinds of doom and gloom scenarios. We see the documentaries on the Science Channel or Discovery Channel on Nostradamus, or on what astronomers have to say about the life and death of the universe. However, from a Christian perspective we have no way to know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return and the end of the world as we know it. Most of what Jesus has to say about the end of days is found in Matthew 24-25.

Unlike many other Christian sects, Lutherans generally don’t spend much time with speculative eschatology. We focus on what Jesus specifically tells us in the Bible about His return. We do know that the times and world around us are not improving, and contrary to common wisdom the world has been becoming more and more soaked in sin and its effects since the Fall. While creation was made very good, it awaits the final restoration and redemption (Romans 8:18-25.) Like it or not, as it is now, this world and everything in it is temporary and subject to the effects of entropy, decay and death. We live in the now, but not yet.

The important thing to remember is that even though we go through hardship and suffering in this life and Jesus warns us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, is that Jesus is with us through all the trials and temptations and He will see us through them, clear up until and beyond the great day of His return. We don’t know if it will be tomorrow or five thousand years from now. All we do know is that Jesus has told us to be ready for that day.

We who have faith in Jesus have been given an assignment of sorts that goes along with our vocations (vocation meaning the roles in life in which we find ourselves, i.e. employees, spouses, parents, children, etc.) As we go through our lives and anticipate Jesus’ return He gives us the Great Commission:

(Jesus said) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

In JRR Tolkien’s beautiful trilogy The Lord of the Rings, he tells a story of a quest to return the One Ring (that was evil) to be destroyed in the mountain in which it was forged. For those familiar with the story, Frodo had a faithful companion, Sam, who was with him from the beginning of the quest until the moment in which the One Ring was returned to the fire in Mount Doom. Just before the end of that quest Frodo says to Sam, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” – JRR Tolkien from The Return of the King.

While JRR Tolkien was a Christian and he makes many good references to redemptive themes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have even more hope than the people of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s fiction that Jesus will be with us at the end of all things.

May we have joy and be glad that Jesus is with us, now and at the end of all things- because in Him there is no end.