Hostility - Luke 20:1-19

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 16th March 2008.

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I’m not sure if you would consider yourself as a keen defender of the British monarchy but even if you would rather see taxpayers’ money being spent in a different way I’m sure you must feel a great deal of sympathy for our current Queen. How does she cope with Prince Philip? The man is a constant embarrassment. He once said, “I rather doubt whether anyone has ever been genuinely shocked by anything I have said.”

Let me give you a few examples of what Prince Philip has said over the last few years.

He was once at a British and Latin Chambers of Commerce Meeting and he said, “Just as we can’t blame people for their parents, we can’t blame South America for not having been members of the British Empire.”

The congestion charge in London is certainly controversial but not, I suspect, as controversial as Prince Philip’s views on it. He once said, “The problem with London is the tourists. They cause the congestion. If we could just stop tourism, then we could stop the congestion.”

My personal favourite is the question he asked to a Scottish driving instructor. “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them to pass the test?”

We know that Prince Philip’s statements are frequently controversial. But what we discover from Luke 20 is that the authentic Christian message about the Kingdom of God, that is a message about the unique role of Jesus as God the Father’s appointed ruler of the world, where he is given the authority to gather a people who will follow his loving and life-giving instructions, and where the King we follow has died to rescue us from eternal judgement and so now proclaims himself as the unique place of safety for everyone alive today – well, this message is frequently met with opposition and rejection.

I suspect most of you are saying at this point. “Yeah, tell me something new Lee.” It’s obvious. You have personal experience. You know how your friends and family and work colleagues react to those born-again types, the Bible bashers who seek to impose their opinions on everyone else. Those who claim that Jesus is the unique way to eternal happiness. Of course this message is never going to be broadcast on prime time television unless the purpose is to ridicule it.  So you might be sitting in church this morning and thinking, “Come on Lee tell me something new.”

The edge I discovered as I’ve been thinking about Luke 20 is that not only will the gospel about Jesus meet with frequent rejection and encounter pressurised opposition from our friends and family but the authentic message about the Kingdom of God will always face opposition from those in positions of religious leadership. And I think this is the focus of these opening verses of Luke 20. It’s a chapter of the Bible which enables us to get our expectations right. It shows us why and how those in positions of institutional religious leadership will oppose the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me show you what I mean. Have a look with me at what we read at the end of chapter 19?

Luke 19:45-48, “Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. It is written,” he said, “My house will be a house of prayer”, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.”

You’ll see as we go along that there is a contrast between how the people respond to Jesus and how the institutional leaders react to his message.

Let’s see this for ourselves in Luke 20.

Verse 1: “One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said, “Who gave you this authority?”

This is not a polite discussion starter. These are not nice leaders who are on a mission to gently question Jesus.

These are men who although they are not so much up for a fist fight still want to stop the ministry of Jesus in it’s tracks. They are in the mood for confrontation.

And I just love how Jesus responds. Verse 3, “He replied, ‘I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s Baptism – was it from heaven or from men?’”

It’s beautiful isn’t it? Instead of allowing these hostile leaders to set the agenda decides to pause the discussion and asks a question of his own.

He does this in the gospels so frequently. Someone bounds up to him, with either hostility or with a genuine enquiry, they ask Jesus a question and yet instead of answering them Jesus responds with a question of his own.

I’m convinced this is something we should do in our own conversations about Jesus. You’ll see I’ve put a few reasons on your handout.

•    It gives us time to think
•    Makes them think
•    Allows us to hear the question behind the question
•    Takes us off the back foot

Next time someone asks you a question, particularly when they are hostile, why not ask them a question of your own?

What do you mean? That’s a great question, what makes you ask that? If I answered your question, would you become a Christian?

Jesus’ question to those religious leaders was brilliant. They had wanted to catch him out but he ended up forcing them into a corner.

Look at how they respond in verses 5-7.

“They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’  6 But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.””

Leaves us with a question. Jesus has been making very bold claims. In a contest with Prince Philip, the words of Jesus would cause much more negative reaction than whatever the Duke of Edinburgh might say. We are left to ponder the question, “What authority does Jesus have to say the things he has been preaching?”

Jesus answers the question in the parable of the tenants.

Have a look at what he says in verse 9 and see if you can work out the answer to the question.

“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.  10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed.  12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

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

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.’  15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.””

It’s an easy parable to understand when we remember our bible history. In the book of Isaiah God speaks about his chosen people as a vineyard.

Isaiah 5:7, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Israel, are the garden of his delight.”

Picture is that God has chosen a people to be special amongst all the people groups of the earth. Not because they deserved it or because they were in any way more righteous than any of the other but simply because he chose to set his affection on them.

They were his treasured possession. I love the intimate language of planting a vineyard.

The people of God were expected to bear fruit.. Fruit of godly lifestyle.

To enable this to happen God gave various leaders the responsibility to look after his vineyard. In Jesus parables these leaders are called the tenants. There is delegated rule and authority.

What happens? Throughout the history of God’s people nothing has changed. The institutional religious leaders have become corrupt and instead of looking after God’s vineyard they have abused their position.

How has God responded? He kept sending servants to change their ways.

These clearly refer to the prophets who were raised up by God in the OT and who were sent to speak both to the people and the institutional leaders. To bring them back to believing the word of God and to putting it into practice.

What happened to them? Again and again the religious leaders rejected them, insulted them and tried to get of them.

How does God respond? He decides to send his own Son. A personal member of the divine family is sent to God’s vineyard. This is why Jesus has authority.

How is he treated by the tenants? They hate him. They hate his authority and decide to kill him.

Then we reach the devastating conclusion of the parable. Verse 15, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

At this point the people cannot believe their ears. They are beginning to put two and two together. If the Jewish religious leaders are rejected then who will possibly lead the people of God? Surely not the Gentiles?

What does this mean for the racial constituency of the people of God? What of the future of the Jews are the chosen people of God?

Well, Jesus has a radical answer. Look at what he says in verses 17 and 18, “Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written:

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

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

Jesus quotes from an Old Testament section of the Bible, from Psalm 118. Speaks of an individual who those people entrusted with growing God’s people have rejected. But God will use this very rejected stone to build his people. Those who oppose this person will be crushed.

Jesus is claiming to be this stone. The corner stone of God’s new building project.

This is also a message we find elsewhere in the NT.

1 Peter 2:4-8: “As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him —  5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”  8 and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

What does this mean for the racial constituency of God’s people today? Multiracial and multicultural. A truly rich diversity of people who are united in their love for Jesus. He is the centre.

The way for everyone is now to trust in the Jewish Messiah. God does not have many different paths. There is one Messiah and so one people gathered around him.

Not surprising that the religious leaders of the day didn’t like this. It implied that their days were numbered and the leadership of God’s people was going to be transferred to others.

That’s why we read of their plan to kill in verse 19, “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for away to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.”

I started by saying that the gospel of Jesus will always find opposition from those in positions of institutional leaders. It happened to Jesus, it happened before Jesus arrived and it must certainly be our expectation today.

We shouldn’t go out of our way to be obnoxious but even the most pleasant and placid gospel preacher will meet opposition from those in recognised positions of religious authority.

I want to end by addressing why this happens, how it happen and how we should respond.

Why does it happen?

One reason is to do with authority. The human race hates being told what to think and how to live.

It’s why spirituality is popular today but genuine Christianity remains a minority grouping. People don’t mind having a bit of spirituality on the side but would rather God was not at the centre of their lives telling them what to think and how to live.

It’s frequently why religious leaders oppose the gospel. There is a clash of authority. We are relatively happy with human ideas about religion, whether based on tradition, reason or experience.

But the gospel of Jesus upsets this picture of balanced serenity. It is not one more opinion but a declaration with divine authority. It upsets things.

Religious leaders tend not to like people upsetting the status quo.

They certainly don’t want their comfortable positions to be upset. Often a religious job carries with it a few perks that those who have them don’t want to give up.

As a result they begin to oppose gospel preaching.

There are many ways to do this but I think Luke 20 highlights one way which we see again and again.

That is, they will treat the gospel preacher shamefully. Many ways to do this…

•    Marginalise them.
•    Ridicule them.
•    Threaten them.
•    In the US some gospel preachers are having the locks changed on the doors of their churches. This is in the Episcopal church , the US equivalent to the CoE.

How should we respond to this?

•    We must expect it.

Shouldn’t waste time pondering to ourselves, “Why is this happening?” It’s always happened and it always will!

•    We must stick together.

What is clear in Luke 20 is that the religious leaders are hindered in their plans by the people who support Jesus.

Luke 19: 47-48: “Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.”

Luke 20:19: “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for away to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.”

Support your gospel leaders. Realise that we are often mariginalised by the religious club and that is hard. So encourage us. Stick together. Because we need this if the kingdom of God is to continue to advance.

Let’s pray.

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