In The Vineyard, Mark 12:1-12

Jesus Christ crowns the office of Prophet with its complete glory

I got into gardening this year.  It’s awesome – we’ve had tomatoes coming out our ears and can’t give enough away.  But, it was a lot of work:  I tilled the ground, piled grass clippings on it over the winter, then tilled it into the soil this spring.  I even composted and used that too.  Then planned my layout, bought and planted my tomatoes, kale, jalapenos and bell peppers, and watered it faithfully.  Of course you have enemies of your garden, and cute as their fluffy tails may be you need to build a wall and keep them out.  So, I dug posts into the ground, wrapped fencing, and counted the days until I could start enjoying the fruit of my labor.  Along the way I had to weed, prune, and prop up growing plants.

I had to ask myself why go through the trouble of a garden when there are grocery stores down the street?  I think I’m discovering that I like to help things grow.  Maybe its being a pastor, maybe its being a dad, maybe hitting 40 has made me softer, but, cultivating things just feels rewarding.  Not to get too theological but, wasn’t there a man and a garden in the original plan?  There’s something about hands and dirt that go together.

God loves gardens……  He describes Israel as His vineyard.  Now we have a parable about a vineyard


The Jewish leaders questioned Jesus’ authority, and, He concluded the previous passage by saying, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  But, after saying that, he goes on to tell them this parable, which in fact is an answer.  Jesus does that – He resists you and then He does what you ask.  “They’re out of wine”  “What does that have to do with Me, woman?”  Then He solves the wine problem anyway.  I do that as a Dad.  You get into the habit of saying “no” all day to all the crazy requests from little people that you start asking yourself, “Is it really that big of a deal if my 4 year old wants to jump onto his pillows from the roof?”  So I tell him no, then I go get his pillows and a ladder.  

The parable is an answer from Jesus to their question – even though He just told them He wouldn’t answer their question.  The parable portrays Jesus as having been sent from God, He is the Son of God, He has the authority of God, He is owed worship and honor as the Son of God, the nation of Israel belongs to Him, He is the King.  The parable has all three time zones too:  past, present and future.  It describes Israel’s history of persecuting the prophets, it describes their current rejection of the Son, and then the future judgment of those who killed the Son.  So it’s not just an answer to their question.  It’s a deadly warning that they will die for eternity for what they’re about to do to Him on the cross. 

There will be lessons for us along the way.  Lessons like God wants fruit, and, everything is God’s and we will give an account for what we did with it, and what you do with the Son determines what God will do with you:  reject Him and He will reject you; accept Him and He will accept you.  


A man starts a vineyard.  He prepares the ground and plants it; he protects it with a wall, he makes a tower for all the supplies, and he leaves it in the hands of others to make it grow.

He wants to make his land productive.  It’s obeying one of the earliest commands in the first chapter of Bible ‘Subdue the earth and rule it”.  That’s not destroying it, no, God gave the earth to man to make it prosper, make it produce, bring out its full potential for beauty and provision.  

This man is symbolic of God, who chose the nation of Israel and made it His vineyard.  He made it ready too:  He bought them from Egypt, He planted them in their land, He put up the fence of the Law, He dug the pit of Temple worship where He could collect the juice of their offerings, He left it in the hands of priests and judges and rulers.  All this was to setup the nation so that it would produce the fruit of holiness, righteousness and worship of the Living God.


Next the parable explains the criminal turn taken by the tenants.  The owner may have forgotten to perform background checks on these guys.  When the owner wants some of the produce from his property he finds the tenants he hired are not cooperative.  Actually, they turn abusive.  Numerous servants are sent to retrieve a harvest and each one is either beaten and shamed or killed.  (His vineyard must be in Portland).  

What is Jesus portraying to the Jewish leaders here?  He’s saying Israel’s leaders have a long history of persecuting Israel’s prophets.  Each one was sent by God to collect from Israel fruit for God.  Each one brought warnings and rebukes – and warnings and rebukes – to the Israelites to turn from their ways or suffer God’s judgment.  How did it turn out for those prophets?  When confronted with their sin and wickedness how did those Jewish leaders respond?  Murder.  

  • Jesus said in Matthew 23 while verbally vaporizing the Pharisees:  “You testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up the measure of the sin of your forefathers!  You snakes!   You brood of vipers!  How will you escape being condemned to hell?  Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.  Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in yoru synagogues…
  • Stephen, the first martyr in Church history, declared to the same religious leaders in Acts 7:51, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!  You are just like your fathers:  You always resist the Holy Spirit!  Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered Him…”
  • Or Hebrews 11 vaunting the martyrs of the OT:  “Others were tortured and refused to be released so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them….”

All this is portrayed by Jesus when he says the tenants of the vineyard beat and killed the servants sent by the owner.  Our Lord is not just condemning the leaders of the past, but, He is condemning the leaders He was looking at right then and there saying they were of the same stuff as their forebears.  Just when you thought this was bad enough, these tenants get even worse.  The measure of their sin is not yet filled up.  There’s one more to send.  There’s one more left.  There’s one more to kill.  The owner has a son.


So the Owner sends his son to the tenants.  (Now before you start criticizing the owners “lack of judgment” or naivete for sending his son into such a violent situation, remember its a parable.  Parables have one overarching point and a couple key details that correspond with reality.  Don’t comb through every detail or you’ll miss what its all about).  He says they’ll respect my son, they’ll listen to him.  Hebrews 1 comes to mind here:   “In the past God spoke to our forefathers at various times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son…”  Now two things here:

First, Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God.  He’s being oblique, but, nonetheless He’s making that claim.  He’ll be direct when He’s on trial, and, He’ll be crucified for it.

Second, there is a uniqueness here about Jesus.  As one commentator puts it:

Jesus Christ crowns the office of Prophet with its complete glory.  We read in the book of Hebrews chapter 1:  “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets…but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son…”  The author is pressing home to his readers that Jesus is the spectacular climax of all historical prophetic ministry.  Jesus was a prophet – the prophet of all prophets – but yet, more than a prophet.  He is at once in company with all those before Him, yet, in a class all His own.  Like all prophets He spoke the words of God, but, unlike any prophet He was that God. 

He’s unique from all other legitimate prophets before Him, but, He is also unique in all of history.  God waited to send His Son last, and, His Son is the full and final revelation of Himself.  Think of the words of John, “No one has ever seen God, but, God the One and Only who is at the Father’s side has made Him known.” Or when Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 14:9).  Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God”, and “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him” (1:19), and “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (2:9).  Then Philippians 2:6, “Jesus, being in very nature God…” and then Hebrews 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s being” and then “Let all God’s angels worship the Son” (6).  

And these tenants killed the son.  They think by killing the son they can gain the property as their own.  They have the same murder-thief spirit as Ahab and Jezebel, who murdered an innocent man to steal his vineyard (1 Kg 21).  It reminds me of what Che Guiverra once wrote in his diary:  “I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain, his belongings are now mine.”  Murder is always an efficient way to steal.  

As He’s telling them this part of the parable, looking them straight in the eye, Jesus is informing them that He knows they are going to kill Him.  Then He asks them this question:  What do you think the owner of the vineyard is going to do to those tenants?  Their answer will condemn them.  Which leads us to our next point….


Their answer will haunt them on Judgment Day.  While Mark doesn’t record their answer, Matthew does.  Matthew 21 tells us that Jesus actually wanted them to give a reply, and they do.  Listen to their indignation with the tenants in the story:  Well Jesus, “The owner will bring those wretches to a wretched end and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants…”  At this point in the parable they haven’t quite caught on that Jesus is talking about them, that they are the tenants and they just condemned themselves!

This is a repeated tactic in the Bible to convict people of their sin.  You tell a story to someone that parallels something sinful they’ve done.  Then you ask them how the person in the story should be treated.  Their answer condemns them as they are usually outraged over the injustice in the story, not realizing that they are the person in the story.  This same tactic was used famously in the OT by the prophet Nathaniel with King David.  David committed adultery with a woman and had her husband killed.  He then swept it under the rug and went on pretending like it never happened.  God ordered the prophet Nathaniel to confront David and it went like this in 2 Samuel 12:1-10…

Why does the story tactic work?  Because as people we are masters at rationalizing and self-justifying our worst behaviors.  If people confront us we can defend ourselves skillfully, showing how what we did made sense, and there was good reason for it.  A story makes someone focus on a different guilty person and think more rationally – and less biased – about the guilty behavior.  That’s why the story approach used by Nathan and Jesus were so effective.  You get to see how David and the Pharisees judge themselves honestly for their own behavior without them even realizing it.     

Then Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 to them.  [read].  The key idea here is that Jesus is the capstone – or cornerstone, depending on which version you have.  A cornerstone was the first stone laid for a building.  It had to be perfect, because everything else was going to be built according to it.  If it was off everything else would be off.  Jesus is the cornerstone of everything God is building and doing in history.  And, more personally, Christians are supposed to make Jesus the cornerstone of everything we are building in our lives.  Everything must be measured by Him; everything must be in line with Him; everything must fit with Him.  If it doesn’t, it’s worthless, or worse yet, sin to be judged.  Peter must have liked it when Jesus quoted this Psalm because Peter uses it for the rest of his life in preaching:

  • Peter declared in Acts 4:11, “Jesus is the stone YOU builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”  OUCH!
  • Then in 1 Peter 2, “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.  Now to you who believe this stone is precious.  But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’, and, ‘a stone that causes men to  stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

Specifically it refers to Israel having built a nation without God.  Listen to how Isaiah describes this typical condition of Israel [turn to Isaiah 1:2-4, 10-15, 21-23

The end-game would be two-fold:  their eternal judgement and second the exaltation of Jesus, the one they hated.  It will be the ultimate “Jesus-derangement-syndrome”.  

APPLICATION:  if you paid attention to the religious leaders of the day you would have been led astray.  The same can be said often times today, especially today. 

The words show that idea in the Bible where God reverses what man does to the Christ.  Man hated Him, God loves Him.  Man killed Him, God raises Him.  Man shamed Him, God glorified Him.  Man rejected Him, God made everything have to do with Him.  You can’t get away from Jesus Christ.  He is the Son and the Stone.  He is the Christ and the Capstone.  The words in the Psalm are prophetic as they pertain to the career of the Messiah:  He was going to be rejected by man but accepted by His Father.  Man wanted a world without Him but God is going to make the whole world in subjection to Him.  


Lets end with that phrase again in verse 10, “The stone the BUILDERS rejected.”  You’re a builder too, in a sense, did you know that?  How are you building your life? With or without the cornerstone of Jesus?  

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