Stewarding the Servant King’s Vineyard – Mark 12:1-12
20-year-old Walter Earl Morrison of Phoenix, Arizona used to work for UPS. Last month, he was unloading a UPS cargo plane at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix when he spotted a package sent by Brink’s. Brink’s is an American security and protection company.
He immediately thought of the armored trucks and figured the package probably had something VALUABLE inside…like maybe money? (Who would send paper money via UPS?) So he decided to shove it under his shirt. When Walter opened the package, he found a DIAMOND inside.
What he didn’t realize was that the diamond was actually worth $160,000. Of course, he didn’t bother to get it appraised, went to a friend and desperately traded it for one gram of marijuana worth around $20. Once the diamond was reported missing, the police investigated and ended up tracing it to Walter. He was arrested for felony theft, and the cops were able to get the diamond back. Walter has been fired by UPS and is facing a minimum of three years in prison.
UPS and Fed ex workers have one major responsibility. They are simply pipelines and channels, managers of items given to them to make sure they get what is given to them to their rightful owners. Mr. Morrison, managers have responsibilities and owners have rights. Morrison was acting like an owner here, instead of a manager. The stuff in the cargo plane and delivery trucks does not belong to the UPS driver. Common sense right? When managers start acting like owners, we get into a lot of trouble. We might even end up making bad trades, ruled by our fallen desires leading us to destruction.
Today the Servant King will say the same thing. The problem underneath a lot of our problems often can be traced to the fact that we forget we are managers not the owners of everything given to us. Ps. 24:1 says the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Paul says, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”
When managers start to act like owners, we often have a demanding, ungrateful and grumbling spirit when life doesn’t go the way we want. We think we have rights. When we act like owners of everything, anxiety results because we put everything on our shoulders. We become stingy because we think our money is ours and we think we are sharing with God, when in reality it’s the other way around. The money is God’s and He is sharing with us. In the end, as we will see, we become angry and bitter at God and make Him out to be the Enemy, especially when life keeps reminding us that we are not in charge.
Today we need the Servant King to save us from ourselves and save us from our desire to be owners of everything and to free to be in our rightful place. The title of the message is “Stewarding the Servant King’s Vineyard.” Let’s first go over the parable and then we will glean out the principles:
Notice the context. In Mark 11:27-33, the religious leaders question Jesus. He just overturned the furniture in the Temple, caused a scene and they confront Him as He confronted them. Basically they say, “How dare you—who do you think you are—to come in and do something like this?” It’s an authority issue. The only person who has the authority to remove or move furniture in someone’s home is the OWNER.
The religious leaders thought they were the owners and Jesus comes in to set that straight. Then He decides to give the people a parable to bring the point home even clearer. “A certain man planted a vineyard”—the order in the original places the emphasis on the vineyard planted at great expense, rather than on the man planting it. They were an agricultural society, so these stories taken from their culture made a lot of sense to them. God is the owner here.
The details of the vineyard’s construction are derived from Isaiah 5:1–2 (part of a prophecy of God’s judgment on Israel), as the vineyard is a familiar symbol for the nation of Israel (cf. Ps. 80:8–19) (like the fig tree). He places a wall for protection, a pit beneath the winepress to gather the juice of the pressed grapes, and a watchtower for shelter, storage, and security, show the owner’s desire to make this a choice vineyard. This is a huge investment. He took great care and made provision for this vineyard to be fruitful in every way. “Then,” says Jesus, “he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.” Such lease agreements were common in the Jordan Valley, with the owner usually getting one third to one half the produce.
God is the landowner and possessor/owner of the vineyard. Israel is the vineyard. God had planted it through Abraham and Ken Gire describes, “as its seedling population grew, God hedged it with promises of blessing and protection. Then, after years of pruning in Egypt, God transplanted the nation to the fertile soil of Canaan in hopes of it producing a spiritual harvest so bountiful it would feed the world.”
The vine-growers or tenants here are the religious leaders, those who are given care over Israel, those who were to tend God’s people, the stewards of God’s possession. God, like the landowner here, was generous to Israel. He is pictured here as a lavish giver. He provided, He protected, He cared for and loved them and wanted her to prosper for God’s glory.
So in vv. 2-5, when it was harvest time, we see that the owner sent his agent to collect the rent. The payment was to be made in produce of the land according to a previously agreed-on percentage. The landlord sent three servants in succession to collect the payment (vv. 3–5), but the tenants repudiated the agreement.  They beat up the first two and killed the third.
The servants represent the prophets of Israel. God had sent prophets to Israel to point out the holes in their spiritual walls and the places where weeds had overgrown their hearts. But the prophets were not well received. They denounced sin and called for repentance and righteousness. They reminded them that they are not the owners, just the managers. As a result, they called the nation to produce the fruit for God’s honor and God’s glory, to give God the harvest due Him. But Israel’s leaders just wanted the fruit of the vineyard to themselves.
Moses was the first prophet, John the Baptist being the last. Israel mistreated all of the prophets God sent. Elijah was driven into the wilderness by the monarchy (1 Kings 19:1–5). Isaiah, according to tradition, was sawn asunder. Zechariah was stoned to death near the altar (2 Chronicles 24:21). Jeremiah was thrown into a pit (Jer. 20:2). Amos had to run for his life and is said to have been beaten with a club. Micah was beaten in the face (1 Kings 22) and finally John the Baptist had his head cut off. 2). Nehemiah 9: 26 says, “But they were disobedient and rebelled against You. They flung Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who warned them in order to turn them back to You.”
That’s astounding right? But what is even more astounding is that this landowner is incredibly patient and keeps sending messengers to these ungrateful people who turned out to be greedy, defiant crooks.
Then we get the climax of the story in v.6: “He had still one other, a beloved son.” The son is different from the slaves in several important respects: they are many, he is unique; they are hirelings, perhaps even themselves property, he is the heir; they are forerunners, he is the last and final word of the father. Above all, the son is “beloved.” 
All that He had, He gave to these ungrateful people who threw it away, until He was down to the only thing He had left, the most precious and valuable person in His life: His Son. Should the landowner risk his son for these people? It wouldn’t make sense to send his one and only Son would it?
Commentator James Edwards rightly asks, “What farmer in his right mind would surrender his son to such tenants?” Yet this owner does the unthinkable and sends his son. They saw the coming of the son as a golden opportunity for seizing the property; they may have inferred from the son’s coming that the owner had died. If they did away with his son (v. 8), the property would be ownerless and therefore available to the first claimants. So they see him and say, “This is the heir”—acknowledging him as the future owner because of his hereditary right. He presented the unique obstacle to their desire to own the vineyard.  So they kill him too and throw him out of the vineyard.
This is not a hard parable. We know this Son is Jesus Christ, called God’s beloved Son (Mark 1:11). He was God’s heir to everything and the One with all rights to obedience and honor and authority. He is worthy of all respect, but instead the religious leaders of Jesus day wanted money, control, power and prestige, they killed Jesus.
What should the owner do now? He was patient a very long time and this patience has its limits. There needs to be justice. He’s not going to abandon his vineyard, but remove the so-called caretakers and give the responsibility to others. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Temple and by then God continued His mission through a remnant of Jews and a large Gentile ministry.
Jesus then ends by quoting Ps. 118:22-23 and changes the imagery from son/farmers to stone/builders. In the end, God has the final word. The rejected son himself being vindicated will take the supreme place. The stone (Jesus, like the son), which the builders (the Jewish religious leaders, like the tenant farmers) had rejected has now become the cornerstone, the most important stone of a building. God overrules in amazing ways rebellious human attempts to block His purposes. This story was not a cute little story for the leaders who were listening. This story will fuel them even more in v.12 to get rid of Jesus.
Now the lessons:
- All of life is stewardship
A steward is the manager of another’s possession. When we say all of life is stewardship, we mean: we don’t own anything. God owns it all. Nothing really does belong to us except our sin. Every good and perfect gift comes to me via grace. Everything’s a gift. Sure I can say I worked for it or I earned it, but in the end, God is gracious. Let’s look at it in light of finances. Sometimes when we are challenged to give, we think, “How much of my money should I give?” Often this means, “This is my stuff and I am going to share with you.” But it is God who says, “This is mine and I’m willing to share with you.” Everything belongs to God and he’s willing to share with me, so my car belongs to God, my house belongs to God, my money belongs to God, my stuff belongs to God, my TV belongs to God.”
Our bodies, our gifts, talents, our sexuality, our social life, our recreation, our creativity, etc…all these things we have received. How do you grow to believe this? Gratitude. Every day I should say, “Thank you, God, for sharing your stuff. ”Initially these farmers may have thought, “What a privilege to serve this great landowner!” Soon the privilege turned into entitlement. How can you keep something that was seen as a privilege from turning into entitlement? GRATITUDE. Gratitude says I was in need and someone else provided. Gratitude says I am not God who provides all things. I am dependent. I am needy and I am grateful for having been given much more than I deserve. The tenant farmers had everything provided for them—the land, the job, the fence, the tower, the pit, etc. They were just there. You can’t worship without giving thanks. It’s not possible.
When was the last time you thanked the Lord for His generosity to you? For not treating us as our sins deserve? For answering prayers we never prayed for and answering better than we know even to ask? For towers He raised up to protect you? For being faithful when we were faithless? For cups He has filled to overflowing? Are there 10,000 reasons for our hearts to find this morning?
- When stewards act like owners, destruction results
So God says, “Think like a tenant farmer and not the owner.” But this is the problem in the text. The tenants begin to act like owners. They will not listen to the messengers. They will not tend by the owner’s word, and they will also not give the owner a profit. They will not do it for his profit.
Commentator David Garland asks, “Did these tenants really believe that by killing the son they could become the owners of the vineyard? Apparently so. Do humans think that by erasing God from their lives they can take control of their earthly and eternal destinies? Apparently so. [This] reveals the utter foolishness of sinful rebellion against God. It also reminds us that we are only the servants in the vineyard, not its lords or its owners.”
These farmers want to be in control. They think they have rights. But stewards don’t have rights. They have responsibilities. Owners have rights. We may say outwardly that God is the owner, but what happens when your life doesn’t let you control it? Do we get angry? Depressed? I remember when I got laid off and Jenny was pregnant all around the same time. We wanted to make so many plans and all of that had to be put on hold.
Life itself is our greatest messenger. Life is a messenger, constantly coming at you saying, “You’re not in charge. You’re not in control. You’re the tenant. This is a gift, but you really don’t have what it takes to master this. This isn’t yours.” 
I also am learning that all the annoying people in our lives, those who are hard to love, the difficult relatives, etc. also are messengers. Why God why? He’s in charge. You’re not. We want to discard and remove these messengers and God allows them to maybe to get something across to us? Point: We are not in charge.
I remember sitting in my car waiting for something and I let the girls take off their seatbelts for a minute and they both wanted to climb on to my lap and pretend to drive. They can’t even see over the steering wheel and if either of them said, “I want to drive,” there is no way that I will let them even at the worst tantrums.
When we act like owners, it is like wanting to take over the steering wheel. It is God’s kindness to allow circumstances to remind us that we are not in charge. Tim Keller adds, “Underneath all of that depression about how your life is going is an anger at the very idea that somebody else is in charge, and you’re never going to get over your anxiety and your discouragement until you’re willing to say, “I don’t necessarily need this if God isn’t giving it to me. I have decided I have to have it, because I am acting as if I’m an owner, and I say I’m going to run my life my way.” Maybe God is coming in and saying, “Would you please give me the steering wheel back? Give me the wheel.”
III. God’s Patient Love for Ungrateful Stewards
We see God’s incredible patience here. We see God treating hostility, anger and resentment of the farmers with grace as He sends His best to the worst. It seems as utter foolishness to send these messengers and then his only Son to a pack of wolves here, but what is foolishness to man is the love and wisdom of God. Where are we in this story? We are the wicked farmers. All humanity. Remember the wicked farmers stand for the religious folk.
They hurt him, they wound him, they ignore him, yet, He keeps coming after them with patience and love. Listen to Spurgeon: “None of us loves…as Christ loves…and if the loves of all the tender-hearted in the world could be run together, they would make but a drop compared with the ocean of the compassion of Jesus…though he might have been happy enough among the angels, yet he [left] their company that he might take up this inferior race. Yea, he [took on] our nature, and became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, for love of [those people] whom he calls his Bride. He hid not his face from shame and spitting, nor his body from the shedding of blood, nor his soul from deadly agony; but he loved the church, and gave himself for it. It is this lover of souls that becomes God’s advocate with us, and pleads with us that we would cease from our rebellion. Do not refuse him! If he were stern and unloving, I could imagine that all the [stubbornness] of your nature might be aroused; but his love, which passes [all loves], deserves another treatment. If you reject him, he answers you with tears; if you wound him, he bleeds out cleansing; if you kill him, he dies to redeem; if you bury him, he rises again to bring us resurrection. Jesus is love made manifest.”
Did you hear his plea? Don’t refuse Him! This is why Jesus ends the parable with the image of a stone. Jesus says the stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone. A stone is thrown on your path right now. You can either build on it or if you reject it, it will crush you.
Jesus says, “I owned everything. You were my Enemy. You wanted to be boss of your life. You weren’t just indifferent to me. You hated me. You were ungrateful. But in my love for my enemies, I the owner gave up my rights and took on the responsibility of paying for your sins for mishandling my vineyard.” We rejected Him, but He answered us with tears. We wounded Him but He bled for our cleansing. We buried Him, but He rose again to bring us resurrection.” This is real love! How can it be dangerous to give control of your life to somebody like that?
Today we may have forgotten that. So now look up on the cross. What do you see up there? There’s nothing up there but Christ, and that’s the point. Look at the lengths to which God would go to make us his friends, though we were his enemies and won’t even admit it. He treated Jesus as the enemies we are, and he paid for our sin so God could come in with his Holy Spirit and open our eyes and show us our sin.”
Are there still times you act like an enemy? That God is your enemy? Admit that today. The only way for God to treat us like an enemy is if we refuse to admit that we often act like His enemies. You see, if you don’t admit you’re an enemy, you will stay one, and you’ll be crushed by the stone. If you admit you’re an enemy, you will no longer be one, and it will be a building stone. There’s no in between. Either you will build your life on the stone (though I deserved to be treated like an enemy, Jesus was treated like an enemy for me; he was slain), or else you reject that and you stay an enemy.
Jesus says what happens to those who stay enemies till the end. You will either be crushed by the stone or you build a whole new life on the stone. There’s nothing in the middle. Don’t refuse Him! So let’s pray that as we repent of our ingratitude of God’s love for us, our desire to be in control, our enmity towards God for not allowing us to be owners of everything, etc. while at the same time, thanking Him for His love and asking for grace to be a good tenant of the little acre of life He has entrusted to our care. May we work hard in that vineyard, Lord. Give us strong hands for the plow and a steadfast heart for the harvest and may live each day praising, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Hiebert, D. E. (1994). The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (pp. 333–334). Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press.
Grassmick, J. D. (1985). Mark. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 160). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior (Vol. 2, p. 95). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Gire, Ken (2011-01-04). Moments with the Savior (Moments with the Savior Series) (p. 287). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (p. 417). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Wessel, W. W. (1984). Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 732). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Gire, K. (p. 287).
Hughes, R. K. (p. 96).
Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 358). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
Edwards, J. R. (p. 357).
Wessel, W. W. (1984). Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 732). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Hiebert, D. E. (p. 336).
France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark: a Commentary on the Greek Text (p. 463). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
Grassmick, J. D. (1985). Mark. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), (p. 161).
Garland, D. E. (1996). Mark (p. 456). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing
Keller, T. J. (2013). “The Parable of the Last Messenger: On Sin,” Preached August 28, 1994. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Spurgeon, C. H. (1887). “The Pleading of the Last Messenger,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 33, p. 137). London: Passmore & Alabaster.
Keller, T. J. (2013). Ibid.
Gire, Ken (p. 289).