ISAIAH 5, 1-7
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Sometimes, being a Christian can be frustrating. We do our best each week to do what God wants, and follow His will. Then we come to church, and we really don’t hear a lot of “Atta-boys!” because we don’t want to become self-righteous Pharisees. We are reminded of how we have sinned against God and need to repent and be forgiven so, we do. And then we are encouraged to go back into our world to faithfully produce fruit for our Lord. And sometimes, in frustration, we ask, “WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM ME?”
And then sometimes, that question is raised, not out of frustration, but out of ignorance. WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM ME? Should I go to school to become a pastor? Should I put my career on hold and go on that two-year mission trip to Brazil to help the missionaries down there? WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM ME?
And then this morning, we hear these parables about God building a beautiful vineyard and expecting a harvest of beautiful fruit, and when that doesn’t happen, God threatens to tear it down, and give it to people who will be more faithful! And, perhaps we get frightened. We look at the fruit we produce for our Lord, and sometimes, instead of looking like good grapes, it looks more like bad rotten stinking fruit. And we wonder if God will get so frustrated with our lack of fruit for Him, that He will rip it out of our hands, and give it to others who will be more faithful, and more deserving. And we ask, WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM ME?
This song in Isaiah was written for God’s people of His day, who quite often forsook the true God to worship other gods. The parable Jesus spoke was addressed to the religious leaders who rejected Jesus, because they thought they were perfectly following God’s laws, and didn’t need a Savior. And we’ve heard these parables enough to realize that they also apply to us as well. So, what does Isaiah say?
The Lord built a vineyard and spared no expense in building it. He chose the best place, a fertile hillside where it would get plenty of sun and plenty of rain. He dug up the ground, and got rid of all the stones. You know how much labor that’s going to take? But God spared no expense! He planted it with “the choicest vines.” Not just any vine will do for this vineyard. He went out of His way, and spared no expense to get the best vines this world offers.
But there’s more. “He built a watchtower in it.” He expected His servants to keep an eye on this vineyard. He doesn’t want thieves coming in to steal any of His crop. He doesn’t want animals jumping over the wall to devour any of His crop. He wants guards there. And He doesn’t want his guards to have to be on the ground, going from one end of the vineyard to the other trying to guard it. He built a watchtower. So, they could comfortably sit up there, and keep watch over the entire vineyard at one time.
But there’s more! “He cut out a winepress as well.” When the harvest comes, He doesn’t want his servant to load these precious grapes into wagons and take them to some winepress that may be miles away. Some may get damaged. He can’t have that. Even though it’s going to be expensive to build His own winepress, the master doesn’t care. He spared no expense to make this vineyard the best vineyard ever.
And so now, “he anxiously waited for a crop of good grapes.” Of course, we know what this song is talking about. The cost God paid for the people of Israel. Bringing them out of Egypt. Miracle after miracle in taking care of them along the way. How God fought for Israel as they conquered the land God had promised them. How God blessed them with victory after victory. How God blessed them year after year with bumper crops, with flocks and herds that filled the country side. How every venture they tried, succeeded. He spared no expense to make Israel His vineyard!
And yet, the sad fact was, “But it yielded only bad fruit.” And we know what that means. God gave His people His laws, and the proper way to worship, and the sacrifices where they could come to God confess their sins, and through the blood of lambs and goats get their sins forgiven. But most of the people just ignored God’s law, and God’s way of worship to follow other gods. Others would keep the laws of God, and would go through the rituals God had established, but their heart wasn’t in it. They did what was necessary, and thought God should be happy with that. And once they fulfilled their obligation to God, they chased after other gods. Bad rotten stinking fruit!
And God’s judgment came upon that vineyard! And on God’s people! God destroyed the vineyard and reduced it to a pile of rubble that nothing will ever grow on again. And time after time, God handed His people over to their enemies who would oppress them, and enslave them and destroy them.
As for us, we know what price God paid to make us His children, and to put us into His vineyard. Once again, He spared no expense! Not just creating us, and protecting us, and blessing us every day of our lives. But think about the cost of bringing us to faith. God had to watch His only Son, be ridiculed by pompous fools, and then crucified on a cross like a common criminal. God had to stand by and watch as His Son endured the eternal wrath of God and the torment of hell and being separated from God, because He carried the sins of the world on His shoulders. But God was willing to pay that price. Spare no expense. Just to bring us into His kingdom, and make us part of His vineyard.
And now our Lord patiently waits for us to produce “a crop of good grapes.” But again, we might ask, WHAT DOES THE LORD WANT FROM US? Well, let me ask you the same question. When you plant a garden what do you expect? Doesn’t it depend on what you plant? If you plant a garden of tomatoes, you expect to reap tomatoes, don’t you? If you plant tomatoes and then you expect to reap corn, you are going to be sadly disappointed.
So, it is with God. In the parable, the master planted, “choice vines,” and then he waited for “good grapes.” When He speaks about Israel He says, “He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness but heard cries of distress.” God planted justice into His vineyard. God planted righteousness in His vineyard. He planted the gospel that God loved His people, that God would save His people, and that through the Messiah, God would have mercy and grace, and patience with His people. And that’s what He expected to grow in Israel. Justice in treating people fairly, treating people the way God had treated them. God expected righteousness to grow in Israel. Doing what is right, not necessarily what is convenient, or profitable.
But what came up. The innocent judged guilty, and the guilty exonerated, as long as they were rich and could pay off the right people. What came up was the poor trampled down so that the rich and powerful could become even more rich and powerful. What came up was trampling on God’s grace, and God’s patience, and God’s way of salvation, so they could worship other gods.
What has God planted in His vineyard today? He has planted you! With all your talents, and abilities! And with all your shortcomings! God doesn’t expect you to do things you can’t do. God simply wants you to be you. Oh, sometimes He will challenge you to become a better you. Sometimes He will push you out of our comfort zone to show you that you can do more. But God would say to each one of us, I planted you into my kingdom, and made you part of My church. And what I am patiently waiting for, is my precious Christian to do what I want you to do.
God also realizes that each one of us have a sinful nature that creates a war inside of us. He knows that we are sometimes, weak. He knows that we will fall into sin! He knows that we will sometimes, make a mess of things. And that’s why He has given us Jesus. Not only did Jesus die to make you God’s child. But Jesus is still living with you every single day of your life. And when we sin, and when we fail and when we mess up, Jesus is there to forgive our sins, and to remind us that we are still God’s child, that heaven is ours not because of our faithfulness, and obedience, but because of Jesus’ faithfulness and obedience.
And because of the work Jesus has done for us, we will never see our God destroy our vineyard and destroy us, and leave us out in the cold as a lifeless piece of ground that will never be tilled again. Because of Jesus’ work, because of the Holy Spirit keeping us firmly planted in our faith, we know we will always be part of God’ vineyard.
So, WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM US? To be the “choicest vine,” that God planted. To show the world what God has planted in us. God has planted “righteousness” inside us. Not a personal righteousness that demonstrates what great people we are! But Jesus’ righteousness that demonstrates that Jesus took us wretched sinful human beings that didn’t deserve even a hint of mercy and grace, and make us a precious child of God. We are covered with Christ’s righteousness, so that our God doesn’t see the sin and rebellion and the weakness. He sees only a precious child of God. That’s what Jesus planted in us when He brought us to faith.
So, let it show! Show it to the world with our humble faith, that doesn’t brag about our own accomplishments, but brags about what an awesome Savior God we have. Show it to the world by treating them the same way Jesus treated us. Regard every person you meet, as a precious child of God. Either a precious child that God has already brought into His kingdom. Or a precious child of God that God wants to bring into His kingdom. But treat others with the grace, mercy, patience, and love that Jesus treated you with, that Jesus has filled you with.
Jesus has also filled us with “justice.” God’s Word tells us that there is always a right way and a wrong way. And God simply asks each one of us to let that show. As we live our life. As we deal with people. There is a right way, and there is a wrong way. Choose to do what is right. Even if it isn’t popular! Even if it isn’t easy and convenient! Even if it might cost you something. Do what is right. That means treating people right. Even if they aren’t the popular people. Even if you run the risk of being ostracized by the in-crowd. Show the justice, Jesus planted in you.
So, WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM US? He wants us to be the “choice vine,” He made us! Firmly attached to our God, our root system! So, He will be there to forgive us when we need it. And He will be there to strengthen us to do what He wants. As long as we are connected to our God, we will be the choice vine our God planted! And we will produce the beautiful crop God wants!