God rejects our show of piety

(Matthew 21:18-46)



A lot of people buy property, like homes, cottages, and boats, then rent them to other people in order to supplement their income.  It sounds like a very easy way to make money, but landlords take a lot of risk when they rent their property to others.  If you are considering renting something you own, maybe the following stories will cause you to reconsider:


"I have a coin-operated laundry in one complex. The tenants try everything to get free laundry. Foreign change, metal objects, latex gloves with the quarter in the finger hole (thought that was creative). After they got tired of trying to get free laundry, they decided to just take the actual dryer! Just loaded it up, carried it off and threw it down a hill. I hope they enjoyed the 10 bucks they got out of it!"


"We recently bought a new house that was a little out of our league, but being that it was four bedrooms, we figured we could rent out a room for some help with the mortgage, and so we did. We found a tenant who was single, didn't drink, didn't smoke and didn't do drugs. He had a cat but said it would stay in the room (I'm allergic). So we accepted him. Long story short, his cat ran around the house, scratched my dog and the furniture, and he did drink, and he did do drugs. The one thing he never did: pay his rent on time. Oh, yeah, and he was married. One day, his estranged wife came to town with a one-way ticket and moved in with no money and a drug problem. Lo and behold, while we were out working all day, she was snooping around the house . . . "collecting" things. First, the boat hitch was missing, and then my shoes. We logged on to our banking account one day and saw there was a check made out to cash, not in our handwriting (and "dollars" was spelled wrong), with the wife's account number and signature on the back. Needless to say, we evicted them immediately and discovered she had half my wardrobe, and I am still finding things missing!"


"The tenant left us with garbage and tons of clothes throughout the house, holes in the walls, carpets destroyed and a large potbellied pig left in the backyard that was very hungry and chased after me."


“I leased my home to a tenant who promptly defaulted on her lease. When I went to the property to see her, I discovered she was stealing my appliances. I called the police to come and stop her from taking my washing machine. When the police arrived the tenant  said I was trespassing on her property and she did not know who I was. I insisted that I owned the property, but the police did not believe me. They told me if I did not leave the premises they would arrest me. So, I sat in my car in disbelief while I watched my tenant steal my appliances from MY HOUSE!"



Did you know this “could happen? "We rented one of our rental homes to a family. They decided to fix up our house by replacing the flooring in the bathrooms and kitchen. We did not give them permission to do this, but we did not complain either. Next, they built a deck that covered our entire backyard. They did this without our permission also. Finally, they decided to replace the carpet. They removed the carpet in the master bedroom, but did not replace it immediately. They were late on their rent last month, so I charged them a late fee. They responded by saying they did not have to pay this fee when they had put so much money into the house. They also refused to replace the carpet in the master bedroom. Now they are moving and taking the deck with them. We do not have carpet in the bedroom and the grass in the backyard will be ruined. I will lose the cost of repairs and it will take time to find a new tenant who doesn't mind a mud hole in the backyard".....is this fair?”





Last week we studied Matthew 21:1-17 and saw various ways that people responded to Jesus as He entered Jerusalem.  The last group of people that these verses refer to are the religious leaders; specifically, the chief priests and the teachers of the law.  Verse 15 says that they were indignant because people were referring to Jesus as the Messiah.


These religious leaders got angry because Jesus didn’t meet their expectations for what they thought the Messiah was supposed to be like, plus, they viewed Him as a threat to their authority and to what they had going.  They could see the positive reaction that the people had to Jesus, and were jealous that He was stealing their spotlight by obtaining praise and attention from people.  Matthew 6 shows us that this kind of attention really motivated them.


The majority of Matthew 21 and all of Matthew 22 contain interaction that is exclusively between Jesus and the religious leaders.  The way that Jesus deals with these men isn’t how one would want to respond if he were seeking election to a political office, or attempting to become a popular TV evangelist or mega church pastor.  His direct confrontation of the Jewish religious leaders was probably the last straw because the next mention of the religious leaders in Matthew comes in chapter 26 when they plot to kill Him.





In Matthew 21:18-22, we see that only Jesus and his disciples are present.  The events in these verses contain a couple themes that will be readdressed with the Jewish religious leaders later in chapter 21.


(Matthew 21:18-22)

            (READ) Here we see that Jesus was hungry and intended on satisfying his hunger with some of the fruit from a fig tree.  The tree had leaves, but no fruit – so Jesus cursed the tree and it immediately withered.  The “lack of fruit” and “withering of the tree” themes are going to be woven throughout the remainder of the chapter.


(Matthew 21:20-22)

(READ) Seeing this miracle, the disciples wanted to know how it was accomplished. Jesus explained that one has to exercise faith in God in order to see results (as opposed to lip service, or through human efforts).  This theme will come up again later too. 





(Matthew 21:23-27)

The Jewish religious leaders were used to having authority, and they wanted to know how it was that Jesus thought He could come into Jerusalem and act and speak in such an authoritative manner.  But in their attempt to trip up Jesus, He turned the tables on them. (READ) In these verses, Jesus reveals that the religious leaders were proud individuals who didn’t think they needed to repent of anything, and that they were quite concerned with looking good and religious on the outside.


Now Jesus goes on the offensive to continue to bring out the true spiritual condition of the Pharisees and religious leaders.  In the remainder of Matthew 21, Jesus uses two parables to make His point.  In many other parables throughout the gospels, the explanation of the parable isn’t given or, isn’t given until later, or the hearers don’t figure what it means until later.  And as we learned a couple weeks ago, there are several parables that people don’t necessarily agree on the interpretation of.  However, we can see from Matthew 21:45 that the point of these 2 parables is immediately clear to the chief priests and Pharisees - Jesus is talking about them.




How did the religious leaders quickly came to the conclusion that Jesus was criticizing them?  Well they knew about events that had taken place in Israel’s history.  Let’s review some events that occurred in the nation of Israel to help you understand what Jesus is saying in these upcoming parables:


  • (Genesis 12:2-3)         God’s made a promise that a nation would be formed through Abraham.
  • (Exodus 1:6-7)             The promise is fulfilled (land filled with people).
  • (Exodus 1:11-14)         The king of Egypt enslaves the people and makes them work extremely hard, for very little in return.
  • (Exodus 6:6-8)            God uses Moses to free the Israelites from slavery, and affirms the promise that they will receive an inheritance of a promised land & blessings.
  • (Exodus 19:3-6, Deut 4:32-40, 14:1-2) – These verses give an overview of how God worked to create a chosen nation and give them a place to live.    They are called a chosen nation and treasured by God.  In their culture, it was the religious leaders had responsibility to guide people spiritually (the Bible often refers to spiritual progress as “fruit”).
  • (1 Samuel 12:22)          God was pleased to make them His people.
  • (Deuteronomy 11 )       If the people obeyed God, He would protect and bless them. If they disobeyed, they would be cursed.





  • (Exodus 19:7-8)           The people responded that they’d obey God– but they don’t do it consistently.
  • (2 Kings 17:7-23)       God sent prophets to warn Israel, but the people reject God and the warnings of the prophets (v 13-14).
  • (Nehemiah 9)  Chronicles their commitments and rejections. 
  • (Isaiah 5:1-7)             Compared Israel to a vineyard as well – but they only produced bad fruit because they rejected God and failed to obey Him.  The chapter goes on to say that the land God gave them was going to be taken away and given to others due to their unbelief and disobedience.





(Matthew 21:28-32)

First, Jesus uses a parable to emphasize what it takes to truly show obedience. (READ).  I think this parable contains a reference to faith that is similar to what we read in verses 20-22.  That is, faith without action is worthless.  Which son did the will of his father – the one’s whose actions followed, not the one who merely said the right thing.   Jesus very clearly says that the sinful people whom the religious leaders looked down on, were going to enter the kingdom of God before them, because these so-called sinners were willing to admit their failures, and take action by repenting.  On the other hand, the religious leaders put more stock in good appearances/intentions/words. 


God desires those who obey from the heart.  He wants us to repent then let our actions prove our dedication.  He isn’t impressed with piety and smooth talk.





(Matthew 21:33-46)

            Just in case the Pharisees needed more evidence of their spiritual immaturity, Jesus tells them another parable.  Here is where the concept of lack of fruit comes back into the discussion. (READ)


            The farmers were renting the land from the landowner.  Notice that the landowner provides resources and opportunity to the tenants-a wall for protection, a winepress (used to turn the grapes into juice), and a watchtower.  As farmers renting the property, they were supposed to use the resources provided and produce fruit.  Apparently, the farmers would keep some of the grapes they harvested and some would be given to the landowner. Each party would benefit from the arrangement.  When you rent there is an agreement made by both parties and there are obligations to fulfill. (Bi-lateral promise).


(v. 33)  The landowner went away on a journey.  So obviously he wouldn’t be looking over the shoulder of the tenants, they’d have to dedicate themselves to farming without obtaining any direct feedback or reward until the landowner returned.  However, while the landlord was away, they started to take things for granted. It started to feel kind of like the property was theirs.  They liked the freedom to be able to do things as they wished. 


(v. 34)  Slaves are sent to remind the farmers of their responsibility and to ensure that they are living up to their end of the agreement.


(v. 35-39)  By killing the slaves and landowners son, the renters had hoped to keep the land, property, and fruit for themselves.  They were basically stealing something that wasn’t theirs.


(v. 40-41)  Anyone who hears the parable comes to the conclusion that the farmers deserve to be punished severely – even put to death.


Explanation of the parable


(v. 33)  The landowner represents God.  The vineyard represents the nation of Israel. The farmers represent the chief priest and Pharisees. 


(v. 34-36)  The slaves represent the prophets whom God had sent to the Israelites before Jesus.


(v. 37-39)  The landowners son represents Jesus.  We know that the Jewish religious leaders were going to kill Jesus in order to keep the power and recognition for themselves.  Jesus was a threat to what they had going.


(v. 42) Jesus uses Old Testament scripture to help the religious leaders see the similarities between the parable and to Israel and themselves (Psalm 118:22-23). The stone (Jesus) was rejected by the builders (religious leaders), but it turns out the stone is the most important stone in the construction.


(v. 43)  Jesus was using the same analogy in His parable. He explained how Israel had beaten and scorned the prophets and would kill Him, the Son, and would lose their inheritance because of their attitude.          Just like Jerusalem had been given over to foreign enemies, Jesus said that the kingdom of God would be taken from the priests, and given to people who will produce real spiritual fruit – the Gentiles.  This was the fulfillment of what God had said would happen through Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3.  God made a promise to Abraham that the nation of Israel would come into existence through his line, but this plan also included all peoples on the earth (all would be blessed through Abraham).  Galatians 3:7-9, 14 describes how this happened. Ephesians chapter 2:11-22 describes how Gentiles and Jews both have the opportunity to accept Christ and become united in a worldwide Church. These verses describe Jesus as the chief cornerstone just as Matthew 21:42 describes Him.


(v. 44)  Jesus refers to the stone again.  Falling on the stone and being broken to pieces is what would happen if one humbles himself, but if one refuses to acknowledge that Jesus is the son of God, that results will be like when the stone falls on a person and scatters him like dust.


(v. 45)  When the chief priests and Pharisees recognized that Jesus was judging them, they looked for a way to eliminate Him.  




There are always two alternative ways to respond to Jesus.  We have the same choices today as the religious leaders did so many years ago. We can be broken in humble surrender before God or exert our pride for a while, but eventually be completely broken in judgment.


We aren’t part of God’s chosen nation Israel, but if we’ve accepted Christ as savior we are part of His family.  We aren’t powerful religious leaders, but we are individual servants of God who have been given the responsibility of producing fruit that includes personal spiritual growth and making disciples. Ephesians 1:5 says that it was God’s pleasure and will to give us this opportunity.   As disciples we should be taking care of what we have been given and bearing fruit (John 15:5-8).


Two weeks ago my family took a week long vacation in Alpena, Michigan.  We rented a cottage for the week on Long Lake.  I had read on the internet that this lake had walleye, smallmouth bass, pike and perch in it – so I knew that I wanted to spend some time fishing.  I don’t own a boat, so I rented a boat from a Marina on the lake.  The owner had just purchased a real nice 14’ aluminum fishing boat with a 15 horsepower motor. I happened to be the first person to rent his new boat.  We fished a little bit each day from Saturday through Tuesday.  Now, the cottage we were staying in didn’t have a dock, instead it had a cement breakwall and a sandy beach.  So when we were done fishing we pulled the boat up on the beach and wrapped the anchor line around a nearby pole.  That evening we went out to dinner at a restaurant on Lake Huron.  When we returned to the cottage, I noticed 3 men standing around the boat.  When I walked out to see what they were doing, one of the men asked me if it was my boat – I told them I was renting it.  They said, we just got done pulling your boat back up on shore.  While you were gone the waves pulled your boat out into the water and it has been banging up against that cement break wall.  It is tore up pretty good.  I looked on the side of the boat and sure enough, I could see a good deal of paint had been scrapped away.  The decals were tore up, and some of the edges of the aluminum now were scraped and gouged.  Needless to say I felt terrible.  I had a sick feeling in my stomach for the next day and a half.  Boy was I going to be embarrassed when I returned the boat to the owner.  I failed to take good care of the boat I was renting - and as a penalty I wound up paying about $400 to get it fixed.


If you put yourself into the shoes of the farmers in the parable of the landowner, how would you have treated the property that was in your care?  When the landowner is away it can be tempting to become complacent and even careless with how we live.  Even though we have now been entrusted as workers, servants in God’s kingdom we are susceptible of living in a way that doesn’t produce fruit. 


Walk worthy


The New Testament is filled with warnings about our spiritual growth and the amount of fruit we are producing.  Matthew 3:10, 7:19 remind us that trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire because they aren’t serving the purpose they should. Whereas the religious leaders wouldn’t accept that Jesus was the son of God, John 15:2-6 say that we must remain in Christ in order to bear fruit. 


In 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul warns Timothy to not fall back: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly {and} empty chatter {and} the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge" which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.”


In Ephesians 4:1-7, Paul warns the Ephesian Christians as well, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift.”


The Jewish religious leaders in our scripture aren’t the example we should follow – rather, we need to be humble, remain in Christ, and not become too comfortable living in this world.


James 4:4-10 contains this warning, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"?  But He gives a greater grace. Therefore {it} says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. “


We need to always remember that a Godly, fruit bearing life will please God and result in a rich entrance (rewards) in heaven. 


Peter says the following in 2 Peter 1:3-11, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of {the} divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.  Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in {your} moral excellence, knowledge,  and in {your} knowledge, self-control, and in {your} self-control, perseverance, and in {your} perseverance, godliness,  and in {your} godliness, brotherly kindness, and in {your} brotherly kindness, love.  For if these {qualities} are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these {qualities} is blind {or} short-sighted, having forgotten {his} purification from his former sins.  Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;  for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. “


On the other hand, if we aren’t careful, we can actually cause ourselves to lose rewards.  2 John 1:8 says, “Watch yourselves that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.”


May we remember as children of God that this world isn’t our home, in a sense we are just renting for a while.  May the fruit we produce be acceptable to the landowner when He returns.