The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen
“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.” (Matthew 21:33-46)
The parable contained in these verses was spoken by our Savior to the Jews and applies directly to that nation upon which the judgment of God has fallen. They are the husbandmen described in the parable. Their sins are set before us in plain words. They persecuted God’s prophets. They killed other prophets. And, at last, they murdered God’s darling Son! There can be no doubt that the parable was directly intended to be a word of condemnation against the Jewish nation. — “When the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parable, they perceived that he spake of them” (v. 45). But it is a serious mistake for anyone to read these words and say, “That applies to the Jews. It has no reference to me.”
“A godly man,” wrote John Trapp, “reads the Scriptures as he doth the statute-book. He holds himself concerned in all that he reads. He finds his name written in every passage and lays it to heart, as spoken to him. The wicked, on the other side, put off all they like not, and dispose of it to others.” Let us not be so foolish. The parable of the wicked husbandmen is a parable by which the Son of God speaks to us. “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” The Jews who heard this parable fall from the lips of the Son of God refused to heed its lessons. Therefore that nation is to this day under the curse of God’s holy wrath and just judgment. When they had the light, they refused to walk in the light. Therefore God has sent blindness and darkness upon them. Let us beware lest the same thing happen to us. — “If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Rom. 11:21).
The message of this parable is obvious. It warns us of the danger of despising gospel privileges. Those who despise the privileges of the gospel court the wrath of God.
A Word of Warning
The nation of Israel, and the blindness God has sent upon that reprobate nation that was once so greatly blessed of God, stands as a beacon to warn all who despise his goodness. God almighty sovereignly and graciously bestows upon some very great opportunities and privileges, and withholds them from others, as he sees fit (Matt. 11:20-26; Acts 16:6-7). He chose Israel alone to be a peculiar people unto himself. He separated Israel from all other nations. He counted the Jews alone to be his vineyard. He built a tower in it. That is to say, God established his worship in Israel alone. To Israel alone he gave his law, his ordinances, his tabernacle, his altar, his priesthood, his sacrifices, and his prophets. The great privileges the nation of Israel once enjoyed, as well as the judgment of God described in this parable, were the subjects of Isaiah’s song...
“Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (Isa. 5:1-7).
The greatest blessing and privilege God can bestow upon any people is to establish his Word and his worship in their midst. How thankful men and women ought to be for the privilege and blessing of a gospel church and a regularly established gospel ministry (Amos 8: 11-12). After attending one of the annual Bible conferences hosted by our assembly, a friend in New Jersey who had no gospel church near his family wrote, “If the people of Danville only knew what an opportunity and privilege God has given them, that little hillside would be covered with people, seeking to hear the Word of God.”
It our privilege and responsibility to avail ourselves of the blessing God has given us. I wonder how we would react if we knew we were in danger of having the Word of God removed from us. If we knew that God had threatened to remove his candlestick from its place among us, so that neither we, nor our neighbors, nor our children, nor our grandchildren could ever again hear the gospel of his grace, would such a warning be of real concern to us. Well, he has given us warning. — “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev 2:5).
God says, “Thou hast despised mine holy things” (Ezek. 22:8). It is a well-deserved word of reproof. It is impossible for me to understand how men and women who claim to love the gospel of Christ can willingly absent themselves from the ministry of the Word. It is one thing to despise the labors of a pastor who faithfully seeks a message from God and diligently preaches the gospel. But a willing neglect of the gospel is much, much more than despising the labors of a man. It is despising God’s holy things: his Word, his ordinances, his praise, and his people. The Lord Jesus promised that wherever and whenever two or three gather together in his name he will be with them. To neglect that assembly is to neglect Christ’s company!
I know many people who have no place of public worship and no one to minister to their souls. They get excited when a gospel preacher comes within a hundred miles. They gladly drive the distance to hear him. They plan their vacations around Bible conferences, special meetings, or places of worship. They listen to tapes every day. When they get a chance to meet with God’s saints and hear his Word, they are the first to arrive and the last to leave. They simply cannot get enough of the gospel. They soak it up like a dry sponge soaks up water. When the message is over, they talk about it enthusiastically.
I know others, many others, who have faithful pastors and regular places of worship, who act as though they could care less. If they attend the worship of God once a week and give a little money to pay the light bill, they are more than content. In many places where people claim to love the gospel, it goes begging for a hearing. The evening services and mid-weak services could be held in a closet without being very crowded. If you are too busy to attend the worship of God, you are too busy! If you are too tired, then you need to give up something else, but not this! If you despise God’s holy things, he will take them away from you and give them to someone else (Rom. 11:21).
It is a sad fact that multitudes, like the Jews in our text, despise the privileges God gives them. God gave Israel his word; but they mingled with the heathen, and learned their works (Ps. 106:35). God sent them his prophets; but they chose darkness rather than light. God showed them the path of righteousness and life; but they hardened their hearts in unbelief and sin. God revealed himself to them; but they turned aside after idols. At last, God sent them his Son, even the Lord Jesus Christ; and they crucified him!
What are you doing with the privileges God has given you? You have his Word. Do you read it, study it, and seek to know its message? If you have a gospel church and a regularly established, faithful gospel ministry, do you avail yourself of God’s ordinance? Do you value God’s people, his family? Do you cherish their company, or despise it? It is either one or the other. There is no middle ground.
J. C. Ryle wrote, “Nothing offends God like the neglect of privileges.” I cannot adequately warn you of the danger of despising the worship of God. It is the first step toward apostasy (Heb. 3:10-14; 10:25-26). If you despise the kingdom of God, “the kingdom of God shall be taken from you” (v. 43). The time came when the cup of Israel’s iniquity was full and God would tolerate them no more. In 70AD, just 40 years after this parable was uttered, God sent Titus and the armies of Rome into Jerusalem to destroy the holy city, the temple, and the nation. From that day to this, the Jews have been scattered over the face of the whole earth, and grope about in spiritual darkness, as blind men, but as blind men who are completely confident that they alone have light and see.
The churches of Asia Minor, once so strong, are now gone. Africa, once the cradle of light, is now the house of darkness. England, once so full of light and life, is now a graveyard of religious relics and memories. The same is true of the United States. Much, much has been given to us, and much shall be required of us! As John Trapp put it, “The gospel is that inheritance we received from our forefathers. It must be our care to transmit the same to our posterity.”
When our Lord spoke, even these proud priests and Pharisees could not help understanding that he spoke of them (v. 45). Even in wicked men, the conscience is strong to condemn. But it takes something more than a guilty, condemning conscience to produce repentance and faith in the heart. That is the gift of God’s saving goodness and grace (Rom. 2:4; Eph. 2:8-9).
Recently, I read an article in which a man stated, “Mental assent itself is equal to faith.” When I read those words, I was shocked. The mere perception of truth is not saving faith. Saving faith is more than understanding and agreeing with gospel truths. Saving faith involves love for him who is the Truth. Anyone who is well taught by another man can be persuaded of doctrinal, gospel truth. But it takes more than the teaching of a man, and more than personal study for a lost sinner, dead in trespasses and in sins, to become a living saint, savingly united to Christ by faith. Saving faith is the supernatural gift of God the Holy Spirit, the operation of his grace in us (Col. 2:12). It is not something we arrive at by natural reason, something we merely perceive and agree to, or something we can be persuaded to perform by a slick “soul-winner.” Faith in Christ is that which springs up in the heaven born soul by the mighty operation of God’s free grace (Eph. 2:1-10).
“Marvellous in Our Eyes”
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?” (v. 42) — Here, speaking of himself, our Savior quotes Psalm 118:22-23, pointedly applying David’s words to the chief priests and Pharisees standing before him. Those who were supposed to be the builders of God’s house had rejected the Foundation Stone, Christ Jesus, whom God has made “the Headstone of the corner.”
Throughout the Scriptures our Lord Jesus Christ is compared to a stone. He is called “the Stone of Israel” (Gen. 49:24). He is the Foundation Stone God has laid in Zion (Isa. 28:16). He is the One Stone laid before God’s elect in conversion, upon which we are built (Zech. 3:9). Christ is the Stone “cut out of the mountain without hands” (Dan. 2:45), that will fall upon his enemies in judgment. To the unbelieving, he is “a Stone of stumbling and rock of offense” (Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:32; 1 Pet. 2:8). But, to all who trust him, the Lord Jesus is “a living Stone”, and the “chief Corner Stone, elect and precious” (Isa. 28:16; 1 Pet. 2:4, 6).
Christ is the Foundation on which we are built and upon which we build. All who build upon him are safe and secure. All who build upon anything else build upon sand; and every house built upon sand will fall. Yet, there are multitudes, like the chief priests and Pharisees mentioned here, who reject the Foundation God has laid and build upon another. Rejecting his eternal deity, his sin-atoning sacrifice, his perfect righteousness, his effectual intercession, and omnipotent grace, they build upon a the false foundation of “another Jesus.” Rejecting his work, they build upon their own works and religious ceremonies. Worse yet, they build their house of hope upon their own, imaginary freewill; and great will be the fall of it!
Faith in Christ is compared to the building of a house of refuge (Mat. 7:24). Sooner or later our house will be tested by earthly trials, spiritual trials, rains of trouble, floods of sorrow, and winds of adversity (Matt. 7:25). If your house is built on Christ the Rock, it will endure the trial and stand the tests of time. If your house is built on the sand, anything other than Christ, sooner or later the rains and floods and winds will bring it crumbling down around you.
Thanks be unto God forever, man’s rejection of Christ can never disannul the purpose and work of God! — “The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the Head of the corner!” Though men reject him, God has accepted him and made him the Head of all things and the Head Stone of the Corner. This “Stone, cut out of the mountain without hands,” is the Stone by which antichrist shall be destroyed (Dan. 2:34-35, 45).
Zechariah describes our Savior’s exaltation as the Chief Corner Stone with exultation (Zech. 4:6-10). He is the chief corner stone; he is higher than the kings of the earth. He is infinitely superior to angels, and the chief among ten thousands of his saints. He is exalted above all creatures, angels, and men. Like the corner stone in a building, Christ knits and cements his building, his church together. Chosen angels and chosen men, chosen Jews and chosen Gentiles, Old Testament saints and New Testament saints, saints above and saints below, all are joined together in him. It is Christ, the Chief Corner Stone, who strengthens and supports the building and holds it together.
“This is the Lord’s doing” (Phil. 2:9-11), “and it is marvellous in our eyes.” It is marvellous in the eyes of all who believe; for the exaltation of Christ as our Mediator and Redeemer is a marvellous and wonderful display of the wisdom, goodness, justice, grace, mercy, truth, power, and faithfulness of God (Rom. 3:24-26; 4:25-5:1; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2). Christ is Head of the corner. Christ is the Heir of all things, Ruler of all things, and Disposer of all things; and in him we have all things.
Salvation by A Fall
“Whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken” (v. 44). — Salvation is obtained by a fall. You must fall upon Christ, the Stone, and be broken upon him. If you do not fall upon him, this Stone will fall upon you and grind you to powder. Falling upon him, sinners are broken. Our Lord did not say, “Be broken and fall,” but, “Fall and be broken.” Faith is falling on him. It is a long, hard fall. We must fall from our loftiness and self-righteousness upon Christ alone as our hope before God. Trusting his blood alone for atonement, his righteousness alone for acceptance with God, his grace alone to save us, trusting Christ alone as our Savior (1 Cor. 1:30). Falling on this Rock, sinners are broken. And to the broken God’s Word gives this assurance. — “A broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
“But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them” (vv. 44-45). — If you refuse to trust Christ, if you will not fall on him for mercy, he will fall on you in wrath. God’s judgment is always just.
Judgment and wrath are always presented in Scripture as God’s response to man’s sin. “The wages of sin is death.” Judgment is something you earn. “But the gift of God is eternal life.” If you go to hell, it will be your fault, the result of what you have done. If you go to heaven, it will be God’s fault, the result of what he has done. If a person walks in the light God gives him, God will give him more light. The Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), Cornelius (Acts 10), and Lydia (Acts 16), are three great examples of that fact. If you despise the light God gives you, the light will be turned into darkness; and when light becomes darkness, how great is that darkness! There is no darkness like spiritual darkness; and there is no spiritual darkness like the darkness of reprobation (Hos. 4:17; Rom. 11:8-10, 21-22). Yet, man’s unbelief will not thwart, but shall only serve the purpose of God (Rom. 3:3-4; 11:33-36).