This is the Lent 2015 series. We’re reading through Luke, from Jesus conquering temptation in the desert to the Passion, His crucifixion and resurrection.
Luke 20 begins with Jesus teaching in the temple. Jesus was not only the preacher of His own gospel, He was the publisher of it- this is a great confirmation of the truth of the gospel, and gives abundant encouragement to us to receive it (adapted from Matthew Henry).
His enemies came upon Him and questioned His authority. In typical Pharisee fashion they showed up unannounced to capture the element of surprise, asked a question with the intention of startling Jesus and embarrassing Him in front of those who were listening to Him, discrediting Him and causing others to doubt Him. This practice didn’t end with the Pharisees, it’s alive and well today- Satan’s fingers are still trying to weave untruth and injustice. The Passion overcomes all of that; “And so at last the poor have hope, and the snapping jaws of the wicked are shut.” (Job 5:16)
Jesus is, of course, not caught off guard by His enemies. He responds to their question with a question of His own and then a parable.
He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Luke 20: 1-8)
The Parable of the Tenants (Luke 20:9-19)
Jesus expands on His response to the question of authority brought by His enemies with the Parable of the Tenants. His illustration features 6 main characters. The landowner of vineyard (God); the vineyard (Israel); the tenants (Sanhedrin; Pharisees); the servants of the landowner (prophets who followed God’s word and preached it to the Israelites); the son of the landowner (Jesus); and the other tenants (Gentiles).
The landowner was away during the harvest and rented his vineyard to tenants to harvest. The landowner sent his servants to the vineyard to collect his profits and the tenants beat them and sent them away empty-handed. The landowner sent his son to the vineyard to see what was going on and the tenants killed him, hoping that they would inherit the vineyard [the laws at that time support this- if there is no heir the property goes to those in possession of it (possession is 9/10 of the law)].
Let’s substitute the actual identities of the characters for those in the parable:
God was away during the harvest and turned Israel over to the Sanhedrin. God sent His prophets to Israel to collect His people and the Sanhedrin beat the prophets and sent them away empty-handed (Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and other prophets were beaten and killed during their mission) . God sent his Son to see what was going on and the Sanhedrin killed Him hoping that they would inherit Israel.
The parable illustrates the conspiracy by the Sanhedrin to commit Jesus’ murder. Jesus then turns the tables on His enemies, so that they are left to deduce their own miserable destiny, condemned for their disobedience.
Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. (Luke 20:17-19)
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Church. Are we like the tenants in the parable, rejecting the Him and living our life disobediently, on our own terms? Jesus’ entire mission, woven throughout Passion week beginning with this parable, is that He came to save us from our sins, provide our salvation, and bring us into the Kingdom of God.
Paying Taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:20-26)
The Pharisees were not thwarted by the Parable of the Tenants. The Pharisees sent spies to follow Jesus, pretend that they were interested in what he had to say, and try to trap Him.. The spies looked for a change to trip Jesus up in hopes of turning his followers against Him.
The spies questioned Him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:21)
Jesus saw right through them. He asked them to show him a Roman coin, and then asked them to tell Him whose image was on the coin. They answered that Caesar’s image was on the coin.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent (Luke 20:25-26)
Warnings against Teachers of the Law (Luke 20:45-46)
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Luke 20:45-46)
- Be governed by the Truth, not by corruption. “Take heed of being drawn into sin by them, of learning their way, and going into their measures; beware of such a spirit as they are governed by. -Matthew Henry.
- Stand for the Truth, don’t fall prey to corruption. Take heed of being brought into trouble by them,” in the same sense that he had said (Matt. 10:17), “Beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the councils; beware of the scribes, for they will do so. (Matthew Henry).
- Focus on the Truth, don’t be swayed by corruption. “They are covetous and oppressive, and make their religion, or structure “the law” as a defense to their corruption, a cloak and cover for crime.”
- The corrupt prey on the weak; if you see this, intervene and help. They devour widows’ houses, get their estates into their hands, and then by some trick or other make them their own, or they live upon them, and eat up what they have; and widows are an easy prey to them. -Matthew Henry
Christ reads them their doom in a few words: These shall receive a more abundant judgment, a double damnation, both for their abuse of the poor widows, whose houses they devoured, and for their abuse of religion, and particularly of prayer, which they had made use of as a pretence for the more plausible and effectual carrying on of their worldly and wicked projects; for dissembled piety is double iniquity.
If you are being persecuted, or have fallen prey to corruption of any kind, be very deliberate in the voice that you choose to listen to- choose to follow and listen to the voice of Truth.