Control. Hmmm… so many people have the illusion that they are large and in charge, they are in control of their lives. In some ways, they are right; in other ways, it is laughable just how wrong they are. But today we will look at one area of our lives in which we are absolutely in control. Has to do with this thing we call grace. Of all religions, ours is the only one that leads with this marvelous gift of God.
It was several decades ago when, with tears in my eyes, I stood at my mother-in-law’s funeral and sang Amazing Grace. True enough, that was her first name, but of course, we were singing of the life-altering grace of God. There is nothing like God’s grace in all of life, that is for sure, but I’m wondering if there are limits to his grace… hmmmm.
As we pick up Mark’s gospel, chapter 12 starts with Jesus teaching a parable—a story using familiar themes to illustrate spiritual truth. This ‘story’ of Jesus will hit the arrogant Jewish leaders right between the eyes. If you have an extra five minutes, pick up your Bible and read Mark 12 in full, or click the link; it really gives you a feel for the heightening tension and tactics of the religious leaders; it also renders so clearly and obviously Jesus' wisdom: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2012&version=NLT or check out Johnny Cash’s rendering—really good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rs98tY0zd90
Context. It is now Tuesday morning of that week so long ago, and people are standing around listening to Jesus in the Temple courtyard. Bear in mind that time is growing short: by Thursday, Jesus will be betrayed by one of his own, then arrested in Gethsemane, and by noon the next day, nailed to a cross. But on this day, He teaches,
“A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head. The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’
“But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard.
“What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.1
While this story may be unfamiliar in the West, tenant farming was a common practice in Jesus’ day, especially in the region of Galilee. (Which, by the way, has some great vineyards today!) In addition, archaeologists have discovered records of this same sort of dispute between landowners and tenant farmers.2 As for the symbolism, the landowner is God, the vineyard represents Israel, and the tenants are the religious Jewish leadership, and of course, the owner’s son is Jesus. Oh, and the other representatives who were beaten, some killed--those were the prophets God had sent to Israel.
What was the response? “The religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.”3
For more than three years,
~Jesus has demonstrated that he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah,
~the very embodiment of God’s love,
~and the instrument of grace extended to mankind; and though they know the scriptures, they perceive Jesus as a threat to their way of life, so
~they not only reject him, but plot to kill him. [no different today--people reject Christianity because they know they will be called to a higher standard--they won't be their own god]
Application. What does Jesus’ teaching about the tenant farmer have to do with us? We have the same truths extended to us: we hold in our hands the prophecies written hundreds of years before Jesus' birth, if we take the time to consider what the Bible teaches. We have the same representation of God’s love—Jesus himself. We have the gift of God's unfathomable grace through Jesus’ life and death, that we might know Him in this life and live with him forever in the next. In addition, we have archaeological proofs for the Bible, compatibility with science and the record of the historical support for all of this over millennia. Paul expressed this so succinctly when he wrote, "ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God."4 'Want more on that? Find Romans chapter one and read it!
One day the curtain drops, could be the natural or even unexpected ending of our life, and we can no longer choose the grace of God. It is only ours to accept as we live and breathe. You see, while his grace is amazing, it is not without limits. In this, we are the ones who are in control—we can choose to accept it, follow Jesus, or die without him, forever in a state of ungrace.
God’s grace is free. There is nothing like knowing him, having relationship with him now, entrusting our uncertain days and futures to a certain God. But you are in control; choose him, choose life; OR continue to keep him at arm’s length, and well—you will see there is a limit to his grace—you will be without it, forever.
Listen: Grace Amazing, Mercy Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-1lRux007I
Exercise your free will, choose God's grace today~
in the footsteps of Jesus, gospel of Mark, #36
1 - Mark 12.1-8, New Living Translation
2 – David Guzik, commentary, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/mark-12/
3 – Mark 12.12, NLT
4 - Romans 1.20