a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on October 8, 2017
Passage: Matthew 21:33-46
Big Idea: God’s people receive Kingdom fruit by grace, and produce it for the King to bless the world.
The contemplative monk Thomas Merton said,
‘How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.’
God intends for his people to bear fruit. Not just any fruit, but the fruit of the Kingdom, as Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 21.
If you were listening to the parable that Jesus told, you probably picked up that this is pretty important.
In the story, the main reason the tenants of the vineyard are thrown out is because they do everything they can keep the fruit of the vineyard for themselves instead of giving it to the rightful owner—even murdering the owner’s own son—instead of producing or presenting it for the sake of the Kingdom. In the end, they lost not only their right to work the vineyard, but it seems their very lives.
Jesus said, “…I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43, ESV)
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel are often talked about in terms of being a vineyard or a vine, so everyone would have known as soon as Jesus started the story that this was about God and his holy nation, his royal priesthood meant to mediate the blessings of God to the world.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a person—and I want us here at DMAC to be a people—that produces Kingdom fruit, because I want to be part of the Kingdom of Jesus, because that’s where life is.
So, the questions in front of us are first, “how do we produce Kingdom fruit?” and second, “what is Kingdom fruit, anyways?”
First, how do we produce Kingdom fruit? Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus said,
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, ESV)
“I am the vine, you are the branches.” What exactly does a branch do? Absolutely nothing except stay connected to the vine!
In the parable from Matthew, did you notice that the owner of the vineyard was the one that planted it? He created it! He also provided protection for it by building a fence and a watch tower. He even did the hard work of digging a wine press so once the grapes were ready everything would be set up to easily produce fine wine. All the tenants had to do was be faithfully present to receive the harvest. But not only receive it, give it back to the owner to be used as he saw fit.
At the end of the day, we can’t produce anything in and of ourselves. Kingdom fruit is something we receive as the Holy Spirit does his work, it’s something that grows as we continue to abide with Jesus. But we do have to be willing for it be produced in us, and we have to be willing to give it back to the Lord for his use.
But what is Kingdom fruit? First and foremost, Kingdom fruit is character. Paul, writing to the church at Galatia said,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)
The first item on this list, and perhaps the item that encompasses all the others is love. Of course, love can’t be expressed in solitude. By its very nature love must be the sacrificial giving of oneself to another. When we find ourselves in right relationship with God, we find ourselves being changed on the inside so that we are truly able to love in this way and so we direct our energy, resources, property, possessions, our very self toward God to be used as he sees fit.
This is what it means to receive and give back—in other words, produce—Kingdom fruit.
It seems counterintuitive, but the key to our eternal life is being willing relinquish ownership of our life back to God.
To give back to him whatever fruit, whatever blessings we see in our lives. Whenever we start to think we have control—or worse, that somehow we are the source—of our own good character or noble actions, or even just the good situations we may find ourselves in, we are actually in the position of the vineyard tenants that wouldn’t give the fruit of the vineyard back to the person that planted it to begin with.
Listen to what Paul had to say about this:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11, ESV)
Paul suffered the loss of all things—including, ultimately, his very life—but for him it was all worth it, because Jesus.
Paul had a great reputation as a religious leader before he came to Jesus, but he was willing to let it go.
He likely had a secure income before he came to Jesus, but he was willing to let that go.
No one was trying to kill him before he came to Jesus, but he was willing to let that go.
Nothing you do in your own power will ever make you more right with Go. Paul said the righteousness from God depends on faith! Bearing fruit isn’t about doing more things it’s about believing ever more deeply that Jesus is your Savior, Lord, and Friend.
Out of that belief about Jesus we find the strength and courage and even desire to let go of all else. It’s in this loving self-denial that we counter-intuitively find real satisfaction, actual purpose, and sustaining hope.
Imagine the implications of the Big Idea
Think about not just what we would do, but the kind of people we would be if we believed that Jesus worth everything, if we were willing to give every blessing back to him to be used to bless the world.
Jesus taught the people in the Temple that God’s heart is for his place of worship to be house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17).
Jesus said that we are to forgive one another as God forgives us (Mark 11:25).
Jesus challenges us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:34).
In other words, Jesus asks us to let go of those things that don’t belong to us (including our preferences and pride), and to give everything else to God (Matthew 22:21).
Does this sound utopian? Does this sound impossible? It’s not! The community that gathers around Christ as their cornerstone, as the one worth giving every blessing back to, will absolutely be used by God in these ways. In fact, one commentary I read said,
God expects [emphasis added] the vineyard, God’s people, to be an accepting, prayerful, forgiving, devoted, and loving fellowship built around his Son, the one stone that binds everything together. When it becomes something other than that, it courts God’s judgment.
Now, that’s not to say God demands perfection. Paul, who was just talking about radical release of everything but Jesus, said:
“[It’s] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Philippians 3:12–15, ESV)
Bearing Kingdom fruit isn’t about a perfection, but it is about pressing on in perseverance toward the goal of maturity in Christ, which can only come from the daily commitment to walk with him, toward him, and in him. This comes through prayer, fellowship, and obedience over time.
Remember that Merton quote?
‘How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.’
Writing about that tidbit of wisdom, James Finley wrote,
A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of true self takes place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in his hidden action within us.
Brothers and sisters, let us strain forward, without striving to accomplish our own salvation.
Let us press on, without weighing ourselves down with guilt over our sin. Those things were taken care of 2,000 years ago on the Cross.
Let us bear Kingdom fruit by believing ever more deeply that Jesus is King. Let us bear Kingdom fruit by believing ever more deeply that Jesus’s Kingdom is worth so much more than anything on offer from anyone else. Amen.