Our LWML theme this morning is all about fruit and the production of fruit. Different kinds of fruit are more readily available at different times of the year. To know what fruit is really in season locally, all you have to do is drive by the Schwartz orchard sign on the way to Centralia. Right now, it’s all about the apples and the apple cider.
But the season or the time of year isn’t the only thing which determines a fruit’s popularity. Each state is known for specializing in a particular kind of fruit. The state of Georgia is known for what fruit? Right, peaches. As you drive through the state, it’s hard to not notice all the different peach stands which line the highways and are at the rest areas.
However, Georgia isn’t unique in this obviously. If I were to mention the state of Washington, one would mostly like think of … apples. Likewise, if I would mention Florida, one would probably think of … oranges. Anyone want to venture a guess to what the official fruit of Illinois is? It’s the goldrush apple, which is actually a cross of a golden delicious and an experimental variety of apple developed by the disease-resistant apple breeding program of the University of Illinois, Purdue University, and Rutgers University in New Jersey. Go figure.
Anyway, just as states are known by the fruit each produces … the kingdom of God is recognized by the fruit its people produce. Obviously this fruit is totally different than the kind you find growing on trees, bushes, or vines. Kingdom people produce kingdom fruit.
The production of kingdom fruit is a very special task given to the kingdom people of God. The importance of this task cannot be over-stressed enough or be taken lightly, especially when one considers the task has been taken away from others who failed at its production. This is what Jesus is essentially teaching in the gospel lesson this morning.
Let’s set the stage some here. We find Jesus at the beginning of Matthew 21 riding into Jerusalem on a donkey under the praises of Hosannas and waving palm branches. Which means, what we heard in our gospel reading is taking place during Holy Week. Throughout Holy Week, Jesus would go into the temple to teach and preach to the people one last time.
But the people aren’t the only ones waiting for Jesus to arrive. The chief priests and elders are also waiting for him. You see, they, along with the other religious leaders, have been trying to find some way to trap Jesus so they could arrest him and get rid of him. So as Jesus begins to teach, the chief priest and elders come up to Jesus and say, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?” (Matt. 21:23).
I love this! These leaders ask Jesus a question and Jesus responds with a question. “I will also ask you one question. If, notice Jesus is setting them up to fail here, if you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Now, here’s the question, “John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” (21:24-25).
These leaders look at each other and are like … “uhhhhh, I don’t know. If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘They why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet (21:25-26). So let’s play it safe and say we don’t know.”
Jesus is like, “Really? Well then, neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (21:27).
Jesus then proceeds to tell them two parables. Now usually when Jesus teaches in parables, the explanation of the parable is given only to the disciples. Not this morning. In the parable we heard earlier, Jesus puts it right out there what the point is. After telling the parable of the tenants, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit” (21:43). Bam! There it is, as Heath would say!
These religious elite perceive that this parable is directed at them. You think? These leaders had not been producing kingdom fruit and now they are doing what the tenants in the parable did. These tenants of God’s house are not only following the pattern of the forefathers who had rejected the prophets and their message, they are living out Jesus’ parable as they are rejecting the very Son of God and will later be responsible for his death, which by the way, takes place outside of the city of Jerusalem, outside the vineyard.
These words of rejection spoken to those who denied Jesus also carry a special emphasis for those who are being given the kingdom of God. The emphasis of His message is just as strong for the new tenants. The new tenants, kingdom people … they are expected to produce fruit. Kingdom people produce kingdom fruit, it’s as simple as that.
So who are these kingdom people? Well, that’s a rather simple question don’t you think pastor? Well yeah, it is, but it’s a rather important one. By God’s grace and only by His grace in Jesus, you and I, we are made to be the new kingdom people.
But don’t think that just because you are made a kingdom person that you’re entitled to all the benefits. No, to be kingdom people is a gift. The words of Jesus are pretty clear. The kingdom of God is “given.” Yet at the same time, understand that the production of kingdom fruit is the expectation of kingdom people. As Jesus taught in the parable, the master will let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in the season (21:41b).
This isn’t any sort of new expectation for kingdom people. It was declared by the prophets of old. We heard it in the reading from Isaiah 5. “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a wine press as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit” (5:1-2). God expects good fruit from his people. The message of John the Baptist was equally clear, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8).
The good news for us is that we are not left to this task of producing kingdom fruit on our own. We have help. We have the help we need as God graciously nurtures us and generously gives us everything we need to produce fruit for his kingdom. The words from verse 33 of the gospel reading remind us of what the master has done. “The master … planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower.” He did the work of building the vineyard before He turned the vineyard over to the tenants. The master supplied everything the tenants needed to produce fruit, to produce good fruit.
It is no different today. The Lord, our gracious Heavenly Father, supplies us with all we need. He daily blesses us with all we need to support this body and life, he walks with us, and never forsakes us. He gives us the Holy Spirit which calls us by the Gospel, by the good news of Jesus and enlightens us with His gifts. By faith, we are connected to Jesus, he is our lifeline when it comes to bearing good fruit. This morning, as we gather around our Lord’s table, we are strengthened in our faith as we partake of the fruit of Christ, as we partake his very own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. With Jesus, with the Holy Spirit living in you, you have the very things you need to be kingdom people and produce kingdom fruit. And right now, now more than ever, now is the time for fruit production. In Jesus name. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.