Jesus, in Mark 12, uses the picture of a vineyard, possibly indirectly referencing Isaiah 5. He tells of a man who prepares and protects a vineyard before putting it into someone else’s care. Those who work the vineyard harm and kill those the master sends to collect his due from the vineyards – even to the point of murdering the master’s own son. Jesus explains that those listening should be careful of rejecting that which the Lord has provided for them, even God’s own Son.
In Isaiah 5:1-7, God shares a song about a vineyard, carefully prepared, protected and tended. Instead of producing good grapes, however, only wild fruit and weeds come forth. Therefore, the Lord says He will remove the protections from the vineyard and tend to it no more. God proceeds to explain that this vineyard is a parallel to His people, the way He cares for and protect them, but He withdraws from them when they fail to respond to His care as they should.
The Work of a Vineyard
Tending to vineyards, raising up olive and fig trees – the people in Jesus’ and Isaiah’s audiences would have been familiar with the things they spoke of in these illustrations. They would know of the diligent preparation and care it would take to keep a vineyard healthy and safe. They would know the difference between cultivated fruit and wild fruit. In this context, God asks, “What more could I have done?” in Isaiah 5. He has provided care and blessing beyond measure, but the people were still not what they should have been.
In verses 8-10 of Isaiah 5, God condemns those who live greedily, those who exploit their resources to the point of destroying their environment. In verses 11-12, God proclaims woe upon those who pursue vices from dawn to dusk, giving no regard to spiritual matters. Verses 18-19, He speaks of those who drag sin through their lives while claiming to care about God’s work. In verse 20, He warns those who replace good for evil and vice versa. Finally, verse 21 condemns those who hold their own wisdom above God’s.
God tended to His vineyard and had expectations for it, but the fruit of His people were worthless. Because they dwelt in sin, because they promoted evil, because they elevated themselves above God, God promised, in verses 24-25, that His anger would be kindled against them, and that He would level His vineyard. They were His vineyard, but they took themselves away from Him.
God’s Spiritual Vineyard
We are God’s vineyard today. What fruits do we produce for Him? Hebrews 6:7-8 speaks of ground tilled and tended to by God that will either produce herbs or thistles. I Corinthians 10:13 illustrates how God tends to us – in that He keeps a hedge around us, protecting us from temptations we will be unable to handle. Like the vineyard of Isaiah 5, God has tended to us, has protected us, and has showered us with blessings. I John 4:4 reminds us that God is greater than anything in this world. His blessings, His care, His protection – these things are more substantial than anything this world can throw at us.
What are we doing with God’s care and protection? He has done for us as He had done for the children of Israel in Isaiah 5. We are His fertile ground. We are His vineyard. Do we, like those of the past, take those blessings for granted? Are we producing bitter fruits because of our greed, our pride, because of our love for evil? What would God do with the fruits we produce in His vineyard?
In Matthew 6:19, Jesus warns us against placing our treasures in this world, being motivated by materialism. II Timothy 2:22 tells us to flee the lusts of this world and their temporary attractions. Returning to Hebrews 6, the author of that book speaks of those who pile sin upon sin, in verse 6, and then crucify the Son of God all over again. We are tempted to call evil good and good evil, and Romans 1:22 reminds us that we can be foolish in God’s eyes while wise in our own.
We may recognize God’s role in our lives. We may honor His Son with our words, but what fruits are we producing? In John 15:1, Jesus calls Himself our vine, and we are branches from Him. We either bear much fruit, or Jesus warns that His Father may prune us. Ten times in that chapter, Jesus reminds us to abide in Him, to base everything in our lives around Him, to hinge every word and decision on the basis of His word. If we truly abide in Him, allowing His word to dwell in us, then we will not put God’s efforts to shame. We can be a vineyard producing fruits unto righteousness.
lesson by Tim Smelser