KEY TEXT: Matthew 21:41-43 They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits."
KEY THOT: Israel was God's original vineyard. But it did not yield the kinds of fruits God was expecting. In the Parable of Tenants (Mt 21:33-40), Jesus uses the same imagery of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7 to describe the calling of Israel to become a fruitful nation. Instead of good grapes, they produced wild grapes, useless for the winepress to make wine. Fruitfulness is our calling and it is expressed in multiplication of good grapes which can be turned into good wine. That is what vineyard is supposed to yield--wine that blesses the world.
But because Israel was unfruitful and had rejected God's servants (including his own Son) sent to warn them to repent, they finally lost the kingdom to another people who can produce the kind of fruits Jesus is looking for: disciples who are growing and multiplying like good grapes. Churches that are inwardly-focused and no longer making and multiplying disciples have lost their reason for existence--God will ultimately remove such churches as His witnesses in the places where they are planted. In the last 2,000 years of church history, there have been countless churches that have disappeared completely because they had become inwardly-focused and no able to fulfill God's purpose.
So the lesson of today's parable is not just for Israel, but also for the Church at large: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:5). God has planted a church in a particular locality to bear fruits. And when it is no longer bearing fruits, it has lost its reason to exist. Sooner or later, the lampstand of the kingdom presence and power will be removed and the church would die of old age. This has happened to countless churches in UK. Some of these churches have become malls, museums and mosques.
Another thing that can cause a vineyard to forfeit the kingdom is this: having produced grapes for its winepress, it fails to create new wineskins to hold the new wine. These churches pour the new wine into old wineskins. The result is the old wineskins burst and the new wine get spilled and lost. Old wineskins are hard and inflexible and unable to accommodate the fermenting and expanding new wine: "Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved" (Matthew 9:17).
We can think of old wineskins as old mindsets, old habits, and old practices that are good for old wine but bad for new wine that God is pouring into a growing congregation. When the church fails to create new wineskins to hold the new wine, the result is the new wine gets spilled and lost because the old wineskins crack as they could not take the pressures of the expanding new wine. And the church returns to status quo of spiritual stagnancy.
New converts in a growing church can add new pressures to old church structures and systems to change. But when the church is unable or unwilling to adapt, the resulting old wineskins will crack and the new wine spilled. The only way to keep the new wine is create new wineskins.
May all churches of Jesus Christ be the fruitful vineyards that are producing good grapes so they may be become good wine to bless the world. And may such churches be able to create new wineskins to hold these new wine of the Spirit to maturity so that they are not just blessed but become a blessing to our world.
Abba-Father, grant us new and flexible mindsets that can adjust and adapt to the new wine You are pouring into our congregations. Amen.