Jesus and the Judgment of God
So here in Mark Chapter 12, Jesus is in the city of Jerusalem and he’s teaching (like we saw last week), but here at the start of Chapter 12, in verses 1–12, Jesus gives us a parable that’s very important.
And this parable is important because it sets up all the teaching and action that comes after it.
We saw last week that twice in Chapter 11 Mark tells us that the Jewish leaders were trying to destroy Jesus but they couldn’t because the people held Jesus in high honor — the Jewish leaders were afraid of the people (11:18, 32). The influence of these leaders was already damaged because of “this Jesus guy,” and so they didn’t wanna rock the boat too much in how they opposed him — which meant that their hatred of Jesus was increasing, but they were forced to keep their distance from him, at least for now. That’s Chapter 11.
The same thing happens here in Chapter 12. Jesus tells this parable against the Jewish leaders, and Mark says they knew it. Look at verse 12: “They perceived that he had told the parable against them.” Which means they got the message. They understood what Jesus was saying, and they did not like it. But again, at this point, they were too afraid of the people to arrest Jesus.
And so that’s the tension we see over the next couple chapters. The Jewish leaders want to arrest Jesus, but they have to conspire and maneuver how to do that — and later in Chapter 14 they figure it out, but here in Chapter 12 is the place where we learn why these Jewish leaders hate Jesus so much. Why do these Jewish leaders want to destroy Jesus?
It’s because they reject him.
That’s what Jesus is saying in this parable. And I think we can understand it pretty simply. Let’s just take a look at it for a minute.
An Overview of the Parable
There are four characters in the parable:
- there is the owner of the vineyard;
- there are the tenants he leased it to;
- there are the servants he sent back to tenants;
- then there is the beloved son
And the story goes like this: the owner of the vineyard built this vineyard, and he set it up nicely, and he leased it to some tenants while he went away for a little while. And when the season came for vineyard fruit, he sent a servant back to the vineyard to collect the fruit, but when the servant got to the vineyard, the tenants didn’t listen to him, instead they beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed.
So God — or the owner of the vineyard — sent another servant to collect the fruit, but the tenants didn’t listen to him either. Then the owner sent another servant, and then another servant, and then another servant, and the every time these servants would come to the tenants, the tenants never listened. Instead, they mistreated the servants, and they even killed them. The tenants refused to hear the servants.
And this actually sounds a lot like Jeremiah 7, which is the same Old Testament passage that Jesus quoted in Mark Chapter 11 (Pastor Joe mentioned this last week). In Jeremiah 7 verse 25, God is talking about the people of Israel and he says:
From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck.
That’s exactly what is happening in Jesus’s parable. The owner of the vineyard keeps sending these servants to the vineyard — God keeps sending his prophets — but the tenants, the Jewish leaders, refuse to listen.
So Jesus says, in verse 6, that the owner of the vineyard “had still one other, a beloved son.” And “finally” — which is an important word — the owner sent his son to the vineyard, trying to get through to these tenants, thinking that these tenants would respect his son. But the tenants, at this point, became their worse, because when the son came, they tried to take ownership of the vineyard for themselves and they killed the son.
Does everybody see what’s happening in the parable?
That’s the parable. That’s the story. But we’ve still not gotten to the main point. The main point comes in verse 9, and it’s in a question. After Jesus tells this parable and describes what these tenants have done, then Jesus states the question: “What will the owner of the vineyard do?”
The Central Theme of the Passage
That’s a good question. This question sort of lands fast in the passage, but I think if we would have been there, listening to Jesus, this question would have cleared the air here when Jesus spoke it.
This was the kind of question that also came with a reminder, see, and that reminder is that the owner of the vineyard is coming back to his vineyard. At any moment, the owner of this vineyard could step back into his vineyard, and when he does, what do you think he is going to do?
Jesus says he will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
In verse 10, Jesus says,
Have you not read this Scripture:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
And of course the Jewish leaders had read that Scripture, but what they had not done was realize that it’s about them. The Jewish leaders that Jesus is talking to are the rejecters of Jesus, and so they will suffer the judgment of God.
And the twist that is happening here is almost disorienting. Because remember, the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah would come and destroy the Gentile rulers. These Jewish leaders wanted the Messiah to come and bring God’s judgment on the Romans, but instead, here is the Messiah coming to bring God’s judgement on them — because they reject him.
That’s the main point in this parable. The main point, and the theme of the passage, is the judgment of God, and so that’s what we’re going to focus on this morning. And when we do, there are three things we learn. I want to go ahead and mention them. Here are three things we learn in this passage about the judgment of God:
- God’s judgment vindicates the reality of his justice.
- God’s judgment magnifies the glory of his Son.
- God’s judgment reveals the wonder of his mercy.
Father, your word is open and we know that you have something to say to us. So we ask, Father, please open wide our hearts to receive from you this morning. Speak to us, we pray, in Jesus’s name, amen.
1. God’s judgment vindicates the reality of his justice.
And in order to see this we need to understand the injustice of these tenants in the parable, and it’s deeper than we might see at first.
Notice what the tenants say in verse 7. At this point the owner has sent his son to the vineyard, expecting the tenants to respect his son, but instead, they say to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”
Which right away, is not true. That can’t actually happen. Killing the heir doesn’t make the inheritance theirs, but this does tell us something about these tenants: it tells us what they’re really trying to do. All the rejecting and not listening and mistreating and killing — it’s all their attempt to get rid of the owner. They are trying to get rid of the owner’s claim on his vineyard, and thus on them.
And the word for this is “rebellion” — and it’s not just a problem with the Jewish leaders in Mark 12, but this is a human problem. Human sinners like us have always done this. In our sin, we reject the authority of God because we want to claim that authority for ourselves. This is literally the oldest trick in the book. It goes back to Genesis 3, and it continues on today. And there seems to be at least two different levels of rebellion.
Two Levels of Rebellion
The first level is what we can call the gray zone. And second level is demonic.
And this first level, the gray zone, is maybe the most dangerous because of how subtle we can make it. This is where we don’t outright reject God, but we become increasingly uncomfortable with clear lines.
And look, don’t misunderstand me: there are gray areas in life, okay; not everything is black and white, but a lot of it is, and where there is black and white, the right choice is obvious; there are no questions, but only answers — and the thing with answers is that they are demanding. You have to do something with answers.
But if we can hold off on the answers, if we could just keep asking questions, then you never have to land anywhere and everything becomes gray — and gray is very cozy for someone who doesn’t like God telling them what to do.
Living in the gray zone is this continual, soft pushing back on God’s authority. We don’t outright reject him yet but we might be “struggling” — which sometimes just means that the God of the Bible makes us nervous and we prefer to keep things blurry. This is rebellion at level one. And I think it’s the most dangerous because it is not self-aware, and we can even make it look spiritual.
Rebellion at level two, however, is the loud, blatant, outright rejection of God. It’s the kind of rebellion that thinks, and says, that “my life is better off without God.” These people know the vineyard belongs to God, but they suppress that truth and refuse to live under God’s authority. They reject God’s claim on them, and so they try to become their own gods. And this is demonic. It's level two of rebellion . . . but when there is no repentance, this is where every rebellion ends up. Every rebellion against God is ultimately demonic.
And what do you think God will do about this?
God made us for himself. He made us to reflect him and enjoy his glory. But as sinners, we have rejected him and dismissed his glory. We have sneered at his authority, and we have taken what is not ours. So what will God do about it?
Well, what would justice do about it? Justice would make things fair. Justice would put things right. And because God is the God of justice, that is what God will do. God will judge those who have rebelled against him. That’s the first thing God’s judgment tells us. It tells us he is the God of justice — and no injustice goes unseen; every injustice will be judged.
God’s judgment vindicates the reality of his justice. But there’s more:
2. God’s judgment magnifies the glory of his Son.
In the parable, as we’ve seen, the owner of the vineyard represents God, and that owner has a beloved son, who represents Jesus. And it’s easy to see in the parable that the high point is when the owner decides to send his son to the vineyard.
The servants, or the prophets, were doing their job — they were sent by the owner as his spokesmen — but the tenants refused to listen to them. So in verse 6, Jesus says, “[The owner of the vineyard] had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’”
So this carries the idea of finality. This is the last chance. This is the no holds barred initiative to change things in the vineyard. All those who were sent before the Son were just a foreshadowing of the Son himself. But now, in verse 6, the beloved Son has come, and he has come from the heart of the owner — he is the beloved son; and he demands respect.
Because of Who Jesus Is
And those two things are related: it is the Owner’s love for his Son that requires the owner’s subjects to respect his son. That’s what the parable shows us.
What it means is that the identity of Jesus demands our obedience. Who Jesus is as the beloved Son of God means that we must listen to him, and honor him, and humble ourselves before him.
And this is something we’ve already seen in the Gospel of Mark. This is precisely what God the Father says about Jesus in the Transfiguration. Remember in Chapter 9 that God spoke from heaven and said of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
Listen to Jesus because of who he is! Which means it’s not optional. Respecting Jesus is not a matter of preference. Because Jesus is the Son of God, we must listen to him. See, long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets — God kept sending the prophets — but now in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (who is different!).
- Because his Son is the one WHOM he has appointed the heir of all things.
- His Son is the one THROUGH whom he created the world.
- His Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,
- His Son upholds the whole universe by the word of his power.
God sending his Son has raised the stakes here. Don’t think you can reject or ignore Jesus and it be okay. It’s not okay. So look, I just want to be honest with you here, because I love you.
In this passage it’s rejecting Jesus that prompts the question: What is God going to do about it? That’s verse 9.
What is God going to do about those who reject his Son?
He is going to destroy them.
That’s what the Bible says. The Bible says this plainly in Psalm 2, and here in Mark 12.
This Is Whole Bible Fact
Look, you might have heard it said before that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament is a God of love. And I just want you to know, that is not true. The God of the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, is a God of love through and through, and in response to sin, he is always a God of wrath.
Sin has never been swept under the rug. Sin has never been okay. What makes the good news so good is not that God doesn’t have wrath toward our sin, it’s that Jesus took that wrath for us.
Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth not just to get through to us, but he came to make a way for us by suffering in our place the judgment of God that we deserve.
That is the most vivid display of God’s love for us. Jesus was judged for your sin in your place.
Which just raises the stakes even higher. Because when someone rejects Jesus, it means they are rejecting the love of God. They are rejecting his atonement. They are despising God’s mercy embodied in Jesus, and therefore they are procuring for themselves the judgment of God that will be poured out when Jesus returns. That’s what the apostle Paul says —2 Thessalonians 1:7–9, God’s judgment is coming . . .
when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
This is New Testament truth, man. This is whole Bible fact.
Jesus Comes to Us
And it’s really more about Jesus than it is about us. We shouldn’t think this is simply God judging people, because it’s more: this is God avenging the glory of his Son that has been rejected.
And that’s part of what makes Jesus so confrontational. We never stumble upon Jesus; we don’t encounter him — but he comes to us. And when he does, there is no neutral ground because of who he is.
Jesus is the beloved Son of God. He is the grace and mercy of God made known. He is the love and righteousness of God poured out. And when his word is spoken, by his Spirit, Jesus is in the room. He is here right now. So embrace him. Just believe him. When we are confronted by Jesus, “everything is for the taking, and nothing can be earned.” Trust him. He is here for you right now. Just trust him.
God’s judgment magnifies the glory of his Son.
3. God’s judgment reveals the wonder of his mercy.
And for this last point, there is some deep Bible stuff happening here, but I really want us to get it at the heart level.
First, take a look at the Old Testament verse that Jesus quotes. It’s in verse 10, and it comes from Psalm 118:22–23.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
So going back to Psalm 118 this is a temple metaphor and it is full of irony. It goes like this: there are these builders who are building the temple of God, and there’s a stone they think is worthless, so they throw it aside. But actually, the stone they throw aside — the stone they reject — ends up becoming the very cornerstone that the whole temple is built on. The builders think the stone is worthless, but it’s actually the foundation.
That is Psalm 118, and it is one of the most quoted Old Testament passages in the New Testament (see Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:6–8), and every time it’s quoted it’s doing a couple things.
First, it’s meant to say something about Jesus — it says that he is the cornerstone of the church; he is the foundation of the spiritual temple of God; the people of God are made in Jesus.
Second, Psalm 118 is quoted to explain a complex issue in the storyline of Scripture — which is the issue of Israel rejecting her Messiah, and then the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God.
And okay, I know that’s complex, and we can’t get into all the details now, but let me just say a couple things that are crystal clear in the Bible when it comes to this issue:
- God’s plan of redemption has always included the Gentile nations (we’ve seen that in the Gospel of Mark);
- The way that the gospel advances to the Gentile nations is by Israel’s at large rejection of the gospel.
And the clearest place in the Bible that lays this out is in the Book of Romans Chapters 9, 10, and 11. In those three chapters the apostle Paul connects so many deep and mysterious things about God’s ways and plans, but what’s relevant for us here is the way Paul ends in Chapter 11.
Paul touches on all these major themes:
- there’s God’s sovereignty in mercy and judgment;
- there’s Israel’s blindness to Jesus and their future;
- there’s how Gentiles like many of us believe in the gospel.
Paul hits all these points, and he concludes it all in Chapter 11, verse 33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
Paul says: there’s nobody like him. Who could have made this up? This whole thing — the way this is set up — this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
I think Paul in Romans 11 is saying the same thing we see in Psalm 118 that Jesus quotes in Mark 12.
It’s that at the end of the day, through the reality of God’s judgment, through the mystery of God’s plan, we should be left in awe. We should be stunned. What God has done is worthy of our marveling — especially when we consider that God has shown us mercy.
God has shown me mercy.
I don’t deserve mercy. Who of us deserves mercy? We all deserve God’s judgment. God should judge our sins — and he does. He has.
That’s because Jesus took our sins upon himself at the cross. Jesus took the punishment we deserve. Jesus took God’s judgment so that we could receive God’s mercy.
And that’s why, for every person united to Jesus by faith, the judgment of God reveals the wonder of his mercy.
That is what the cross is about. The cross is God’s mercy for you — “It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
- We look to Jesus on the cross.
- We see mercy of God for us.
- And we marvel.
And that’s the way to live!
That’s what we’re doing each week when we come to this Table.
When we come to this Table, the bread represents the broken body of Jesus; and the cup represents Jesus’s blood that he shed for us. And when we receive this meal together, we are proclaiming Jesus’s death until he comes. We are together remembering his mercy. So if you have embraced his mercy, if you have put your faith in Jesus, we invite you to eat and drink with us. Right now, let us look to the cross and remember the mercy of God to us in Jesus.