Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 5 2019 - Isaiah 5:1-7 – The song of the vineyard

Jesus told a parable about the tenants of a vineyard. The owner had built the vineyard with its tower and winepress, and had let it out to tenants from whom he expected to get a portion of the harvest when it was due. But when the owner sent servants, and at last his own son, to collect the harvest, they were either sent away empty-handed and beaten or were killed (see Matthew 21:33-44; Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:9-18). Jesus' parable was based on this "Song of the Vineyard" in Isaiah 5:1-7.

The prophet begins by singing a song about his beloved's vineyard. At the end of the parable we are told that the, "vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in" (v.7). The prophet's beloved is none other than the Lord God Almighty. God had laboured over his people to ensure that there was nothing that ought to have hindered this vineyard from bearing an abundant harvest. But the vineyard failed to produce good fruit.

Now the prophet speaks with the voice of the Lord, calling the "dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard" (v.3). If the vineyard has failed to supply good fruit, whose fault is that? It is not the Lord's fault, for he has spared no labour in building and tending his vineyard (v.4). It must be the fault of the vines themselves. So God is about to give up on this vineyard. He will tear it down and destroy it and the land will become the home of briars and thorns.

God's grace had been poured out on these people: saving them from slavery in Egypt; giving them his laws and commandment so that they might live to his glory; settling them in this good and fertile land; sending his prophets to proclaim his word to them – no effort has been spared. But when God came to see how they had responded to all his good gifts, "he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress" (v.7). Now God will come against this people in judgment and will sweep them from off his good land.

This picture is used again by the Lord Jesus when, in John 15, he speaks of himself as the vine and his followers as branches. Jesus, our beloved, has redeemed us through his own shed blood, forgiven us all our sins and made us children of the living God. He reminds us, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last" (John 15:16). He wants us to live fruitful lives which bring glory to his name and reminds us that this will only happen if we remain vitally connected to the vine (John 15:5), drawing on the strength of God through the Spirit of the risen Saviour within us.

God declared that he would come in judgment upon Jerusalem and the people of Judah because they had failed to bear the fruit he had looked for. By his parable of the tenants and the vineyard, Jesus told the Jewish leaders that they had failed to listen to God's word and to live godly lives that encouraged others into the kingdom of God. God will visit them in judgment: "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matt. 21:43). In his teaching on the vine and the branches, Jesus calls us to live in close communion with him and bear fruit that will last as others are brought into the kingdom through our lives and testimony.

So here is the challenge for us: are our lives and our churches bearing fruit to the glory of God – fruit that will last? If we fail to bear fruit, we also will find ourselves cut out of the kingdom plans of God and thrown to one side. If we do seek to bear fruit we will still be all too aware of the imperfection of our discipleship, but the hand of Father God will be upon our lives to cut away what inhibits growth and make us yet more fruitful.

Lord Jesus, you have chosen us to be a fruitful people. We pray for ourselves and for your church throughout the world that we may be kept close to the Lord Jesus, hearing his word and following him. So may your kingdom come as we bear much fruit.

Aug 5 2020 - Mark 12:38-13:13 – She … put in everything

The Jewish leaders have now given up trying to trap Jesus in his own words. The last one to try went away acknowledging that Jesus had answered wisely and well.

But Jesus has not finished with his comments on the Jewish leaders. Speaking to the crowd who had gathered around him in the Temple courts, Jesus tells them to beware of the spirit that dominates these leaders. They love to parade around in their long robes, to be recognised, greeted and treated with honour. Many of them are devoted to a proud outward show of piety rather than the cultivation of a humble, contrite heart.

Jesus and his disciples were now sitting opposite the spot where people were putting their gifts into the Temple treasury box. Many who were well off made a show of throwing a large amount of money into the box. A poor widow then put in two small copper coins. Her gift seemed insignificant compared to the riches others had given and probably went entirely unnoticed by most of those in the Temple. But it did not go unnoticed by Jesus. He pointed her out to his disciples and said that she had given more than all the rest. “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).

As I read these words, I could not help thinking that Jesus was just days from his death. Jesus came into this world not just to share some of the excess of his riches with those in need. He came not in a proud show of glory, looking for recognition and admiration. He humbled himself and gave everything for us; he laid down his life for us. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). And Jesus calls us to follow him; to devote all we are and have to the service of our God and for the blessing of others. It’s a big call.

Do you recall the time when David had taken a census of the Israelites. It was an act of pride that angered the Lord and brought a plague that resulted in the deaths of 70,000 people. David wanted to build an altar and seek God’s forgiveness and plead that the plague might stop. He asks to buy the threshing floor of Araunah as a place to build an altar and make his sacrifice. Araunah offers to give the king his threshing floor and oxen for a burnt offering and their wooden yokes and threshing sledges as fuel for the offering. But David will not accept them as a gift. He tells Araunah, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). David recognises that the Lord calls for costly worship – for whole-life obedience and service.

I am aware that all too often I am like the rich who threw their gold or silver into the treasury. It’s easy to feel that we have given a great deal to the cause of the kingdom when what we have given has cost us little; we have given what we can spare; we have given what we do not really miss. It’s easy to make a show of following Jesus.

Lord Jesus, keep me from making a show of discipleship. You have given yourself for my redemption; help me to follow you in giving all I have for the furtherance of your kingdom and the glory of your name. Help me to be open-handed in my service of you, recognising that I have nothing which has not first been given to me. Keep me from cheap devotion.

Peter Misselbrook