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 2013 - 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 – The foolishness and weakness of God

Paul is writing to a church arguing over who was the better preacher; was it Paul or was it Apollos? Who had the greater power of rhetoric? He is writing to a church divided over who among them was the more spiritual; who had the better or deeper understanding of spiritual truths? Paul condemns such arguments as worldly; they are inconsistent with all that God has revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Christ crucified turns the values of this world upside down. Paul says that Jews seek signs and Greeks seek wisdom. Jews looked for some great act of power by which God would overturn the human powers that had oppressed the Jewish people and would set them free – as had happened when God had rescued them from Egypt through Moses. Greeks loved philosophy and looked for some new system of teaching that would capture their attention – teaching proclaimed in wise and persuasive words. The gospel message about a crucified Messiah satisfied neither party. It appeared to show the weakness of God whose Son was crushed by the powers of this world. Its message appeared foolish to the Greeks, lacking in wisdom and being propagated by those lacking any great skill in oratory. To both parties, the gospel appeared to display the foolishness and weakness of God.

In reality, however, the gospel displays both the wisdom and power of God. The message concerning Christ crucified was accompanied by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. Paul says of his preaching at Corinth, “I came to you in weakness and in fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God's power.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5). The gospel displays the power of God who gives life to the dead. The gospel displays the wisdom of God because it is about Jesus Christ “who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1:30).

Paul calls these Christian brothers and sisters to take a reality check. Look at yourselves, he says, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1:26-29). You have got nothing to boast of, nothing to be proud of, except this; God sent his Son from heaven to die for you. The Gospel is not about you; it’s about Christ crucified and raised from the dead.

We need to avoid the temptation to reshape the gospel to meet the expectations and demands of the world around us – whatever these might be. It’s not about acts of power, not about signs and wonders. It’s not about dynamic, charismatic and persuasive preachers. It’s about “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:24). This message that turns human expectations upside down has power to turn the world upside down.

Father God, we stand amazed at all that you have done for us in the Lord Jesus; you have loved us,  you have saved us and you are at work among us, in us and through us to transform this proud and rebellious world. Humble us Lord; continue your transforming work in us. Remind us continually of what we were when we were called that our confidence and hope may not rest in ourselves but only in Christ our Saviour. May we be crucified with him to all that this world holds dear that we may live and work with him in the power of his Spirit for the transformation of our world to the glory of Christ.

Peter Misselbrook