We are now learning about the last week of the Lord's life on earth. It was Sunday when He rode into Jerusalem and the people welcomed Him with hosannas. The next Sunday would be Easter day. "And every day He was teaching in the temple; and every night He went out and lodged in the mount that is called the mount of Olives." (Luke 21:37, Revised Version) The Gospel of Mark gives the order of events most definitely. It was Monday that the fig tree was rebuked and the traders were driven from the temple. The next day in the temple the chief ones of the priests and Jews came to the Lord, asking by what authority He did these things. They meant His teaching, and especially His driving out the traders.
If they had been good men and had listened to John the Baptist's teaching and repented they would have felt the Divine goodness of the Lord, and would have known who He was. Remember that when the disciples of John saw the Lord's works of mercy, it was answer enough to the question which John sent them to ask. (Matthew 11:2-6) See also Luke 7:29, 30, and John 9:17-38. We see why the Lord answered the question about His authority by another question about the baptism of John. If they had listened to John, they would have known Him. If not there was no way in which He could tell them.
We think of the angry priests standing about the Lord in the courts of the temple, and a crowd of people eagerly listening and ready with an answer, when in this parable and the next the Lord stopped to ask a question. He told of two sons who were sent by their father to work in his vineyard. We know that it means the Lord and us. Every day there is a chance to do something for the Lord. Every morning He says to us, "Son, go work today in my vineyard."
Tell me about a vineyard: The grapevines trailed on rails or stone walls, the wall or hedge about it, the tower for the watchman, the wine-press cut into the rock where the grapes were trodden out. As you read about the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, and Psalm 80:8-16, in both places you see that the vineyard means the Lord's people. The husbandmen who are given charge of the vineyard are those who have the Scriptures and know about the Lord and heaven.
At the time the Lord was speaking they were especially the Jews and their priests and teachers, and we know how little fruit of good kind works they were bearing. But let us remember that at this day the Lord has taught us about heaven, and we are the husbandmen. Are we faithful? As we read of the messengers sent to the husbandmen we think of the prophets who came to teach and help the people, but they hardly listened to them; and when we read of the son coming last of all, we think of the Lord Himself. But the priests hated Him, and while the Lord was speaking in the temple, they were plotting how they could kill Him.
1. Where did the Lord spend the days of this last week of His life on earth? Where did He spend the nights?
2. What had He done in the temple which made the priests ask for His authority? What question did He ask in answer to the priests?
3. What parable about a vineyard have we learned in another lesson? Tell me the parable of the two sons. Tell me the parable of the husbandmen.
4. Who were meant by the disobedient son and the wicked husbandmen? Who else are meant?
In parables of a vineyard we see that the vineyard means the Lord's people or His church. But sometimes the Lord's people are called a flock, and He the shepherd. What is the difference? What quality or element of the church, or in each soul, is meant by the sheep? What by the vineyard? The sheep mean the heavenly affection; the vineyard or the vine means the heavenly intelligence which understands things of heaven and carries out its understanding in good works. Parables about the vineyard are about the precious truth which the Lord has given us, and the use we make of it. (A. 5113, 9139)
The words to the two sons, "Go work in my vineyard," are to us all. We say, I go, and go not, when we know what is right and do not do it. Those who do wrong through ignorance, and repent when they learn better, are like the son who said, I go not, and afterward went. Of which kind were the learned Jews? Of which kind were many of the publicans and sinners?
The Lord prepares the vineyard when He gives us the ability and opportunity to learn heavenly truth and to live from it. He hedges about the tender spiritual intelligence with knowledge of what is outwardly right and proper. The wine-press means the ability to enter deeply into life and to enjoy an inner blessing even through experiences of trial and temptation. The tower is the ability to rise into inner thought and look down upon ourselves, to correct our life where there is danger of going wrong.
Having given us these faculties the Lord goes into a far country; He does not make us always conscious of His presence, but leaves us free to use His gifts well or to neglect them. Sending three times for the fruit suggests the Lord's desire at each stage of our development for the good life appropriate to that stage; and it means His effort at all times and in every possible way, through angels and prophets, through His Word and every heavenly influence, to lead us to bear the fruits of goodness. Killing the servants means the total rejection of the Lord's appeals. Stoning them means especially intellectual rejection; for stones represent facts, or here, false thoughts contrary to the Lord's Word. Beating seems to represent the other kind of opposition, opposition of the will to the Lord's goodness.
The conspiracy of the husbandmen suggests the hatred of the Jews against the Lord, and also the banding together of evil spirits of hell to do their utmost to overcome Him. A church which does not use the Lord's truth in good life ceases to be the Lord's church; and every soul that does not render the fruits of goodness sooner or later looses its intelligence and other spiritual faculties, the precious vineyard which the Lord entrusted to it. (E.922)
The stone which the Jewish priests, the builders of the church in those days, were rejecting was the Lord, especially the eternal fact of His Divine presence in the world. When Peter confessed His Divinity the Lord said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." (Matthew 16:18) The apostles knew that the Lord meant Himself when He spoke of the cornerstone. (I Peter 2:1-6; Ephesians 2:20) If we oppose ourselves to any eternal truth of the natural world or the spiritual world, it is not the truth that suffers but we. To fall upon the stone describes a less serious opposition due to failure to understand the truth; to be crushed beneath the stone means the destruction of spiritual life when the opposition is deep and of the heart. (E. 417)