How many of you would like to live in a new house? Maybe the question is, “Is anyone of you in the market for a new house right now?” If so, you know how tough it is, because it’s no secret that during the past year or so it has become increasingly difficult for those who are looking to buy a new home or to rent an apartment. Higher interest rates and rising rental prices have made a lot of people think twice about what they can afford – or what they need to do to be able to afford what they would like to have. If any of you are in that situation right now or have just gone through it, we certainly pray that the Lord works things out okay for you.
In today’s parable or story from Matthew 21, Jesus is talking about rental prices, when he tells this story about a landowner who rented out a vineyard to some tenant farmers. Even though only a few of us may be looking to buy a home or rent an apartment at this moment right now, all of us as God’s people are looking to the time when we will be able to live in our new home of heaven. And when it comes to getting into our new home in heaven, there’s a cost involved – a cost that has to make us ask a question that needs an answer: “Is God’s Rent Too High?” Let’s see what this parable of Jesus tells us about that, because, just like with the purchase of an earthly home, it may make us think twice about what we can afford – or what we need to do to be able to afford it.
What would you think if you were the one renting out an apartment, as some of you do, and when you sent out the monthly bill, the people who were renting your apartment said, “You’ve got to be kidding. I don’t owe you a thing. I’m living here, and I’m staying here. Everything is just fine the way it is.” Obviously that wouldn’t – or, at least, shouldn’t – last long, because at some time there would need to be an eviction, if that continued. If someone doesn’t think they owe anything, there is a very basic problem in their understanding of the owner – renter relationship.
What about Jesus’ parable? In his story he says that the owner took good care of his vineyard, putting a wall around it to keep it safe, digging a winepress in it to help things run efficiently, and building a watchtower, so they could tell if greedy thieves or bad weather was approaching. Jesus’ description of the kind of vineyard the owner was renting out just had to take the people who were listening to Jesus back to our First Lesson from Isaiah, because it was to their forefathers from generations ago that God had spoken those words – bittersweet words in which the Lord had said, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard… (But) what more could I have done for my vineyard than I have done for it?… I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed. I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.”
The people to whom Jesus was speaking this parable would have immediately known what Jesus was saying. Jesus was saying that they were just like those people long ago who would not repent of their sins, when they heard the message of Isaiah and all the other prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Hosea and Zephaniah – even putting some of those prophets to death — because they didn’t think they needed forgiveness for their sins or they didn’t care about their sins. They didn’t think they owed their owner – their Creator – anything – thinking everything was just fine the way it was — and that is why the nation of Israel eventually got destroyed and was still having problems at this very time when Jesus was walking the streets of Jerusalem. What made this all the more poignant and tragic was that Jesus knew that in three days he would be hanging on the cross just outside of Jerusalem, because this was Tuesday of what would become known as Holy Week — hanging on a cross, because many of these same people who were listening to Jesus were likely the ones who some two days later saying about Jesus, “Away with him. Crucify him. We have no king but Caesar.”
What was their problem? They didn’t think they owed Jesus anything, even though he owned everything as the King of all. They didn’t think they needed the forgiveness of sins he had been talking about, either because they thought they were good enough to deserve to have God love them or they were so in love with the things of the world that they didn’t think about or care all that much about whether God loved them or not.
Is God’s rent too high for you? It is, if you don’t think you owe God anything. If you and I don’t recognize that every single thing we have – every single family member or friend we have – every opportunity to work or relax or enjoy we have – that everything we have is all given to us by someone else to make use of in a way that shows how thankful we are for it, then we will think God’s rent is too high – and then, as Jesus said would happen to the people in his parable, “he will bring (us) wretches to a wretched end.” That is God’s loving warning, as we think about what happened to him three days later – a warning that we not walk away from the ultimately good thing our Lord has done for his people by dying for their sins — by not thinking we owe God anything, despite our sins.
But isn’t that exactly what is amazing and marvelous about how God works? Despite our sins, he did send his Son, just like the landowner in the parable, to pay a price for those sins far higher than any rental price could possibly be. After telling the parable, Jesus said to those people in verse 42 near the end, The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” In other words, God reversed everything. The Savior continued to be rejected by so many of the people, who were part of chosen people of Israel, just as he is rejected by so many today, but God still made the coming Savior the one who was absolutely necessary for the completion of the house – the cornerstone or capstone – the most important part of a wall or a roof – the one on whom we can completely depend to know that our eternal home will not come tumbling down. When you and I realize we owe God everything, and when you and I confess to God how we could not ever possibly pay him enough to thank him enough for all he has done for us without any cost to us, then we will gladly pay him whatever spiritual rent we possibly can by thanking him from the bottom of our hearts every day of our lives as we go about those lives marveling that this life on earth has so much meaning and purpose and joy, because our next life is so certain and so secure.
So, is God’s rent too high for you? It is, if you don’t you think you owe God anything, but it also is in a wonderfully positive way if you think you need to pay God anything to get him to do what he did for you. Once he lovingly warns us not to think we don’t need him, then he lovingly assures us that we will always have him, because what his Son Jesus did paid the rent. What Jesus did, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death was to pay the price the Bible calls the price of redemption to purchase us, so that we can know we belong to him. And every day he proves to us that the one to whom we belong can’t possibly be beat by any joy of this world or any worry of this world, because all is under the control of the one who controlled what would take place during that Holy Week, with the result that the only house that came crashing down was the tomb in which his lifeless body lay for those three short days, until he broke out — and now back in heaven tells us he is preparing that new home we are looking forward to, of which he assures us, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms… and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Is God’s rent too high? The cost was far beyond our reach, but Christ paid it. And now we get to live in the vineyard of this world, thanking God in every way we can by showing our Lord we know we owe him everything by how we use our abilities and our treasures and our time — until the time we never have to worry about any mortgage payment or rental cost or any burden or obligation of this world ever again, because we will be in the place where the only thing “too high” will be trying to count the ways we can thank him. Amen.