The Debate Begins – Luke 20:1-19

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January 15, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker

Sermon Notes

Let’s say that I took you to one of the most remote spots on earth, dropped you off, and told you to find your way back home. What would you need in order to survive? What would you need in order to find your way back home? If I were to put you in Antarctica, the middle of the arctic tundra, and told you to find your way back home, you’d probably want to take a parka with you. It’s so cold that you know without it you have no chance of survival. That winter parka is going to do you absolutely no good in the desert. If you’re trying to find your way back from the desert, that parka equals death. What you need in the desert is water. If you are Mowgli in the middle of the jungle, you don’t need water because you are surrounded by water. What if I put you in one of the most remote spots on planet Earth? What if I put you in Marion County, Georgia in the middle of the trees out in the middle of nowhere? And, I said, “You have to find your way home.” What’s one piece of equipment no matter where you are on the planet that without this you probably can’t find your way back? Those of you have done some survival training in this room, what do you need? You need a compass. It doesn’t matter what environment you find yourself in without a compass you won’t find your way out alive. In fact, without a compass the vultures are going to be circling your dead carcass not long after dropping you off there.

Today I want you to understand a little bit about what we’re going to study from the book of Luke. We’re in chapter 20 and the description that we have of Jesus is that he is the compass, the center, of our life. He is not something that is added later on to an already busy schedule. In other words, Jesus isn’t a little bit of salt sprinkled on top of an already full plate to give it some flavor. Jesus is the plate. Without the center of your life being built on Jesus Christ, everything falls apart. Today in the book of Luke we’re going to see what a life centered on Jesus Christ looks like.

I. Let Jesus call the shots in your life

Two weeks ago, as we were studying through the book of Luke, Jesus entered Jerusalem. Instead of coming in as a conquering general on a white horse, he came in as a humble servant on the back of a donkey. Today this situation takes place in the temple in Jerusalem. Before we’re done today, Jesus is going to call some people out. He’s going to throw the gauntlet down about a life built on him.

Luke 20:1-8
1 One day as Jesus was teaching the people and preaching the Good News in the Temple, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. 2 They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” 3 “Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. 4 “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?” 5 They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. 6 But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” 7 So they finally replied that they didn’t know. 8 And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.”

When Pastor John MacArthur was preaching a sermon to his church on this passage of Scripture he said that in the New Testament there are two Bible words for ‘authority’. The first word is translated ‘power’. Where does your power come from? The question that these religious leaders asked Jesus is the second Bible word. It is the word ‘right’. Who gives you the right to say the things that you are saying Jesus? Who gives you the right to do the kind of things that you’re doing? I want you to carefully pay attention to the Bible today because before today is over with you’re going to see Jesus demonstrate both the power and the right to do what he’s doing and to say what he saying. In other words, Jesus is putting his authority on display. By the way, the New Testament teaches us when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, when he was at the Temple, when he was talking to the crowd, he was talking like one who has authority. He was talking like somebody who had the right to say what he was saying and he had the power to back it up. Jesus was speaking like God because Jesus is God.

Now there is this drama that unfolded in the Temple. When the chief priests, elders, and teachers come up to Jesus in the Temple it is an official delegation. All of the religious leaders in Israel, the most powerful men of religion in Israel, all show up to challenge Jesus at the same time, “Jesus, where do you get off doing what you’re doing and saying what you’re saying in the Temple?” In the process Jesus answers their question with a question. If they were smart they would have realized that really what he’s doing is giving them an answer but they are going to have to come up with the answer on their own. Jesus gives them a doozie.  He says, “Let me ask you a question about John the Baptist.” Everybody knew John the Baptist. Everybody saw this man’s ministry. Everybody came to hear him. the Roman officials, everyday people, and religious leaders all came to see what John the Baptist was doing in the desert. Frankly, the crowds were humongous. Jesus asked this question, “Was John’s ministry miraculous or was it merely human?”

Here’s the problem. The religious leaders, these most powerful man in Israel, start to argue, “Well, now we’re in trouble because if we say his ministry was miraculous we remember him calling us out, criticizing, and condemning us.” In fact, John the Baptist looked at those guys and said, “You brood of vipers! You’re a bunch of snakes in the grass.” He challenged them about their religion so they certainly can’t say that this man’s ministry came from God or that it was miraculous. Then they considered, “If we say in front of this huge crowd of people that John was just an everyday regular guy, then this crowd of people are going to beat us up and probably kill us. That’s how much they love John the Baptist. So now we’re in a dilemma. We can’t answer it at all.” In fact, they took the cowards way out and refused to answer the question. I love the fact that Jesus says, “Okay, I’m not in a play your little reindeer games. If you don’t have the courage to answer the question honestly with me; or, in other words, if you really aren’t here to figure out the truth, I’m not going to bother to answer your little questions either. I’m not going to tell you where my authority comes from.”

Really what Luke is describing for us today is an issue of authority. Who has the right to call the shots in your life? He’s asking this question of Jesus. He’s asking this question of the religious leaders. The fact that these guys were unwilling to answer the question proves they weren’t there to find out the truth. They were there to make an argument. Dr. King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” Refusing to stand up and to speak out about the things that matter is the beginning of the end. To argue with the moron makes you look like a moron. So Jesus says, “I’m just not going to play this game.”

I want to ask you who calls the shots in your life? This is a trick question. For the teenagers in this room, are your parents really in charge? Are they really calling the shots? Here’s what every 16 or 17-year-old on the planet thinks, “I’m smarter than my parents. I know more than they know. I could do a better job of leading then they can lead. I can’t wait for the day that I move out from underneath their rules and roof and make my own decisions.”  Then pretty much everyone who ever lived long enough gets to the point where the bills start to show up and the pressure starts to mount. All of a sudden mom and dad are the smartest people on the planet when you’re in the same shoes that they’re in.

How about those of you who have this tyrant for a boss. Is she really the one calling the shots in your life? Is he the one telling you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it? He’s basically in charge of your life. Is it a teacher at school? Is it somebody else who’s calling the shots? Or, are you like most people? Would you say, “Oh no! Nobody tells me what to do. I call the shots in my life. I’m in charge. I make the decisions.” If that is you, you just walked into the trap. Jesus is saying to us today, “You don’t have the authority to call the shots in your life. If you call yourself my servant and claim that I’m your Lord, then I call the shots in your life you don’t.” If he really has authority, then he’s in charge and he tells you where to go and what to do while you’re there. If you’re the one calling the shots in your life, can you really claim that Jesus is Lord? That’s an easy question. Here’s an even harder question. Is Jesus Lord over every area of your life or are you holding something back? Something that you know, if you gave this up to him, it’s really going to cost you. If you gave this area up of your life to him, it will change you forever. One of the questions Jesus is putting us on the spot with today is the same question that he put those people in the Temple in, “Am I Lord of all or not Lord at all?” It’s really one or the other. I want to ask you, is Jesus King over every area of your life or are you holding back?

II. Don’t settle for the ordinary life

If you live this Christ centered life that points to Jesus Christ, the second thing that I want you to notice is don’t settle for the ordinary every day get up, go to work, go home, go to sleep, and do it all over again life. I think life is much more than that. Jesus tells a story to the crowd that sets these religious leaders off. Really it sets the stage for Jesus’s death.

Luke 20:9-16
9 Now Jesus turned to the people again and told them this story: “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and moved to another country to live for several years. 10 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers attacked the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 11 So the owner sent another servant, but they also insulted him, beat him up, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 A third man was sent, and they wounded him and chased him away. 13 ‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenant farmers saw his son, they said to each other, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 15 So they dragged him out of the vineyard and murdered him. What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to them?” Jesus asked. 16 “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.” “How terrible that such a thing should ever happen,” his listeners protested.

Jesus tells a story that would’ve been very familiar to most people. The topography in Israel is where there are plains or flat land the owners of the land will plant crops, probably grain. They will terrace the hillside and turn those terraced pieces of land into vineyards good for growing grapes. Often an owner of the land would lease out the land to sharecroppers that would work the land. In return they would take part of the crop. Jesus tells the story about a guy who leaves and is gone for quite some time. While he is gone the harvest comes. It was not unusual in Jesus’s day and still not unusual in many parts of the world today, that the owner of the land would expect somebody else to help bring the crop in. If you brought the crop in, you shared in some of the profits.

Jesus is telling the story in the Temple, probably in the Court of Gentiles among women and foreigners. If they were familiar with their Bible, those folks in that room would have pictured in their mind a Bible passage from the book of Isaiah. In fact, those religious leaders are absolutely certain it’s Isaiah that Jesus is referring to when he’s talking about a vineyard and landowner. This is a story that Isaiah tells when he, speaking on God’s behalf, describes God’s vineyard. The vineyard, by the way, are his people Israel and Judah.

Isaiah 5:1-4

1Now I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a rich and fertile hill. 2He plowed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with the best vines. In the middle he built a watchtower and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks. Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were bitter. 3Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah, you judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done? When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

This landowner is obviously referencing God and the vineyard are God’s people. If you read this parallel story in Matthew chapter 21 it is no doubt a reference to the way the religious leaders treated the prophets. God wanted fruit from his vineyard. He wanted his people to share the Good News of Jesus all over the land but they sat on that news and did nothing with it. So God sent prophets and evangelists to come into his land and the religious leaders hated them, beat them up, and in most cases killed them. So the owner of the vineyard has one thing left to do, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to send my only son who is the heir to the entire throne and kingdom. Surely they’ll respect my son.” Did you notice the way that Jesus tells the story? Now it’s no longer about getting fruit. Now it’s just about giving the son the respect that he is due.

Luke gives us a hint about what’s going to happen to the Son of God. The sharecroppers in the vineyard hate the son. They killed the son and cast his body out of the vineyard. Jesus asked the question, “What do you think the owner of that land is going to do to those people?” I want you to notice how wicked and twisted these sharecroppers’ logic has become. In their mind, if we kill the son then the owner of the land will have nobody else to give the land to, he’ll have to give the land to us. I think if you are standing in the crowd that day Jesus would say, “Really? You really believe that by killing the son, the heir to the throne, that the owner of the vineyard is going to give the land to you? Do you really believe that that’s what’s going to happen? No. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. He’s going to send his henchmen and they’re going to do business with the people that were supposed to be bringing in the crops. He’s going to kill them and punish them for what they’ve done.” Jesus is telling the story to call out the religious leaders. In fact, before the day is over with they know the story is about them.

I want to challenge you for just a second. You see the fact that the owner of the vineyard would allow us to work in the fields with him for just a little bit is supposed to be a win-win. He’s saying, “You go to work and you share in some of the blessings. I own the land I’ll share in some of the blessings. We both win, if you’ll just do your job. If you won’t do your job, I’m going to take my vineyard back and give it to somebody who will do something with it. For those of you wicked servants who mistreated my profits and killed my son, the only thing waiting for you is punishment.” I think what God is implying to us today is, “In the New Testament I have a relationship waiting for you. It’s not sharecroppers working in the vineyards. I have a son or daughter relationship waiting for you. I want to adopt you in to my family. I want you to sit at my table and eat my food with me as a child of mine. That’s why I’m willing to send my Son. If you turn your back on him, how can I possibly share my table you?” I think most of us just simply want a little bit of blessing from God when in fact what he is offering us, “I’ll give you everything an heir of mine deserves. I’ll give you access to the kingdom. I’ll invite you to be at my table. I want you to be my son or my daughter. Why would you just get up, go to work, home, brush your teeth, go to bed, and do it all over again? Life is much more than that. I want you to be at my table with me but, if you turn your back on my Son and my servants, there’s no relationship waiting for you. There is no hope for you.”

III. Make Jesus the foundation of your life

Here’s where this really ends for us today. This is where I think Jesus puts all of us on the horns of dilemma. We need to make Jesus the foundation, not something that you sprinkle on to add a little flavor to your life. Make him the foundation and build a life on Jesus Christ.

Luke 20:17-19
17 Jesus looked at them and said, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.” 19 The teachers of religious law and the leading priests wanted to arrest Jesus immediately because they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the people’s reaction.

Jesus uses some architecture terminology. In our day you have this capstone. A capstone is the center stone that holds the arch together. You can pull other stones out of this arch and it will kind of be lopsided and wonky but the arch remains standing. If you pull the capstone out, the whole arch collapses in on itself. By the time that the middle ages happened and people were building the great cathedrals of Europe, those great cathedrals were built with arched ceilings. There were stones in the center of those ceilings. If you pull the capstone out the whole church implodes on itself. That’s what a life that isn’t built on Jesus Christ looks like. That’s what a life that doesn’t have Christ as your foundation looks like. For the folks that were in the crowd, they knew Jesus was talking about a cornerstone. A cornerstone was massive. It was strong enough that you stacked the cornerstone in place first on the foundation. The cornerstone is strong enough and it’s big enough to bear the weight of the whole structure. Every bit of the structure presses against the cornerstone. As long as the cornerstone is strong enough, the structure remains standing. If you try to add the cornerstone later, build the building and then place the cornerstone on at the end, the whole building collapses. It can’t bear the weight of the structure. Jesus is saying, “Do you see that stone? You can’t walk around it. You can’t add it on later. This stone is big enough and so massive that either it’s the center of your life – that the life is built on this stone. Or,” he says, “If it’s too late and you added it in at the end, the stone falls on you and crushes you.”

Jesus is quoting directly from Psalm 118 when he gives them this statement, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.” This statement is found all throughout Scripture. It’s found in Isaiah chapter 28, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling, a rock of offense. And he who believes in him will not be disappointed.” Paul tells us in Romans chapter 9, “They stumbled over the stumbling stone.” Peter describes it in 1Peter 2:6, “For this is contained in Scripture. I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone.” You don’t add this in like salt on a full plate later. This is the plate that that whole meal holds together. If a meal is not built on this, if a life is not built on this as the foundation, eventually it all falls apart.

I think Luke is doing something very powerful here with these words. I think Luke is reminding us of the moment that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to dedicate this baby boy at eight days old to the Lord. There was a very old man in the temple by the name of Simeon. When Simeon saw the child he made a prophecy. I think Luke is saying this prophecy is now coming fulfilled in front of his readers in chapter 20. Here’s what Simeon said to Mary and Joseph about the baby Jesus.

Luke 2:34
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.”

What Simeon and Luke are saying to us today is there’s no skipping around this. There’s no adding it in at the end. You have to make a decision right now right up front. Are you going to build your life on King Jesus? Are you going to let him call the shots? Are you going to let him be the foundation? Or, are you going to run your life? If you’re calling the shots and are the foundation of your life, really what you’re doing is worshiping you. A life that worships you will ultimately crumble. By the way, Luke says if this stone falls on you it will crush you dead. You can’t bear up under the weight of this stone. Either you build your life on top of this or this thing falls on you and crushes you. There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus. It’s all or nothing.

I want you to listen carefully to what a head football coach says is the foundation of his life. “On February 3, 1986,” Coach Swinney said, “I gave my life to Jesus Christ and he became the foundation. Since he is the foundation of my life everything else flows out from there.” Notice that he didn’t say, “I added Jesus to my coaching routine. I added Jesus to my family. I added Jesus to an already busy schedule.” Here’s what I want you to understand, church. I think if you’re not careful this year you will do all of the wrong things really well and you can miss doing the one right thing. You can do really well at a lot of good things and miss the greatest thing because you’re not building your schedule, not building your day, not building a life on Jesus Christ. If Coach Swinney were here I’m certain he would tell you. “It doesn’t matter what happens in football. I gave the foundation of my life to Jesus Christ. He builds the structure. Whatever he wants it to look like it looks like. I don’t add Jesus to my football coaching routine. I don’t add him to an already busy schedule.”

I want to go back to the question I originally asked you. Are you sprinkling a little bit of Jesus on an already busy schedule, just trying to add him in for some flavor? If so, you radically missed the idea of what a cornerstone is. Jesus says, “You build the entire structure on me and only on me. Then everything else can bear up under the weight of what life is going to throw at you. If you build the structure on anything else and add the cornerstone at the end, it’s going to crush you. Life itself will crush you, if that’s the way that your treating me.” Most people in our city view Jesus as though it doesn’t really matter that he ever existed. In fact, some don’t even know Jesus existed and don’t care. There are some in our city that treat Jesus as though the guy probably existed but it doesn’t really make a difference in the way that they live their life. That’s the wrong approach to a cornerstone. What Jesus is saying is build this in first and then let everything else stack up on top of that. In other words, live your life in such a way that you can say, “Jesus, you call the shots. I don’t. You’re in control. I’m not. So I go wherever you ask me to go. I do whatever you ask me to do.” Then the cornerstone is strong enough to bear up under the weight of whatever life is going to throw at you.

I’m going to pray for us. I’m going to pray that maybe somebody who’s in this room that has never really surrendered it all to Jesus Christ would do that this morning. I going to pray for others of us in this room who may be holding an area of our life back or maybe are adding Jesus on top of an already busy schedule that we will reverse the order and put Jesus first.

Next Steps

  • I have made a mess of my life. Today I turn from my sin and trust Jesus as my Savior and King.
  • – I have been holding ________ back from God. Pray for me to turn over this area of my life to Jesus.
  • + I will give my relationship with Jesus first place in my schedule this week.

Discussion Questions

  1. How long did you live at home? When you moved out of the house did your parents still try to “control” you?
  2. Have you ever got into an argument with a bigot? How did that go? Explain the details.
  3. Have you faced a situation where you had to confront people in authority over you? How did you handle it?
  4. Jesus refused to answer some insincere questions. What can we learn from him about the type of religious arguments in which we should and shouldn’t engage?
  5. Why do some people settle for working in the fields rather than sitting at the dinner table with Jesus?
  6. Is there an area of your life that you are holding back from Jesus?
  7. Close with a prayer of surrendering every corner of your heart to Jesus.

Further reading

Acts 8:1-4

May 5, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. The Gospel has always been under attack Acts 8:1Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a...

Acts 7

April 14, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. God calls a people Acts 7:1-8 “Are these things true?” the high priest asked. 2...