Parable of the Wicked Tenants Sermon Manuscript, Audio, Video

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

This past Sunday I preached from Matthew 21 on the Parable of the Wicked Servants at Sojourn Community Church in New Albany, Indiana. Here, you can either read or listen to my sermon, or you can watch our Facebook video feed of the entire service (sermon starts at 23:30 of the video feed):

Sermon Audio:

Whole-service Video:

Sermon Manuscript:


“Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

“But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

(Jesus said) “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.”  – Matt 21:33-41,43

We just read a “parable of judgment.” If you’re a visitor today, you may be thinking, “Great. Fire and brimstone – just what I grew up with. This is why I quit going to church in the first place. Judgment, judgment, judgment.”

But listen: no one judges me more harshly or more often than me. And I bet you’re the same way. You probably even imagine that others are judging you when they are not. Some of us spend a lot of money on self-help books or therapy or self-medication to dull that voice of judgment that we hear inside our heads.

But if we’re really honest with ourselves we’ll admit that we think the voices of judgment might be right. So we say things like, “I’m not perfect but … (but I’m a pretty good guy, but I try hard, but I’m as good as the next person.”)

We all recognize a standard called “perfection,” and we recognize that we fall short of it.

And it only takes a minute of not being perfect – one little slip, one moment of weakness, one instant of distraction — to wreck a relationship, ruin a reputation or even end a life. We all know that’s true, and it’s even more serious for those of us who believe that the soul lives after death, to stand face to face with a God who is perfect.

But what if God has an answer for that? What if he has help for that? What if we can begin to grab hold of it in today’s parable?

Some of Jesus’ stories are hard to understand but some, like this one, are easy. If you’re not a Christian and if you’ve never spent much time in church or reading the Bible, you may be intrigued by this story but all the church goers – even many of the kids – are thinking, “Okay preacher, we get it.

  • God = the vineyard owner
  • Old Testament heroes = his servants
  • Jesus = the Son that gets murdered
  • the religious leaders of Jesus’ day = evil tenants
  • God judged them for rejecting Jesus.
  • And we Christians are the ‘new nation’

– that inherits the vineyard, the kingdom of God. We’re the good guys. Yay. Let’s go home.”

And it’s not just that we’ve figured it out all these centuries later. The people Jesus was talking to knew exactly what he meant:

When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. – Matthew 21:45

So how is this relevant to us? How could this possibly help you in your daily life or even in your eternal destiny? The characters in this parable were incredibly stupid. They do things they shouldn’t do, even though it’s obvious they’ll pay for it. You would never act the same way. Only:

SojournKids: Mom says, “Clean your room by the time my timer goes off, or else.” And you know what will happen, and you don’t want it to happen, and you know how to make sure it doesn’t happen – you just have to clean your room. But … you … don’t.

Sojourn Students: Dad says, “Be back from curfew this time, or I’m taking the car keys.” Curfew comes, and you haven’t even left the party.

Sojourn College: Prof says, “This paper is 75% of your final grade.” You have weeks to write it, and yet there you are the night before …

Middle aged: Keep piling on credit card debt as if the reckoning will never come.

Older adults: Your doctor and even your spouse have been telling you, “If you don’t quit eating that or drinking this or smoking that, you’re going to have more and more health problems and then you’re going to die before your time.” But you keep eating, drinking or smoking the stuff.

Seniors: Death isn’t a far-away concept for you. Many of your acquaintances and loved ones have passed away. You know your Judgment Day is coming, and yet you’re speeding towards eternity with unresolved conflict, someone you won’t forgive, someone you won’t ask forgiveness of … some of you are even planning to use your will as a way to get back at your family from beyond the grave.

Yeah, we’re smarter than the people in this parable.


But it’s even worse than that.

We want to “do it all by myself.” Ex my three year old daughter Lydiana thinking she knows the way home better than I do.

The religious leaders opposing Jesus – the wicked tenants of this parable – had come to think, “We got this. We’re the ones working this vineyard. Nobody tells us what to do, not even the owner.”

That’s the reason Jesus began telling this parable in the first place:

When Jesus returned to the Temple and began teaching, the leading priests and elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” – Matthew 21:23

Sometimes that reminds me of me. I’ve got good ol’ American self-reliance. “I take care of my business. Don’t mess with my plans, God. Nobody tells me what to do.” I bet that describes you some of the time, too. We want the stuff God can give us more than we want God.

You might say, “Yeah, but just like the tenants killed the son in this story, the religious leaders really killed Jesus. I wouldn’t kill anyone.”

I hope not. But there were an awful lot of good citizens at Jesus’ trial shouting “Crucify him.” They’d rationalized that he was a criminal who needed to be executed by the government, before all his “kingdom” talk incited the Roman army to swoop in and kill them. That’s not really murder, right? Asking the government to execute a prisoner who might get you and your family killed?

You don’t think it would be possible for you to entertain that thought pattern? I mean, even Jesus’ best friends ran away.

So, what’s the thing that makes us different? Why is Jesus so confident that:

the Kingdom of God will be … given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. – Matt 21:43

This doesn’t mean a specific nation with borders like America or Mexico. When the writers of the New Testament talk like this, they mean people from all over the world who follow Jesus.

What distinguishes them is not color, language, or anything like that, but the fact that they “produce proper fruit.”

This is a big deal because if there’s no difference in us, then we’re not those new tenants that Jesus said great things about. We’ll fall under the same judgment as the old ones, and it won’t matter if you clean your room, come home on time, write your paper, stay out of debt, eat your oat bran, and make up with your sister whom you’ve been fighting with for thirty years.

What is the difference? Is it hard work? You can always tell who the Christians are because they work harder than anyone else?

Talent? I mean, we all know that the best rock bands are all CCM, right?

Sudden Shift:

Maybe we need some clues. Jesus told a few other parables that describe the kind of people he’s looking for. Let’s pop into one before we come back to the wicked tenants:

Great Feast (Luke 14:21-23)

“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’  So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.

Imagine Jesus tells you, “Invite New Albany to my party. Go to the hospital, the urgent care centers, the rehab facilities, the Salvation Army where all the homeless huddle up on White Flag nights, the Section 8 housing: invite them to my party.

You: I did, Jesus. You’ve still got a ton of room, though.

Jesus: Then go everywhere! Go to the Exchange, and Richo’s, and the Y, and the parks, and the suburbs, and the bars …

You: The bars, Jesus?

Jesus: All the bars!

You: Jesus? The bars? Even the g-a-y bar?

Jesus: Read my lips! All the bars! Tell everyone! I’m throwing a party. Want to come? It’s going to last forever, and if you’re there, you’ll last forever. It will be more fun than you could imagine. You think you know what the good life is? Wait till you come to my party! I’ll show you what the good life is.”

But Jesus knew that some of his people, for whatever reason, seem dense about stories. So, after he rose from the grave and ascended to heaven he appeared to a guy named Paul and he said, “I want you to preach for me and write for me, and tell all those left-brained folks, in really plain language, about my plan. So, for all you left-brain folks in the room today, here’s Paul summing up what Jesus said in these parables:

(It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)   And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. — Ephesians 2:5,8-9

What makes us better than the wicked tenants in today’s parable? That’s the wrong question.

What makes us different is we know we’re not better. We recognize that we need Jesus, and we accept his grace. We remember that he paid the price on the cross for all our sin – everything that makes us just as bad as the wicked tenants.

When we experience this grace, it’s like we’ve been given a new pair of glasses and we can see clearly for the first time. We can’t do it on our own. It turns out that life with God really is better than life without him. God’s grace is everything we need and more than we could imagine. So, we thank him and we trust him.


It’s so liberating to no longer be under judgment – even my own. When those voices in my head are saying all kinds of bad things about me, some of them true, some maybe untrue, it doesn’t matter. Jesus knows all the worst things about me and he hasn’t condemned me – he’s invited me into his kingdom, as his own family.

But how can we have feel this? How can we experience it day in, day out? Most of you in this room would say, “I’ve put my trust in Jesus. I got baptized. I became a church member. But sometimes I don’t feel the grace.”

How can we make the connection between this amazing grace and every part of our lives: home, school, work, relationships?

We cultivate the grace God gave us – remember, we’re like grape growers in a vineyard. To cultivate grace is to show grace to the people around you – to be good to them even when they don’t deserve it. When we do this, three things happen – if you’re a note-taker, write these down or take a photo of the screen:

  1. It helps us learn to trust Jesus. (unpack briefly)
  2. It helps us feel and understand the grace God has shown us.
  3. We show others what God is like, so they’ll begin to trust him, too. And that feels amazing.

The pressure is off – God guarantees that he’s going to use us to grow the fruit. We’re working hard and using our talents out of joy, not desperation.

Envision a future where you’re showing grace wherever you go, not to earn God’s favor but to remind yourself that you’re always in his favor. What might this city look like with several hundred residents who simply radiate grace everywhere?

I get excited thinking about it, but if that seems too big for you, just focus on that one place you show no grace.

Monday Challenge:

Ask God to reveal to you, “Where’s the place I show no grace?” Is it: Home? Church? The store, the gym, the park, the car?

  1. Maybe it’s school, or maybe it’s just one class.
  2. Maybe it’s work, or maybe it’s just one weekly meeting.
  3. I bet, whatever the place is, it’s a source of a lot of your stress and frustration. If you show grace there, and you ask God to shower that place with his grace, you’ll be glad you did.

I know this because Jesus promised that we:

will produce the proper fruit.”  – Matt 21:43

Not because we’re better, but because we know we’re not better, so we trust Jesus. And he does the work in our lives. So … where’s the place you show no grace?


The grace God has shown us is rich beyond measure and yet he gives it for free. (Picks up the bread) But it’s offered at incredible expense to himself. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took a loaf of bread like this one. He broke it, and he said, “Just like I’m breaking this bread, my body is going to be broken for you.”

Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and said, “Just like we pour wine into this cup, my blood is going to be poured out for you. Drink this in remembrance of me until I rise from the dead and come back for you.”

Explain how we do communion & fence table …

(I said a few minutes ago that we can feel and celebrate grace by cultivating it, but that’s assuming you’ve actually experienced it. If you’re not a Christ follower this morning, if you’ve not accepted his grace …)

In the hardest place he showed the greatest grace – a then/now/forever grace – all you have to do is accept it.

Let’s pray.

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