Issue No 8
Preaching by Ben Bodman at Bromley 24 February 2019
And he began to speak to the people this parable: A man planted a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen, and left the country for a long time. And in the season he sent to the husbandmen a bondman, that they might give to him of the fruit of the vineyard; but the husbandmen, having beaten him, sent him away empty. And again he sent another bondman; but they, having beaten him also, and cast insult upon him, sent him away empty. And again he sent a third; and they, having wounded him also, cast him out. And the lord of the vineyard said, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: perhaps when they see him they will respect him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may become ours. And having cast him forth out of the vineyard, they killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it they said, May it never be!
And the governor answering said to them, Which of the two will ye that I release unto you? And they said, Barabbas. Pilate says to them, What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ? They all say, Let him be crucified.
And he spoke a parable to them, saying, The land of a certain rich man brought forth abundantly. And he reasoned within himself saying, What shall I do? for I have not a place where I shall lay up my fruits. And he said, This will I do: I will take away my granaries and build greater, and there I will lay up all my produce and my good things; and I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much good things laid by for many years; repose thyself, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; and whose shall be what thou hast prepared? Thus is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
And as he went forth into the way, a person ran up to him, and kneeling to him asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? But Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? no one is good but one, that is God. Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour thy father and mother. And he answering said to him, Teacher, all these things have I kept from my youth. And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, One thing lackest thou: go, sell whatever thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross. But he, sad at the word, went away grieved, for he had large possessions
And it came to pass, as I was journeying and drawing near to Damascus, that, about mid-day, there suddenly shone out of heaven a great light round about me. And I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said to me, I am Jesus the Nazaraean, whom thou persecutest. But they that were with me beheld the light, and were filled with fear, but heard not the voice of him that was speaking to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said to me, Rise up, and go to Damascus, and there it shall be told thee of all things which it is appointed thee to do.
What shall I do?
Each of the passages I have read contains the question, ‘What shall I do?’
There is a verse in the prophet Joel that says, ‘Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!‘ (Joel 3:14). There are always decisions to make, problems to resolve and challenges to meet. The most significant decisions relate to our soul salvation and our Christian pathway. That is why I have read these passages, each with the words, ‘What shall I do?’
God asks the question, ‘What shall I do?’
The Lord uses a very pointed parable – a story to illustrate His own feelings – – maybe we have lost the power of storytelling as a way of conveying complicated and difficult truths.
It is amazing that God should ask the question, ‘What shall I do?’ in a parable that is full of feeling and pathos. It gives us an insight into the heart of God Himself because Jesus was telling the story of what was going to happen to Him. God has not put us on this earth to have a fantastic career and to get lots of possessions, but to have a relationship with Himself, sanctifying us for an eternity with Himself.
Right at the beginning of creation, God planted the garden of Eden. This was a special place which man was supposed to guard and till – a place where God could have communion with His creature. It says that God came down in the cool of the day when the day’s work had been done, and man and his wife were feeling relaxed and comfortable (see Genesis 3:8).
This garden (or vineyard in the parable) was planted in the middle of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) 4000 years before the Lord came here. Satan came in and damaged it: He deceived man, so distance from God had come in. Man could not stay there anymore: he could no longer be trusted. God had said of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, ‘In the day that thou eatest of it thou shalt certainly die’ (Genesis 2:17) Man did die, not yet physically, but something had died in man, which was not rectified until the Lord Jesus died Himself to resolve the great matter of sin, and to restore communion.
It says that the Lord of the vineyard ‘left the country for a long time’ (Luke 20:9). All through the Old Testament period, God was away. He let the vineyard out to husbandmen – we would call them now tenant farmers, or even sharecroppers. It was to be 4000 years until the Lord Jesus came and walked on this earth again. In the meantime, God had sent messengers – kings, leaders and prophets, and they had all been rejected. Although God was not getting the fruit from His vineyard, there were persons like Abraham, Moses and David – men and women in the Old Testament that pleased God and He enjoyed communion with them.
Many of his prophets had to suffer. One of them was Jeremiah. Jeremiah was told to stop saying things, and if he were not quiet, they would put him into a pit. He was thrown into the pit, but the king commanded his men to go and get him out, and he was dragged out by rags under his arms. (See Jeremiah 38)There were other prophets, like Ezekiel, Hosea, and others whose names are not given, and they all had to suffer. The stories of these prophets are most impressive.
Finally, God might have said, ‘What shall I do? How can I resolve this matter of sin? How can I have man righteously and in a holy way back in My presence again? What should I do?’ (I am putting a lot of emotion into this – let us not read the scriptures too coldly and blandly). God continues, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son’ (Luke 20:13). Remember, the Lord Jesus was telling a story about Himself. His disciples might have wondered what was coming: they had heard Him say that the Son of Man was going to suffer and die, but they hadn’t quite grasped it.
God continues in verse 13, ‘Perhaps when they see him they will respect him’. But these husbandmen reason, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may become ours’ (v. 14). They cast him out and killed him. That was man’s answer to the question God asked, ‘What shall I do?’ God is not forcing anyone to give their heart to Christ. In the gospel, He is drawing, attracting and compelling people by love. But one day, every single being will be made to bow the knee to Jesus.
Of course, we know that behind the Lord’s death was the pre-determinate counsel of God (See Acts 2:23). There are clues to this in the Old Testament: ‘Here am I, send me’ (Isaiah 6:8), and ‘Behold, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do thy good pleasure, my God’ (Psalm 40:7-8). These were written about the Lord Jesus.
God’s question, ‘What shall I do?’ was answered through the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross, the suffering and shedding of His blood to restore man’s communion with God.
In Matthew 27 Pilate asked, ‘What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?’ (v. 21). Try to picture the scene and the emotions going through it – the clamour of the chief priests, the Sadducees and the Pharisees as they roused the mob to chant and jeer, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him’. You can imagine it like a demonstration outside Parliament. One calls, ‘What shall we do with Jesus?’, and the crowd chants ‘Crucify Him’.
God had asked the question – now Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus. Pilate was a politician playing to the gallery. Although the gospels portray Pilate as a weak man, he was cruel. Jesus spoke of the occasion when he mingled the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices (see Luke 13:1). He could not care less about the Jewish race; he was only in it for himself. He did what he liked. Historical tradition is not always accurate, but it is thought that he was called back to Rome in AD36 because his atrocities had gone too far.
Every person in the world has to answer the question, ‘What shall I do about Jesus? What does He mean to me?’ You turn up at the preaching every Sunday, nod and assess the quality of the sermon. But as you go out of that door, you will have decided whether you have accepted or rejected Him. There are only two choices. I can thank God that in His grace, He gave me chance after chance after chance, making rejections until one day, I gave my heart to Jesus. If you go out of this hall, not having given your heart to Jesus, you will have rejected him. If you have not yet accepted Him as your Saviour, we pray that you will.
A Successful Farmer’s Question
In Luke 12 we have a successful farmer, and he was making decisions.
Where we were last night a young person faced with decisions on leaving school was asking, ‘What shall I do?’. She had many options, apprenticeships, university courses, a gap year, and so on. Of course, we advised her first to seek the Lord’s mind and serve His interests. As we progress, we have more career choices.
This man had had a pretty good career: he was a wealthy farmer who had worked hard, so his land had brought forth abundantly. Maybe he was an exporter as well, the CEO of a company that he had built by his own ability. He had so much that he was going to knock down his barns, build bigger ones and have a good time. But God had other plans: He said, ‘Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee’ (Luke 12:20). He had been climbing a ladder; he had reached the top and then realised that all the time, he had been climbing the wrong ladder – that is what you will find in business.
Many people in this world are like this man. They are making decisions and organising their whole lives accordingly. Those of us at work have reviews and are asked, “What are you going to do in two years; what is your goal in five years?” It is good to have goals, but is the Lord Jesus the primary motivator, force and object in your life?
This man had made the wrong decision. Of course, he could have said, ‘What shall I do’ in the right sense. When faced with choices, we should ask the Lord what we should do, where we should go, and how should we do it. He might not give an immediate answer. God is not so much interested in what house, car or job I have got; He is interested in what kind of person I am: am I more like Jesus?
There are questions which have important eternal consequences, so let us make sure that they are answered rightly. Otherwise, God will have to say, ‘Fool’.
The Rich Young Ruler’s Question
The young man in Mark 10:17 asked the Lord, ‘What shall I do that I might inherit eternal life?‘ What he did not anticipate was the answer. He had obtained everything this world could provide, but there was one thing he hadn’t got and that was eternal life. Jesus answered him very gently. He said, ‘You know the commandments’, but listed only six of them. ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour thy father and mother’ (v.19). Those were the commandments he could truthfully say he had kept. Paul tells us in Romans 7:7, that though we may not have killed, stolen or committed adultery, lusting for (Darby) or coveting (KJV) things that are not ours is a commandment which none of us can keep. Paul said that it was that commandment which slew him, he had kept all the others. Jesus looked on this man and loved him, but in effect, He said, ‘There is one thing: your possessions mean too much to you. Just give them away’.
Of course, the Lord is not stating you have to live in a community where everything belongs to everyone else. He knows what touches us most, the things we want and desire. He knows that in our hearts we want to hold on to what we value the most, But He says, ‘Let it go. Give it all away’. We can imagine this young man’s thoughts, ‘What a waste! I have built all this up, I have managed to achieve all these things, and now I have got to give it all away, follow Him, to have treasure in heaven’ (see v.21). Little wonder he went away grieved. We don’t know what happened afterwards, God knows. I like to think he changed his mind – Jesus loved him – but the passage is just left for us to think about. There is a very important verse in second Timothy, ‘The Lord knows those that are His’ (ch 2:19. We cannot say who is saved or not; it is God’s matter.
Saul of Tarsus had had a fantastic career – he could have been like that man in Luke 12 or in Mark 10. In Acts 22 he related his history. He had been educated at the feet of Gamaliel – we might say he was the top dog of his day, the one who everyone looked up to. He was rich too – he said in Philippians 4:12, ‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound.’ Now he came to this moment in his life when all he had trusted in – his career, his riches, his companions – were smashed. Jesus had become the most important Person in his life. He turned from being a hater of Jesus to a lover of Jesus. He had been trapping people and dragging them off to prison; now he would embrace them, working with them to bring them into a greater knowledge of Jesus. However, he starts this new pathway off by saying, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’
He recounted, ‘The Lord said to me, Rise up, and go to Damascus, and there it shall be told thee of all things which it is appointed thee to do’ (Acts 22:10). It needed someone else to come along, put his arms around him and call him, ‘Brother Saul’. The local company in Damascus had been in fear and trepidation, but they drew round him and helped him. We will find, I am sure, some of the answers to the question of what we should do amongst our fellow believers, those that love the Lord Jesus. They support and care for us, helping us along our journey.
Conclusion – Your Question
God asked the question; Pilate asked the question; the rich man asked the question; the young ruler asked the question and Paul asked the question, “What shall I do?”. I ask you the question now: What are you going to do with Jesus? You have an eternal soul. Your eternal salvation depends on putting your trust in the finished work of Jesus and the saving power of His blood. May each of us make the right choice, for His Name’s sake.