Worship Helps for Pentecost 18

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:28-44; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 13:6-9) In 1569, the height of the Lutheran Reformation, Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586) painted “The Vineyard of the Lord” (Der Weinberg des Herrn).

Cranach, along with his father, Lucas Cranach the Elder, is one of the most important German painters of the Reformation era. He and his father were staunch supporters of the teachings of Martin Luther and the other Reformers.

The painting is hanging in Martin Luther’s parish church of St. Mary’s in Wittenberg. Cranach created this painting in memory of the Reformer Paul Eber, who lectured on theology in Wittenberg.

“The Vineyard of the Lord” depicts a vineyard divided by a fence. The vineyard is the biblical metaphor for the Christian Church on earth. At the left of the vineyard are representatives of the Roman Catholic Church destroying it. At the right is Luther with a rake and other Reformers taking care of the plants by watering them and pulling out the weeds.

Cranach is explaining the meaning of the Reformation by portraying the Catholic clergy and the Lutheran reformers as laborers in the vineyard of the Lord. It is a visual parody of a statement that Pope Leo X had made in response to Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses. The pope excommunicated Luther, tossing him out of the Church, exclaiming famously, “The wild board from the forest seeks to destroy the vineyard.”  

The pope was claiming that Martin Luther was a “wild boar” who had arisen to destroy God’s Church. Pope Leo said that it was his duty to protect the vineyard of the Lord from the ravishing of the wild boar.

However, Cranach sets the record straight. He demonstrates who is actually destroying the vineyard and who is taking care of it.

He succinctly explains the entire meaning of the Reformation in one image!

On the left side, the vineyard has withered from neglect and mismanagement. The pope, cardinals, bishops, priests and monks are hard at work … ripping out the vines and throwing rocks into the well. They are destroying the Good News of Jesus Christ with their false doctrines of the worship of Mary and the saints, purgatory, penance, indulgence, etc. They have ripped out the true salvation story contained in the words and person of Jesus Christ, who is the Vine to whom we are connected by faith (John 15:5). They have thrown rocks down the well of He who is the Water of life (John 4:13). 

On the bottom left, the pope is trying unsuccessfully to collect wages from Jesus.

On the right, the vineyard is flourishing under Lutheran cultivation. Twelve reformers associated with Wittenberg, ranging from Martin Luther (d. 1546) to the young Matthias Flacius Illyricus (d. 1575), clear the land and prune and irrigate the new, healthy plants.

Martin Luther, in his black professor’s gown, is raking the soil in the foreground.

The man pouring clear water from the well into the vineyard is Philipp Melanchthon, the author of the Augsburg Confession.

John Bugenhagen, Luther’s confessor and a contributor to the Augsburg Confession is in the center wearing a light-colored robe as he tills the soil.  

What a treasure of grace that God has called each of us as believers to work in the Vineyard of the Lord! He has connected us by faith to His Son, the Vine. It is through Jesus that we receive the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with our heavenly Father, and eternal life in heaven. The Holy Spirit grants us blessing after blessing through His Word and Sacraments. It is through these Word and Sacraments that we bear the fruits of faith.

Then Christ calls us to be workers in His divine Vineyard. Not to rip out what He has planted. But to care for the tender shoot of the mother who is grieving her stillborn child. To tend the little girl in Sunday School so that she may grow in her faith and understanding. To look after the teenager who is struggling with his addictions. To minister to the World War II veteran who is in hospice care.

May God correctly chastise us when we end up on the left of His vineyard.

May we thank God for the privilege of being His faithful servants on the right of His vineyard.

Worship Theme: What is our God like? Over the next four Sundays, the Church hears Jesus tell four parables which reveal characteristics of our God. Today’s lessons cause the worshiper to ask: Is God fair? No, he’s not. He doesn’t give us what we deserve, and that’s called mercy. In fact, he gives us what we don’t deserve, and that’s called grace. Our God is inconceivably gracious.

Old Testament: Jonah 4:5-11
Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." 9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." 10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

1. Jonah is angry while he waits outside the city hoping to watch it be destroyed. Why is Jonah so angry? (See Nahum 1:14; 3:1,4.)

2. What did the Lord want Jonah to consider when he asked, “Have you any right to be angry”? (verse 4) (See also 1:3,17; 2:10; 3:1.)

3. What were the three steps in God’s object lesson with Jonah? (verses 5-8) What did the object lesson reveal about Jonah and his priorities?

Epistle: Romans 9:6b-16
For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." 8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: "At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son." 10 Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad-- in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls-- she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.

4. Is God fair? Is God just?

5. What two illustrations does Paul offer to prove that people become Christians by God’s grace?

6. Paul anticipates objections to the doctrine of election by grace. If his teaching about predestination and the certainty of never being removed from God’s love is true, then has not God failed in regard to the Jews? So many of them do not share in the faith of Abraham. What is Paul’s answer?

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5 So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 7 "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' 8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' 9 "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' 13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

7. Note the context of this parable: the disciples had just asked what they would receive in the kingdom, and Jesus promised them twelve thrones. Then he immediately quashes any prideful thoughts by saying that in the kingdom of heaven, God makes no distinction by merit or work (For the kingdom of heaven is like…). So, if God does not base salvation on merits or works, is he fair?

8. Why does Jesus’ parable of the vineyard offend our finely honed sense of fairness?

9. Where do you fall in the parable of the workers in the vineyard?

1. Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed; in his mind it would only be fair. Nineveh was wicked, bloodthirsty, and feared. They were wicked Gentiles who would likely continue to make life miserable in Israel. Jonah had not wanted to prophesy to them because he was afraid that they might listen and repent. Jonah knew what that would mean: God would have compassion on them and forgive them (Jonah 4:4).

2. The Lord wanted Jonah to consider his own sinfulness and how patiently the Lord had dealt with him.

3. God caused a vine to grow and then wither and then caused a hot wind and the sun to torment Jonah. Jonah was more concerned about his own comfort than the dying souls in Nineveh. The LORD taught his prophet with a vine and made a striking point. Jonah, though you had no part in the creation, growth, or life of this vine, yet you were so emotionally attached to it. But think of me, Jonah! Those people, those children—even those cows!—I made them; I sustain them; I want them to be mine forever. So great is my grace!

4. Neither—he is inconceivably gracious, as our eternal election proves. Paul answers the question by pointing us back to God’s speech to Moses in Exodus 33. The Israelites had worshiped the golden calf, and Moses made intercession for them. Moses asked the LORD to show him his ways (v 13) and his glory (v14). God’s responded by declaring his inconceivable grace: he would show mercy and grace to those he chose, regardless of any merit or worth.

5. Abraham and Isaac. Jacob and Esau.

6. God has not failed. Not every physical descendant of Israel is among the elect. Though a majority of the Jews had abandoned him, he would be merciful and gracious to them. So also with us, the children of the faith of Abraham: God’s eternal election of us to salvation had nothing to do with merit or worth or works, but only stems from his inconceivable grace and mercy. (Take the opportunity to read the exceptional treatise on election found in the Formula of Concord’s eleventh article on predestination in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article XI.)

7. In reality, God is not fair; rather, he is inconceivably gracious. One-hour-workers receive the same as those who bore the heat of the day. This parable carries both warning and promise for us—a warning that all comparisons based on merit or work do not belong in God’s kingdom; a promise that our relationship with God is based solely on grace which he lavishes in abundance.

8. The story only offends our sense of fairness when we compare ourselves to other workers. Even though they were promised twelve thrones, Jesus wouldn’t allow his disciples to make comparisons. How much less would he let us whose labor is so late and light? When we keep our eyes where they belong—fixed on God—then have a correct view of our worth and labor. Then, when God places a denarius in our hands, we can marvel that the Lord isn’t fair—thanks be to God! He doesn’t give us what we deserve; no, he gives us what we don’t.

9. Some of us may face the temptation of putting our hope in our long standing membership in the kingdom. Others of us may appreciate the grace we have come to know more recently.
 Putting your faith into action

A reading from the Book of Concord for Pentecost 18
Our sins are forgiven if we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Otherwise, why would we need the Gospel?  Why would we need Christ?  This belief should always be in view so that it may oppose those who cast Christ and the Gospel aside and wickedly distort the Scriptures to human opinions, such as the idea that we purchase the forgiveness of sins by our works.

Faith is required also in the sermon of Daniel (4:24–27). For Daniel says, “Break off your … iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed” [4:27].  This means, break off your sins by a change of heart and works.  Here also, faith is required.  We have the excellent confession of the king about the God of Israel, “There is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Daniel 3:29).  Daniel promises the forgiveness of sins to the king. This promise of the forgiveness of sins is an evangelical voice.  Daniel certainly meant that the promise should be received in faith.  For Daniel knew that the forgiveness of sins in Christ was promised not only to the Israelites, but also to all nations.  Otherwise, he could not have promised to the king the forgiveness of sins.  Daniel speaks clearly about repentance and even more clearly brings out the promise.  Only those who truly believe take hold of this promise, and through faith overcome sin and death. – Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V, Love and Fulfilling the Law (paragraphs 139-142) 


  1. I think of it as the last man in a sinking ship's lifeboat. He's more grateful than those who were saved first. You can't begrudge him for getting there last.


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