I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard; my loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. … The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
My wife remembers a cabernet we tasted at a Napa Valley winery as the best she’s ever had. Our tour guide told us a story about the vineyard from which it came. A man made a risky investment. He bought a sizeable estate with nearly 50 acres of grape vines. But the vines—all of them—were infected with a devastating disease. The new owner’s only choice? Uproot and burn every single plant. Treat the soil. Purchase and plant new vines. Several years would pass before they would be ready for harvest. In the meantime, his investment would not be turning any profits. In fact, more money would be needed to construct and renovate buildings to support the winery. That first harvest would be oh, so anticipated…and oh, so important. It turned out well for this man. But can you imagine if that vineyard—into which he had poured time, money, and energy—had yielded bad grapes or none at all?
A long time ago, the prophet Isaiah sang a poetic song about a vineyard. But the vineyard and its owner were only representative, employed to teach an important lesson. His song, a sad one, was about God and his people. The Lord God had done it all for the nation of Israel. He had chosen them, by his grace, as the people who would know about and carry his promise of the Savior to the world. He showed to them and through them what kind of God he is. He gave them his words. He lavished love and care on them. He revealed his plan of salvation through prophets sent into their midst. They had every advantage and every reason to be a productive vineyard, bearing the spiritual grapes that God desired to harvest. And yet, he received the opposite.
Rather than following the only true God in faith, they often turned to false gods. Rather than responding to his promises of forgiveness and life with joyful thanks and willing obedience, they often grumbled against him and served grudgingly. Rather than viewing his laws as blessings, they saw them only as burden. He looked for a crop of good grapes, but the yield was only bad fruit.
Perhaps you are new to this message about the God of the Bible. Maybe you’ve been, by God’s grace, a part of his vineyard for a long time. Either way, we can apply Isaiah’s song to our own relationship with God. He longs to and rightly expects to see good fruits springing from faith. Is that always what he receives?
If you answered, “no,” and are ashamed or frightened by it, look again to God, who is patient and gracious. Look to the vintner’s Son, Jesus Christ, who is the only source of the good fruit God desires to see in us and from us. See in his holy life and shed blood the forgiveness and righteousness you need. Connect to him, through his holy Word and precious sacraments, as the vine who can make non-bearing branches into vibrant and productive ones. Find in him your life, and with the life he gives, go out and bear good fruit for your gracious God!
Lord God, I do not deserve your love or your patience. But in Jesus I see you as one who loves me though I’m undeserving. In Christ, I know you as the one who patiently cures my disease of sin and nourishes me to bear fruits of faith to your glory. Keep me ever connected to the life-giving Vine, Jesus. In his name I pray. Amen.
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