2009-04-22 / Religion

The Gospel Truth

The difference in failure and faith
Dr. Charles DeVane Jr. First Baptist Church

The United States of America has a strong and supportive relationship with the nation of Israel. This seems especially true among American Christians, a fact that should be both applauded and challenged. There was a day when Israel could be considered "God's people." But are they now? How can you be God's people when you reject God's son (John 14:6). And what difference does this make to Americans and other nations? Read the parable found in Matthew 21:33-46.

A story of failure

To make sense of this failure and faith, you have to look at the kingdom of God in three ways.

First, there is the true kingdom of God, the kingdom proclaimed and promoted by Jesus during his public ministry. This kingdom consists of all true believers of all times whose hearts and souls belong to God. However, only God can see this one.

Secondly, the visible expression of the kingdom of God today is the New Testament church. This kingdom consists of bodies of peoples who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You can see them with your eye, but you cannot look into each heart. So, this visible church contains true believers and false believers, otherwise known as hypocrites.

Thirdly, and for the purpose of this parable, you have to remember that before the first advent of Jesus Christ, before the new covenant was unfolded, the nation of Israel was the visible expression of the kingdom of God. By grace God had chosen them and by faith they had chosen God. Of course, just like today's church, Old Testament Israel was filled with true believers and terrible hypocrites. But if you wanted to follow God and be a part of his kingdom, the one way then was to become a devout Jew.

But what happened to the Jews when Jesus came? Did they succeed or did they fail? Did they choose to retain their identity as the people of God, the citizens of his kingdom, or did they cease to exist as "God's people?"

That's the tale this parable tells, and everyone knew it, even at the time it was told. The landowner is God, the vineyard is the visible kingdom, the sharecroppers are the Jews, the slaves are the prophets and preachers, and the son and the stone represent the son of God and the rock of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews, misled by hypocritical leaders, ignored God's word, persecuted God's messengers and murdered God's son. I would consider this to be a colossal failure.

Politically, I support Israel's existence and sustained success. Socially, I hate antisemitism along with any other kind of racism or prejudice. But spiritually, the story of Jesus and Israel is a story of tragic failure. It is a story of failure to hear God's word, failure to respect God's prophets and preachers, and failure to repent and believe in God's only son.

A question of faith

 

In most stories the opposite of failure would be success. In biblical stories, the opposite of failure would be faith. Thankfully, some Jews, including the first apostles and Christians, were exceptions to the rule. Thankfully the new covenant and the gospel of Jesus Christ have made faith available and possible for every kindred, tribe and tongue. The question of whether you are a success or failure, whether you are one of God's people or not, is a question of faith.

But consider a faith question that Jesus asked on earth. "When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). At his first coming when he presented himself to his own visible kingdom, he found very little faith. At his second coming, when he splits the eastern sky and looks upon the church and the nations, what will he find? I am convinced, and perhaps a little too pessimistic, that what goes around comes around.

When Jesus presented himself the first time to his visible kingdom, he found almost no faith, just a remnant of devout adherents to the old covenant which he parlayed into a very small group of believers in the new covenant. Statistically speaking, at the end of Jesus' earthly ministry the percentage of people on the earth who were true believers would have been extremely small.

When Jesus comes again, which could be any day now or many days from now, will he find a robust faith upon the earth or just a tiny remnant of true believers? It was true that at Jesus' first coming, his visible kingdom was filled with mostly nominal and hypocritical Jews. I am convinced that at his second coming he will similarly find a church filled with mostly nominal and hypocritical members.

This is true in modern day Christendom, where about a third of the world professes faith in Jesus Christ, though only one in five attends the public worship of Jesus Christ, and less than one in 10 actually practices a truly dedicated faith in Jesus Christ that includes public and private worship, witnessing and good works, and the giving of one's time, talents, and treasure to the Lord. The visible kingdom is filled with nominal believers, hypocritical believers and a small remnant of true believers.

What is happening in the church today is the exact same thing that was happening to Israel in Jesus' day. So this parable is not just for Israel. It is for the church. It is for every person who claims to be a Christian and a member of the kingdom of God. Do you have genuine faith? Or, will you face a guaranteed final judgment?

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