ESV Matthew 21:33 ab”Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted ba vineyard cand put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and dleased it to tenants, and ewent into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants1 to the tenants ato get his fruit. 35 aAnd the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and bstoned another. 36 aAgain he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, a’This is the heir. Come, blet us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and athrew him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 aWhen therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, a”He will put those wretches to a miserable death and blet out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, a”Have you never read in the Scriptures: b”‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;1 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God awill be taken away from you and given to a people bproducing its fruits. 44 And athe one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and bwhen it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”1 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And aalthough they were seeking to arrest him, bthey feared the crowds, because they held him to be ca prophet.
Why is it so important to us to have the last word? It’s true, isn’t it? We want the last word in any conversation. We see it on TV in political debates, in interviews. But we know it’s true for ourselves too, isn’t it? In our own arguments . . . I mean, “discussions.” Even just telling stories about what we or our children have done. No matter what someone else says, we always want to have a better story. We want to top the other person’s story, vacation, or achievement. It’s sometimes called One-upmanship.
Having the last word validates our opinions and self-worth, even though we may be inconsiderate of the many feelings and opinions of others. Having the last word helps us maintain our own personal status quo or way of life by convincing ourselves that we’re right and don’t need to change.
There are, of course, times when we may regret our need to have the last word, maybe a time when we see how much it really did hurt someone else. But even more regrettable will be to insist on the last word in our conversation with God. Not only would that cut off all conversation with him for all eternity, but, above all, it would mean missing the joy of relationship that he wants to have with us, because, finally, when all is said and done,
JESUS IS THE LAST WORD.
God had given his Word, which could then have been such a blessed last word (v 33). He had spoken to Israel, calling them his special people, giving them his unlimited goodness. He made a covenant with Israel and signed it in blood. He chose them to be his people and he took them out of Egypt and made them his people.
Israel is the vineyard in the parable that Jesus told. The master in Jesus’ parable gives a rich vineyard to tenants. Rich blessings, everything they could imagine. His love, his protection, his presence. He plants the vineyard, fences it in, digs a winepress, and builds a tower. If there was anything more he could have done, he would have done it. But he had done everything for the vineyard. Then he leaves the whole operation to his tenants, giving them the benefits of all his labors, trusting them to give a portion of the fruit in season.
What a wonderful picture of what God had done for Israel! He had done everything to bless them and take care of them. There was nothing more that could be done. He even made a covenant with them. This was God’s Word, promise, he would shower blessings on them for all eternity! He had given his word, and he would have been delighted for that to be the last word.
God is the Creator-Giver of every good thing. God is a creating and giving God. A God who not only creates, but who then cares for his creation and provides all that it needs. A God who loves to give good things and to bless. And he gives us the same sort of blessings he gave Israel, for in the end, Israel is a type of the church. Israel is the physical reflection of us today. What he does for Israel he does for us, for those who believe in Christ Jesus is the true Israel. For example: He delivered Israel out of bondage and slavery through Moses their deliverer, and through the Red Sea. He has delivered us out of bondage and death of sin through Christ our deliverer and through the sea of Baptism. He took care of Israel in the wilderness and provided meat and bread and water for them. Not even did their shoes wear out after 40 years of wandering in the desert. And today he takes care of us as we wander in the wilderness of this life. He provides food and drink and clothing for us through the vocations of people. He led Israel to the promised land flowing with milk and honey where he himself came and lived among them in their presence. He leads us through the wilderness to the promised land of eternal life where we will dwell with him for eternity. And just as he promised to love them and be their God, he has promised to love us and be our God and our salvation. He has made us his people for all eternity. He is our loving and giving God. And this love he showed us visibly on the cross where he gave up his life in order to give us life eternal.
And when God’s people rebelled, refused to bear fruit, he sent his word again—through prophets. As in the parable, the master sent one servant after another to receive the fruit (vv 34–36). Oh, that any of these could simply be the last word!: “All is forgiven! You are still mine!” But they didn’t listen to the prophets, the preachers, the teachers. The rejected them and their message. They rejected their master and refused to do their duty.
Finally, last of all, God sent his Son (v 37). Surely this would be the last word—and all be well. But they would not let it be the last word. They were all too determined to have the last word themselves. Just as we are all too determined to have the last word.
When the master sends his servants to collect his share of the fruit, they are beaten, stoned, and killed. Time and again, the tenants insist on the last word. Finally, even the master’s last gracious invitation they reject (vv 38–39). They believe they have the last word by killing the son, claiming the vineyard as their own. This is the tragedy of Israel: killing the Lord’s prophets and finally killing Jesus, his very Son and heir.
But this tragedy doesn’t stop with Israel. It is our tragedy. It is our rebellion. Doesn’t that desire of ours to have the last word show up in our conversations with God too? “Yes, Lord, I know what you say thou shalt not commit adultery, but we’re really in love. Surely you understand and will make an exception for us.” “Yes, Lord, you promise to provide everything I need, but I’m holding back on my offerings just in case.” “Yes, Lord, I know you love everyone, but you can’t really expect me to forgive her! What she did was way over the top. She doesn’t deserve my forgiveness. Now I know what kind of person she really is.”
But Jesus will have the last word with his opponents on the day of Judgment. Jesus is the last word and his word will be final. Even still, Jesus actually gives his enemies one more chance to speak. He asks them, “What will the owner do to those tenants when he finds out they killed his son?” And they answer “He will put those wretches to a miserable death.” (vv 40–41). In fact they have just spoken the last word; the word of judgment upon themselves.
That’s exactly what Jesus will do. And Jesus gets his own final word (vv 42–46). Nothing more to say, and his opponents know it. At least they understood that Jesus was speaking about them.
But do we understand? Do we still try to excuse ourselves when God’s Word condemns our sin? Don’t we come up with reasons to justify our sinful actions? “I just can’t help myself, I love him too much.” Or, “now I have seen what that person is really like. I could never be his friend again.”
We fool only ourselves. There’s really nothing we can say. We stand condemned. There is no way to justify our sinful deeds or desires. There is no way to justify our angry words. There is no way to justify our lack of forgiveness. God commands us to love one another and to forgive those who trespass against us. That is His final word. There is nothing more to say.
But Jesus himself is truly the Last Word—a forgiving Word that does produce fruit in its season. God indeed has the last word—Jesus. He is “The stone that the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone” (v 42; Ps 118:22). Jesus, the Stone, the Son, was rejected, killed. But in that moment, he spoke the last word: “It is finished.” Yes, he forgave his murderers. He forgave his friends that betrayed him. He forgave those he trusted but who turned on him. He forgave his brothers who rejected him. He forgave you and me who deny him every day.
Then his resurrection proved that death could not be the last word—for us either. Instead, he rose again and by his death and resurrection, Jesus offers the Kingdom to all who believe in him.
So as God sent prophet after prophet to reconcile his people Israel to himself, his Last Word, Christ, continues to be spoken to us. Preaching declares to us the Last Word, Jesus Christ. The Word with water in Holy Baptism brings to us what the Last Word, Christ, did on the cross. Baptism makes it ours. By the Word, the Lord’s Table is the Last Word that delivers to us Christ’s forgiveness of sins and makes us one flesh with God.
And by faith in Christ, the Last Word, believers do bear fruit, returning to the Master his due (v 43). Believers will be known by the fruits they bear in the name of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23) will prosper in God’s vineyard.
In a world where no one seems to let anyone else have the final say, where all beliefs are given equal weight, where even bumper stickers demand we “COEXIST,” Jesus does have the last word. He tells us that he is the Stone that has become the cornerstone of God’s eternal kingdom. As for us having the last word? There’s nothing left to say; Jesus finished it all on the cross. At his resurrection, we can only say “Alleluia!” because the death and resurrection of Christ gives him the last word to silence all opponents once and for all. Amen.