A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Converting All Things to Christ

Coptic Icon of Christ

Pentecost +19
Rev. Doug Floyd
Matthew 21:33-44, Philippians 3:14-21

God is moving closer and closer to His people. He has come to gather them into His arms like lost sheep. They turn from the light of His love. Yet He continues to draw closer. In today’s parable of the vineyard, we hear the story of salvation history. The story of vineyard and the tenants recounts the story of Israel’s rejection of God. It reflects the story that Isaiah shares in our first lesson today. Israel is the image of God’s vineyard and yet it fails to fulfill it’s purpose.

God raised up a nation to reveal His glory to the world. They revealed man’s sin. Yet, His glorious light shines through the midst of human rebellion.

As we read these parables, it might be easy to assume Jesus is being a little hard on the Pharisees. He is speaking their language. Even though they get angry, he continues to draw near. As He does, He is calling them to turn and face the God whom they claim to serve.

In their anger, they will partner with their enemies, the Sadducees, and work to see Jesus crucified. But that is not the end of the story. Jesus will overcome death and the grave and raise up His disciples as witnesses to the Jews and to the very Pharisees who opposed Him.

In Acts 2, Peter preaches and over 3,000 come to faith. In Acts 5:34, the Pharisee Gamaliel stood up in the council and warns how they treat the Apostles saying, “In the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”[1]

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas defend their ministry to the Gentiles to the Christian leaders in Jerusalem. In verse 5 we read, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.’” [2] We know the leaders took council together and eventually decided that circumcision was not necessary, and yet we already see Pharisees among the Christians in Jerusalem.

In Acts 23, when Paul is faced with a council in Jerusalem, he says, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”[3] As a Christian leader, Paul continues to use the designation as Pharisee.

I say all this to suggest that Jesus is calling the Pharisees to God. Jesus is telling stories that provoke and draw them. I read an article this week that suggested that Paul may have been in the audience when Jesus told these stories because we know he studied under Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He would have probably gone back and forth between Tarsus and Jerusalem during Jesus life. Plus, he would have had contact with other Pharisees in Jerusalem who were talking to Jesus. So it is quite possible that Paul heard Jesus telling some of these parables. The Acts of the Apostles focuses on Paul’s conversion story, but it alludes to other converted Pharisees. With this in mind, we can safely say that Jesus is confronting the Pharisees because He is calling them to see the truth of God’s Presence in their midst.

This would be difficult to hear and yet like the prophets of old, Jesus speaks with the authority of God, and the people recognized that He spoke with authority. When Jesus speaks, He reveals the hearts of His listeners and is calling them to Himself. He is gathering His lost sheep. When we read these parables, Jesus is addressing us. By His Sprit, He is drawing us to Himself. He is drawing the nations to Himself.

He is raising us up as His witnesses that we might participate in this great ingathering of the nations. In our Philippians passage, Paul speaks of this conversion process as ongoing. He has been converted to Christ and He is being converted to Christ. He says,

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”[4]

Like Paul, we have been converted and are being converted to Christ. We are moving from glory to glory. Even as the Spirit is drawing us and changing us, we want hearts like Paul that press on to make it our own. Our full conversion is still to come. As Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-21,

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” [5] Our lowly bodies will be transformed, glorified like Christ.

Now catch the last phrase of this verse, “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” The same power of God’s love in the Spirit that is transforming is also enabling Christ to “subject all things to Himself.”

Here is our mission. Paul states it in different ways in different letters but it is to serve alongside Christ in reconciling all things to God. What does this look like in the end? We don’t know for certain, but we must never assume those who oppose God are beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love. Just as He could draw Pharisees like Paul to Himself, He can draw us to Himself and He can draw those who seem beyond His reach.

With this in mind, I want to encourage us to pray for those people. I’m sure many of you already pray for unbelievers in your family or workplace. I would encourage all of us to regularly pray for those people we work alongside, those people we see in family or friend settings, those people we may encounter in the coffee shop or other places. As opportunity arises, we may share some of our faith story. God in His grace is working, drawing, and loving. By His grace, we are participating in this great work of redemption of all things in Christ.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 5:38–39.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 15:5.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 23:6.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 3:12–14.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 3:20–21.


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