Back to Basics Bible Study
From today until mid-February our teachings in Matthew will focus on a mini series we are calling “Life as a Disciple in the Kingdom”. The final words of Jesus in the book of Matthew are to His disciples. He says, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” This passage is called the “Great Commission”. You will hear it often in sermons focused on missions or evangelism, and the emphasis is often placed on the words “all the nations”, but what about the words “making disciples” and “teaching to obey”? Have we gotten so caught up in expanding churches and planning programs that we have lost sight of Jesus’ instructions and expectations about discipleship and obedience?
Today we will go back to the basics of what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus—going where He leads you and doing what He commands, and helping others to do the same. In the spirit of this back to basics idea, today we are going to study Matthew 21:33-46 together using a method called ORID. ORID stands for Observe-Reflect-Interpret-Decide. It’s a method I use often in my professional life as I facilitate groups through discussions in which they need to make sense of a situation and ultimately make a decision about how they will respond. It is actually a great method for you to use when studying Scripture as well, particularly because as we continue in Matthew you will notice that some of the parables and teachings in these chapters are on the harsh side. We should not shy away from these or quickly skim over them. As students of God’s Word we can actively engage with these passages and consider how Jesus is raising the bar of expectation for what discipleship actually means.
Read Matthew 21:33-46 and simply observe.
- Who are the characters in this parable?
- What is the setting and how is it described?
Take a few minutes to jot down your observations. If you notice yourself beginning to interpret or apply the verses that is your cue to return.
So what did you observe?
The characters in this parable are the landowner, the tenant farmers, the landowner’s servants, and the landowner’s son. The parable is set in the landowner’s vineyard. For us, in the Canadian prairies during the deepest dark of winter, the vineyard is not a familiar setting. For Jesus’ original audience the vineyard was a common setting. The climate was favourable for cultivating grapes and wine but still the terrain required much effort, just like what is described in verse 33. Rocks would need to be cleared away and the soil prepared, a fence would be built from stones or heavy brush and were used to both define the boundaries of the vineyard and to keep out wild animals. A watchtower was also typical so that the workers could keep an eye on the crop. Harvest would occur in late summer and fall – grapes would be removed by hand or with the use of a small knife, brought to the winepress, and often crushed by foot.
Read Matthew 21:33-46 again. This time pay attention to:
- What feelings does it evoke?
- What surprises you in this passage?
Take a few minutes to write down your reflections. If you notice yourself beginning to interpret or apply the verses that is your cue to return.
What were your reflections? Were you curious about the references to the stone? Did the image of a vineyard make you long for summer? Were you surprised by the actions of the farmers or Jesus’ harsh words? Did you notice a particular emotional reaction at any specific point?
For myself, as I observed and reflected on this passage, the imagery of vines, fruit, and harvesting came alive on the page so I will follow that thread as we move into our next step. If something different resonated for you, I urge you to return to the passage later today or this week and apply the next step of “interpret” to whatever jumped off the page for you.
Together now, let’s move forward with the third step: interpret. The approach we are going to use is to ask ourselves if there are any other Bible passages that speak to the same imagery of vines, fruit, and harvesting. The first we can look at is found in Isaiah 5. Remember that Jesus’ original audience knew the Scriptures well and it is likely that as they listened to Jesus tell the parable about the vineyard they would have recognized a reference to the prophecy of Isaiah.
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 nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
[…] What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.
What similarities do you see between these words in Isaiah and our parable?
First, notice how God—referred to as the loved one in Isaiah and as the vineyard owner in the parable—takes such great care to prepare and cultivate the land he has provided. God is intentional and deliberate in His actions and in the people He chooses to be His workers.
Second, notice the expectations He has; the people of God are expected to obey His commands and to thus produce fruit good. Did you notice how patient the landowner was in the parable? God provides us with many opportunities to obey Him.
Third, notice the condemnation of those who are not fulfilling these obligations. In Isaiah the land is destroyed, prophesying the invasion of the Assyrians. In the parable Jesus speaks divine judgement on the religious leaders who have not repented at the arrival of the Kingdom. The Kingdom will be taken from them and Jesus calls forth a remnant who will live righteously by obeying God and producing fruit that will glorify Him.
We have the beginning of an interpretation now:
- God chooses His people, we are a part of His vineyard
- God expects us to obey His commands, the evidence of which is good fruit
- God warns us of consequences when we do not follow Him – we will experience disruption and uprooting in the place where we have been planted.
Does this interpretation hold up if we look elsewhere in the Bible? Flip in your Bibles to John 15—perhaps the most well-known passage using imagery of vines and fruit. As you read, pay attention to if any similarities are present: God’s intentionality to choose and prepare His people, God’s commandments to obey, and the consequences of not obeying.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
What do you notice about the similarities in all three passages that revolve around the imagery of vines, fruit, and harvesting?
First, notice again that God chose you. Even when life feels random or disconnected, even when you feel unrooted—God has deliberately chosen you and planted you where you are for a purpose.
Second, notice again the expectations God has for His chosen people. You are to remain in Him and keep His commands.
Third, notice again the condemnation of those who live a life separated from God. They are like deadwood, gathered up and thrown on a bonfire.
To finish off our interpretation step, spend a few minutes either reflecting on:
- What feels important to you?
- What insights are emerging for you?
When we started today I said we would go back to basics on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus—going where He leads you and doing what He commands, and helping others to do the same.
Your final step today is to decide. This is an important step because discipleship is not simply participating in a Bible study or church program. Discipleship is becoming like Jesus as we walk with Him in the real world.
Take some time now to ask yourself what applications has this Bible study triggered for you? I encourage you to be accountable to someone else by sharing what you learned today and how you are planning to respond.
Today felt a bit different didn’t it? I did not give you a three-point sermon or hand you the meaning of this passage wrapped up in a pretty package with a bow on top. Instead, you have had an opportunity to actively participate by using an ORID Bible study method, which is just one of many simple approaches we can take when studying God’s Word.
When I think about Calvary focusing more on discipleship in 2021 this idea of active participation, learning, and journeying together feels very important. As we head into a new year Calvary will continue to look and feel different. My hope in 2021 is that each of us gets better at digging into Scripture, studying God’s Word as disciples and followers of Jesus, and that we help each other to do the same.