Preached at New Wine Christian Fellowship on June 14, 2015. This sermon involved grapes (three colors) and a makeshift winepress. I managed to knock over the table while crushing the grapes. I would like to try again with the kids and hope to video it this time. The show and tell gives it impact. Audio is currently available at newwineonline.com.
Grapes of Wrath, the movie, was coming on television and I started to think about the Biblical allusion wrapped in that title. Here's how the author of the book John Steinbeck put it:
“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” (John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath. 1939.}
Despite the fact that the Grapes of Wrath is a classic movie, I didn't watch it. The subject matter is dark and depressing. And so I don't want to dwell on the dark chapters of the Bible that we would prefer to avoid, but… to understand the great gift we have been given we have to look at this subject. Where Steinbeck's novel pits hope against the darkness, has two ends: glorious and hideous. So first let's look at the hideous, the winepress of the wrath of the lamb.
Revelation 19:13-16 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, “King of kings and Lord of lords”.
Revelation 14:12-20 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,“ says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.
And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”
So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.”
So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
Just to punctuate that last image, that of blood flowing as high as a horses bridle, that is blood flowing chest deep. It is flowing that way for 16 hundred stadia, that is the length of a stadium. A Greek stadium of that time was 500 to 650 feet long or around twice the size of American football field. So the flow of blood described stretches for fifteen to twenty miles.
So let's talk about grapes.
Matthew 7:16 Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus uses the long-standing tradition of using fruit, including grapes, to represent the results of our actions. There are good grapes and bad grapes. Good grapes, Jesus sums up with Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor. Here is his response to a religious lawyer concerning the heart of the law of God:
Matthew 22:37-40 He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ [Deuteronomy 6:5] This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ [Leviticus 19:18] On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
If that is good fruit, it is safe to say that bad fruit is not loving God with all you have, and not loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus is very explicit that not loving those in need, including your enemies is a violation of this principle. To simplify, which is what Jesus was trying to do, good fruit, good grapes are actions loving God or loving your fellow man or woman. Bad fruit, or bad grapes are actions that are unloving to God or unloving to our fellow man or woman. Paul clearly links unloving attitudes towards our authorities (parents, school teachers, principal, boss, pastor, mayor, police, governor, president) who are there by the will of God, as unloving towards God.
So let's look at this some more. What if I have some bad fruit, but more good fruit? That should be OK shouldn't it? So let me ask you this, if a great surgeon who works with Doctors Without Borders, or Save the Children and has saved many lives murders someone in cold blood, does he get a free pass because of the lives he has saved? I have sat on juries and I know for certain that the legal system goes to great ends to make the questions be about the case at hand. All of the good or bad behavior of the defendant's past is typically deeming irrelevant and therefore inadmissible, even prejudicial in court. That also includes what may have been said in press or by someone without direct knowledge of the case. There is no fancy math to blot out the sin of not loving.
So… back to the winepress… Into the winepress of the wrath of God is placed all of our bad fruit, our bad grapes, all of the times that we were unloving to God, unloving towards our authorities, or unloving to each other. For most of us, even the young ones, that is a lot of bad grapes. Now a grapevine's fruit, you pick it and put it in the winepress to be crushed. That is how you get the juice out to make wine. Your fruit is in you. My fruit is in me. What is coming out of the winepress of the wrath of God is blood. So what goes into the winepress… we do!
In ourselves the situation looks bad. But God has a different plan for us. God the father wants to change us, to remove all of the bad fruit from us, and giving us an entirely new fruitfulness, a heavenly fruitfulness. That is an exchange. The apostle Paul, a tentmaker, says it this way:
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.
What do I have to do to get these benefits? I have to step out of the life that is destined for the winepress of the wrath of God and step into a life that is eternally redeemed from that winepress.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
There is no greater mystery in heaven, confounding all the angels, than that Jesus Christ who was sinless could step into the winepress of the wrath of God and open a pathway of redemption to all who would put their life into his hands.
Matthew 26:27-28 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The picture is gets dark at this point. Jesus take Peter, James and John and retires to the garden to pray.
Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Luke, who had spent time with Peter, adds that as Jesus prayed he was in great agony, to the point that great drops of sweat and blood fell to the ground Luke 22:43 .
Isaiah 53:10 (NASB) But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering
Luke 9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
God the Father knew what He was asking of Jesus. Jesus knew the cost. He sets himself on this difficult course, The wording here echoes Isaiah, “I have set my face like a flint” (Isaiah 50:7). So the wording in Isaiah 53:10 “the LORD was pleased To crush Him” seems a little shocking. I have chosen the strongest wording from the various translations to make the point. God the Father wanted this redemption process to proceed. He did not want Jesus to suffer, He wanted you and me to be set free from the wrath incurred because of our life's fruit.
Jesus, the sinless son of God, was crushed in the winepress of God's wrath, and resurrected three days later. Anyone who places themselves in the hands of Jesus Christ has already faced the winepress and been redeemed. The cup of wine that we use to celebrate this eucharist represents the life-giving off-pouring of this crushing, the wine of the new covenant.
It is in this context that the image of the soldier piercing the side of Christ popped into my head. It says, “at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). Why blood and water? Blood is obvious. But water? I've heard the explanations about a clear liquid coming out of the pericardium, but why does scripture note this detail?
The whole question seemed a rabbit trail, until I put before the Lord. The immediate image I got was that of Revelation 22, the river flowing from the throne of God for healing. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Historical the church has made the connection that those waters represent the waters of baptism into a new eternal life.
1 John 5:6-8 This is he who came by water and bloodóJesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.
And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.