Once upon a time the son of a Great King decided to plant a vineyard on a certain hill.
His Father had done the same years before. But because the gardeners — husbandmen they called them in those days — had been unfaithful, the vines had withered and the fruit had turned bad. Now weeds and toppled stones were all that were left. Worse, those first husbandmen had also fraudulently mortgaged the land. Now the hill was “owned” — as far as any mere creature could ever own something that ultimately belongs to God — by a very evil man.
Still, the Prince saw something in the land — a potential treasure of great value. So he set out to redeem the hill and re-establish the vineyard.
We don’t have time now to tell of all the amazing things the Son did to fulfill His dream. In fact, all the time in the world wouldn’t do justice to His mighty deeds. Suffice it to say that the impossible happened. The hill was ransomed and the evil man’s authority was destroyed. The stones were removed, a walled enclosure was built, and a strong tower was placed in its midst. And perhaps most incredible of all, a vine of the most unusual sort was planted. Virtually impervious to disease and able to withstand every challenge that the weather and the environment could throw at it, this vine was guaranteed to produce bountiful harvests of the sweetest, most wonderful grapes.
Once again, gardeners were hired. But these were not just strangers as before, who worked only for wages. They were actual kinsmen of the Son.
And though they weren’t necessarily the smartest, or the strongest, or the best natural-born gardeners in the world, they were loyal to Him. They loved the Prince very much because of the way He loved them.
The Son trained these husbandmen well. He gave them a manual that contained all the information they needed to ensure both their well-being and the success of the vineyard. And on top of that, both the King and the Prince sent…well, we’ll just call Him the “Helper.” This is deep magic and hard to explain in human language, but basically having Him was the same as having the Father and the Son invisibly present, assisting the husbandmen, overseeing their on-the-job training, strengthening them when they grew weary, protecting them from the evil man and his friends who liked to roam outside the walls looking for trouble… all manner of wonderful and magical things.
One day the Son left to go on a long journey from which He would one-day return to receive the harvest of the vineyard. But having left both the manual and the Helper, the Prince had made certain His kinsmen-gardeners had everything they needed to ensure both their success and that the vine would grow to fill the entire hill. He reminded them one last time of his absolute authority over the hill and even the enemies who would seek to take it back. (Later, many would wonder, particularly when these adversaries would attack, why the Son didn’t use that authority to permanently banish or destroy them. But the wiser among them eventually realized that the Son was as interested in them as he was in the vineyard and that dealing with these enemies was preparing them for something even more grand awaiting them after his return.) Mounting his horse, the Prince turned and restated their Prime Directive as if it was a benediction: “Because I have won this hill and vanquished its enemies, fear not: go throughout this land, cultivate it and help this vine that I have planted send forth new branches until it covers the hill even as the waters cover the seas.”
Seeing this happen, they soon learned after he left, wasn’t going to be easy. But things of great value never are. There were times when the vine’s growth slowed. Often it was because of mistakes made by the gardeners. Eventually they would learn from their blunders and the vine’s growth would pick back up again….that is, until the next lapse or mistep occurred.
“Two steps forward and one step back!” became a common refrain among those gardeners who took their eyes off the temporary setbacks and considered the bigger, long-term picture. “He who has promised is faithful,” they would say, “and will He not bring to pass what He has promised?”
Other times the slower growth was caused by inclement weather over which the gardeners had no control. But over time they — or at least some of them — learned that the vine would grow even faster after these bouts of severe weather and, even more wonderfully, the next harvest of grapes would be all the more sweet.
Many years passed and the vine, by fits and starts, grew so much that over half of the great hill was covered. Seeing the great patches of green, some of the husbandmen began to forget that there was still much work to be done. Others made wine from the succulent grapes that previous generations had toiled to produce − and their over-imbibing resulted in an even more relaxed attitude towards the work at hand. And there were those who contemplated the growth, and then made the same mistake as previous gardeners who experienced their own season of blessed fruitfulness: they took for themselves the credit that belonged to the Helper, the wisdom of the manual, and the incredible vitality of the vine itself. Eventually there were even those who began to question whether the manual was the best authority on husbandry. New theories were floated and published—and in no time a good percentage of the gardeners were infected with these novel, man-made ideas.
The result was that the vine was increasingly left untended. More and more gardeners stopped cultivating the land where the vine was supposed to spread. The walls surrounding the vineyard were deemed unnecessary by many; and some even began removing its stones in order to build monuments to themselves or to some new idea. More and more, the tower was left unmanned.
And so the inevitable happened. The growth of the vine grew slower and slower. Weeds sprang up everywhere. And missiles from the enemy outside were increasingly able to find there way into the garden sanctuary. For those who had forsaken the manual, the explosions falling around them suddenly seemed fresh and even exciting. More stones were removed to let more rockets in. On and on it went, until it seemed — for about the tenth time in the history of the vineyard — that all hell was breaking loose.
But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. The Helper began to move on the hearts of those gardeners who were trying to be faithful. Seeing all the chaos and damage, they were compelled to come up with answers, trying to make sense of what was happening around them. In time, two theories and plans of action were developed and then presented to the loyal remnant. Though frightened and at times confused, they all wanted to obey the Prince.
“This is primarily the Evil One’s doing,” proclaimed Mr. Moody. He was a good and well-respected gardener who had done much to help the vine grow. He had also become the primary spokesman for one of the two courses of action. “Let’s continue to do what we can to be personally faithful to the Prince and His manual,” he cried. “But it’s inevitable that the Evil One shall prevail against us. The weeds will all but choke out the vine. Look around you. It’s already happening. There’s no way that we, as mere gardeners, can prevail against the weeds. But do not fear,” he continued. “The Prince will return and take us away, and then return to judge the Evil One and this corrupt vineyard. And then He will plant the true vine — and we will be His true branches — and we will live with the Son forever.”
“No, No!” countered Mr. Edwards. “With all due respect to my dear brother, his way with a hoe is commendable − but he is dead wrong about this!” Mr. Edwards was a key advocate for the other position. He was also known as the great, great, great grandson of Jonathan Edwards; the famous husbandmen who helped tend the vine during one its greatest periods of growth. But most gardeners on this day agreed that his plan of action, like the Edwards’ name, had fallen on hard times.
“Yes, the Evil One is a party to this, “he thundered. “But the greater fault lies with us. We’re the ones who have forsaken the ways of the Prince. It is we who have been unfaithful in our care for the garden. We’re the ones who have damaged the wall and invited this wickedness in. It is no wonder that our world has become as it is. Truly, it is mostly our fault!”
Many of the husbandmen now looked nervously at the ground, not sure they liked where this was heading. Several looked back to Mr. Moody, hoping he would speak up and take back the discussion.
“But all is not lost!” Edwards continued. “For the Prince has promised that if we will humble ourselves and repent and give up our evil ways, that He will forgive us and the Helper will step in and heal the vineyard. We can, by the Helper’s hand, rebuild the walls. We can pluck up the weeds. We can and shall repel our enemies. Remember, the Prince, not the Evil One, holds the deed to this land. The Son has crushed Him before; He will do so again. Only now it is His delight to have us, His brethren, join Him in the battle!” Mr. Edwards then closed his impassioned speech with a great cry, “TO OUR KNEES—AND THEN TO THE WALLS!”
No sooner had Mr. Edwards uttered these words than a great missile landed in the midst of the gathered gardeners. Seeing the wave of fear rippling through the crowd, Mr. Moody stepped back to the microphone. “Take courage my friends! The Prince will soon come to save us. These are but the birth pangs; the sign that the end of all things is at hand.”
As the panicking crowd dispersed to their homes, Moody shouted one last word of encouragement. “I’ll see you here, there…or in the air.”
There were only a few left to notice as Edwards turned to face the tower that stood atop the great hill. “One step forward…and three steps back,” he said softly, as if to himself. And then louder, his voice echoing throughout the valley, “Another trip around the mountain, eh Lord?”
An explosion from just on the other side of the damaged wall cut him off.