Vol. 10 — No. 30 July 27, 1969
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, that lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny, But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us? which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
Fellow Redeemed, who are connected with Christ by the grace of God:
The rich young ruler wanted to follow Christ; but when he found out what it would cost him, he turned away in sorrow, for he loved his property. Then Peter spoke up and reminded Jesus that he and the other disciples had virtually done what Jesus requested of the rich young ruler. And that was true. They had forsaken all. And Peter asked the question: “What shall we have therefore?” “Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee.” Jesus gave Peter a straightforward and gracious answer: “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” Matt. 19:28f.
An hundredfold—did you hear it?—an hundredfold plus everlasting life! For every thing that you have forsaken because you are a child of God you shall receive a hundred times as much. For every friend you have turned away from in order to remain a child of God you shall receive an hundred in return. You may have paid the high price of the friendship and good will of a father or a mother or of a son or a daughter—but what of it? you shall receive an hundredfold in return. You think you have made a sacrifice for the church of God in your midst? You shall have hundred times the return. Have you lost something in a business way because you wanted to fear God and follow His Son with a good conscience? You shall be an hundred times wealthier than if you had made the ill-gotten gain. Has the devil sometimes made you wonder if it pays to be honest as though you stood in the presence of Christ every moment? Throw back at the devil of temptation this promise of a hundredfold reward, and watch him flee from you in defeat before the sure Word of God! And don’t let Satan confuse you with the question “What good do you get out of being a Christian?” Hurl back at him this promise of the Savior’s lips, and throw it plenty hard! “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” I Tim. 4:8. “What do we get out of it?” you ask with Peter. What shall we get for being Christian? Does it pay? Is it worthwhile to pay for the preaching of the gospel and for the services of the church? Does it pay to spend effort to further the work of the church? Does it pay to conduct a Christian school, since we have to pay taxes for the world’s schools anyway? Can you get ahead by giving to missions, by supporting charities, and by taking part in all that is required of one’s position in the Christian congregation? Does it pay? Listen! Did you ever receive a return of ten thousand per cent on any other investment? Then quit asking whether it pays to do your duty as a Christian, for on top of the hundredfold return Christ has promised he adds the bonus of everlasting life.
But when there is talk of how it pays to follow Christ, then there is a great danger in asking that question. There was danger in the question Peter asked after he had reminded the Lord that he and the disciples had forsaken all and followed Jesus. That question may be asked out of a work-righteous motive. People may begin to think that they earn something at the hands of God. They may begin to expect this reward and this eternal life because of what they have done, and because they have refrained from doing many evil things. They may expect it because of the many things they have suffered: sickness for a lifetime; poverty and hardship; persecution; or because of what they have done: prayed much, feared much that they would be lost, and shed many tears of repentance. Oh, man can find so many, so many things that he may use as a basis for making demands upon God. Yes, there is danger in the question: What do we get out of being Christians?
Jesus told a parable to teach that in the kingdom of God all pay, all reward, all eternal life and blessing is on the basis of grace, and not of works. It is a free gift, not a due pay. And let us be glad that God’s rewards are on the basis of grace; it would be a sad day indeed when God gave us what we have earned.
Early in the morning a man went out to hire laborers, and they agreed on one denarius, called penny in our text, a day—looked upon as generous wages because of its purchasing power at that time, although in our time it is reckoned as being worth about seventeen cents. At nine o’clock he hired some more; at twelve still more, and likewise at three in the afternoon. Then he went out when there was only one more hour to work, and he hired men for what was right. When the day was done, the paymaster was instructed to settle with the laborers. And he was instructed to pay every man alike, whether he had gone through the burden of the day, or whether he had come to work in the eleventh hour. UNFAIR you would say! Of course it would be unfair in the work of the world. But Jesus is telling us that this is the way it is in the work of the kingdom of God! The pay is not according to what is earned. The free gift is according to the grace of God. Before God none of us will ever be able to say that he has earned anything. St. Paul by holy inspiration tells the Corinthians that they are not to he puffed up one against the other, and he asks the question: “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what has thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou didst not receive it?”—that is, why do you boast as though you earned it? Such is the lesson of the parable Jesus told. Everything is on the basis of unmerited grace, and not on the basis of works.
Don’t you see now—that is why the Christian can he so bold, so confident, and so sure of his deliverance from all evil? The end and issue of all things are not in his hands. For the Christian, all things are settled in heaven; the victory over sin is not his battle, but it is the battle already won by the strong Son of God; the righteousness in which he is to stand perfect and holy before his Maker is not the righteousness that he has been able to earn, but it is the cloak of righteousness which Christ handed down from heaven; the Christian’s salvation does not depend upon how good he has been able to be, as so many fondly think, but it depends upon the goodness which Christ has performed in his stead and as his substitute. “The wages of sin is death.” You could say, the wages of the sinner is death; “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 6:23.
Mind you, this free gift was given to us, not when we were striving to please God, but when we were enemies of his, hating him, and striving against him. Scripture says that “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved), and hath raised us up together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Eph. 2:4ff.
But man does not want to look upon God as the free giver of salvation. When he thinks that God is gracious,—what does the average person mean? He means something like this: The grace of God means that God is the one who comes and helps us when we get into really great trouble, when we are not just sure what to do for ourselves. By his forgiveness God sets right, or at least closes his eyes to, whatever wrong We have done. God is a lenient Judge; he understands our weaknesses and he knows the limits of our abilities, and beyond a certain point he does not require more of us than that we do the best we can. If we live right, clean, honestly, and do the best we can, God will let us go at that.
But that is not the grace of God! God does not say that we are to do the best we can, and that whatever we fail to do, He will forgive. If that is your idea of salvation and of the grace of God, you have yet to learn the truth. God says: “Be ye perfect!” His law says that he who is not perfect shall be damned! But then God give you perfection—by substitution.! That is the grace of God! Where the law demands perfection, God, in Christ, gives you perfection! He doesn’t ask you to just do the best you can. He tells you that the best you can do is rotten, and that it stinks before His holy justice; and He invites you to take what He has given you, and you can stand in His righteousness for all eternity. Take His Christ. Take Christ’s righteousness. Take his death to be your death. And take his resurrection to be you resurrection. In other words, get connected with Chirst! He is God’s free gift for you!
Take an example of how this grace works out and justifies us before God. Say, for instance, that our sins are like our debts that each of us here today owes. If someone should step in and say, “Pay what you owe today, or die,” there would be only death for the debtors. But then suppose this most fantastic thing happened, that a multi-millionaire, with a heart as big as his wealthy should come and ask each of us for a list of every debt that we owe. Then suppose that he paid it and receipted every bill. We would he paid, wouldn’t we? We would not have to go on and do the best we could to pay our debts, would we? And we would not have to pay those debts again, would we? That is the grace of God!
We cannot say that we deserve that some multi-millionaire come and do these things for us, can we? And yet God did it. That is His grace.
But if someone would refuse to have his debts paid—even though it be because of his own personal pride—he could blame no one but himself, if he died a debtor. So also—that some prefer to earn their own salvation and fail—is not the fault of God. His grace was sufficient for all.
Oh, what a comforting doctrine! It puts us on God’s side! It puts us on the side that has already won the victory—the victory which was won on Calvary and confirmed on Easter morning. Do you feel better when you know that God has placed you on His side? Is the daily round of life really going to worry you then, even if that daily round is a mighty hard one, even if it has a heavy cross, and is full of hardship and difficulty?
And so you say: “Even if the grace of God puts us on the side that has already won, you mean to tell us that to own God’s grace still calls for work?” To be sure, it calls for work. It calls for hard work. It calls for striving, for vigorous exertion, for full dedication of the task of running the race, for fighting the fight of faith, for putting on the whole armor of God. It is no lazy man’s business to he a Christian. For to work the works of God, says Jesus, is to believe on him whom God has sent. To work the works of God is to grow up into Christ, to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.
A Christian’s daily work is the work of daily repentance. And it is no lazy man’s work to submerge all other sorrows and troubles to the sorrow for having sinned against God. The unconverted has many sorrows, but he has not the sadness of being without God, and without hope in the world. But when one works the works of God, all other problems become minor; and the chief sadness of one who believes is his guilt before God. He has the task of believing that, although he condemns himself, God will not condemn him. Can any man of his own reason and strength believe this? He can’t. Then how can a man believe that he is not condemned? Because to believe is a gift of God. Even this is a product of God’s grace.
But from that point on there is work for the believing Christian. He knows that the grace of God is not like a fire-insurance policy which you can put in a drawer and forget about it, and after the fire it is still as good as before. The Christian knows that the grace of God is wasted upon a sinner unless he allows that grace of God to come to fruit in his daily life. It must become a living power, or it is a dead thing. It becomes but a form of godliness without the power. “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification and belief of the truth.” And is the sinner able to bear the fruits? No, the fruits are the gift of God’s grace too. Were he left to himself to bear fruits, he would despair; but when he is connected with the power of God, they burst forth freely. And thus little by little the Christian learns more and more to cast himself upon God’s grace for everything, absolutely everything. There is no more talk about what he can do; there is no more talk of his doing the best he can and depending upon that; there is no talk of self-righteousness and merit, but only of confession of sin and depending upon God for his free salvation in Christ. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.