The 7th Sunday After Pentecost July 7, 2013
17, 382, 374, 500
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius 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 to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle,and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
“It’s not fair!” complained John’s sister. “How come he gets just as much as I do when he only did half as much work as I did? It’s not fair!” Sound familiar? Children learn to expect rewards for their good behavior, don’t they? They learn to compare their work and reward with the work and reward of others. We can understand this. That’s how the reward-for-works system goes, doesn’t it? So we can appreciate Peter’s problem too.
In the scene just before our text, a rich man wanted to hold on to his earthly riches rather than to follow Jesus. Our Lord answered that it is impossible for any person to save himself, especially the rich, who would rather hold on to their riches than hold on to Christ. So then Peter asked: “Lord, we have left everything to follow You! What therefore shall we have?” Jesus’ answer is wonderful: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:28-29).
Now, this is just what Peter wanted to hear! The apostles had sacrificed much more than others. They ought to receive a greater reward in return, don’t you think? Not quite! Jesus is not finished. He adds these important words: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30). Why did our Lord have to go and complicate things by adding this statement? He said this because His followers are always in danger of forgetting the chief principle of His spiritual kingdom: “ALL WE SHALL HAVE IS BY GRACE ALONE!”
The first point put forth in this parable is that we have been called by grace into His kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a vineyard of God’s grace in Isaiah chapter 5. God’s kingdom is planted and worked by His good will alone. He alone seeks workers for His vineyard; they do not seek Him. He “went out early in the morning”of this New Testament age in which we live. He “hired” the apostles to work in the vineyard of His Church very early in the New Testament day. [v.1]
The landowner in the parable offered to pay these first workers a denarius for the entire day, and the workers agreed. So also those first disciples went out and bore “the heat of the day,” agreeing that the Lord’s promise of eternal life was sufficient reward. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter had said, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
But the Lord in His grace has called other workers besides these, whenever He has desired. As our New Testament day has continued for nearly 2013 years, we have not sought Jesus. He has sought us. What were we doing before He called us by the Gospel? Everyone of us was “standing idle” in the market place of this world—standing around, doing nothing of any value whatever to earn salvation before God!
Some of us were “hired” for kingdom work in the early morning hours of our infancy when we were baptized. Others of us have been “hired” by our Lord by the working of faith in Christ at various stages of our lives. Some have been brought into the kingdom in the evening hours of our earthly day, just before death. We call these people “eleventh hour converts.” Yet we all share two things in common with those first disciples of Jesus:
Like the landowner in the parable, our Lord has promised to pay us also! “Whoever lives and believes in Me,”Jesus says, “shall never die” (John 11:26). And again: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Because of such gracious promises from God we have entered into His vineyard of grace and shall stand in His heavenly glory!
But for now—in this life—we have been called to work! The calling which is by grace creates life. When God created the physical world He made trees and stones. Stones lie around all day. They don’t know what to do with the sun and the rain. A stone repels the sun’s rays and the rain rolls off. But trees receive both the sun and the rain, and they put them to good use. Trees grow and bear fruit. The call of grace in God’s spiritual kingdom does not create lifeless stones, but “living stones” (cf. 1Peter 2:5), not dead fruitless trees, but fruit-bearing branches of Christ (cf. John 15:5). As Ephesians 2:10 says: “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”
James writes in his epistle that true and living faith works (James 2:14 ff.). Paul says this faith works “by love” (Galatians 5:6). He says: “Bring up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord!” (Ephesians 6:4)… “Give as the Lord has prospered you!”(1Corinthians 16:2)… “Bear one another’s burdens!”(Galatians 6:2)… “Do good to all men!” (Galatians 6:10)… “Pray for all men!” (1 Timothy 2:1)… “Preach the Word when it is convenient and when it is not!”(1 Timothy 4:2).
Jesus says: “Go…preach the Gospel!” (Mark 16:15)… “Confess Me before men!” (Matthew 10:32)… “Take up your cross and follow Me!” (Matthew 16:24 ff.)… “Be faithful!”(Revelation 2:10). Surely we have been called to work as Christ-believers in the kingdom of God’s grace!
Obviously, we must work “while it is day”—during our lifetimes—“before the night comes when no one can work” (John 9:4). For some of us the day-life of our kingdom-labors will be long—as many as 50, 60, or maybe 90 years of loving, giving and doing for Christ’s sake. Along with these years will come physical suffering, persecution, and self-sacrifice. Others converted to Christ and “hired on” to work in the kingdom later in life, or even very late, will have it easier. Standing idle in the world without Christ for 20, 40, or 80 years, these folks may not have suffered as much in the Kingdom of Heaven, or done as much as others who “have born the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” [v.12]
Yet, the eternal “wages” are still by grace, not work! This is the main point of this parable and the chief operating-principle in God’s kingdom. “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.” [v.8]
These words should be a wonderful encouragement to all who have come to faith in Christ later in life, who have little time left to work before they are called to Heaven. They ought to be greatly encouraged to serve with strong zeal during their remaining earthly days, since they are promised the same eternal life as those who have served far longer!
But what if some of us have born “the burden of the work and the heat of the day,”like the all-day workers in the parable? Shall we grumble against God because those who are late to serve Him receive the same eternal life as we who have served longer? Shall we complain as did the prophet Jonah when he was informed by God that some from the wicked city of Nineveh would yet receive eternal life with Jonah? Are there people who have lived such terribly sinful lives compared to ours that we really don’t want God to bring them to faith in Christ so that they may also live in Heaven? What about those thieves and even murderers who are brought to faith very late in life—like the evil-doer who was crucified with Jesus?
If we are not willing to be “made equal” in heavenly joys with the repentant adulterer, mass murderer, or the thief on the cross, then we may lose our own position in the kingdom of grace! For then we may not know or trust in the grace of God that has also saved us through Christ. So Jesus warns in our text that “the last will be first, and the first will be last!” [v.16]
But what joy and blessing is ours from this parable if we understand and recall the gracious and generous ways of our God. God’s grace found everyone of us equally wretched and undeserving of His salvation in Christ. That same grace makes us all equal in terms of our eternal reward. How can it be otherwise in His kingdom of grace? Nothing can be earned in this kingdom! No one can say, “This much is rightfully owed to me for my service.” All things belong to God who gives according to His own good pleasure. He gives generously and freely, because of the work of His own Son.
Therefore, whether we are among the original apostles of our Lord or mere disciples of Christ 2,000 years later; whether we are among the martyrs who shed their blood for Christ or those who die an easy death in Christ; whether we have been a long time or a short time working in our Lord’s vineyard, none of us shall have less of Christ and Heaven than any other believing Christian. Our Lord gives the same reward to all of His blessed workers. For as Jesus clearly teaches in this parable, ALL WE SHALL HAVE IS BY GRACE ALONE. Thanks be to God alone! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.