Sunday, July 26, 2009

Understanding Grace – The Vineyard Workers

Matthew 20: 1-16

With God All Things Are Possible

 Matthew 19
23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"
26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

[Remember after Jesus encounter with the rich young ruler, his disciples wondered "who can be saved". They rich young ruler had everything but eternal life, yet he could not acquire life because he trusted in his wealth and his moral lifestyle. He was unwilling to empty himself and trust only in Christ. Because salvation is by grace, anyone can be saved, but not everyone will be saved.]

27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?"
28 So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[k] or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

[Peter is reasoning here that the rich young ruler would not enter the kingdom of God because he was not willing to give up his wealth. So he takes this moment to remind Jesus that his disciples had left everything to follow him, and asks "what is our reward?" Peter here experiences a very common confusion regarding salvation, and the reward for righteous service. Jesus responds here and in the next chapter by reassuring Peter that his sacrificial service would be rewarded, but also teaches a parable to clarify that salvation and eternal life is the reward we will share with all believers, regardless of our level of service. If you read this same account in Mark 10 it is even more clear on this point:

Mark 10: 29 So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.

Jesus told Peter that "now in this time" he would receive 100 fold houses and lands and family. Now the prosperity heretics love this promise as evidence that Jesus wants to make you rich, but Peter was never rich in the worldly sense. What Peter received was 100's of Christian family's he led to Christ and who's churches he founded. And 100's of houses that he stayed in as an honored guest as he traveled preaching the gospel. And of course with those rewards he also endured persecutions, just as Jesus predicted. But in the "age to come", in the resurrection, he would receive the gift of eternal life.

Ephesians 2:8-9 

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

So Jesus continues his lesson on grace with the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20]

Matthew 20

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

 1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

[So a landowner went out early in the morning probably just after 6 am to find day laborers to work in his field. So he went to the market where the gathered and hired all that were there for the standard rate of one silver coin, one denarius. For that price they would work 10 or more hours doing whatever it is that vineyard workers do.]

3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went.

[About 9 am the same landowner went back to the market place and found more workers. They had not arrived early enough to put in a full day's work. So instead of the standard rate the landowner promises only to pay them "whatever is right". Trusting only in the landowners sense fairness they went to work.]

5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.

[Twice more the landowner went out at noon and again at 3 pm, hiring laborers for less than a day and compensating them according to his own judgment.]

6 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?' 7 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.'
[Finally at 5 pm just one hour before the end of the work day the landowner returns to the marketplace and finds others standing idle, having not worked at all that day. It's interesting the reason they give for standing idle, is that "no one hired" them. But where were they when the owner came calling the 4 previous times that day? Were they idle because no one hired them, or did no one hire them because they were idle?

Proverbs 10:4 He who has a slack hand becomes poor,
      But the hand of the diligent makes rich.


Regardless of the reason for their idleness they are hired for the last hour of the day under the same terms, as all but the first group.]

8 "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.'

9 And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.

[At the end of the day when the work is done, the owner tells the steward to pay the workers beginning with the ones hired at the 11th hour. Surprising all the workers waiting to be paid, the steward paid them a whole days wage for 1 hour work. Though not detailed in the parable it seems that all those hired for a partial day, received the same denarius for their wages.]

10 But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 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.'

[Now it's been several years since I punched a time clock. The government exempts computer programmers from overtime laws, so I get paid the same for working 100 hours as I get for 30 hours. It's called being on salary. But I think we can understand the thinking of these last day laborers. They have seen the steward being very generous with those who labored for part of the day, but then they receive the same customary pay, of one denarius for a full day of work. So they complain to the owner because they were thinking they might get more.]

13 But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."

[The owner remained calm, reminding the worker that he received the agreed upon wages. The owner had lived up their verbal contract. But the others workers did not have an explicit contract. They were simply trusting in the goodness of the land owner. To them the owner explained he gave a gift. It was his to give, and he gave each worker a full day's wage. Finally the owner concludes with a question, how can you see evil in that?

Then Jesus said the last will be first, and the first will be last for many are called, but few are chosen. The moral of the story is that heaven is the reward for service, the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, when he died for the sins of the world. And like the land owner he gives a full reward to whomever he wills, simply because it is his to give.

Revelation 3: 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Those who receive the gift of eternal life, receive a gift of grace. Additionally our reward for faithful service, are the souls of all those we help to find the way to the throne of grace. All who are witnesses to God's saving grace, enjoy the love and fellowship of his ever growing family. They very last soul to receive Christ before the rapture of the Church, will receive the same eternal reward in heaven, because of grace. This is the parable of the vineyard workers.]

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