Matthew 19:30-20:28
Key Verse 20:6-7

“About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. ‘He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”’”

A rich young man came to Jesus with a serious question about salvation. He asked Jesus one of the most important questions of life: “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus could have said to him: “You should know that there is nothing you could do to earn salvation, or to get eternal life, or to enter heaven.” Jesus could have said that to him, but he didn’t! The man had such a wrong idea about God and the way that one can be salved, that no matter what Jesus had said to him, he wasn’t going to like the answer. However, for anyone who wants to know how to receive eternal life, this is what Jesus had been saying all along: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) People make the wrong choices in life all the time. But there are some choices in life which you and I cannot afford to foul up. Believing the gospel of our Lord is one of them. Trusting God’s sovereignty in our lives is another. The rich young man who asked Jesus that question made a bad choice when he chose not to believe. When the disciples witnessed the terrible choice this young man made, they were stunned. They were equally stunned when Jesus declared that heaven has no room for those who choose money over God. The disciples had not chosen money over God. Actually they chose to give up everything to follow Jesus. Yet, they had a problem too, which is where our passage today comes in! Their problem was that they boasted in all the sacrifices they had made in following Jesus. Now Jesus didn’t discredit what sacrifices they had made in following him. But Jesus did tell them a parable to teach them something very important. The sacrifices we make for Jesus’ sake are never for the sake of getting some reward or salvation credits. Rather, the sacrifices we make should always be our response to the infinite grace of God poured out on us.

In response to Jesus’ teachings— actually any teaching— we should always make the good and right choices in our lives based on his words. So Jesus ended the teaching about the rich young man with these words: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (19:30) First of all, this is not a joke. It’s the truth! And there are so many things to learn from it. But in essence Jesus was still talking about the sacrifices one makes for Jesus and his kingdom! Giving up everything to follow Jesus isn’t exactly a choice one makes if he or she were only interested in making it in this world. Actually to become first in this world, you have to grab things for yourself instead of giving of yourself; you have to pile up treasures instead of sacrificing them. But Jesus said that in God’s kingdom, the standard is different! In his kingdom, if you want to get to the front one of the line, you have to make a choice to stay in the back; and if you want to get to the top, you have to make a choice to remain on the bottom; and if you want to become first, you will have to decide to be last; and if you really want God to recognize you, you will have to serve in the background; and if you want to receive a heavenly rewards, you have to sacrifice everything. That’s a hard pill to swallow! But it’s the truth! No one can force you to serve, and no one can force you to sacrifice anything either. These things can only be done by those who know God’s grace to them. And those who know God’s grace also know how to make good and right choices in their lives. And these choices that you make would not only impact your own life, but also the lives of everyone around you. Even among believers there are those whose bad choices end up causing misery to others. And then of course, there are those whose choices bear good fruit, because they choose to learn from Jesus.

When Jesus finished his revolutionary teaching about who’s first and who’s last, he went on to tell them another parable. He wanted to give his disciples a glimpse into his kingdom. He mainly wanted to teach them the grace of God— the God who brought them into his kingdom only by his grace! But for them (or anyone for that matter) to understand this kind of grace, they would first have to realize something! They should understand how wretched they were without God’s grace. Only when a person understands how wretched and unworthy they are, can they really understand how great is God’s grace to them— the grace that God should even call them and bless them in spite of their unworthiness. If they would only understand and acknowledge this grace, then they’d be able to make the right choices in life— such as choices to work for God or to serve him; as well as choices to stop complaining; and of course choices to accept discipline and to grow in their inner person through what Jesus had been teaching them all along— to serve and to sacrifice as he serves and sacrifices. And then and only then these disciples would be able to be what every Christian wants to be— to be great in his kingdom.

Read verse 1. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.” Jesus is comparing heaven to a vineyard and God to a Landowner. And he also compares his disciples of all time to those whom God hired to work in his vineyard. And all this tells us a lot about God. God, the landowner isn’t arrogant or proud like worldly landowners who build up their business empires from behind a desk and command others to do the work for them. The landlord God gets involved with those who work for him. He goes out early morning and seeks them out to hire them for work. Who are they? It may be that they are all the sinners of the world who have been left out of his kingdom. No one cared to hire them and they didn’t know where to look for a job. But God the landowner deeply cares for them. He goes out looking for them. He finds them in the dark street corners of life waiting to do something with their lives. He finds them and then brings them into his kingdom. Sin has kept all people outside the kingdom of God. And it is hopeless for sinners themselves to come to God. But this gracious landowner went out looking for those who couldn’t find him. He found them and hired them and brought into his kingdom.

This parable, however, isn’t only for one specific generation. It is a living parable being acted out by God day after day, generation upon generation. The truth of the parable is that most people don’t seem to be looking for God at all. They’re actually numb by the power of sin and so they don’t know their own spiritual condition. Some of them don’t even believe they have a soul to worry about! They live and work and eat and sleep and get up to do the same thing over and over. Spiritually speaking then, they have no idea what they’re missing. They’re hanging out on the dark street corners of life without a job with no one to bring them into the kingdom. They’re spiritually jobless— spiritually unemployed. Most will live out their spiritual lives on a street corner waiting, not knowing what they are waiting for. Without life direction nor meaning they have no one to show them the way to God’s vineyard or that there’s a vineyard to work in. But God, who sacrificed his Son for the sins of the world, goes out every day looking for these people to offer them spiritual employment! He goes out searching in order to give meaning and purpose to their otherwise desolate lives. He invites them to believe in his Son. He invites them to come to his kingdom. That’s the reality! He invites them to work in his vineyard. This is what God’s great mercy is all about! He never stops inviting the lost to come out from the dark scary and dangerous street corners of life and to enter the bright holy kingdom of God to serve his purpose.

Actually, when the landowner went out to hire workers, he really didn’t need them to work for him. The truth is that they needed him, because they had been left out! Because they had no one to hire them! Because they desperately needed God to help them! And God’s grace in finding them in their time of need reminds us of God’s word in Isaiah: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isa. 55:1) This is what we call undeserved grace of God to unworthy and jobless people who really need God’s grace. And sadly, most don’t know of this grace of God to them. And it’s not just the unbelieving and lost who fit this description. Many times Jesus’ own people who are already citizens of the kingdom think that they had been invited because they are special in some way, or because of some special quality they have. Other believers seem to have absolutely no idea why we were even invited to God’s kingdom in the first place. We think we were privileged above others because of some qualification. But when you’ve heard this parable even once, you’d realize that it was only God’s grace that found us and invited us to his kingdom. Why did God invite us? To work in his vineyard! Not because he needed us, but because we needed him. How beautiful then is God’s merciful heart that he personally went out one day in order to invite us to work for him. How can anyone ignore such grace! Yet people do all the time.

Read verse 2. “He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” He didn’t pay them ahead of time. Instead he promised to pay their wages at the end of the day. But here’s what the Bible tells us about what our true and actual wages are! From the start, everyone alive has lived in hostility with God. People love their darkness and their sins a lot more than they care about God and so they live apart from God and die apart from him. If God had to weigh the wages of each of our lives, the wages would be terrible. Every one of us would deserve his condemnation because the wages of our sins is death. To be honest, then, the fair wages for each person is condemnation. If God was to give each person— even the good ones— their true wages, the outcome would be horrific. But this story speaks of God’s grace. God who went out every morning to hire workers should distribute condemnation since none is worthy of work in his kingdom. But he didn’t do that. He went out and called people to work in his kingdom. And if that’s not enough grace, God also promised undeserved wages. It is amazing that God in his mercy even offered to pay us wages. We should be thankful only to be brought in out of the dark streets of life. But God promised us wages! What kind of wages? In the parable it’s a denarius. But we cannot deny that the wages are God’s mercy. How then would they receive their wages? First they would have to accept the undeserved invitation, which means that they would accept God’s grace by faith. And once they had come into God’s vineyard by faith, God guarantees the wages, whatever they are. Those who have already believed in Christ, have already been blessed with the wages of eternal life and the kingdom of God. Whatever other wages there may be at the end of the day is still in God’s gracious treasure of blessings! There is nothing that you can receive in life more precious than God’s promise to bless those who receive his invitation by faith and begin serving his kingdom. In this parable, we see that some workers complained about their wages. But that’s terrible ingratitude for a loving God who has sacrificed his Son to bring us out of darkness into his light! How can anyone ask for more?

Read verses 3-7. “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. ‘He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’” ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. ‘He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.” A true picture of our world! People employed physically, but so few employed spiritually! And there are so many Christians who fit this category. Many Christians are heavily involved in their worldly life’s affairs, either doing little or nothing for the work of God. They believe and have eternal life. But God’s work is never important nor a priority. It’s like they’re hired by God and then go lie down in some corner of the vineyard doing their own thing. Everyone who does this will have to give an account of why they refused or ignored the work God gave them to do! Look at verses 6,7 again. God asks every human being, especially his own people why he or she are standing around doing nothing! If you claim to be a servant of God and work his vineyard, you have a responsibility to fulfill and choices to make. Our main work is to share the gospel of God’s grace to anyone who would listen. We invite people to the kingdom. But it’s also their choice what to do with this invitation. Life is full of choices. And as we already said, your choices affect your life and the lives of others.

Read verses 8-12. As we said, the wages should be death. But the owner is gracious, he promised a denarius. What he promised he fulfilled. He gave every one what he had promised. But those who had worked longer and harder complained. He wasn’t fair, they said giving the same reward to those who didn’t start working till late in the day. But the truth is that the promised wage aren’t really wages but more like an undeserved gift. And the gift didn’t come at a cheap price. Look at verses 17-19. The gift God promised to give would cost his Son Jesus his very life, his blood poured out on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. It was really a very costly gift. What more could the landowner give! But some claimed it wasn’t fare. How ridiculous it is to mindlessly complain at the throne of God’s grace. They started out with nothing. They were left at a street corner and would have perished in the streets. But somehow they were offended at the owner’s generosity. Actually they were offended because they lost sight of the grace of God in their own lives. They forgot who they were and what God had done for them. So they became ungrateful. Otherwise they would never have demanded more than what God had already given! Anytime we complain about anything in our lives, it may be that we have lost sight of God’s grace to us. Instead of complaining, even if we’re used or abused, suffer little or much, be insulted or commended, whatever is given us in life, we must say “Thank you Lord for everything. Thank you that when I deserved nothing, you gave me Christ and faith in him.”

This parable speaks to every one still on the street corner of life or even within the kingdom gate. It speaks of God’s grace who has hired us to serve his glory. And it speaks to us to give ourselves freely in service to him who gave himself freely for our salvation. It’s a choice we make in our life. It’s a choice we sometimes forget and must renew in our lives as well. But we should always make a choice to serve God rather than ourselves. If we think we’re too busy or too cynical to serve God, we really should repent and make a choice to serve God’s purpose in full gratitude. Even as a ministry we should decide to renew our purpose to be a house of prayer for all nations, and a world mission center— calling young people to come into God’s kingdom, serving them with the word of God, praying for them to grow in Christ’s image, and helping them to make the right choices in Christ.

Look at verses 20-28. The story of two disciples John and James who completely missed the point of the parable! Jesus was talking about sacrifice and servantship in the kingdom. He was talking about undeserved grace. About his suffering and death to bring sinners into God’s kingdom! But these two only thought about how to receive extra spiritual benefit. They wanted recognition. They wanted more than what the other disciples would get. How can two of Jesus’ top disciples behave so selfishly and un-spiritually? Jesus did not deplore their desire for greatness. He only deplored the way they went about to get it. But Jesus taught that you can achieve greatness only when you make a choice to imitate Jesus in servantship and in sacrifice. There is no other way around this teaching! This is one of fundamental gospel teachings. Serving and sacrificing everything in serving God’s purpose is basic. You and I should always choose to do so. We should choose to work for God. We should choose to not ever complain. We should choose to say thank you Lord for the grace I don’t deserve. We should choose to invite others into the kingdom. God bless you to make the right choices in your life from every day.

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