Jan. 30, 2018

So the last shall be first, and the first last.

Matthew 20:1-28 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. 10 When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go, but 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 what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last.”

17 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”

24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”


Who of us could say that in the natural realm we would not respond as those in the parable who worked 12 times longer than the others, but received the same? We need to understand that Jesus is not making a statement here about social justice or equality. Jesus says:   “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”  So this is a kingdom principle which Jesus is teaching by this natural illustration. It’s not about the money. It’s about the kindness, the generosity, and even the persistence of the Father. The landowner continued to go back to find more men to hire. Do you think that in the ninth and eleventh hour he was really concerned with how much work was getting done? Does it not seem like his true motive was to bless those men? For those who have followed Jesus and served God for a long time, it is important that we never allow ourselves to have the attitude of the first workers regarding the way God blesses those who have just come recently. There are times when we may have been serving faithfully for many years and still are waiting to receive what God promised us. When we see someone who has done little or nothing receive what we were promised, it’s hard not to grumble or complain. We need to guard against being envious of the generosity, the kindness and the compassion of God toward others.  

We need to realize, like the laborers, that God promises to supply all that we need. The blessings of God are not granted on a basis of merit. They are not given according to who has earned them. The blessings of God are given to people by grace, according to His love and compassion. Jesus says: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)   We should not ask or hope that others get only what they deserve or that may be the measure of the blessings we receive. Romans 12:15-16 says:   Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.    We should celebrate the kindness and compassion of God, even when it is poured out to those who seem undeserving. It is vital that we always remember what God has done for us. The psalmist saysI lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. (Psalm 3:5) In Psalm 34:1, he saysI will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.    Each day when we awake we should thank the Lord for His mercy and grace; that we are given a new day. At the end of each day we should thank Him, both that He has sustained us and for the multitude of blessings we have received. Each day we should focus on what God wants and what He wants for us for that day. When the nation of Israel was in the wilderness, they had to seek and receive the Lord provision each day through the manna He provided. That’s what Jesus meant for us when He taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”   We should look to the Lord each day for what He has for us that day. At the end of each day we should thank Him for all that He has done.

There is another principle of the kingdom which we will benefit from if we faithfully and thankfully serve the Lord. In Matthew 25, in the parable of the talents, Jesus tells of the reward to those who are faithful with what God has given them. In verse 29, He says:  “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.”  This might not seem right in our culture of social justice and equality. But, to each one, regardless of what they were given, who worked faithfully to serve the master, it was said:  Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”   God wants us to be faithful with and neither despise; nor hold onto the little things He gives us and blesses us with. If we are faithful with what He has given we will receive more.  In yesterday’s text, in Matthew 19:14 Jesus said:  “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  We are to be like children concerning the kingdom of God. We sometimes become concerned with and focused on things that are going on, or things that might happen down the road. A child views each day with excitement and anticipation. When we walk down a path with a child we may be so focused on what’s ahead, what’s behind or what problem we might encounter, that we miss the treasures that a child sees; the shiny rock, the tiny flower, the beautiful butterfly.

Jesus doesn’t say it here in today’s text. But I don’t think we need to imagine what would have happened if those who were hired in the eleventh hour returned again the next day at that same time, presuming they would again receive the kindness and generosity of the master. We should never presume on God’s grace, as if He owes us anything. Instead we should, like a child view each day with eager anticipation. We should be thankful for all that we are given and we should rejoice when others are blessed.

Thank You heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ and precious Holy Spirit. Thank You that day by day, morning and evening, You sustain me. Give me today my daily bread and I will receive it with thanksgiving. May I have the faith and the anticipation of a child, seeing all that You have given me this day. May I be faithful with all that You have given, both big and small, and may I rejoice and never grumble when You bless others.    Amen.