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Expectation - Matthew 20_1-16

Notes & Transcripts

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

MATTHEW 20:1-16

How much of life do we spend thinking about what we deserve?

 

We tend to build an expectation for parts of our life.

- Because we did well on an exam you expect an A.

 

- Because you were able to save the company $10,000 because of an error you found you might expect a bonus.

 

- Because of your amazing talent and doing your job effectively you expect a promotion.

 

- Because you said something nice to your spouse you expect to pick her up of the floor.

We do this in relationships as well. 

- We expect because we are married and have pledged our love to each other that we would treat each other with respect and honor.

- We might expect consideration that if someone is running late they would call to let us know.

- You expect honesty and trust in your relationship.

There are lots of times when we have built up expectations for others performance, others actions, others words, or others feelings that there is no way for them to live up to those expectations.

 

They might not even know the expectations exist.

The question then goes to our expectations of God.

How many expectations have we placed in our lives that are related to God?

Do we expect that because we have lived our life a certain way that things are going to go better than they do for someone who has not lived their life very well?

Do we expect to be in a greater position of status amongst His kingdom because of our abilities or talents?

 

READ Matthew 20:1-16

 

EXPECTING WHAT IS PROMISED

What is promised is much more than what is deserved.

A denarius for the day, the wage of a Roman soldier, was good pay for such workers.

It is likely they were usually paid less, and they readily agreed to this man’s equitable offer.

Colossians 3:24-25 - From the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.  For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.

OUR EXPECTATIONS VS. OTHERS DECISIONS

The account does not mention the fact, but it is obvious from the eleventh-hour workers’ wages that the men hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours were also paid a denarius.

It is therefore understandable that when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more.

At this point they had no problem with what the owner had done but, in fact, were ecstatic.

Because he had paid the other men a full day’s wage for a partial day’s work, they assumed that they would receive more than a day’s wage.

At the rate the eleventh-hour group was paid, they would have received 12 day’s pay for one day’s work!

They were more than willing to be paid last if that meant being paid so handsomely.

 

But their hopes were soon dashed when they also received each one a denarius, and they reacted exactly as we would expect.

Their normal, very human reaction was, That’s not fair!

Those men only worked an hour at the end of the day.

We worked hard all day long, including during scorching heat.

Why should they get paid as much as we did?”

In any case, they were determined not to leave until they had satisfaction from the landowner, who was standing near his foreman when the wages were handed out.

We all have a way of completing this sentence:

“If God is God, then....”

There will be no financial collapse in my family.

My children will never be buried before me. People will treat me fairly.

This church will never divide.

My prayers will be answered.

(Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm)

And when these expectations go unmet doubt sets in. We tell God show me and I’ll believe, He says believe and I’ll show you.

When Jesus does not meet our expectations we end up going back to what is most important to us.

- For some it is sex.

We stop being moral people or we leave our marriages to get as many sexual encounters as we can.

- Others it is money.

God has failed so I will get as much money as I can.

- For some it is drinking or drugs, or some other addictive behavior.

 

Then we still go to church and still look the part but when Jesus does not do what we want Him to do we revert to our own personal agenda.

MATCHING EXPECTATIONS TO REALITY

When men doubt the justice and fairness of God, it is always because of their own twisted views of justice and of Him.

God Himself is the standard for righteousness, and it is as impossible for Him to be unjust as to lie.

In no area is God’s impartiality more significant and wonderful than in regard to salvation.

Romans 2:9-11 – Paul declares -  There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

No matter what men’s circumstances might be when they come to Christ, and no matter how well or poorly they may serve Him after coming, they receive the same glorious salvation.

It reminds me of a time that I went fishing with a guy I’ll call Jimmy. Now Jimmy is a straight out pre-Christian. (That is the new way of saying non-believer) He smokes, he drinks, he sleeps around, he cusses, and he even does drugs. His wife warned him that he was to do NONE of those things around me when we went fishing out of respect for me. Now, I was not expecting any certain type of behavior, I had no expectations on him at all. I just wanted to make a friendship, looking to win the right to share about Christ. The whole time we were fishing, he was miserable! I finally asked him what was wrong, and he explained the rules his wife had put on him for the fishing trip. I released him from that law- I explained to him that he was free to do what he wants, but there was consequences- not the least of which was the tongue lashing from his wife. But it also gave me the opportunity to share a small part of the Gospel message.

I went fishing with Jimmy, not to change his behavior, but to be his friend.

There were no conditions on my friendship, nothing he had to be or do.

All I wanted to do was to be his friend.

When Jesus came into this world, he came to seek and save that which was lost by offering us the free gift of his grace- with no conditions attached.

 

Boy did Jimmy light up with that first cigarette-he was enjoying freedom.

The conversation opened up to, not leading to his salvation on that Saturday, but leading at least to an open dialogue.

 

 

 

Dietrich Bonheoffer once asked this question of us, "Do we understand that instead we get a messiah who gives us power all right, but it’s a whole new kind of power, it’s THE POWER OF SUFFERING LOVE.

 

It’s a power that looks me in the eye, forgives my sin, my fear, my anger, my resentment, my prejudice.

 

It’s a power that didn’t assert itself over and against me, but died for me.

 

It’s a power that sets me free from all of that which is within me that dehumanizes me and others.

 

It’s a power that loosens my grip on all of my expectations and even allows me to see Christ’s face in the least and most lowly on this planet.

 

It’s a power that relates in grace, and invites me to join with him in being one of his special grace givers.

 

It’s a power that assures me I don’t need to be afraid of suffering, self-giving love, because it’s the only way I will ever fulfill my humanity, and find my purpose, and experience true joy and peace."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Equality in the Kingdom(19:30—20:16) 20

But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. And 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 too go into the vineyard, and whatever is fight 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; 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 too go into the vineyard.” And when evening had come, 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.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. And when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius. And when they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 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.” 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? Take what is yours and go your way, but 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 what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” Thus the last shall be first, and the first last. (19:30—20:16)

The prophet Ezekiel ministered to the children of Israel during the Babylonian Captivity. Like the other true prophets of God, he repeatedly had to remind them of and warn them about their sins, especially those for which they were exiled in the first place. One of those sins was that of accusing God of being unfair and unjust.

They liked to use the proverb, “The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge,” which brought into question God’s justice. “ ‘As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. Behold all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die’ ” (Ezek. 18:2–4). Twice in that chapter the Lord declares, “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?” (v.25; cf. v. 29).

When men doubt the justice and fairness of God, it is always because of their own perverted views of justice and of Him. God Himself is the standard for righteousness, and it is as impossible for Him to be unjust as to lie. Confronting the same false principle reflected in the ancient Israelite proverb, Paul declared, “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:9–11). To the Colossians he wrote, “From the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Col. 3:24–25). God punishes those who do wrong and blesses those who do right, with utter impartiality.

In no area is God’s impartiality more significant and wonderful than in regard to salvation. No matter what men’s circumstances might be when they come to Christ, and no matter how well or poorly they may serve Him after coming, they receive the same glorious salvation. That is the great truth Jesus teaches in Matthew 19:30—20:16.

The Participants in Kingdom Equality

But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. And 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 too go into the vineyard, and whatever is fight 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; 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 too go into the vineyard.” (19:30—20:7)

Jesus’ words, “Many who are first shall be last; and the last, first,” may have been a common proverb. But since He used it on several occasions and it is not found in other literature, it seems more likely that He originated the expression Himself.

In the parable that follows, Jesus illustrated His intended application of the proverb. He states plainly that the theme of the parable is the kingdom of heaven, the subject He had been dealing with since the rich young ruler approached Him. That man wanted to know how to receive eternal life (19:16), which every Jew knew was equivalent to the hope of salvation and heavenly citizenship. Following up on that incident, Jesus warned His disciples about the great barrier that riches can be to entering the kingdom, and then declared the impossibility of entering by man’s own resources and efforts and the possibility of entering only by God’s gracious power (vv. 23–29).

This parable teaches a magnificent and blessed truth about the kingdom of heaven, which, Jesus said, is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

He is giving an illustration of the spiritual realm where God sovereignly reigns in righteousness and grace, and in particular, an illustration of the equal and just basis on which it is entered through His grace. As He often did, He used a common earthly story to illustrate a heavenly truth.

The estate of the landowner included a large vineyard, for which he needed to hire laborers. It is not stated whether he was preparing a new vineyard, pruning the vines of an existing one, or getting ready to harvest the grapes. But all of those tasks required considerable hard labor.

Consequently, the grape harvest was a hectic and demanding time.

Because most owners did not have enough household servants or regular workers to do those jobs, temporary day laborers were hired from nearby towns and villages.

These laborers were usually unskilled at a trade and were near the bottom of the social-economic scale, many of them not far above beggars.

They worked from job to job, many of which lasted no more than a day, and often less. They had no guarantee of work beyond what they might be doing at the time. They would gather in the market place before dawn to be available for hiring, and that is where the landowner found these particular men early in the morning.

Because they were unskilled, desperate for work, and therefore vulnerable, they were often underpaid and otherwise disadvantaged.

In other words, they were to pay hired workers decent wages and pay them at the end of every day, because that was often all a man would have with which to feed his family the following day.

As Moses explains elsewhere, “You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he may not cry against you to the Lord and it become sin in you” (Deut. 24:15).

Because they worked only from day to day, they were to be paid day to day.

After he found them in the market place, the landowner agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, and he then sent them into his vineyard to begin work.

A denarius for the day, the wage of a Roman soldier, was good pay for such workers.

It is likely they were usually paid less, and they readily agreed to this man’s equitable offer.

The Jewish workday began at 6:00 a.m., which was called the first hour. When it was about the third hour, that is, nine o’clock, the owner went into town again and saw others standing idle in the market place.

These others may have been latecomers who had to travel a greater distance or perhaps were less able-bodied than the others and moved more slowly Or they may have had only a few hours’ work to do at the beginning of the day and were now back in the employment line.

In light of the owner’s generosity, it may have been that he had seen those men earlier in the morning but did not need them.

Perhaps he now came back out of compassion and hired them because of their need rather than his own. For whatever reasons, an additional group of laborers had gathered.

 

Standing idle does not signify laziness or indolence but merely points up the fact that they were unemployed at the time. They were entirely dependent on someone’s hiring them, and the fact that they were in the market place shows they were looking for work.

The owner did not offer a particular wage to these men but simply told them, “You too go into the vineyard, and whatever is fair I will give you.” As in all rural communities, everyone knew everyone else, and these workers no doubt trusted the owner as a man of his word. In any case, they were doubtlessly extremely glad to have work to do at any wage, and so they went.

At about the sixth hour (noon) and the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.) the landowner went back into the village and did the same thing. At each of those times he found more men hoping for work and hired them.

Then, near the very end of the day, at about the eleventh hour (5:00 p.m.), he went back still again and found others standing; and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day long?” No explanation is given as to why these men had been standing … idle all day long and yet not been hired. Perhaps they were in another section of the market or had somehow been overlooked. Or perhaps they were the oldest, weakest, and least productive workers, whom no one else wanted to hire. But those particulars are irrelevant to the parable. The point is that, even at that late hour, there were men still looking for work, because, as they explained, no one hired us.

This last group had worked only one hour (v. 12) when evening had come, which was the twelfth hour, or six o’clock. Following the Mosaic requirement to pay such workers at the end of each day, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages.” That is what every conscientious Jewish employer did in obedience to Old Testament law.

Jesus’ next instruction, however, was quite unusual. The men were to be paid beginning with the last group to the first. Here is where Jesus was able to demonstrate men’s self-serving ideas of fairness, and where the parable begins to intersect with the proverb “Many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (19:30; cf.20:16).

The primary idea of the parable, and of Jesus’ application of the proverb, is not a simple reversal of payment order. Although that procedure was certainly not customary, it would not in itself have caused much concern. The radical action of the landowner, which reflects the parable’s main point, is that those hired about the eleventh hour … each … received a denarius, a whole day’s wage, as their pay.

The Objection to Kingdom Equality

And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. And when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius. And when they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 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.” (20:9–12)

The account does not mention the fact, but it is obvious from the eleventh-hour workers’ wages that the men hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours were also paid a denarius.

It is therefore understandable that when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more.

At this point they had no problem with what the owner had done but, in fact, were elated.

Because he had paid the other men a full day’s wage for a partial day’s work, they assumed that they would receive more than a day’s wage.

At the rate the eleventh-hour group was paid, they would have received 12 day’s pay for one day’s work!

They were more than willing to be paid last if that meant being paid so handsomely.

But their hopes were soon dashed when they also received each one a denarius, and they reacted exactly as we would expect.

Their normal, very human reaction was, “That’s not fair!

Those men only worked an hour at the end of the day.

We worked hard all day long, including during scorching heat.

Why should they get paid as much as we did?”

They may have been overdramatizing their case, but their basic description of the situation was correct.

In any case, they were exceedingly disgruntled at this perceived injustice and were determined not to leave until they had satisfaction from the landowner, who was standing near his foreman when the wages were handed out.

The Vindication of Kingdom Equality

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? Take what is yours and go your way, but 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 what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” Thus the last shall be first, and the first last. (20:13–16)

To their charges, the owner answered and said to one of them, probably the spokesman for the group, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?” Hetairos (friend) is not the term for a close friend but rather a casual companion.

The owner let them know firmly but courteously that they were out of line.

He was doing them no wrong, because they had a clear agreement early in the morning at the market place (v. 2) that they would be paid a denarius apiece, a fair wage. “You worked the twelve hours you agreed to work,” he said, “and I paid you the denarius I agreed to pay you.

We both lived up to our sides of the bargain, and therefore you have no legitimate complaint.

Take what is yours and go your way.

It should not be your concern, if I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.”

More than that, he asked rhetorically, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?”

What he paid the late-coming workers, or any others, was strictly his own business, and he was perfectly within his lawful rights.

He could do whatever he might wish with what were his own assets.

The problem was not injustice on the part of the landowner and foreman but jealousy on the part of the workers.

 

“Is your eye envious because I am generous?” the owner asked the angry spokesman. As he had just reminded the group, he completely lived up to their mutual agreement, and that should have been their only concern, but jealousy and envy are not based on reason but on selfishness.

The charge of unfairness was not grounded in a love for justice but in the selfish assumption that the extra pay they wanted was pay they deserved.

In reality, of course, what the latter-day workers were paid had absolutely no bearing on what the all-day workers were paid. They had, as it were, entirely separate contracts with the owner.

But selfishness sees what it wants to see, and all those envious men could see was that they did not receive the grand bonus they expected and thought they deserved.

It was not that they did not get the wage that they earned and had agreed upon but that they could not stand seeing someone who was hired at the last minute get paid the same as they did.

Instead of rejoicing at the good fortune of their co-workers, they envied them and were bitter.

It is possible that the eleventh-hour workers were less capable and more needy than the all-day men, who probably were hired first because they were the best workers.

The other men had a hard time finding work at all, and when they did it may have been menial, demanding, and low-paying. But regardless of the differences between the men’s situations, capabilities, accomplishments, or needs, none of them was wrongly paid.

In fact, all of them were well paid by a man who was not obligated to hire them in the first place.

Although the parable includes clear warnings about impugning the fairness of someone and about the ugly sin of envy, its primary point is that of the owner’s right to pay all the workers the same wage.

Jesus, of course, was not teaching economic or business principles but rather using such principles to teach an infinitely more wonderful spiritual truth.

To understand the parable’s spiritual meaning it is necessary to understand who and what are represented in it.

Jesus explicitly said the parable is about “the kingdom of heaven” (v.1).

The vineyard is therefore the kingdom itself,

the landowner is God the Father, and

the foreman is the Son, Jesus Christ.

The laborers are believers, and

the denarius is eternal life,

which all received equally for trusting in Christ.

The work day is the believer’s lifetime of service to his Lord and the evening is eternity.

God’s sovereign principle for salvation is that every person who comes in faith to His Son, Jesus Christ, receives the same gracious salvation prepared by the Father and given by the Son. There are no exceptions or variations.

Whether a person comes to God as a small child and lives a long life of faithful, obedient service, or whether he comes to Him on his deathbed, all come into the kingdom on the same basis and receive the same glorious, eternal blessings.

The penitent thief who turned to Jesus on the cross with his last breath received the same salvation and heavenly glory as the apostles. He died justly as a criminal, whereas most of them died unjustly because of their faithfulness to Christ. He did not have even one hour to serve Christ, whereas some of them served Him far into old age. He knew just enough about Christ to be saved, and his service was limited to a brief time of praise and thankfulness, whereas

the disciples were privileged to live intimately with Him for three years and were given unique divine revelation from and about Him.

Yet all of them were received equally by their divine Savior and King and stand equally before Him in heaven.

The Lord will indeed reward His saints at His coming (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5; Rev. 22:12) according to their faithfulness. As Jesus had taught earlier, “The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds” (Matt. 16:27; cf. 5:12; 6:4; 10:42).

“Each man’s work will become evident,” Paul declared, “for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each mares work.

If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.

If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:13–15).

But individual rewards are another matter completely and relate to the specific nature of our faithfulness and diligence in serving Christ on earth.

The subject of the parable of the landowner is not personal rewards that will determine the nature and scope of our ruling and serving in eternity but rather the common blessedness of eternity that will belong to all believers.

Here the Lord is not teaching about the differences of rewards but the equality of salvation.

He is saying that Christians who have spent a life of ease and spiritual indolence have the same eternal salvation as those who suffer a martyr’s death.

The immature, weak, and disobedient Christian has the same prospect of inheriting the kingdom as one who is mature, self-giving, and spiritual. All believers will receive “the crown of life” (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10), “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8), and the “crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4).

The Greek genitives of apposition behind each of those three phrases refer to the future blessing of all believers-eternal life, eternal righteousness, and eternal glory!

From a human perspective, that seems inequitable; but from the divine perspective, it is totally just.

Because no person is worthy of salvation, eternal life is a gracious gift for which only Jesus Christ could have paid the cost.

Differences among human beings are infinitely smaller than the difference between even the most righteous human being and God.

Before receiving Christ as Lord and Savior all men are equally lost, and after they receive Him they are equally saved.

Relative merit is irrelevant, because all that even the greatest human righteousness can merit is damnation.

“All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment,” Isaiah declared (Isa. 64:6).

By God’s perfect standard of righteousness, no person comes to Christ with more or less merit, and no one is received by Him with more or less grace.

How wonderful that truth is.

The Christian who is envious of other Christians, for whatever reason, not only is unspiritual but foolish.

If God really did give him what he deserved, he would be destined for hell rather than for heaven.

The spiritual believer rejoices in the salvation of others, no matter what the circumstances of their conversion.

If he sees someone come to Christ on a deathbed, after a life of profligacy and infidelity, he rejoices with the angels in heaven that one more sinner has repented (Luke 15:10) and that God has again been glorified through His marvelous grace.

A pastor friend told me that his father not only had been an unbeliever all his life but was a vocal Christ rejecter, openly criticizing the things of God and wanting no part of the gospel. When his father was hospitalized with a severe stroke and no longer able to communicate, the son again presented the gospel to him as he had many times before. “I witnessed to him with all my heart,” he said. “I told him how he could embrace Christ even at this point in his life, even though he had so strongly rejected Him. I don’t know whether he did or not, because he had no way of letting me know But I know that if he did believe he will inherit the same eternal life that I have. And how I hope that he did.”

Jesus told the parable of the landowner in response to Peter’s query in behalf of the apostles about what was in store for them, which, in turn, was in response to Jesus’ teaching about the impossibility of entering the kingdom by human means or effort.

The apostles represented the all-day workers who began at 6:00 a.m. and stayed on the job until 6:00 p.m.

They had forsaken everything to follow Christ and had been with Him for nearly three years.

Although they had suffered nothing like they would suffer a few years later, they nonetheless had endured considerable hardship and ridicule for the Lord’s sake.

Their faith was genuine and they truly loved Christ.

But as events would soon prove, they were still terribly self-centered.

Only a day or so later, the mother of James and John, no doubt with their approval and perhaps even at their request, asked Jesus to promise that in His kingdom “these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your fight and one on Your left” (Matt. 20:20–21).

Jesus had just spoken again of His imminent suffering and death, yet the minds of these two disciples were on their own personal aggrandizement.

They were playing one-upmanship while their master was at that very time on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified (v. 18–19). When the other disciples heard what had happened, they “became indignant with the two brothers” (v. 24).

But their indignation was far from righteous. As they would soon demonstrate, they were just as ambitious as James and John.

Not many weeks later, in the Upper Room a few hours before Jesus’ arrest, the disciples were still arguing among themselves “as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24).

After Jesus had arisen and appeared to the disciples and they had gotten over the shock of His crucifixion, their minds returned again to their own selfish, worldly ambitions. In light of everything they had said and done before, their question, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) was no doubt centered more on the prospects for their own glory than on Christ’s.

In the parable of the gracious landowner Jesus was dealing with the selfish, indulgent, envious, and ambitious orientation of the disciples.

He wanted them to see, and He wants all His followers to see, that salvation is not in any way deserved or earned. It is the free gift of God, dispensed sovereignly and impartially to whomever believes in His Son.

Believing tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, and social outcasts will have the same heavenly residence as Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Wesley.

There are no servant quarters or lower-class neighborhoods in heaven. Everyone will have a room in the Father’s house specially prepared for him by the Son (John 14:2).

Every believer is a part of the church, which is the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2, 9),

every believer is a child of God and a fellow heir with Christ (Rom. 8:16–17), and

every believer is blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). It is not that every believer receives an equal part but that every believer receives equally the whole of God’s grace and blessing.

Just as hell is the total absence of God, heaven is the total presence of God. And every one of His children will enjoy equally the fullness of His presence there. Everyone who belongs to God has all of God. That great reality is summed up in the truth of John’s marvelous declaration, “We shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).

From this parable flow many spiritual principles that are closely related to the central truth that the gift of eternal life is equal for all believers. First is the principle that God sovereignly initiates and accomplishes salvation. The landowner went out looking for workers, and it was he who asked them to labor in his vineyard. And because God does the seeking and the saving in His own initiative and power, we have no demands on His special favor or privilege. Every person who believes has first been sought out by the Father and given to the Son (John 6:39). And whether He sought us early in our lives or late, and whether we answered His call early or late, all merit and glory belongs to Him.

A second principle is that God alone establishes the terms of salvation. Because the laborers in the vineyard came at different times, they worked a different number of hours, and we can assume they worked with many different degrees of productivity. But they did not receive different pay The measure of God’s gift of salvation is not maps merit or accomplishments but His own grace, which does not vary.

A third principle is that God continues to call men into His kingdom. He keeps going back and going back into the market places of the world calling men to Himself. And He will continue to call until the last hour of this age. The night of judgment is coming when no man can work, but while it is day, the Father will continue to draw men to Himself. “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working,” Jesus said (John 5:17), because the Lord does not wish “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

A fourth principle is that God redeems everyone who is willing. “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out,” Jesus said (John 6:37, 39). All the laborers who went to the vineyard recognized they were needy They had no hope of work except what the landowner would give them, and they received it gladly and thankfully They had given up dependence on their own resources and looked only to him.

A fifth principle is that God is compassionate to those who have no resources and acknowledge their hopelessness. He reaches out to those in need who know they are in need. When the men in the last group told the landowner they were standing idle because no one would hire them, he hired them. And when anyone comes to God knowing he has no other prospect for life but Him, the Lord will always lovingly and mercifully accept that person for His own.

A sixth principle is that all who come into the vineyard worked. They may have come at the last hour, but they worked. Even the penitent thief on the cross, who died within hours if not moments after confessing his faith in Christ, still testifies today to the saving grace of God. The history of the church is replete with stories of those whose deathbed conversions were used by God to lead others to Himself.

A seventh principle is that God has the divine authority and ability to keep His promises. At every hour of the day that the landowner went to the market place, he hired all who wanted to work, and at the end of the day there was no shortage of funds to pay each one the full amount. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world, from the Fall of Adam until the day of judgment. If any person is not saved it is because he will not be saved. Man’s sin can never outstrip God’s grace, because where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Rom. 5:20).

An eighth principle is that, just as God always gives what He has promised, He also always gives more than is deserved. The 6:00 a.m. workers were envious of those who came at 5:00 p.m. because, in their selfish view, they deserved to be paid more. But the landowner was no more obligated to hire the first workers than the others. He would have been entirely justified to have passed them all by, and all of them were paid more than they were worth. In an infinitely greater way, no believer is qualified to receive God’s least favor, much less salvation, and even the best person by human standards is blessed immeasurably beyond what he could possibly deserve.

A ninth principle, which is a corollary of the previous one, is that humility and a genuine sense of unworthiness is the only right attitude in which a person may come to the Lord. Like the eider brother who was resentful when the prodigal son returned home and was royally received by their father, the early workers lost some of their humility at the end of the day because of their jealousy. But they had come to the vineyard in the same attitude of submissiveness in which the others came.

A tenth and final principle is that of God’s sovereign, overarching grace. From beginning to end, the parable pictures God’s divine, boundless grace. The men’s work had absolutely no relationship to what they were paid. Even less do men’s works of supposed righteousness have any relationship to what they receive through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as sin is the great equalizer that causes every man to “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), God’s grace is the great equalizer that removes sin and makes every believer equally acceptable to Him in Christ.

[1]


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[1]John MacArthur, Matthew (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 208.

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