Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16
Text: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “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.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
We all know the saying, “You don’t get something for nothing.” In other words, if something is valuable, you must work to earn it. If you get it for free, it probably is not worth anything. Think of the free prizes that come in the cereal box. If it is free, there probably is a catch. You have to buy so many of them, or you have to do something in order to get the “free” item. This morning, as we study God’s Word, we see the principle, “You don’t get something for nothing,” turned upside down. This is true as we labor for the Lord. We want to remember that AS YOU DO GOD’S WORK, THINK GOD’S WAY. 1. We May Think We Are Earning God’s Blessings. Yet, 2. God Wants To Give Us What We Have Not Earned.
Jesus again shares a parable with his disciples and us. A parable, as you recall, is a story in which Jesus used everyday events to teach a spiritual truth. They were usually told in response to a question or an event. In this case, Jesus had been speaking with a rich man, who wanted to know what he had to do to enter heaven. After Jesus showed him that he had a greater love for his possessions than for God by telling him to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, the rich man went away sad. Jesus remarked, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 15:23&24) The disciples wondered who could possibly be saved. Jesus answered, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 15:26) This prompted a response from Peter, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 15:27) In other words, Peter was saying, ‘Look at all we have given up for you. What will be the benefit to us?’ To this, Jesus told this parable.
It was harvest time and a man who owned a vineyard went into the marketplace to hire some day laborers. This was not an extraordinary thing. We still see this happening today in parts of our country. After Herod the Great had completed his work of restoring the temple, there were many displaced workers in the city of Jerusalem.
The owner of the vineyard went out and offered to pay the standard wage for a day’s labor to these workers. He did this, first, at 6:00 a.m. He repeated this at 9:00 and then at noon. He went out at 3:00 and hired more workers. Finally, at 5:00, he went out and hired more workers. At the end of the day, the owner told his manager to pay the workers, as was prescribed in the law. We note the order in which they were to be paid, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.” (Verse 8) When those who were hired last came to get their pay, they each received a denarius. Now, imagine you were one of those workers who was hired at 6:00 and you saw that these people were each receiving a denarius. Wouldn’t you assume that you would get more? When you got your pay and you saw that you also received a denarius, wouldn’t you have the same complaint that we read, “These who were hired last worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” (Verse 12) I believe that we would not think that this was fair.
Then we read the owner’s reaction, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Verses 13-15) When the owner uses the word “friend,” he did not mean it in a “pal” or buddy” sense. It is more of an accusatory way, like when Jesus told Judas before he betrayed him, “Do what you came for, friend.” (Matthew 26:50) The owner reminds the worker that this was the agreed upon wage. There should have been no surprises or disappointments. He, then, tells him, “Take your pay and go.” He was to go out of the owner’s sight. The owner chides the worker, saying that he had no right to be upset that the owner was being generous. Finally, Jesus concludes with the words, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Verse 16) Everything is turned upside down, at least according to the eyes of the world.
What is the point of Jesus’ parable? Again, we need to remember that it was prompted by Peter’s question, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” ‘What do we get because we have done this for you?’ As we look at this parable, the owner of the vineyard is God. Just as the owner of the vineyard went out to seek the workers, the same is true in our relationship with God. He came and sought us. We were not looking for him. We would never have looked for him because we are born the enemies of God. We would have been lost forever, outside of the kingdom of God, because of the sin with which we are born and the sins that we commit every day. However, Jesus, as he said, came to seek and to save those who were lost. He came to this earth on a rescue mission. He saved us by living a perfect life for us. He gladly served his Father. He then offered his life as the payment price for our sins. He paid the entire debt of sin that we owed. Yet, we would never have known about what he had done for us, unless he sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to create faith. Now, we are the beneficiaries of all that he has done for us.
We are his servants, and he gives us work to do in his vineyard, in his kingdom. The jobs vary from person to person. You might serve him as a pastor, a teacher, a member of the church council. You may serve him by helping to keep the grounds looking nice. You might serve as an organist or a member of the choir. You may serve as a faithful supporter of the programs at church or our high school or synod. We have opportunities to serve in a variety of ways.
Unfortunately, the devil likes to fool us when we are serving the Lord. He likes to get us to think that, somehow, we are owed something for our service. When we feel that are not being given what we deserve because of our service, we are like those servants, who grumbled about their pay at the end of the day. The fact is that sometimes, we serve for the wrong reasons. We serve because we want people to notice what we are doing and to give us credit for our hard work. We serve because our parents always did. We serve because no one else will. If these or other reasons like them are the reasons, we are serving, Jesus would say to us, “Take your pay and go.” You already have your reward. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 6. He was talking about people who were doing things mostly for the approval of men. They liked the limelight. To this, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2) If all they were looking for was a pat on the back by others, because they were so religious and so zealous, they got what they wanted. However, this sort of service does not give glory to the Lord. If we think that we serve to get something from the Lord, we miss out on what he wants to give us. We miss out on the joy of serving our Lord. We miss out on the joy of serving one another. The feeling that we gain something for our service is especially dangerous when it comes to our salvation. If we think that we contribute even an iota, we lose everything.
We need to remember that our salvation comes to us without our doing a single thing. Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation. All who believe are equally saved. We praise God for his grace, his “generosity,” in saving us. Now, as we serve in his kingdom, we do so to thank God for all that he has done for us. We are not out to get praise from others or notice from others. If that happens, fine. If it does not happen, it makes no difference, because we are thankful for the opportunity to serve our God. This is how we want to live our lives. We call these our fruits of faith. This is similar to Matthew 25, where Jesus in speaking to the believers on the Last Day, spoke of feeding him when he was hungry, giving him something to drink when he was thirsty, and so forth. The believers respond, ‘When did we do this for you?’. They did not even realize that they were doing this for the Lord. It was just a part of their life of thanksgiving. We do not serve to get something. We serve to thank God for all that he has done for us. We have not earned a single thing from God, yet he gives us everything, including salvation and eternal life.
God gives us opportunities to work for him every day. As we do so, may we think God’s way. May it be that we do not serve him, looking for either rewards from God or recognition from others. Rather, may we serve him in response to all that he has given to us. This is a God-pleasing motivation for our service to him. This is where we will find joy in our service for, as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23&24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” There is our joy in our service. Amen.
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