Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: The Ranking System of the Kingdom of God

Today we’re in the vineyard. We’re in the grape fields. Very important in ancient times. Very important today, the wine and juice industry is huge. But we’re in the vineyard again. Last few weeks we’ve been in the vineyard. Jesus as we know very often used common practices to explain deep spiritual truths.

So we’re in the vineyard. You can smell the dirt. You can taste the cool in the air. It’s like 6 in the morning. You’re tired but awake. It’s quiet as you approach the fields of the vineyard and you know a long day of work is ahead. But you’re kind of excited. That’s how I am in the morning.

I’m drinking my coffee, kind of trying to decide how I’m going to respond to the day, usually it’s a struggle of the mind between I don’t want to do this, and I’m excited for what God is going to do.

So we go out on the fields, and the foreman is there, we punch in on the sheet, and we grab our work gloves slip them on, and we get to work in the vineyard, watering the crops, caring for the vines, as the sun slowly rises and the day begins

Today we’re looking at a parable from the beginning of Matthew chapter 20. But first, flip back to Matthew 19, to the end of the chapter. This is a classic moment in scripture, a rich young man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to receive eternal life. And in the end, Jesus tells the man to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, and the young man left sad. Jesus then tells his disciples how hard it is for a rich person to inherit the kingdom of God.

The disciples then exclaim in Matthew 19:25, “Who then can be saved?”

And in verses 26-30 it says this: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, 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 or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

That is the context of our parable today.

Secondary indication about the context today, right after the parable is the incident where the mother of James and John asks Jesus for her two sons to sit at his right and left hand. And Jesus tells her, those seats are not for me to decide but for God the father to indicate.

This incident is from Matthew 20:20-28, but in particular here is what it says is the response to this request, “24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Both of these incidents are outlining the kingdom of God order, how the order works in the kingdom of God. For the wealthy it’s hard to enter. But if you give up everything for the messiah, you will certainly gain an incredible inheritance. Also, don’t try to be great in this life, don’t try to show how awesome you are in this life, don’t try to lord it over others, which is apparently what James and John wanted, instead be a slave to all, which is an imitation of the messiah himself who did just the same.

Keep those two contextual incidents, they outline the parameters of the kingdom order of greatness. Many who seemed to be first will be last and many who are last will be first. So time to dig in and get to work in the fields, as a servant.

Our parable today, is in Matthew 20, beginning like this:

Matthew 20:1-16 NIV ““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.”

The value of a denarius was one days wages. Fair enough. This landowner apparently doesn’t have workers, so he’s seeing these people standing around, and he hires them to work for the day.

Fairly common in the country, you might hire someone for the day, my dad did that with me when he would flip properties, one time he owned a farm, and he paid me to help him get it cleaned up and ready to sell.

Another time I got hired for a day, temp, to set up tents for an event happening. Got done, paid me out of pocket, off I went.

It continues, “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.’

As the day goes on this landowner sees more people just standing around and he invites them to work in his fields for pay.

So OK pause here for a second. What is this actually talking about? What did Jesus mean? Well, Jesus is the landowner. And the people he hires are lost sinners who God brings to Jesus, and Jesus saves them, and puts them to work in the world winning people to salvation in Christ. The vineyard is the world and the people who need salvation.

That’s what I do each day. I’m living my life, and God prompts me to do things for Him and his kingdom on a daily basis. Does God do the same in your life? If not, you might not even be truly participating in the vineyard. Maybe you’re still on the side and you need to get hired, which is getting born again through Christ. Because if you’re of Christ, and in Christ, he’s got you working in his fields, loving people, meeting needs, blessing others, praying with and for others, and guiding people to Jesus.

In the parable we’re going to see that the passage of time of the day, is correlating to the amount of time someone works in the field, so if they started at 6am, well, they got saved very early in life and serve God long in the fields. Think of someone who gets born again when they’re 7, 8, 9 years old. If they get saved later in life, at 5pm, they’ll be serving in God’s vineyard field for less time, think of someone like the thief on the cross, for who gets saved literally an hour or two before his death. Or someone who is maybe very elderly, I recall, I led a bible study at a nursing home in the U.P. for a while. And a saw an elderly woman get saved in that group, in her 90s, and she was super excited. But obviously she wont be working in the fields as long, until her time of service ends.

So the work day has ended, and let’s see what happens next:

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.’

So next we see those who have worked longer upset because they’re paid the same as those who only worked an hour. It’s not entirely odd to wonder at it, is it? If you’re working a shift at your job, and you work 8 hours, and then another person works 1 hour and you get paid the same you might ask yourself what’s the deal here? So they are complaining against the landowner. Not a smart thing to do since the landowner happens to own the universe.

It continues, “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.”

This really indicates the attitude of mind that we should have as Christians. And as much as we can intellectually hear the concept that we are “servants” it’s amazing how quickly we forget we’re servants. As I’m driving and people are driving slow, my attitude is often not that of a servant. When I’m done with work and someone stops me to ask for help, sometimes my attitude is not that of a servant. When someone wants to talk after dinner church and I’m really tired, where is my servant attitude?

The rich young ruler is not willing to be a servant and give up his wealth. So he leaves. Additionally James and John are not interested in being servants but instead want the places of highest honor in the kingdom of God, just below Christ’s seat.

Rulers of nations lord it over citizens, America is no exception. Our rulers lord it over us. Other nations are much worse of course. But even pastors here lord it over their congregations. Bosses lord it over their employees. Organizations lord it over their workers. But where is our servant attitude?

That is the mystery Jesus reveals to us in these three portions of scripture. In the parable the workers are told, listen, it’s God’s kingdom, he can do with it what he wants, and he will certainly do right. So listen up, even if they were saved in the 11th hour at 11:59 seconds before they died, they will still receive the same eternal life you will. So deal with it. Even if you got saved very young, and then had to serve for 95 years for God before you died, working to share the gospel day and night, still, same eternal life as one who believed 2 seconds before death.

Sometimes we probably wonder, I know I’ve wondered, maybe once or twice, man, maybe I should’ve waited til the very end, and then got saved. Because living as a Christian in this world is not easy. It’s a challenging life. I don’t want to say it’s hard, his burden is easy and his yoke is light, but how often we yearn for salvation for the lost, we fight off temptations and sins, we share the gospel without much success, we get discouraged and feel lonely. So you think well I could’ve just partied and done whatever I wanted and get saved the last minute. What a stupid thought that is, but sometimes we’ve probably had it.

Why is it stupid? Because it’s an honor to serve God for one. And we’ll be rewarded for our labor in heaven, above and beyond eternal life, and because a life of sin is 10 times more miserable than the difficulties of being a Christian. That’s the truth. Sin is miserable. Not knowing God is miserable. Those are all reasons why it’s a stupid thought. But probably the biggest reason that it’s a stupid thought is that there is no guarantee if I were to wait til the last minute, what if I die the day before I get the chance to believe? And what if on the last day I’m not able to believe in the right way, or fully repent, because my heart has been hardened against God from a life of sin? Then what? I’m a big trouble.

But I think we’ve all had that thought, hey that’s not fair, the thief on the cross didn’t have to get baptized, didn’t have to live out good works, or overcome the world, or become a church member, or die for his faith, or do any of those things, how is that fair? We’ve probably had that thought.

This parable reminds us, hey, listen, you’re a servant in the creator’s fields. If God wants to do it this way, believe that it’s right. And it is right, because how else would God do it? Say alright you can only get saved when you’re young, after you turn 25 it’s too late because that wouldn’t be fair to people who got saved when they were younger? Praise the Lord that he didn’t set it up that way because I got saved when I was 27, it would’ve been too late for me.

It's a timing issue. The door is open while you are still alive. As long as you are sucking oxygen in and out you can still believe in Jesus and receive eternal life. However, once you die, it is officially too late. There are millions and millions of people in hell at this moment who would give anything, anything at all, for just one more chance to believe in Jesus before it’s too late. But they can’t. The door is closed.

Sometimes I get upset with God when I think about that. I was bike riding the other day saying Lord, what about all the people in hell can’t we get them out and get them saved somehow? No, there’s no way. Why? Why can’t be let them out? Give them another shot. It’s too late for them. Too late, too late. Why? Because the door is closed now. That’s it. I don’t fully understand it. But maybe that’s why the opportunity before us is so vital. Believe now, and continue in that belief to the end. It’s such a big deal. And a whole life, all those years, isn’t that fair, that’s enough time to believe in Jesus isn’t it? The average life expectancy is 77.3 years. That’s 28,233.83 days. Enough is enough. Believe in Jesus.

But it’s more than a timing issue, it’s a servant mindset issue. That is the key to our parable for today, is the servant mindset, which is really, the mind of Christ. And if you take a look at what Jesus does in Matthew 21, 22, and 23, he then models the servant mindset.

At the end of chapter 20 he heals two blind men. Healing. He clears the temple in 21. Boldness. We might see the clearing of the temple and say hey that’s not being a servant. Yes it is, a servant of God does that. He teaches several parables. Teaching the truth. And of course later, he gives his life up on the cross.

The mind of Christ, we have as believers, we live in that reality, which the Holy Spirit builds in us. But here is what it looks like, Philippians 2:5-11

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Now that is the pattern. Take the form of a servant in this life, just as Jesus did. So then when Jesus was resurrected and taken to heaven, he received great glory and power.

In the same way, if you take the form of a servant in your lifestyle as a Christian, when you are welcomed into paradise, you’ll be one of the first of the kingdom of God, because you lived a servant life. But if you lord it over people, live like an American, smug, entitled, you may still enter the kingdom of heaven, maybe, but you’ll be one of the least of the kingdom of heaven.

The first will be last and the last will be first. Amen.