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Justice and Grace (The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard)

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Introduction

luke
Matthew 20:1–16 ESV
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Introduction

Luke 23:39-
Luke 23:39–43 ESV
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Have you ever thought about the contrast between this robber on the cross, and Judas Iscariot?
Judas...
He had the best religious instruction of anybody - learning from Jesus himself
had the best religious instruction possible - learning from Jesus himself
For 3 years he was a close friend and disciple of Jesus
He gave 3 years of his life to follow Jesus
preached, evangelized, and was even given the power to heal the sick
was so trusted by the other disciples that he was made their treasurer
but he betrayed Jesus, died and went to hell
The robber...
was a hardened career criminal
so bad that he was given the worst form of punishment at the time
originally condemned to be crucified next to Barnabas, a terrorist and a killer
was still mocking Jesus while being tortured on the cross for his crimes
but in his last moments had a change of heart, confessed his sin, asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, died and went to heaven
There are some who see this as a terrible injustice.
Surely, if Jesus was able to forgive the robber for a lifetime of evil in one moment right at the end of his life...
… then surely Jesus should also have forgiven Judas’ one act of betrayal considering his long track record of good works in ministry?
If that is your evaluation, then you are probably the kind of person who likes to keep score...
… and probably are seeing heaven as a reward for doing good.
And naturally...
… being church people, we count the score as being quite positively in our favour
especially if we have been committed, contributing members of the church for some time
We can see ourselves as more worthy of God’s favour than others
We can even start to see God as being unfair…
… when we think that we who are long serving and committed members of the church…
… may one day be in the same heaven as murderers, rapists, robbers and terrorists, who at some point near the end of their lives surrendered themselves to God in repentance and faith.
In reality, though, nobody is worthy of God’s favour.
Both Judas and the robber were guilty sinners in the hands of God
Both were fully deserving of damnation
Nobody deserves God’s favour
Nobody who has broken God’s Law has a rightful claim to God’s kindness or mercy.
If God were to condemn every single one of us, He would be right to do so, and none of us could claim any injustice on God’s part
We say we want God to be fair, but if God were to treat us fairly…
he wouldn’t be assigning us to different sized mansions in heaven according to our works, but to appropriately sized pits in hell according to our works
because that is what we all deserve
So none of us have a right to expect God’s mercy and kindness, because none of us deserve it
Nobody who goes to heaven deserves to be there
To be sure, everybody who goes to heaven is like the robber, a lifetime career sinner, who called out to Jesus in faith and received a gracious pardon.
All of us are like the robber on the cross
Now none of us have a right to expect God’s mercy and kindness, because none of us deserve it
None of us can truly say that we are worthy, or that we have earned God’s favour.
What should shock us then, is NOT that God sends people to hell, but that God takes anybody to paradise!
What should shock us, is NOT that a career criminal might be standing next to us and worshiping God in heaven one day, but that any one of us would be given such kindness and compassion by God.
None of us are worthy of such a kindness, such love, such compassion, such mercy, such grace.
And yet God does choose to extend love, kindness, compassion, mercy and grace.
So then when God extends mercy and grace to anybody - regardless of who you are and what your track record looks like…
It is always a monumental act of kindness and grace by God.
That is what grace means - it is God’s favour given freely to undeserving sinners in spite of our demerits
And all of us are like the robber on the cross - all equally in desperate need of grace and mercy.
In , Jesus tells a parable that illustrates these principles beautifully.

Text

Matthew 20:1–16 ESV
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The Parable

The Master of the House
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard
We can pick up a few things about the master of the house…
The term itself tells us he’s the boss
Jesus refers to the vineyard as his vineyard, and Jesus calls him the owner of the vineyard in verse 8 so that tells us that the vineyard belongs to this man
It’s quite a big vineyard because the master kept going back to the marketplace and hiring more and more workers
In verse 15 the master asks “am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me”… so that tells us that the money he paid the workers with was his money
So this man was a man with a lot of wealth, and probably a lot of influence too.
The Vineyard
Israel was covered with vineyards
The scriptures often use grapevines and vineyards to illustrate God’s point
There were two types of agricultural land
flat plains - farming with grain or livestock
mountain slopes - terraced for vineyards
terraces had to be supported by stones and sometimes they needed good topsoil as well
to get both of those up there on the steep slopes you need hard labour
Grapes were planted in Spring, pruned during summer, harvest was a very short season near the end of September
Harvest was hectic - grapes had to be harvested before the rains came
So the owner needed extra help during the harvest, and would go to the marketplace each day to hire labourers
The Labourers
Verse 1 says the owner went out early in the morning - before 6am (when the 12 hour work day began)
These were casual workers standing around in a marketplace - like those who stand in Commercial Road
They are mostly unskilled - will do any odd jobs
Notoriously low pay - one doesn’t usually pay a casual worker the same wage as a full time employee
Jesus says the owner agreed to pay these workers a denarius a day
very generous
a typical Roman soldier earned a denarius per day
unskilled casual workers were usually paid a fraction of that
they were in no position to negotiate - they took what they could get
There were plenty of guys looking for jobs so competition was fierce, they were all too happy just to be able to earn something so that they could put some food on the table for their families that night
So the offer of a denarius per day is extremely generous and gracious, and the workers eagerly and gratefully accepted the offer
At the third hour (9am) the owner went back to the marketplace.
Now Jesus says he sees more workers standing idle, and he hired them too
The generosity of the owner and the fact that its pointed out that he saw these workers standing idle…
… seems to imply that the owner didn’t employ them necessarily because HE needed them, but because he saw THEIR need
He knew that they needed the work, and he knew that they weren’t standing idle because they didn’t wantto work, but because there wasn’t any work
So out of compassion, he hires these workers as well
There’s a difference - He doesn’t tell these workers how much he is going to pay them, he just says “I will pay you what is right”
How many of you are going to accept a job offer without knowing how much the salary will be?
But they accept - partly because they are desperate…
… but probably also because they knew the owner to be an honourable man who treated people well.
Maybe seeing his compassion for them also was clearly discernable
He goes our again in the sixth hour (12pm) and the ninth hour (15pm) and does the same
regular 3 hour intervals, hiring more workers
Strangely, at the 11th hour (17pm), with only an hour left in the day, he goes out again
he still finds workers waiting
they are desperate
they are also persistent - hadn’t given up
They are not there because they are lazy
The owner asks them why they have stood there idle all day...
… “Because no one has hired us”
When you go and hire casuals for some hard labour, you will naturally first pick the biggest, strongest, younger workers that have the skills you need
These workers were most likely the oldest, weakest, least skilled workers left over
These are the men who are the most desperate, and most at the mercy of potential employers
But still they are there, searching, hoping…
… and their hope is rewarded at the most unlikely time - right at the end of the working day.
Again there is no mention of what they will be paid, but they are in no position to negotiate
They go, and I’m sure were willing to accept whatever the master was going to give them
Pay Time
Significantly, the owner instructs his steward to pay the last workers first, and the first workers last.
This is the key to the meaning of the parable, and we will see why shortly
Picture the men are standing in a queue…
Those men who only worked the last hour are standing in the front
The men who worked 12 hours are standing at the back
All these men now watch as the men who only worked an hour are given a denarius!
that is a full day’s wage for a Roman soldier, for less than an hour’s unskilled work
That is extremely generous pay!
You can imagine how excited and grateful those workers must have been for such lavish and extravagant generosity by the master!
Like hiring a casual to sweep
But now imagine the expression on the faces of the men standing at the back of the line
No doubt they’re thinking to themselves, this guy is paying a denarius an hour!
If those guys got a full denarius for one hour’s work, we must be getting 12!
12 days’ wages for one day’s work - that’s a fat paycheck!
All that excitement and greed, only to be dissapointed when they also receive one denarius for their full day’s work
Is That Fair?
Their immediate reaction is to complain
This isn’t fair!
Those guys only worked for one hour in the cool late afternoon breeze
while we worked for 12 hours in the blazing sun and wind…
… and yet you are treating them as equal to us…
and giving them the same wage as us.
This isn’t fair!
How quickly they had forgotten the generosity of the master’s offer…
How quickly their gratitude turned to ingratitude and jealousy
They started the work day in high spirits - very happy and excited about the master’s generosity
His offer of a denarius a day was much more than they could ever reasonably expect to receive
And now at the end of the day, the master has kept his word - he paid them exactly what he had offered to pay them.
Was he treating them fairly? Absolutely!
He was faithful to his promise
“But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
When the master hired them at 6am, they were extremely happy with the offer of a denarius for a full day’s work
Matthew 20:13–15 ESV
But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
They started the work day in high spirits - very happy and excited about the master’s generosity
His offer of a denarius a day was much more than they could ever reasonably expect to receive
And now at the end of the day, the master has kept his word - he paid them exactly what he had offered to pay them.
Was the master treating them fairly? Absolutely!
He was faithful to his promise, and his offer was extremely generous
Matt 20:
So what has changed the worker’s attitude from gratitude to resentment?
There was nothing that they could fault the master for - He treated them with more generosity than they deserved, and did exactly what he had promised
The only thing that caused them so much resentment, was that others were treated with even more generosity
At first they were grateful…
But their jealousy has caused them to forget how generous the master has been with them…
Who is most happy at this point?
Its the eleventh hour workers - they understood how graciously they had been treated.

The Meaning

What is the meaning of this parable?
Look at the last verse of chapter 19 (verse 30) - “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Read chapter 20 verse 8 again - “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.”
Look at what Jesus says to conclude the parable in verse 16 - “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Jesus is telling the parable to make this point: The last will be first, and the first will be last.
How can that be?
In a race, only way for the last to be first and the first to be last is for everybody to cross the finish line at exactly the same time, not so?
That is exactly what happened in the parable. Those who started first and those who started last, and everybody who started in between, all came passed the winner’s finish line at the same time
All received the same reward.
Every worker got the full benefit of the master’s generosity in equal measure.

The Lesson

If you look back at the previous chapter, what has happened there is what led to Jesus telling this parable
Matthew 19:30 ESV
But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he must do to receive eternal life
Matthew 20:8 ESV
And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’
Matthew 20:16 ESV
So the last will be first, and the first last.”
what would most people today have said?
Repeat this prayer after me
But Jesus challenged him with the Law
He said “If you want eternal life, keep the commandments.”
The guy proudly and arrogantly replies and says he’s kept the commandments
A model evangelistic prospect, right?
But incredibly Jesus then tells the guy to go and give all his wealth away to the poor and follow him
and what did the young ruler do? He walked away. Depressed, because he wasn’t prepared to do that.
Jesus exposed the fact that this young rockstar loved his wealth more than he loved either God or his neighbour…
… so while this guy claimed to have kept the law, he was really in violation of both of the great commandments.
The disciples were so shocked at how impossible Jesus made it seem to be able to earn your way into eternal life, that they asked him “who then can be saved?”
And Jesus answered, “with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.
Jesus is stressing that salvation is God’s work, not something that any sinner can accomplish or earn for himself.
But you see, those disciples were quite thick
They’re still thinking about how Jesus has chased away this young guy because he wasn’t prepared to give up his possessions to follow Jesus…
… when Peter realises, wait a minute… WE have done that.
So Peter turns to Jesus and he says in verse 27 “See, WE have left everything and followed you. What then will WE have?”
Peter is looking for some assurance that all of his work and sacrifices for God were not for nothing, and that he will receive some sort of special honor for it.
Jesus’ response here is key: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”
Jesus response to Peter is that they will definitely receive a rich reward in God’s kingdom - but that everyone will receive rich reward.
And that
And that is when Jesus says “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” and he tells them this parable
Matthew 19:28–29 ESV
Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
Matt 19:
And it is to make this point:
Salvation is not something earned, but a generous gift of amazing grace, given to undeserving sinners
Peter and the disciples were thinking like the 6am workers
They were there with Jesus from the start of his ministry
They worked the full 12 hours in the scorching heat.
They gave up their lives and their jobs to follow Jesus
They wanted to know what they would receive for their sacrifice
We tend to think exactly like Peter and the 6am workers
We often feel like our years of faithful service to the church should earn us double honour
better reward
we should be treated better
our opinions should count for more
And it makes us feel uncomfortable or even resentful when newer Christians are given equal honor
I am just going to throw out some practical examples of how this could play out in ministry
Like the well off and faithful church member who always gives generously in tithes, and the unemployed street dweller who has nothing to give, having an equal say in a member’s meeting
Like serving the church in the music ministry for decades, but being asked to serve under a much younger worship director, and put aside your own preferences and follow his lead
Like having served faithfully in children’s ministry for decades, but being asked to allow younger Christians, even teenagers, an opportunity to use their own gifts in that ministry
And not only to allow them the opportunity, but to treat them as equals
Or like the theologically educated and astute leader in the church who sits and discusses Biblical issues with the layman who’s only known the Lord for 2 years…
Are all of these not equals in God’s sight… and recipients of the same incredibly gracious and generous gift of God?
Did one do more than the other to receive salvation?
Or were both undeserving sinners, who received much, much more than they could ever have expected from our compassionate God?
But you see my friends…
Like the ever forgetful disciples, we need constant reminder.
Salvation is God’s work, not something that can be accomplished by any sinner.
Salvation is not something earned, but a generous gift of amazing grace, given to undeserving sinners
Whether we are the 6am workers, or the eleventh hour workers...
All of us received a gift of immeasurable generosity
Now one can still ask, but how is it possible?
Not that God can treat one with more generosity than another - because that is God’s prerogative.
He is the owner of the vineyard, which we can liken to eternity
He is the owner and giver of the money, which we can liken to salvation
As the master said to the workers, is God not allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to Him? or do we begrudge his generosity?
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
The question is not how can God be more gracious to one who has greater sins, than to another who has lesser sins…
The real question is, how can God be so amazingly gracious to any one of us, and still be just?
After all, since we are all sinners and deserve only judgement, then the fair and just thing for God to do is to show mercy to NONE and CONDEMNATION to all.
Justice requires satisfaction for evils committed
And we have no hope of satisfying God’s justice other than paying for our sins in an eternity in hell
Unless… God does something to satisfy justice on our behalf
and that is exactly what he did
God became man, and he went to the cross, and there He took our condemnation upon himself and made atonement for our sins.
He paid for it in full, and satisfied justice against sin.
We can be sure then of these things:
That God is both Gracious and Just
That he requires that all sin must be paid for
That God, in His grace, paid for it in ful
But that He also satisfied justice on behalf of everyone who repents and believes in Him.
And that it is an incredible act of immense, immeasurable generosity for God to extend such grace to any one of us.
We can also be sure, that any time that our sense of joy and gratitude to God give way to arrogance and resentment toward others, - or a lack of forgiveness and humility towards others
we have forgotten how generous God has been to us.
You c
Mat 20:
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
God shows mercy, kindness and compassion to whoever he chooses
“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”
The only question that needs to be asked then, is how can God give such grace to anybody and still be just?
The question is how can God be so compassionate and merciful and forgiving to anybody and still be fair and just?
Surely justice demands that
Surely if all sinned, then all must be punished?
Exodus 33:19 ESV
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Exodus 33:19 ESV
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
Nobody who goes to hell is undeserving of being there.
Nobody who goes to heaven deserves to be there
To be sure, everybody who goes to heaven is like the robber, a lifetime career sinner, who called out to Jesus in faith and received a gracious pardon.
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