First and Last
We have been walking through a series entitled “The Gospel in the Gospels”
In this series, we are asking the question, “How did Jesus present the Gospel in His ministry?”
We took the time to look at Jesus’ presentation of the Gospel to people He came across
Now we are looking at how Jesus presented the Bible in story form.
Our topic today is a very important and often misunderstood part of the Gospel.
We are looking at the story Jesus told about workers in a field.
A few critical elements we have established in looking at the Gospel in this series are:
We must acknowledge our sin
We must recognize that only Jesus is a savior and we need Him
We must surrender to Jesus as Lord
All of these are results of faith as we respond to Jesus
I look to Jesus as a savior, because I believe (faith) He died on the cross as a penalty for my sin
I surrender to Jesus because I have faith that He is God and He will guide me in the best path.
The Gospel calls for surrender and humility.
But a part of the Gospel that we have seen in play, but it hasn’t been emphasized is the word ‘grace’.
We can look at the Gospel transactionally
This means that we say, “Jesus you died for my sin, I am a sinner”
Then we say, “Jesus, you are the Lord of my life”
Now, I deserve and have earned Salvation by adhering these two things.
This is not the heart that Jesus calls us to in approaching the Gospel.
If we look at the Gospel as a transaction we have with God, there is no room or understanding of grace.
However, grace is one of the most important aspects of the Gospel.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
In the story we are about to read, the elements we have discussed of the Gospel are present, but they are not the main point of this passage.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 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?’ “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “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.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘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.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
Jesus starts out this passage again by saying, “I am going to tell a story about the Kingdom of Heaven
The Kingdom parallels the Gospel
We went into this in detail last week.
The Gospel is the good news that we can be in the Kingdom of God
The Gospel is articulates the pathway to be identified in the Kingdom of God.
A parable is a fictitious story with a Spiritual meaning.
It is a way of communicating Spiritual truth in a way that people could visualize it and see it in action.
Now, before we dive into this passage I want to say a few things
This is not a parable about fair labor practices
If you are a boss at your job, this is not a model for how you need to operate your work site
This is a parable teaches us an important spiritual lesson
One thing I want to front-load our talk with today is this:
We are conditioned to think that any form of inequity is injustice.
Injustice is always wrong, so we should do away with all that we seem as unjust.
In doing so, we tend to try to fight the battle of equity so justice may prevail.
There is certainly a lot of good that can come from this discussion in our world.
But it is not a comprehensive law that we need to hold to.
This view fails to notice that sometimes inequity is a display of generosity.
Generosity is a good thing and that is what we see in this story.
Has anyone ever been on the playground at school when they were picking teams for a game?
I developed into a pretty good athlete, but there were a few ugly years in the development that I was likely to trip my size 14 shoes over lines painted on the floor.
When picking teams, there was one thing you wanted to avoid. You didn’t want to be picked last.
Being picked last meant that everyone saw you as the worst player there. It was humiliating.
It was also an indicator that if you were going to play the game, you weren’t likely to see the ball in your hands at all.
You would likely be covered by the other worst player. Both of you would be open all the time because neither of you knew how to play defense. But even though you were open, you would never see the ball because…you were picked last.
When Jesus told this parable, he was talking to a reality that these people knew.
Much like last week, all of the people knew the planting process that the sower of the field would go through. When Jesus told them the story, they all were familiar with the picture.
This story was also something that these guys were likely intimately familiar with. Grapevines.
There is some cultural understanding that we need before diving into this passage
During the harvest season, there would be numerous vineyards that would all produce their grapes around the same time.
The field owners would need to enlist help to harvest the grapes.
Simultaneously, there would be people who needed money and work.
The people who needed money and work would show up at the marketplace.
It was something of an informal unemployment pool. The people needing word would show up and hire out the people they needed then they would employ them for the day.
If you didn’t know that background, you might think that the owner of the field went to the mall and started asking people if they wanted a job.
That would sound a bit weird. But knowing this, it was a normal yearly custom at harvest season to go to the marketplace and get hired.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 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?’ “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
So here is a snapshot of what was happening in this story
The landowner looks at his grapevines and says, “It is time to harvest. I need help.”
He knows where to go get help. It is in the marketplace where everyone goes that wants to get hired for a job.
So he goes down there at 6:00 a.m. and hires some guys
They agree to work for one Denarius, which is loosely translated to a days wages
He returns at 9:00 a.m.
They agree to work for a fair amount
He returns at noon, then again at 3:00
They know the work day ends at 6:00, but the landowner goes down to the marketplace at 5:00 to get a few more workers.
The day ends at 6:00.
That is the framework for this story.
At face value so far, there is nothing wrong with this story.
There is a little bit I want to read behind the scenes though.
The 6:00 hires
Strong, young, highly productive. If they weren’t hired by the landowner, they would have been hired by someone else
The 9:00 hires
Strong, and productive. Maybe not as much as the 6:00 guys, but still able to put in a days work.
These guys had been passed over by all of the landowners looking for work.
The noon hires
These guys are still milling around the marketplace. They know that the landowners all likely have their crews in place, but these guys are still there because sometimes a landowner comes back and wants to get a few more guys
These guys had been passed over twice, but were still moderately productive guys.
Think your kids and healthy grandpas.
The 3:00 hires
Think about who would still be milling around the marketplace at 3:00 waiting for a job. Most of the people had likely gone home because it was likely that no one would hire them for three hours.
And if they had been passed over all day, how productive could these guys be? They were not much of a producer in the field. They may have been the elderly, the broken down, the injured.
The 5:00 hires
If the work day ends at 6:00. Can you imagine the guys remaining at 5:00?
These guys were the bottom of the barrel.
Every landowner had passed them by all day long. They were the blind, crippled, the unproductive
In fact, unproductive may be an understatement. These guys were likely a liability to have in the field.
They may take more manpower to keep them in the right place and prevent them from making messes in the field.
These guys were the ones who were waiting. They had no hope. There was no one left to hire them.
They didn’t want to go home and tell their families one more day that they did not find work.
When they were hired, they were probably very excited.
At least they would bring home something rather than nothing.
Can you imagine what these people were thinking? How they were feeling? Even one hours wages was likely more than they had brought home all week.
“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.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘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 the end of the day comes around and the landowner calls everyone in for payment
He begins with the guys he hired at 5:00
These guys likely stood out. They were unfit for labor
They get in line and the landowner gives them each a denarius.
Can you imagine how they felt?
They would be going home with a full-day’s wages. Not just enough for a meal, but they could likely buy a few days meals for their families.
They had to feel like praising God and overcome with joy.
The workers who had worked all day saw this. They thought, “Wow, if this is an hourly wage deal, I’ve been here for 12 hours and I’ve been way more productive than those guys. Maybe he’ll pay me 12 days wages instead of just one!”
But when the master came to them, he gave them one denarius as well.
They were unhappy. They felt it was unfair.
They said, “We’ve worked all day and these guys have only worked one hour. By paying us the same, you are making us equal.”
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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?’
The landowner said, “I’m not being unfair. I’m giving you what we agreed.”
I want to give them a denarius. It is my money. I can do what I want with it.
Why are you angry if I want to be generous.
The landowner was not being unfair, he was being generous.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Once again he gives them a riddle, like last week.
The first will be last and the last will be first.
In the context of this passage, what can we discern this statement means?
In this parable, who was first and who was last?
I think we can assume that the first would be the 6:00 a.m. crew that had worked all day.
We can also assume that the last would be the 5:00 workers.
So, who was paid the most? None of them. They were all paid equally.
So there is no difference between the first and the last. They were all given the same amount.
There was no first or last. That spectrum did not exist in this story.
Remember, this is not a passage about fair labor practices, rather this is a passage about the Kingdom of God.
What is the purpose of this passage? What does it show us? Who is it written to?
If we want to hear the teaching of Jesus in this passage, we need to have ears to hear what He wants to say?
There were two responses to the landowner in this story.
One felt they were deserving.
The other knew they were undeserving
If we remove our views of “labor fairness” out of this parable, we are left with some very incredible truths
God’s Grace Abounds
There are those who would hear this story and picture themselves in this story as the 5:00 people.
Let’s not look at the work side of this, let’s look at the deserving side of this.
There are those who know their sin. They know their separation. They don’t feel condemned by God, they condemn themselves.
When asked about the Kingdom of God, they can offer absolutely nothing.
It’s like a story Jesus told about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
The Pharisee prayed to God telling God all about how great of a person he was. He even thanked God that he wasn’t as sinful as this tax collector.
The tax collector fell on his knees and beat his chest and cried out to God, “Have mercy on me, I am a sinner.”
Jesus said, “One of these men went home forgiven.”
This is what we need to know about the Kingdom of God
Is there work to be done in the Kingdom? Yes! Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
But our work does not determine our salvation. God’s grace does.
Here is what we need to know about grace:
If you are basing the grace you receive from God on what you have done, then you don’t understand grace.
If you are looking at what you have done, then what you expect to receive from God are wages, not grace.
Grace is looking to God and knowing that there is nothing you can do to earn His gift of salvation.
You can work, and it does not add one ounce to your salvation. Salvation is not earned. It is given.
Going back to this story, there is the harsh reality that because of sin, all of us find ourselves as the 5:00 workers.
Helpless, hopeless and in need of a savior.
Wages= transactional salvation which is no salvation at all
Grace is the Driving Force of the Gospel
God has not made the Gospel something that is out of reach of anyone.
If it had a cost, or a standard, some would be excluded.
A soldier in the foxhole would have no hope of salvation
A sinner on their deathbed would have no hope.
But God’s grace is free to the surrendered heart.
In the Kingdom are theologians, pastors, and religious leaders. But in the same Kingdom with no distinction are sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.
So how does this align with what we have been communicating about the Gospel?
It draws from what we saw last week about the soils.
This is not an issue of what we do to earn salvation.
It is a matter of surrendering our heart to Him.
A surrendered heart recognizes it is undeserving.
A surrendered heart remains surrendered even after salvation.
A surrendered heart moves on from the point of salvation to a life of obedience and discipleship.
Grace responds to a surrendered heart to Jesus.
We Must Look at the World Through Kingdom Eyes
Do you know any 5:00 workers?
I typically like to think about the 12:00 or 3:00 workers.
They are the ones I am most comfortable with.
But the 5:00 workers are the ones I cannot even imagine can be saved.
I am uncomfortable with their sin. I don’t like them
It is the homosexual, the Muslim, the political opponent.
We don’t see them as lost, we see them as the enemy.
Question: Is it ok to wait until the last minute?
This parable seems to encourage people to wait until their deathbed before surrendering to Jesus.
There is a last minute
Look at the people who waited to the last minute. They were the desperate. Not the manipulative.
The first will be last and the last will be first
This is a statement of the Grace of God
I cannot add to my salvation, nor can I take away from it
I cannot earn God’s favor, it is earned by Jesus not me