GOD THE BUSINESSMAN
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 10, 2015
1 “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. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you. ’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 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? ’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us. ’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too. ’ 8 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. ’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 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. ’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? ’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
— Matthew 20:1-16, ESV
God is pictured in this parable as the master of a house. This makes him a husband and father, a farmer and vineyard owner, and a businessman who hires laborers to harvest his grapes. God wears a lot of hats, and He wears them all perfectly well.
As a businessman, God’s ways are not exactly our ways. He has unusual hiring practices and offers uneven compensation. If He were running a modern factory and producing a product for a profit, the company would crumble. The early workers would go on strike, the late workers would develop bad habits, and the government would probably come in and shut down the plant. So it is with the kingdoms of this world.
But God is building an other-worldly kingdom. And the product upon which it is built is called grace. Grace is amazing and strange. Grace is unfair and overflowing. Grace is free and unconditional but requires a lot of work that offers generous rewards. Grace is God’s business, and this parable shows some of the perplexities of God’s peculiar grace.
Grace Brings People Into the Kingdom
A vineyard springs up in Jesus’ parables twenty-two times. It is a consistent symbol for the people of God, the kingdom of God, the salvation of God. In this particular parable, people do not go to the kingdom, the King goes to the people. They are invited and brought into the kingdom by the Master. This is grace. Grace brings you to a place where you do not belong and invites you in.
The greatest heresy told about Heaven is that you deserve it. We often say, “If anyone is in Heaven, I know (insert name) is there.” Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mike Luckovich paints a picture of every celebrity that dies at the pearly gates of Heaven. But Heaven is not for the good, nor the garnished, it is for the graced. And to grasp grace is to understand that God’s kingdom, and its ultimate expression in Heaven, is a place we do not deserve and do not belong.
The visible expression of the kingdom of God on earth is the local church. How great our churches would be if the members understood membership to be a privilege and responsibility, rather than a right. What if acceptance into the church was valued more than being admitted into an ivy league college or an elite social club? It should be, because it is! And admission is based on grace.
If you are a Christian and a member of God’s church, remember that you did not go looking for God, God came looking for you. He brought grace. It is the key to the kingdom. It turns by faith and lets you in. But once you are in, God expects you to work!
Grace Demands Work
Each laborer at each interval of the day was thrilled to be invited by the master of the house to come to the vineyard. It was infinitely better than the boredom and poverty of being stranded in the unemployment line. I am sure the vineyard was fruitful and full of benefits. But the bottom line was, they were chosen and brought there to work.
Even in the perfection of the Garden of Eden, there was work to be done. Work is ordained and honored by God. Every vocation is a sacred calling. When everyone does their work, the fruits of the kingdom are harvested, families are supplied and blessed, and individuals find their self-worth. When work is devalued, churches and families fail, and the individual becomes a dependent ward of a failing state.
Focusing on the theological and practical realms of the kingdom of God, work fits in, and grace is empty without it. Faith is dead without it. Grace grants faith which results in work, and where there is true grace and genuine faith there is an abundance of works.
Not all vocations and callings are the same. Not all the work is equal. I’d much rather be a pastor of a nice church in a southern town than to be a missionary in Afghanistan. I’d rather be playing golf once a week rather than risking my life every day. And when those missionaries are first in line at the judgment seat of Christ gaining greater rewards than myself, I promise not to complain, like some of the laborers in this parable.
Grace Can Seem Unfair
This is the part of the parable that is altogether comical, calamitous, and clear. Imagine being one of the first workers chosen in the first part of the day. Imagine their thought when the last hour laborers were given a full day’s pay. They must have expected a full year’s pay to come pouring out. Comparatively speaking, they would have been right. But since we are speaking of grace, they were out of place. I’m not even sure they got grace, since “friend” is not always a moniker for the saved (ref. Matthew 22:12, 26:50). They may have merely gotten what they deserved, which is okay for payday but not for Judgment Day.
It is a dangerous thing to constantly compare yourself with other people. It breeds pride and jealousy. It leads to low self-esteem, especially amongst adolescents. It causes conflict in families, churches, workplaces, and circles of friends. And it is way out of place when it comes to the business of grace.
Grace by its very definition is not fair. It is getting what you do not deserve. And if you do not deserve it, how can you complain about what you get? As Christians, we are all servants, and it is never proper to judge another man’s servants. Never worry about what God has called someone else to do, simply make sure you are doing what God has called you to do. Never complain about what God gives to someone else, be thankful and joyful over everything God has given you.
Above all, when you agree with God, or anyone else for that matter, to do a certain work for a certain reward, and you get it, don’t complain! For all of us who have come to Christ by grace through faith, the path is different but the end is the same. Enjoy the journey without grumbling or complaining, for the destination will definitely be worth it!
Grace Meets Our Greatest Needs
At the end of the day, all of these guys got paid. Sure, they worked, but the fact they were given a job in the first place was grace. A denarius a day could meet the needs of any man in that era, so every one of their needs were met. Grace meets our greatest needs.
People need acceptance and opportunity. Grace grants it. Grace breaks down the wall of enmity that sin has built between us and God. Grace brings us in to a world more wonderful than we realize now and more awesome in the future than we could ever imagine. Grace makes us children of God, friends of God, coworkers with God.
People need to work, to build, to teach, to care, to serve, to give. We are made in God’s image. God is a giver. We are woefully frustrated when we do not give back. Grace gives us a kingdom and a church, gifts and talents to use, and time to use them with. Make the most of your time, and put the kingdom first. It will bring about a great reward, God promises.
People need rewards. We need to get paid, now and forever. Pay puts food on the table, drinks in our glasses, clothes on our backs, music in our ears, art before our eyes, gifts under the tree. We need these things. What we need even more is to hear our Heavenly Father say, “Well done.” It is a culmination of grace, a reward for hard work, and music in our ears that will never be turned down. God’s business is grace, and God will never go out of business.
FOOLS, FOLLOWERS, AND THE FINAL DAYS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 3, 2015
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 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. 29 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. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
— Matthew 19:16-30, ESV
As the Gospel of Matthew progresses toward the end of Christ’s first coming, this passage points for a moment to His second coming. The first time Jesus came to provide salvation, the next time He comes He will bring judgment. Those who do not secure the former will have to endure the latter, forever.
What appears on the surface to be a very unique meeting with a most unusual person is actually something quite common. The man who approaches Jesus here is simply like most men and women, wanting what most men and women want in this life, and apparently getting what most men and women will get in the life to come. His life stands in stark contrast to the simple fisherman who were the first followers of Jesus Christ. They stood apart before Christ in their day, and will land in drastically different places at the end of days. Let us look into this a little further by seeing the fool, the followers, and the final days.
The Bible gives a distinct definition of a fool as someone who denies the existence of God (ref. Psalm 14:1). However, the broad road to foolishness is paved with more than atheism. Foolishness before God consists not only of people who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also the people who say they do, but live like they do not. I am afraid that puts most people on the planet on this path, just like the man who approaches Jesus in this passage.
We call this man the rich young ruler. All three synoptic Gospels agree he is rich, Matthew points out his youth, and Luke adds that he ruled over other people. We are tempted to view him as one of the elite, an exceptional person, a rarity. But at the end of the day, he is everyman. He is a mediocre model of most people, or at least a caricature of what most people crave.
Most people want to be rich, young, and rule over other people. That’s why people buy lottery tickets, go to casinos, obsess over the stock market, and make monumental decisions based on money. That’s why cosmetic companies and plastic surgeons are raking in record profits. That’s why there is so much strife in government, churches, and homes, where too many chiefs live with not enough indians. Few things are more foolish than the obsessive pursuit of the almighty dollar, old people trying to look young, and sparrows who strut like roosters. But the people who do these things are not few, they are most people.
Most people are good moralists and terrible theologians. This man, like the Pharisaical party to which he may have belonged, believed that people go to Heaven by being good. He also viewed Jesus as merely a good teacher, not as God. For both of these errors, the penalty is death, eternal death. The most popular religion on the planet is not Christianity, Judaism, nor Islam. The most popular religion is religion itself, the vague notion of a distant God who is the gatekeeper of Heaven allowing everyone in except for murderous dictators, serial killer psychopaths, child abusers, and those who claim the SEC is not the best football conference in America. The religious make up most of the people in the world; therefore, most of the people in this world are merely foolish.
Foolish people who place riches, pleasure, power, or personal accomplishments above the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be saved. Foolish religions, even variants of Christianity, that deny the deity and direct atonement of Jesus Christ cannot save anyone. Neither money nor morals will get you into Heaven. Going through confirmation or walking the aisle of a church will not grant you a pass through the pearly gates, either.
There is only one way to be saved, and Jesus said it in this text. “Follow Me.” The rich young ruler wouldn’t do it, will you? Will you be a fool or will you be a follower? And if you are a follower, the one you are following has to be the Lord Jesus Christ.
We find a real fool in this folly, represented by this immaculate rich young ruler. But we find some genuine followers, too, personified by the imperfect and impetuous Simon Peter and his pals. The Lord’s answers to their spoken and unspoken questions provide proof of what it really means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
A follower of Christ is created by God. Self-salvation is as impossible as a camel climbing through a needle, not difficult, impossible. There is nothing good in man that enables him to save himself (ref. Romans 3:10-12). Man must be saved by the enabling of God (ref. John 6:44,65). God chooses (ref. John 15:16; Ephesians 1:4), God convicts (ref. John 16:8), God calls (ref. Romans 8:29-30), God changes (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5), God saves by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10).
A follower of Christ is completely committed to Jesus Christ. The rich young ruler was intellectually curious, emotionally connected, but lacked true commitment. He thought Jesus was special and he wanted to join Christ’s merry movement. Most churches would have taken him on the spot, led him in some sinner’s prayer, and told him to never doubt his salvation. But Jesus doubted his sincerity, and as always, the Lord was right. The grace of God in salvation informs the mind, captures the heart, and moves the will. It identifies Jesus as Lord, mortifies sin and pride, and causes a person to love Jesus and desire to follow Him immediately and totally.
A follower of Christ has nothing in this life, but everything in the life to come. In true communism, everything belongs to the state. In true Christianity, everything belongs to Christ. The rich young ruler did not get this, but the simple fishermen did. Say what you want about Simon Peter, but can you say, like Simon Peter, that you have left everything to follow Jesus? His home was Jesus’ home. His tools of the trade were dropped and used at Jesus’ word. His life was invested in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, so that his life would never end but experience a resurrection itself. Have you committed your life to Christ, so that death will be your gain (ref. Philippians 1:21)?
We are either fools or followers, and we will all know which one when the final days come.
The Final Days
The final days will be drastically different for rich young rulers and poor fishers of men. The rich, the young, and the powerful are first in line in this life, while those who are deeply committed to Christ have often been persecuted, marginalized, or otherwise ordered to the back of the line. But there will come a time when the times will be a changing. It will be the last time, the finals days.
Some claim that the rich young ruler was Saul of Tarsus, who became the imminent Apostle Paul. That is a noble thought, and no doubt Paul’s path to conversion cost him money, health, and privilege. But I rather believe that the rich young ruler became a forgotten man, a nobody, a soul lost for all eternity. This is what happens when you hold on to stuff, to sin, to earthly pursuits at the expense of pursuing God in Christ. You will be absolutely, totally forgotten on the final day.
This is not so with those of simple faith. We will receive infinitely more than mere earthly possessions. And contrary to the false prophets who urge you to name it and claim it now, Jesus said such blessings will be delivered “in the new world” in the next life. This is not to say that blessings do not abound in this life, for they certainly can and do. But those who gladly give up everything for Christ now will gain everything with Christ when the final days arrive.
As we approach these final days, let us remember some final things:
Works without faith is dead, but so is faith without works (ref. James 2:17,26). The rich young ruler was a commandment keeper, but he was not a Jesus follower. You cannot be saved by being good, but you cannot be saved if you are not a good follower of Jesus Christ.
God knows who you really are, and who you really want to be. Christ saw right through the young ruler’s religious disguise. And, He can see through yours, if you are wearing one. You may not be rich, but do you covet riches? You may not be young anymore, but do you revel in youthful lusts? You may not have much power, but if you did, what would you do with it, enrich yourself or advance the kingdom of God? God knows who you want to be, and who you want to be is who you really are.
Finally, let me again us this Jim Eliot quote, for it fits so many terrific texts in Scripture: “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This is the gospel truth. Simon Peter learned its valuable lesson and now enjoys values unlimited. And so can you, if you cast off foolishness, follow Jesus Christ, and worship Him until the final days.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org