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.