REWARD by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: How do you feel when someone breaks in line ahead of you? It happens in grocery stores, on Black Friday after Thanksgiving. You’ve been standing patiently in a line and then some inconsiderate jerk decides to jump ahead! Sometimes, it happens on the highways. There is a merge sign 5 miles back and you do the right thing but people keep driving past. Then they try to butt in right before the lane ends and some bleeding heart lets them in! It’s so unfair! So also, God’s grace can sometimes appear unfair by our standards. We expect God to honor our lines of justice, fairness, and seniority but he operates by his own lines of goodness and mercy. Just when we think we are next in line for his rewards for all the good and faithful service we’ve done, God puts us at the back of the line! We’re in our series on the parables of Jesus and today we come to parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. The message is titled “REWARD.”
Matthew 20 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ 8 “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ 9 And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. 10 But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Question: Parables are like mirror. They reflect who we are. Which laborer are you? Are you the one who came early or are you the one who came late? If you came late to God, are you working hard to make up for lost time? If you came early to God, are you still working hard for him or have you lost your focus? Have you become envious of the newcomers? Or maybe you are part of the third group who is still standing idle in the marketplace. It means that you’re lost. The Master is calling you. It’s time to get saved.
Context: The parable we just read is deemed by scholars as one of the three most difficult parables of Jesus. The reason it’s difficult is because it’s hard to identify whom Jesus meant when he said in verse 16 “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Were the “first” the “Pharisees and the scribes” and the “last” the “tax collectors and sinners”? Or were the “last” the “disciples of Jesus”? In my opinion, we have to begin 15 verses earlier in Matthew 19:16f to understand the true context of the parable. Here Jesus had the famous encounter with the Rich Young Ruler. Remember, he came to Jesus and asked him what he should do to have eternal life and Jesus told him to keep the commandments—“You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not steal,” etc. The young man very confidently replied, “I’ve already done them. What’s next?” Then Jesus raised the difficulty level and said to him in verse 21 “…If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Why did Jesus tell him that? After all, Jesus didn’t say that to Nicodemus who was also a very rich man. In fact, if you remember, he actually said the opposite when the woman broke the expensive alabaster flask of perfume at his feet. When people complained that it could have been used to help the poor, Jesus defended her and said in Mark 14:6 “Let her alone…She has done a good work for Me.” The reason Jesus told the young man to sell all, give to the poor, and follow him is because he was possessed by his possessions. Listen carefully: There is a big difference between you possessing riches and riches possessing you. You possessing riches is not a problem. There were many rich people in the Bible and many rich Christians throughout history. On the other hand, riches possessing you is a problem. It is not based on how much money you have in your bank account. It’s your attitude towards money. You can have only two dollars in your name but those two dollars can control your life. This young man was not ready for Jesus because he already had a god. As a result, he walked away sorrowful. Please don’t forget: Coming to Jesus does not mean you have to give up everything. It simply means that now Jesus is everything. That is a very hard thing to do if you are possessed by your possessions. Listen to what Jesus said to his disciples in verse 23 “…Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were shocked at this statement and asked in verse 25 “Who then can be saved?” and Jesus replied in verse 26 “…With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Application: Are you the rich young ruler? Are you possessed by your possessions? God can help you. He is not here to take your money. He wants to give you eternal life.
Now Peter in his characteristic manner takes this opportunity to gain some points—27“See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” Unlike this rich young ruler who refused to part with his wealth, they had left all and followed Jesus. He wants to know what will be their reward? 28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, 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 lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” I can imagine the twelve disciples thinking “Yes! Payday is coming!” Jesus being God knew what they were thinking and he said in the next line—30 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” You can almost hear the disciples say, “Wait! What? Isn’t it first we give and then we get and those who give first, get first.” Listen carefully: Even though the disciples had given up their earthly possessions to follow Jesus, they were still operating by earthly principles. To counter this, Jesus gave the parable of Laborers in the Vineyard. Think about the parable again—The landowner had gone out early in the morning to get laborers to work in his vineyard. Those who came early in the morning were the first disciples – Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the other 8. Since there weren’t enough laborers, the landowner went back at the third hour. Still they weren’t enough and he went back at the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and the eleventh hour. Everything was great until it was time for the wages. The disciples were thinking that they were going to be the new leaders, replacing the Pharisees and the scribes. They were going to get the motherlode of the rewards. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way in the kingdom. First, the order got reversed. The eleventh hour once got paid first. Second, the eleventh-hour people got the same amount promised to the first hour people and the first hour people didn’t get any extra reward. Don’t misunderstand: We are not talking about the rewards in heaven. I Corinthians 3:8 “…each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” The reward in this life are the presence of God, the gift of the Spirit, the joy of the Lord, the peace that passes all understanding, the riches in Christ. The first ones don’t get an extra helping! Unfortunately, church people like to act like they have an extra helping when they encounter the 11th hour people. We like to show off Bible knowledge, our spirituality, our understanding of the deep things of God, etc. God says, “You are all on the same level to me.” I believe that the greatest evangelists and Christian heroes and heroines have yet to be born. Again, don’t misunderstand: We are not saying that any new believer can get up and start teaching and preaching. I Timothy 3:6 tell us that an overseer should not “a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.” Having said that, we don’t have levels of membership at Clearview.
Application: How do you see other believers who are less mature than you? How do you treat people who do not know the Bible as well as you? How do you treat people who are still struggling in their spiritual walk?
When the first hour people began to fuss—12 “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ 13But he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’” Their problem was envy. Then Jesus made the same statement from Matthew 19:30 in verse 16 “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Invitation: Have you heard the call? Have you answered his call? Are you saved? This may be the 11th hour for you.