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The Parables of Jesus Part 14
Matthew 19: 27-30, Matthew 20:1-16 - God’s Grace is righteous and unexpected and His blessings are always more than we deserve
“Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon 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 farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”
Matthew 19:27-30 NASB1995
““For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went.
Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They *said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first last.””
Matthew 20:1-16 NASB1995
The next parable in the synoptic Gospels is in the beginning of Matthew chapter 20. For the backstory, I included the last verses in Matthew 19, because they lead into the parable that Jesus tells His disciples. At the end of Matthew 19, the disciples are asking Jesus what they will receive for giving up everything and following Him (this follows the interchange with the young rich prince who is told to sell his possessions and follow Jesus). Jesus does indeed promise those who gave up homes and family and farms for His sake will indeed inherit eternal life and receive much in return. He then cautions them that many who are first will be last and the last first.
Jumping into the parable in Matthew 20, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven being like a landowner looking for laborers in his vineyard. He finds laborers in the marketplace in the early hours wanting a job and hires them; they agree to 1 denarius for the day work (fairly typical wages). He returns several times, up to the eleventh hour, and finds more workers and agrees to pay them whatever is right. As evening came, the landowner tells his foreman to pay the workers, starting with the last. The eleventh-hour workers, who only worked for about an hour, were each paid 1 denarius.
The workers who had toiled all day were shocked when they received the same pay, even though they originally agreed to that amount for their labor. They grumble about what they perceive as unfairness, but the landowner calls them on their envy and says that he can give what he wants to every laborer. Interestingly, if the first has been paid first, they likely never would have known about the fact that all the laborers, regardless of the time they worked, received the same wage, unless they all headed to the same tavern after the day was over and compared notes. Jesus repeats His statement: So the first shall be the last. What does this mean, when examining commentary? Enduring Word summarizes this quite well:
So the last will be first, and the first last: Peter and the disciples knew they had given up a great deal to follow Jesus. Peter wanted to know what they would get in return. Through this parable Jesus assured Peter and the disciples that they will be rewarded – but the principle of many who are first will be last and the last first (Matthew 19:30) meant that God may not reward as man expects – even as the parable illustrated.
Some think this parable speaks of the way that people come to God at different stages of their life. They may come at the beginning of their life, in their youth, in adulthood, in old age, or at the very end. Others think it refers to how the gospel first dawned with John the Baptist, then the preaching of Jesus, then the preaching at Pentecost, then to the Jews, and finally to the Gentiles. It is best understood as a parable about grace and reward.
The disciples should expect to be rewarded; but they should not be surprised if, when rewards are distributed, God will reward others in unexpected ways.
Last will be first, and the first last: This is the essence of God’s grace, when He rewards and blesses man according to His will and pleasure, not necessarily according to what men deserve.
The system of law is easy to figure out: you get what you deserve. The system of grace is foreign to us: God deals with us according to who He is, not according to who we are.
It is important to see that the landowner did not treat anyone unfairly, though he was more generous to some than to others. We can be assured that God will never, ever be unfair to us, though He may – for His own purpose and pleasure – bestow greater blessing on someone else who seems less deserving.
The point isn’t that all have the same reward – though all God’s people do go to the same heaven (where they will have reward in different measure). The point is that God rewards on the principle of grace, and we should therefore expect surprises. He will never be less than fair, but reserves the right to be more than fair as pleases Him. God’s grace always operates righteously.
This parable is not a perfect illustration of God’s grace, because the principle of working and deserving is involved. The grace of God does not give us more blessing than we deserve – it gives blessing to us completely apart from the principle of deserving.
Living under grace is sort of a two-edged sword. Under grace, we can’t come to God complaining, “Don’t I deserve better than this”; because God will reply, “Does this mean that you really want Me to give you what you deserve?”
Grace should be especially manifested in our service; it is of grace, not works.
All our service is already due to God; it belongs to Him.
The ability to serve God is the gift of His grace.
The call to serve God is the gift of His grace.
Every opportunity to serve is a gift of His grace.
Being in the right state of mind to do the Lord’s work is a gift of grace.
Successful service to God is the gift of His grace.
“My last word to God’s children is this: what does it matter, after all, whether we are first or whether we are last? Do not let us dwell too much upon it, for we all share the honor given to each. When we are converted, we become members of Christ’s living body; and as we grow in grace, and get the true spirit that permeates that body, we shall say, when any member of it is honored, ‘This is honor for us’…If any brother shall be greatly honored of God, I feel honored in his honor. If God shall bless your brother, and make him ten times more useful than you are, then you see that he is blessing you — not only blessing him, but you. If my hand has something in it, my foot does not say, ‘Oh, I have not got it!’ No, for if my hand has it, my foot has it; it belongs to the whole of my body.” (Charles Spurgeon)
In this modern age when most people spend their time lamenting what they don’t have and envying others for what they do have and even suing and protesting to try and “even the score”, this message is even more profound. Our ability to provide service to God is through His grace and not through our own merits; God also blesses us more than and apart from what we deserve. We should also rejoice in the blessings that He gives others because it blesses us. God will always be fair, but will surprise us in unexpected ways and will be righteous and loving and His ways are higher than our ways. Hopefully, the clueless apostles were starting to get the hint at this point in His ministry that serving Him is all we need to do, without regards to the ultimate rewards (but those will come, too).
My next devotional examines the parable of the two sons, found in Matthew 21:28-32.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - I cannot thank You enough for Your grace and mercy. May I always know that your blessings are more than I deserve at all times in my (through good and bad) Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.