16th Sunday after Pentecost
First or Last
VIDEO – “Last to First.”
Working as State Director for CEF of Ohio, Inc.
Asked three times to consider joining the USA Ministries Department at the CEF Headquarters
I finally accepted the position of Associate Director of Administration and Finance
It wasn’t long after arriving at the headquarters that the first layoff occurred
A couple of years later a second layoff happened
Another round of layoffs were coming and I was thinking to myself that I am too valuable to the USA Ministries Department for them to lay me off
It was the night before the layoff that God spoke to me and let me know that I was one of the people who was going to be laid off
I was considering myself to be first, but through that layoff I understood that I was last
We can have those same feelings in many areas of our lives
Sports – we may feel like we should be starting, because we’re better than to other person playing that position
Work – we may feel like we have a better work ethic or we deserve a raise or promotion over other people
Government – we may feel like we are entitled to certain privileges or tax deductions from the federal, state, and/or local governments
School – we may feel entitled to a certain grade in school or to special treatment, because we our grades are good
Church – we may feel like others should look up to us because we serve on the board or have been a long-time member of the church
It’s not in every case, but it does happen sometimes that those who were popular in high school have not really made anything of themselves as adults (perhaps this happened because they didn’t work hard and felt entitled to certain privileges)
Again, not in every case, but in many cases, those who were marginalized as “nerds” (band, math, science, etc.) are now the ones who are successful and have done something significant with their lives
In every case above, our attitude determines the outcome
Pride and entitlement can cause problems with our relationships
Humility and service can also affect our relationships in a positive way
As Jesus continues to teach His disciples, He explains, again, what the kingdom of heaven is like. He uses another parable to help them understand an important truth. Jesus wanted His disciples and us to know that . . .
BIG IDEA – Our attitude in service determines our place in line.
GOD (Matthew 20:1-16)
What Jesus teaches us in Matthew 20:1-16 is a result of His conversation with the rich young ruler in 19:16-22, and Peter’s response to Jesus’ statement about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God
The disciples are astonished and wander who is able to be saved if it’s difficult for the rich to be saved
This was part of the cultural belief of the 1st Century that the wealthy were able to achieve whatever they wanted
Perhaps we have the same misconception about the wealthy in our culture today
It’s not hard to have that opinion when we see some celebrities receiving what looks like an easier sentence for something that would land us in jail
In God’s economy, wealth has no standing
Peter then makes the statement about how the disciples have left everything to follow Jesus and wants to know what there will be for them?
The rich young ruler refused to sacrifice his wealth to follow Jesus
The disciples have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus (businesses, family, etc.)
Jesus explains that the Twelve Disciples will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel
Everyone who sacrifices to follow Jesus will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life
Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (notice that He doesn’t say all)
Many who look successful here on earth, may not be the ones who are regarded as successful in heaven
Many who look unsuccessful by the world’s standards here on earth, may be the ones who are considered successful in heaven
Jesus will repeat this principle in reverse order in 20:16
So, Jesus begins His parable the same way He has started other parables, “For the kingdom of heaven is like . . .”
Hiring workers (vv. 1-7)
Read Matthew 20:1-7
The “For” lets us know that what Jesus is about to say points back to the previous information we just talked about in 19:16-30
God is the landowner in this parable
Believers are the laborers
The ancient work day was typically split into three-hour increments
The typical work day in the Ancient Near East began at 6:00 am and concluded at 6:00 pm (sunset)
The landowner would have gone to the marketplace earlier than 6:00 am to begin hiring day workers
The third hour would have been 9:00 am
The sixth hour would be 12:00 pm (noon)
The ninth hour would be 3:00 pm
The eleventh hour would be 5:00 pm
It’s interesting to note that the only group of workers who are given a specific amount that they will be paid is the first group
Some scholars believe these workers were asking what the pay would be and received a verbal contract from the landowner of one denarius (that was considered a fair wage for one day’s work as a laborer)
Families often went day-to-day, earning only enough money for the food for that particular day
Notice that the other laborers were told that they would be paid whatever is right
Perhaps the laborers who worked three-quarters of the day, half the day, and a quarter of the day were only expecting to receive that portion of a denarius
We’ll see in vv. 11-12 that there was obviously an expectation by the laborers who were hired first that there should be a sliding scale or tiered scale for pay based on the number of hours worked
Who do the various workers throughout the day represent?
This is a fair question
In our humanness we want to know if the full-day workers represent those who have been Christians most of their lives, while the other workers represent those who became Christians later on in their lives
Trying to figure that out distracts us from the main point of the parable – the distinction of the various workers is not important
“God’s way of compensating for righteous working may differ from what we expect. God’s sense of ‘fairness’ is not the typical self-serving human perspective. He does not compare us to one another but to our fulfillment of our own stewardship.” [Weber, 318]
God is concerned about how we, as an individual, are accomplishing what He has called us to do for the kingdom of God
When we believe in Jesus for salvation, we receive a gift or gifts from the Holy Spirit
These gifts are to be used in the body of Christ to encourage and strengthen the body and to lead others to Jesus Christ
If we neglect to use our gifts, we run the risk of losing them (Matthew 25:14-30, parable of the talents)
We are rewarded for what we do for the kingdom of God based on our own labor
Read 1 Corinthians 3:3-9 [#1]
The landowner continues to hire more workers throughout the day, which is a picture of God continuing to send believers into His spiritual vineyard (the world), to share the Gospel, until the last possible moment
After the work day is done, the landowner tells his foreman to gather all the laborers
Paying workers (v. 8-10)
Read Matthew 20:8-10
Difficult concepts in our human understanding
It seems like the landowner is doing things backwards in paying the workers hired at 5:00 pm before the workers hired at 6:00 am
Had he done it in the reverse order (first hired to last hired) then those who worked the longest hours wouldn’t have been around when he paid the group who only worked one hour
Yet, Jesus is telling the parable in such a way that He can teach spiritual truths to His disciples
He wanted them to understand that God’s economy works differently than man’s economy
It’s also difficult for us to understand why all of the workers, regardless of how long they worked, were paid the same amount
Each of the workers needed to be able to feed their families
It took a day’s wage in order to buy all the food they needed
PRINCIPLE – God cares for people more than things.
In the parable, the laborers who are not hired at 6:00 am, are not criticized
They were willing and eager to work and obviously needed the work
“The owner hired them not for what he could get out of them in just a few hours, but because they needed the work, and he paid them the full denarius for the same reason. The owner was not thinking of his profit. He was thinking of people, and he was using his ample means to help them.” [Boice, 420]
The same is true of God concerning sharing the Gospel through us
He doesn’t need us to share the Gospel, because His invisible qualities are clear through His creation
Romans 1:20, For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Luke 19:37-40, When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
He uses us to share the Gospel, so we can join Him in His divine plan and experience the joy that comes when someone turns from darkness to light – from death to life – from condemnation to redemption
Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:29-30)
The older son was angry because the father rejoiced in the return of his younger brother
He should have been rejoicing, but instead he was consumed by the fact that his younger brother had wasted his inheritance
He was more concerned about the fact that he had been responsible and was not carefree and careless like his younger brother
What was the attitude with which he remained faithful to his father?
Was it an attitude of love and gratefulness?
Or was it with an attitude of duty?
Did he really want to do the same thing as his younger brother, but didn’t feel like he could
Attitude in service is important
Why do we serve God?
Is it out of love for Him and a desire to see others come to salvation?
Or, is it because of what we can get Him to do for us or because we feel obligated or a sense of duty?
We struggle in our humanness for equality and fairness, but we don’t always understand God’s divine equality and fairness
We want God to operate in our idea and understanding of equality and fairness
If we’ve been a Christian for a long time, that should count for something more, than for those who become Christians later in life or on their death bed
We should be compensated for our long Christian life
Yet, God is more concerned about our attitude and the quality of our service for Him and not just the length of time
Do we have the same attitude as God does concerning people? (He values them more than things)
Our attitude in service determines our place in line.
PRINCIPLE – God is infinitely generous and gracious and will always give us better than we deserve.
We may struggle with the fact that God treats every believer equally
The God of Scripture delights to lavish blessing on His children
Read Ephesians 1:3-14
We have to understand that none of us deserves salvation, yet God was infinitely generous and gracious towards us
He sent Jesus from heaven to earth to die on a cross to pay our sin debt
We were so deep in debt, because of our sins, that we could not take care of it on our own
We had to have someone help us to remove the debt of sin
That’s exactly what Jesus did when He died on the cross, was buried, and came back to life in three days
He was the only One who could pay our debt, because He was perfect, without sin
2 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus took our punishment for sin, so that we could be in a right relationship with God – a restored relationship with Him
That relationship was broken when Adam and Eve disobeyed God
It remained broken until Jesus Christ came to earth to die
God provided a covering for Adam and Eve and a way for the Israelites to cover over their sins (sacrificial system) until Jesus came to restore the relationship between us and God
Ephesians 2:8-9, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
My Next Step Today Is To: Recognize God’s infinite generosity and grace and accept His gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus addresses the incorrect attitude of the laborers who were hired first
Complaint about pay (vv. 11-12)
Read Matthew 20:11-12
“Little seems more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!” [Blomberg, 303]
That was the attitude of the laborers hired at 6:00 am
We worked a twelve hour day while the last ones hired only worked one hour
We worked during the heat of the day and they began to work after the sun was nearing the western horizon, about to set
They were upset that because he paid them the same, that it made them equal
We can fall victim to the danger of comparing ourselves to others and having expectations that are higher than reality
We have developed a sense of comparison and entitlement
“The blessing of eternal life is the same for all. Some are not more saved than others.” [France, 751]
The amount of time we’ve been saved does not guarantee a greater salvation than those who have been saved a shorter period of time
The only yardstick that we should be comparing ourselves to is Jesus Christ, and when we do that we realize that we fall short – we are to be striving each day to become more like Him
“Jesus made the point that heaven’s rewards are based upon: God’s standards and our faithfulness to our calling in both attitude and action.” [Weber, 319]
1 Corinthians 4:5, Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
The landowner addresses the complaint of the laborers who were hired first
Jesus is addressing the concern that Peter raised concerning what there would be for them as disciples who had sacrificed everything and were with Him from the beginning
The attitudes of the laborers and the disciples are revealed at this point
Attitudes revealed (vv. 13-16)
The landowner explains that he has not been unfair with the workers that were hired first, because he paid them what was agreed upon
He explains that he wants to be generous with everyone that he hires and has the right to do that with his own money
He challenges the twelve-hour laborers concerning what is going on in their hearts – they are envious of his generosity
What is the attitude with which we serve the Lord?
PRINCIPLE – God is concerned about our attitude and motives in serving Him.
Our attitude should be one of gratitude, because none of us would receive anything aside from Jesus’ intervention in our lives
We would be eternally separated from God in our sin without Jesus’ perfect sacrifice
“Jesus says we have to stop thinking of our service in terms of debt or obligation. Instead, we have to serve in the spirit of a son who serves because he loves his father, rather than in the spirit of a hireling who serves only for his wages.” [Boice, 419]
Read illustration from Reuben Torrey in Boice’s commentary, page 419.
We may be surprised one day when we get to heaven and realize that “many Christians who have worked hard for God over a long period of time will have a lowly place in the kingdom, because their motives were not purged of the ideas of merit and reward. Many poor Christians who came to faith only at the end of their life will be high in the kingdom because they knew they had done nothing to boast of, and never gave rewards a thought.” [Green, 213]
We should be careful not to criticize God for His graciousness
Blomberg says, “. . . we are fools if we appeal to God for justice rather than grace, for in that case we’d all be damned.”
We normally only think about God’s justice when we think we aren’t getting what we deserve
Unfortunately we sometimes spend more time thinking about God’s justice for us, instead of God’s grace towards us
Grace is not getting what we deserve
Jesus returns to the same statement He made in 19:30, but He reverses the order
Now He says, “the last will be first, and the first will be last”
Our motivation in serving God is so important
Our attitude in service determines our place in line
If you’re attitude and motivation in serving the Lord is based on merit and reward, or debt and obligation, then the only place you will be first is on earth
Others may look at you and say how committed you are and much time or money you sacrifice in serving the Lord
Matthew 6:1, 5, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven . . . And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
If you’re attitude and motivation in serving the Lord is based on love for Him, then you will rejoice with those who turn from sin and find salvation through Jesus Christ – you’ll be glad for those who are laboring with you even if for a short time
It may appear on earth that you are last, but in God’s economy you will be first
Where do you want to be when Jesus returns? (First or last)
I would venture to say that most of us want to be first in God’s economy and not the world’s
My Next Step Today Is To: Be honest about my attitude and motivation in serving the Lord, and determine to serve the Lord out of love for Him and not out of merit and reward or debt and obligation.
“The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of a magnificent cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers, so he chose three and asked them this question, ‘What are you doing?’ The first replied, ‘I'm cutting stone for 10 shillings a day.’ The next answered, ‘I'm putting in 10 hours a day on this job.’ But the third said, ‘I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London's greatest cathedrals.’”
(Source Unknown) [http://sermonillustrations.com/a-z/a/attitude.htm]