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Matthew 20 - The Last Shall be First

Our help comes from You – You are worthy of our praise and worship. Prepare our hearts – help me to speak from Your Word.

I know I have mentioned that I am going to start a series on the Questions People Ask Jesus – but not yet – Jeff will be sharing next week – I like to do an eclectic group of sermons, as Bob Bizub and I say… but I won’t get into that.

Matt. 20:1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

When Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” this is the beginning of a parable. A parable is more than an illustration. Whenever Jesus gives a parable, he is telling a story that people who are listening would have had as an everyday event. In the common scene, He introduces uncommon elements to the story – things that should not be in the story (from our perspective) – a twist. The listeners are either shocked, surprised, or disturbed or offended by the story.

Illustrations usually don’t offend. Parables do. The point is to disturb the listener of the parable.

When Cindy was on spring break – we got caught up on some movies. I confess, I like romantic comedies. I went into Blockbuster – saw what looked like a romantic comedy called “He loves me, he loves me not” – it was PG 13, and I got it. It had all the elements of your basic romantic comedy. About halfway into the movie – we started realizing – something is not right. 2/3 of the way through – we realize this is not a romantic comedy – it is actually a PSYCHO movie! Cindy asks – Did you read this thing? The actress who normally plays a romantic – she is doing away with all these guys! Even though it was not a parable – it had the same shock value!

Matt 20: 2 "And when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to those he said, 'You too go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And [so] they went. 5 "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. 6 "And about the eleventh [hour] he went out, and found others standing; and he ^said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' 7 "They ^said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He ^said to them, 'You too go into the vineyard.' 8 "And when evening had come, 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.' 9 "And when those [hired] about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. 10 "And when those [hired] first came, they thought that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius. 11 "And when they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 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.' 13 "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? 14 'Take what is yours and go your way, but 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 what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' 16 "Thus the last shall be first, and the first last."


I am going to break this down. First of all, this is not instruction on labor relations! He is not promoting or against unions. It is not about fair labor laws or minimum wage. It is about the kingdom. He is using a common story to teach us an uncommon truth about God’s Kingdom. It is not what you would expect. It is not the way we think things should be.

Matt. 20:1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

The pattern – what is common? This is a scene that would play out every day in a community in Palestine. There would be a marketplace where they would sell goods and food. Day laborers – would go out at sunrise – and wait for a landowner. It was not like today where you would work for Ford and get up and work from 7:30-3:30! Either you were a day laborer – or a landowner, or a religious sort, like a Pharisee, Sadducee or hypocrite J, or , or a couple others I won’t mention – or worked for the Roman government.

2 "And when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.

This was an average wage – nothing unusual.

3 "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to those he said, 'You too go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And [so] they went.

There was more work to be done – they worked on a twelve hour day (so don’t complain about 10!). You would think they would get ¼ less than the first. Each time, he tells them he will give them what is right.

6 "And about the eleventh [hour] he went out, and found others standing; and he ^said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' 7 "They ^said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He ^said to them, 'You too go into the vineyard.'

This is the 11th hour – hiring them for one hour – what could they possibly accomplish? Here is where you realize, he is not talking about working in the vineyard.

This is about the URGENCY of the task – it needs to be done that day – remember this is about the kingdom!

Why were they sitting there all day and no one hired them? It was harvest time! You can’t really assume this – but – likely, these were the unwanted workers. The last ones to be hired. They probably had some deficiencies. They were the least qualified. Jesus is revealing His Kingdom – from the world’s perspective, many of Jesus’ followers were the ones who were least likely – those pushed to the margins of society.

V8 – it all turns – and you realize you are watching a completely different movie than you were watching.

8 "And when evening had come, 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.'

OWNER = LORD – he is trying to teach us the character of the king and of God Himself. The landowner is representing God. There is a lesson about this king that is uncommon.

'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last [group] to the first.'

He is breaking protocol and etiquette. To pay the last first – that is where the shock value comes in – this is WRONG! This is not right! Those he hired first should be paid first.

9 "And when those [hired] about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.

This was normal – they would get paid at the end of the day. These guys worked 1 of the 12 hours. A common wage was one denarius per 12 hour day. They were paid an entire day’s wage! These guys were probably thrilled. Imagine calling in sick all the time except one day and still being paid a full salary.

Everyone else in line is watching this. They were here an hour, yet they were paid in full!

What might he pay us?!

10 "And when those [hired] first came, they thought that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius.

This is the disturbing, offensive part of the parable. They begin to cry foul!

11 "And when they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,

This would not fly with the union!

If you worked hard and got the same treatment as someone who did nothing – YOU WOULD BE OFFENDED! This is not right!

12 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.'

It would have been hotter there than here. Working in the heat of the day was HOT! And this king paid them all the same – even the one who worked in the cool of the evening.

Is this lord just? What is God’s justice? Is God really fair? The answer to that is in the parable. – the landowner went out and agreed a wage up front. He did not negotiate or bargain them down. He was paying them exactly what was correct and right. Everything was proper.

When I was a kid, I was a caddy. You would go to the course at sunrise – and you would sit and wait. You would love getting picked right away – because you might be able to get another job.

When the landowner went out at other times – I will give you what is right. He must have had a reputation as being a just employer – because they went out.

He dealt fairly with everyone and was known for it.

13 "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?

Friend – He calls him friend. Did we not have a contract? You were excited – and now another pitcher is making more than you and you want to renegotiate?! Okay he didn’t say it like that – You are getting what we agreed on – exactly what you’ve earned. There is no one in this kingdom that will get less than what they deserve.

, but I wish to give to this last man

He wishes to give. God wishes to give. That is what God wants to do. What do you wish for? What do you dream for? God wishes – His dream – what encourages and excites Him is the ability to give to those who don’t deserve it.

The word for that is grace. That is the nature of the king. He wishes to give what we don’t deserve. The kingdom will be filled with people who get what they do not deserve and what they did not earn. You know what? This problem of getting what we did not earn – this is the number one problem of the church. We want the world to work in such a way that people get what they deserve. Those who come into the kingdom do not deserve it. You can only get there because God wishes to give to you.

16 "Thus the last shall be first, and the first last."

In closing this off, He is saying – the way we think, the way the world normally thinks – those who work the 12 hours – those are the ones who deserve God’s gift, God’s blessing. But God says, if it is mine, I can give it to whomever I wish.

Grab a Bible.

This is a how to study your Bible lesson – then I’ll give a practical application.

Chapter 20 – Laborers in the Vineyard

That was not there when Matthew wrote it. Nor when John wrote his. He did not go to the stadium and hold up a sign “Me 3:16”

Go back.

Matt. 19: 27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" 28 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. 29 "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life. 30 "But many [who are] first will be last; and [the] last, first.

It starts all the way back with the story of the rich young ruler.

Matt. 19: 16 And behold, one came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" 17 And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is [only] One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." 18 He ^said to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not commit 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 things I have kept; what am I still lacking?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go [and] sell your possessions and give to [the] poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, 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." 25 And when the disciples heard [this,] they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" 26 And looking upon [them] Jesus said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Rich young ruler meant “Favored by God” – if anyone is living the Jewish life the way he ought to – it was the rich young ruler.

You are very close – but you lack one thing – go and sell everything and follow me.

The disciples are stunned – who can get into heaven then? If anyone – this guy should!

Peter – well what about us? We have left everything and followed you.

Jesus says, don’t worry Peter. This is a promise – but it is also a rebuke. You’ll get yours. The first shall be last.

He is speaking of the ones we look at.

There are two ways to live – the way of the world says we live by merit – getting what we deserve in live. This person is worthy – this person has the resume. That doesn’t get you there. YOU will not get there based on your good life. The second way to live – understand what we see in the parable – God wishes to give. Christ wants us to learn how to receive. The kingdom can only be received – it is offered to us – and life can only be received. Even as Christians – Eph. 2:8-9 – for by grace we have been saved….

But do you really live your life by grace? Is your concept, He wishes to give? Not – I need to prove. Not, I need to earn, prove, do…

But to live a life where we simply – our relationship with God is based on – that He wishes to give. He wants to give to us.

Let’s pray


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