Matthew 20:1–16 ESV
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.”
The late R.C. Sproul made the statement that truth is reality as it is perceived by God. Every word in that statement is so important.
- Truth is the business of the Christian. It is the purpose for which he is reborn by the power of the Spirit. We are ambassadors of Christ, who is the embodiment of truth.
John 14:6 ESV
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.Jesus is ‘the’ truth because he is the greatest reality in this universe. In the realm of that which is real and objectively knowable, Christ stands in the centre.Colossians 2:2–3 ESV
2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.If you are in search of truth, then that search will inevitably gravitate you toward the Messiah.
- Truth is Reality, and whatever is not real, is in and of itself frivolous. It is meaningless.
You see, fiction and everything that is imaginary, that appeals to men, are worth something because, in the end, it appeals to something that is rooted in reality.
It is not really true that people love fantasy because they want to escape reality. They want to escape some aspects of the real, but what they are actually desiring is an alternate reality.
- Truth is Reality as it is perceived by God. In every circumstance, our perception of reality can be contorted, whether by sin or by our finitude, but God sees what is truly real.Isaiah 55:8–9 ESV
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.This means that we have to grow accustomed to the fact that the kingdom of God is a disruption of human wisdom. We are not ambassadors of an ordinary kingdom or of an ordinary king.
Now, this parable before us today is of an extraordinary kind that the reality that it portrays is so foreign to our understanding of rewards, of the wages of obedience. Consequently, this is a parable that has many Christians confused.
We will look at this parable within its proper context and that will bring a lot of clarity.
Every time I stand behind this pulpit, I feel a sense of urgency, more than at any other point in the week. When I open the pages of this book and stand before you, all my desires fade like pale grey smoke in the background of one singular desire, of one singular purpose, that you O Church would see Christ!
That in the face of the greatest reality in the universe, your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, nothing is more important, and for a moment, by the power of the Holy Spirit our worldly vision is blurred and the truth steps beyond the veil and we perceive reality through the eyes of God. This is the power of his Word. This is why I preach the Bible. It is the greatest purpose of my life.
Through word and through deed, to be a conduit of such glory? This is what it means to live. I am more alive than I have ever been when my purpose is the glory of God.
So, I pray, that as you listen to this sermon, that you may experience the abundant life, more alive than you have ever been.
Look to Jesus, see past this pitiable preacher, listen to God’s word, receive his truth, and believe in his promises. Jesus is giving you this one hour of preaching so that you might see him and know him for who he is. Your Lord invites you now. Come and behold his glory!
Matthew 20:1 ESV
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.
- The Kingdom of God is like – In the Gospel of Matthew, there are many parables about the kingdom of God. When we studied chapter 13, we saw around 10 parables on the kingdom. And in that discourse, we read in Matthew 13:10–13 ESV
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to obscure reality from those who do not treasure truth.In Matthew 13:34-35, Matthew accounts that
Matthew 13:34–35 ESV
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”As much as parables obscured, their intention was to reveal hidden things to those who treasure truth.
There is no genuine seeker of truth who will not find Christ. The reason unbelievers deny Christ, no matter how sincere they may appear, is not because of a lack of evidence, it is because of a lack of sincerity.
Romans 1:18–20 ESV
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The issue of unbelief is never a lack of evidence, but a lack of heart.
- And this parable in chapter 20 is no different. Are you professing Christians, are you a sincere seeker of truth? Then this parable is a revelation for you. And if you are not sincere, then this parable will obscure your faith even more.
- Jesus is using parables to reveal to us the nature of his heavenly Kingdom which he inaugurated through his descent upon the earth. This kingdom as we saw in Matthew, is like a mustard seed sown in the earth, and it will grow to become the greatest tree.
What is Jesus’ Kingdom like? All these parables reveal some aspect of his Kingdom to us. Including this parable of the labourers in heaven’s vineyard.
- went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. – just as a man wakes up early in the morning to make most of the day, so the kingdom of God early in the dawn of Christ’s ministry on earth, hired labourers for God’s vineyard.
The keeping of the vineyard is a clear symbol of Kingdom work, and that work is clearly depicted in the New Testament as the life of the church. This is fruitful labour, fruitful of the truest kind.
God’s kingdom is in the business of hiring labourers. All who are called by this kingdom are called to labour in one form or another.
Ephesians 4:11–12 ESV
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,This isn’t an exhaustive list but it does give us the principle of how the body of Christ is built up. We are all labourers called into the vineyard by the master.
Now, within the context of Jesus’ discourse, he is answering Peter who in the previous chapter asks him, Matthew 19:27
Matthew 19:27 ESV
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”Although Jesus began by giving a positive remark, a promise of reward for their sacrificial obedience, Jesus immediately follows it up with a parable, probably knowing Peter’s heart and those of his disciples whose constant inclination was to argue about who among them is greater (Matthew 18:1).
So, you see, within the context, those in the parable who are the labourers in the vineyard that were called early in the morning are Peter and the other disciples.
Matthew 20:2 ESV
2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
- There was an agreement made about the price of their service, a promised reward.
Matthew 20:3–7 ESV
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.’
- Through the course of the day, the master is calling in labourers at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth and the eleventh hour.
If this one day in the parable is taken to be the course of this age spanning many centuries, the kingdom of heaven brings labourers from every generation to serve in God’s vineyard.
- The reality of Christendom is that Matthew 9:37-38
Matthew 9:37–38 ESV
37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”The harvest is always plentiful but God’s workers are few.
Matthew 20:8–10 ESV
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.
- When the evening came – when this age draws to a night, and that final day arrives, God will pay the labourers their promise, beginning with the last to the first.
- they thought they would receive more – Here is the human perception of truth. You see, some of you in this room look at me and wonder at the privilege of serving God at this young age when you have come to know the Lord must later in your own life.
Do you think that my longevity in service to God’s kingdom merits me more than what you are called to do?
Oh don’t you see, Matthew 19:30
Matthew 19:30 ESV
30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Late may be the hour of your arrival to the new life, but late is never the hour for Christ’s purpose. Serve him now and he will reward you all the same.
Matthew 20:11–14 ESV
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.
- It is a human thing to feel entitled, but it is a fantasy. You are owed nothing O man. Though Peter’s question was a good one in the context of the rich young ruler who could not give up his possessions, it was also a question of entitlement.
What do we get for sacrificing for you, Jesus?
- Now remember that the Bible does talk about varying rewards in heaven.
1 Corinthians 3:14–15 ESV
14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.But the apportioning of these rewards is the choice of the Sovereign.
Matthew 20:15–16 ESV
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.”
- The central principle of Heaven’s portion isn’t fairness, it is God’s freedom. You see friends, Grace isn’t fair.
Jesus is free to save you and use you from a young age or to save you before your final breath as you hand on the cross next to him and reward him as much as he would you or me.
- You cannot begrudge the generosity of Christ. If you call for fairness, then heaven cannot be yours.
- Here again, Jesus uses the principle of the last being the first and the first being last as a way of saying that the human way of understanding the position in heaven doesn’t work.
Because if the first is last by principle then no one is first and if the last is first by principle then no one is last. In one way none one can claim to be the greatest in the kingdom or the least because the human metric of fairness, of first and last are broken