Let us continue our walk through the Gospel According to Matthew. Last week we worked through Matthew 19.
Last week’s look at Matthew 19 ended with the cost of following Jesus. We who believe are called to take up our crosses daily, dying to self, dying to our flesh, and living in the Spirit. This takes a while to sink in for the disciples… and I’d say it take even longer for us to get a grasp on this. Is it any wonder there are so many denominations that get bogged down in the quagmire of works-righteousness? Keep this thought in mind, the thought of what it means to die to self, to the flesh, and live by the Spirit as we look to Matthew chapter 20, where Jesus begins with a very difficult teaching regarding the Kingdom of Heaven… one that confronts the “it’s not fair, why should he get full pay for doing less work than I?” that springs forth from our self-seeking flesh.
Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV) | Laborers in the Vineyard
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.”
What a powerful parable. I’ve been mulling over this parable in my mind all week. Each time I try to work out the analogy of the hiring of the laborers throughout the day, my mind skips down to the complaint levied against the master of the vineyard. For this round, we will focus on this grumbling, and the Lord’s response to the grumbler.
Let us begin by establishing the relationship between the master and the first laborers. These first laborers are in need of work, in need of wages, and they agree to the wage for a day’s labor, and so begin the work granted to them by the master of the house. The agreement is between them and the master. Had no one else been hired, they’d have received their wage with gladness, even if work yet remained. The master didn’t change the terms, didn’t change conditions or the contract. He simply paid the same wages for those who had spent more time standing idly in the marketplace. From where did the grumbling come? From the laborers who were chosen first comparing their compensation to that of the laborers who came last. Rather than praise the master for his generosity to those who came last, they were incensed and offended, because in their eyes, they had done more work and they demanded that the disparity should be reflected in their compensation. The master rebukes this secondly. The master’s first rebuke is far more pointed. One might read it this way, “Do you presume to judge the Master in how I choose to use what is Mine?” I’m reminded of the LORD’s response to Jonah’s tantrum:
Jonah 4 (ESV) | Jonah’s Anger and the Lord’s Compassion
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” 5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind,and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
While this isn’t an exact parallel, there is an overlap. Did Jonah have a true right to be angry? No. Sure, he could (and did) make excuses for his anger, but they simply didn’t stand up to the Word of the Lord and His compassion. The Master of the house showed compassion to the laborers hired in the eleventh hour… God’s Grace is His to extend, and we have no right to grumble against the Master of His House. The greater theme of this parable and of God’s response to Jonah, is that God is Sovereign over all. Our sinful flesh is quick to grumble and grow angry when God doesn’t follow our plan or properly compensate us according to our own measure.
As for application of this parable moving forward, I cannot help but think about the Apostle Paul. From Paul’s perspective, he is the least of the Apostles (1 Cor 15). He ended up working harder than the rest but I want to focus more on the time of his Apostleship. For that, let’s look at select portions from Acts.
Acts 1:15-17 (ESV)
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
Acts 1:21-22 (ESV) 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
Acts 9:10-22 (ESV) 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
The disciples were the first laborers hired by the Master of His House. Paul came much later, and yet was called to the same office of Apostle. This is just an example… we see the disciples welcome Paul quickly and acknowledge Paul’s calling as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Sine Paul was the last Apostle, maybe we can find a broader example of application for this parable. Let us remain in the book of Acts and look to the example of welcoming Gentiles into the Promise, on equal footing with the Jews who believed and were baptized into the Name of Jesus.
Acts 15:1-11 (ESV) | The Jerusalem Council
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
The point being made here is not one of ecumenical lack of discernment; rather, that the Lord is the Master of His House, and He extends grace as He sees fit. Rather than take offense, or accuse God of being unjust, we should praise Him for His Gracious Gifts.
I got a lot out of reading through this parable this week… several days of reading through the same chapter. I hope I didn’t belabor the point too much today.
Matthew 20:17-19 (ESV) | Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time
17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Jesus warned His disciples of what was going to come. Still, with all of the warning, they were not prepared. God’s patience endures, even when our strength fails us.
Matthew 20:20-28 (ESV) | A Mother’s Request
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered,“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The point being made here reflects that of the first parable in the chapter. There is a tendency for us to view experience, or time-in-service as a qualifier for greater authority and rule over those with less experience. That is not how the Kingdom of Heaven works. God does set up offices of authority, but those called to these offices are called to be servants as stewards of God’s grace. The offices serve the church. This is one of the reasons the CEO model of church is so abhorrent… for the corporation serves its CEO, where the Overseers, Deacons, and Pastors serve the church and are held more accountable to God for their stewardship.
Matthew 20:29-34 (ESV) | Jesus Heals Two Blind Men
29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.
These men were blind, so they couldn’t see and follow Jesus of their own. But they had heard of Him, and so cried out to Jesus for mercy. They asked the Lord to open their eyes, and after He did, they followed Jesus. While this happened literally, we prayerfully ask that the Holy Spirit continue to open our eyes to the Truth in His Word, that we might walk in the Spirit and not by the flesh.
Until Next Week
Next week we’ll be working through chapter 21. We’ll be looking at the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, cleansing of the temple, cursing of the fig tree, and the question of Authority, followed by some more parables. I look forward to continuing our trek through the Gospel According to Matthew. Until then, continue walking in faith and growing in knowledge of Christ through the reading of His Word.
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) | Doxology
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,