18th May 2023
Read (Matthew 20v1-16)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
I remember being told by a friend that she knew that she wasn't her grandmother's favourite. Why was she so sure? At Christmas the grandmother gave her grandson a substantial financial gift while my friend was given a fruit loaf that she suspected had been given to her grandmother by a local church. Humanly speaking we always want justice and fairness and equality. If my brother receives a gift of twenty pounds then I should get the same. Correct?
Jesus once told a story about a master who went out to hire workers for his vineyard (v1). He hired workers at dawn (v1b) and agreed to pay them a denarius for their day's work (v2). Three hours later he hired more workers (v3). After another three hours he hired more workers and then again three hours later (v5). Finally when the day was nearly over the master hired some previously overlooked workers for his vineyard (v7).
How much would you have paid each worker? There were individuals who worked for twelve hours and individuals who worked for only one. How much did each deserve? Remarkably in the Lord's parable each worker was paid the same. Those who were hired first complained and said "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." (v12).
I'm sure you and I are sympathetic to the workers who laboured all day. You can imagine the blisters on their hands and the sweat on their brow and the slight sting of sun burn. How dare the master give them the same wage as the workers who only sweated for an hour! Nevertheless, the master didn't back down. He reminded the workers that they had agreed to labour for a denarius and despite their desire for a little bit more, they received what they were due (v13).
As far as the other workers were concerned it was the master's free choice to pay them the same (v14). The master had every right to take what belonged to him and use it as he saw fit (v15a). We might look negatively at the master in this parable and suggest he acted unfairly but perhaps an alternative would be to say that the master was incredibly generous. Indeed the master asked his grumbling workers "do you begrudge my generosity?" (v15).
What has any of this to do with the kingdom of God? The Christian life is not a competition with other Christians. We do not need to look with jealousy at our more faithful brother or sister. Nor do we need to pour contempt on the Christian who we deem to be "less" than us. Regardless of the fame or otherwise of a Christian and regardless of their time labouring for the Lord, each sinner's sins have been paid for by the extraordinarily generous gift of Christ's blood. The Christian who has walked with the Lord for eighty years should rejoice over the man who trusts in Christ in the final moments of his life. There is no room for pettiness or jealousy or strife or malice in the kingdom of God.
A perfect example of this can be found in the life of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1v15-18). He found himself in prison while the Gospel was being preached in the outside world. Some preached the Gospel out of love for the Apostle and to encourage him in his chains, others preached it to make themselves look good and to make Paul feel his chains that little bit more. Paul's response? "In every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice." (v18).
Brothers and sisters, we are walking to glory together and the Lord will surely get us there. Some of us will do great things for the Lord whilst others will cling to Christ by their fingertips. Some of us will spend a lifetime serving the King whilst others will follow for minutes or even dying seconds. Some of us will be respected and admired by the wider church whilst others will barely be known even in their local fellowship. All of us our recipients of God's extraordinary abundant gracious generosity in the Gospel of Christ. The Christian life is not like this world's "rat race", instead the last will be first and the first last.
"The feeble saints cost Christ as much suffering as the strong ones, the tiniest child of God could not have been purchased with less that Jesus' precious blood, and the greatest child of God did not cost him more." (Charles H. Spurgeon)
Q49 Which is the second commandment? The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.