Matthew 20

Matthew 20: The Workers in the Vineyard

“The kingdom of heaven is like….”  So the first verse tells us this is a parable which reveals facts about the kingdom of heaven.  You might also find yourself agreeing more with the workers in the vineyard  than the vineyard owner.  So let me set the stage for who’s who in this parable. The vineyard is the kingdom of heaven. The vineyard owner is the Lord.  The workers are us- mankind. The market place is the world in which we live.   The fact that you believe something is unfair- while the Lord tells us it is fair and even more so is a picture of the mystery and wonder of God’s amazing grace and sovereignty.

The parable is preceded by the last verse in Matthew 19, where Jesus says to the disciples: “ But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”  And Jesus will end this parable in Matthew 20:16 with a similar truth: “ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

A quick overview of the parable about the kingdom of heaven tells of a vineyard owner who went out early in the morning to hire workers in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them one denarius for their days’ work. This would have been fair  and customary pay. He then sent to work in the vineyard.  This was early in the morning.  Later at the third hour ( 9:00am) he went into the marketplace again and the KJV says he “ saw others standing idle in the marketplace”   Remember that adage of old?  “ An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”.  Cannot help but think of that when we visualize this setting. Today in many cities there are places where men who are unemployed go to a location in the marketplace and stand idle waiting for someone to come and hire them for the day, as day laborers. The vineyard owner tells them go to work in my vineyard and “ I will pay you what is right.”

So the story begins- some went early in the morning, probably first light. Will put in a 12 hour day. Next group engaged probably started 3 hours later.

The next 2 visits by the vineyard owner take place at noon, 3:00 pm- ‘and did likewise.’ Thus they were hired with the promise- I will pay you what is right.

The last visit is at 5:00pm, when quitting time is 6:00pm.  Again the KJV tells us ‘ he went out and found others, standing idle and said unto them: ‘ Why stand ye here all day idle?”  Their reply was – ‘because no man has hired us.’ He tells them to go to the vineyard and he will pay them what is right.

Now what happens next is where we find ourselves ( or a least I did) in agreement with the workers and disagreement with the vineyard owner. First notice how the vineyard owner is involved in everything. He instructs his foreman to pay in this order:  “ Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.” This seemed out of order to my way of thinking.  ( ever use that phrase- to my way of thinking?  God’s ways are higher than our ways.)

Next comes the twist in the story which if we will be honest- does not seem fair. He paid the worker who only worked an hour- the same as those who worked 12 hours.  When word of that went back to the end of the line- those workers begin to expect they would be paid more than these workers and more than the denarius they had agreed to work for.

But when we agree with the workers who worked all day and grumble against the vineyard owner – we miss the point of the story.  The story is about grace and sovereignty.  “ For by grace are saved through faith,and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. “ ( Ephesians 2: 8,9)   We cannot earn salvation. We cannot work and God owes us- for God owes no man anything.   Grace is receiving that which I did not deserve.

This story is about the Lord. He is the one who is up early in the morning going into the marketplace.  Out of his kindness- all day long He is looking for souls standing idle in the marketplace. For here is what He knows- you will be either hired, engaged by the Lord as your Master or you will be hired and engaged by the devil as your master. You will either serve righteousness or serve sin.  But you cannot serve two masters.

More than likely in the marketplace where unemployed men stand idle- if they are not hired they will find themselves engaged in activities that will lead to trouble. Drinking, drugs, fighting and even crime. It is a story we see played out in cities and towns all over our country – even Jackson.

The parable also tells us that many are redeemed  early in life, they went to work in the vineyard in the morning of their lives. Yet those who got saved even in the last hours of their lives- enjoy the bliss of heaven also. Should we grumble- they did not work for the Lord as long as they did?  Or should they rejoice as the father of the prodigal did- that this son, he loved who was dead is alive. Perhaps there is more elder brother in us than we like to admit.

Others, ( myself included) came into the kingdom in our midlife- at noon or even 3:00 pm.  Although years have been wasted- God wastes nothing and in saving those later in life- His Grace is magnified. I think of the demoniac who lived in the cemetery, wore no clothes and cut himself. Then I picture him cleaned up, dressed and in his right mind seated next to the Lord beaming with a love for His Lord and this man is a trophy and portrait of grace. The thief dying on the cross never did one thing for His Savior but believe Him.

Others are saved late in life- at the hour before evening falls. Nicodemus was old- but he was born again. It is never too late to do the right thing. Therefore never give up praying for someone no matter how late in their life it is.  Peter said: “ God is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance.’  The vineyard owner could not stand to see men standing idle- for he knew who would hire them and engage them in his workshop.

Listen to the exchange between a worker who worked all day and got exactly what he agreed to do – work all day for a denarius. The vineyard owner replied: “ Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?

“So the last shall be first , and the first last.”

Who in the Bible was first and now will be last?  The Jews, God’s chosen people. Abraham’s seed were blessed with all types of spiritual blessings in order to for all the nations of the earth to be blessed through them. They were to be a pipeline, a conduit of God’s blessing, not a reservoir.

The Jews did not think it fair- the Gentiles should get what they had received and worked so hard to maintain. This was their problem as Paul points out in Romans 9- “ Because they pursued it not by faith, but by works.”

The Jews, even those who agreed Jesus was the Christ, thought the Gentiles should be circumcised, observe their man-made laws.  As if this was a fraternity, you had to go through hazing and works in order to earn membership.    Therefore, the Jews who had all of this given to them first- will be last. They will not come into the kingdom until the fullness of the times of the Gentiles has been reached. So those who were first will be last- and the last will be first.

For this is about God’s grace and sovereignty- not about works and God owing you anything. The vineyard owner- says you are envious because I am generous.

Here is the takeaway- be content with that which God has given to you.  Be careful you do not envy others who appear to have been given more. Do not think God is unfair or unjust- for He cannot be anything but just and righteous. He is the potter – we are the clay.  Envy is  being displeased with the good fortune of others, especially if it appears they have not served the Lord with the same intensity or as long as you have.   It creeps into your thinking like the snake creeped into the garden- and whispers in your ear- why is God allowing this to happen to me and mine when we try so hard to serve Him? And those who seem not to care as much as we do- seem to have no problems and prosper or enjoy life seemingly with everything they need?

In the Old Testament we have the story of Job- which seems God allowed this to happen as a contest between the devil and Himself. But yet when it comes down to the end of the story- God blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had 10 children killed in a tornado. Yet would live to have 10 more- which means Job will have 20 children with him in heaven throughout eternity. Our daughter Carrie and her husband Jack, lost a little boy- still born. We were all so sad for they had undergone vitro at great expense and pain and now were devastated with this loss. What did God do? Blessed them with a little boy and little girl!

In the New Testament – we have the story of our Beloved Savior, the Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. He was betrayed, and executed in a most cruel and shameful manner, as a criminal. If the Cross is our banner- we must remember what it was and is- a symbol of suffering and shame. Yet for the joy of setting us free- the Lord paid the price, endured the shame and suffering and He is our role model.

Now following this teaching, the disciples fall into dispute and were indiginant that James and John’s mother was requesting and campaigning for her sons to be seated at his right hand and left.  Yet clearly the Lord has been teaching greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured by a humble spirit. God gives grace to the humble. He resists the proud.

The chapter ends with the story of the two blind men. A glimpse also into the kingdom of heaven and how prayer is received. They heard Jesus was passing by and began to cry out in a loud voice: “ Lord, Son of David, have mercy upon us!”  When told to be quiet- they yelled even louder.

“ Jesus stopped and called to them. What do you want me to do for you?  Lord we want our sight. Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him.”

Let us observe the obvious.

  1. Perserverance. They were crying out with loud voices and would not stop crying out. Like the widow coming to the judge, and the neighbor knocking on the door. Like Jacob wrestling with the Lord who will not let go.
  2. Humility. They are praying  for mercy, compassion, have pity on us.

I want you to notice what happened as soon as they cried out to Him.  He stopped. The Lord Jesus stops what he is doing to listen to us. You can always tell when someone really listens to you. Stops what they are doing- and listens intently to you. How wonderful to think God , the Creator of all things- cares enough about me to stop and listen to me.

Not only does He listen- He calls them. He inquires what do they want him to do?  You may think- does not God know what we have need of before we ask Him? Of course- but this is the way of prayer and the way of thinking about what we want to ask for.  Think about it- if you really believed God was going to stop what He was doing and listen to your request- wouldn’t you want to make sure you made your request as specific as possible- having examined your motives, searched the scripture for which to base your appeal on? I  do not mean you cannot come into the throne room with unrehearsed requests – or just to praise and thank the Lord for all He has done and is doing – certainly we have the freedom to do that. But sometimes we need to work through prayerfully what we ask for. Example:  Nehemiah. After determining he wanted to be involved in rebuilding Jerusalem, he had prepared for four months with prayer and fasting to make his specific requests to the King. He knew exactly what he needed- he knew he needed timber for construction, soldiers for protections, letters of authority, to get things done. He also knew the basis upon which his request would be made known to the king. He knew the king would be moved by the fact he wanted to rebuild where his fathers were buried.

These two blind men knew they were in darkness- they wanted to see- to have sight. Jesus touched them and they received their sight.  Notice what they did:  they followed Jesus.

Why should Jesus give you what you ask Him for- if you are not willing to follow Him?

If you found yourself agreeing with the workers who grumbled- you may have had your view of fairness challenged by this story. It is a story of Amazing Grace.

This Grace- is what sent God’s Son to this world for –for He cannot stand to see men standing  idle in the marketplace.  He knows you will either be engaged, hired, or yoked to Him and righteousness or to the enemy of our soul and sin as our master.

He is not willing that should happen. This is why He keeps coming to the marketplace. The gospel call is come to my vineyard and I will do what is right by you.

Who are you working for? To whom are you yoked?

It is for freedom that Christ set us free. He does not want us to be enslaved to sin. It is a battle for the mind- and an idle man is the devil’s workshop.

Freedom is not casting off the yoke. There is no such thing as ‘ yoke-free living.’  We are all yoked to something or someone.

When you are in a yoke – you are a captive audience. We are engaged, linked, a student of that to which we are yoked. And Jesus came to set the captives free.

We learn from the one to which we are yoked. Jesus said ‘ take my yoke and learn from me.’

Did we not learn to sin? We learned to sin from the one to whom we were yoked. We stood idle with others in the marketplace and we were yoked to the one who said God could not be trusted, was not fair, was withholding good from us.

Now we are to go into the marketplace for there is where the idle stand about- and engage them to come into the vineyard, where the vineyard owner is full of love, grace, mercy and compassion.  He promises to give you life and life more abundantly.  To give one a life that has meaning and purpose the very opposite of standing idle and wasting one’s life.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14