Generous Jesus | Matthew 20:1-16
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 20:1–20:16
Good Morning! We are in our series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series covering Chapters 14-20 has been titled the Revelation of the King. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lord, in all that he does he is revealing Himself to the world. Jesus is also savior of his people; he will consistently point his people to the height of his mission, the cross. Jesus has continued to train his disciples as they are moving towards Jerusalem and ultimately the cross. Last week we saw the challenges and perils associated with wealth. The Rich Young Ruler was so grieved and dejected by the cost of following Jesus, even going into the Kingdom, he turned away. The disciples, who have been with Jesus for a few years, leaving everything, also want to know “what about us? What is our reward?” Jesus tells them there is a great eternal reward for those who follow Him, it will all be worth it. This week, Jesus continues this teaching on wealth, and rewards.
Matthew 20:1-16 “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.”
Verse 1-7 | Jesus Calls
This is rich teaching on the nature of the Gospel, God’s promises, and how we engage with God’s grace. Jesus starts with saying the kingdom is like the king/master leaving the comforts of his house to call those with no purpose to a great purpose. Right away we see the incarnation of Jesus, leaving the comforts of heaven, going out, and calling laborers. The master doesn’t just post a job on craigslist, and the laborers are not beating down the master’s door. The master is on mission. What is the mission? Jesus is always intentional about his parables and metaphors. Jesus does not say “there were laborers who were called to work in a salt mine or a beat farm.” They’re called to work in a vineyard, picking a harvest of grapes. Making wine is a long-term intentional process that leads to future joy and celebration. That is the mission of the Gospel, planned future joy and celebration. But there is a sense of urgency in the mission/harvest. More workers are added, more grapes harvested, there is a period of time this mission will have to come to full fruition, at a certain point the “day” is done and it will be time for everyone to receive their wages.
There are several classes of laborers described in this parable but all of them are in desperate need of purposeful work. None of them are rich rulers; they cannot depend on their own wealth because they have none. They are totally reliant on a good generous master to come and give them purpose and provision.
Early Morning/First Hour- There are many who in their lives simply can’t remember not knowing and following Jesus, or remember doing so at a very young age. My sister, falls into this category. From early on there is a real sense of purpose, my life is not my own but I belong to God. I am to follow Jesus. Someone told us to gospel, we are sinners in need of God grace. Trust Jesus work on the cross in your place. Jesus is risen and alive, follow him and live for him. We agree to the terms. Following Jesus will lead to rewards in the kingdom. We labor early, we labor long. There is not part of our “day” we weren’t working for the King. We bond with the other workers. It was common for works in fields and vineyards to sing together as they work.
Mid-Day 3rd, 6th, 9th Hour – The master keeps going and calling people to the vineyard. I missed the first call, I’ve been in the marketplace but now I am coming to join the work of the harvest. There is still a general sense of time wasted, I know that’s what I felt in my early-mid 20’s, particularly when you leave the marketplace and now you’re in the field with other more experienced workers. They’ve been here the whole time, they’ve bonded. There are two ways they can be responded to, welcomed and included or constantly made to feel “behind”. These workers likely expect less than those who have “worked” their whole lives. The master has another purpose in calling and hiring workers each hour. He is bringing more laborers in work of the harvest. There is a new energy and zeal that new workers bring while those who have been there since the early AM may be quicker to tire. The new worker’s energy sometimes rubs off on those who have been around. The master keeps coming and calling for more, like the call of the gospel.
End of the Day/ 11th Hour- There is one last group. The final call, it’s the 11th hour. Nearly all the difficult work of the harvest is completed yet there is still additional work to be done and laborers in need of wages. Your whole life is made for a purpose. You are made to glorify God and enjoy him forever and you have spent your entire life idling around the market place, unhired. This is not how we are called to live, yet somehow the people missed or ignored all the previous calls to come be laborers in the kingdom. The master says, I am here to hire you, you are not purposeless, you are my servant, get in the field. They can’t be expecting much of a reward. The person getting called by the master is clearly not going to benefit the master much, yet as we’ll see there is great unexpected benefit to the 11th hour laborer.
Idleness is never part of the kingdom. Jesus says you may be idle when you meet me but when I call you, it’s not sit and stay, it is come and follow. Follow me on my mission, come work in my field. Calling is a salvation from wrath AND is also a calling to a new purpose. We will have rest, but for now EVERYONE called to the kingdom is a called to be a laborer in the vineyard of the King. What is your role?
Verse 8-10 | Jesus Rewards
All the workers called are in the same place of desperate need for life. Just because the last worker only worked an hour doesn’t mean he needs less than a day’s wage to survive. As Jesus starts laying out what rewards are going to look like in his Kingdom, things start to get interesting. The 11th hour guys are called in and given a denarius, a FULL day’s wage. What an amazing picture of the gospel of grace verse the promises of religion. Rabbis had been teaching a similar parable but one that talked about the first hour laborers getting greater wages then the later hours laborers, this was to teach about Israel getting greater rewards then later gentile “god-fearers” who may be seeking God. Jesus flips that upside down.
The Gospel is not a meritocracy, if it was none of us would get anything. Worse than nothing, because of sin we merit death and wrath. The good news is only good if we know what the bad news is. There is a payday coming for all of us, both those in the field and those in the market place. There are two wages, sin and death, or eternal abundant life. The determining factor is not in our work, but the grace of God.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the gospels you see John the Baptist, who had the holy spirit from before birth, have a faithful if not long suffering ministry before ultimately being beheaded, that guy’s in the kingdom for sure! Then at the cross while Jesus is in the literal final hours of his earthly ministry there is a thief on a cross next to Jesus, who knows he deserves death and simply/humbly asks Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Does Jesus tell him, “Whoa buddy, You missed all the hard work my disciples had to put up with while you lived a life of idleness and thievery you’re going to have to wait a few years to make sure you’ve earned your way in, maybe purgatory for you (not biblical)” No! He tells him TODAY you’ll be with me in paradise! The gospel of grace is John the Baptist and the thief on the cross are now in the same place.
That’s not the way we the world works. You join a start up early and get stock options you get an exponentially greater reward then the guy who joins the company after it has gone public. Guess what, we are the middle/late hour people. Saints have been laboring for generations in this mission of the vineyard, they have been scorched by the fire of persecution, they have born the burden of bringing the gospel to more and more people and here we are, being called to the vineyard.
Verse 11-16 | Jesus on Justice, Jealousy, and Generosity
Justice- Maybe you’ve heard the gospel of grace being referred to as scandalous or offensive. As a guy who has a lot of awareness of his sin I never really saw it that way, I like the thief getting forgiven but rarely looking at it from the perspective of justice for John the Baptist shouldn’t he get something exponentially better? In this sense as the first laborers see how the master is rewarding the last laborers and started thinking “If they’re getting this, we are entitled to 12 times as much!” But that’s not what happened. They receive the full day reward they were promised and agreed to at the beginning yet it no longer seems “just” and they cry foul! “But Jesus we worked during the heat of the day when everyone else was taking the mid-day nap. We did all the heavy lifting, we so much, especially compared to them! They are not upset they have been lowered because they have not been, they are upset with the last being brought up to first. The work of one hour was made equal with those who had worked all day. Their version of justice is making sure there is no grace for others. Sometimes we can think the same way, but we don’t actually want Justice, we really don’t. First hired laborers have forgotten how dependent they were on the master to call them at the beginning of the day. They would be left out starving in the market place at the end of their days with nothing to rest in or hope on. First hour, third hour, ninth hour, or eleventh we are ALL completely dependent on the grace of the master!! Gratitude, not attitude should be our response.
Jealousy- Our call to the vineyard can never lead us to places of pride, self-righteousness, or distain for those that come next. Last week we said we desire wealth it is because we desire wholeness, which is a good desire. When that gets perverted with sin it turns into a desire for greed and status. That is what has happened to the first laborers. I don’t just want more, I want more than that guy. I’ve earned more than him! When we see others being blessed and we determine in our judgment they are somehow less deserving we become jealous. There is absolutely no room for jealously for Christians in the kingdom of God. When we are jealous, when we are ungrateful, we are forgetting the gospel. When we are jealous we are essentially telling God he is doing something wrong. “Begrudge” actually translates to evil eye or stingy eye or “Is your eye bad because I am good?” We are not to displaying a sense of entitlement before a master who has already been exceedingly good to us and his goodness is so big he pours it out on others as well. Jesus blessing someone else is not doing wrong to you! God does not owe you more because he decides to be gracious to others. If you’re a laborer in the kingdom we welcome every new laborer God has called into his vineyard with open arms regardless of which hour they come in.
"We only know that God loves to hide pride from churches, to take away all opportunity for boasting. He will never allow the older branches of his church to look contemptuously on the younger. His Gospel holds out pardon and peace with God through Christ to the heathen of our times, as fully as it did to St. Paul." JC Ryle
Romans 9:14-16 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Generosity- Everything belongs to God and he can do with it as he wills. We can be uncomfortable with it or we can rest in God’s character. This whole teaching is huge on highlighting the grace of God to all his people! True faith in Jesus justifies a person when it’s a millisecond old or when they’ve been laboring with the king for decades, either way generous rewards abound.
Honduras Home build was the hardest physical labor I’ve participated in. All week we worked long hot days on top of a mountain for a joyful purpose. Each morning we’d have breakfast on this cove with an old sail boat parked out in the middle with a dock and rope swing tied to it. We told ourselves at the end of the week we’d spend some time swimming out and jumping off as a reward. On Friday we did! At the same time, there were others who came out and swam with us too. What we didn’t do was tell them we worked all week and earned this great reward and they did nothing to deserve the joy of jumping into the water. We just all enjoyed the gracious gift God had given of those beautiful moments together.
Jesus is telling the disciples and us we better have a clear understanding of God’s character, God is good, God is just, but the characteristic Jesus wants us to focus on here is the radical nature of his gracious generosity. It is all over this parable. The master calls the laborers “friend” this is completely undeserved but goes to show the depth of relationship between the master and the laborers. The king doesn’t just call us “hired” he calls us “Friend.” Yes, we are called from the market place we serve our master, but we also have personal relationship that is much deeper. In that depth of relationship He initiated in the first place, He says “I choose to give”. The only choice in the matter of rewards, or salvation is with the good generous Master. God sets the terms and he has order generous and abundant grace. He is more than fair to all his people, and extra gracious/generous to those at the end of the day. This is not an excuse to sit out idly in the marketplace when God has been calling you to get in the vineyard. We don’t know what hour we are in, but we are being called now by a master who has promised us great purpose and perfect provision. Let’s respond to the call with joyful singing as individuals all called together to the same vineyard. Let us give generously because our master is generous to us, and let us take communion remembering the king Jesus who paid the wages of our sin with His broken body and shed blood on the cross in our place. Since the King is alive, let’s go out to the harvest and get to work knowing the ultimately rewards and the results are going to be a great eternal celebration in the kingdom of God where 1 Cor 2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— Trust Jesus!