Sunday, June 30, 2019

"First and Last" [Matt's Messages]

“First and Last”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
June 29, 2019 :: Matthew 20:1-16

When we were together last in the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus was putting His hands on some children and blessing them, and He was also interacting with a rich young man who loved his wealth too much.

Jesus told the young man that he needed to drop everything and follow Him.

But the young man went away sad because he loved his stuff too much.

So then Jesus said that it was hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom.

And the disciples were scandalized by that. They figured if anybody could get into the kingdom, it would be the rich.

But Jesus said, “No.” “[M]any who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Counter-intuitively, the little children and those humble like them get into the kingdom, but the rich young men who can’t let go of their stuff don’t get into the kingdom.

If you are first, you must lay that all aside and humble yourself and become last.

But those that are last in the world, will be moved to the front of the line.

Matthew 19:30. “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

And then Jesus tells a story to illustrate His point.

We didn’t get that far last time. But it’s what chapter 20 begins with, and He basically ends His story with an inversion of that same line about the first and the last.

We often call it “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.”

Or you might call it, “The Story of the Eccentric Employer.”

I wanted to title today’s message, “The Great Switcheroo,” but in the end, I opted to just go with “First and Last.”

Jesus was a master storyteller.

We’ve already seen in the Gospel of Matthew how Jesus uses parables to teach about the Kingdom. Remember chapter 13? There was a bunch there.

And there are so more parables to come in the next few chapters.

Jesus parables are stories with a shove.

Jesus tells a story, often with a twisty ending, a kicker at the end to show us ourselves and teach us spiritual truth.

You’re listening to His very interesting story, following along, often with a question-mark on your face as Jesus tells a story you with characters and elements and a plot you wouldn’t expect, and then all of sudden, you realize that the story is all about you!

Well, here He does it again. And the point of the story is that in the Kingdom of heaven (which is already here in part but not yet here in its fullness, in the Kingdom of heaven) the last will be first and the first will be last.

And you and I need to deal with it.

Let’s listen to the story.

Matthew chapter 20, verse 1.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like [the following story] a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.”

Simple story so far, right?

Two characters so far.

A powerful rich landowner and a set of workers that he has hired to work in his vineyard for one day.

How much has he promised to pay? This is important.

One denarius. And that’s apparently the going rate for a day’s labor.

How much do you make per day?

These guys got one.

[By the way, this parable is not about economics. There is economics in it, but this is not teaching us how much to pay people or how economics is supposed to work.]

By the way, the Jews divided up the work day into about 12 hours. So at harvest time, which is probably what this is, the day started early like around 6am, which is what they’d call the 1st hour. V.3

“About the third hour [so around 9am] he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went.”

Stop there for a second.

Obviously, this guy thinks he needs some more workers. Maybe it was a big job, and he wanted to get it done in one day.

Maybe he’s really feeling generous today, and he doesn’t need all of those workers so much, but he wants to give people the dignity of work.

Or maybe there was bad weather coming, and they needed to hurry.

Jesus doesn’t say why he hires so many people.

He doesn’t have to have a reason! This is just a story with a shove.

This landowner doesn’t have to make a lot of sense!

Because look! V.5

“He went out again about the sixth hour [noon] and the ninth hour [3] and did the same thing.”

I’m sure that by this time, every person listening to the story has raised eyebrows.

“He did what?”

He actually goes back to the city square 5 times to find more workers. And the last time there is only about a hour of daylight left on the clock. V.9

“About the eleventh hour [5 o’clock] he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' ‘'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. [“Nobody wanted us.” Remember that. That’s important.] ‘He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'”

I’m sure that by now everybody is wondering how this story is going to end.

Because this employer is doing stuff that no other employer normally does.

Well, it’s the end of the day and time to pay off the day workers. V.8

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.']

Notice those last few words!

Aha. Here comes the punchline. But first, the twist at the end. V.9

“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour [5 o’clock almost at quitting time] came and each received a denarius. [How much were they promised. Just something fair. But they received what the first people had been promised! Aha. V.10]So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more [Everybody’s paying attention!]. But each one of them also received a denarius. [That’s a surprise!]

When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. [Isn’t that interesting?]

'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'”

“Now, I ask you, is that right?”

So much for “equal pay for equal work.”

[But remember, this isn’t about economics.]

They grumble.

They are very unhappy and they certainly let the owner know it.

Now, I think it’s obvious that the landowner symbolizes what God is like.

The King of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And the landowner, in verses 13 through 15, asks the unhappy first workers 3 rhetorical questions.

And, the point of those rhetorical questions make the point of the whole parable. V.13

“But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. [Question #1] 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. [Question #2] Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? [Question #3] Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

I think there are two main points here that we can take home from this parable of the first and the last.


I love how direct the landowner is to the grumbling worker. V.13 again.

'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?”

“So how much did you get?

You got a denarius, right?”

God is not unfair.

God is not unjust.

Just like the landowner here, God keeps every single one of His promises.

So we have nothing to grumble about.

Friends, you and I have absolutely no legitimate beefs with the Lord.

He is perfectly just.

He keeps every single one of His deals.

He will never renege on any of His debts.

He is never in the wrong.

He never does wrong.

He is never unfair.

The Lord is perfectly just.

And if that’s all that He was, He would deserve all of our worship.

But He is more.


Not only is this landowner not cheating anyone out of their just wages, he wants to do more than he needed to. V.14 again.

“Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.”

“I want to be generous.”

“Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?”

I guess so, when you put it that way.

“Or are you envious [literally, “Do you have the evil eye?] because I am generous?'”

“I am amazingly gracious.

I want to give these people more than they deserve.

Isn’t that okay?

You got a problem with that?”

That’s the kicker right there, right?

That’s what you didn’t expect to come at the end of the story.

Jesus says, “You got a problem with how gracious I am?”

“You got a problem with how amazingly gracious the kingdom of heaven is?”

“Well, if so, you need to deal with it.”

Did you ever see somebody walk into church, and you thought, “What are they doing here?”

“I never thought I’d see somebody like them here.”

If you’ve never thought that way, good for you!

If your heart is joyful about everybody that you’ve ever seen come into the kingdom, I’m glad. That’s the way our hearts are supposed to be.

But for most of us, there is a Pharisee that lives in our hearts.

Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we can find ourselves rip-roaring mad that the Father is generous to those who certainly don’t deserve it. Who haven’t been here from the first, working hard for the Lord and keeping our noses clean.

And here they are getting off easy.

Illegal immigrants.

What if those folks came into our church?

What if they began to follow Jesus?

Fill in the blank here with the kinds of people whom you might feel superior to.

People who don’t deserve God’s grace.

People who came late.

People whom nobody wanted.

And probably for some good reasons.

Well, okay, it’s alright for God to show them grace if He wants, I guess, but shouldn’t He give us more if we’ve been good little boys and girls?

Doctor Jesus didn’t come to treat the healthy but the sick.

Of course, what we need to realize is that we are all really really sick.

If you don’t realize how sick you are, then you think you should be first.

But the first shall be last.

It’s the sick that get the doctor.

The last will be first.

The Lord is amazingly gracious, and you and I need to deal with it.

How are we treating those whom nobody else wants?

We should be the most gracious people ourselves, right?

If our Lord is amazingly gracious, how much more should we be?!

I’m not saying that we don’t call sin “sin,” but what do we do next?

I hope, next, we love the sinners!

How about these people with their deathbed conversions?

How about these people with their prison conversions?

How about these people on death row who begin to follow Jesus at the very end of their despicable lives?

And they don’t spend years and years doing the hard work of following Jesus.

Peter just said, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

And Jesus said, “Following me is more than worth it. A hundred times worth it!”

“But don’t begrudge my grace to those that are last to come in.”

Like the thief on the cross.

He gets the same denarius.

“Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Yes, we must continue to call sinners to repentance.

And many sinners do not want to hear that call.

I know that I often don’t!

But we should be the least judgmental of all people.

Christians should be the least judgmental of all people.

Are we known for being the least judgmental of all people?

Is the church known for being the most gracious group of people in the community?

The Lord has shown us so much amazing grace.

And when someone repents of their sin, even if they have been really late to the party, we should rejoice and be glad for every ounce of grace they receive.

Even if it seems like they get more grace than we do!

Because that’s just Who our God is.

Don’t despise the undeserving latecomers to the kingdom.

Because the last will be first, and the first will be last.

That’s just how the Kingdom works.

And Jesus says that you and I need to deal with it.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith
48. These Little Ones
49. If Your Brother Sins Against You
50. The Lord of Marriage
51. Drop Everything