(Welcome): Our parables of lent are considering the theme: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Today we will be considering the parable of the laborer's in the vineyard In Matthew 20:1-16. These workers in the parable labor hard in the earthly vineyard for an earthly, physical reward. But the real prize eludes some. What we strive for is not earthly rewards or success, but the favor of God.
(Before reading the Parable Reading):
It is the Lenten season, a time to repent. If we look at our lives, there seems to be a lot of things to repent for. Sometimes we might ask: How can I ever be saved? If we consider our sinful lives, we recognize all the bad things we do. We try to live by faith. But we always seem to focus on the negative things and not trust in God. The disciples of Jesus lacked faith that they could receive eternal life. So, Jesus told them this Parable:
(Parable:) Read Matthew 19:30-20:16
30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
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.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These 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.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
(Sermon Title:) The favor of the Master
(Intro:) Grace, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
When we hear these words, grace, and peace from God our Father, we may gloss them over in our minds. We listen to them so often that the meaning does not even register. God, our Father, gives us His favor. Grace: giving us what we do not deserve, and peace, the promise of goodwill. We will see this promise of goodwill in the parable.
There is another phrase we often gloss over. Perhaps you have had children who like to say: Me first! Me first! If we have kids, we often hear these words! (maybe we even think them!) If you are like me, you have replied to them with the Christianeese saying: the first shall be last and the last shall be first!
This parable is bracketed on each end with these words, which will be our sermon theme we explore: Many who arefirst shall be last, and the last shall be first.
It is not by our efforts that we receive eternal life. It is by grace alone. Those who seek to attain God's goodwill based on human effort will fail. They will be last. But those who recognize their own inadequacy and depend on the Grace of God alone for all things will be first: they will receive eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Many of us may identify with the workers who have labored in the vineyard for long hours. To human reason, those who do more work should gain more rewards. When a coworker, a family member, or a sibling gets more than we think is right, we are quick to shout, “No fair!”
In our parable, the workers who have labored all day shout “not fair at receiving the same reward as those who have only worked a short time. But they have received exactly what is promised. Moreover, in their reaction of discontent and grumbling, they demonstrate that they have spurned the main reward for working in this vineyard. Not the wages that are earned. There are merely temporal, earthly rewards. Instead, the real prize is the goodwill of the Master.
The grumblers in this story are not at peace with the Master of the house. In the very act of pointing to their hard work as the basis for reward, they do not act in faith of their Master. And so, disqualify themselves from the actual prize: the unmerited favor of the Master of the vineyard, which comes by faith in His graciousness alone.
So, it is with God. Galatians 3:10a says: “10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse” Those who try to by their own efforts earn God’s favor are sinning. They are cursed, and they will be last on judgment day. They will not receive any heavenly reward, for they act with human reason and not in faith.
All our human efforts will bring us into sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that "the wages of sin is death,"
But: "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Life with Jesus is the real reward, the favor of God shown to man. In the parable, the workers who came to work last, desire only to receive the favor graciously given Master. There is no promise of pay. These workers receive what is given in faith. It is unmerited grace. This is God’s way. There is no question of fairness here. The favor of God is only given as a free gift. These workers have faith in the Master, and so are gifted His Gracious rewards.
Ephesians 2: 8 says that it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, let any man should boast.
The favor of God, New life in Jesus Christ, is given to you in faith. Our Heavenly Master, our Father, does not grant us the reward based on merit or our efforts but based on grace alone.
Some people have faith in God for a long time. Some confess on the deathbed. God has elected us and chosen us for the great reward of His favor. Not because of our efforts. But because of Jesus' work. We are those who are last by human reason. We depend only on God's mercy for eternal life. Because of God’s reason, we are made first in the Kingdom of God. What a great comfort and promise for us. God grants us eternal life apart from anything that we do.
As we meet in different locations for Lent this year, we none the less still walk together, towards the cross. We remain united by faith in Jesus Christ. The winding road of Lent draws us ever nearer to the death and resurrection of Christ, even as we are surrounded by uncertainty in this time. God has promised that we have His favor, and He will surely give us His grace.
(Application) I want to end today with 2 stanzas of a hymn from our hymnal:
By grace, I'm saved, grace free and boundless.
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why stagger at this word of promise?
Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?
No! Then this word must true remain:
By grace! None dare lay claim to merit.
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone.
By grace you too will life obtain.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus. Amen