“It’s All Grace” Matthew 20:1-16

“It’s All Grace”                                  2/26/23                                                Matthew 20:1-16

Let me begin by commenting on how we should interpret parables:  by understanding its broad point

  • Older commentators weren’t always the best at that
  • They focus too much on the details
  • For example:
    • So much has been made of the repetitions (19:30 and 20:16) 
      • Who are the last and who are the first?
      • Older commentators make the first to be the Jews and the last to be the Gentiles
        • Like in the Epistles—first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles
      • Well, here it’s not that:  the last refers to the humble person in this life.  He’s humble because he sees his own need.  And the first is personified in the rich young man who left Jesus because he prized his privilege more than his savior
        • He didn’t see his need, he didn’t understand our true state as people
        • We’re all lowly, we just don’t always act like we are
    • Related to that, some commentators, like Gregory the Great, saw the hours of the day point to different time periods before the 11th hour when the Gentiles are grafted in
      • In that way the last are first
  • But instead of focusing on the small details, we should see the big pictureà Salvation is all grace, and as it is grace our posture should be humble

The greatest reward from Jesus is himself and with him is life and light

  • Eternal life rather than eternal death
  • Eternal light rather than eternal darkness
  • The housemaster is God and the payment, the denarius, is salvation
  • The workers are his elect people
  • The time represents different points at which people are called in their own lives—not really periods of time like what Gregory believed
    • But chronological ages at which believers are called
    • So those who were called in the early morning were relatively young, with plenty of time to serve
    • And those at the 11th hour look more like me than my kids

And along these lines of misinterpretation by focusing on details:  we can confidently say that Jesus isn’t teaching anything about fairness in business practices

  • Don’t adopt this parable as an employment model, I guarantee it won’t work
  • Jesus isn’t an economic teacher
    • Young people:  don’t listen to the college professor or anyone who says Jesus teaches communism or socialism
    • It happens more often than you’d think, and a lot of it is based on passages like this
    • The Bible isn’t really interested in your macro-economic viewpoint, but if you’re interested come ask me later and I’ll explain why I believe capitalism is the most biblical of economic systems
  • What the Bible clearly teaches about economics is personal economics:
    • Be wise with what you have been given
    • Treat your wealth as a gift from God
    • Be generous
    • Support the work of the Church with your money, time, and other resources
    • Do those things and you will be doing well

Jesus tells this parable to point out the problem grace

  • Odd to think of grace as a problem, but it’s true
    • Look at the rich young man in 19:16-30—He walked away
    • We like to deserve the things we receive—even if we understand we didn’t earn it, we like to think we deserve it
      • At our house we have a saying—we deserve hell
      • Lowell—“a lot better than I deserve”
    • The biblical picture of what we deserve is frightening, and even though we understand it, we don’t really believe it
  • Just think about how you read/hear our passage:
    • 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.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.’
  • Do you identify with what the workers are saying in v.12?  I know I do.
    • RT France, “It is a measure of our failure to share God’s values that we feel a natural sympathy with the complaint of v. 12, however much we accept the cool logic of vv. 13–15. ‘It is frightening to realize that our identification with the first workers, and hence with the opponents of Jesus, reveals how loveless and unmerciful we basically are. We may be more “under law” in our thinking and less “under grace” than we realize. God is good and compassionate far beyond his children’s understanding!’ [1]
    • The fact that Jesus doesn’t identify anyone in the parable (just day-laborers and an employer) helps us to see he wants everyone to be able to identify themselves in it
  • Josephus records the great unemployment during this time period
    • With that in mind, the employer in the parable is giving great relief and kindness to jobless laborers here
    • And he didn’t exploit anyone
      • The denarius was the typical wage for a day’s work
    • Those laborers hired at the beginning should have rejoiced that both they got paid and their fellow laborers were paid too.
      • Instead, they were like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son:  he was angry when his brother returned, because the father showed grace
      • Or like Jonah: (3:10-4:3)  When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

In our heart of hearts, we know it’s true, but we don’t like admitting it:  we love grace that comes to us, but it’s harder to allow for grace when it comes to people that should receive justice.

It’s the difficulty of Grace, which makes Christianity difficult, because “It’s all Grace” 

Four points:  1.  Self-delusion; 3. Deception; 4. Truth; 5. Grace

  1. Self-delusion
    1. Sin causes delusion
      1. We don’t see the world correctly
        1. Everything is terrible
        1. Everything is fantastic
        1. Both extremes are false and if you take the view that some things are terrible and some things are fantastic you haven’t quite hit the nail on the head either
      1. We don’t see ourselves correctly
        1. Terrible
        1. Fantastic
        1. Not the middle road here either—our good stuff is tainted with sin, and our sin, because of God’s grace, will ultimately serve his good plan
    1. The delusion described in the parable is to believe God’s reward is earned
      1. The laborers who were hired first suffer under this delusion of having earned something more
      1. The master responds, “I paid you what we agree upon”
      1. He treated them fairly and justly—even more than that he’s the one who searched them out and gave them a job
    1. As faithful Christians, how do we delude ourselves?
      1. I’m sure no one is so crass as to think explicitly “I’ve earned my salvation”
      1. But we delude ourselves when we think heart worship can happen without conforming our hearts to God’s way of worshipping him—neglecting bodily presence in worship on the Lord’s Day is a delusion of many modern Christians
        1. Thinking my frame of mind is all worship takes
        1. Worship requires me being conformed to God’s will in body and in soul
        1. Nothing should replace our Lord’s Day worship:
        1. Not Football games
        1. Not Golf courses
        1. Not Hunting trips, beach trips, or shopping trips
        1. Not even Family time or Friend time
      1. Or we see our daily Devotions as a way to ensure we have a good day
        1. Many times devotions hurt this goal by pointing out my lack
        1. Devotions—reading your Bible and praying—aren’t your holy insurance that every day is a good day, they are your daily engagement with your heavenly father.  Your devotions are the basis for your relationship with Him.
      1. We delude ourselves by thinking that the good stuff is God’s grace, but the bad stuff isn’t grace—God’s Frowning providence is grace, though
        1. It’s all grace—especially the trials
        1. Trials teach us our strength isn’t our own
        1. Trials point us to the virtues of godliness
          1. John Flavel, *quick plug for good Christian books, especially puritans
          1. John Flavel, “if a low and an afflicted state in the world be really best for the church, then your dejection is not only irrational, but ungrateful…if you reckon [the believer’s] glory to consist in his humility, faith, and heavenly-mindedness, no condition so much abounds with advantages for these as an afflicted condition.”[2]
  2. Deception—in this case I’m referring to particular deceptions of sin
    1. People who have discovered their truly sinful state sometimes believe they are too sinful for God’s purpose
      1. I’m not encouraging anyone to sin more, but I will say when God converts a sinner and even terrible sinners it is to his glory
      1. Would you believe that your sin is dark enough to blot out his glory?
      1. Or that Jesus’ blood is effective for everyone but you?
    1. Another deception involves the guilt of a person who isn’t among the early birds
      1. some of us were called to Jesus’ loving arms After living a life of sinful debauchery
      1. That knowledge can produce feelings of
        1. Guilt
        1. Inadequacy
        1. Grief over the lost time that could have been spent for the kingdom
      1. Simeon, “You serve the best of masters, and have the most honourable of all employments.  But, all you can see is your unprofitableness…If you really make it “your food to do God’s will,” be of good cheer; the evening, when your labours will end, is fast approaching: then you shall be called into the presence of your Lord and Master; and not even the most unworthy of his servants will be overlooked by him. Don’t be weary of well-doing, for all God’s servants reap in due season. To every one of you shall those delightful words be addressed, well done, good and faithful servant.”[3]
  3. The Truth—you’ve seen your sinfulness, you understand that you don’t deserve a reward from God, but you also see that God’s grace hasn’t had its full effect yet
    1. What’s the antidote to this? 
      1. V. 15  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
        1. don’t begrudge his generosity, cling to it
    1. Go to the truth—not an abstract idea of what is morally right and ontologically correct, but the Truth
      1. “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.” John 14:6
      1. Jesus is the truth
    1. Freedom in the truth
      1. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free…truly, truly I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” John 8:31-36
      1. The believer comes to Jesus, the truth of the gospel
        1. His perfect life credited to you by faith
        1. His death pays for your sin
        1. His resurrection is the guarantee of your blessed state before God and, in fact, Jesus’s resurrection is the source of your eternal life
        1. All this is done by the Work of the Holy Spirit
          1. Applying the work of Jesus to your heart
          1. Giving you life
            1. So you can believe
            1. So you can turn from sin to Jesus
          1. And now the believer lives in the truth—freedom to please God
    1. So the antidote:  turn to the truth!  And tell the world about the truth, because He is their antidote, too!
    1. This is the reason for the joy of the Lord’s Day with God’s people
      1. Freedom—a day of rest, freedom from your own sin
        1. And freedom in the good news that God has forgiven you!
      1. Freedom—a day of rest, freedom from the sin of the world
      1. The truth is that even though our freedom now is partial because we still sin, but there will be a day when Jesus comes back there won’t be any more sin anywhere, ever. 
      1. Not even in my heart.
      1. It’s freedom to look forward to the Day of the Lord, especially on each Lord’s Day!
  4. Grace—stop and think about this parable from the master’s perspective
    1. He owns a vineyard—he likely already has plenty of people working there
      1. Again, it’s a parable don’t get hung up on the details
      1. The point—the owner of the vineyard is hiring people who need a job
      1. For each of the hours, every group is hired out of grace
        1. Leon Morris, “We should probably understand the day laborers as being somewhat indigent (indigent means to be extremely poor, lacking the basic resources of a normal life).  Those who belonged to a household, such as slaves and hired servants, had the security of membership in a household unit, but agricultural laborers working for a daily wage had nothing of the sort. They depended for their livelihood on being hired each day.[4]
    1. Now think of the 11th hour workers getting a full day’s wages!
      1. They need to feed their families, too!
      1. They’ve got the same bills, the same trials, but they didn’t get the same job at the same time.
        1. In our hearts of merit and just desserts we bristle at equal pay for unequal work
        1. That’s Jesus’ point:  the problem of grace, and it’s all grace
      1. An illustration of this kind of grace is the thief on the cross—saved from eternal hell, but not able to do anything for the kingdom
        1. JC Ryle, “true faith in Christ, though it be but a day old, justifies a man before God as completely as the faith of him who has followed Christ for fifty years.  The righteousness in which Paul, Peter, and John stand is identical to the righteousness of the thief on the cross.”[5]
      1. Another illustration a little closer to home, Fritz Sauckel became a believer just weeks before his death.  Sauckel grew up in Germany and learned the locksmith trade from his father, but never believed in the Lutheranism of his homeland.
        1. He was active in society and family, helping lead others in various communities and making a meaningful contribution to his country.
        1. He was only 50 when he died because Fritz Sauckel was the chief of slave labor in Nazi Germany.  He sent prisoners of all types, many of them Jewish, to do the work that would keep Germany strong during WWII.  And he worked many of them to death.
        1. He wrote in a memo, “All the prisoners must be fed, sheltered, and treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent at the lowest conceivable degree of expenditure.[6]
        1. At the end of the war, many of the labor camps became extermination sites, but God forgave him the atrocities Sauckel committed.
        1. After being convicted in the Nuremberg trials and sentenced to death by hanging, Fritz Sauckel saw his need, his sin, his terrible guilt, and turned to his savior through the preaching of God’s word.
        1. Fritz Sauckel, Chief of Slave Labour, who knelt down at his bedside as he implored the chaplain to read the Scriptures and pray with him. ‘Unafraid and unashamed, he prayed with me at his bedside, generously ending our prayer by saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’”.[7]
    1. I bring those stories up, because it gives us a look at God’s heart
      1. Grace—undeserved kindness
      1. Are you gracious?
      1. Do you seek ways to show other people undeserved kindness—especially in the ways they need it most?
        1. Those laborers were able to feed their families, make their rent, pay their bills because the master of the house gave them a job
          1. He gave them grace, love, in the way they needed it
        1. Do you look for ways people around you need personal grace from you?
        1. And do you seek to show the world Jesus’ saving grace?  Grace that surpasses everything we can do or even think?  Just remember this: the thief on the cross and Fritz Sauckel saw Jesus in paradise when they died.  Amen.

[1] R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 293.

[2] Flavel, Keeping the Heart. 51-2.

[3] Simeon, Horae Homilitecae v11, 488.

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 499.

[5] Ryle, Church History Study Bible. 1449.

[6] Wikipedia, Fritz Sauckel, accessed 12:35 pm, 2/24/23  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Sauckel

[7] https://www.newlifepublishing.co.uk/articles/nazi-war-criminals-turned-to-christ/. Accessed 2/26/23 7:16 am