Laborers in the Vineyard

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. “When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ “They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ “When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. “When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. “When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ “But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? ‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ “So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

Last week we discussed the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant and saw one of the characteristics of the Saints that will be in the Kingdom of Heaven. We learned that as we have been forgiven a debt that we could never pay by the Lord we should also have a forgiving heart towards others. Today we are going to explore another Parable, the Laborers in the Vineyard. Different commentators have given different explanations of meaning to this Parable but we can see the main point can be determined as we read through this Parable.

Let us first look into some previous events prior to Jesus telling this Parable. In Matthew 19:16-21 we see a conversation that Jesus had with a Rich Young Ruler. The Ruler was interested in assuring that he would receive eternal life and asked Jesus what he must do to obtain it. The Ruler had been faithful to obey the law of God but he felt that something was missing and was concerned. At the end of his conversation with Jesus our Lord told Him one more thing that would make the Ruler complete. “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

To receive eternal life one must unchain themselves from the possessions of this world and seek the possession of the Kingdom. This was more that the Rich Young Ruler could bear as he was very wealthy and loved his position. The Rich Young Ruler could not accept the challenge as he loved the things of this world more than the greater value of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Ruler walked away sorrowful and forsook the treasure of the Kingdom and eternal life.

Jesus did not try to persuade the Rich Young Ruler, as God is just and entry into His Kingdom is well defined in the Scriptures. Jesus turned to his disciples and said that it is very hard for a rich man to give up what he has and follow Jesus to the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:23-26) People love their wealth and they love their possessions of this world. Jesus had taught that a man cannot serve two masters, he cannot serve the world and the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:24) This truth may have caused the disciples to wonder if any man could be saved and Jesus responded saying to them that with God all things are possible.

Peter, the bold one, then asked Jesus, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27) Unlike the Rich Young Ruler the disciples had accepted the challenge to follow Jesus and they had given up their vocation, family, and life styles to follow Jesus. Peter is asking what shall they have for the sacrifices they had made to follow Jesus, what is the profit or reward for their commitment to the Lord.

Peter may have been wondering if a rich man could not enter into the Kingdom, then can anyone be saved. And, for those as the disciples who have given up all to follow Jesus what will be the compensation of their sacrifice? One could speculate that Peter was questioning from a commercial or mercenary spirit. He might have been thinking in terms of personal profit or motivated by social prestige. Peter’s question could have pure motivation but Jesus’ reply was a pre-emptive answer against any improper motives. “And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” (Matthew 19:28-30)

After the end-times the disciples would be judging the twelve tribes of Israel. It also meant as Apostles in the age of following the Pentecost. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) They would have a special role after the return of Christ when He comes to judge the world. “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” (Matthew 25:31) This would apply to all who are disciple of Jesus. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29) And as a result of the resurrection of Christ in the age to come they would receive eternal life. “Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Let us look at Matthew 19:30 again. “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” (Matthew 19:30) We see these same words again in the Parable of the Laborers of the Vineyard. “So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)) This warning is given both before this Parable and the Parable ends with the same warning. This warning was first given in response to the question of Peter and at the end of this Parable. The explanation of the Parable should be based upon the events prior to the telling of the Parable.

In summary a landowner hires laborers to work in his vineyard for an agreed wage. Then later in the day he hires more laborers for a fair but unspecified wage. Later the landowner finds more laborers and then towards the end of the day even more and agrees to pay a fair wage to all. At the end of the work day they are all paid equally the same wage. The earlier workers then complain as they had worked longer for the same wage as those who had been hired later. The landowner responds that he had paid them all fairly according to the agreement that he had made with them. He explains that he wished to pay all the same and it is his right to do so. He then asked the complainers if they were envious because he chose to be gracious? Jesus then concluded the Parable with the warning. “So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)

There are various thoughts on the meaning of this Parable. Some think the early workers are the Old Testament saints and the later are the saints called in the age of the gospel. Another thought is the first are the Jews and the later are the Gentiles. Then there is that the Parable is descriptive of the gospel age and the saints are called at various times throughout the age. Some may have responded early in life and others late in life.

With this Parable being in response to Peter’s question the first workers are the Apostles who had labored long in the early times and the others are those who were called as a result of the gospel message. They may have been called late in life and therefore did not have much time to labor long for the Lord.

Therefore the main point of the Parable is that everyone will receive more than what is fair. That none will have a right to question the generosity of the Lord. Those who have labored long should not be envious of those who have not.

In each group of workers that were called they responded immediately and went to work for the landowner. So too we if called by Christ we should respond immediately. Some may be called early in life while others are called late. Each is called with a purpose to fulfill and should respond immediately as now is the hour of salvation. As Laborers for the Lord we should work diligently with the time that we have been given. We may be blessed with a full life or only a short time but it is enough to accomplish the mission that we have been privileged to receive.

As we learned in the Unmerciful Servant there are none in the Kingdom without a forgiving spirit here we see that there is none who would have an envious spirit. Also when we are laboring for the Lord we should do so with gratitude. The value of the Kingdom of God is greater than any value in this world and we are privileged to have received the invitation to Labor for the King of kings. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Colossians 3:23)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, December 8, 2016

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