A Kingdom and A Cause.
Matthew 20:1-19; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:31-34
“Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?” – Matthew 20:15 NLT
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. His time on earth is coming to a close. His mission is reaching its final conclusion. And as He journeys toward His final destination, He continues to teach His disciples, attempting to prepare them for what they will face when they reach Jerusalem, and to equip them with an understanding of His Kingdom. All of this will be needed when He returns to His Father in heaven, leaving them to continue His ministry as His ambassadors and messengers.
Chapter 20 in Matthew follows nicely after the incident with the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NLT). His view of the Kingdom of God was based on earning and effort, and he was not alone. The disciples held the same view, because it was prevalent among the people of Israel. Their religion had become performance-based and was based on a concept of earning and reward. This young man had come looking for one more thing that he must do to secure eternal life for himself. He was probably wanting assurance that he had already done all that was necessary, and was basing his belief that he was in God’s favor on the fact that he was richly blessed by God in this life with “many possessions.” Therefore, God was surely going to bless him in the next life. But Jesus broke the news to him that all his possessions were useless to him in either this life or the next. He told the young man to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and follow Him instead. But the man walked away sad. The cost was too high. The commitment too great. His wealth had become his savior and security.
Now Jesus tells His disciples a parable that is designed to give them a better understanding of the Kingdom of God. He compares it to a landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Through the course of the day, at nine o’clock, Noon, three o’clock, and as late as five o’clock in the afternoon, he hired workers and promised to pay them all “whatever was right at the end of the day” (Matthew 20:4 NLT). When he came upon the group, he had asked them why they weren’t working and they replied, “Because no one hired us” (Matthew 20:7 NLT). This is an important point, because it indicates that these individuals wanted to work, but were deemed either unqualified or incapable. But this landowner was willing to put them on his payroll and invited them to join the others in the vineyard.
At the end of the day, he had his foreman call all the workers in and had him pay each of the workers their wages, starting with the ones who he hired last and working up to those who had put in a full-day’s worth of work. To the surprise of the latecomers and the consternation of those who had worked all day, each received the same amount of money. When those who had worked all day saw that the latecomers had received a full-day’s pay, they expected to get a bonus for all their hard work. But their pay was no bigger or smaller. So they complained to the landowner, making sure he understood that they had put in greater effort and therefore, deserved greater pay. The complained of injustice and demanded justice. But the landowner defended his actions and let them know that he was fully in his rights to do with his money as he saw fit. They had received a fair day’s wages for a full day of work. They had not been cheated or treated unfairly. These people had lost sight of the fact that, until that morning, they were unemployed and without any waged, but the landowner had hired them sight unseen and offered them the opportunity to work for him. And they had received the benefits of accepting the landowner’s invitation. It seems that these people thought their pay was based on their effort and the amount of work they had performed for the landowner. In the story, Jesus makes it clear that each was payed, not based on the amount of work done, but based on the grace of the landowner. Remember, this is a story about the Kingdom of God. The issue is effort and earning versus grace and the unmerited favor of God. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and religious leaders thought that their place was secure because they “worked” for God. They believed that their pious lifestyle secured them a place in God’s Kingdom. But Jesus assures the disciples that that is not how things work in God’s economy. His is a grace-based economy. God can and does invite anyone into His Kingdom that He so chooses. It is not based on their worthiness, hard work, status in life, talents, or treasures. It is not based on how gifted they are or how much they can give. It is completely based on grace. Paul reiterated this point when he wrote, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).
As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was giving His disciples an intensive crash-course in the Kingdom of God. Their views were going to have to change. But it was going to be difficult for them. They were not going to get it at first. In fact, each time Jesus tried to inform them that He was on His way to Jerusalem to be unjustly tried and killed, they didn’t understand. Luke tells us, “The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about” (Luke 18:34 NLT). But in time, they would discover that things in the coming Kingdom were going to be a lot different than they ever expected. Humility would replace pride. The first would be last and the last first. The self-righteous would be left out and the repentant sinners included. God’s Kingdom would be grace-based, and made freely available to all who would simply believe.
Father, I can’t thank You enough that inclusion in Your Kingdom is based on grace and not effort. Because otherwise, I would not be included. I have done nothing to deserve Your good favor. My status as one of Your children is solely based on the work of Christ on the cross, and not on anything I have done or attempted to do for You. All of my works are as filthy rags in Your eyes. But the righteousness of Christ has been credited to my account. His work, done on my behalf, is what secures my relationship with You. And I did nothing to deserve it. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men