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Life is Not Fair, but God is Good

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16
Date: 12/13/2003 
This sermon deals with the issue of life not being fair. Yet, we find that no matter what we see, we can know God is good and it will all come together in the end. The parable of the workers in the vineyard brings this out. God errs on the side of grace.
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Have you ever thought that life is not fair? Come on now. Fess up. Those sentiments ever troubled you a little bit? Why that’s just not fair! You can hear about Idi Amin in Uganda who killed somewhere between two and three hundred thousand people. And then of course he’s chased out of the country, but he lives out his days in lavish retirement in Saudi Arabia. Or you hear about Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier the former president of Haiti that was ousted that now lives in luxury on the French Riviera. Not to mention Pol Pot the Cambodian who killed they figure a million people in that country dies in his own bed.

It’s hard to believe that John Kennedy was assassinated, how long ago? Forty years ago and Fidel Castro is still the dictator of Cuba. And while we have been able to some extent liberate Afghanistan and Iraq we can’t find Osama and what’s the other guy? Saddam who may have fled the country with billions of dollars he bilked from his people. And you say, “That’s just not fair!” A less qualified worker gets the promotion. You’ve been there for years and they were just hired. The ugliest guy in school marries the most beautiful girl and you say, “That’s not fair.”

The class nerd playing with transistors in his garage becomes a billionaire and you say, “That’s not fair.” Well, the reason that life is not fair is because God is not completely in charge of this world. The Bible tells us that there is another power that is vying for dominion of this planet and everybody on the planet is choosing one of two masters and so things are not going to always look fair. In the beginning when God made the world and everything was perfect and God declared it was good, good, very good, there was never any question about God’s fairness because everything was good, but when man rebelled and chose another master then things changed. Now there are cases where it may look like things are not fair but I hope after we’re done with our study today we’re going to see that everything God does is good and ultimately, you’ve heard it said before, it will pan out in the end and you can be sure of that. A mother is making pancakes for her two young boys, Ryan who is five and Kevin who is six, and they are both saying they want the first pancake. Well mother says, “Boys,” she thinks this is a good chance for an object lesson, “if Jesus was here he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake.

I can wait.’” And then the older boy said to his younger brother, “Ryan, you get to be Jesus today.” Sometimes our concept of what is fair is marred because we judge it by what those around us are getting. We make those comparisons. The context for our study today comes from the book of Matthew. Turn to Matthew please chapter twenty and I’ll need to confess to you this is a parable that has been here the whole time that I’ve been at Central Church and I’ve never yet preached on this subject. Quite honestly because in the times I’ve looked at it I’ve thought, “Well, you know, there’s some truth I see here that probably is, I have enough substance for a devotional, but I don’t know if I’m ready for a sermon.” And I still don’t know, but I figured after ten years I don’t want to be guilty of neglecting to teach you all the council of God and so I want to explore this parable today about the workers in the vineyard and the subtitle would be “Life isn’t Fair, But God is Good.” And what I want to do is if you have your Bibles it’ll be on the screen, you might be visiting today or for some reason don’t have your Bible, you’ll see the words up there. We’re going to read chapter twenty of Matthew verses one through sixteen and then we’ll back up and we’re going to study this important parable of Jesus together.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out again about the third hour and he saw others standing in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. And again he goes about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did likewise. And then about the eleventh hour he went and he found others standing idle, and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing idle all day?’ They said, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said, ‘You go also into the vineyard, and whatever is right you’ll receive.’ So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to the steward, ‘Call the workers together and let’s give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those who came who were hired about the eleventh hour, each one received a denarius.” That’s about one day’s wage. “But when the first came, they expected they would receive more.

They also received each a denarius. And when they received it, they murmured” they grumbled “against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden in the heat of the day.’ But he answered and he said to them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to the last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’” So Jesus concludes, “The last will be first, and the first will be last. For many are called, but few are chosen.” A very important parable that has a lot of lessons that are applicable to us today. Now in order to understand this you need to know what is it that spawned this parable, what led Jesus to share this story? Back up with me to chapter nineteen. Keep in mind there’s no chapter divisions and verses when Jesus was teaching. What happens in chapter nineteen leads into this and I want to start with verse twenty-seven.

Maybe I should back up even further. Jesus has this experience where the rich, young ruler comes. He says, “Follow me. you’ll have treasure in heaven, but you must give what you have to the poor.” He can’t do it. He goes away sad. Jesus said, “It’s going to be very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” The disciples think, “Well, who then can be saved?” and they’re starting to think, “What will we get because we’ve left everything to follow you?” Verse twenty-seven, “Peter answered and said to Jesus,” I’m in Matthew 19:27, “See, Master, we have left everything to follow You. Therefore what will we have?” And Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake,” and for the gospel, “shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Now that’s the same phrase that Jesus uses at the end of the parable so you really can’t separate them. They’re wanting to know, what will our reward be? What will we get?

Now I think we all agree we’re not serving Jesus because of what we’re going to get or are we? It’s a natural question for us to wonder what do I get if I turn my back on the world and decide to follow Jesus? What’s the outcome of that decision? Now the ideal is for you to love Jesus so much that you don’t care what you get. The ideal is for you to love Jesus so much that you’ll be satisfied just to be able to be with him whatever the reward might be, but we don’t always think in idealistic terms. We are human and we wonder, what is the reward? Jesus then uses this parable to help settle a number of issues. Let’s begin looking at it verse by verse. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early…” The workday began about six in the morning. That was the start of the day and he’s going to hire people to work in his vineyard. Now we should probably ask the question right here, what’s the vineyard? If you look in the Bible in Isaiah 5:7 it says, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.”

Again in Jeremiah 2:21, “I have planted you a noble vine, a seed of the highest quality.” In Matthew 21:33 Jesus said, “Hear another parable.” This is the next chapter from what we’re studying. “There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a large hedge about it.” Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And so working in the vineyard is working in the context of salvation, of trying to reach people, working with the church and so it’s doing the Lord’s work. Something else we learn when we study this story right on the surface is the landowner, who does he represent? He’s the owner of the vineyard. That’s the Lord. He keeps coming back to the marketplace to hire laborers. Keep in mind that in Bible times at the marketplace there were certain areas where workers might hang out and they were just waiting for employers to come by and they often needed these people on a day to day basis and they were paid at the end of the day. And especially during the harvest time those that needed some extra cash, that were unemployed, it might be young men that were looking for work they would hang out in the marketplace. So the landowner goes there to find those who were willing to work. You notice that through this story he never is satisfied that he’s found enough people.

He is always looking for more workers. Are you a worker? He never says, “I have too many.” And so he comes to them and the first group he meets with at the beginning of the day he makes a covenant with them, he makes a contract and he says, “I’ll pay you the going rate, a fair wage for a days work.” He offered to pay them what was fair and what was expected. They knew what they were going to get at the very beginning. Something else we learn is the first time he comes he invites them to work, but later he comes, he finds men just standing around and he’s asking them, “Why do you just stand here? Why do you stand idle all the day?” especially those he meets later in the day which tells us that God wants us to be active. You know we often think about the command that says, “The seventh day you shall rest,” and we’re thankful for that, but that’s only part of the command, isn’t it? Another part of the command says, “Six days you shall work.” God wants us to be people who are active and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always to be physical labor. He wants us to be people who are productive, who contribute, who are using whatever gifts we’ve got whether it’s our mind, our hands, our backs, our arms, our legs, but God has called us to be active. And he asks the question, “Why are you idle?”

Now I’ll submit to you that idleness is a sin. That doesn’t mean it’s a sin to rest. Praise God we all rest. We need that. But he’s talking about people who are standing around in the marketplace all day that aren’t working in the field or in the vineyard. In the Bible Jesus tells the parable of the sower and wheat. He says the field is the world and he’s looking for people to work and the same thing with the vineyard. One made bread, one made grape juice. The bread is a symbol for the word of God, am I right? The grape juice is a symbol for the covenant. At the last supper there was the bread, there was the grape juice. He has them working in the field. They’re laboring in the vineyard, they’re laboring with the wheat in these parables and it’s symbols of working with the gospel. The Bible says when Jesus comes back he compares it to “two women grinding at the mill, two men working in the field” in the gospel of Matthew. Luke adds a third one, “two men sleeping in a bed.” And that represents those who are working with the word, those who are out in the field doing the mission work and those who are sleeping in their grave.

Two kinds of people when Jesus comes back the saved and the lost, the dead in Christ and the dead outside of Christ. And so this is a symbol for those who are out working for the Lord. He says, “Why are you idle?” It’s possible for us to be hanging around the marketplace and not working in the vineyard. When you think about the sin that brought the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah be honest, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Isn’t it sexual permissiveness? And that’s putting it lightly, wouldn’t you admit? No, that’s not what the Bible says. Ezekiel 16:49, “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter” Gomorrah “had pride, fullness of food, and an abundance of idleness…” An abundance of idleness. Have you heard the expression before, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop,” have you heard that? What verse is that? I forget. It’s not in the Bible. The closest you get is the verse I just read to you. But is it true?

Have you noticed that sometimes if young people have nothing to do, if you don’t keep them preoccupied they find something to do and it’s often not the right thing? Have you ever heard your parents say, “Nothing good happens after ten o’clock at night”? Idleness is the devil’s workshop. God has called us to activity and when we’re not engaged in some way and working for him we can begin getting into trouble. God wants us to be preoccupied with doing that which is good. You know this is also true in a church. If a church is not involved in aggressively using their various gifts, or being trained to use their gifts or ministering in some way to people who are lost or suffering they usually end up bickering and fighting. And you know, something I’ve discovered, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to deal with a pet peeve. The people who I find gripe the most do the least in soul winning. It’s often true the letters I get and the negative complaints and phone calls come from those who have never brought a soul to Christ. I’m not hearing anyone disagree with me. Why are you idle? The remedy for so many of our ill feelings is to become excited and engaged in God’s work. And he’s continually soliciting those to work.

Now let me give you a little background. In our parable it talks about the third hour and the eleventh hour and these different hours. In the Jewish workday the first hour is 6:00 a.m., the third hour is what we would call 9:00 a.m. (that’s when Jesus was crucified), the sixth hour was at noon, the ninth hour was at 3:00 p.m. You know all those hours are mentioned in the crucifixion. It talks about the third hour and the sixth hour and the ninth hour in the crucifixion. Jesus specifically mentioned in this parable different phases of his own death. And then it goes on and it says “the eleventh hour.” That would be 5:00 p.m. The workday ended at 6:00 so can you imagine them going to find people to work in the field at the eleventh hour when everyone is, you know, wrapping up the work? But that tells us that the landowner wants everyone to be involved even if you feel like there’s not much left to do, even if you feel like there’s not much life left for you God wants you to use what you have. So he wants everyone to be involved in his service. In the great commission we’re commanded to go, “Go into all the world.” He says, “Go, work in my vineyard.” Something else we learn from this parable, it tells us that the harvest is great. Luke 10:2 Jesus said to them, “The harvest is truly great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest that he will send laborers out into His harvest.” Have you noticed what we just read through?

At no point in this parable does he ever say, “I have enough workers.” Does he end the workday because the harvest is in? Does it say, “Well, we’ve gathered all the grapes,” or does he end because they ran out of time? They don’t run out of work, they don’t run out of the need for workers. They run out of time. You know that’s really sad when you think about it. There is so much work to be done for the Lord. Is God going to run out of souls that need saving? Is he going to have too many workers in the field or is the problem going to be when Jesus comes that we run out of time? For most people it will be too soon. The Bible says, “Jesus is coming soon. The harvest is great.” Those who are called by the master go to work for him. Another very important aspect of this parable is that it tells us that there is a payment that comes.

At the end of the day everybody gets paid. The Bible tells us that it was a law among the Jewish people that these poor people were paid at the end of their workday. Deuteronomy 24:15, “At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it, for he is poor and he sets his heart upon it; lest he cries against thee unto the Lord, and it be a sin to thee.” Now we get paid, I won’t ask you to show, but some people get paid monthly, some people get paid weekly; most people get paid bi-weekly. Isn’t that how the pay period is for most people? It’s a bi-weekly pay period. In Bible times if those people did not get paid by the end of the day… when they got paid they went back to the marketplace. They bought that day’s food. They woke up the next day hungry, maybe just enough left for breakfast and go out and work for the next day’s food.

They just lived from day to day trying to keep, as they say, one stick ahead of the fire, just staying ahead. In the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The master paid them on a daily basis evidently. And I think that we are to come to him for what our needs are for that day. So often we think that we can’t be happy unless the master gives us a month’s advance, but here he pays them for that day’s work. Don’t miss one of the most important points, payday will come. The Bible tells us that there is going to be a judgment and everybody is going to be receiving their rewards. Now I want to make sure I don’t share a point too far ahead here. Sometimes we think that we can go through our lives and just live without any consequences but in this story everybody working got paid. Paul tells us that there is a payday coming. Those who have built upon a foundation of wood or stubble or stone that’s all going to be proven by the day, but everybody is ultimately going to paid. Now things may not seem fair. Now it might seem like the rewards are not equal, but someday everything is going to even out. In this life Idi Amin might retire living on the coast of Saudi Arabia living in a palatial residence, but I don’t want to be him in the resurrection. You know what I’m saying?

It may not seem fair in this life. There is a passage in the Bible that I was going to share with you earlier. Psalm 73:3 it plays into this theme. “For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Now that’s an interesting thing for David to admit. Have you ever seen wicked people that seem to be prospering? I went to a funeral this week and afterward I went to the home of one of my relatives in southern California where the family gathered after the funeral. We drove through an area of Beverly Hills where people are selling movie guides to the homes of the rich and famous. They’ve actually got maps and people who will guide you and they’ll say, you know, “Here is OJ’s residence,” where it used to be anyway in Brentwood. And over here is where this actor lives and this actress and this producer and this multi-millionaire and they showed me one estate that was selling for seventy million and just these phenomenal palaces of the rich and famous all around Beverly Hills there and we kept going further and further up the hill as this was being pointed out, driven in this very nice Lexus or Mercedes. What’s the difference?

I guess there is a difference, isn’t there? And we get to the top and we go to the home of one of my relatives and it’s up on a mountain top, three story house overlooking the whole L. A. basin. Walked around going from room to room; matter of fact, everyone forgot about the funeral. We’re going, “Wow! Look at this place!” They’re taking all the relatives from room to room. They were doing tours. Food is all spread out. Took us into the bathroom and… I mean, you know, I’ve stayed at places before where the bathroom was one fiberglass compartment and everything was right there, shower, bath toilet right there. You wrapped a curtain around the whole thing. You had of course a separate room for the privy and then you had a separate shower you could fit nine people in and they may have done that. And the bathtub, the water came out of the ceiling. You ever seen that? Bathtub made for six, water comes out of the ceiling. And I looked at all this.

This person is not a believer and I began to go, “Boy! Ah, I’m sure he’s not happy… but I’d be happy!” and then he was walking me around you know I’m thinking and I’m looking at the view and I’m a little jealous and I said, “Hate to be here in an earthquake! You’d be sliding right to the ocean.” It was something. Now let me go back to my verse. “For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They’re not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasses them as a chain and violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fat because they have more than the heart can wish.” The Bible is telling us as it says in Psalm 37, “Do not be envious against the wicked.” On my way to church this morning, I don’t know where it came from, Stephen was saying, “Dad, have you heard about the longest limousine in the world?” I think we saw a stretch limousine and he asked me. I said, “No.”

He said, “How many spaces does it take to park a limousine?” I said, “Probably two.” He said, “Oh, not the one I saw. I saw the longest limousine in the world somewhere, and” he said, “it’s a hundred yards and it’s got little axels that it turns. It’s got a Jacuzzi, a swimming pool rather, and you know like ten televisions and a helicopter landing pad.” Any of you heard of this? Somebody just wanted to build the biggest… You heard of it from Stephen, no doubt. And you know you hear about all of this and I thought to myself from a practical sense if I had unlimited means would I even want to build that? Where you going to take a thing like that? But people say, “Ah, it must be nice to have that kind of life. Life isn’t fair.” Then you get these creepy people that sometimes have all this money that’s squandered. Folks are starving to death and they’ve got to build a limousine a hundred yards long with a swimming pool. How impractical can you be? I mean, how can you dive in something like that going around a corner?

What if you miss? I mean it just doesn’t make any sense at all. People squander their money like that. Don’t be envious of the wicked. It may not seem fair now, but God is good. One other thing that we learn from this story is how much are they paid who worked all day long. One coin, one denarius, a day’s wage. How much are they paid that worked a half a day? Same thing. How much are they paid that worked one hour? Same thing. Is that saying that everybody gets the exact same payment? Well, yes and no. Those who are saved all get everlasting life. Nobody is going to say, “I’ve got more everlasting life than you.” Would that make sense? How can you have something more everlasting? That’s like buying dehydrated water. What do you add? I mean it doesn’t make any sense, right? And so the one thing we’re learning from this parable is that God is giving everlasting life to all of those who work in his vineyard. You know what else that tells me is because he’s giving everlasting life to those who work through the heat of the day and those who worked one hour are they being paid really according to their works? Are they being saved by their works or is there an element of grace in there? That’s a very important point in this story.

He’s giving equal rewards in that everybody is getting everlasting life and it further illustrates the point that they’re not being saved by how long they worked in the vineyard. The thief on the cross, is he going to get everlasting life? It depends on which thief, right? But you know which one I’m talking about, the one who we assume was on the right hand of Jesus, he said, “Lord, remember me.” He’s getting everlasting life the same reward that someone like Zachariah gets who worked all life long laboring in the temple. And you might get to heaven and you could hear an exchange and Zachariah asks his angel, “I don’t understand. This was a national rebel. He was a thief and a menace. Here he gets everlasting life and I served you from my youth and my old age and I’m getting the same reward. It doesn’t seem fair.” You know why? God is unfair… Oh, I know some of you right now cringing. Let me finish. God is unfair in the way that he gives rewards. Be glad that he is. The penalty for sin is death.

Do you really want God to be fair? He is erring, but he’s not erring on the side of meanness. He errs on the side of grace. God has a bias of grace in the way that he distributes his rewards. That may not seem fair to us, but you don’t want God to be fair. As parents, be honest, how often have you shown grace to your children? You tell them what you want them to do and they don’t do it right away you don’t always fall on them like thunder, do you? Sometimes you tell them two or three times which is why they never listen. They always wait until they hear it the third or forth time, but I think every parent extends grace because you’d much rather have them obey and finally “get it,” finally understand what it is you’re asking than to just be constantly living under the lash. And God is that way. He wants us to be saved. He wants us to receive of his benefit. I read a story about an employer who was very successful in the asphalt business. He sold his company for $422,000,000.00, but he gave $128,000,000.00 to his workers. For those with pensions he gave $2,000.00 a year each. For those who had worked without pensions he gave between one million and two million depending on their years of service. He did not need to give them any of that.

All he needed to give them was a pink slip, but he said, “You know, I’m still left with over three hundred million, about three hundred million. That’s probably all I’ll need for my retirement.” And he wanted to share the wealth with his employees. Some of you have heard of this computer chip company. I’m not sure which it, maybe it’s Kingston, one of these memory companies. They just were one of these dot com companies that went into orbit and never did look back. They always did very well. Every one of their employees became a multi-millionaire. They decided to share it because they had prospered so much and they’re one of the few who’s still in business when so many others went bust. Because they thought, “Well, this is not what’s required, but we’re going to go way beyond what’s required.” In what the Lord is doing with us in his error, in God’s accounting mistake, it’s not just a little mistake. He’s making a big mistake. I know this troubles you when I say God makes a mistake.

His calculating error is exceedingly generous on the side of grace. He doesn’t owe us anything but the pink slip when he sells the company, but instead he says, “I’m going to give you everlasting life,” and beyond that remember what he said to the disciples in chapter nineteen? “You’re going to sit with me on thrones.” He says in Revelation, “You’re going to live and reign with me. I am going to give you much more than you deserve.” The ones who get comparatively the least in this story are the ones who make a contract. Are you with me? There’s only one group in the story the ones who are hired at the beginning of the day they are working based on an agreement, “I get this much at the end of the day.” Do you want to reread that? Do you remember that? It says he had negotiated, he agreed with them for a denarius. They said, “We’ll work this long for this much.” The rest of those who work are trusting in the goodness of the landowner through the day. They’re working by faith, aren’t they?

They don’t know exactly what the reward is but they trust the fairness and the goodness of the landowner. Now how are you operating in your service for God? Are you asking God to give you a contract? Are you laboring saying I want to know exactly, now, up front what I’m going to get? Well, you may get what you deserve according to the contract. You know what the contract says? The penalty for sin is death so I’d be very cautious about asking God to sign the contract. It’s much better working based on grace, amen? And trusting him for his goodness. Something else that’s a sobering thought in this story, how long does this parable take to transpire? In the Jewish day there were twenty-four hours, twelve hours of day, twelve hours of night. Didn’t Jesus say, “Are there not twelve hours of day, work while it is day for the night is coming when no man can work”? There is one working day in the story. We all have only one day. There’s only one day. It doesn’t talk about a month or a year or a life’s work.

We live for a brief day, so to speak. Jeremiah 8:20 so many people are going to wait. Maybe they believe in reincarnation and they said, “I’m not going to get it together this life. My next life I’ll take it seriously. And eventually after a series of lives when I keep getting reincarnated I’ll develop enough merit where I can work my way up into Nirvana.” One day. We have one life. So many will declare, as it says in Jeremiah chapter 8 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!” Remember they run out of day before they run out of work. They run out of day before they run out of the need for workers. There is much more need. We all have one day. Hebrews 9:27, “It’s appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” We have one life, one day. Something else that we need to be very careful of, were the workers who were hired, you still all have the parable in your mind because this is our context, the workers who were hired first were they happy working during the day?

At what point did they start being unhappy? They had no problem thinking that they’re going to get a denarius. They were glad to find work. They liked the master. They stopped liking him when they started making comparisons. You’re dishing ice cream out to your twin boys, right, and you put a scoop, nice big scoop in one bowl and you hand it to one boy and he’s smiling until he sees you put two scoops in his brother’s bowl then he’s not happy with his scoop any more. His scoop has not changed. His attitude has changed because he thinks you’re unfair. But are you being unfair? Well, maybe but you’re erring on the side of extra scoops. Well you know we need to be very careful. Why was it that the brothers of Joseph wanted to kill him? Was it because Joseph was a bad boy or was it because they saw the partiality of the father? Joseph’s brothers never complained about their clothing until they saw the robe that Joseph got. Up until that point their robes were fine. And you know there is another story in the Bible, Luke chapter fifteen, got two boys, father has two sons.

One gets tired of working for him he runs away from home and after he of course squanders everything that his father has given him on prodigal living, ends up in a pigpen, comes home wearing his rags, the father embraces him, he receives him, takes him back to the house, kills the fatted calf, they have a big party to welcome him home. Well, the father notices that his other son is not there and he goes out in the field to find out what the problem is. He was told by the servants “There’s a party, your brother’s back, come on.” And he answered and says to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you I never transgressed your commandment at any time and yet you’ve never given me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends but as soon as this son of yours…” (doesn’t even say, “my brother”) “…as soon as this son of yours comes who has devoured your livelihood with harlots you kill for him the fatted calf.” The brother’s relationship with the father is hurt, he feels the father is unfair because the father is showing grace to his brother.

Are you with me? Could we ever be guilty of that? You know I’ve actually seen this dynamic play itself out in the church. Somebody is in the church maybe for years and they’ve always been hoping that they’ll get nominated to a certain office and it never happens for whatever reason. Then there’s someone who is baptized after only a couple of years and they’re made head elder and they’re mad. Of course they’re doing the job fine and they’re on fire, but oh they wasted their whole life. “I’ve been in the church all my life. What’s the matter with that?” And they’re jealous at the grace of God instead of rejoicing that this person was saved so dramatically that they can serve in that capacity. The thief on the cross who is saved in the eleventh hour, you might wonder what people are going to think when they see him there.

I have some theories I can’t prove that you can’t disprove them so I’m going to share it. I think the parable of the Good Samaritan could be based on a true story and that man who fell amongst thieves going through the valley of the shadow of death there between Jerusalem and Jericho maybe this thief was one of them. And that Roman centurion that stands at the foot of the cross and says, “Truly this is the Son of God.” Maybe later he’s Cornelius. We don’t know. It doesn’t tell us his name. Kind of interesting to think about. If those things are true some of the reunions you’re going to see in heaven, the Roman soldier is there and he runs up to worship Jesus and there is the thief that he arrested and crucified. That would be interesting. I always like to think about the reunion of David and Uriah. That’ll be interesting right?

That’d be an awkward greeting maybe not so much for Uriah as for David. Or think about the reunion of Paul and Stephen. Steven’s last conscious thought is Paul refereeing his execution, his stoning. He said, “I’ll hold your coat.” He was the coat check while they hurled rocks. Then they get to heaven and suddenly Paul shows up and Steven says to the angel, “You’ve made a mistake. There’s something wrong.” There’s going to be some interesting reunions. Are people going to be in the kingdom based on years of service and seniority? When I get to the end of this I think it’ll become even more clear. Is God fair? Nope, but he’s good. The ways that God is not fair he errs on the side of grace. Be glad that God is not fair. Two verses of scripture I’d like you to write down and remember; one of them is Psalm 103:10.

Be glad God is not fair, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.” That’s something to remember. Praise the Lord! If he would deal with me according to my sins I would be vaporize before your eyes right now. So would you so you’d never see it. Ezra 9:13, in his prayer he says, “Even after everything that has happened to us in punishment for our sins and wrongs, we know that You our God have punished us less than we deserve.” Well that’s not fair. Be glad that God is not fair, but he’s good. He errs on the side of grace. And then we come to the last verse that has two passages that really trouble people in this one last verse. Christ says in verse sixteen, “For the last will be first and the first will be last.” Now that’s almost always true unless you’re dealing with the line at our potluck. If you’re last then you’re often taking the ladle and swimming around through the soup at the bottom of the bean pot. Sometimes it pays to be first. That’s not every potluck.

I’m just teasing, but I’m not completely teasing. You’ve heard folks quote, you know you get in line last, “The first shall be last, the last shall be first,” and we kind of glibly recite that verse. What does he mean by that? Well let me see if I can bear this out in the mind of a Jew. The Jewish nation had been for 1500 years serving the Lord and they felt like they’d put in some time. They’d been through all kinds of ups and downs and carried away captive, enslaved and enslaved more than once and oppressed and now they’re trying to serve God, their nation is occupied by the Romans.

For Jesus to give everlasting life to the Greeks and Romans that had oppressed them, that had just learned about the true God, to them seemed unfair. “What you mean, you’re going to hand off the baton of the gospel to our oppressors and leave us behind? We’ve carried it all this time!” And the last shall be first… do you understand what the Lord was talking about? Beyond this Jesus illustrates a number of ways if you were going to hand pick among the Jews who are going to be the heralds to proclaim this new message would you have gone to the fishing villages of Galilee or would you have gone to the universities of Jerusalem? Jesus did things backwards.

When it talks about first and last it’s not talking about sequence and line. They had a social strata. It’s like going to India and saying, “I am going to make gospel evangelists out of the untouchables and the nobles and the dignitaries well, if they come along, that’s fine but otherwise the message is going to the poor.” You could get this message, this theme, this truth in India it would apply because they’ve still got that class distinction there if and though it’s technically illegal they still have it. This is what Jesus was dealing with, and he punctuated this truth when he revealed the resurrection to Mary Magdalene.

Seven demons possessed her. “The last shall be first.” The first one to give the message of the resurrection is the last one you would expect. When Jesus tells about all the abundance that is found during a time of famine and he gives the message to four lepers who were starving to death and there decomposing. The last shall be first. Are you getting the picture of what Jesus means by this? Sometimes he doesn’t measure things the way we do. It’s not always who you would think. It’s people like Peter and Mary Magdalene who he chooses. And then he says, “For many are called but few are chosen.” now this is one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. Some people believe “many are called, few are chosen” what that means is that only a few people are chosen to be saved. Please take that thought and shred it.

There are people who use this verse to say that God says, “Eenie, meanie, miney, mo, I’ll save you. Eenie, meanie, miney, mo, I’ll save you. Rock, scissors, paper, I’ll save you.” And he’s got these arbitrary methods, flipping a coin, and just picking people out because he likes the look on their face or the color of their hair. Oh, it’s called predestination that God has predetermined in advance, “I think I’ll save him and I’ll save him and I’ll save him.” That’s not true. That is a doctrine of devils. The idea that God arbitrarily wants to save some and doesn’t want to save others is not biblical.

The Bible tells us “God who would have all men to be saved.” “God is not willing that any should perish.” “Whosoever believes in Him” you do have a choice. Now because God knows all things in advance does not mean he’s making all things happen. There’s a difference. You still have a choice. If you don’t have a choice then why even bother? If he’s preprogrammed us to be saved we’ll be saved, right? No, you do have a choice. He’s giving you a free will. Otherwise you can’t love him. Many are called, but few are chosen. God has called many, that’s everybody. Everybody in the marketplace was invited to work, isn’t that right?

Anywhere in the parable do you hear the landowner say, “I don’t like the looks of you and I don’t like the looks…” He says, “Why do you stand here? It’s a free invitation to everybody to come work in the vineyard. There’s nobody who’s rejected from coming to work. The only ones who are rejected are the ones who stand around. He says, “Why do you stand here? Go work.” And he even takes them at the very last hour when there’s almost nothing left to do. He is desperate for people to become engaged in the gospel. Many are called, everybody is called, few respond to the call. “Straight is the gate, narrow is the way that leads to life, few there be that find it. Broad is the way that goes to destruction.” Many are on that road. That’s the majority. But even beyond that of the many who are called among the called there are some who are specially chosen.

Did Jesus have many disciples? Yes, how many apostles? You know the Bible says he chose twelve and he laid hands on them. He has given everlasting life to everybody, “whosoever will,” right? But remember how this story started? Peter said, “What will we get?” Jesus said, “Many are called,” I’m calling everyone to salvation but I’ve chosen you in a special way. I have chosen you. And I would say that the Lord has chosen you in a special way, you know why? First of all, you’re here, you’re listening to this. how many people in the world know what you know? How many people have heard the message that you’ve heard? How many people are acquainted with the truth that understand? God has chosen you and delivered to you a special message and he wants you to work in his vineyard and it doesn’t matter where it is in the day for you.

Some of you think, “Oh, Doug, I’ve wasted my life.” It might be the, you may have been working in the vineyard since the break of day, may have been reared in the church. It may be the third hour, sixth hour, noon. It may be almost sundown and you might be thinking, “You know I’ve wasted my life. What can God do with me?” Does he ever reject anybody who is willing to come and work in his vineyard? That means it doesn’t matter where you are in your day he wants you to come and to serve him and he promises that you’ll be paid if you trust him you’re paid better than you deserve. The same wage of everlasting life that’s given to the angels, the unfallen angels is offered to you. That’s a pretty good payment, don’t you think? This parable is not really a parable about works; it’s a parable about grace. He’s not giving him what they deserve.

He’s giving them more than they deserve because he’s good and he’s giving them something to do. The Lord has a work for you to do, for every one of you and he says, “Why do you stand idle? Come, work in my vineyard because the sun is going to go down and there’ll be grapes left on the vine that the birds are going to get.” And he wants to increase the harvest. The harvest is great. The laborers are few. Come, before the sun goes down. Work with me and I promise you’ll get your reward. It doesn’t matter where you are. He says, “The first will be last.” You might think you’re not worthy. “The first will be last.” You’d be surprised. Don’t exclude yourself is what Jesus is saying. If you’re willing to come he’s willing to use you. Are you willing to come and serve the Lord? We’re going to sing about God’s grace. 109 in your hymnals and let’s stand together as we do that.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured-- There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt. Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin!

I feel impressed sometimes to give people an opportunity to respond in a more deliberate way to the message and this is one of those times. It’s a very simple parable. He owns the vineyard. He’s invited you to work in the vineyard. He promises that he will reward you but there is a limited time. The clock is ticking. The sun is going to go down and many will say, “The harvest is passed and we are not saved.” Would you like to capitalize on that grace? There may be some of you here who have either been lingering in the marketplace or you’ve wandered out of the field and you hear the Lord calling you back into his service. Would you like special prayer? Come as we sing verse two. We’re going to pray that God will fill you with his Spirit and that you can experience that marvelous grace.

Sin and despair, like the sea-waves cold, Threaten the soul with infinite loss; Grace that is greater-- yes, grace untold-- Points to the Refuge, the mighty Cross. Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Before we sing the last verse, I’m just wondering how many of you know, how many of you realize that you don’t want what you deserve? Are you aware of that? That whatever God gives us say, “Thank you, Lord.” If you’re in the kingdom you don’t even need to open up the envelope you can thank him for whatever is inside, right? That you’re there, amen? And we’ll praise him for that. Let’s sing verse three together.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, Freely bestowed on all who believe! You that are longing to see His face, Will you this moment His grace receive? Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Loving Lord, we are thankful for the principles of truth that you communicate in this parable, that you are good, that you are pleading for us to come and to work in your vineyard, that you are faithful, you’re beyond faithful, and you’re generous. Lord, I pray that we will be willing to come and to work in your vineyard. Help us to realize that there is a limited time, that soon the sun will go down and the harvest will be past and that there is a payday coming when all will receive the rewards and we’re rewarded based on your goodness and your grace. Bless us that we will be willing servants to work in your vineyard and we pray that you will multiply and maximize that harvest. I pray your blessing on those who’ve responded to the altar call today. Help us to all be engaged while the time lingers. Lord, also I ask that you will just pour out your spirit on our church. Bless our family as we are continuing to seek to better understand your plan for our future. Be with us as we go from this place knowing you’re with us always. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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God at Risk by Herbert Douglass

God at Risk by Herbert Douglass
God's Promises




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