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By Martin Jackson

[1] For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. [2] After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. [3] And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, [4] and to them he said, You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you. [5] So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. [6] And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, Why do you stand here idle all day? [7] They said to him, Because no one has hired us. He said to them, You go into the vineyard too. [8] 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. [9] And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. [10] Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. [11] And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, [12] 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. [13] But he replied to one of them, Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? [14] Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. [15] Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? [16] So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:1-16 [ESV]

We certainly seem to have a very clear sense of what we consider fair. I don’t think I can remember playing, as a kid, for more than two hours without hearing someone complain about the fairness of what we were doing – whether it was playing football, Monopoly, or video games. Who gets the good controller? Who gets to go first? Who gets to pick first.

I’ve seen my own children question the fairness of whether or not they should do chores. Someone gets more dishes to do one night than another one, and suddenly it’s not fair. As adults, it isn’t that much different. I’ve seen very similar complaints at work; there are a whole series of hot-button issues right now about people being treated differently based on which building they’re working in.

While fairness itself seems to be exactly about treating a whole group equally, it seems that we only have cause to complain about it when we feel we’re being treated badly. I have to confess, when I was a kid, I didn’t often complain about getting to use the good joystick when we were playing Atari games. I don’t remember any of my kids complaining about not having to do the dishes. And I don’t remember hearing anyone complain that people in other buildings aren’t getting some of the same perks for being in one building or another. In other words, we seem to notice fairness only when we think something is unfair to us, we don’t seem to notice as quickly or at all when something is unfair to someone else.

Our workers in the parable find themselves in a very similar situation. The master of the house needs workers for his vineyard. He makes a deal with a number of men early in the morning for the standard day’s wage – one denarius. The Romans counted time from dawn, so the third hour would be about 9, the sixth hour would be around noon, the eleventh hour would be right around 5 p.m. As the day wears on, he hires more and more men – right until the literal eleventh hour of the day. The only ones for whom he has negotiated a specific rate are the ones he hired first – the rest he offers “whatever is right”. As far as the parable goes, they were probably happy to be hired at all, and anything they might get would be better than nothing.

When the time comes to pay the men, the master starts with those who spent the least amount of time working for him – and pays them a full day’s wage. Those who started first thing in the morning are upset about this – they clearly did more work, and harder work, because they worked during the heat of the day. But the master of the house is only honoring the deal he made with them – the deal didn’t mean he couldn’t hire more people later, and it didn’t specify what they could or should receive for their efforts. So what the master did may not have been equal, but it certainly wasn’t unjust to anyone, and it was certainly very generous to those who started later – generosity that was well within the rights of the master of the house since it was his money to pay as he saw fit.

So it is with us, as believers in Christ. Some of us are fortunate enough to grow up in the faith, to be baptized and called to faith as infants and grow up in a Christian household. Some of us attended Christian schools, too.

Others are called later, as older children, as teenagers, or even as adults. In the most extreme case, we have the example of the thief on the cross, who confessed his faith in Christ even as they both were about to die. Christ’s promise to him? “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

It is so easy to believe that God should reward us for our labors. But what if we got what we really deserved? Just like we don’t like to point out when we’re getting the better end of the deal, unfairly, we don’t like to think about the things that we’ve done that deserve punishment.

And the truth is that we all have done those things. The jealousy and strife of the calls of “That’s unfair” – they’re easy examples to use because we can all relate to them. We’ve all seen them, and we’ve all participated in them. That kind of jealousy leads to covetousness, where we desire to take things that don’t belong to us. That covetousness led King David, who had more of everything than anyone else around him, to conspire to murder a good and loyal soldier and commit adultery with his wife Bathsheba.

But Nathan the prophet came to David and told him a parable: 2 Sam. 12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. 4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” 5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

David certainly recognized the unfairness of that situation. But he didn’t immediately see how it applied to him. Nathan’s next words immediately made him recognize the truth of the situation – “You are the man.” David would face other, temporal consequences as well, but his next response is the one we should remember and emulate: 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. David doesn’t try to hide or make excuses. He doesn’t try to minimize what he has done. He simply acknowledges his fault and confesses his sin.

And Nathan’s response to David is also God’s response to us when we confess our sin. Not because we confess our sin, as if that is some kind of merit, but out of God’s pure mercy and grace: “You are not going to die.” Instead of dying, we will live with him forever. Someday, Christ will say, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Some of us grew up in the faith. Others of us didn’t. We need to remember that we are all only here because of God’s mercy and generosity. When we enjoy eternal life, it will not be because we endured more, or worked harder, or were better Christians than any others It will be because, and only because, Christ paid the price for our sins, by suffering and dying and rising again from the dead.

So let us thank and praise God for his generosity, and be thankful that he has dealt with us as we deserve. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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“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 a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘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 this 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 the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Matthew 20:1-16

The disciples of Jesus saw the rich young man go away sadly because he was unwilling to give up his riches and follow Jesus, and they had heard Jesus’ words about how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Peter then asked Jesus what he and the other disciples would receive since they had left all to follow Him. The last verses of Matthew, chapter 19, record Jesus’ answer. Here, Jesus describes the gracious reward which will be given to all who deny themselves and follow Him; but He also adds the words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard illustrates these words of Jesus and warns against the assumption that those who work harder, longer or give up more for Christ deserve a greater reward. In this parable, even those who were hired and began working in the vineyard at the eleventh hour received the same wages as those who had toiled for the full day. The householder graciously paid them for a full day’s work.

God also rewards those who deny themselves and labor in His kingdom, but God’s rewards are rewards of His grace and are not earned or deserved. As sinners, we do not even deserve to be in His kingdom. It is only by God’s grace in Jesus Christ – because Christ died for our sins and rose again – that we are forgiven and brought into God’s kingdom.

The rewards given for labor and sacrifice in God’s kingdom are also God’s gracious gifts for Christ’s sake. If we assume that we have earned a greater reward because of our hard work in the kingdom, we are in grave danger of losing, not only God’s gracious reward for our labor but also our place in God’s kingdom as well; for all of this is ours by grace alone!

If one becomes a Christian late in life, works only a short time in God’s kingdom and receives a great reward, we should rejoice and praise God for His grace rather than grumble because we did not receive more.

O Father, God of Love, hear Thou my supplication; O Savior, Son of God, grant me Thy full salvation; and Thou, O Holy Ghost, be Thou my faithful Guide that I may serve Thee here and there with Thee abide. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #417, Verse 7)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” Romans 16:25-27

Who brings us to faith in Jesus Christ that we might have pardon and forgiveness through faith in His name? Who establishes us in the true and saving faith that we might continue to trust in Christ and receive eternal salvation? It is not our doing but solely the working of God through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To God belongs all the glory. He sent His Son to redeem us; and His Holy Spirit, working through the Scriptures, creates and preserves us in the true faith unto life everlasting. To God be the glory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

In the beginning of his epistle to the believers in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote (Romans 1:16-17): “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

He closes his letter, saying that God is the one who establishes us in the faith according to his gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, a mystery kept secret since the world began but now revealed and made known to all the nations by the prophetic Scriptures, according to God’s command, that people might believe the Gospel and place their faith in Christ Jesus.

And, of course, God receives the glory, for He provided salvation in His Son and He brought us to trust in Christ and establishes and keeps us in the saving faith by the gracious working of God’s Spirit through the Gospel.

We as individuals and as a church can bring no one to trust in Christ or establish anyone in saving faith. That is God’s work, and He does it through the hearing of the Scriptures – through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 10:17; John 6:44,63).

The Gospel of Christ “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” In the Gospel, the imputed righteousness which is of faith is revealed to and received by those who have faith in Christ Jesus.

We praise and glorify Your name, O God, for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Establish and keep us in the true and saving faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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Following the sermon, and usually just before or after the offering, we sing the Offertory, psalm verses in which we offer up to God thanks and praise for the salvation He has provided for us in Christ Jesus, His Son, and we devote ourselves to God and seek His help to live for Him. (Note: the Offertory was once connected to the offering of the bread and wine used in the Roman Mass but is not used that way in Lutheran Churches.)

The Bible tells us that Christ “died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). And, the apostle Paul writes: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

Therefore, in thanksgiving for our salvation in Jesus Christ, we not only give to God offerings of money; we give and devote to Him our bodies and souls – our very lives – for His service!

We sing and pray the words of Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

Or, we sing the words of Psalm 116: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people … I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.”

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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For those who were unable to attend today’s worship service, the video link is below. The sermon text was Matthew 18:21ff. The sermon answered the question of how often we should forgive those who sin against us.

Worship Video

In Bible Class, since we just completed a study of the Gospel of John, we began watching the first part of a movie based on the Gospel of John. It can be watched at the link below.

Gospel of John

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