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And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come….” Matthew 22:1-3 (Read 22:1-14)

The chief priests and Pharisees, along with many of the Jews, rejected Jesus and would not trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins and a place in God’s eternal kingdom. God’s servants, the apostles and prophets, proclaimed to them the way of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus; but they made light of God’s gracious invitation and even mistreated and killed God’s servants.

With the parable of the king who made a marriage supper for his son, Jesus illustrated to his hearers how they were rejecting God’s gracious invitation to have part in His kingdom and partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb through faith in His own dear Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 19:7ff.). They were too busy with their own lives and religious service, and they made excuses and did not come and partake of the salvation God provided in His Son.

As described in Jesus’ parable, the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants were judged of God for their rejection of Christ Jesus. The city was destroyed and burned with fire, and its inhabitants were either killed or carried away captive. (This was done by the Roman armies in 70 A.D.)

The LORD God has also sent His servants out to invite others to have part in His eternal kingdom through faith in Christ. The Gospel has been preached, not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles around the world; and many have heeded God’s gracious invitation. Through faith in Jesus Christ, many have received forgiveness of sins and will partake of the eternal joys of heaven.

And they are clothed, not with their own sin-tainted righteousness, but with the perfect righteousness of Christ. It is only for the sake of Christ and His innocent sufferings and death in their stead that they are acceptable to God and have a place in His kingdom (cf. Ephesians 1:6-8).

But, like the man who came without a wedding garment, there are also those who try to enter God’s kingdom by their own sin-tainted works rather than by simply receiving the righteousness of Christ which is ours through faith in Him. Such, who attempt to partake of God’s eternal kingdom clothed in the spotted garment of the flesh rather than in the righteousness of Christ, will be cast out into the darkness and eternal torment of hell.

God’s gracious invitation goes out to all – us included – but only the elect of God heed the Gospel call and trust in Christ alone for eternal salvation (cf. 2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 1:3ff.; Acts 13:48). It is only by the grace of God that we trust in Christ and heed the Gospel invitation (Ephesians 2:8-9). We also need to beware lest we take that invitation lightly or begin to depend upon our own sin-tainted righteousness rather than trusting in the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus our Savior.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head. Bold shall I stand in that great Day, for who aught to my charge shall lay? Fully thro’ these absolved I am from sin and fear, from guilt and shame. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #371, Verses 1-2)

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

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“Hear another parable: there was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country….” Matthew 21:33-46 (Cf. Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)

This parable of Jesus was spoken as a warning to the religious leaders of the Jews. The people of Israel were God’s planting, His vineyard. God had redeemed them and made them His own people. The chief priests, scribes and elders were like the wicked vinedressers in this parable.

They were entrusted with the task of caring for God’s people by teaching them from the Word of God and leading them in worship and in service to God. But when God sent His servants, the prophets, to call the people to repentance, the prophets and their message were rejected. Some were even mistreated and killed. God sent John the Baptist to prepare His people for the coming of their Messiah. John called upon all to repent and be baptized that they might receive forgiveness from the Lord God, but the religious leaders of the Jews rejected John and his baptism (cf. Luke 3:1ff.; 7:29-30; Mark 1:1ff.).

Finally, God sent His own beloved Son; but He and His Word were rejected of them too. Their Christ they handed over to Pontius Pilate to be crucified. The religious leaders of the Jews were to be building the kingdom of God by rightly teaching the Word of God and preparing the people for the coming of their Messiah and Savior; but they laid aside and rejected the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ (Psalm 118:22). Instead of pointing people to their Savior, they rejected and killed the very Son of God!

Unless they repented, they faced eternal destruction and torment in hell for their rejection of Christ Jesus (cf. John 3:18,36; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Because these leaders of God’s people rejected Christ, God put others in charge of His flock, faithful shepherds who would feed God’s flock with the pure Word of God (cf. Jeremiah 23:1-4).

Pastors today can take admonition from this parable of Jesus as well! They are to faithfully proclaim the doctrine of the Apostles and Prophets – the true Word of God – and they are to faithfully hold up Christ Jesus and His redemptive work as the central teaching and cornerstone of the Christian Faith. Christian congregations, too, must take great care to build upon Christ and His Word, lest they forsake the only true foundation and set aside the Chief Cornerstone, which is Christ their Savior.

Bring those into Thy fold who still to Thee are strangers; guard those who are within against offense and dangers. Press onward with Thy Word till pastor and his fold through faith in Thee, O Christ, Thy glory shall behold. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #485, 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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“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” Ezekiel 18:30-32 (Read Ezekiel 18)

Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet, sent by God during the years of the exile to call upon God’s people to repent of their wicked ways and look to God for mercy at a time when the judgment of God was falling upon His people for their turning aside from true worship and service to God into idolatry and disobedience. He warned of and illustrated the judgment of God which was coming upon the people for their evil doings – a judgment they would not escape unless they repented and returned to the Lord God!

So also, in chapter 18 of Ezekiel, he warns a people who considered God unfair in His judgments, saying they were suffering for the sins of their fathers and not for their own rebelliousness and sin. They accused God of injustice rather than acknowledging their own wickedness and sin.

Ezekiel’s message? “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20). The father who rebels against the Lord and lives in disobedience and sin will die for his sin. So also the son. But those who repent of their wicked ways, whether father or son, will be pardoned and live!

And these words certainly apply to us today. Every one of us will be judged by God according to our ways. If we turn aside from the Lord God and His Word, we will die in our sins and be judged of God. Even if we have lived good Christian lives all our days but then turn aside and live in sin and disobedience, we will die in our sins. All the good we have done will be forgotten! If, on the other hand, we see the error of our ways and the sin and disobedience in our lives and turn unto the Lord God for mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus and then, as a fruit of faith, seek to live for Him, all our sins will be forgiven of God and we will be counted righteous and holy in God’s eyes for Jesus’ sake.

Therefore, God also calls out to us, warning us that God will judge each of us according to our ways and there will be no escaping His judgment. But God also tells us: “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!”

God does not desire to condemn us to eternal death and suffering in hell. Rather, He desires that we repent of our sinful and rebellious ways and look to Him for mercy and forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for the sins of the world! God grant that we heed His voice!

You are holy and just, O God. We have sinned and gone astray. Forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake and move us to walk in Your way. Amen.

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

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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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