It is a sad fact that many who were led by Moses out of the land of Egypt, who “were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea …[who] ate the same spiritual food, and … drank the same spiritual drink” did not enter into the promised land. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”
So also it is today. Not all who are outwardly affiliated with a church — even with a faithful church — not all who have been baptized or who have partaken of the Lord’s Supper will be saved. Why? Because they do not believe! And, if they did once believe, they failed to continue in the hearing of God’s Word and in the reception of Christ’s Supper and their faith in the promises of the Gospel grew weaker and weaker until it died!
This is why St. Paul writes to the believers in Corinth: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
It is why he adds the warning in the following verses (10:6-12): “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
And there is the warning in our Gospel reading for today in which the kingdom of heaven is compared to a landowner who hired workers to go out and work in his vineyard, going out early in the morning and agreeing to pay a denarius per day; again at 9 a.m. offering to pay what is right; at noon; at 3 in the afternoon and at 5 p.m. (only an hour before quitting time). And when he graciously paid those who had only worked a short time a denarius, those who worked all day thought they deserved more and grumbled when they were only given a denarius.
What had happened? Those who had gladly accepted the landowner’s gracious offer of a denarius a day now thought they deserved more because of their hard work all day long in the heat of the sun. Instead of being thankful for what they were given and rejoicing that those who came later were also treated graciously, they grumbled and complained and, as a result, were told to take their pay — “what is yours” — and leave.
So also it is in the kingdom of God. God finds us wasting our lives in the marketplace and employs us in His kingdom. Some are baptized as little children and spend their whole lives in God’s service, and others do not come to faith until late in life and serve only a short time before they are called home and stand before God. Yet, because their reward depends not upon their own works but upon the merit of Christ — upon Christ’s holy life and His innocent suffering and death for the sins of the world — those who came to faith late in life receive the same eternal reward, the everlasting joys of heaven!
As Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first last.” The rewards God gives us are of His grace and mercy in Christ, not of works (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).
And, if we begin to think that God owes us heaven and all its blessings or that we deserve more blessings and glory than others because of all our devotion and service to Christ, we may find that we are cast out. Why? Because of unbelief, because we ceased trusting in Christ and God’s grace and favor for Christ’s sake and began to trust in our own life and works!
As Jesus said, “For many are called, but few chosen.” Though God calls all to repent of their fruitless ways and come work for Him in His kingdom, trusting in His grace and mercy which are offered and given to us for the sake of Christ and His cross, not all believe. Some turn away from Christ in order to continue on in their sinful ways, and some fail to trust in Christ because they feel deserving of God’s favor on account of their own works and service to God. The end result, of course, is the same: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16; John 3:18,36; 1 John 5:11-12).
Many are called. Christ died for all and atoned for the sins of all — He won forgiveness for all. God’s call goes out to all, calling upon them to repent of their sinful ways and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and a place in God’s everlasting kingdom. The Holy Spirit graciously works through the Gospel to bring all who hear it to believe its promises and to place their faith in Christ Jesus that they might be justified, absolved and forgiven of all their sins.
Few are chosen. Only those who, by the grace of God, believe are justified, forgiven and absolved. Through the continued use of Word and Sacraments, they are preserved in the true and saving faith and remain possessors of God’s gifts. And those who are preserved in the true and saving faith through God’s life-giving Word and Sacraments are also those who will be glorified and partake of the eternal joys of heaven!
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30; cf. John 17:1ff.; Eph. 1:3ff.; Col. 1:19-23; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:6).
O gracious and merciful God, grant that we hear Your Gospel call and trust in Christ our Savior unto life everlasting. Amen.
[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]