Wait on the LORD: be of good courage,
and he shall strengthen thine heart;
wait, I say, on the LORD.
- Psalm 27:14
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He Chose Us Matthew 20:1-16a 9/18/2011
Our Scripture reading (Jonah 3:10-4:11) for today and our sermon text (Matthew 20:1-16a) for today present us with some radical concepts concerning the nature of grace. One reading is from the Old Testament and the other from the New Testament. The story of Jonah and of his fleeing from God after being told to go to Ninevah to preach repentance is a familiar story to most, but what may not be realized is the reason why he boarded a boat to get away from God's calling to him. He did not run because he was afraid to bring that message to them, but instead he did not go because he did not think that they should be extended the grace of God. He had to be instructed so that he would see that God's grace is for everyone.

Our sermon text contains a parable in which Jesus speaks concerning the nature of the kingdom of heaven in that it is a kingdom of grace. God chose to be gracious, is gracious today and will be gracious in the future to all who will come to Him in repentance. John Newton penned in the Hymn he composed, "How precious did grace appear the hour I first believed," and is so doing, illustrated a very important truth: Grace is hidden until we believe that God is gracious.

When we come to understand, believe, experience and exhibit the graciousness of God towards ourselves as sinners, we will not put limitations on the grace of God toward anyone. We will not consider ourselvers better than others or more deserving than others of God's favor, and therefore will exhibit grace toward others. Psalm 145:1-8 will be our song of praise!

Theme: God has chosen us according to grace when we had no ability to come to Him. In the things of the world, success is obtained through effort, both mental and physical. In the kingdom of God, things are much different. Let us pursue this.

Because we think according to our standard of fairness, often times we find ourselves making these statements:

I should be on the first team.
I should have that job.
I should not have to go through this.
I should have the boyfriend, or that girl friend
I should not be treated this way, I cannot forgive that person.
That murderer who repented should not go to heaven, he is too evil.

In life one of the most often repeated statements that we make is; "That is not fair."
We have an inborn sense of fairness, which serves a good purpose: A sense of justice:
That things will be done right. This is based upon our understanding of fairness and depending upon how closely it is aligned with how God looks at these things, we will judge accordingly.

Our innate sense of fairness tends to be somewhat self serving. We tend to assess fairness, in terms of what seems fair not only to us but also for us. We tend to measure fairness, that is, in terms of our own wants, needs, hopes, expectations, often with little -- or at least secondary -- regard for the wants and needs of others.

So there is often a collision between how God thinks and does things and the way we as humans think and do things. The trouble we get into is when we bring worldly, fleshly thinking, motives and expectations into the kingdom of God, into the church. In this setting, Matthew writes, and in so doing, directs us as to how things work in the kingdom of heaven. This discussion into the 20th chapter is a continuation of the conversation that Peter initiated with his question in Matthew 19:27," Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?"

There would be more to discuss in order to keep our text in its proper context, but at the very least we begin with Peter's question which came about because of the prior discussion of what it takes to be a disciple/follower of Jesus. Peter is listening and thinking, and says, "Lord, we have forsaken all and are following thee, What is going to be in it for us?" Briefly, he is told by Jesus in the remaining verses of chapter 19 that the reward for forsaking and following is great, both in heaven and on earth. He concludes this with the statement which is similar to the final verse our text today: "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first."

Then Jesus illustrates what He has been telling them by using the parable. Let us listen in to what He is saying:

1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

As always it is important to recognize that parables are meant to teach a main thought and therefore we need to be careful that we do not try to squeeze too much out of them and in the end make it say something altogether different than Jesus intended it to say. Having said this, we see that the householder went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard and made an agreement with them as to what their pay would be. Throughout the day, there were more laborers hired and sent to the fields, even up the the eleventh hour.
It came to the end of the day and it was time to pay the laborers.

8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

Each person was paid that which he had agreed to work for: The one that went to work at the last hour got paid first and they all got the same, regardless of how many hours they worked.

10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. {have wrought...: or, have continued one hour only}

Those who had worked all day, were waiting to get paid and quite possibly assuming that they were going to get more, were surprised, angry and then complained about getting a raw and unfair deal. In their minds, how could this be fair, when they had worked all day and in the hot sun to boot?

13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last:

The householder addressed the complaint of them all, by addressing not all of them, but one of them. He called him "Friend," telling him that he had upheld his end of the agreement, asking him personally, "Did not you agree with me for a penny?" He then told him to take what is yours and go your way, "for I will give unto the last, even unto the first."

He then uses a question to drive home the main point of this parable:, which demonstrates the heart of God towards humanity. "I choose to be gracious without respect of any other factor involved. There is no respecter of persons with the householder, who simply chose on the basis of grace (unmerited favor). He then asks the man a question: "Are you going to allow your own thinking to cause you to reject that fact that I have chosen you according to grace?" "Are you going to say that it is not fair that I choose to be gracious to those whom I love?" Are you going to allow your fleshly mind to oppose my election of grace? " Are you going to refuse my forgiveness according to grace?

20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Before we apply this to our lives, let us summarize what is being taught in this parable, by using a reference from Romans chapter 5.

NLT Romans 5:6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.
7 Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good.
8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
9 And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's judgment.
10 For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.
11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God -- all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.

Let us not consider some applications for ourselves.

Those hired in the morning had their expectations of their job. They were going to get to work and they had a full day's pay coming at the generosity of the householder. But what happened? They got a day of work, they got their full day's pay, but they were not happy because they deemed that the householder was not fair in paying everybody the same. They had their own sense of fairness. How did it compare to God's way of doing things?

Instead of commending the householder's generosity and being thankful for the good fortune of those who did not have to work all day for the same pay, they were angry at the householder and quite possibly jealous and envious of the other laborers..

Here is a part of John Chrysostom's sermon on this part of Matthew. He is emphasizing the importance of modeling after those who are imitators of Christ, as opposed to being consumed and captivated by the weaknesses and sins of others.

"For this is possible, nay very easy, if we be willing: and this they show, who first duly performed these things, as for instance, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedeck, Job, and all the men like them. To them it is needful to look every day, and not unto these, whom ye never cease emulating, and passing about their names in your assemblies. For nothing else do I hear you saying everywhere, but such words as these; “Such a one has bought so many acres of land; such a one is rich, he is building.”

Why dost thou stare, O man, at what is without? Why dost thou look to others? If thou art minded to look to others, look to them that do their duty, to them that approve themselves, to them that carefully fulfill the law, not to those that have become offenders, and are in dishonor. For if thou look to these, thou wilt gather hence many evil things, falling into remissness, into pride, into condemnation of others; but if thou reckon over them that do right, thou wilt lead thyself on unto humility, unto diligence, unto compunction, unto the blessings that are beyond number.

This do thou also. For thou art not set to judge of the negligences of which others have been guilty, nor to inquire into the sins which others are committing; thou art required to do judgment on thyself, not on others. “For if we judged ourselves,” it is said, “we should not be judged, but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord.” But thou hast reversed the order, of thyself requiring no account of offenses great or small, but being strict and curious about the offenses of others.

Let us no more do this, but leaving off this disorderly way, let us set up a tribunal in ourselves for the sins committed by ourselves, becoming ourselves accusers, and judges, and executioners for our offenses.

But if it be thy will to be busy about the things of other men also, busy thyself about their good works, not their sins, that both by the memory of our negligences and by our emulation for the good works they have done, and by setting before ourselves the judgment-seat from which no prayers can deliver, wounded each day by our conscience as by a kind of goad, we may lead ourselves on to humility, and a greater diligence, and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ; with whom be to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and always, and world without end. Amen." St. John Chrysostom (349-407 AD)

The man whom history has called "Golden Mouth" because of his great expository preaching abilities, applies that text by calling us to follow after righteousness as modeled in the lives of those who are imitators of Christ and to flee from following those who are walking contrary to the will of God. So as we think on the teaching of grace and how its desired effect upon us, may we consider the following questions.

1. When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes?
2. Do we pay attention to the areas of plenty in our lives or what we perceive we lack?
3. Do we live by gratitude or envy?
4. Do we look to others in solidarity and compassion or see them only as competition?

With our freedom of choice, what will we choose?

Jesus offered the freedom of choice and he was killed as the choice toward evil was exercised. He was crucified because he proclaimed that the grace, and mercy of God was available to all, even to the worst of sinners.
His declaration of grace also revealed the hardness of hear and the rigid and unchanging human thinking that is part and parcel of the human condition.
His inclusive, boundary-breaking generosity revealed the envy and competitiveness of those in power.

His vision of another way of being in the world -- he called it the kingdom of God -- betrayed the lie told by the protectors of the status quo that theirs was the only way. Shamed by such a vision, and unable to embrace it, they put the visionary to death.

Will we always be true to our choices? No, In the end, the only one who is true is the One who came preaching, teaching, and embodying this new life and kingdom, the One who was willing to die that we might see and believe that this new life is possible. But let's be clear: while this One is true, he is not fair according to how we would rate fairness. Because this One gives us more than we deserve, loving us from the death of scarcity and fear to the new life of abundance, courage, and faith.

May we rejoice that He has not rewarded us according to our sense of fairness, but according to his grace. He did justly, but He was the one who took the punishment for our sins and rewarded us according with the riches of his grace in the forgiveness of our sins through Christ!

Pastor Orval Wirkkala
Posted on 18 Sep 2011 by Pastor Orval Wirkkala
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