that nursing is a great profession. Now
it certainly is a calling – a true vocation.
Not everyone can do it or would want to do so. But for those who find themselves drawn to
this area, it a job that pays a good wage. There is often flexibility in
scheduling. During the years when Timothy
was small, Amy only scheduled herself to work on Mondays, my day off, so that
one of us was always with him. That way
she continued to earn some income, kept her skills sharp, and had a chance for
adult interaction outside the home.
And if you
are a nurse, you are never going to have trouble finding a job, no matter where
you go. During the last few decades
there has almost always been a shortage of nurses. No matter where we have gone during the
course of our married life, Amy has never had any problem finding a nursing
especially true right now, for two reasons.
First, there was already a general shortage of nurses before Covid
arrived on the scene. And second, the
experience with Covid has prompted some nurses to retire and others to leave
the profession. So what had been a
shortage has become a crisis that has produced uncomfortable situations.
are having such difficulty finding nurses, that they are hiring traveling or
agency nurses to supplement their own staff.
To attract these nurses and get them to come and work, hospitals pay
them a much higher wage. And so you have
the situation where nurses who are on the staff of the hospital are working
with these nurses. They are doing the
same job. In many cases, the staff
nurses are the ones who have to carry a heavier burden because they are the
ones who know the doctors and how everything works at the hospital.
And yet, these nurses who have been
brought in on a temporary basis are often making almost three times as much
money as the hospital’s own nurses.
Needless to say, that is not very fair. Nurses at the hospitals see
this, and so they are leaving hospitals to go work as traveling and agency
nurses, so that they too get these higher wages. Who can blame them?
An unfair pay arrangement stands at the
center of our parable this morning that Jesus tells as he teaches about the
kingdom of heaven – the reign of God.
Our Lord describes a situation that is absolutely not fair. And in so doing, he teaches us a central and
critical truth about the grace of God.
Our text this morning is closely connected
with what has just happened at the end of the previous chapter. Jesus had been approached by a rich young man
who asked, “Teacher, what good
deed must I do to have eternal life?”
Our Lord told him to keep the commandments. And when he confidently
responded that he had kept all of these, and asked what he lacked, Jesus
said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess
and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come,
The man left sorrowful because he was rich and he wasn’t willing
to do this. Jesus had found his true
god. Then our Lord added, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will
a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier
for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to
enter the kingdom of God.”
Now this was shocking to the disciples. It was assumed in first century Judaism that
wealth was a sign of God’s blessing – an indication that a person stood in a
good relation with God. But Jesus said
instead, that wealth is a spiritual threat. It inherently draws attention to itself as
deceptively and easily it takes on the role of a god in a person’s life.
The apostles had certainly not gotten rich following Jesus. So Peter said in reply, “See, we have
left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Our Lord acknowledged the unique position of
the apostles as he said, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son
of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also
sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Jesus made it
clear that they will have a distinctive role in the end times.
But before the apostles could get smug about their future, Jesus
added: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father
or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a
hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who
are first will be last, and the last first.” Jesus expanded the scope to include all
Christians who have sacrificed for the Gospel. They too would be blessed abundantly. Those
who have it easy seem to be first right now, but in fact those who have
sacrificed will receive blessing.
This should lead us to contemplate our own lives as
Christians. We do not have to worship in
secret. We do not risk imprisonment or
even death for being a Christian, as our brother and sisters in Christ do in
nations like China, North Korea, Pakistan and Iran. Their commitment to living
the faith should encourage us to be more faithful in our own setting. And Jesus makes it clear that God
acknowledges this commitment that results in loss and hardship. In the new creation he will bless those who
have sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel. As Jesus says in the verse before
our text, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Yet just as Jesus immediately qualifies the statement made about
the apostles, so also in our text, he does so about the reward that will be
given to those who have sacrificed for Christ. The first verse of our text is
directly tied to the statement Jesus has just made about the first being last,
and the last being first. As printed in
the bulletin, the English translation leaves out one important little Greek
word that begins our text: “for.” It is in fact present in the ESV translation
when you look it up in the Bible. Jesus says, “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.”
The word “for” tells us that Jesus’ parable is
explaining further what our Lord had just said.
The statement also tells us that the parable is teaching us about how
the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God – works. The basis for comparison is a land owner who
goes out to hire men to work in his vineyard.
They agreed that he would pay them a denarius – the standard wage for a
day’s work, and he sent them to work in his vineyard.
Now we would expect that landowner’s day was
done. But then Jesus adds, “And going out about
the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them
he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So
they went.” After hiring the first group
of workers around 6:00 a.m., the master now went out around 9:00 a.m. and hired
more workers. Note that no wage was
agreed upon. He promised to give them
what was right, and they trusted him to do it.
The land owner must have had the reputation in the community for being a
Yet the master still wasn’t done. He went out at 12:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. to
hire more workers. Finally, he did so again at 5:00 p.m. This was only an hour before the work day
ended. And yet he hired still others and
sent them to work in his vineyard.
We learn that 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.” Those who had been hired at the eleventh hour
– at 5:00 p.m. – and had worked only one hour received a denarius. The workers
hired at the beginning of the day were excited!
Surely, they were now going to receive more. But they too received a
When they did, they grumbled at the master of the
house, 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.’
But the master of the house responded:
“Friend, I am doing you
no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs
to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I
not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you
begrudge my generosity?” And then Jesus added, “So the last will be first,
and the first last.”
Our Lord’s parable teaches us about
the incredible character of God’s grace.
He the just God, is completely unfair.
And we are thankful for this. He
gives us each what we don’t deserve. He
gives us forgiveness, salvation and eternal life in spite of the fact that we
are sinners who don’t deserve any of these things.
These gifts from God are free. But make no mistake – they had a great cost. In the verses immediately after our text
we read: “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve
disciples aside, and on the way he said to them,
are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the
chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to
death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and
flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.’”
Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of
God, took your place in receiving what you deserve. He suffered and died on the cross as he
received the judgment against your sin.
He was forsaken by God the Father because of you, so that you never will
be. But then, as he had told the apostles, on the third day God raised Jesus
from the dead. In that resurrection he defeated death. Because of the death and resurrection of
Jesus, you now have forgiveness and peace with God. You have salvation and eternal life – a life
that will share in Jesus’ resurrection when he returns on the Last Day.
In our text and what precedes it we
find the paradoxical truth that God will bless those who suffer for the Gospel,
and yet all receive forgiveness and salvation for the same reason – as a
gracious gift from God that they don’t deserve. We are called to take up the
cross and follow Jesus in whatever form God determines. God understands and knows what we suffer on
account of Christ and he has promised that he will bless in the new creation
for this. But faith, forgiveness, and salvation are themselves an unmerited
gift. The life long Christian who suffers for the Gospel and the death bed
conversion receive the same thing. This not unfair, because neither
individual deserves salvation. Both have received it purely as a gift
from God. God acts on the basis of grace
– his undeserved loving favor which he has shown to us in the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And now God calls us to deal with
others on the basis of this same grace.
Not only does Jesus teach us to pray to our Father, “Forgive us our
trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” but in the very first
words after the Lord’s Prayer he goes on to add: “For if you forgive others
their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive
Remember, when things run in the way
of God’s reign, the last will be first, and the first last. God has done this for you by giving you
forgiveness. Through the work of the Spirit
this grace now runs our lives as well as we forgive others – even those who won’t
admit that they have done wrong. God has
called us to faith in Christ. He has
given us what we did not deserve – forgiveness and life. Because he has, we
give this same forgiveness to all around us.
We live as those who have received the kingdom of heaven – the reign of
God – in Christ Jesus.