Sunday, February 13, 2022

Sermon for Septuagesima - Mt 20:1-16



                                                                                      Mt 20:1-16



          I maintain 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 position.

          That is 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.

          Hospitals 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, follow me.”

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 fair individual.

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 denarius.

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, 

‘See, we 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, 

but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

          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. 




















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