Welcome back everyone to our study of The Parables of Jesus.  We are hoping you are having as much fun in this series as we are!  You know, it’s been interesting to slow down and dive into Jesus’ teachings like this, not only reading each parable but also look at why Jesus spoke them and who He was speaking to!  It brings these parables to life and if our hearts are ready and open, it can lead to new life because Jesus’ teachings are so relevant and important to our lives today…if we can hear and accept them.  But something that is so interesting to me, is when we hear that we are studying Jesus’ Parables many Christians think, yeah, I know these stories or I have heard them before but it’s really wild to see how many Christians would say they know these teachings, maybe even read them their whole lives while living so opposite of what they teach.  Today we are going to be diving into another awesome Parable of Jesus that will address things we see people struggling with in our churches and around our faith all the time.  It’s going to be, yet another way Jesus is showing us how gracious, and open and generous God is with us, and frankly it will really expose our hearts as people, and how we view life…and maybe just how we Christians can struggle to love, have pure motives and soft hearts in our churches, and openness towards others in and around church, which should be there since we would all agree that our job as Christians is to love God and love others.  So, this Parable is a big deal to us people, and a bigger deal to those of us who are part of the church.  To get you thinking here today, let me ask you a few questions as we get started.  How do you view church?  Have you ever felt like church can feel like a club?  Like there are insiders with more access to things than those on the outside looking in.  Have you ever felt that inside that club there are rankings or levels of Christians with different levels of control, and value that comes with each level of membership status?  Do you think that as a member of this exclusive club that you have some special privileges or have earned some things that those who aren’t in just don’t have?  You know because you just aren’t the average person showing up to church each week, you have earned some status that others haven’t?  If you have been in the church for a long time, maybe been a Christian for many, many years, do you feel like maybe that gives you some clout, or status over those who don’t know God or are just coming to know Him, and are new to your church community?  Do you feel a little annoyed when someone comes into a church that you have attended for a much longer time, and gets a role, or spot that you feel they haven’t earned yet?  Has it ever bothered you to hear that someone lived their life however they wanted, and then found Christ late in life and now they will get to enter Heaven just like you, while you have been doing the right thing each day of your life?  Now, listen I know that if you haven’t spent much time around church and religious settings these questions seem pretty unhealthy, almost messy…but if you have been around church for a while, or have had to deal with religion in your lifetime these questions may be hitting home, even if they are just tension that you feel as you walk in and out of church…while doing your best not to speak this stuff out loud…it can be a thing.  Well, this is what Jesus will be addressing today as He continues to teach us how His followers are to live, and just how different God views things than the way we humans do.

But before we dive into that, I want us to take a moment and prepare our hearts for this teaching from Jesus. Remember, Jesus told a lot of stories, and told us that He tells stories to create ready hearts, so that we can understand, receive, and live out the very life we should be living.  Let’s pray for ready hearts so we can be open to this teaching. We are going to need it as we dive into the deeper depths of religion and our human heart condition here today.  So let’s pray

So, if you have been tracking with this series, the last few weeks have been wild, we have seen the intensity of these teachings of Jesus really ramping up.  He is pushing harder and harder on us followers of Christ on how we should be living our lives, how to view life and people the way God does and what it truly looks like to be great or successful according to God.  The intensity of this time is also growing because with each passing day, and mile they walk Jesus is growing closer and closer to His Crucifixion.  So, what is wild to me is this all seems to really get started with an interesting moment as Jesus and His disciples are walking to Capernaum where the disciples are arguing over who is the greatest.   Then, all through Matthew 18 we see Jesus trying to open their eyes to God’s Kingdom and how opposite God’s Kingdom is to how we people see and value things.  Greatness in the Kingdom of God is completely opposite of how greatness is viewed and pursued by us people here on Earth.  We know this is a massively important thing for Jesus to help us understand because Jesus spends a lot of time trying to open our hearts and minds to how a Christian should act, live, love, and care for others.  We just spent two Sundays with Ken in this chapter because it’s such a big deal.  In fact, many Biblical Scholars call Matthew 18 the most important chapter in our Bibles on how we Christians should act and live.  And what did Jesus do to teach them how we should live?  He stands a child in front of them and presses in on how we must turn and be like a child to enter God’s Kingdom.  He speaks of humility, compassion, our responsibility to others, the importance of not focusing on ourselves, forgiveness, and just keeps flipping how we humans view greatness completely upside down.  Then it gets even more interesting to me because, everyone is there as He takes all this time to press in on how we should live, act, and view life and success and greatness and others…and they just don’t get it.  Why do I say that?  Well just a few moments later the disciples are once again seeing who matters most, and after this lesson that it’s not about them, they are again worried about what is in it for them, and they are trying to keep children away from Jesus!

Matthew 19:13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.  NIV

That is wild, isn’t it?  Just a few moments ago Jesus was trying to show them the humility, compassion, open generosity of a follower of His, and what truly matters…that everyone is important and is equally loved by God and He literally used a child to do it, and a few moments later they are upset that these little children who certainly weren’t as important were brought to waste Jesus’ time…they still don’t get it.  Then we get one of my favorite moments, the rich young ruler who shows up…and what does he want to know?  He wants to know what he must do to earn his way to eternal life.

Matthew 19:16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” the man inquired.  Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”  20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” NIV

I love this and want you to see this.  This guy is a good guy, who follows all the rules, but he is pursuing greatness in this world.  Wealth matters most and he is doing the very thing that Jesus says we can’t do…dragging the world’s view of success into God’s Kingdom and it just doesn’t work that way.  So yes, you are following all the rules, but no you are not submitting to God, you are living for you.  Jesus is so patient in other Gospels we see that Jesus looks at this man and loves Him and reveals what is truly going on in his heart and the man goes away devastated because he isn’t willing to stop this pursuit of worldly wealth or greatness.  What is this guy doing?  He is trying to earn something that we humans can’t earn.  God freely gives it to us.  He can’t see it, and leaves devastated because deep down in his heart he didn’t want to live any other way other than the way he wanted to live.  This is shocking to the disciples but at this point it really shouldn’t be if they were listening to Jesus’ teaching, but I digress.

Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” 28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.  NIV

Jesus refuses to let up on this, you can’t earn it, I’m here to do that for you. It’s impossible for you, it is up to God.  Trust God, be open to Him, allow your minds and hearts and perspectives to understand grace, and forgiveness and what is really going on here!  But it’s just so hard for us humans to wrap our minds around.  Look at what He says yet again in verse 30…in the Message version Eugene Peterson calls this “The Great Reversal” and I love that…but once again, trying to open us up to God’s Kingdom being so opposite of how we humans view greatness and life.

Matthew 19:30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. NLT

Which leads right into our Parable of the Day, The Parable of The Vineyard Workers.

Matthew 20:1-16 “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. 3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. 6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ 7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ 8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ 13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ 16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” NLT

So, let’s take some time and really talk through this Parable, because Jesus is once again trying to open our hearts and minds to the concept of the Kingdom of God and there is so much depth in this passage.   Jesus paints a very clear picture of something these people would have totally understood.  This sort of thing literally happened all the time in their marketplaces back in the day.  The owner of the vineyard would go to the marketplace looking for workers, and those looking for work would be there, this is how you got your workers to harvest your crops…this is how you found work before classified ads and the internet!  So, this scene would make a lot of sense to them.  But inside this Parable there are many different things for us to try to wrap our hearts and minds around, and I really want to focus on just a few of them.

First, this parable is a reminder to the disciples that they don’t get and shouldn’t claim special privileges just because they have been following Jesus the longest.  This goes against culture in a big way, right?  Often in the world’s ways seniority gets you status and special treatment but Jesus is saying other people will come to know God and all men and women are equally valued and loved by God!  Now if you have spent time around Christians in church, you know that this sort of mindset is something that happens around church a lot.  There are people that feel that their church basically belongs to them because they have been there for a long time.  We have heard these people proclaim themselves “legacy families” at a church and with that they feel they have earned special privilege or rank or control in their community.  It’s sad, but these people can feel so entrenched in their standing and search for control that they can see new followers of Christ coming into their church as intruders or almost a threat to what they want to see happen next.  We see so many people that feel weighed and measured and like they come up short when they show up at church…well, this is one of the reasons why.  Most who come to church are hurting, busted up, in need of love and grace and starting to grasp how much they need God.  They are very aware of their issues, sin, hurts, and mistakes…and they don’t need help feeling insecure and like we aren’t worthy of God’s love in those moments, so it’s a huge set up for someone coming to church seeking God’s love, when they bump into this legacy family mindset which only fuels the feelings of more rejection and hurt and like we are less than those inside the church…which should never be inside a community of Christ followers…Jesus is making it very clear here…this should never be.  You don’t claim special privileges, ranks, or have control of God’s body because you have been with Him the longest…God loves and values all of us equally.

Let’s stop and process this from the Parable.  Think about how you would feel if you worked a whole day compared to someone working one hour of the day and you all receive the same pay.  We would probably all at least question it to ourselves, wouldn’t we?  Certainly seems like bad business in a production based industry to pay them all the same, but Jesus is showing us God’s Kingdom, and how open, generous, loving it truly is…and just how important and valued all of God’s children truly are.  It’s challenging because God’s Kingdom is so opposite of the world and how we humans view things.

Second, Jesus is making sure we understand that no matter when we find God, as a child, in your youth, or later in life we are all equally valued and loved and important to God.  As I think about this point, it makes me think of what is about to happen in Jesus final moments on The Cross…remember this teaching and parable is all happening on His way to Jerusalem, so this teaching is at a time nearing His Crucifixion where we see Him live this teaching out, giving us a literal view of what Jesus was saying here in this parable, but quite frankly, this moment can bother us, and make us think a bit.  It can be a tension point for many religious hearts as Jesus hangs on The Cross and redeems the criminal hanging beside Him.  The criminal who lived a selfish sinful life, and in His last moments is led into God’s Kingdom…and will be there with those who have worked hard at their Faith and done everything right their whole life.

Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” NIV

Do you see it?  In God’s Kingdom it doesn’t matter when we find God, it only matters that we do.  God doesn’t want any of His children left behind…and it’s just so opposite than the way we humans think, isn’t it?  There are many people who if they are honest can find real tension in this story, and even this parable because they spend their whole lives working hard…now they know the Bible well enough to not say earning their way into Heaven, but the reality is this is what they are doing.  Others can hear this and think, ‘well Sam, then I’m bailing on living a godly life and heading out to do whatever I want, and have my fun’…well, if you hear this and feel that way it’s a real sign on where your heart is and where God stands with you today too…because living a godly life leads to so much more than satisfying fleshly and momentary desires of the day…it’s interesting, so we wouldn’t say we earn Salvation, but we kind of live like we are trying to earn something which can be exhausting because no matter how hard you work at not sinning…and earning this…you can’t.  What doesn’t the Bible say?

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. NIV

And while we are on the subject, what does the Bible say about us earning our salvation?

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.  NIV

It’s amazing how many people who find pride in their tenure as a Christian, who struggle with the idea that a sinful person could slide into the Kingdom of God in their last moments after doing whatever they want their whole lives, know what Paul says here…they can quote it…but they aren’t grasping or living in it…if they were understanding the fact that we ALL fall short, we ALL sin, and we ALL are given this beautiful gift of salvation through Jesus and focusing on the fact that we didn’t earn it…I think we celebrate with God and all His angels when someone finds Christ or comes into a church community not resent it…regardless of when that happens for them!

So, before we continue, I want you to think about church today, if you have spent time around church, think about the people and things that still cause tension and hurt in our churches today.  The hurts and wounds that so many feel in and around church can come from people who think they are above someone else because they have been in a church for a longer time.  Or they think they are just above someone spiritually for one reason or another.  This leads to so many hurts and so much pain for those who just feel weighed, measured, and like they could never fit into this religious setting.  Jesus taught against this stuff, which is fascinating since the people who live in these unhealthy mindsets that contradict God’s mindset…would read Jesus’ teaching, know these stories and never realize or see just how opposite they are living from these teachings.  Isn’t that amazing?  So many of the hurts people feel in and around church directly contradict what Jesus teaches that a Christian’s life should be.  I wish all of us in the church could slow down and see how open, generous, loving, patient, and pure God’s Kingdom really is…and truly sit in the fact that it’s a gift for us all, and nothing we earn, it’s all given freely to us…no levels, no ranks, just God’s unconditional love…which is so hard for us humans to see.  This is why at MRC we work so hard to create a safe, judgement free, open environment for people to come and find God in their own timing, where people can feel comfortable and heal…because we know what Jesus has done for us and how He teaches us to behave, and we want everyone to experience that too.  Which leads to my next point and another good teaching for those inside the church…

Third, in this teaching we should see and try to wrap our minds around the generosity of God.  In our parable today, it can bug us to think that all these workers were hired and paid the same wage, but they didn’t all do the same amount of work.  That makes zero sense in any company trying to produce efficiently as possible while trying to make money, am I right?  Well, it’s important to remember that the heart of what we do truly matters most to God, not how much we do, and not who does or gives the most.  God doesn’t look at the amount of our service or gifts but truly at the heart and motive behind the gift.  We are all given what we have from God and giving our all back to Him is what matters to Him, not the amount of the gift.  We must remember how generous God is…all He gives us is grace.  We cannot earn that, we don’t deserve that, and we need to understand what God gives us is not payment that we have earned but a gift.  So that is the heart of someone who serves and gives back to God…it’s not out of obligation, and it’s not another way to gain control or power inside a church community, it’s the heart and motive of what we do, not the amount, and it all starts with us wrapping our hearts and minds around God’s generosity and grace towards us.  If we give and serve this way, the amount isn’t as important as the heart.  This is another challenging lesson for us humans to grasp and live out…and quite frankly can be another tension point inside church communities.

So, think for a moment about what has led up to this Parable.  We just had Jesus teach us how to live a Christian life.  Then we see Him explain how challenging it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God and Peter asks the question that everyone probably has in their minds as they learn this reality about our faith that it’s not about us.  He wants to know, well then what in the world is in it for us?

Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” NLT

Remember this all is flowing out of Matthew 18 where we learn the truth about following Jesus that in the end it’s just not about you.  Which is so difficult for us humans to grasp.  It’s so important for us to see that what we do isn’t for payment, credit, control, or rankings, because that’s not pure unconditional love, that isn’t coming out of the view of grace and reveals so much of our true heart condition.  A follower of Jesus’ motives for doing things is to do that work for the joy of serving God and others.  This is why Jesus seems to continue to say things like this…

Matthew 20:16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” NLT

Think about this…what do I tell you about Scripture on repeat…it’s a really big deal, and this comes up a lot with Jesus because He is around people pushing for spots, seeking power, and completing missing just how pure, generous, and loving God really is…basically we miss the point of how God views life as we continue to look at it through our human perspectives.  So many look the part of the great Christian, while truly not living out the life of a follower of Jesus.  They look good, they give, they serve, they look like top of the list Christians, and typically make sure we all know it…but the heart, the motives, and the whole mindset is opposite of what Jesus taught a Christian’s life should be.  Most of what they do comes with strings attached, and or with judgment causing deep hurts along the way for those not doing as much as what they are doing.  We got to catch on to what Jesus is teaching here, but frankly it is so hard for us to understand if we don’t start in the stance of God’s saving grace that He has been given to us ALL.  I wish more churches and Christians would start to stand in this because it causes so much unhealth, so many hurts, and so much pain inside churches to this day, and can push away God’s children from God who they need as much as we all do.  This is what Jesus is addressing here with this teaching.  If all you do is for reward, rank, position, and control you will lose it, and if all you do is for God while you forget yourself, you will find your true reward…we read this stuff from Jesus, but we just struggle to live it out because it’s so opposite of what makes sense to us as humans.  And the tragedy is that when Christians struggle to live this out they can push those far from God further away from God, and the flip side is true too, when Christians grasp what Jesus is teaching and live this way…people far from God find Him.  Which is what it’s all about.

So, let’s close with a few questions.

  • Have you spent any length of time around church and seen any of this stuff play out?  Legacy families?  People who believe they are a little more spiritual or important than others?  People who serve or give but expect something in return from that?  Did you ever realize just how opposite that is from the way Jesus teaches us to live and behave as Christians?  So why is it so common in our churches?  Just something to think about.
  •  Have you ever felt like church can feel like a club? 
  •  Have you ever felt that inside that club there are rankings or levels of Christians?  
  • Do you think that as a member of this exclusive club you have some special privileges or have earned some things that those who aren’t in just don’t have? 
  • Are you able to really wrap your heart and mind around how generous and loving and pure God’s love and Kingdom truly is? 

Listen we love you so much, and truly want you to see, hear, and grab hold of what it means to be a follower of Christ.  And a follower of Christ with God’s love in their hearts knows, it’s just not about them.   Imagine a church that did things with the heart and mindset that Jesus taught us to have…think about how pure, how open and generous, and peaceful that could be.  Sounds like a lot of fun to me, and it all starts with you and I grabbing hold of Jesus’ teachings and living them out.  If we do that, everything changes for us and for those around us who need God’s love in their lives as much as we do!