The Parable of the Vineyard Workers

Vineyard Workers

The Gospel of Matthew: The Messiah of Promise Pt. #3 Matthew 20:1-16

Preached @ Anchor Community Church on September 27th 2015

As we continue our series in Matthew and specifically in Matthew 20, it would be easy to get caught up in the social justices of improper wages, and while the bible does have more direct verses dealing with these injustices such as James 5:4, which says, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” But this sermon is not a sermon on proper wages, or fairness in the workplace. As we look at it in context, it’s another parable highlighting what Jesus has been teaching about the Kingdom of God. And that teaching demonstrates that our salvation isn’t about you!! If this teaching was about wage earning, it certainly wouldn’t be fair for a group to do all the work and get the same pay. This parable is about the Kingdom of God, not individuals pay for the work they did. That’s why it begins with, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house.”

In our passage today, Jesus is still answering Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27, “…what will we have? It’s that gnawing question we often ask, “What do we get out of this?’ And as we saw in Jesus’ answer, we get everything and that everything is Him; it’s “eternal life,” which according to John 17:3 is to “know God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ His Son. Jesus is our prize! Too often we look to Jesus to give us what we want to soothe us and to give us happiness, when He is the end game. Jesus’ answer doesn’t work for those looking for ‘more.’ Matthew 19:30 ends with, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Peter still doesn’t get it He still is looking for what Jesus can do for Him, especially in the restoration of Israel as a power in the region. So Jesus tells yet another Parable, and what we see is the parable ends with very similar words to V. 19:30. “…the last will be first, and the first last.” There are 2 differences, one is Matthew reverses the order in 20:16, and in the Greek manuscript, he adds definite articles for emphasis. This displays a clear bracket around this story emphasizing Jesus’ main point, which is; In God’s Kingdom It Is Grace (Unmerited favor) That Reigns Not Our Actions. This is the basic idea behind the “The first will be last and the last first.” In our modern churches, grace has often become what JI Packer referred to as “Boring Grace.” It becomes boring when we don’t think we need it. The Jews had many years of “Service” to God, and after awhile, you start thinking that “I have done a lot for God! Doesn’t He owe me something?” After awhile, we feel we haven’t really sinned that bad, and we have done a lot to earn God’s favor so;

  • Why didn’t God answer my prayer?
  • Why didn’t God allow me to get that job?
  • Why is my marriage so bad?
  • How come God didn’t heal my mom?
  • How come my church doesn’t grow?

It’s not that hard to fall into this category. Until we realize that God’s Kingdom is once again, that upside down Kingdom. The world thinks totally different than God in relation to God’s grace. Humans instinctively desire some sort of god or gods. We want some sort of “Spirituality,” but we want to take part in it. We want to “Own” our beliefs, but God consistently reminds us that we are too broken for that to happen. We can’t do enough, and without His grace we are steeped in our sins and lost forever.

A second thought in regard to our story is the idea that God’s Compassion Is For People, Not What He Could Benefit From People. Those hired in the eleventh hour wanted to work, but there was not enough work for them. These people needed to work daily to eat and support their families, but there wasn’t always enough work for them. No one wanted to over-hire because it would cost too much money, but God in His compassion brings these workers in at the last hour of the day, and then pays them for a full days wage, which was a Denarius (The wage that the early workers had agreed upon). This master did not benefit at all from these workers. Certainly not a full days wage worth, but he paid them that anyway out of his compassion for them, and their great need for the money to sustain them.

One last thought from our passage is that Our Place In The Kingdom Is Not Based On When We Start, But On Who Calls Us To Work. It isn’t how long you work, or how much you work that matters, just that God called you to work. The Jews really had entitlement issues, and Jesus is telling them that none of their history, and none of their works entitle them to anything. It is about Him who calls, and when we are called by Him to work, we do so diligently, not for pay, but because of the joy set before us, and what He has done for us. We see this clearly from Jesus, our example in Hebrews 12:2. “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus is the place we look to for our calling; that even when we are called to hard ministries, we do so looking to Jesus, who found joy in the midst of His painful calling. It is easy to get caught up in the “It’s not fair” argument, and that God owes you something, but in reality God doesn’t owe us anything. He righteously could have us all condemned to hell, but He chooses to save some to be His people for His purposes.

Do you use God and People for what you can get out of them? Maybe it’s time to repent of your self-righteousness, and bitterness toward God for not giving you what you deserve. There is nothing we do to earn our salvation; that is secured and made secure in Christ. Subsequently we have no right to demand anything out of God.

To listen to the sermon, go to: The Vineyard Workers

Questions To Ponder

  1. Why is this message of grace hard for some?
  2. Why do we sometimes feel God owes us something?
  3. In what way(s) do you feel this at times?
  4. What type of person does this attitude foster in a person?
  5. What can we learn from this passage in application to our own life?

For Further Reading

A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Craig S. Keener

The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1A, ed. Manlio Simonetti

Sermon On the Mount; Sinclair Ferguson

For further dialogue with the sermon go to



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About Anchor Long Beach

I'm the lead pastor here @ Anchor Community Church. Check us out @ and on Sundays @ 10:30 @Gant Elementary across the street from Long Beach State. I love sports, philosophy, theology and discussing interesting topics. So here are some of my thoughts, I hope to hear some of yours, but be nice :)

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