Saturday, February 25, 2017
Daily reading assignment: Matthew 20-22
Perhaps it is due to my upbringing on a small farm in rural South Carolina, but the story of the farmer who hired day laborers to work in his vineyard has always been among my favorite of the parables taught by Christ (Matthew 20:1-16). The contextual timeline is near the beginning of Christ’s final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and the Cross.
Making His way south along the eastern shore of the Jordan River a man identified as a “rich young ruler” came to Jesus asking what he could do to inherit eternal life (Mt. 19:16). Boasting he had kept all the commandments, Jesus asked the rich man to give up the thing he loved most… “sell that thou hast, and give to the poor…and come follow me” (Mt. 19:21). Sadly we read, “when the young man heard [i.e. and understood] that saying, he went away sorrowful [grieving; sad]: for he had great possessions [estate; property]” (Mt. 29:22). As the rich man walked away, Jesus declared to His disciples, “a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:23). Peter, often the spokesman for all the disciples, inquired of Jesus, “Behold we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (Mt. 19:27)
The disciples had left everything and endured three years of sacrifice to follow Jesus. They had forfeited their homes, family, and friends. They had endured hardships and suffered mocking, scorn, and persecution. All this had left Peter wondering; “LORD, we have been with you from the beginning, what is our reward?” That question is the backdrop for the parable of the laborers that serves as an illustration of God’s grace and justice.
Setting: The owner of a vineyard realized his harvest was greater than his family and servants could harvest in a timely manner. In the parable (Matthew 20:1-16), the farmer goes into the village on five occasions hires men to work in his vineyard. The first workers hired at the 6:00 AM shift (20:1-2), agreed to a “penny a day” (actually one “denarii”, the daily salary of a Roman soldier and a large sum for a day laborer). Four additional hires would follow throughout the day: 9:00 AM, 12 Noon, 3:00 PM and the final hire at 5:00 PM…all were hired without a stated sum, but with the promise the owner would give them “whatsoever is right” (20:4, 7).
6:00 PM came marking the end of the day and the owner directed his foreman to pay the laborers beginning with the ones hired at the last hour (20:8). To their amazement, the one’s who worked only the last hour of the day were paid the same wage (a penny) as that agreed to by the first hired at 6:00 AM.
Evidencing the jealousy and covetousness that resides in the heart of sinful men, we read of those who had negotiated a penny wage that they “supposed that they should have received more” (20:10). The jealous workers began murmuring and complaining against the owner of the vineyard, accusing him of being unjust and protesting they should have received more (20:11-13).
Application: What followed was a lesson in God’s grace and salvation; for the owner of the vineyard had paid the workers what he had said he would and it was his business how he chose to reward others (20:15).
Lesson: Whether a sinner comes to Christ as a child or, like the penitent thief on the cross in his last hour, every believer is assured of heaven and eternal life (20:16). Why? Because every sinner is saved by a gift of God’s grace and no sinner can earn or merit salvation and forgiveness of sin.
Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Titus 3:5 – “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”
I close with the well-known poem composed by John Newton…a notorious ruffian, wicked slave trader, and a sinner who came to trust Jesus Christ as his Savior in the 18th century.
Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith