Summary: God’s free grace may be good news for a dying backslider; but what about the dying missionary? Doesn’t he deserve at least equal treatment? Analyzing the parable of laborers in the Vineyard from Mat. 20, we continue to be astonished at God’s way of worki
The Good News and the Bad News of the Good News
A man and a women had been friends for many years, had died and gone to heaven. They told St. Peter that they wanted to be married.
- “Take your time and think about it,” said St. Peter, “you have eternity so take fifty years and see me then.”
Fifty years later, the couple returned and again told St. Peter they wanted to be married.
“Well,” said St. Peter, “take another fifty years and really think about it….”
But the couple was insistent: “We know we want to be married now….”
St. Peter replied,
“Well, take another fifty years and if we don’t have a preacher up here by then, I’ll marry you myself.
How would you feel if the first thing you discovered upon reaching heaven was that Reverend Billy Graham is missing? And what if you then found out that your next-door neighbor was Adolph Hitler? Or what if you looked in vain for your son or daughter who had been heavily involved in drugs, and then discovered that the one who had sold them the drugs was living across the street of New Jerusalem?
Now I am not campaigning for any of these! But we do know that there will be some big surprises in heaven. People we thought would surely be there may be missing, and some we thought surely wouldn’t be there may be present. God judges by a different system from ours, for we look only at the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.
As we try to understand a little more about God’s system, let’s look at Matthew 20:1-16. It’s one of the strangest stories Jesus ever told. And it brings us face-to-face with the bad news of the gospel.
Matthew 20: 1- 4 (read)
They didn’t have an agreed sum of payment; they accepted his offer of “whatsoever is right.” They trusted him.
Verses 5-7 (read)
Well, a worker can’t lose at 5:00 p.m. with only one hour before time to quit. If all he does is stuff himself with grapes during the last hour and get nothing for his labor, he is still better off than he would be just standing on the street corner. These workers who were hired the last hour were fresh. They had done nothing all day. Can’t you see them picking grapes faster than anybody else, just for the novelty of having something to do besides standing around? And perhaps the rest of the workers sniffed and said, “Sure, they’re full of pep. Wait till they’ve worked for twelve hours like we have, and then see what happens to their enthusiasm.” And finally it was quitting time.
The vineyard owner is a troublemaker
But now the plot thickens. Verse 8: (read) Here was the first sign of trouble.
Work in the vineyard was extremely difficult. For instance, a vineyard was generally planted on terraced hillsides, most of which were stony. Preparing the terraces involved digging out the tiers and using the stones to build small retaining walls on the outside edges. When the terraced areas were completed, they had to be filled with good soil which usually had to be carried a considerable distance up the slopes from more fertile ground below. It is no wonder why those who were hired first complained that those who were hired later should not receive the same pay.
These people had gotten up before sunrise, eaten a hurried breakfast, and walked down to the corner on Main Street where those blue buses with the dingy windows pick them up and take them to the vineyard. They had been working for twelve hours. They were hot and dusty. They were tired and anxious to get home, shower, have something to eat, pay a little attention to the kiddies, and go to sleep reading the evening paper. They would fall into bed exhausted, only to do it all over again tomorrow. And now, instead of getting their pay and being allowed to go on their way, they had to stand there and wait for the miserable one-hour workers to get paid first. Now don’t you agree with me that the vineyard owner is a troublemaker?
Then the Bible says Verse 9 (read)
Suddenly things began to look good. It looked good for the eleventh-hour workers, who received a whole day’s pay for one hour’s work. There are two extremes of reactions you could have if you were in their place. One reaction could be to figure that the vineyard owner was a soft touch and plan how you could rip him off the next day. Second, an opposite reaction would be to be so grateful for the generosity of the kind vineyard owner that you resolve to come out and work the following day for free!