Summary: The third in a series on the Parables of Jesus, this three-point, expository sermon explores the parable of the workers in the vineyard and the eleventh hour hire. It highlights the extravagant, endless, and equalizing grace of God!
PARABLES OF JESUS ǀ THE LABORERS
Scott Bayles, pastor
Portions adapted from Max Lucado’s “Grace” & “In the Grip of Grace”
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 2/9/14
Well over fifty years ago, during a conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated, what—if any—belief was unique to the Christian faith. The debate went on for quite a while, until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and asked, “What’s the ruckus about?” His colleagues explained that they were discussing Christianity’s uniqueness among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” A sort of enlightened hush fell over the crowd. Everyone at the conference had to agree.
Grace. We talk as if we understand the word. “The bank gives us a grace period. The corrupt politician falls from grace. We describe the hostess as gracious and the dancer as graceful. We even say grace before our meals. We talk a lot about grace, especially at church.” What’s interesting to me is that Jesus never said grace.
Believe it or not, the Gospels don’t record where Jesus ever uttered the word. Run a finger down the red letters in your Bible, type it into your Bible app, or break out an old-fashioned concordance, but you won’t find the word grace falling from Jesus’ lips. It was said of him quite a bit, but never by him. Don’t be fooled, though—he may never have said it, but he lived it every day. And even though he never said grace, Jesus said a whole lot about grace. Scholars call a whole group of his stories the “grace parables.” Some of his most famous stories fall into that category. One of which is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Sitting on a scenic hillside in Judea, Jesus told this parable:
“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. 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?’
They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘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.’
He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 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?’ So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16 NLT)
This story strikes a chord with many of us because it assaults our sense of fairness and justice. Many think this story is simply a reminder that even a death-bed confession can get you into heaven, but it’s so much more than that. This story is all about grace. First, this is a story about extravagant grace!
• EXTRAVAGANT GRACE
The scene that sets up Jesus’ story would have been a typical one in the days of the Bible. Even today there are places where day laborers gather to seek work. These workers were unskilled and near the bottom of the social-economic scale. In fact, many lived at a level not far above beggars. So when the landowner pulls up and offers to pay them a denarius to work in his vineyard, they eagerly hop in the back of the truck.
A denarius was a normal day’s wage, not for a day laborer, but for a Roman soldier. So, even the laborers who put in a full day’s works were compensated generously for their time. But the real extravagance of God’s grace is seen when even those who had worked for only one hour were paid just as much—so much more than they deserved. The point of the parable is that God’s grace isn’t something you earn. It’s a gift, freely given by an extravagant God.