Summary: The kingdom of God totally contradicts the Kingdom of this World
The passage we will be looking at this evening is from Matthew 20 vs. 1-16. Often subtitled the workers in the vineyard. The approach I am going to take is that we will split the passage up into sections – read the story together and then I will offer you some thoughts on each part.
But before that I want us to think about where this passage fits in.
This dialogue draws on The Rich Young Man as important background to the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Jacob and Ezra are puzzling over Jesus’ treatment of the young man in contrast to "some of the undesirables Jesus has picked up on the way" -people like Matthew and Mary Magdalene! Jacob’s "I wonder how late a person can turn back to God and still be accepted anyway" is a question that keeps recurring in the Gospels - perhaps to be finally answered by Jesus to the thief on the cross. All of these questions fail to grasp the grace of God - so central to the teaching of Jesus, and so needful for all, good and bad alike.
Jacob and Ezra have joined the crowd that has met Jesus across the Jordan on the way to Jerusalem. Some amazing things have happened.
JACOB: I think Jesus was a bit tough on that rich young man.
EZRA: You mean young Benjamin? I knew his father well - an honest businessman with a real flair for making money.
JACOB: And - Benjamin, you call him? - he got the lot when the old man died?
EZRA: I have watched the young lad grow - really seeking to know the truth, to do the right thing, to know God!
JACOB: And the money - it all came to him?
EZRA: It did! It certainly did! Would have meant disaster for a lot of young people, but not Benjamin!
JACOB: I think I know what you’re talking about. Some of us are sure we could do with a lot more, but for those who have it...
EZRA: ... trouble! trouble! trouble!
JACOB: So I judged the boy right, and you agree that Jesus was a bit tough?
EZRA: Especially since he has always lived strictly by the commandments!
JACOB: Not everyone can say that, can they?
EZRA: I can imagine Benjamin as an old man, having always done the right thing, having given generously to support the widows and the orphans...
JACOB: A whole life of being good - how pleasing to God!
EZRA: Rather preferable, I would say, to some of the undesirables Jesus has picked up along the way!
JACOB: Some of them - like Matthew the tax collector and Mary the prostitute - seem to have made good. We should be happy about that!
EZRA: Don’t get me wrong, Jacob! I am genuinely glad about their reform. But they’ve spent maybe thirty years or so doing the wrong thing. That’s coming into the picture a bit late, don’t you think?
JACOB: I wonder how late a person can turn back to God and still be accepted anyway.
EZRA: Don’t worry, Jacob! Stick to the law, be generous, worship the Lord - I’m sure that will secure the best possible favours from God!
The disciples are shocked that someone he seemed so obedient so good, so wealthy – with all these advantages are unable to enter into the kingdom of heaven. If he’s not allowed in – then who will be –
They even begin to doubt there own future – look at Peters words in v27 –
There is real doubt they can make it – if someone of such stature, who has kept all these laws can’t get in – then what is this heaven place.
Looking at v29 – we can see that the key does not appear to be in a person’s stature or what they have done – but whether people are willing to lay things down “for my sake”. “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
SO the rich man despite all his good deeds, all these commandments that he has kept for such a long time – doesn’t make it and the disciples are confused they complain to Jesus – that’s not fair….
What hope is there for us then??
It is this background which leads us into the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Lets start reading the passage together
Let’s begin by reading Matthew 20:1-2 together. “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.”
Let us picture the scene - In the days of the Bible – people’s days started with the light when the sun rose and finished when the sun set. Working in a vineyard sounds like an exciting place to be but we can guarantee that this is hard work. At harvest time, which was about this time of the year in Palestine, the grapes had to be picked, often in temperatures of 100 degrees or more. If for some reason the grapes were slow in ripening, the time for harvesting could be significantly shortened. Consequently, the grape harvest was a hectic and demanding time. Everything had to be collected in a short space of time. The mountain slopes of Canaan have always been famous for the large clusters of grapes which they produce