Summary: Grace comes from God, not by Merit, but by Mercy. In God’s Kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last.

“Jesus Said”

What Jesus said about the Father

“His Mercy”

Michael Wiley

January 25, 2009

Matthew 20:1-16


We hear about all the problems in the business world these days. Wall-Street, the bank loan crises. The auto industry etc… We hear about “big business.”

But, we don’t hear a lot about the small business.

There are over 17,000 large businesses (over 500 employees) in America.

The Small Business Administration estimates 27.2 million small businesses in the United States:

• Employ about half of the country’s private sector workforce

• Hire 40 percent of high tech workers, such as scientists, engineers and computer workers

• Include 52 percent home-based businesses and two percent franchises

• Represent 97.3 percent of all the exporters of goods

• Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms

• Generate a majority of the innovations that come from United States companies

(Source: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, September 2008)

Small Business Survival Rates

Small Business Openings & Closings in 2007:

• There were 637,100 new businesses, 560,300 business closures and 28,322 bankruptcies.

(Sources: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, September 2008

Survival and Longevity in the Business Employment Dynamics Database, Monthly Labor Review, May 2005. Redefining Business Success: Distinguishing Between Closure and Failure, Small Business Economics, August 2003.)


In the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, the only business that wasn’t a small business was the government.

So when Jesus told the story we will read today in Matthew chapter 20, the people very much understood what He was talking about because they experienced it every day. And, we too can understand because we too live it everyday. You may work for a large company, but if we follow the statistics, most of us do not.

Turn with me to Matthew 20:1

For the Kingdom of Heaven is Like

Don’t miss the theme of the passage. Sometimes we get so tied up in interpreting the pieces of the story, we forget what Jesus is talking about.

Jesus is talking about “what the kingdom of heaven is like.”

Jesus begins with proverb. The text break is odd – remember chapters and verses didn’t appear until 1205 when Stephen Langton (later Archbishop of Canterbury) divided them.

I believe Jesus actually begins this teaching in Mt. 19:30.

Lose the “but” conjunction. Remember they didn’t have punctuation in Koine Greek. So, they would use a conjunction (in this case de) to continue a thought, to link two thoughts, or to end a thought. There are many times our translators leave the conjunction out and replace it with our period. I believe they should have done so here.

Now (disclaimer) every English translation I referred to disagrees with me.

The only one that gets close to my idea is the 1898 Young’s Literal Translation who translate de – “and”

I believe this makes since because if you do it my way, Jesus is using another wrap like we saw last week in Matthew six.

He begins and ends (wraps) with a parable --- Read Matthew 19:30, 20:1 and 20:16

Jesus begins with a parable and then----

The parable gives the application of the proverb.

The proverb (a simple saying that teaches a fact) here it is “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

Jesus is weaving a common earthly story into a heavenly truth.

Then He says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”


Let’s get into the parable

READ Matthew 20:1-7

The Jew’s day began at 6:00 am. So,

The third hour is 9:00 am.

The sixth hour is 12:00 noon

The ninth hour is 3:00 pm

And the eleventh hour is 5:00pm. Note too the 12 hour work day. The eight hour day didn’t begin until around 1866

It appears it must have been harvest time. Harvest time is usually the only time of the year a landowner needs extra help other beyond the workers he currently employs.

He goes out in the morning and hires day laborers for one denarius which was a good wage—the same wage the Roman soldiers received.

He goes back several times and hires laborers.

READ Verse 8-10

Following OT law the foreman paid the workers at the end of each day.

Jesus then interjects the story with the proverb. He has the foreman pay the last one first--

Maybe unorthodox, but not shocking. The shocking thing (to some of the workers) was the foreman pays everyone ONE denarius

Read Verse 11-16

The problem is not injustice by the landowner, but jealousy by the workers.

Their normal, very human reaction was—“That’s not fair!”

The land owner tells them, “I paid you exactly what we agreed.”

We have the tendency don’t we—to wonder what the guy or girl beside us is making. We agreed to work for what we are being paid and we certainly hope that everyone else agreed to the same pay or less. We don’t want or co-worker making more than us for doing the same job.

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