The Parables Series  #7




TEXT:         Matthew 20:1-16


INTRO:       When most people (including many Christians) hear the expression - "The Kingdom Of God" they think of the following things:


1.   Heaven with clouds and angels with harps; angelic choirs singing.

2.   Some kind of mystical place.

3.   A place after death where most hope (and plan!) to go.


However when they think of the church – they think of a place to rest once a week and get away from it all.


1.   A list of do's and don'ts.

2.   Doctrines, singing, prayers and other worshipful things.

3.   An unnecessary part of the week to many people.

4.   Place to fellowship with other people.


Somehow the kingdom of God and the church are not always connected in people’s minds.  Sometimes it gets confused with the culture of our society; but it is far more than this!


ILLUS:    Thus it was from the beginning and so it is today.  Yet the early Christians had one great advantage over us; then it was clear that the surrounding culture was groping in the darkness of paganism, and thus it was clear that the culture should have no hand in defining the role of God's people in the world.  But today we have grown accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a part of the "Christian West," living in a "Christian nation."  That habit is hard to kick, for it has the narcotic effect of easing the painful reality of the stark contrast between twentieth-century American culture and the calling of Christ to His Church.

   Yet we must kick that habit if by serving heaven we are to be any earthly good.  Our challenge is clear: We must reject the illusions, seductions, and false alternatives of the current political scene and reassert the ageless truth that Christ is Lord of lords, King of kings.  With Athanasius, the great fourth-century champion of the faith, we must stand for Christ against the world.  In the very moment of our clearest opposition to the world, we will find that as witnesses to the Truth and Life we will have the inestimable privilege of helping to make His invisible kingdom visible in the world.  For with Christ we will "preach good news to the poor ... proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, ... release the oppressed, [and] proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19, NIV). -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 446.


PROP. SENT:    Yet in this parable Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of heaven is both here as well as in the future, and that it is not a place of taking it easy, but a place of work.  You can't be idle in God's kingdom!


I.   MARKET PLACE    Matt. 20:1-7


A.   World's Activities     Matt. 20:1-3

1.   Market place (Greek: agora– meaning “marketplace”) was the scene of activities of all sorts.

2.   Cosmopolitan in flavor.

3.   A hectic place of great activity, like many cities today.

4.   The irony is that in the midst of this marketplace activity Jesus says they were idle!  Matt. 20:3b

a.   Not that activity had no meaning.

b.   But that it had no lasting effect!


ILLUS:    Everybody treats us so nicely.  No one seems to think that we mean what we say.  When we say "kingdom of God," no one gets apprehensive, as if we had just announced (which we thought we had) that a powerful army is poised on the border, ready to invade.  When we say radical things like "Christ," "love," "believe," "peace," and "sin" -- words that in other times and cultures excited martyrdoms -- the sounds enter the stream of conversation with no more splash than baseball scores and grocery prices. -- Eugene Peterson in Leadership, Vol. 10, no. 2.


c.   In terms of eternity they were doing nothing!  Jesus was putting a spiritual context to this story.


B.   Different Stages    Matt. 20:3-6

1.   Different hours represented perhaps different stages in life.

a.   Some saved early in life, or working earlier in life.

b.   Some mid-life.  (“6th hour, 9th hour…”)  Matt. 20:5

c.   Some at the end of life – “about the 11th hour he went out...”  Matt. 20:6

2.   God at any stage is looking for laborers ... no retirement program in God's kingdom!


ILLUS:    You're worried about permissiveness -- about the way the preaching of grace seems to say it's okay to do all kinds of terrible things as long as you just walk in afterward and take the free gift of God's forgiveness. ...

   While you and I may be worried about seeming to give permission, Jesus apparently wasn't.  He wasn't afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do.  He's angry about the party.  He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue -- that music, dancing, and a fattened calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law.  And to that, Jesus has the father say only one thing: "Cut that out! We're not playing good boys and bad boys any more.  Your brother was dead and he's alive again.  The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping." -- Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 7.


3.   It is never too late to get involved in God's kingdom and to work for Him!

4.   At the same time it is never too early to begin to work in the kingdom of God!

a.   Don’t want to be asked some day by God, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”  Matt. 20:6b

b.   Life is too short to stand around making it meaningless!


C.   Call To Work!   Matt. 20:7

1.   Priority for the vineyard.


ILLUS:    Everyone wants the kingdom of God, but few want it first.  Everyone wants high achievement, but few want to pay the price.  Everyone wants God, but few want to put him first. -- Charles L. Venable -- Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992).  Entry 4731.


2.   It is ok to be involved in the market place ... but the market place loses its meaning without the vineyard!

a.   The marketplace couldn’t exist without the vineyard!

b.   The vineyard gives rise to the marketplace!

c.   Notice that in the 4th commandment; worship was first, and then work!  “Remember the Sabbath day … then 6 days shall man work…”  Man was first a worshipper, then a worker.  Ex. 20:8-9 (and the order is critical here!  Adam was made on the 6th day, started to worship on the 7th, then worked after that! – He started life with worship, then worked)

3.   No free rides in God's kingdom ... involvement is the only way in the vineyard!

a.   It is a call for everyone … no matter when they come into the vineyard!

b.   Early or latecomers, they were all asked to go and work!

4.   The idea is discipleship and witness.


II.  VINEYARD   Matt. 20:8


A.   Kingdom Activities

1.   Not to be confused just with fellowship meetings and dinners!

2.   Kingdom activities have to do with being a disciple and discipling!


ILLUS:    While serving as a missionary in Laos, I discovered an illustration of the kingdom of God. Before the colonialists imposed national boundaries, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas.  Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians.  On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese.  The exact location of a person's home was not what determined his or her nationality.  Instead, each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values he or she exhibited. So it is with us: we live in the world, but as part of God's kingdom, we are to live according to his kingdom's standards and values. -- John Hess-Yoder, Portland, Oregon. Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 3.


3.   Many kinds of activities in the vineyard:

a.   Pruning

b.   Dressing

c.   Planting

d.   Digging

e.   Fencing

f.    Weeding

g.   Watering

h.   Harvesting


B.   Different Stages

1.   There is work at every stage in a vineyard, we need to see that everyone is needed.


ILLUS:    Kentucky's second governor, James Garrard, had several rivals when he ran for that office.  Upon his election he appointed all but one of them to high positions in his administration.  Christ did better than that.  "When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).


2.   All men's hearts are at different stages, the work needed is determined by whatever is needed at that particular stage for each one.

a.   Thus ministry is tailored to meet the need.

b.   We must be able to work at all levels.


C.   Call to Work

1.   No one is without purpose or without a job.

2.   Everyone can do something!

3.   Not just the everybody else or a committee, but me!

4.   One man can't do all the work!

5.   No matter when you come in, there is something to be done that you can do!


ILLUS:    Our normal, ordinary view of salvation is hopelessly and ridiculously inadequate.  Our trouble is that we always start with ourselves instead of starting with God.  Instead of going to the Bible and looking at its revelation and discovering there what salvation means, I start with myself and certain things that I want and desire, certain benefits that I always want to enjoy in this life and in this world.

   I want forgiveness of sins; I want peace of conscience and of mind; I want enjoyment and happiness; I want to be delivered from certain sins; I want guidance; I want this and that; and my whole conception of salvation is reduced to that level. ...

   The most wonderful thing of all is not that my sins have been forgiven, nor that I may enjoy certain experiences and blessing as a Christian.  The thing that should astound me ... is that I am a child of God, one of God's people. -- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Safe in the World. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 7.


III.  GRACE OF GOD!   Matt. 20: 9-16


A.   Payment made?   Matt. 20:9-10

1.   We all receive God's grace, not because we earned it but because God wishes to give it!

2.   Grace is Grace ... it is essentially free by its very nature!


ILLUS:    On the evening of April 25, 1958, a young Korean exchange student, a leader in student Christian affairs in the University of Pennsylvania, left his flat and went to the corner to post a letter to his parents in Pusan.  Turning from the mailbox he stepped into the path of eleven leather-jacketed teenage boys.  Without a word they attacked him, beating him with a blackjack, a lead pipe and with their shoes and fists. Later, when the police found him in the gutter, he was dead.  All Philadelphia cried out for vengeance.  The district attorney secured legal authority to try the boys as adults so that those found guilty could be given the death penalty.  Then a letter arrived from Korea that made everyone stop and think.  It was signed by the parents and by twenty other relatives of the murdered boy.  It read in part:

   "Our family has met together and we have decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who have committed this criminal action--.  In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious, educational, vocational, and social guidance of the boys when they are released--.  We have dared to express our hope with a spirit received from the gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins." -- A. Leonard Griffith, Beneath the Cross of Jesus -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 213-214.


3.   Since no one deserves any grace it does not matter how much we get, we all get grace!

a.   Those who worked a short time received the same pay as those who worked all day!

b.   This hardly seemed fair on the surface; but all of them would have received nothing if left as is.

c.   That they all got the same gift was a wonderful lesson is grace; they were all undeserving to begin with!


B.   Equals   Matt. 20:11-12

1.   Grace here is shown to be given in equal amounts to all, thus demonstrating that by our works we haven't earned God’s favor, if we did those who worked more would get more!

2.   We are equal in God's eyes when it comes to His love and grace, no matter when we get saved!

a.   Parents don't love one child more than another because he or she has been around longer!  A child who is 20 years old is not loved MORE than a new child who is only 2 years old … parents love both equally!

b.   This is the astonishing thing about the love of God ... we are never losers in His kingdom!


ILLUS:   A short time ago the manufacturers of lighting gas were puzzled to know how to dispose of the coal-tar left in the retorts.  A more useless, nauseous substance was hardly known to exist.  Chemistry came to the rescue, and today not less than thirty-six marketable articles are produced from this black, vile, sticky slime -- solvents, oils, salts, colors, flavors.  You eat a bit of delicious candy, happily unconscious that the exquisite taste that you enjoy so keenly comes from coal-tar.  You buy at the drug store a tiny bottle labeled "Otto of Roses," little dreaming that the delicious perfume is wafted, not from "the fields of Araby," but from the foul gas retort.

   Christianity is a moral chemistry.  It would be a good thing for nations if Christianity held a higher place among their social economies.  Tar-saving is all well enough, but soul-saving is better.  Grace transforms a villain into an honest man, a harlot into a holy woman, a thief into a saint.  Where fetid exhalations of vice alone ascended, prayer and praise are to be found.  Where moral miasmata had their lair, righteousness and temperance pitch their tent.  Every sort of good thing is produced by godliness, and that too in hearts once reeking with all manner of foulness.  This should hold back every persecuting hand, hush every railing tongue, and incite every sanctified spirit to continued and increasing energy. -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)


c.   Notice the jealousy of some in God's kingdom ... they are not unhappy because of what the received but because God treats the newer ones with the same love; they become so angry ... how selfish!

d.   Let us love one another no matter how long we have been saved!  When new Christians are blessed by God older Christians should rejoice, even when they have not been as blessed!

e.   We must guard against jealousy when we feel like others benefit from all the sacrifices we made and they made “none” of them … instead we should rejoice that they didn’t have to suffer all the “heat” we did!  Notice their poor attitude: “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” Matt. 20:12

f.    Why would any of us in the kingdom want others to suffer the way we suffered, or the way our forefather’s did?  Perhaps then we should all bear the same pain and suffering the apostles did in the first century … and thus suffer martyrdom, that would be fair!  Loving people usually want their kids to do better than them!

3.   The “kingdom of God” is much bigger than the stuff of this world!


C.   Generosity of God!   Matt. 20:13-16

1.   God loves to give and to love!

2.   He is generous with His grace ... let us rejoice over the newcomers and the fact that they receive the same grace as us!  (And sometimes receive more material benefits than we have!)

a.   The greatest benefit of the kingdom is that we all receive God’s grace!


ILLUS:    Over the years my daughters, my mother, and I have built a sort of private club house in our spirits, and even when we go about the tasks of living in the "outside world" we can always count on our special group.

   My daughters have taught me that I don't have to be God; I just need to be real.  They show me grace when I make mistakes.  When I am least lovable, Amy surprises me with a hug.  When I am most exhausted, Suzanne picks up the load without my asking.  So it is that my children have given me a better understanding of what God is like -- always calling out the best in me.  Grace, redemption, forgiveness, and tough love -- these qualities my children have taught me. -- Gloria Gaither, Hands Across the Seasons. Today's Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart."


b.   The building of the kingdom of God here and now is all that should get our attention; however God works through each one of us!

c.   It is His call to do what He wants through our life and others.

d.   We need to rejoice over the flexibility and diversity in the kingdom of God, and His generosity of grace!


CONCLUSION:    When your life exists for the here and now -- your benefits too are only the here and now, when your life exists for the Kingdom of God, your benefits never run out -- even in eternity!  In this world you can get the "experience and benefits of a lifetime;" but in God's kingdom you get the "experience and benefits of an eternity!"