Matthew 20 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence Bowlin
It has sometimes been said that mercy is not getting what we deserve, whereas grace is getting what we don’t deserve. Two days ago we read about the importance of giving mercy to others in forgiving them of their sins just as the Lord has been merciful to us in forgiving us of our many sins. Today, our text shows how the Lord gives an abundance of grace to those who don’t deserve it.
In the first sixteen verses of this chapter, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard owner trying to find laborers to work in his vineyard. Early in the morning he finds a group of men who agree to work in his vineyard for a denarius a day. It seems that they laid out the terms for their service and the owner agreed to their terms. Of course, we learned the other day that a denarius was a common wage for a day laborer, so this seemed to be the proper and expected amount of pay for their time working in the vineyard.
About three hours later, the owner goes out seeking more laborers and upon finding some he promises to give them whatever is right, and they agree to work for him. Then another three hours pass and the owner contracts some more laborers giving that same promise, and still another three hours pass and the same conversation takes place. Then, finally, at the eleventh hour, he finds still more men standing by who agree to work for him in his vineyard, and they put in an hour’s worth of work before the sun begins to set and it’s time to call it a day.
When the foreman begins to pay the men at the end of the day, those who had only worked an hour received a denarius, so too did those who only worked three hours, and six hours and nine hours. Lastly, those who had worked all day long also received the denarius that they had agreed upon for their labor. But after seeing those who had only worked one hour receive a denarius, those first men on the job began to think that they should receive much more for their labor, and when they didn’t, they begin to complain to the master of the house that they bore the brunt of the labor and the heat throughout the day and deserved to paid more.
This parable is meant to represent some of the Jews, particularly the Pharisees and Sadducees complaining of the entrance of sinners and gentiles into the good graces of Christ and his kingdom. They had the long history with God; they had the law and the prophets; they had given up so much to try and walk with God, but now, here come these ignorant pagans calling upon the name of the Lord. It just didn’t seem right that these newbies were getting what they didn’t deserve. But what the Jews had forgotten, and what we sometimes forget as Christians, is that none of us deserves God’s grace. None of us deserves his favor; none of us deserves His reward. We all deserve the wages of our sin, which is death and hell forever. We must be foolish to continue insisting that we ought to get what we deserve when what we deserve is far from good and profitable to us.
Instead, we ought to continually stand amazed that we have received a payment or reward at all, that the Lord has found us when we were standing idly by and placed us in his honorable service, and that he has been so generous with us to show us such kindness and grace in the land of the living, and that his generosity extends well beyond this life in the life to come with all the plans he has in store for us. If we really understood and believed these things even a little, we would not be so quick to begrudge our brothers and sisters when the Lord smiles upon them in love. Indeed, in this regard, ‘the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.’