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Basic Bible: God’s Gracious Rewards

Matthew 20:1-16

The text before us is a parable which firstly illustrates the kingdom of heaven (v. 1) and secondly explains Jesus’ answer to a question asked by Peter (see Matt. 19:28-30). Peter had asked Jesus what reward could be expected by those who had forsaken all to follow Him. Jesus had answered that they would receive 100 fold and everlasting life but that there would be many who had been first which would be last and that the last shall be first.

The kingdom of heaven is like a particular householder. The householder’s actions present a picture of his desires and his guiding principles.

In verse 1, we see the householder as one who desires laborers to work in his vineyard. In verse 2, we see him as one who has contracted to provide a day’s wage for a day’s work. In verse 3, we see that the householder returned to the marketplace in search of more laborers at the third hour of the day. There is a reason for the householder’s action. Maybe he failed to estimate the human resources needed to complete the task in a single day. Perhaps the laborers that he hired at the first hour were sluggards. We only know that the householder desired more laborers. In verse 4, we see the householder as one who promised to reward his new hires with “whatsoever is right.” In verse 5, we see the householder sought more laborers at the sixth hour and at the ninth hour of the day and repeated his promise to pay “whatsoever is right” to them.

In verses 6 and 7, we see an enhanced picture of the householder. It is the 11th hour. There remains but one hour of daylight to finish the task. The householder finds men standing about and inquires, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” With this question, we see the householder as one who appears to disapprove of idleness but is not quick to condemn them who are idle with cause. After learning that their idleness was not of their choosing, the householder instructs them to go into the vineyard and he will pay “whatsoever is right.”

In verse 9, we see that which the householder considered “whatsoever is right.” The 11th hour hires did not receive that which they deserved. The late hires deserved one twelfth of a day’s wage. They received a full day’s wage. They received that which was right in the eyes of the householder.

In verses 13-15, we see the response of the householder to the laborers who complained because they did not receive more than their agreed upon wages. The householder thought it right to give those who had labored 12 hours the wage that they contracted for and no more. He paid all laborers the wage to which they agreed to accept. The householder did not make a single exception. Such is the kingdom of heaven; there are no exceptions.

They which had labored 12 full hours murmured against the householder because he (in their eyes) rewarded the single hour of labor with a full day’s wage. The householder reveals that he regards time in a far different manner than the laborers. The householder was aware that his eleventh hour hires had waited for 11 hours for some man to come and hire them (see v. 7). It is also apparent that the householder knew that his hires of the third hour waited 3 hours, hires of the sixth hour waited 6 hours and his hires of the ninth hour had waited 9 hours for someone to employ them. All laborers spent time in the marketplace and time in the vineyard. All spent 12 hours total. The householder’s actions reveal that he rewarded hours of waiting and hours of labor in the manner of his choosing.

In verse 8, the householder called for his steward to pay the eleventh hour hires first and the first hour hires last. The householder made the first last and the last first.

Who are the first who were made last? They are the presumptuous (v. 10). They were self-righteous. They thought their work to be of greater value because they had endured the heat of the day (v. 12). They saw the householder as evil (unfair) because he was good (gave whatsoever he thought right). The first who were made last are them who thought wrongly of themselves and of the householder.

Who are the last who were made first? The last were persistent (they remained in the marketplace). The last thought their labor not to be worthy of negotiation (subject only to the whim of the householder). The last who were made first were them who set no pre-condition upon their hire. Those that were made first are those who thought correctly of themselves and correctly of the householder.

In verse 16, Jesus explains why the last shall be first and the first shall be last: many are called but few are chosen. The householder called many to work. The householder called them who thought more highly of themselves than they should have and the householder called them who thought their worth to be little. The householder chooses them who think correctly of him and themselves. The householder knows the hearts of all.

The goodness of the householder is seen in all who esteem others to be more deserving. May believers put all self-righteousness aside such that the goodness of the householder be seen in undiminished brightness.

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