Matthew 20:1–19 (NKJV, also appearing in Mark 10:31)
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
8 “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ 9 And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. 10 But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Although there are many different aspects of this parable that could be exposed as useful for the Christian today, it is especially telling that the owner of the vineyard exercised fair and reasonable judgment by paying those who worked only one hour the same amount that he paid those who worked all day long. How can this be fair? One worked through all the heat of the day and produced much more work for the owner, yet received only the same day’s wage (denarius) that the latecomer received. Yet the vineyard owner reminded the complainers that the deal was struck and the payment delivered. Don’t worry about what the owner paid someone else. Did you get what you were promised? The answer was “Yes.”
So the complaints coming from the all-day workers were rebuffed and denied. Why? Two reasons: the owner of the vineyard was honest and gave the men what he had promised, and, the owner of the vineyard was sovereign over his vineyard and could do whatever he wanted in relation to his vineyard. The parable is obviously a comparison to God in that God will deliver what He promised, and God is sovereign over the world and His spiritual kingdom. If God wants to give all the riches of heaven to someone who served Him for 50 years faithfully, but also is willing to give someone who was saved just last week the same blessing of heaven should they both die today, then that is equitable and God is sovereign.
Some complain that this situation is “not fair.” Let’s look at it this way: it is not fair that Christ had to die for our sins. It is not fair that a sinner should be able to take advantage of God’s great mercy. However, God promised us eternal life if we believe in Him, whether for an hour, or whether for all day. God is not a man that He should lie. But He is sovereign, and will give us what he promised if we will serve Him wholeheartedly, no matter how long.
So, serve God when He calls, and serve Him well. Your denarius (heaven) will be waiting at the end of the day. Oh, and don’t worry about anyone else’s service, just you own. If you get too distracted by what someone else receives, you won’t do nearly as good a job for the sovereign Lord.
17 Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, 18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
Remember what we said about it not being fair that Jesus should die for our sins? Even after Jesus rebuked the complaining of those who worked all day, He still announced that He was going to Jerusalem to be killed, and then rise on the third day. That vineyard owner, knowing how petty the people He would soon die for could be, still purposed to die for their sins. That is the sovereign, fair, merciful, graceful Savior that we need.