Robert Jeffress - A Lesson In Workman's Compensation
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. The Bible teaches that God is perfectly just and righteous, but sometimes our flawed human nature causes us to doubt whether he really knows what's fair, especially when it comes to our eternal rewards. Today, we'll turn to the parable of the workers in the vineyard for a counter-intuitive lesson from Jesus about our rewards in heaven. My message is titled, "A Lesson in Workman's Compensation". On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
What would you do in the following situation? You have been employed by the XYZ company for 24 years. It was your first job out of college. It has been your only job for the last 24 years. Over those years, you have received some periodic wage increases. You don't have an exorbitant salary but it's a comfortable salary and you're content with your situation in life. And your company has recently hired another employee. His name is bill and bill has been working for the same company in the same position you've been working in for just a month. One Friday afternoon, you go down to your mail slot to pick up your check and you open the check. And to your surprise, you find that the paymaster made a mistake. He has put bill's check in your envelope. And as you look at the salary, the check, you are astounded to see that he is making twice the amount of money that you're making, even though he has the same job and has only been working at the company for one month.
Question, what would be your response? Would you, a, on Monday morning, storm into your boss's office and give him a piece of your mind you couldn't afford to lose? Would you, b, secretly say to yourself, well, that's just the way it is. I'm lucky to have a job. Or, c, would you secretly resent both bill and your boss. It's exactly that situation that Jesus described in the parable we're gonna look at today. But far from trying to teach us lessons about labor relations, the parable we're gonna look at today teaches us a very important lesson about how God rewards his children. If you have your Bibles turn to Matthew chapter 20, as we look at what I call, "A lesson in workman's compensation", Matthew chapter 20.
Now remember in our series on the parables, we've said that a parable usually doesn't have many truths to it. Instead, it is teaching just one truth. And Jesus would use everyday illustrations to lay alongside some divine eternal truth. And we find that in this parable beginning in chapter 20 and I want you to go ahead and write it down on your outline because the principle is very simple and it is this: God's standard for rewards is different than our standards. God's standard for rewards is different than our standards. And he drives home that truth by repeating a statement not once, but twice at the beginning of the parable and at the end of the parable. And it's that off repeated but seldom understood statement, you find at the end of chapter 19:30, "But many who are first will be last: and the last, first".
Have you heard that before? Many who are first, will be last, and the last will be first. We hear it all the time but very few people understand what Jesus was trying to say. Well, he explains it beginning in chapter 20:1, remember in the original text, there were no chapter divisions. And so that statement was made to introduce this parable we find in chapter 20 beginning with verse one. Look at it with me. "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the vineyard to hire laborers for his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a Denarius for the day, he sent them into the vineyard".
Now let me explain what was going on. In Jesus' day was an agricultural society. There were no labor unions, no employment agencies. If you were a day laborer and wanted a job, you would go into the town square where all of the day laborers would assemble. You would get there about five o'clock in the morning and you would wait until a foreman came out and chose you to work in his field. And so all of these people would hang around the town square, you know, sipping their Starbucks just waiting it to see if they got hired. And so the foreman of this particular vineyard comes out and he says, I'm gonna choose you, I'm gonna choose you. I choose you, I choose you, I choose you. You're the ones who are gonna work in my master's vineyard. And he goes ahead and he makes an agreement with them. I will pay you a Denarius.
Now, Denarius was actually a very generous wage, especially for a day laborer. It's about 16 cents in today's currency. Back then it was quite a bit of money. And he said, I will pay you a Denarius. So he hires these people to work 12 hours in the vineyard. 6:00 a.M., to 6:00 p.M. Now look at verse three. "And he went out about the third hour". That would have been nine o'clock in the morning. "And he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to those he said, 'you too go into the vineyard, and whatever is right, I will give you'. And so they went". We don't know what happened here but apparently this foreman felt the need for more workers in the field. Perhaps, this was in September when the rains would come, the storms would come, and perhaps a storm was threatening the harvest. And so he called and he said, we need more laborers. Whatever the reason is, he goes out at nine o'clock and he finds some more workers. But notice this time, he didn't agree upon the price. He said, I will pay you whatever is right. And they agree.
Verse five. "And he went out about the sixth hour". That would have been noon. "And about the ninth hour". That would have been three in the afternoon. "He did the same thing". He gathered in more workers, no agreed upon price. Verse six, "And about the 11th hour," that would have been five o'clock in the afternoon. "One hour before quitting time. The foreman went out and found others standing and he said to them, 'why have you been standing here idle all day long'? And they said to him, 'duh,'" now, that's not in the Greek text, you don't see that. But verse seven: "They said, 'because nobody hired us'. He said to them, 'you too go work in the vineyard'" and we don't know why these had not been chosen. It may have been they were elderly, it might've been they were handicap, whatever, they had been standing there all day long. And the laborer, the foreman, finally says I can use you as well, go out and work in the vineyard one hour. And he doesn't agree upon a price.
And now here's where the story gets interesting. Verse eight, "And when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first'". Now, according to the mosaic law, Leviticus 19, God cared about the poor, he cared about the day workers and he commanded that every labor be paid the day that he worked at the end of the day. And so this vineyard owner said, I wanna do what the law says. So he tells his foreman, get them all together and pay them but I want you to do it a little bit differently. I want you to start with the people who were hired last, that is, at five o'clock, put them at the head of the line and then follow that by those who were called at three o'clock. Then those who were called at noon, those who were called at nine o'clock in the morning, and at the very end of the line, put those who were hired at six in the morning. Make the first, the last, make those who were last to be hired, the first. And so he hires them or arranges them accordingly.
Now look at verse nine. "And when those who were hired at about five o'clock, the 11th hour came, each one received a Denarius". They were blown away by that. They had only worked one hour in the field, and yet they got an entire day's wage. At first, they must've thought, you made a mistake. No, that's what the master said, to give you an entire day's pay. Well, they, they were astounded by it. They kept looking at that and suddenly, word started spreading down the line. Did you hear, did you hear? Did you hear what those guys who had just worked an hour God? They got a whole Denarius. And so these people way down at the end of the line who had gone out at six o'clock, they could do the math. They began computing.
Now, if somebody who worked just an hour got one Denarius, and we have been working 12 hours, wow, we're gonna make a fortune. 12 Denari are gonna be ours? Man, what a bonanza? And so they begin I'm sure fantasizing about what they were gonna do with their new found wealth, maybe a new set of tires for the chariot or maybe a sailboat for those lazy Saturday afternoons on the Sea of Galilee. Maybe they thought about buying a whole new wardrobe of tunics for the misses. You know, they were thinking about what they were gonna do with all of this money. And sure enough the foreman comes down and I imagine they cut their hands in order to receive all the Denari. And to their disappointment, he drops a single Denarius into their hands. One Denarius, 12 hours work. What did they do in response? Well, they did what any right-thinking person would do? They grumbled.
Look at verse 11. "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'these last men have worked only one hour and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day'". It's not fair. Why wouldn't you give us more, since we worked longer hours. But notice the land owner's response. He makes a threefold response to their complaint. He says, in verse 13: "Friend, I am not doing you any wrong: did you not agree with me for a Denarius"? In other words, write it down, you got what you bargained for. I haven't cheated you. You agreed work all day for a Denarius, you were happy about it just earlier in the day. You got what you bargained for. And not only that, he says in verse 15, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own"? In other words, "I'm free to do with my wealth whatever I wanna do with it". This money isn't yours, it's mine. If I wanna give somebody 12 Denari, if I wanna give them one, I'm free to do whatever I wanna do.
And then 30 says in verse 15, "Or is the real problem that your eye is envious because I'm generous". In other words, your unhappiness is not because of what I've done. Your unhappiness is because you are focused on other people. By the way, you know what the greatest source of discontent in our life is? comparison. Comparing what we have or don't have to what other people have. It will always cause discontent. I was reading an article this week in money magazine and it talked about a new psychological syndrome, psychologists were talking about, and it's called perceived consumption, super disparity syndrome. The PCs, the perceived consumption super disparity syndrome.
Now you may not understand it by the title, but you sure know what it is by experience. Here's how it works. Most everybody in your neighborhood might be driving a Honda Accord but guess what? You don't notice it, you don't think about it because you don't spend your days fantasizing about Honda Accords, okay? There may be only one person in your neighborhood who drives a Lexus. Guess what you're gonna focus on? Guess where your attention is gonna be directed? Not to the majority of people who drive the Accord but the one person in your neighborhood who has a Lexus. And your mind begins to play a trick on you because you're focused on that one person who has more than you have, you begin thinking everybody has more than you have. Perceived consumption super disparity syndrome. Jesus didn't use the title, but that's what he's describing here. He said the real problem with these people who were paid the Denarius is, they were unhappy because they focused on what other people have.
Now, verse 16, Jesus gives the application. "Thus the last shall be first, and the first will be last". Now, remember I said at the beginning of the message, this is not a lesson about labor relations. It's a lesson about how God rewards us. God's standard of rewards is different than ours. Let me give you two relevant applications of that. First of all, I think that applies to the whole area of salvation. I believe the primary application of this passage had to do with salvation. Remember, Jesus was trying to silence the criticism of the pharisees. The pharisees, the religious adherence of a law of Jewish society, they were bent out of shape over Jesus' teaching that gentiles were gonna be fellow heirs in the Kingdom of God. They just couldn't accept that. I mean, they could not believe that Jesus would even dare insinuate that gentiles who embrace the Gospel could be in heaven. After all, in Jewish thinking, the gentiles were the dogs. They were the scoundrels, they were third-class citizens. And the Jews, wow, they were God's chosen people. I mean, for 2000 years, they had faithfully served God, or so they thought.
And how could it be that at the 11th hour, God would say you gentiles, you can come and be a part of the Kingdom of God. But what Jesus was teaching was this, because the Jews had rejected Jesus Christ, those who had been first in the Kingdom of God, were now becoming last in the Kingdom of God. And those gentiles who were not among the chosen, who were now embracing the Gospel and coming to Christ, those who were last, had become first. That's what Jesus was saying. Now let's face it. Most of us here today, you don't have a problem with the idea of gentiles being saved because after all, they are we aren't they? We don't have a problem with that. But sometimes we do have a problem with the kind of people God chooses to save. Maybe you're one of those people. You became a Christian at an early age in life and you have been faithfully serving God, or at least you think you have, all of your life. And then you see this person who has dissipated their life, they have spent their life involved in drugs and sexual immorality and rebellion against God and late in life, they choose to trust in Christ as their Savior.
They spent their whole life rebelling against God and now at the 11th hour, they come to know Christ. Are you trying to tell me that that person is gonna share the same heaven than I do? Because it just doesn't seem fair, that doesn't seem right. But when we say that, we forget one important fact. God's reason for saving you and me has nothing to do with us. It is all about God's grace. We are not saved because of our merit, we are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Ephesians two verses four and five say, but God being rich in mercy because of? The fact that you're better than other people? No. Because you haven't gotten involved in some of those horrible sins those other people do? No. Ephesians 2:4 says, "But God being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us". When we were dead in our transgressions and sins, he has made us alive together in Christ for by grace, you have been saved.
This parable reminds us that salvation is God's to give to whomever he chooses. If God wants to save somebody on their death bed who has rebelled against God their entire life, that's his business. It's all by grace anyway. That's what this parable is teaching. First of all, God's system of rewards is different than ours. Grace turns our idea upside down about who should be saved. But I believe this parable not only applies to the issue of salvation, but also to the issue of rewards in heaven. You say rewards in heaven? I mean, if anything, this parable seems to be teaching that there are not gonna be any rewards in heaven, that everybody regardless of how hard or how long they worked for Christ, everybody receives the same, a Denarius. That's what it seems to be saying.
I'll have to say, in the commentaries I check, I didn't find one commentator who brought up the subject of rewards. In fact, I just found one kind of relatively obscure rider that talked about the idea of rewards in this passage. But I believe it's here and I wanna show you why I believe it's here. If you turn back your chapter 19, you'll find that really there's whole discourse begins in verse 16 of chapter 19. The story of the rich young ruler. Remember there was this boomer guy, he had all of the money he could want, he had all of the power and the prestige and he just realized where it was one thing he was lacking in life, eternal life. And so he comes to Jesus with his bulging portfolio and he says, master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Notice the emphasis, what must I do? He didn't get it, he didn't get it. What must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said, "Oh, you wanna know what you need to do to be saved? Just keep all of the law". And the guy smiles, he said, "Oh, is that all? Well, that's easy. I've done that since I was a youth". Jesus said, "Really, really, I didn't realize I was in the presence of such a holy man. You've kept all of the law"? "Yeah, all of it, a to z". And Jesus said, "Well, welcome to heaven. Oh, by the way there's just one more thing you need to do to get into heaven". "What's that Lord"? "Well, sell everything you have and give it to the poor". "Do what"? "Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, that shouldn't be a hard thing for such a holy man as yourself".
The Bible says the rich young ruler turned away because he was unwilling to give up his riches. And don't misinterpret the parable. Jesus wasn't saying or the story, Jesus wasn't saying that he could have gotten to heaven by giving up his riches. But the fact that he was unwilling to do that demonstrated he was not nearly as holy as he thought he was. He needed grace and salvation like the rest of us. One of the disciples were watching all of this take place. And so in verse 27 of Matthew 19, Peter answered and he said to the Lord, "Lord, you were right not to give that rich young ruler anything. He wouldn't give up anything". But look at verse 27. But Peter said, "Lord behold, we have left everything and followed you, what will there be for us"?
It's one reason I love Peter, he was a bottom line kind of guy. We've given it all up, what's in it for us? Ain't that what we all wanna know? What are we gonna get out of this deal? Now, if there were going to be no rewards in heaven, if every one were going to receive the same thing, this would have been a great time for Jesus to disabuse Peter's thinking and ours as well. He could have said, "Oh, Peter, you don't understand. We're all gonna receive the same thing in heaven".