The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 19:30-20:16)

March 8, 2015

Book: Matthew

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 19:30-20:16)
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Scripture: Matthew 19:30-20:16

Sermon Notes

The Workers in the Vineyard

Matthew 19:30-20:16 (Pastor Heo)

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8”When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘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’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take you pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

  • The first sentence = the last will be first and the first will be last.
  • The last sentence = So, the last will be first and the first will be last.

Today’s message is serious. This message can not only be a promise to us (as the last), but also a warning (as the first).

This parable is not purely an imaginary situation – this actually happened frequently during the harvest time in Palestine (apart from the method of payment).

When a landowner wanted to hire a worker, he would go to the marketplace – labor market – where most business was done. Daily job seekers and daily job seeker seekers (employers) gathered there. In this story, he went five times: early morning (sunrise), 3rd hour, 6th hour, 9th hour, 11th hour.

  • 6:00am
  • 9:00am
  • 12:00pm
  • 3:00pm
  • 5:00pm

The day ends at 6:00pm. He went to get the workers and made a contract with them for 1 denarius – a reasonable wage for 12 hours work. He found more workers at each subsequent time and hired them for a “reasonable wage.” Even at 5:00pm, he found others who were doing nothing and he hired them as well.

The fact that they stood at the marketplace until 5:00pm – this is strong proof of how desperately they wanted jobs. These would be the lowest class of daily workers. Life would be chaotic and precarius – though free, their lives would be worse than slaves and servants because slaves and servants had daily food and provisions for their daily work. Every day, they were at the mercy of chance employment. If they were unemployed for a day, their family would go hungry – so they were constantly in a state of semi-starvation. Unemployment for them was a disaster.

At the end of the day, the owner gave the wages from the last comers to the first. He gave even the 1-hour workers the same as the 12-hour workers. One day’s wage for one hour’s work. Wow!~ What a surprise~

Now, what do you suppose the day workers were expecting? 12 denarius, I hope…

But, as they witnessed the other workers receiving their wages, their hope was reduced and reduced. Finally, they began to complain. Sometimes do you complain against God? “Why? So little for me?”

  • They were grumbling. (v. 11~)
  • The owner responded. (v. 13~)
  • Are you envious because I’m generous? = Are you wicked because I’m good?

From this story, Jesus is teaching a serious and practical set of lessons to us. What are these lessons? Is this story about salvation? Yes, and no.

This parable has NOTHING to do with salvation, because 1 denarius does not represent our salvation AND no one can work for and earn his salvation. But at the same time, this is much to say about salvation. Every believer, regardless of how long we have been Christian in this world, we will all receive the same reward. – Moses, Abraham, even the robber on the cross beside Jesus.

This story is not talking about our Reward. 1 Cor 8:3 “Each man will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” All Christian’s rewards will not be the same.

So what are the lessons?

This is a strong story about GOD – who he is and his attributes, and about US – how we should act in our attitudes.

  1. GOD – how God is in his attributes
  2. US – how we should be in our attitudes

GOD (3 attributes)

#1: The balanced comfort of God

No matter when we come to the kingdom of heaven, we are equally dear to God. Now matter when we come to Christ, we are equally precious to Christ. No matter how long we’ve been Christians, we are equally welcomed by God. In our value, our original value, we are equally the same. Yes, we will depart from this world someday (die) – SOME die full of years, full of honor, his task completed – SOME die almost before the doors of life and achievement have opened – but all of them will receive the same welcome in heaven by God.

When physical life ends – it’s not too soon, nor too late before God.

#2: His infinite compassion

The element of tenderness is visible here. There is nothing more tragic than a man who is unemployed – rusting his talents in idleness because their is nothing for him to do. Sometimes we feel stressed, tired, or unhappy because of that job, but you know, all these things because of NO job is MUCH greater than that because of the job we have.

The truth is, tragedy and unhappiness because of NO job in the kingdom of heaven is MUCH greater than NO job in this material world.

Seriously, yes, you have a job in this WORLD, but DO you have a job in the Church? If you have a job to do in the church, it is a big blessing, not a burden. God created everything with only words. He is Almighty, Omnipotent, he alone can do all immediately, eternally, yet he invites US to work together with him in his house to bless our lives. Apart from God’s call on our lives to do his work, our lives are meaningless. Why? It is absolutely impossible to be saved and remain jobless in the kingdom of heaven.

#3: His abundant generosity

All these workers did not all do the same work. Some worked 12 hours or even 1 hour – but they all received the same pay. What is really important? Not the AMOUNT of service given, but the LOVE in which that service is given. So long as we give ALL that we have to give, all service ranks the same toward God – because we cannot earn nor deserve what God gives us. What is given is GIVEN out of the goodness of God’s heart. What are you receiving from God? Whatever we are receiving from God, that is NOT pay, NOT reward, but a gift, it’s grace.


How we should be in our attitudes – in service to God and man.

How long have you been a Christian? A member of the church of Christ? If you have been such for a LONG time (20+ years), wow, yes, you have been truly blessed. You have received a good privilege to come into the house and fellowship of God – but you must NOT claim a special place in the kingdom for yourself because of your early entrance.

There are 3 groups of workers in terms of payment:

#1: First-comers

They started to work at 6:00am and worked 12 hours to 6:00pm. In v. 2, “He agreed to pay them a denarius for a day…” Yes, they had a contract with the landowner – these were contract workers. Their first reason for working was to receive PAY.

What is YOUR first interest in serving God and man? Service done because of pay is no “service” any longer.

#2: The middle-comers

There is NO contract here, but they received the promise of the owner (v. 4) “You go and work in my vineyard and I will pay you whatever is right.”

Even though they had no contract, they received the promise “whatever is right” and they expected to receive something, but they didn’t know how much. They were READY to be OK and satisfied no matter HOW much was given to them.

  • Promise-workers

#3: The one-hour workers

(v. 7) “You also go and work in my vineyard”

They did not receive a contract, NOR a promise, but they were happy to receive an opportunity to work. They were simply happy to be accepted into the vineyard. This means they put their whole future results into the hands of the landowner.

  • Grace-workers

They finally received 12x as much as they deserved.

Yes, I’m a pastor, I need pay in this world and I expect some reward in the world to come. But, if my FIRST concern is PAY, I’m not a pastor, even not a Christian. The true Christian works for the JOY of serving God and man.

Yes, many people around us have received GREAT rewards in this world, but may be lowly in position in the kingdom of heaven because their first priority was PAY. And others are lowly in this life, work for the joy of serving, and may receive a great reward in the life to come because they were never concerned with PAY only.

Here’s another illustration:

  1. Water in a cup.
  2. This cup should be filled with SOMETHING.
  3. It is half full of water – but ALSO half full of air.
  4. If I put more water, air will be less.
  5. If I reduce the water, air increases.
  6. The more water, the less air.
  7. The less water, the more air.

This cup is always full of SOMETHING – whether seen or unseen. Our hearts are like this -made to be filled with and influenced by something. 2 Cor 6:14 “What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? What fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Satan?” Just like water and air cannot be mixed in this cup, so light and dark, Christ and Satan cannot be mixed in our hearts together. The guidance of the Holy Spirit and the touch of unholy, earthly things cannot be mixed. So, if we are FULLY filled with Christ, there is no room left to be filled with things of this world. But if we are influenced and affected strongly by the things of this world, there is no room to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

  1. The more the HS, the less influence of the world.
  2. The more the influence of the world, the less HS.

Some Christians have been Christians for 20+ years, but VERY influenced by this world. And yet there are some baby Christians who are very, fully influenced by the Holy Spirit. In this way, the last may be first and the first last.

To live, we need food. Yesterday’s food is in the past – we need food today to live for today and the future. We need DAILY food, DAILY sanctification, repentance, Bible reading, fellowship, prayer, grace, service, etc.

“Do not receive God’s grace in vain. NOW is the time of God’s grace.” NOW is the time of our holiness and sanctification by the grace of God.

The last may be first and the first may be last. May God bless all of us with his living Word.

Let’s pray.