Turning our attention now to parables. Jesus taught in parables, stories that the people of that day would be able to relate to. There was a time in Jesus’ ministry when according to Mark 4:34 ‘He did not say anything to them without using a parable’. There are 30 parables recorded in the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). A parable is described as ‘a fictional, yet realistic story that illustrates a spiritual truth’. Today we are looking at the parable of the workers of the vineyard.
They are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Jesus knew that truth is not always accepted by everyone. There will always be those who do not have the interest or regard for the deep things of God. Only those who have a genuine hunger for God would be able and willing to understand them. In previous blogs we have covered the parable of the sower and the parable of the talents, today we are looking at the parable of the workers of the vineyard.
A Neglected Vineyard They made me a keeper of the vineyards But my own vineyard I have not kept. They made me a comfortable bed to lie on But I have seldom overslept. I have been so busy Oh yes life at times has been hard. It is tragically possible to be so busy That you have no time for your own vineyard. It is possible to be so occupied with your work That you fail to realise The spiritual deterioration in your heart It can come as quite a surprise. What does the Lord of the vineyard see As He goes past the vineyard of your soul? Does He see love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness Goodness, faith, meekness and self-control? Does He see bunches of luscious grapes Hanging thickly in all their beauty? Or does He see a neglected vineyard The result of a misguided sense of duty? Does He see the nettles of jealousy, pride and envy All manner of wrong forming their own insidious shapes In the vineyard that ought to be producing Christlike character Represented by luscious grapes. If so, what shall be done? Just three things, get rid of the weeds Rebuild the wall, and cultivate the fruit Bring to the fullness the planted seeds. The Lord does not do for us What He tells us to do. We must first get rid of the weeds, then bring ourselves Again to the cross to be cleansed anew. If we are going to cultivate the fruit, well Of course in Christ we must abide And we also cultivate the fruit by digesting God’s Word And in prayer staying close by His side. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
The Parable of the Workers of the Vineyard – Matthew 20:1-16
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“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.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These 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.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Many that are first shall be last, and the last, first
Henry says – This parable of the labourers in the vineyard is intended to represent to us the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 20:1), that is, the way and method of the spreading of the gospel. In particular, to represent to us that many that are first shall be last, and the last, first. This truth seems to be a contradiction and so needed further explication.
Nothing was more mysterious to them than the rejection of the Jews and the calling in of the Gentiles. (Eph. 3:6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus). Nor was anything more provoking to the Jews than this truth. This is the principal scope of this parable, to show that the Jews would be called first into the vineyard but, in time, the gospel would be preached to the Gentiles. They would go on to receive it and be admitted to equal privileges with the Jews. That they would be fellow-citizens with the saints would be very much disgusted at it.
But the parable may be applied more generally, and shows us that God is no man’s debtor. It shows us that many who begin in the faith last, sometimes by the blessing of God, arrive at greater attainments. Attainments in knowledge, grace and usefulness, more than others whose entrance was earlier. Though Cushi gets the start of Ahimaaz, yet Ahimaaz, choosing the way of the plain, outruns Cushi (2 Sam 18). John is swifter by foot, and comes first to the tomb: but Peter has more courage, and goes first into it (John 20). Thus many that are last shall be first.
According to their perseverance
Some have boasted of their zealous embracing of Christ, they had left all to follow Him. But let them keep up their zeal, let them press forward and persevere. For their good beginnings can avail them little, they that seemed to be first, would be last. Sometimes those who are converted later in their lives, outstrip those who are converted earlier. Paul was as one born out of due time, yet did not come behind the chiefest of the apostles. He outdid those who were in Christ before him.
There is an affinity between this parable and that of the prodigal son. He who returned from his wandering was as dear to his father as was the one who never went astray. The first and the last alike. There shall be a recompense of reward given to the saints, not according to the time of their conversion, but according to their perseverance in it in this world. Christ promised the apostles, who followed Him in the beginning great glory (Matt. 19:28). But He now tells them that those who are in like manner faithful to Him, even at the latter end of the world, shall have the same reward. They shall sit with Christ on His throne, as well as the apostles, Rev. 2:26–3:21.
Sufferers for Christ in the latter days, shall have the same reward with the martyrs and confessors of the primitive times. There are two things in the parable; the agreement with the labourers, and the account with them. Who hires them? A man that is a householder. God is the great Householder, whose we are, and whom we serve. As a householder, He has work that He wills to be done, and servants that He has doing it. He has a great family in heaven and earth, which is named from Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:15) of which He is Owner and Ruler of.
He saves them from idleness and poverty
God hires labourers, not because He needs them or their services, but as some generous householder who keeps poor men in work, in kindness to them, to save them from idleness and poverty, and pay them for working. Where were they hired from? From the market-place, where until they are hired into God’s service, they stand idle (Matt. 20:3), all day long idle (Matt. 20:6).
First, the soul of man stands ready to be hired into some service or other. We are created to work, and we are either a servant of iniquity or a servant of righteousness, Rom. 6:19. The devil, by his temptations, is hiring labourers into his field. God, by His gospel, is hiring labourers into His vineyard, to dress it and keep it, paradise-work. We are given a choice, for hired we must be (Josh. 24:15 Choose you this day whom you will serve). Secondly, until we are hired into the service of God, we are standing all idle all day long in a state of drudgery to Satan. Which may really be called a state of idleness.
In this state nothing to any real purpose is done. Nothing of the great work into which we are sent into the world, nothing that will pass well in our account. Thirdly, The gospel call is given to those who stand idle in the market-place. The market-place is a place of conversation and sport, there the children are playing (Matt. 11:16). The gospel calls us from vanity to seriousness. The marketplace is a place of business, of noise and hurry and from that we are called to retire. “Come, come from this market-place.”
The work of faith is vineyard-work
What are they hired to do? To labour in His vineyard. First, The church is God’s vineyard. It is of His planting, watering, and fencing and the fruits of it must be to His honour and praise. Secondly, We are all called upon to be labourers in this vineyard. The work of faith is vineyard-work, pruning, dressing, digging, watering, fencing and weeding. We each have our own vineyard to keep, our own soul. It is God’s and it is to be kept and dressed for Him.
In this work we must not be slothful, not loiterers, but labourers, working and working out our own salvation. Working for God will not allow for pettiness. A man may go idly to hell, but he who will go to heaven must be busy.
What shall be their wages? He promises, First a penny, Matt. 20:2. The Roman penny was, in our money a day’s wages. This does not prove that the reward of our obedience to God is of works, or of debt (instead it is of grace, free grace, Rom. 4:4). Neither does it prove that there is any correlation between our services and heaven’s glories. No, when we have done all we can do, we are still unprofitable servants. But it is to signify that there is a sufficient reward set before us. Secondly, the reward will be whatever is right, Matt. 20:4-7. God will be sure not to be behind-the-door with any for the service they do for Him. Never has any lost by working for God. The crown that is set before us is a crown of righteousness, which the righteous Judge shall give.
It is a short time but the reward is for eternity
Under what terms are they hired? For a day. The time of life is like a day, in which we must work the works of Him who has sent us into the world. It is a short time but the reward is for eternity. The work is but for a day and man is said to accomplish it as a hired hand, Job 14:6. This should quicken us to expedition and diligence in our work. We have but a little time to work in, and the night is drawing in, when no man can work.
If our great work be undone when our day is done, we are undone forever. It should also encourage us in reference to the hardships and difficulties of our work, that it is but for a day. The approaching shadow, which the servant earnestly desired, will bring with it both rest, and the reward of our work, Job 7:2. Hold out in faith and patience, yet a little while longer.
The labourers were hired at several hours during the day. The apostles were sent out at the first and third hour of the gospel day. They had a first and a second mission, while Christ was on earth, and their business was to call in the Jews. After Christ’s ascension, about the sixth and ninth hour, they went out again on the same errand, preaching the gospel to the Jews in Judea first, and afterward to them throughout the world. But in time about the eleventh hour, the Gentiles were called to the same work and privilege with the Jews. They were told that in Christ Jesus there should be no difference made between them.
God has a work for all ages
But this may be applied to the several stages in life, in which souls are converted to Christ. First, Some are implicitly called, and begin to work in the vineyard when they are very young. They are sent in early in the morning, whose tender years are seasoned with grace. John the Baptist was sanctified from the womb, and therefore great (Luke 1:15). Timothy from a child (2 Tim. 3:15); Obadiah feared the Lord from his youth. Those who have such a journey to go need to set out the sooner the better.
Secondly, Others are savingly worked in their midlife, Go and work in the vineyard, at the third, sixth, or ninth hour. The power of divine grace is magnified in the conversion of some, when they are in the midst of their pleasures and worldly pursuits, just as Paul was. God has a work for all ages, there is no time amiss to turn to God. None can say, “It is all in good time.” For whatever hour of the day it is with us, enough time has been served in sin. Go you also into the vineyard. God turns away none that are willing to be hired, for there is yet room.
Thirdly, others are hired into the vineyard in old age, at the eleventh hour, when the day of life is far spent. There may be only one hour of the twelve remaining. None are hired at the twelfth hour for then life and opportunity is done. But “while there is life, there is hope.” There is hope for old sinners, for if in sincerity, they turn to God, they shall doubtless be accepted. True repentance is never too late. There is a hope for old sinners that they may be brought to true repentance. Nothing is too hard for Almighty grace to do, it can change the leopard’s spots and can set those to work, who have contracted a habit of idleness. Nicodemus (John 3) may be born again when he is old, and the old man may be put off, which is corrupt.
Let none be discouraged
Yet let none be presumptuous enough to put off their repentance till they are old. These were sent into the vineyard, it is true, at the eleventh hour. Those who have had the gospel offered to them at the third, or sixth hour, and have resisted and refused cannot be sure that any man will hire them. Let none be discouraged but awakened that now is the accepted time, if we will hear His voice, it must be to-day.
When the account was taken and the evening was come, then the day-labourers were called and paid. Evening time is the reckoning time. Each particular account must be given in the evening of our life. For after death comes the judgment. Faithful labourers shall receive their reward when they die. It is deferred until then, that they may wait with patience for it. The payment shall not be wholly deferred till the morning of the resurrection. But everyone shall receive according to the things done in the body.
When time ends, and with it the world of work and opportunity, then the state of reckoning will commence. Then the labourers will be called. Death calls them out of the vineyard, to receive their penny. To those whom the call into the vineyard is effective, the call out of it will be joyful. They did not come for their pay till they were called. We must wait with patience for God’s time to enter our rest and compensation. We go by our master’s clock. The last trumpet, at the great day, shall call the labourers, 1 Thess. 4:16. Then shall You call, says the good and faithful servant, and I will answer.
Every man shall stand in his own lot
In calling the labourers, they must begin with the last, and so to the first. Do not let them who come in at the eleventh hour, be behind the rest, lest they should be discouraged, call them first. At the great day, though the dead in Christ shall rise first, yet they who are alive and remain, on whom the ends of the world (the eleventh hour of its day) comes, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds. There shall be no preference given to seniority, but every man shall stand in his own lot at the end of the days.
The general pay (Matt. 20:9, 10), every man received a penny. All who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for His glory, honour and immortality, shall undoubtedly obtain eternal life (Rom. 2:7). They do not receive wages for the value of their work, but as the gift of God. Though there are degrees of glory in heaven, yet it will be to all a complete happiness. They who come from the east and west, and so come in late, that are picked up out of the highways and the hedges, shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the same feast, Matt. 7:11.
In heaven, every vessel will be full to the brim, even though every vessel is not alike. In the distribution of future joys, as it was in the gathering of the manna, he who gathers much, will have nothing over, and he who gathers little, will have no lack, Exod. 16:18. Those whom Christ fed miraculously, though of different sizes, men, women and children, did all eat, and were filled.
The giving of a whole day’s wages to those who had not done the tenth part of a day’s work, is designed to show that God distributes His rewards by grace and sovereignty, and not out of debt. All are under grace, and not under the law, even such defective services, done in sincerity, shall not only be accepted, but by free grace be richly rewarded. Compare Luke 17:7, 8; 12:37.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Prayer for the Day
Father I come to You. May I be one who perseveres by Your grace in this world. You have a work that He will to be done through me and may I be willing and obedient to Your call. I ask that You bring me fully into Your vineyard, to dress it and keep it and do paradise-work. May I go from all vanity to all seriousness and keep my own vineyard and so keep my own soul. For it belongs to You, may it be kept and dressed for You alone.
Cause this to quicken me to be expedient and diligent in my work for I know that I have but a little time to work. May I be one who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for Your glory and so obtain eternal life. Thank You that even my defective services when done in sincerity, shall not only be accepted, but by free grace be richly rewarded. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.