October 16, 2022 Grace Displayed Even in Rewards

Grace Displayed Even in Rewards!

October 16, 2022


Read Matthew 20:1-16.


The parables of your Lord are exciting! They are exciting because they pull back the curtain of mystery regarding spiritual realities, especially what awaits us in the next age. The Parable of the Laborers is no exception. It reveals at least one truth that was not revealed before.


Do you not find it thrilling to learn what will happen to us after we pass this veil? I do! For one thing, we can prepare ourselves. We do not need to be taken by surprise. Do you want to know how you can be unpleasantly surprised? I will tell you. You can be unpleasantly surprised by not studying the parables. There are many in this situation. Take our Lord’s words to heart! This parable will reveal that we can be pleasantly surprised when it comes time to receive our rewards. I would much rather have that kind of surprise!


We have seen other parables (e.g., Parable of the Sower) which reveal that some disciples will be sorely disappointed when it comes to a review of their lives. Indeed, the Lord will tell more parables here in the gospel of Matthew that will present that theme even more strongly. But this blessed parable is all positive! It is all about those who actually labor for the Lord. Every laborer in this parable gets rewarded!


This is the kind of parable we need at this point in the gospel of Matthew. Throughout the entire book our Lord has been articulating and teaching about the high demands of the kingdom. Demands so high that they even reach into our thought life! Not only are the demands high, but there are many. Last week we reviewed what our Lord has been requiring that we do in order to enter the kingdom and we saw that there were forty items!


This parable is encouraging because all get rewarded. None are left out.


The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard has caused consternation for some. This is because it seems as if the Vineyard owner is grossly unfair. Well, he is unfair! This is one of the points of the parable. But wait, the Vineyard owner represents the Lord. How can the Lord be unfair? To be fair means to treat everyone the same way. The Lord does not do that. Nothing is more obvious from Scripture. Further, the reason he treats people differently is not found in them (Romans 9:11-16). It is found in God and it is mysterious. So, there is no sense in asking why he treats people differently. He has this prerogative because he is God!


We would not allow such labor practices in our society. But this parable is not about the rightness or wrongness of labor practices. Rather, it is about rewards in the kingdom to come. The Lord uses common labor in a vineyard as an illustration of how some will be rewarded. In the strictest sense, an owner of a piece of land has the right (at least in ancient Israel) to enter into agreements  with workers however he wishes. But the purpose of the story is to teach about rewards, not to define labor practices.[1]


As we consider this parable we ought to remember how different things were in the days of our Lord as compared to the present time. We have become accustomed to so many social welfare programs in the Western nations that we may not realize how precarious the work situation was for laborers back then. There was no unemployment insurance, no trade unions. You either worked or you did not eat and your family did not eat.


The extraordinary behavior of the landowner in adding extra workers after he has already recruited all those he needs early in the day, indicates that he was acting compassionately to alleviate the hardship of the unemployed. It is unlikely that he needed extra workers and his excessive payment for the late workers indicates his generosity rather than unfairness. He was generous because there was an agreement to work at the beginning of the day, and all day, and the workers agreement indicates that what he offered was the expected and standard amount. Indeed, a denarius was considered a fair amount for a day’s work.


The “master of the house” represents God. First, let us see that God is compassionate. He does not have to save a single person on this earth. He does so because he is gracious and compassionate. More, he is compassionate towards us after we are saved. This parable is for his disciples. Once we are called to the Lord, he has work for us to do. He is compassionate because, even after we come to the Lord in faith, we will stumble and fall. But he doesn’t throw us away! He doesn’t pass us by. He is still asking us to be partners with him in his vineyard work! Experience his compassion! Thank him for his compassion towards you!


Second, see that God is generous. Some of the laborers only worked for a half day. Some only worked for one hour. Yet, they received a generous reward from the Lord.


Our God is generous to us! He is generous towards us right now. We are already receiving more than we deserve in so many areas of our lives. We don’t deserve the food and clothing that we have, yet we continue to receive them (6:26-29). We don’t deserve a roof over our heads, but most of us have one. We don’t deserve to be loved. But most of us have at least one person who loves us. We don’t deserve to even have a friend because we are fallen. But most of us have at least one friend.


But this parable is about the generosity of God as it is revealed upon his settling of accounts, that is, when we are judged for our service to him. God is going to be generous towards us in the giving of rewards. Our God is gracious! That is why he is generous!


Now, we still must labor for the Lord. There are some disciples who do very little for the Lord. They are just waiting for heaven. There are some who have made a profession of faith and then do nothing for the Lord. They do not share the gospel with others. They do not teach others truths from the Scriptures (28:19-20). They do not help the needy. Do not be deceived. If you are not involved in good works then you are not saved at all (James 2:14,17; Eph 2:10; Col 1:10). But there are some disciples who do some good deeds but very few. They ought not to expect any reward at all.  So, we must labor for the Lord and with the Lord. If we do, then we can expect the generosity of the Lord to be shown towards us. Praise Him!


I mentioned that the Lord’s generosity is because of his grace. The apostle Peter tells us that when the Lord returns, he will show us more grace!


Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.[2]


He tells us to set our hope fully on the grace that is yet coming to us. God’s grace is our hope! Even in the receiving of rewards! Although his generosity flows from his grace, these are still different things. Thus, we have compassion from the Lord in the present. And, when this earthly life is past, we will be shown grace and generosity from the Lord!


See one more thing from this parable. Remember that this parable is about what we will receive when the Lord returns. But notice that some, those who worked the hardest and longest, grumbled about what others received. This is kind of amazing.  We might expect such a reaction in purely earth-bound working situations. But aren’t we going to be completely sanctified when we die, so that no one would grumble? No! The Bible does not teach that death sanctifies us! The idea that death sanctifies us is an evangelical tradition only. The Bible teaches that the sanctification that we must undergo must be completed in this life. For many it will be. But for some it will not. If we are not sanctified now then we must be sanctified in the next age. For without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).


We take our attitudes, our character qualities, and our minds as they are into the next age with us! If you are a grumbler now, you will still be one after you die. If you lack love now, you will have this lack when you die. Now is the time to change. Now is the time to be transformed (Romans 12:2). Death will not transform who you are. Life transforms you, not death.


Finally, our Lord says, “So, the last will be first, and the first last.” (vs. 16) Our Lord said this in chapter 19 also. But there, the saying was more ambiguous. Here, it concludes the parable. Therefore, the teaching of the parable is summarized by this statement. The “first” were the ones who served the Lord first and longest. The “last” were the ones who served the Lord last and shortest. It has to do with time.


So, when it comes time to be rewarded, some of the ones who only worked for the Lord a short time, maybe not long before he comes back to the earth, will be rewarded first.  Others, who served him at the beginning, maybe from their youth even to their old age, will be rewarded last. And… these rewards will be unexpectedly generous, except maybe to those who worked the hardest and longest! It is possible they may not think so. But this is the purpose of the parable! It is so that we will all be prepared to rejoice with those who rejoice and so that we will not expect more than we ought.


What ought we to do to prepare for that day? Remember that death does not sanctify us. Be prepared to labor for the Lord as long as you are able. But also be prepared to be completely satisfied with what you receive! Don’t begrudge how the Lord rewards others. He is gracious! He is generous. Even to you, he will be!


You can do some things today to get ready:


  • Thank the Lord for his compassion upon you.
  • Thank the Lord for his grace towards you.
  • Appreciate the generosity of the Lord, both now and in the age to come!
  • Answer your calling! This parable is about doing good things for the Lord. You have been called to good works: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [3] If you have neglected your labor for the Lord then it is time to get involved. We have members here who go out and share the gospel with others. You can join them. We have a product pantry that helps the less fortunate.
  • Finally, prepare your hearts to meet the Lord. We all need our minds transformed! (Romans 12:2) How are you preparing? If I asked you this question, how would you answer? There is something you need to be doing in order to transform your mind! How are you preparing?


“Lord, help us to get ready for our rewards! If left to ourselves we will not be ready. Be gracious to us and help us, each one, to get ready! Amen.”








[1]  Most laws on fair labor practices are a good thing because they restrict the sinful nature of man in taking advantage of those without recourse, such as poor laborers.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 1:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 2:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.