Let's look at the parable of the workers in Matthew 20 and lets look at some of the lessons that I think God wants us to learn at this particular stage of our development within the Church and the work that God has called us to do.
When I was 18 years old my father sold the family business. Now the family business for the McNeely family, where I grew up, was a service station. We called them service stations in those days. It was a Texaco service station – my dad had owned for over 20 years. I grew up in that environment. It was our family livelihood and it was also a place where I had a chance to work. But when I was a senior in high school, finishing off my senior year, my dad had had enough of that kind of work, and the business was changing, and he was not one to be able to adapt to the changes, so he elected to go into a different business. Now what he did was…he was smart enough to cultivate a very good relationship with one of his clients – a large construction company – and he got on as a working foreman with the construction company. And he just kind of transitioned – one day he locked the door to his business and sold out everything, and the next day he went to work for a construction company.
But unfortunately I did not have a job and I was about to go off to college and I needed some money and so as the summer came in that one particular year, my dad said, “Well, why don’t you come on out with me? We hire people daily, almost every day, and you can probably start picking up some work on a daily basis as a laborer on the construction gangs.” So, the first morning after school was out, I went out to the construction yard. I drove out – just followed my dad out in his truck and I got into a large room where the workers, laborers gathered every day to kind of be parceled out to the various projects that the owner of the company had, and I didn’t have any major skills. I could wield a shovel and do laboring work and that was what I was planning to pick up.
I remember the boss coming out; he had his whole list of jobs and he called out the various men and sent them out and they would all go and after the first morning everybody went out except for me. I was left standing. I had no work. Now that is a bit humiliating. Have you ever been in a situation – a pickup game on a sandlot or what ever, and you don’t get picked for a team? You know the feeling. You know, if you don’t get picked for work you feel well, what’s wrong with me? Well, that’s all right, I will come back out the next day. I went out back the next day and went through the same thing and guess what? I did not get a job for that day. Now I didn’t have a lot of patience then and after all these years it is still a job to be patient but I figured, you know what, I don’t think this is going to work out. I needed a job because I needed money to go off to college and this summer I could see this happening every day and I said to myself, you know, I better start thinking about something different. Turned down twice wasn’t just going to work out. I really began at that point to get the message and so what I did that morning, I went out and started knocking on a few doors and by the end of the day I had a couple of jobs. One that worked from 8 to 5 and then one from 5:15, the amount of time it took to get from one job across town to the other, and close down that business at night. So I had two jobs and both working for minimum wage but at least I had a job and money coming in and didn’t really miss too much and finished out the summer that way.
Now from that I learnt some lessons. I learnt a lot just from that brief experience. I learnt, number 1, I couldn’t just rely on my father’s reputation, my father’s name, and my dad had provided a job for me for a number of years as a teenager in his own business but he couldn’t promise that with some one else, and I learnt that I was going to be responsible for myself. So I had to get out and do some things.
I also learnt to work. I did learn from my father a work ethic. He got up early and went out and always worked a full day. I learnt the value of work and I learnt to enjoy work as well. I also learnt from that experience the resourcefulness - that you had to stay with it and find the work and hustle in a sense to make your way and you have to stay with it. I also learnt that an owner of a business can hire who he wants and he can let go who he wants and he can set the rules of the workplace and pay what he wants to pay. I learned that as you branch out from the familiar, in this case the familiar situation with my own family and start working for someone else, you begin to learn a lot about the ways of life and the world.
When you look at work, employment, a job like that, whatever you have gone through in your life, you learn a lot of lessons. There are a lot of things to learn from the work we do and probably the biggest lessons that I have learnt over the years, as I reflected back on them, are the lessons that apply to the greatest work that is before us, that all of us share and that is the work of God, the work God has called us to do and be a part of: preaching the gospel; preparing a people. That is a life-long calling and it is a life-long work and it has its challenges, its rewards, and it is ups and downs.
I have been thinking a great deal about that in recent months as we have endeavored to take the message that God has given to us, the message of the Kingdom of God, that Gospel, to the world and to make it available to as many as God will call and in the work that is before us. We are beginning I think, to see some interesting developments take place within the Church as a whole about that, that help us to reflect on not only our own part in that work but exactly what God is doing as we go through the years and wind ourselves down through to the end of the age that Jesus Christ prophesied.
There is a parable of workers that I would like to turn to in Matthew 20 and take some time to go through here this afternoon in this sermon. Matthew 20 is one of the parables that Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven here the way Matthew puts it. It is about workers and a vineyard. Matthew 20 beginning in verse 1 through verse 16 is the parable of the workers in the vineyard - according to my Bible here, my New King James, as the heading has it and it offers us I think some very important lessons to reflect on at this point for all of us to learn no matter how long we have been a part of the work of God. For some of us in this room and those who are listening in via a webcast, where ever they may be, we represent within the Church today a lot of people with many, many decades of experience in the work and even some with a very short few years of experience within the work of God as well.
Let’s look at this parable and lets look at some of the lessons that I think God wants us to learn at this particular stage of our development within the Church and the work that God has called us to do. Lets begin reading here.
Matthew 20:1 Matthew 20:1For the kingdom of heaven is like to a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.
American King James Version× “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
So you have a landowner and we can begin to interpret the parable here as one who is the landowner being God who owns the land and hires and brings in the laborers and the workers.
The vineyard is a familiar setting that God uses in many places. In several parables the idea of a vineyard is used. This may be the largest one but also we see that example used even by Christ the night before He was killed where He talked in John about how He was the true vine and the vineyard gets pruned and gets worked back and that we bear much fruit. You are all familiar with what imagery Christ used there to describe a very intimate aspect of our relationship with Him and He in that case, He likened Himself to the vine and we want to stay attached to that vine.
But He also talked about being pruned and any one who has done any type of work within a fruit tree or vineyard can understand exactly the importance of pruning, shaping, tending and even all the way to the harvest. You can look at this parable and you could say that workers are being called to the harvest and certainly that would be an application we would read into this parable but also we’ve got to understand that the work within a vineyard is something that goes on, on an ongoing year round basis.
Vines grow grapes and are very delicate and very hardy and plants that take a lot of work. The ground under the vines has to be kept clean and tended and tilled. Anyone who studies a little bit about the making of wine understands that the weeds have to be kept out. The grapes that grow in a particular setting take on so much of the environment. They take elements out of the soil, the air, the wind and the rain of that particular climate. That is what makes wine such an interesting study in itself. But the vineyard that produces those grapes that are turned into wine have to be tended on an ongoing basis by people who know what they are doing and it takes a lot of manual work to keep the ground clear; to shape the vines as they are growing; to prune them back just to the right degree.
You can take a plant, a fruit bearing plant like a grapevine, and you can over trim it, over prune it, at times. You can over prune a fruit tree. I have for a number of years in my backyard, back in Indianapolis, an apple tree and every year we would get apples off of it and Debbie would make apple sauce and we would enjoy a few of them. I never wanted to spray this one so some of the apples were good and some of the apples had a lot of worms in them but we always had apples every year until one year it just got over grown and I saw that it needed to be trimmed back. I got up there in the tree and decided I would save some money and I started whacking away at limbs. I think I whacked it too far because for the last two years that we lived in that house we didn’t get any fruit – no apples. You can over prune a fruit bearing plant and I did. I am sure I did with that apple tree because for the last two years that we lived there I didn’t get an apple. It bloomed and it had leaves, but no fruit.
So there is an art to the way a fruit bearing tree has to be trimmed and worked and that too is part of the lessons to learn I think, in working in a vineyard because the workers that this land owner brings in, they are going to be working for quite a long time through the day and through a season, through a year.
Let’s go back and look at:
V.2 – Now when he had agreed with the laborers for denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Now we can just basically look at the amount of money that he is paying them here as minimum wage. They are not making a managers salary and they are not making a large wage but it would be, let’s say, a minimum working wage for that type of work, a day work of the laboring work that they would have, but they were hired very early in the day and they were sent into the vineyard to do a work.
V.3 – (It says) And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
Now this would be about 9 o’clock in the morning and so they had started early, we can imagine at 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock in the morning, whenever the light of day was there. In a setting like this you would have to image a pool of laborers waiting in a market place, waiting in a particular location for the landowner to come and choose them and to get them but they had to show up and had to be there waiting for work and that is a common occurrence still today in many parts of the world where work like this has to be done on a kind of a contract, day laborer type of basis.
V.3 – And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing …
V.4 – (tells us) and (he) said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.
So he has more going in at about the third hour. Now we can assume that there is more work to be done. The work is larger than the landowner thought originally when he went out early for the first group of people. We can also possibly assume or read into this parable I think that we are given a little bit of freedom to do that, that some of the workers maybe didn’t pan out or weren’t working quite as good or even quit by the ninth hour but he hired the men later in the day for the same amount of money is the main point here.
V.5 – Again he went about the sixth and the ninth hour – so about noon, the sixth hour and about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the ninth hour – and he did likewise.
He hired more people to go and to work in the vineyard. The work continued.
V.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?’
V.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.’
Now lets understand the placement here. This is 5 o’clock in the afternoon, normal quitting time. He goes out and he hires more people to go in and do the work and he says to them, you will receive basically the same amount of money, a denarius a day. A set amount of wage is promised to these individuals. The work went on.
V.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 (those hired in the eleventh hour) to the first.’ (those hired in the first hour in the morning).
V.9 – And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, (at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon – remember they wouldn’t have worked long hours through the day. They would have worked a very short time, a couple of hours perhaps at the most) they received a denarius.
The same amount of money that those who had worked all day from the very first, were contracted to receive. They receive each a denarius.
V.10 – But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; - they had worked all day. They received each what they had agreed to, which was a denarius, a set amount of money for the day - a contractual laborer.
V.11 – and when they had received it, they complained against the landowner,
V.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.’ Those who had worked when the sun was at the highest and its hottest.
V.13 – But (the landowner) answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?
V.14 – Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.
V.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?’
V.16 – So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
So verse 16 ends this parable of the vineyard.
There is a lot of lessons to learn from this experience and if we look at the work of the workers of the vineyard as those who are called and who are chosen to do the work of God, in this case the landowner, and to work throughout the day, we can see ourselves in a parable like this and understand the work that we have been called to accomplish and some of the conditions under which we have been called.
Now there is certainly a lesson of faithfulness here because the landowner, as it would represent God, is telling us that God is very faithful. He is going to pay or give the reward for what He promised those who are called to do that work. God’s grace is very strong and very competent and equal and He is going to give to all, in one sense, the same. That gift is eternal life in His Kingdom.
But we also see within this a difference in attitude of those who are doing the work. Again we might read a little bit into some of the story here to understand exactly what we are dealing with because as I said in the beginning, for many of us we have been part of the work within the Church which we have been called for a number of years and we have been through a number of experiences through those years in our own personal life and our collective sense as a church and there is a lot of things that we have learnt so that when we go back and read parables like this and other sections of the scripture, we read them from not only the inspired word of God, but we also read them from the experience of God working with us and what we have seen Him do and allow and accomplish with the laborers within the Church. There is a lot that I think that we can learn that is quite helpful for all of us, no matter where we find ourselves in our calling and in our responsibility.
One of the things to learn is that we are hired or we are called when God knows it is the best time for us. This landowner went out all through the day and he found a ready pool of workers; people who were ready to work; who were ready to accomplish and to be involved in the work of the kingdom, the work of the kingdom of God. God is a God who knows when our calling is the best. For some, it would be at the beginning of the day. For others it may be at the end of the day.
Years ago before I ever left home - we had our local congregation back in Missouri where I grew up and it was a very close-knit group of people. My mother was called into the church and she started taking my sister and I to church services and we were the only ones from our hometown. She was the only one for the longest time where we were. Eventually others moved in and God called others but it seems that she was the first one as I remember it.
I remember on one occasion we had a next door neighbor who, a lady, whose brother started attending church out of the blue one day and we found out as we talked with him that he was the brother of one of our neighbors. I remember how excited we were. He had been listening to the broadcast, taking the literature and God was calling him. He started coming to church and shortly after he started attending he was baptized. This goes back to the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. Shortly after he got baptized, within probably a year to a year and a half after he was baptized, he came down with cancer and he struggled with it, lived with it for a short period of time and then he died.
I remember visiting him on one occasion, going into his bedroom with my mother to say hello and to visit. I had come back from college for the first summer that I had been away from home and he was always a very pleasant gentleman to talk with. He couldn’t get out of bed but I remember we had a nice visit with him and it was shortly there after that he died. I remember him to this day as an individual who came into the church and very quickly got sick and died. This would have been about 1971. Here we are at 2012. Do the math. Several decades have gone by.
I look for that gentleman in the first resurrection but you know what? He didn’t labor through the years like you and I have and others of us. He labored a very short time; he labored faithfully and then he died. I feel that he died in the faith even though he was in the church only a short time. It is not my job to evaluate his life, his character. God knew exactly what He was doing with that individual just like He knows exactly what He is doing with you and me and anyone else that He calls; when that calling comes and what our lives are like because we, in a sense, are owned by Him. We become bondservants to God and He knows us intimately.
That gentleman didn’t bear the burden of the day yet I believe that he will come up in the resurrection and he will be a part of the family of God forever and have his place. The rest of us continue working on. For some it is the beginning of the day, for others it may be the end of the day depending on what is taking place in their life.
When we look at a parable like this we are also taught another thing: The work to which God calls us, into which we are hired as laborers, goes on to the end of the day, even past the eleventh hour, according to this parable. The Work never ends.
Anything dealing with agriculture never ends. Anyone who has ever been involved with that, you know that it is just an ongoing job. When one part of it gets done there is preparation that has to be made for the next, the next season, the next harvest and even while waiting for a harvest to grow there is always work to be done which means there is always workers are needed. This parable tells us that God will continue to add workers for the harvest. He will continue to add those, no matter what happens. No matter what level of work is being done and no matter how many workers stay with the job and continue on with it.
We are at a point where we have come in the work of God where, because of all the different challenges and trials and tests in recent years, the last two decades or more, perhaps we could say, we have seen people come and go and yet the work goes on. The work of preaching the gospel of the kingdom continues to be done; continues to see a need for it; and we always continue to see God bringing new people and adding people into His church.
We are at a point now where we have launched out in the United Church of God with a series of Bible seminars, the Kingdom of God Bible Seminars. Some are still being held. We had ours here two weeks ago and we had a number of new visitors. Some are still being held even this week I believe, this weekend. They have to be scattered and staggered within various areas depending on the work load of some of our men and we will finish up this round this week or very shortly afterwards and we will tally the numbers in one sense but we will see quite a number of people that walk through the doors of our congregations, wanting to hear a message about the Kingdom of God, and they will hear that.
Some have come back; some may not come back right away; some may come back at the next round and some may not come back for a year, two or three, down the road. We don’t know. We’ve been around long enough to see how this works - that the calling falls upon various lives and people, various stages and situations and they are not always ready at one point to hear something and when they hear it they may resist it or the timing is not right, but the seed is there but it may sprout and bear fruit a little bit later on. But the encouraging part of what we are beginning to see is that God is still working with people and that people who come to the door are responding to a message that is saying, come and hear about the Kingdom of God. They come and they want to hear about that and as we have engaged them in various locations we see and at least from my own personal experience, I see that people are interested. They may have a lot to learn. They may not in some cases when they come in through the door, they may not even know that we are a Sabbath-keeping church. They think they are just coming to a seminar on a Saturday and that may be exactly where they are but they are compelled to hear something about the Kingdom and the rest will come and they will have a chance to hear that.
One of the lessons that has been dawning in my mind is that it seems that God still has people that He is calling and after this last round here, a couple of weeks ago, I got to thinking about a scripture back in Acts 18 - if you would please turn back and read that with me – where the Apostle Paul was going about in his time and his day preaching the gospel, speaking of the words of the kingdom of God to whoever would hear and we find that he comes to Corinth, which was quite an interesting city in its day.
It was a metropolis. It was a city that had a reputation of immorality much like many of our major cities today and some in particular will have a particular reputation attached to their name. I will not mention who those cities might be – you probably know them as well, but for this day and time Corinth was a place where people went to party and to kind of perhaps have some down time, so to speak, lets say.
The name Corinth became synonymous with an immoral life style and yet we find Paul going there and not thinking that it would be useless; not thinking no one would hear; not thinking people are too busy, too distracted with their life, with the times, or whatever it was, but going there and preaching to them. And he was told at this point – he came to Corinth had a little bit of success and a little bit of opposition but God appeared to him in a vision by night.
Acts 18:9 Acts 18:9Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not your peace:
American King James Version× Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent;
V.10 – for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”
God knew that in Corinth there were people that he was going to call and that they would respond and once again we have to realize that the job of preaching the gospel for a servant of God in the first century, in many ways he is not meeting anything that is any different from what we are going to run into today. He probably caught up with some of the same aspects of life and challenges, sin, then as they are now. I say that because sometimes we can talk ourselves out of doing the work of God today by thinking people are too distracted - internet, entertainment, the stress of life just keep people from responding to a religious message, and yes, all of those things are there but in a different setting in the ancient world. It was the same thing in Corinth.
When you really peel it all away, the modern world that we have and get right down to the basics, the same challenges were there for Paul that we have today. It is God that does the work and it is not our job to say that it is over or that it can’t be done or that it is impossible. Those of us God has hired have a job to do it and God said to Paul, I have many people in this city.
So he stayed for about a year and a half and from what we gather from here in Acts and from the Epistles of 1 and 2 Corinthians, God did call those people and add them to the Church. They were not perfect; they had their challenges; Paul had to work with them. He had to instruct them as we find in those two letters on the basics but God had people there that He was calling and He was bringing out of that world at that time.
I believe the same thing today. I think we are seeing the trailing edge of that as we venture out beyond our walls of the United Church of God and preach the Gospel as we have the means, be it the internet, be it television, the printed word and with the public appearances of all of our ministers wherever they go, opening up in cities like St. Louis, Omaha, New York, Atlanta, here in Cincinnati and inviting a mailing list and inviting a public to come and hear a message about the Kingdom of God and we are beginning to see that God, I think, still has many people in these locations today.
Now that to me is encouraging. I hope it is to you and all of our members to understand that what we have been called to and what we are involved with in the laborers that make up the work of the church today as we preach the Gospel.
But let’s stop for a moment. Let’s consider something. If we look again at this parable – as we begin to see people come into our midst and we are going to see people come back and we are going to see people counsel for baptism and join us as members in the Church. Imagine, as we see in this parable, how the workers who had been there since the beginning of the day felt about those who were added at the eleventh hour and got the same reward. There was a bit of a challenge there.
We have borne the burden in the heat of the day, they said, and you are giving the same thing to the others. You can imagine that they looked at these other workers that came late as Johnny-come-latelies. Today as see God begin to add to His church additional laborers for the harvest we are probably going to have some interesting experiences to work through.
I want you to stop and think for a moment. It has been a number of years in our fellowship and within and among those of us who are here at this time within the United Church of God, 16 years into our existence, and you go back to the mid nineties and you go back to the early 1990’s, you go back to the 1980’s – mid 1980’s Herbert Armstrong died - and on through the late 1980’s the Church experienced some growth. Somewhere along in the early 1990’s that began to be throttled back and then we went into a phase where we’ve had some challenges. It is not important to go through those right now, but the point I want to make is: It has been 20 years or more since we have seen a significant influx of new people into our midst. That is a long time. A lot has happened but that doesn’t mean that it is an impossible job and as I’ve said we are beginning to see people called and God add to it.
But let’s stop and think for a moment what effect that could have. We are going to see people come through our doors who know nothing of the past that we know. They haven’t been through some of the battles, some of the challenges that we’ve been through. That to them in one sense, is not necessary. We hope that they don’t have to go through any more or any with us. The names, the personalities of the past will mean nothing to them. We have already seen that, even today, at various times with a lot of our young people. We mention certain names of my past and they don’t know who they are. I remember doing it with my own son a few years ago. At a dinner table one night with a guest there, I mentioned a name from the past and he didn’t know who it was so I had to give him a brief history lesson of the Church of God. That is the way it is.
The people who are going to be coming in, they don’t know the past with us and that can be good, I think. Maybe that will help us move forward as well and to keep our focus clearer, sharper, on God and on Christ and on the work that we are called to do. If that happens that is good. It can also have perhaps an unsettling effect.
One of the things all of us need to realize is that no matter how long we’ve been around – I’ve been around for about 49 years, not as long as some of you. Some of you probably longer but there is no entitlement in the church. Years of service - in one sense we don’t have badges and we don’t have bars and ranks and things like that that we look too. A boy scout who goes through the various ranks and gets all the way up to eagle scout, they wear a big band across their chest with merit badges on it that they have earned and that is how they get to be an eagle scout. We don’t have merit badges in the Church of God necessarily. Sometimes maybe we should. I don’t know. But we don’t have that. There is no entitlement and yet we’ve got to understand that this is God’s church. It is not ours. He is the landowner. He determines when He brings in laborers; He determines in a sense the wage and what is going to be the reward, not us. We are called to work. We are called to bear fruit. We are called to help in the work of the Kingdom of God. That is our calling and that is a work that is an occupation in one sense of being a Christian, a fellow worker in the vineyard.
We go back here in this parable of Matthew 20:12 Matthew 20:12Saying, These last have worked but one hour, and you have made them equal to us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
American King James Version× - it references once again people who have born the heat of the day; Those who complain a bit at that point and time when the wage is given out and those who come and make a statement. They said:
Matthew 20:12 Matthew 20:12Saying, These last have worked but one hour, and you have made them equal to us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
American King James Version× ‘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’.
Any one who has been around for a number of years can understand what the burden of the calling can be and there is a level of burden that comes with our calling. Christ said that that burden is light – My yoke is light. Take it and I will help. But there are challenges and there is the heat of the day that we have to go through and those who have been a part of it for any number of hours within this parable understand that. Long time members in the Church understand those who have been bearing under the heat of the day are going to be prone of being weary in well-doing and there can be times when we may want to give up. We always see that. We see people who sometimes just get tired and they fall by the wayside.
Other parables such as the sower and the seed show us that the seed that has been sown, even fruit that has been born, can be snatched away and the cares of life and of the world can cause some to whither. That is a lesson from that particular parable. Perhaps we can read into this one here, those who say that you are giving the same to those who have been here a short period of time, as those of us who have been here and borne the burden and heat of the day. The parable doesn’t say what happens to them but you might wonder and if I read into it just a little bit because of the experience that we have had, we might say that perhaps some of these didn’t hang around and they thought, I’ve had enough. And that brings up an interesting point because there is another parable just a page over from this or a chapter over in Matthew 21. Again it is a parable of a vineyard but it is two sons and Jesus very quickly gets into this parable to make a point as He is speaking with a group of the Scribes and these leaders of the Jewish authorities, the chief priests of the temple and the elders of the people who confronted Him at this point and time, and He makes a response to them through a parable.
Matthew 21:28 Matthew 21:28But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
American King James Version× “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work in my vineyard.’
V.29 – He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ (the one son) but afterward he regretted it and went.
His initial reaction: I don’t want to work. I want to play. But then he thought it through and he went.
V.30 – Then he came to the second (son) and said likewise. (Go work in my vineyard). And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go.
This is the compliant son who had through outward appearances, perhaps obedience, works or pleasant demeanor. “All right, I’ll go”, and then after his father left he didn’t go. The one just immediately up front said, “I won’t go”, but then he repented and went.
V.31– (He said) which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.
V.32 – For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.
The leaders within the Jews are those that in a sense gave out the appearance and they wouldn’t respond to the calling, to the message of Jesus right before them. And Jesus says, look people who are tax collectors - and that was a class of people who were looked down upon by the Jews because they were complicit with the Roman authority and there were probably better tax collectors than others. He did call one of them at least. Matthew, we know was a tax collector that He did call to be one of His disciples, - and harlots, those with morality problems. But His point is that those who are of a class of people that are looked down upon or perhaps know that they are sinners, they eventually repent. They may not heed the initial message of the gospel but then they repent and go do the work. Those like some of the leaders who would feign obedience won’t do it. They say will but then they don’t.
So when we look at a parable like this – one group is honest and the others aren’t. Those who are honest, tax collectors and harlots, are honest at least with themselves and they come to a point where they see that they need the Kingdom of God and that endures and that stays and they are ready to endure to the end.
When we go back to the parable of the vineyard, the work continues through the day, on past the eleventh hour or past five-o’clock. You can almost say these people are not clock-watchers. They are willing to do the work on beyond the time and keep working with it. They are not watching the clock so to speak. They know what their responsibilities are. They know the amount of work that has to be done and they get right in to it. This parable is telling us that the work of God continues till the end of the age. The harvest goes on and God will always need laborers to be working in that harvest.
Those who are called must endure to the end. It is in Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version× that we are told that he who endures to the end, the same shall be saved. It is interesting in Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
American King James Version× that Christ does go right into talking about this prophecy of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness to the world. We know that verse very well but it follows right after the admonition to endure to the end. Those who endure to the end will be those who will be saved and then this gospel will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations and then the end will come.
We are at a time, because of the challenges that we have had within the church and the attacks that have been made upon it by Satan, because of the time of life that many will find themselves in, that the tendency to not stay with it, to give it up, is just only going to increase. Who will do that? Who will be a part of that? Only God knows perhaps and maybe He doesn’t know till people make certain choices and make certain decisions but we have seen that and we see that there can be a weariness that sets in. That is why going to a parable like this is instructive for us to help us to understand that we’ve got to stay with the work. We’ve got to stay with the responsibility that God has called us to.
God’s graciousness is to give us a reward and this parable shows that it is going to come and it will be given out but we have to be faithful to it. Over the years I’ve heard some ide.as that have come and gone and some buy into it in various degrees that the work of the church, the work of the gospel ended at a certain point with a certain individual or a certain time and the work is not to preach the gospel today. But those were issues that we really faced and I think answered early on in our own development within the United Church of God and answered from scripture to show in so many different ways that the work of preaching the gospel goes on.
Other parables tells us that when we are given various talents to do the work and to do the job we are waiting until Someone comes back and we want to be found so doing when that return comes. We have to be found doing the work that has been placed within our hands to do. Time and time again and in so many different ways as Christ crafted these parables, we are told that. We must finish the work. The harvest goes on.
Which brings us back to a love of understanding what the work is and the love to do that work. In Galatians 6 we see another admonition against growing weary.
Galatians 6:7 Galatians 6:7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.
American King James Version× (Paul writes) Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
V.8 – For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
V.9 – And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
Again a warning: It is possible to lose heart and in due season fail to be a part of the harvest. But Paul says, keep working. Don’t grow tired. Don’t grow weary. You know when you go back to this parable of the vineyard and again just imagine people working in a vineyard side by side, day in and day out, through the day as it is imaged here, I think we all realize that as we get to know one another and individuals, sometimes some of the biggest challenges that we have in the Church are just issues among ourselves with each other. We can grow weary of one another.
I can well imagine – kind of like working in that vineyard, as the branches start to rub against one another or the workers start to work and get tired of who you are working next too, and that presents a challenge in itself. Sometimes God, like a landowner, may move a group from one place to another within the vineyard to keep the work going and sometimes we have to realize that the challenges that we have one with another teaches us a lot of lessons about character development and ultimately about love one for another. We can’t allow ourselves to grow weary because we are all wanting to reap. We cannot let ourselves lose heart.
Will we be there at the last hour to receive our wage is a question for us to consider. What we receive, whatever we receive, will be by the grace of God. We will have to endure to the end and we will have to be there.
Another scripture in regard to this - because this parable back in Matthew 20, it ends and it says, many are called but few are chosen. It is one of those phrases over the years that we have all chewed over and the parable here of the vineyard, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, is part of that as well within the context of many are called but few are chosen. The calling of God through the sowing of the seed of the Gospel, the choice is certainly God choosing to draw whom He will. Christ did say that none can come to Him except the Spirit of the Father draw him but we all know there is a choice that all of us have at a any time to respond to the gospel. So the choosing is as much our part, our responsibility, as anything else. We have to choose to follow God, to obey God, to stay with God, to stay faithful and loyal. Many are called but everyone chooses. The seed goes out and it falls in various places. Some on stony ground, some on good ground and various things happen to that seed that the parable of the sower tells us. But Christ did say many are called but few are chosen.
There is another scripture that adds another thought to that, back in Revelation 17. Perhaps there is a lesson for us at this particular time of the day as we fit it into the context of that parable to try to learn something. I don’t know how many more years, and if you will, how many more hours we may be working in the vineyard. None of us can tell that. All I know is that there is still work to be done. All I know is that I was called and I chose that calling very early on in my life and so have you and I am convinced by the fruit that we are beginning to see that God has many more people to call. That is very heart warming and encouraging after so many years and after so many challenges to be able to just put out the word of God, to explain about the Kingdom of God.
I’ve said many times in some of our meetings and as we discuss this that I truly believe God has given us the gift of the Kingdom of God seminars right now to focus as a church upon the core concept of the Kingdom of God and keep coming back to it, digging deeper into it as we go through this particular round of the seminars as they have been based within Mark 1:14 Mark 1:14Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
American King James Version×– 15 and to dig out that message and to explain it and for the ministry and the membership to be walked through it. It is the heart and core of what we have been called to be a part of. It is what we cut our eyeteeth on in the Church and it was in my own personal life it is what I went to become a part of after that summer of work that I worked so hard to get into. I went off to be a part of the work of God. I didn’t know how and why and where exactly but I chose to do that and never looked back. I never regretted a minute of it and nearly 39 years into it in terms of a job, an occupation, a calling, it is exciting to get up and be a part of it and to have the opportunity even right now, to work full time within it and to focus on the media aspect of it with a team that God has put together. I consider that a tremendous blessing, a high point of my life and I hope that all of us do, because it is I truly believe, a gift from God that He has given to us, and I feel that He is going to bear a great deal of fruit for the Church, for His Kingdom. It is the essential heart and core of the message and it is what it is all about.
The question is: Will we be there at the last hour to receive the wage? We have to do so. We have to endure to the end.
Revelation 17 – The flow of this very intricate prophecy of the woman and the beast here and the horns and ten kings in Revelation 17:12 Revelation 17:12And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
American King James Version×, who receive power for a short time, who have power and authority given to the beast (Revelation 17:13 Revelation 17:13These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength to the beast.
American King James Version×); When that all does come together the focus that Satan engineers with this religious political confluence is to ultimately make war with the Lamb. (Revelation 17:14 Revelation 17:14These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
American King James Version×) This is what it all narrows down to. Don’t worry about, in one sense, who and what, the leading up to it. This is the point of Satan engineering this at the time of the end to make war with the Lamb, with Jesus Christ, and the work that Christ is doing.
Revelation 17:14 Revelation 17:14These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
American King James Version× It says: the Lamb will overcome them, (Christ is going to win) for He is Lord of lords and King of kings;
The victory and the ending has already been written. The Lamb will overcome him and that last effort by Satan to thwart the Kingdom of God will come to nothing.
V.14 - …And those who are with Him (the Lamb) are called, chosen, and faithful.”
Here John is inspired to add another thought to this called and chosen theme that we see in the gospels – faithful.
Called: seed sown; the word of the Kingdom put out; God’s will; people will respond based on who they are, where they are at a particular point in life at a particular hour of the day.
Chosen: they make a choice to accept that calling; to accept the blood of Christ and become a part of the body of Christ, the church of God, and to work in the field.
Faithful: to be faithful to the end.
Those who are with Him, with the Lamb at this point in the story, this point in the day, will not only be called and chosen but will be faithful; to finish in faith, living by faith, learning faith all the way to the end.
Those of us that have been around for a long time and those of you that have been around for a short time, we all understand that we learn faith every day. We are given opportunities by God to learn faith every day in so many aspects of our life. We have to stop and reflect on those and ask God for the wisdom to see it developing in our life and to give Him thanks for those opportunities to build confidence in Him, to rely on Him. We are still learning that.
Sometimes it is a little bit embarrassing as an elder, as a member of the council of elders, that at times recognize that you still have a lot to learn about faith as things would be presented to us, opportunities represented or a way forward for us to do things and we step back if we choose to and say: You think of doing that? I didn’t think of that. I am glad someone did. I am glad God put it in somebody’s mind to do this. And so we work together. We agree to it and we push forward and we expect God’s blessing.
That is happening every day in the United Church of God. We are still learning faith, to walk by faith and we will have to all the way to the end of our life, to the end of the working day, to the end of the age, and that is by God’s grace and that is God’s opportunity for every one of us. I hope we never grow too long in the church or too experienced or too jaded or too weary in well-doing that we cannot learn lessons of faith that God will give to us every day and to see them and to be challenged to humble ourselves before Him and acknowledge that He is going to see us through. We can grow in confidence in that. We must remain faithful.
We have all been called to the work of God. We have all been called in various hours of the day and we have chosen to become a part of that work and we have chosen to follow where God leads. What is important is that we all finish it together.
I’ve had a saying that I have repeated to a number of close friends over the last year when I would see them after the smoke and dust settled a year ago, and certain friends, not only within the ministry but members that I’ve know since, in some cases, well in one case, one young lady I said this to – I blessed her when she was in her mothers arms and I saw her a few months ago and I was glad to see her still in the faith. I looked at her as I’ve looked at a few other close friends and I said: Let’s finish this together. I am glad you are still here. I am glad you are still part of United, I would say. I am glad we are all still working together in the faith but my motto to a number of people, my admonition, has been: Let’s finish this together.
Let’s stay working together in the vineyard and let’s push forward. Let’s follow where God leads us. Let’s stay working together and all of us, let us determine to finish this together.