Daily Family Worship

Matthew 20: The Laborers in the Vineyard

by | Jan 20, 2024

matthew 20

The Kingdom of heaven is all of grace, and so is the service connected with it. Let this be remembered in the exposition of the Savior’s parable which He gave here in the first part of this chapter (verse 1-16). “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder,” He said, “which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” The call to work, the ability, and the reward are all on the principle of grace, and not upon that of merit. This was no common man; and his going out to hire laborers into his vineyard was not after the usual manner of men, for they want a full day’s work for a full day’s wage. But this man considered his laborers rather than himself. He was up before the dew was gone from the grass, and found laborers and sent them into his vineyard. It was a choice privilege to be allowed to begin holy service so early in the morning. They agreed with the employer and went to work on his terms. And they might well be content, since they were promised a full day’s hire and were sure to get it; for in those days, a penny a day represented the usual and accepted wage. The man and the laborers agreed upon the amount; this is important to remember, for it will be noted further on. Surely those who begin to serve the Master in their youth have a blessed prospect ahead of them; they may well be happy to do good work in such a good place, for such a good Master, and on such good terms.

“And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.” Hating indolence, and grieving that he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; the man hired more workers at about the third hour (9:00 AM). They would only render him service for about three-quarters of a day, but it was for their good to cease from loafing on the street-corner. These are like persons whose childhood is past, but who are not yet elderly; they are blessed to have a good part of their day of life still available for holy service. To these persons, the good man said, “Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.” O that those around us who are in their rising adulthood would immediately take up their tools, and begin to serve the great Lord!

“Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.” If this had been exclusively a business transaction, the man would have waited to begin a new day; he would not have given a whole day’s wage for a fraction of a day’s work. But as we have already noted, this entire matter was all of grace; and therefore, at noon – when half the day was gone – he called in more laborers. This shows how middle-aged persons are bidden to enter the vineyard, just as much as the young. Yes, and even about the ninth hour (3:00 PM), more laborers were engaged; for even in the later years of life, the Lord calls people by His grace! This is no encouragement for procrastination, but it should induce those who are advanced in years to seek the Lord at once if they have not done so already.

“And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard: and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” The day was nearly over; only a single hour remained; and yet at around the eleventh hour (5:00 PM), the man went out. The generous employer was still willing to take on more workmen and give them pay, even though the sun was going down. He found a group lingering at the loafers’ corner – standing idle. He wished to clear the whole town of sluggards; and so he said to them, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” What except rich grace could lead this man to take on the eleven o’clock lingerers? Yet he invited them as earnestly as those who came in the morning, and he promised just as surely that he would give them their reward.

“So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first” (verse 8). For all the laborers, the evening had come. This was pay-time, and the master of the vineyard did not forget his agreements with his workers. But just as this man’s transactions in hiring had been of no ordinary kind, he was also equally peculiar in his payment. “When they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny” (verse 9). Our Lord’s payment is not a payment of deservings, but a gift of His free bounty. He paid on the scale of grace, and not on the rate of merit. Even to those who began to work at the eleventh hour, he gave every man a penny – a full day’s pay for one hour’s work! Herein was displayed the boundless bounty of the master of the vineyard. There are some who have served the Lord for only a very brief time, who have equaled and even excelled those who have been believers for many years. Yes, they may have been converted late in life, but they have obtained the full result of grace at a speedy rate. God will place in heavenly glory those who turn to Christ, even at the very end of their earthly existence.

“But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny” (verse 10). It was a fair wage, and it was exactly what they had agreed to work for; but yet, when they had received it, they murmured against the good man who had hired them. His only “fault” was that, as a good man, he was too good to the short-comers. God dispenses grace as He pleases. He is never unjust to anyone; but in gifts of boun ty, He will not be bound by our ideas of equity. If the Lord rewards us graciously for what we do, we are not wronged simply because someone else who has done less enjoys a similar recompense. Sadly, the spirit which is governed by thoughts of meritorious service often comes in and raises objections concerning work which is all of grace. But if mercy is the Lord’s, He may give it as He pleases; and if the reward of service is entirely of grace, then He may render it according to His own pleasure. “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (verse 16). Precedence in the Kingdom of heaven is according to the order of grace. Some of the last shall be first, for abounding grace is seen in their brief hour of work; but some of the first shall be last, for they are not always diligent throughout their longer day, and so fall back in the race. O that we may become better instructed in the principles of Divine grace!

Notwithstanding our Lord’s repeated notice of His sufferings, even in this chapter (verses 17-19), His disciples still understood so little of what His Kingdom was to be, that the sons of Zebedee (James and John) applied – through their mother – to obtain the places of most distinguished honor therein! (verses 20-28) But our Savior told them that they did not know what they were asking for. He informed them that places of honor in His Kingdom imply an eminence of pains and trouble. They involve the drinking of His cup of affliction, and being baptized with the baptism of sorrow and suffering that He was to be baptized with. And even when the two disciples cheerfully professed their readiness to undergo all this for His sake, He added that He could not promise them the preference that they desired. He said that it was not for Him to give this privilege, but it would be given to those for whom it is prepared by our heavenly Father.

The rest of the Apostles were moved with indignation against these two for making this request. To them, therefore, our Lord next turns; and He reminds them of the unworthiness of all such jealousy and anger. High station, rank, authority, and dignity are eagerly and angrily contended for by the people of this world. “But,” says Christ to His Apostles – and through them, to all of us – “it shall not be so among you.” We are to endeavor to do the most good to each other by ministering, most humbly and most lovingly, to each other’s needs and well-being. “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Thus did the Divine Teacher point to His own conduct for a pattern of what He would have us do. The only way for us to become truly great is when we decline no duty, however difficult; and when we embrace every opportunity of service, however humiliating, by which we may do real good to each other.

In the latter words of verse 28, our Lord also teaches very plainly the great Gospel doctrine of the atonement. He came “to give his life a ransom for many.” A ransom means a payment to redeem us from the captivity of sin and death. This was the chief purpose for which our Savior came. This was the very service by which He became our Savior. He died for us – the Just for the unjust, and the Righteous One for the wicked. He gave His life as a ransom for us; so that through Him, we might be free to serve Him in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our lives. Let us now lay earnestly to heart His great love! Let us repay it to the best of our ability, by ministering in the same way to the good of our brothers and sisters.

Toward the end of this chapter, we are told that a great multitude now followed Jesus; their numbers increased as they approached to Jerusalem. Therefore, He took this occasion to work a very great miracle on two blind men who were sitting by the wayside near Jericho. These two blind men were so eager in their crying out to Jesus that “the multitude rebuked them” to make them “hold their peace. But they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David!” Blind as they were, they had attained a degree of faith such as many failed to possess who had all their senses perfect! How wonderful it is that no deficiency of sight and no lack of learning can exclude either the poor or the blind from the healing mercies of Christ! He “had compassion on them”; He showed mercy on them “and touched their eyes,” in order to prove that it was the power of His hand that had healed them. “Immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.”

No miracle is more suitable than the giving of sight to the blind, for illustrating the spiritual effect of the Gospel on the human heart. By nature, we are all heart-blind. We are not able to discern our real good from our greatest evil. We can neither find nor keep the path which leads unto eternal life. But out of all who have this natural defect, there are many who are never sensible that they are afflicted by it. Such are the great majority of mankind. But alas! There are some who have a blindness that is even worse than this; for it is a blindness which they are aware of, but they willfully prefer that blindness over the gift of sight.

Nevertheless, there are also some who are equally aware that they are blind by nature, yet they are earnestly desirous that the Son of David may open their eyes. Let us join ourselves to this company of believers! Let us endeavor, as the very ground of our hope of being healed, to have faith in Christ. He will have compassion on us and touch our darkened eyes! Through Him, we receive our spiritual sight; let us be sure to use it in following Him! Then, through Him and from Him, we shall receive more Gospel-light to guide us.

Lord Jesus, we praise You for the fact that Your call for us to work in Your vineyard – as well as Your reward – are all on the principle of grace, and not upon that of merit! Amen.

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