Are you unhappy with your life? Do you feel like you have been cheated in some way? Like you have been given the short end of the stick? Are you doubting whether or not God has somehow not quite been fair to you?
You’re not the only one. As a matter of fact, you’re not the only believer that’s had these kinds of thoughts. All sorts of people struggle just like you. Whether you believe it not, most likely your pastor has felt like this once upon a time.
How do I know? Let’s just say that there was someone who walked everyday with Jesus throughout His public ministry, and he had these very same issues.
At the end of Matthew 19, Peter, as was his custom, posed a totally misguided question to the Lord Jesus. In verse 27, he says, “We have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” In essence, he is inquiring about the terms of the contract he has with Christ, as if his service were a mere profession. He is trying to do business with Him so that he can know what his reward will be for everything that he has forsaken. This is obviously an affront to the goodness of God and would have it been posed to anyone other than our Lord, Peter would have been given much more than a parable in response.
Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that what Peter had forsaken at that point in time, and what any one of us has forsaken or will ever forsake in this life pales in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made for us. He literally gave up heaven. He literally gave up His throne. He finally gave up His life for you and me.
But, let’s ignore that for a moment and look at what Peter is really saying here with this question. His statement is not that much different from the prodigal son’s request for his inheritance long before his father had died.
Peter wanted to know: “What do I get in return? What do I get in exchange for all of this pain and heartache and uncertainty and hunger? I haven’t been home in a while. I don’t get to see my wife as often as I want to see her. I gave up my fishing business. I dropped it all to follow you. So, what’s in it for me? What’s my reward for all of this suffering?”
That mindset, unsurprisingly, has persisted until today. Peter’s attitude has been passed all the way down to modern Christianity. People still come to Christ for what they can get and not for who He is. They come to Christ thinking of happiness, financial stability, relief. You name it, people come to Jesus looking for it. This reminds me of an online status update from David Platt that I read some time ago. He tweeted, “False teaching: Come to Jesus to get health/wealth/prosperity. No. Come to Jesus to get Jesus.”
If we are coming for any other reason, at some point, we are going to be disappointed, and discouraged. Looking back at our text we see the first hint of this lack of contentment in Peter’s question. In Matthew 19:28 Jesus begins to speak to that discontentment, detailing exactly what Peter and the disciples would receive in the regeneration. Then, for everyone else’s benefit, he says, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters…”
Finally, he says, and take note of this because he will say it here then repeat it later to drive home his point…he says, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”
How many times have you read that and then stopped right there because of the chapter divisions? And, how many times have you separated that thought from what follows, simply because chapter 19 ends.
We can clearly see from the context that the conversation and subsequent explanation continues with Jesus saying, “For…” Don’t miss the fact that Jesus is still answering Peter’s question from chapter 19 as chapter 20 begins. He does so with a rather curious parable about a landowner who, throughout the day hires laborers to work in his vineyard. When he begins, he tells the first group that goes out that at the end of the day, he will give them a penny. Their agreement to these terms is evidenced by their going. Therefore, there seems to be a contractual sense about this agreement. It’s almost as if the workers were the ones asking what they would receive if they worked all day.
However, with each of the following groups, up to and including those that would work for just one hour, he tells them, “ Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.” or “…whatever is right, that shall ye receive.” These other groups don’t seem to care or perhaps they know that they don’t really have the leverage to barter over wages. The wages they would receive would depend solely upon the goodness of the landowner.
The vineyard workers’ union certainly wasn’t present when all of this took place.
Each group went and worked – expecting to receive whatever the landowner thought was just. Each group, that is, besides the first who agreed to work all day for a penny. When this group lined up for their wages, they found themselves at the end of the line. As they began to hear about the payday of those that only worked one hour, without a doubt they began to rejoice because, certainly if those that only worked one hour would get a penny, and some of them had worked 12 hours, they reasoned that they had a very good payday coming.
So, when they got to the front of the line, imagine their surprise as a small, single, perhaps copper coin was placed in their palms.
“A penny? Is that all I get? Seriously? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
To say that they were unhappy, would be a gross understatement. Occupy Jerusalem started that day.
Now then, we’ve all had moments in our Christian lives when we’ve come to the conclusion, even for a brief moment, that our “penny” wasn’t enough. Whether you be a missionary or a mom; whether you have lost it all or never had it to lose; whether you’ve been working for 11 hours or you just started yesterday; everything you have in this life is a direct result of God’s infinite grace.
James says it wonderfully: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) Paul heard Jesus say, “…My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
So, in light of the context of Peter’s quasi-demand to know his reward, before we look at what this parable has to teach us, let’s at least declare what Christ was not trying to convey with this parable.
Plainly stated, Jesus is not trying to tell us that it pays to be slackers. He’s not teaching us to wait to the last minute and try to skate by because the Lord will certainly give us all the same rewards in heaven. God does not advocate laziness, neither does He reward it. Proverbs 10:4 makes this clear for us by declaring, “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”
So, we know slacking is out, but what then is Jesus trying to say?
First, I would say that He is trying to teach us that age old lesson that each one of our mothers most likely taught us. Son, mind your own business. In the Christian life, we should not be the least bit concerned with what the Lord chooses to give to others, that He may not have chosen to give to us. Jealousy and envy over our friends’ wages only hurt us, not them. Moreover, it is not their “fault” that they have worked hard if that may be the case, or that for one reason or another, the Lord has determined to bless them. That is His right, which means that we have no right to be His judge.
At this point, not only was their joy gone, but it began to affect their relationships with the other workers. This entire attitude stinks of selfishness and self-centeredness.
Rather than being envious, be encouraging. Be happy for the guy that just worked one hour. Maybe he didn’t know about the job until the last hour. Maybe he’s got a wife and five kids to feed. Maybe that one penny was exactly what he needed that day.
Do you want to take that away from him?
It seems like Peter never really learned to mind his own business. Remember what he asked Jesus the last time that he saw Him on the Sea of Tiberias? In John 21:21 he looked motioned over to John and asked Jesus, “…Lord, and what shall this man do?”
You know what Jesus told him? Basically, he said – None. Of. Your. Business. Verse 22 gives it to us this way, “…If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
Secondly, from this parable we should learn that no matter what reward we receive it should be received as being completely, unconditionally, and perfectly of God’s grace.
Mark it down, if you haven’t already, in the Christian life, everything from beginning to end, from A to Z, from the moment of salvation to the arrival in heaven…everything is all of grace. 100% of what God gives us in this life is due to His love and benevolence and generosity. 0% is due to our merit. It always has been and always will be. That’s part of what makes His grace so amazing. It is not what I have done. It is all about what He has done.
He gives us what he does, from one penny to one million dollars, because He loves us and He wants us to have it. His blessings are unmerited, but at the same time they are too often underrated. Seen in this light, we can conclude that we never have any right to expect anything from God other than what He thinks is proper for us.
Forget about your rights. The Christian life is not a democracy. While it is a relationship, we live in a Kingdom where the King rules. His word is absolute. We are His subjects. We don’t get a vote, and are wages aren’t negotiated by any lawyer or other representative.
So, next time don’t ask, “A penny? Is that all I get?”
Give glory to God by thanking Him for His grace represented by that penny.