Matthew 19:30- 20:16 The First Last and the Last First

One day's wage

One day’s wage

Jesus is continuing His private lesson with His disciples about their reward in Heaven. He has just met with the rich young man and planted the seed to rework his priorities. Then Peter asks what the disciples reward will be for having left all that they knew to follow Jesus. Now Jesus is going to address the topic of all who labor receiving the same reward.

Jesus uses a parable here to illustrate His point. Our story is about the master of a house who goes out to hire laborers for his vineyard. First off I find it interesting that the master of the house himself went out in search of laborers and not his foreman. Also the master of the house kept going back for more laborers. Did he not find enough help the earlier times he went out? Maybe he just wanted to make sure everyone who wanted to work had the opportunity to do so. Was there enough work for all the new hires? I’m thinking that this hiring up to the last minute and paying full wages to all would only work once. The lazy would want to wait until the eleventh hour group to get on board.

When the master of the house went out at the third hour, he didn’t offer the workers a denarius. He told them that “whatever is right I will give you.” He did this all the subsequent trips to the market place too. The last time he went out he simply told the workers to get out in the field and work. The wage of the day was set the first time the master of the house went out, but the later laborers didn’t know what it was. They simply trusted the master to “do what was right.”

Our Master is just like this master in that He doesn’t give up. He keeps coming back and searching for all who will listen, right up to the last moment. He is holding off in coming in an effort to reach the very last “laborer.” Those coming to Him at the last moment will be just as needed as those who came first.

When “pay day” came, did any of the first ones paid voice any reluctance to accept the full day’s wages? Were all of the laborers watching to see what the other groups got? The first group certainly was. I can imagine the astonishment on the faces of the laborers hired at the eleventh hour as they were handed a full day’s wage for one hour’s work.

The real wage from our Master is eternal life. ALL who agree to serve the Master receive that same pay. To all who believe in Jesus Christ and His redeeming work, God provides them with the reward of eternity with Him. Do some feel undeserving of it if they were “last minute hires?” Probably. I wonder about death bed conversions. I’m certain that those that are real will result in eternity. Just look at the thief of the cross. Jesus said he would be in paradise with Him. But what about the person who doesn’t really believe in God at that point but is simply afraid to die. They recognize there is something missing but don’t know what that is. How does God deal with them?

I wonder if “the master of the house” chose to pay the last first to demonstrate to them that they were of value to him, regardless of the late hour they joined the crew. Did those who were paid first think the ones hired earlier were going to be receiving more than they themselves did? If I were in their shoes I would expect so. I would venture to say that those paid last would be more than willing to work for this master again if asked.

Our Master ensures that EVERYONE who comes to Him knows how much He loves them and how valuable He finds them to be. Not for what they can do or what they bring, but simply because they came to Him.  Unlike the master of the house, we don’t know when our eleventh hour will come. But those who turn to God as that point will be no less valuable to Him than the first person ever to come, and He will make sure they know it.

As the laborers filed through the pay line, what did the foreman think? Was he used to this kind of generosity from his master? Did he think the master was wasting his money? Was he happy to participate in the unexpected generosity? Was he dreading dealing with those who were hired first? Did he agree with his master’s plan?

The full Godhead is in agreement on all things, including the reward for those who believe. There is no wondering why God is being so generous. No foreman issues here.

When the first ones hired made it to the front of the line, they were very upset by what they received. This is exactly what they had bargained for, but now it was not good enough. Why should they not be rewarded more for all their hours of service? They didn’t grumble at the foreman. They recognized that this decision came directly from the master. They felt self-righteous enough to speak exactly what was on their minds. “How could you treat us so shabbily? We did all the work, including staying out all day in the scorching heat, and yet you treat those who did nothing as equals to us.”

“He only said he believed in God a couple of days before he died. Surely he didn’t go to Heaven.” God judges the heart, not me. He is the only one who can determine the reward He has planned for each of us.

When the full day laborers complained to the master, they were not stripped of their pay. The master told them to take what belonged to them and leave. The master also told them straight up that he would do with what was his as he saw fit. He was a very generous man and could have offered the first ones hired more, if he chose to. But he had struck a firm bargain with this group and he held firm to each point in that agreement.

Our Master made an agreement with each person who comes to Him and He ALWAYS keeps all of His promises. One of His promises is to wait until the last minute before closing the door. In 2 Peter 3:9 we are reminded that God is not slow but that He is waiting as long as possible because He is not willing for anyone to perish. Those brothers and sisters that join the ranks right up to the last minute, including those martyred during the tribulation will receive their reward first.

I have been thinking about something concerning the first last and the last first reward order. I have been in situations where I had to sit and watch those who had served long with a company receive recognition for their service. Sometimes there would be recognition for everyone who was serving, but those serving the shortest time often felt like they were being patronized by the “recognition” or even pressured to live up to the other’s examples. Neither position is comfortable.

Father God, I don’t know how You put up with all our pettiness. No matter how You arrange it, someone always gets their nose out of joint. Somebody thinks someone else is getting more than their fair share. That is the sin nature in us. I know if You handed out rewards on merit basis only, I would be sorely lacking. Thank You that You set the standard of service and reward to include ANY who would come to You. I also recognize that, although all will receive eternal life, not all will receive the same extra rewards. Not all have left home and family. Not all have labored unto death. Not all walked the streets with Jesus. I expect there will be recompense for such service. The disciples received thrones and judges positions. I’m praying my “reward” will be time to sit with Jesus and have Him answer all the questions I have written down over the years. That alone will be reward enough for me, beyond the promise of eternal life with You.

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