Several times in the Gospel of Matthew we read this phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” This particular statement is based on what was previously said in chapter 19, which Jesus concludes by saying, “many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” In explanation of this odd statement we receive this parable: a rich man hired day laborers in the early morning and they agreed how much they would be paid.
He did this again about 9 a.m., Noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. At the end of the work day a little bit later he paid them in reverse order starting with the 5 p.m. hires. By the time the early morning hires get to the front, they are licking their chops thinking about how much more they’ll be paid after putting in a full day’s work. However, to their dismay, the landowner pays them the agreed upon wage, no more than that others, and puts them in their place for complaining.
I was recently meeting with a guy when this parable sprang to mind. He mentioned that he didn’t understand how a person could live their whole life in outright sin, even doing wicked things, and at the end of their life have the opportunity to pray and receive Christ and have it all wiped away. It just doesn’t seem fair. We opened up to Matthew 20 and by the time I got to verse 15, he was pretty well convinced. You see, grace has nothing to do with fairness.
By definition, grace is something undeserved. It is God’s to dispense as he pleases. So, what is the kingdom of God like? It is a place filled with people who responded to God’s offer, receiving the same reward no matter when that offer was accepted. Verse 15 is the lynchpin; of course God can do as he pleases and we shall not be envious or begrudging toward anyone who responds to God’s offer of salvation. After all, as verses 17–19 remind us, the grace we receive is based on the eradication of sin through the death of Christ.
This is convicting as we consider the day of the parable as a single lifetime, that no matter when a person accepts Jesus as Savior, they will receive the same benefit. However, this passage becomes even more important in terms of salvation history as in just a few short months, in the time of the book of Acts, these Christian Jews run into a major problem—Gentiles (non-Jews) start becoming Christians. While 2000+ years later it doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, at the time, salvation for the Gentiles was the last thing on their minds. After all, they were big-time sinners, with little respect for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is just, how can he include them!
Ready for some conviction? When you consider what the kingdom of God is like, you must ask yourself, who do I think shouldn’t get in? I know we all think of ourselves as good, unbiased, unprejudiced Christians; but when is the last time you railed at someone on Facebook (maybe only mentally) for being either politically right or left of your position? When is the last time you “unfriended” someone for posting something about your favorite idols—I mean sports teams, celebrities, opinions, etc.? Sure, Facebook is the easy target, but the idea is the same; for all of us there are people we consider “them.” It’s not that we believe God can’t save them, just that he won’t use me to do it. The kingdom of God is filled with people who don’t deserve to be there, how many are you taking with you?
By: Tyler Short