St. Matthew 20:1-16
February 12, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Everywhere just men expect: “First come, first served.” But it is not so in the Kingdom of Grace. Here the last will be first and the first last.
At first blush this seems horrific. The innocent will be punished and the guilty will be forgiven. But it is quite wonderful when we realize that the only Innocent One is Jesus Christ and we are all guilty, that we are beneficiaries. In this Kingdom we who didn’t work get paid as though we did, and we are even invited to remain in the vineyard, but those who come by right and demand to be paid their fair wages, those who insist on justice, they get only what they deserve, and nothing more, and they are sent away.
It is a scandal to just men because the Kingdom is not earned by the industrious or the good. It is given to the wasteful, to the lazy, to sinners. The only way to get in is to repent and be humbled. It is to simply trust that vineyard owner will give us whatever is right. The proud cannot obtain the Kingdom. Only those accept the Kingdom as a gift from the Lord’s generosity come in. That is the definition of grace. It is undeserved.
This is also a scandal to modern people, to us. This is not because the Kingdom is given away for free but because not everyone gets in and worst of all it seems as though some never even get the chance. They don’t get the chance because they are born in the wrong place and time and they never hear the Word.
This is a difficult truth: God does not make Christians apart from means. He calls through the Word.
In the parable of the wedding feast, the guests whom the king wants to have at his son’s wedding, he calls through servants whom he sends out with an invitation, with a word. In the parable today, the vineyard owner goes to the marketplace and he calls workers. It doesn’t matter when He calls them, whether it is the first, third, sixth, or eleventh hour. What matters is that they are called. Only those who are called have the chance to come in, and of those only those come in who make no appeals to their rights but who accept what the owner gives as a gift.
This rubs us wrong. It seems unfair. We should note first of all that God continues to call through His Word and that His Word has gone out to the ends of the earth. But the most important response to this problem is to always firmly and rigidly insist that, like the proclamation of repentance, so also the promise of the gospel is universal. The reason some never get called has nothing to do with God’s intent or will. His Word has gone out and keeps going out. His Gospel pertains to all people everywhere and He wants all to be saved.
Thus Christ commanded preaching “repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” for it. Christ has taken away the sins of the world; his flesh was given “for the life of the world”; his blood is “the atoning sacrifice for . . . the whole world.” He said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”, St. Paul writes that “God has imprisoned all in unbelief\(so) that he might have mercy on all.” “The Lord does not want any to perish but all to come to repentance.” He is “Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” “Righteousness” comes “through faith in Christ” to all and “for all who believe.” “This is the will of the Father, that all who . . . believe in Christ shall have eternal life.”
What these passages demonstrate is that the promise of the gospel is meant to be proclaimed to all those to whom repentance is preached because it is meant for all. He died for all. He loves all. He has reconciled Himself to all people. He has paid for the sins of all even those in Hell. But since grace is always undeserved, no one has the right to complain if he thinks that he did not get a chance.
This is a hard teaching. We chafe under it. But it is the essence of grace that it can’t be demanded, can’t be earned, and can’t be deserved. It isn’t about justice or equality. It is a gift.
Just because some will reject it or never hear it does not mean that this is some kind of deception or that God didn’t really want everyone to be saved. God reveals his will through His Word. He wills to work through his Word in those whom he has called, so that they may be enlightened, converted, and saved, and He has not willed to work in them in any other way.
We should concern ourselves with this revealed will of God. He has reconciled Himself to all of humanity. He wants us to believe and trust in this. Rather than get caught up in what we think would have been better, which is a blasphemous idea, we should rejoice all the more. Just because we have grace in no way means we deserved it. We did not figure it out. We did not earn it by hard work or piety. It is not as though we were given the same opportunity as others but we made more of it. Grace is a gift. To use the modern parlance: “we got lucky.” We were born in the right place and time. Somebody brought us to be baptized, brought us to church, told us about Jesus. Thanks be to God! We were brought in by the skin of our teeth, at the eleventh hour, may we never take it for granted. Of course, it is isn’t luck, it is grace.
We should be careful that we do not try to make God “nicer” than He is or out- Gospel Him. He is who He is and His ways are not our ways. We must in this, and in all things, follow His Word. We must devote our attention to it because the Holy Spirit bestows grace, power, and ability through the Word, through which he calls us. We should not attempt to fathom the abyss of God’s hidden foreknowledge. In Luke 13, when someone asked Jesus, “Lord, do you think that only a few will be saved?” He answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
Repent, O Christian. Stop trying to make God palatable to your modern sense or worst of all to make Him fair. He does nothing unjust in giving away what is His according to His generosity. Do not begrudge Him. Strive to enter through the narrow door and give thanks, rejoice, that you have been called and have heard His Word, that you have received this gift.
The parable today puts forth grace as undeserved wages. Workers get paid for work that they did not do. The work that we have not done is keep the Law. We have not done what God said to do. But we get treated by God as though we had. That is because the work has been done. It has been done for us by Christ Himself. He bore the burden and the heat of the day and we get His wages for free. Not only has He has done our work for us but so also He has taken our punishments. He is punished for us on the cross. There He satisfies and ends His own wrath against us.
So it is that God does more than simply treat us as good laborers. He doesn’t pay us our wages and then ask us to leave. He treats us as sons and indeed we are sons, adopted by Grace, with His Name upon us. Thus we get the Son’s place. We not only get paid generously, more than we could ever deserve, but we also get to stay in the vineyard.
It is not fair, but it is good.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The body of this sermon is a re-working of paragraphs 27-65 in the FC SD XI as found in Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 645.