Posted by: The Simple Guy | September 19, 2010

Many who are first will be last . . .

Our family devotions lately have been in Matthew.  We were finishing up chapter 19 last night, and sort of just kept going into chapter 20.  Sometimes the chapter breaks sort of get in the way of understanding the context.  It’s hard to jump in here in mid-stream, but here goes:

Mat 19:16-30 ESV
(16)  And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
(17)  And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
(18)  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
(19)  Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(20)  The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”
(21)  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
(22)  When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
(23)  And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
(24)  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
(25)  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
(26)  But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
(27)  Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”
(28)  Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
(29)  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
(30)  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Mat 20:1-16 ESV
(1)  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
(2)  After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
(3)  And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
(4)  and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’
(5)  So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.
(6)  And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
(7)  They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
(8)  And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’
(9)  And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.
(10)  Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.
(11)  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house,
(12)  saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
(13)  But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?
(14)  Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.
(15)  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
(16)  So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The story of the master who hires the servants starts and ends with the same statement.  The first will be last, and the last will be first.

What does that mean?

In context, a man has come to Jesus (the King of Heaven who has been proclaiming that His Kingdom is at hand) and asks what good thing he can do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus points out the error in his question.  “why do you ask me about (your) good when only God is good?  Then he tells him to keep the man to man aspects of the law.   (leaving out the man to God aspect).  The rich young ruler thinks he has kept the man to man aspect of the law.  Then Jesus points out what he lacks. He has no love for the King.  He wants the benefits of the kingdom, but has no desire to swear fealty to the King.  He went away sad.

He did not love his neighbor out of love for God.  His love is self based, a form of self-righteousness.

Jesus then points out to the disciples that it is very difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom.  (we have so much, we don’t realize our desperation.)

Peter then falls for the same trap.  “We’ve left everything for you.  What do we get?”  Jesus states with emphasis that no one who leaves everything for His sake get’s ripped off.  All receive more than they gave up – in this life and the life to come.  But comparing ourselves to each other is a big mistake.  Many who appear first will be last. Many who appear last will be first.

Then he tells the story of the master who hired people for his vineyard.

He went out early in the morning and hired workers at a fair wage.  A denarius is a day’s wage.

Again at 9am he went out and hired more.

And again at noon.

Again at 3pm.

Then with only an hour left to work, he went out and hired more workers.

At the end of the day, he paid the workers in reverse order to that in which they were hired.  Those who had only worked an hour got a day’s wage.  And those who had only worked 1/4th of a day, half a day, and  3/4th of a day also received a full day’s wage.  Those who had worked a full day watched this happen and thought maybe they would get more!  But as they get their agreed upon wage, they grumble.  “We worked through the whole day, and only got what they got for working an hour!”

His answer is to the point.

(13)  But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?
(14)  Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.
(15)  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

If God is just, and then merciful (or generous) in addition to justice, is that evil?

Where were they at the beginning of the day?  Standing in the square idle with no options.  You know, like me, like you.  Without His generosity, where would we be?

Do we want to begrudge God his goodness?  Really?  Don’t want to go there!!

This story is Jesus’ reply to Peter’s view of the rich young ruler.

We all stand before Him in need of mercy.  If He was not merciful and gracious, where would we be?

We should act toward each other based upon this.   We represent Christ to the world.  We should not compare ourselves to each other for the purpose of making ourselves look good.  Only God is good, and I depend entirely upon that goodness.

Another thought that hit me like a ton of bricks was:

This follows the story of the ungrateful servant by less than half a chapter.

Very heavy thoughts indeed.

Your thoughts?




  1. Craig,

    We are a needy people who are continually being brought face to face with the stark reality of our pride and self-seeking! In the presence of the Man from Heaven we stand in the defiled garments of our own supposed self-righteousness, which He graciously has born away on the cross and replaced with a royal robe of absolute perfection and beauty!

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