October 4, 2020

Rev. Bernt P. Tweit



Old Testament Lesson; Isaiah 55:6-9

Epistle Lesson; Philippians 1:18-27

Psalm of the Day; Psalm 27                              

Sermon Text; Mathew 20:1-16


Today we look at the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  It is taken from Matthew, chapter twenty, looking at verses one through sixteen.  These are our Savior's words.


“Indeed the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  After agreeing to pay the workers a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.  He also went out about the third hour and saw others standing unemployed in the marketplace.  To these he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will give you whatever is right.'  So they went.  Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour and did the same thing.  When he went out about the eleventh hour, he found others standing unemployed.  He said to them, 'Why have you stood here all day unemployed?'

“They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.'

“He told them, 'You also go into the vineyard.'  When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last group and ending with the first.'

“When those who were hired around the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius.  When those who were hired first came, they thought they would receive more.  But they each received a denarius too.  After they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner:  'Those who were last worked one hour, and you made them equal to us who have endured the burden of the day and the scorching heat!'

“But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not make an agreement with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go.  I want to give the last one hired the same as I also gave to you.  Can't I do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious, because I am generous?'  In the same way, the last will be first, and the first, last.”


This is God's Word.


So, as we look at the lessons for today, the three lessons, it really gets us to ask the question, “Is God fair?”
Just right before our text, it was Peter who asked this of Jesus, when Jesus was teaching, “We have left everything to follow you, Jesus.  What then will there be for us?”
This is nearing the end of Jesus' ministry, because the chapter right after our text is Palm Sunday.  So, still Peter and the disciples had a little misunderstanding of what Jesus came for.  Certainly, after the resurrection they knew. 

But, is God fair?

Consider our Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah, chapter fifty-five.  God says,

“My ways are not your ways. 

My thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Is God fair?

Now, I know I have shared some of this with some of you, at least previously.  But, I am going to share it with everybody, again.  When I was in grade school, my friends and I were very competitive with one another.  When it came to things in the classroom, we wanted the teacher to be fair, especially if it concerned the boys and the girls.  We wanted fairness.

So, we got in the habit of saying, “That's not fair”.  Right in the middle of the class, we would burst out, “That's not fair”. 

The teacher was sick, and tired of us saying that, so she said, “The next time somebody says, 'That's not fair', you are going to have to write a hundred sentences.”

I can't believe I did this, but the very first thing out of my mouth was, “That's not fair!”

I am glad God is not fair.  God doesn't give us what we deserve.  And, that is mercy. 

-We all deserve condemnation. 

-We all deserve Hell for all eternity. 

That is what we deserve. 

But, God is not fair.  He doesn't give us what we deserve. 

He is merciful to us. 

Not only is God merciful to us, but He also gives to us something we don't deserve.  That is grace.

Today I am going to use the phrase,

“That is God's inconceivable grace.”

Back in 1987, there was a movie that came out - The Princess Bride.  It was not very popular at the time, but it has kind of become a cult classic, now.  In that movie there is an actor who says numerous times throughout the movie, “Inconceivable!”.  When he says that, he is talking about something that is just beyond belief.  “How can this possibly be happening right now?”

That is how we consider God's grace.  It is inconceivable.  It is beyond belief that God would give to us something that we don't deserve.

So, here in our text we see the landowner saying, “I am going to give to you whatever is right.”  Notice, he doesn't say, “I am going to give you what you deserve.”  But, he says,

“I will give you whatever is right.”

So, let's look at the parable.  (A parable is an earthly story, with a heavenly meaning.)  We will look at the earthly story, first.  Then, we will come back, and talk about its meaning. 

A few things we really need to key in on.  The first is this.  It is the landowner who goes out to hire workers for his vineyard.  So, the workers are not coming to him.   But, it the landowner who is seeking the workers to hire for his vineyard.  That is an important point to remember.

A Jewish workday was twelve hours.  It started at 6:00 in the morning, and they worked until 6:00 pm.  So, the landowner goes out, and hires workers to work in his vineyard at 6:00 am.  They are getting ready to work a twelve hour shift.  They agree on a wage.  They agree to work for a denarius.  It is kind of like a contract, here.  “We will work for you, if you pay us a denarius.” 

Well, at 9:00 in the morning the landowner sees the work that needs to be done, so he goes to hire more workers.  He hires more workers at noon, and he hires more workers at 3.  Finally, he hires more workers at 5:00.  That is the eleventh hour.  (Oh, by the way, it is from Matthew, chapter twenty that we get the phrase in life, 'the eleventh hour'.  “It happened at the eleventh hour.”  “They came to faith at the eleventh hour of their life.”)

Now, the workday comes to an end at 6:00 pm.  And, in keeping with The Old Testament Jewish law, here is the book of Leviticus. 

“Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.” 

And so, the workday comes to an end, and the foreman is getting ready to pay the wage for all of their workers.  It is important to remember that the last ones come forward first.

So, those who were hired at 5:00 in the afternoon, and have worked one hour, receive a denarius.  That was the payment for a full day's wage!   And, everybody is starting to look at the landowner, and saying, “Wow.  He is generous!”

Those who worked three hours received a denarius.  Those who worked six hours, and nine hours received a denarius.

And so, those who worked twelve hours step up to receive their pay.  They were expecting to receive more, but they each receive a denarius.  That is what they had agreed to.  Remember?  That is what they settled to.  “We will work for you for a denarius.” 

And what is their response?  In essence, their response is, “That's not fair!  Those people hardly worked at all, compared to me, working a twelve hour shift in the scorching heat.  That's not fair!”

The Greek word, here in our text, in English is 'grumble'.  The Greek word is an anomonpia, where the word sounds like the meaning.  The Greek word is 'egongyzon'.  egongyzon, egongyzon, egongyzon!  “Grumble, grumble, grumble!  “Murmur, murmur, murmur! 

They were upset with the generosity of the landowner, and the foreman.  They wanted justice.  So, justice is what they received.  The problem was not in the generosity of the landowner.  The problem was in the eye of the beholder, as the foreman of the landowner said. 

“...are you envious because I am generous?”  

Really, the Greek phrase there is, “Is your eye envious?  Do you have an envious eye, because of the generosity I am sharing with other people?” 

Here the foreman says,

“Take what is yours and go.”

Take your pay and go.

That is the very same Greek word Jesus used with the devil, when He was tempted in the wilderness.  After the very last temptation, Jesus said,

“Away from me, Satan.” 

It is the same Greek word, “Take your pay and go”. 

The last will be first.  The first will be last.  I will come to that in just a little bit.

Here is where I am going to bring a little religious art in to my sermon.  Here is a painting that Lucas Cranach the Younger painted in 1569. 


So, just keep this in mind – 1517 The Lutheran Reformation began, as Martin Luther posted the ninety-five thesis on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Luther died in 1546.  Now, in 1569, Lucas Cranach, the Younger paints this picture.  It is at St. Mary's church in Wittenberg, Germany.  It is a picture of our text for today.  It is a picture of Matthew, chapter twenty.  He is painting what this portion of scripture depicts. 

Can you see the dividing path between the two sides?  I am going to start on the left hand side, for a moment.  Now remember, it is at the height of The Reformation.  He is talking about the abuses that are taking place in the Catholic Church.  The left hand side shows bishops and priests who are tearing the vines out.  They are burning the vines.  They are throwing stones in to the well, to make the vineyard uninhabitable. 

The bottom left of the picture, he even shows the Pope going before Jesus, extending his hand, demanding to receive payment for the work that has been done in the church.

On the right hand side of the painting he shows the reformers, who are tending the vineyard of the Lord.  I am not going to name all of the reformers, but I am going to get closer on a few of them.  Martin Luther is holding the rake, tending to the vineyard.  Phillip Melanchthon is holding the chain.  He is pulling water up out of the well.  Luther's pastor, John Bugenhagen is kind of in the mauve-pink gown in the middle back, using a hoe, and tending to the soil.

Showing the distinction between those who are seeking justice, and those who are seeking grace.

I am so happy, as we are gathered together for worship, we can say, “God, thank you for your grace, and thank you that we are 'on the right hand side of the painting'.”

But, here is where I am going to give a warning that it is so easy to start 'sliding to the left hand side of this painting'. 

-When we come before God, like Peter did, “What is in it for us, Lord?” 

-And, when we come before God, and say, “God I have been faithful to you.  I demand physical blessings from you.”

-When we come up with a mindset like that, we start 'sliding to the left of the picture'.

-Or, when we say, “God, I am going to interpret your Word the way that fits my lifestyle”, you start 'sliding to the left hand side of the painting'. 

-When we know what God's Word says, and tells us how to live, and how not to live, but we say, “I am going to live the opposite”, we start to 'slide to the left hand side of the painting'.

-Or, when we are connected to Jesus, The Vine, only when it is convenient for us, only when there is a crisis in our life, “Is Jesus going to be there for my health?”, we start to 'slide to the left of the painting'.

I am going to be a little bold, in this statement.  There are sometimes when people only reach out to pastor Bartels, or myself, when there is a crisis in their life.  They are only here to come to worship, when there is a crisis in life.  They are here a week or two, maybe three weeks, but soon, when that crisis is averted in their life, they are gone, only to ask for help the next time there is a crisis that arrives in their life. 

-When we live like that, we start to 'slide to the left hand side of the painting', thinking there is something in it for us from God, because of who we are, and because of what we have done.

Remember, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  I am going admit to you guys, when I was a young kid, I didn't fully understand this parable.  When Jesus closed, by saying, “...the last will be first, and the first, last”, I simply thought those who were standing first in line, had to go to the back.  Those who were standing at the back of the line were able to come forward to the front.  And yet, that is not what the meaning of the word 'denarius' is here.  The word 'denarius' just means 'a wage'.  The Greek word is 'misthos'.  It is a wage.  It can be a good thing.  But, it can be a bad thing.  It can be a reward, but it can be a punishment.

In this parable, everybody received a wage.  Everybody received a wage, but there were some in life that are demanding justice.  Justice is what they are going to receive. 

Before our text, Jesus said this about those who approached Him.  He said, “Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons, and perform many miracles?'”

Jesus said, “Then I will say to them, 'Away from me you evil doers.'”

So, some people are looking to God for justice.  Justice is what they are going to receive.

But, on the other hand, I am so glad the landowner says,

“...I will give you whatever is right.”

The landowner does not say, “I will give you what you deserve”, but he says,

“...I will give you whatever is right.”

So, the wage we receive is not something we deserve, but we receive it out of the generosity of the landowner's heart (and that is God, Himself). 

I am going to go back, and use that phrase, again. 

“That is God's inconceivable grace!”

Guys, it is inconceivable.  It is beyond belief that God would be gracious to us.  It is not what we deserve, but it is what He is going to give you.  God's grace is simply His undeserved love for us, who are sinners.

                                       G od's

                                       R iches

                                       A t

                                       C hrist's

                                       E xpense 

The riches of eternal life in Heaven are now yours, because of the expense Christ paid for us, being our substitute, coming to live a perfect life for us, being our substitute, and going to the cross for us, through His life, death, and resurrection, giving us everlasting life with Him in Heaven. 

Probably the clearest statement of grace in all of The Bible is from Ephesians, chapter two that says:

“For it is by grace you have been saved,

through faith. 

This not of yourselves. 

It is the gift of God,

not by works,

so that no one can boast.”

God doesn't give to us what we deserve.  God gives to us what is right.  Thanks be to God for His inconceivable grace!

As we close, I encourage you to read the words of the following hymn, Lord of the Living Harvest.  Really focus in on verse two, because the hymnist is here getting us to think about this portion of scripture, as we are laborers in the Lord's vineyard.


Lord of the living harvest

That ripens o'er the plain

Where angels soon will gather

Their sheaves of golden grain,

Accept our hands to labor,

Our hearts to trust and love,

And be with us to hasten

Your Kingdom from above.


As lab'rers in our vineyard,

Lord, give us work to do

Content to bear the burden

Of weary days for you,

To ask no other wages,

When you call us home,

Than to have shared the labor

That makes Your Kingdom come.