Matthew 20

Our main focus for today will be verse 1-16. This may seem like a random story to start with, but this is actually a continuation from chapter 19:27 “Then Peter said in reply,” “See we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” The beginning of chapter 20 is Jesus’ continued answer to Peter’s question. The disciples were confused about kingdom blessings so Jesus being a good teacher tells them a story. There are some observations I want to list out that will help us unpack this story.

1. The first set of laborers had negotiated with the master of the vineyard their wages for the day to be one denarius. Ligon Duncan says that these laborers had a “Mercenary spirit.” That is to say that they did not do things out of faithfulness or love for the Lord but to get something in exchange. This is dangerous when we think that God (the master of the vineyard) has an obligation to give us something because we do something for him. This is a relationship with God that is based not on faith but on good works and performance.

2. The set of laborers that came after the first did not negotiate any wages with the master. The master said verse 4 “Whatever is right I will give to you.” The laborers trusted that the master would do right by them. These laborers, unlike the first set, put a deep faith in the master that he would honor them and pay them what he thought was a righteous wage. This relationship shows that there was a humility and thankfulness that the master would employ these laborers who were waiting for work, but no one hired. Instead of feeling the need to negotiate there was a feeling of thankfulness by trusting that the master would do right by them.

3. When it was time to pay the laborers instead of calling the ones who were hired first to be paid, he started paying them starting with the last working toward the first. The workers who showed humility and trust were first to be paid before the ones who negotiated and felt entitled.

4. All the laborers who worked receive the same amount of pay no matter how long they worked. This was to show that the master of the house is sovereign over that which he owns and can be as generous as he pleases and does not measure his generosity based on what the workers did.

5. The first laborers were grumbling due to the thought they deserved more because they worked longer and stored envy in their hearts. This reveals the true heart behind their work. Their work was not out of humility and thankfulness but out of a heart that was selfish and prideful.

This to us may seem like some labor laws would be broken but in reality, what is being shown in the story is the disposition of the heart that we should have as believers. I believe that what Jesus is warning his disciples against is cultivating a relationship with God where they expect to get something in return for everything they do. As Christians we should never do something expecting that God will reward us with something we want. That is not how Christianity or God’s grace works. The question that Peter asks Jesus shows the disposition of his heart in that moment, but Jesus wants his disciples to know that is the wrong way to view their relationship with God. We should not do good works, be obedient, or perform because we think that God will match our performance with greatness. Instead, Jesus says verse 16 “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Our disposition should be to faithfully serve, faithfully obey, and faithfully labor for the kingdom because of what Christ has done for us verse 28 “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We should also note the grumbling heart that the first set of workers had. When they saw the generosity of the master toward the other workers who did not work the same amount, they were filled with pride and envy. But the master rebukes them because he is sovereign over what he owns and has every right to give to others what he wants. The master's generosity, grace, and favor are based on his own sovereign will. How many times have you had a bitter heart against God when you see someone get something you think you deserved because you worked for it? How many times have you been envious of someone because they got something you didn’t? How many times have you raised your hands toward God because someone else was blessed when you weren’t? God can freely give whatever he wants to whoever he pleases because he is sovereign. If we truly believe that God is sovereign over everything, then our heart should not begrudge God when we see someone else getting blessed. God does not withhold any good from us, and if he gives to someone else what you have been asking for, rejoice and trust that God is not withholding any good from you and knows what you need in every moment that you need it. God does not give based on what we do but out of his own good pleasure, so trust his perfect will. So let us strive to have a heart of humility and thankfulness toward God.

 God gave us his own son, so that we would be able to have something no one can ever work for, the free gift of salvation through Christ and his work.