Sermons

Lent 3 Midweek (Mt 20:1–16)

“Receiving by Grace”
March 11, 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bossier City, LA
AUDIO

INI + AMEN.

The parable this evening has to do with how God calls people into His vineyard, His Church. How often does this call take place? How does it take place? Who’s called? Who does the calling? What’s the final goal of this calling into His Church? What’s the reward? These are all important questions when we’re considering what Jesus says to us this evening. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a land-owning man, who went out to hire workers for his vineyard.”

The first thing we need to keep in mind is this:

(3.) The Lord is always calling for workers.

This is a reoccurring theme in the text for this evening. It’s a constant refrain. The “land-owning man went out early in the morning”, “he went out about the third hour”, “he when out again about the six and ninth hours”, “he went out about the eleventh hour.” In Jesus’ day, he work day started at 6 a.m. and quitting time was 6 p.m. So this land owner goes out at 6 a.m. to hire his workers. He goes out again at 9 a.m. to get more. The same happens at noon and even 3 o’clock in the afternoon. He goes out one last time at 5. It almost seems as if he’d keep going out to find more workers even 1 minute before quitting time.

But this is exactly the case. The Lord’s always calling out. He called some of us into His vineyard, His Church, when we were just infants. Some of you maybe got His call when you were a teenager, or a twenty or thirty-something. Maybe you were older. And it happens that someone is called on their deathbed. Even there the Lord is earnest to find laborers for His vineyard. He says even to them, “Even you go into the Vineyard.” That’s the Lord’s way of things: always calling sinners to repentance. He calls even at the eleventh hour—the final moments of life, of the world.

When the Lord calls, He always does it in a very personal way. The land owner from the parable always went out himself. He shook hands. They heard his voice. So also it is with Jesus. He became man. He bore our sins in His body, a very personal way. God gets personal with us: He suffers and dies for us, and, in that same personal way, He rises for us. Jesus calls with His Word. He’s always active in His Word. When He’s active in His Word, so’s the Spirit. It can’t be any other way. We all know this. Jesus says to His disciples, “He who hears you hears Me.” Of the Spirit, Jesus said, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Jesus brings this Word to us in very personal ways. We can see it, written in the pages of our Bibles. We can hear it from the mouths of our pastors or our friends and family, or it so happens that our friends and family hear it from us. How else could they? It’s personal in other ways, too—the Word splashes over your forehead at the font. It comes upon you in the blessing hand of a pastor. Jesus’ Word comes to You in His body and blood in His Supper. It’s personal: in your mouths! This Word, no matter how it comes to you, calls You into Vineyard, giving you the forgiveness that you need to be in that Vineyard.

(2. The work continues until the Last Hour.)

The Lord wants every single person He finds in His vineyard. Some of the work may be difficult. Some of it may not be. There’s the heat and burden of the day. Some workers in the parable didn’t have to work through the mid-day heat. They only had to work in the cool afternoon and early evening. This is a very apt description of how it is in the life of the Church and our lives as Christians.

First, the life of the Church. Think about our brothers and sisters in Christ who live under the rule of ISIS. Because of their faith in Christ, men have been crucified, beheaded, burned alive. Their earthly possessions have been taken. Certainly, the heat and the burden of the day is upon that part of the Lord’s vineyard. What about us? Well, I guess it could be said that the temperature’s getting a little warmer in this part of the Lord’s vineyard. There’s the heat that says Christians are only good for keeping quiet. The pressure is to make the conversation about other things besides God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. We get drawn into discussing politics and behavior more than discussing how Jesus calls all sinners into His vineyard—no matter what they’ve done or haven’t done. No mater their orientation because He calls them to reorient them to be in His vineyard. In fact, society calls on us to give up the vineyard all together.

Now to our own Christian life: maybe we’ve had trials of faith. Maybe we’ve had things in our lives that have been tribulations and struggles. We’ve born the heat of the day. Maybe we haven’t. But the Lord has called us into His vineyard all the same.

So far with the parable we’ve seen that the Lord is always calling for workers. He does this continually. The work continues in the vineyard, in the church. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s easy. But finally, we see this wonderful truth:

(1.) The Lord rewards His workers.

“When it was evening, the Lord of the Vineyard said to His foreman, ‘Call the workers and give to them the payment, beginning from the last up to the first.’”  When time’s up, it’s time for each worker to receive His wage. The Lord will send out His angels and gather all His workers from all the ages of history. From Adam to Abraham, Moses to David, John to Paul, you and me, those who will be after you and me, all the saints, all Christians, all who had, have, and will have faith in Christ Jesus, will be gathered. They were all called into the Vineyard by grace. The Lord of the vineyard didn’t care if they’d been lazy all day or not. He still called them into the vineyard, and then they were called to receive His payment.

We see in this parable that the payment is also given out by grace. It’s not so much a payment as it is a gift, a blessing. “And when those called about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius. Now, when the first ones came, they thought that they would receive more. They also received each a denarius as the others.” The gift of being in the Lord’s vineyard is the same, no matter what. That’s grace. That’s gift. It’s bad business to pay someone for a full day’s work when they worked an hour—or less! But that’s what the land owner wants. All receive the same reward. So also us, no matter when the Lord calls us, we receive the same benefit: eternal life.

Some may call this cheap grace. That the Lord gives the same reward to all regardless of works. How can it be by works when the type of work isn’t even mentioned? How can it be by works if everyone receives the same benefit? It can’t be. But it wasn’t cheap. It cost Jesus His own blood, sweat, and tears, His very life given in death, His very life from the dead. Some grumble, “These last ones worked one hour, and you’ve made them equal to us, who bore the burden of the day and the heat!” But we will rejoice that all receive the same benefits from and through Christ: a loving heavenly Father, eternal life wrought by the power of the Spirit. Let’s not grumble but always rejoice in the Lord’s generosity and grace. We won’t think of ourselves worthy of more because He gives eternal life even to those he calls on deathbed or death row, and even to those who’ve been in His Church their whole lifetime.

The giving of the same to all was always the plan it seems. It’s what the Lord of the Vineyard wanted to do with His own things. He is good to give His gifts in this way. In the parable, if you wound up working in that vineyard that day, you were going to get a full day’s payment. So also, in this life, if ever at any time throughout history you’re in the Lord’s Church by grace through faith, then you will reap eternal life. The one simple truth of this parable is this:

THE LORD’S REWARD IS ALWAYS THE SAME FOR HIS WORKERS: ETERNAL LIFE.

This is the simplest and plainest explanation of this parable, and it’s enough mediation for now. May the Lord bless our continued meditation on this parable.

INI + AMEN.

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