Septuagesima (Mt 20:1–16)

February 12, 2017
Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO


Septuagesima. It’s a funny looking Latin word. That’s what this Sunday is called. Septuagesima. Seventieth. Seventieth before what? Well, we’re actually starting our Easter count down. It’s about 70 days till Easter.

So, what is our joy this Septuagesima Sunday? It’s that God, our heavenly Father, deals with us Sola Gratia. By Grace Alone your Father deals with you in His Son. Your Father is gracious towards you, He’s favorably disposed towards you, His favor rests upon you only because of His Son, Jesus. Grace isn’t some sort of power that God gives you or some energy God uses. Grace is how God feels about you because of His Son. It’s not something you have to find. He delivers it to you.

Now, if there ever was a Sola Gratia parable, it’d be the one today. Pretty much in every parable that Jesus tells there’s something that flies in the face of what we think should happen. There’s always something different from what we expect. We think Jesus tells parables so that we understand, but the way He tells them defies our understanding, our reason, our thinking. There’s always something absurd, illogical, or foolish in the parable. So, let’s take a look.

((2. Workers are earnestly called into the vineyard.))

There’s a humble opening scene to Jesus’ parable. “A master of a house went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” And he keeps going out to find His workers, to call them into His vineyard. He goes out again and again, at 9, at noon, at 3, and even at 5 (quitting time was 6!). He wants people in His vineyard. So also God, He continually calls! From the earliest dawn of life: infants in Holy Baptism. He calls later in life through the Word. Even to the 11th hour of life, His Word will call people into His Vineyard, His “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”

They are called to lives of love: love towards God and love towards neighbor. We have another word for love toward God: faith. “When [you] believe that [you] are received into [God’s] favor and that [your] sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake,” isn’t just the highest form of love you can have for God, it’s the only kind you can have.

But they’re also called to lives of love toward their neighbor. We are. That’s what we pray for continually after communion. That we would be strengthened through Jesus’ body and blood “in faith toward God and in fervent,” heartfelt, real, “love toward one another.” We do that in our various vocations and callings. Husbands love and care for their wives. Wives love and support their husbands. Parents love and care for their children. Children love and respect their parents. It’s bigger than that though: bosses, coworkers, teachers, students. Christians love, support, and encourage each other, but especially we forgive one another. That’s just what we do! As Paul says in Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

As Christians we’re passive, but we’re not idle. We’ve been called into the vineyard, and the works we do as Christians are really the exact same works those out in the world do. So, what’s the difference? Faith. Faith separates you from the world. Because you trust in Him, the Father of lights hides His glory in your works. The works you always do gladly, fully, and freely. Of course you do, always. Right? Always love your neighbor as yourself. Always love God before all things.

You’ve been called into the vineyard. “The Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel:” at the Font, through the Word, at whatever time of life He called you to faith. He gave that to you, and now your work is done within the vineyard. He gave that to you too. All gift from Him. The calling, the faith, the work, all gift from the Lord.

((1. Pay is given out generously and graciously.))

All we’re left with is the payment, and this is where the parable doesn’t make sense. It takes a turn towards the nonsensical. “When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.” That doesn’t make any sense! Who hires someone for an hour and pays them for 8? But that’s what the master of the vineyard does, even with you!

You see, the wage, the payment, the reward, isn’t based on our works but Christ’s merit. Our love and service wouldn’t be a very good basis to receive the reward of eternal life. When it comes to the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” in Paradise with Christ, it all comes down to one thing: His merit. Our works are imperfect. If we we’re to paid on the basis of them, we’d be out of a job.

“You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” He lived the life of perfect love we can’t. With His blood, He paid for when we don’t.

At the end of the day, at the end of the world, it’s all Sola Gratia, “By Grace Alone.” Whether the worker worked 12 hours, 9 hours, 6, 3, or even 1 hour. It didn’t matter! As the master said, “I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.” It’s all given, all gift, all grace. His gracious favor supplies the full payment that was earned by Christ and He gives it to sinners. He delivers His grace, His mercy, His love and forgiveness, in His Gifts, His Means of Grace.

It’s all generous! How can it not be? How can your heavenly Father not be generous? Christ, His eternal Son, died for you. He delivers all His blessings to you today. It’s still all grace. All gift. The payment is yours: the precious body and blood of Christ, the spotless Lamb, given you to eat and to drink—your redemption, your payment. All Sola Gratia.

It’s 70 days till Easter! In the empty tomb of Jesus we see the grace of God, His favor in saving you. We see that grace and favor in our parable today, and in that parable we see this:


Works are for our neighbor in this life and have no worth before God in His giving eternal life. The works don’t have anything with getting into the vineyard to be a worker. It’s all gift. It’s all the master finding you. It’s all the Spirit calling you at Font, in the Word. It’s all Jesus sustaining you in the vineyard with the payment price to get you in: body and blood. It’s all the Father’s grace and favor because of the death and resurrection of His Son.

The payment has nothing to with the work either. It’s Sola Gratia, By Grace Alone. Eternal life is won by the precious blood of Christ. Our work in the vineyard doesn’t enter into it. We simply receive. The payment must be given. It is given, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.


1 thought on “Septuagesima (Mt 20:1–16)

  1. Please stop popping my self justification bubbles! Seriously, as a lifelong Lutheran steeped in forensic justification it amazes me that we are SO attracted and must continually struggle against self admiration of our “justifying” works.

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