THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM
PART TWELVE – GRACE, GRACE, AND MORE GRACE!
So, for several months now, we have been covering what Jesus called “The Mysteries of the Kingdom,” which are the parables that Jesus taught concerning the kingdom of God. We have spent most of our time looking at the parables Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 13. But I have found that there are a few more kingdom parables that Jesus taught in the Gospel of Matthew that were meant to further illustrate the way things operate in God’s kingdom.
So, last week, we looked at one of them in Matthew chapter 18 commonly known as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, and we learned some super important things: For one, we learned from this parable that God’s kingdom operates on forgiveness. Yes, we see this subject referred to time and time again throughout the New Testament. Forgiveness is what the Lord has freely given us and what He expects us to freely give to others. And the reason why forgiveness is such a big part of His heart is because love is paramount to Him—and forgiveness is what love does. So, we learned that just as we are commanded to love one another as He has loved us, we are also called to forgive one another as He has forgiven us. And this is what Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant teaches us: It shows us how great our sin debt was that the Lord forgave us of, and how the Lord then expects us to forgive our fellow servants who would ever owe us a much less significant debt.
So, we then looked at a few of the variables of unforgiveness such as how to do it: We saw how the King in this parable forgave His servant—by being moved with compassion. And we learned that this compassion is something we can learn to put on, which will help us forgive others with the love of the Lord. Likewise, we found that we can also put on forgiveness like compassion and choose to forgive others.
But we made the point that this is not always easy to do. I’ve talked to people who have been so hurt that while they honestly want to obey the Lord, do not know how to release that person because the offense was so great. So, we saw that, in some of our greatest exhortations to forgive others, the forgiving is being done while in prayer. Therefore, there is apparently a connection between the process of forgiveness and our own personal prayer lives. We saw that this is why Jesus combined Mark 11:25 with Mark 11:23-24: After teaching us the principles of faith of speaking to our mountains and letting our faith-filled words frame our world, Jesus said, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
So, it is no surprise then that so many people have a hard time releasing people in their hearts. Why? Because they are not doing it God’s way; they are doing it their own way—trying their best to forgive but failing to truly release that person in their hearts. Yes, when we do it God’s way—which is taking it before the Lord when we stand praying, and confessing before Him our willingness to release them for the hurt they caused us, and sincerely praying for them. This is where God’s supernatural ability to forgive gets activated in our life! It is where we are truly able to release them and the anointing to forgive is released in our lives! Hallelujah!
Now this week, I want us to move on to Matthew chapter 20 where we have another one of Jesus’ parables which describe His kingdom—the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.
THE PARABLE OF THE WORKERS IN THE VINEYARD
Now this parable is only given to us in the Gospel of Matthew, and it was given in response to Peter’s question towards the end of chapter 19. So, let’s go back to the previous chapter and look at the context of this parable …
Beginning in Matthew 19:16, we have the story of the rich young ruler—which is where a rich young man came to Jesus wanting to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. So, Jesus told him that he needed to keep the commandments. Then this young man asked Him, “Which ones?” So, Jesus gave him a few examples of the righteous requirement of the law to which the young man said that he had kept all of them from his youth and asked, “What do I still lack?” So, Jesus told him that if he wanted to be perfect, he could go sell all he had, and give it to the poor, and then he would have treasure in heaven. But then we are told in verse 22 that he went away sorrowful because he had great possessions (and I might add that great possessions had him).
You see, Jesus was not trying to get this man to take an oath of poverty and subtract from him. No, how many of you know that the Book of Proverbs said that he who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord and the Lord will repay what He has given them (See Proverbs 19:17). So, according to this promise, what would have happened to this rich young ruler if he would have sold all he had and given it to the poor? The Lord would have repaid him! So, Jesus was not trying to just get something through this guy; He was trying to get something to him. Well, someone might ask, “So why didn’t Jesus remind him of this promise in Proverbs?” I believe the answer to that is obvious because Jesus was getting at his heart and didn’t want him doing this because of how it might benefit him.
So, then Jesus began to share with His disciples how hard it was is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven—for it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now this is something you see as a reoccurring theme in the New Testament—that the rich seemed to be condemned while the poor are lauded. But this is not because God has something against people who have wealth, and those who have lack in this life are the only ones God accepts. No, whether someone has money or not is not the issue. Like in the example of the rich young ruler, the problem is whether or not the possessions have the person. And generally speaking, those who have wealth have a difficult time not letting their possessions be their priority.
Now these sayings by Jesus evidently floored His disciples because notice how they responded in verse 25— “When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’”
I have wondered before, why were they astonished by this? A lot of people in the church today certainly aren’t astonished by this saying, I’m sure. And why? Because we have been taught by religion that poverty is holy, etc. So, while we might not be astonished by Jesus’ sayings here today, the disciples were then. So why? I believe it was because they were not taught this under the Old Covenant.
You see, there were plenty of examples they had of godly people who were rich. They had Abraham who was said to be “very rich” yet was also considered the Father of Faith. They had King David who was also very wealthy and was called a man after God’s own heart. And of course, we have King Solomon, who was extremely wealthy and was also very wise. In fact, they had promises under the law that if they would obey His commandments and heed His voice, that he would bless and prosper them. So, from these examples alone, it shows us that wealth in and of itself is not what makes it hard for someone to enter the kingdom of heaven, because some of the godliest examples we have in the Old Testament were rich.
So, this is why I believe Jesus’ disciples were so astonished at what Jesus said to them—it was because prosperity was considered a blessing from God, not something that would condemn a person. However, Jesus reassures them and us in verse 26 by saying that “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”—meaning even though it might be hard and difficult for some people to inherit eternal life, nothing is too hard and difficult for God. Yes, with Him, all things are possible! Praise God for that!
So, this is what led to Peter’s question that I referred to earlier that led to this parable we will be covering today: So, let’s pick up in verse 27, which reads— “Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?’”
What was happening here? Well, Peter saw that Jesus had told the rich young ruler that he was to sell all he had and come follow him. So, what do you suppose those rascally disciples would be thinking? “We’ve done this, Lord! So, what’s in it for us?”
This is when Jesus began to tell them about the great reward for laying our lives down for him, from receiving thrones in the kingdom of heaven to receiving a hundredfold in this life (Mark’s account is sure to add that these blessings will be reaped in this life, not necessarily in the next one).
But notice verse 30—because I see this statement by the Lord as being the one that the following parable is built upon. Jesus said, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
So, who are the “first” Jesus is describing here? Well, based on the context, it obviously would be Jesus’ disciples because they were the ones He called first. So, I see Jesus as preparing them for something in His eternal kingdom—that they shouldn’t think that because they were the first who left all and followed him that they would be more privileged than others who would do the same after them.
So, this is what led up to Jesus giving them this Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard—which is essentially a parable describing how there are those who leave all to follow and serve Him at different times. Let’s look at it …
Matthew 20:1 starts out by saying, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
Now the “landowner” here is obviously the Lord—which should be an easy way to see Him because He is the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills (See Psalm 50:10). Yes, God is the Creator of this earth, and therefore the owner of all that is within it. Amen.
So, based on the context, this going out “early in the morning” is primarily a reference to when Jesus came on the scene, when His ministry as the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in His wings. That’s right—Jesus’ manifestation here on the earth was similar to the sun rising early in the morning. Therefore, these laborers that were hired early in the morning are an obvious reference to Jesus’ disciples, those whom He invited to follow Him early in His ministry.
So, in verse 2 when Jesus said that this landowner “agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day,” what we are seeing here is that there was an agreement made. There wasn’t (as we are about to see) a trust factor between the laborers and the landowner for him to pay them appropriately. No, they essentially had a contract—which reminds me of how the Old Covenant was drawn up. It was essentially a contract saying, “we do this; God does that.” And while the law was good in its own rite as it was certainly better to be a laborer in His vineyard than to not be, it was not God’s best. The New Covenant of Grace that you and I are a part of is God’s best, a “better covenant established upon better promises” (See Hebrews 8:6).
But the fact is God will obviously deal with us on a contract basis if we desire to do so. Yes, He’s okay with that even though it might not be His best. What is in our best interest, however, is to trust and believe Him and to not base our relationship with Him on what we do or don’t do. Faith always gets the grace; works don’t. It’s that simple.
So, the first round of laborers had this agreement with the Master for a denarius a day, but beginning in verse 3, we are told— “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. (See verses 3-4)
The third hour of the day was 9 AM. So, we are talking just a couple of hours after those who started the day as His laborers were hired. And notice how he told them to go work in His vineyard and “whatever is right I will give you.” The word “right” here is a word that was primarily translated “righteous.” What a beautiful picture here of how righteousness is put towards our account. Whatever is righteous, He will give us! Praise God!
Then in verse 5 we are told— “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.” This is at noon and then at 3 PM. So, it’s getting later and later in the day, isn’t it? But notice verses 6-7— “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’” So, the eleventh hour is 5 PM! Now that’s extremely late in the day, isn’t it?
Then, beginning in verse 8, we are told what happened when the workday had ended— “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
So, the “evening” coming primarily represents when our time working on this earth has ended—thus, the end of this age and the time for rewards to be delved out. But what is interesting to me about this part of the parable is how the owner of the vineyard told his steward to first pay the laborers who were hired last. You would think that the ones who worked the longest and hardest should get paid first, but this is just not how things work in the kingdom of God. The Lord doesn’t necessarily do things the way we think they should be done, and do you know why? It is because most of us are works-minded, thinking more along the lines of—What do they deserve? No, the Lord operates more on a grace system. That’s why you will see blessings, giftings, etc. being given to those who definitely seem to deserve it the least. Thus, bringing to pass the saying that last will be first and the first last. So be it.
Now let me say that even though the example is of the hiring of laborers and paying them for their work, this parable is in no way meant to illustrate to us that our salvation is on a works basis. In fact, salvation is not even what this parable is referring to because based on Peter’s question earlier that provoked this parable, we are talking about the rewards for serving Him—which are most certainly based on the work we do in His vineyard. You will see in this parable that grace plays an integral role in the kingdom of God, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that God saves us according to our service of Him. Salvation does not work that way, but certain rewards & blessings do. But guess what? Even the rewards for our service have an element of grace to them—which is a big point in this parable.
But the main point of this parable is the response we see in those who were hired first and worked the entire day for the agreed denarius: When they saw how those who were hired at the various times after them were paid, they assumed that the landowner would be paying them more. Well, he didn’t, but rather paid them what they agreed upon, which greatly upset them. But should they have been upset? No because they got exactly what they agreed upon. Whether or not the master wanted to give those who hired later in the day the same was his prerogative.
I wonder if this same thing has ever happened to us—that we have expected the Lord to do something for us or someone we love because of what we or they have done or because of what we or they have not done. “This shouldn’t be happening to them because they are a good person” we say. But we need to understand that it doesn’t work that way. To have that mentality that they don’t deserve to have something bad happen to them because they are a good person indicates that we believe our works have something to do with our experiences. While both our good and poor choices can certainly have their ramifications, to think that one does not deserve to go through what they are going through is the wrong mentality. The truth is—if we were going to base everything on what we deserve, then we all deserve hell and every other kind of suffering. Why? Because we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is truly none good, no, not one.
BECAUSE OF GRACE
But the fact is—this parable reveals to us the grace of God. It shows us the nature of His grace and that there are varying layers of grace. And that is one of the most important aspects of God’s kingdom that we need to understand—how everything in God’s kingdom is grace-based.
We don’t get what we deserve; we get what Jesus deserved. He who knew no sin was made to be sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (See Second Corinthians 5:21). We didn’t deserve to be justified; we deserved to be condemned to death because we all had sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But even though our own righteousness was as filthy rags, the Lord clothed us in His robe of righteousness—all because of grace.
But this grace was not just limited to our spiritual needs. The Lord also has given unto us all things that pertain to this life as well as godliness. Yes, we are blessed by His grace! We are healed by His grace! We have soul restoration by His grace! And the list goes on.
So, if it is all by His grace, then it’s all going to be experienced by our faith—for faith is the only way to apprehend His grace. It won’t be by our long hours of serving the Lord in His vineyard (i.e., because we’ve been a Christian a long time and have been doing a bunch of good works for Him). His grace comes because we respond to His call and serve Him without an agreement. Amen.
Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches us this principle: These verses say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Notice what is mentioned first in these verses—the grace! Paul said, “For by grace.” You could translate this phrase— “because of grace.”
You see, as important as faith is (and we will get to this in a moment), grace is the most important—for if there was no grace provided, there would be nothing for us to have faith in. And just as it was in our salvation, grace came in the person of Jesus over 2,000 years ago. Jesus came, went to the Cross, became our sin, died in that state, and then was raised from the dead. All of this had to take place in order for us to be born again today. So, the grace for salvation had to be provided first. It is all “because of grace.”
So, grace had to come. The provision had to be made. The promise had to have substance. Now, comes the “through faith” part. Some that move over into error concerning the grace of God begin to believe that it is all completely by grace and then begin to believe that since salvation was provided for all men on the Cross, everyone must be saved.
Well, this discounts this phrase “through faith,” doesn’t it? You see, everything in the kingdom of God must be received. It is not forced on us. It doesn’t happen just because God made a way for it to happen. No, God has made the provision, but that provision of grace must come through a channel or an avenue, and that way is “through faith.”
But again, this is not just how it works for our salvation from sin; it works this way in every area of our life.
In Colossians 2:6, the apostle Paul said something very interesting: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” What this verse is saying is that the same way you received Christ Jesus, that is the same way you are supposed to walk in Him.
So, let me ask you a question: How did you receive Him? It was by grace through faith, right? Most Christians have no problem embracing the truth that we are saved solely by God’s grace and by simply putting our faith in Him. But what most fail to understand is that this is exactly how we are supposed to receive everything from the Lord even after our salvation. This is exactly what the apostle Paul was saying in Colossians 2:6—that everything in the Christian life is to be received the same way, by grace through faith. Saints, we will never cease to receive from the Lord this way. If we fail to embrace this truth, we will live a frustrated Christian life. It then should be of no surprise why so many believers experience the joy of the Lord when they are first saved and then, as time passes, they lose their joy and even become more miserable than they were before they became Christians.
Notice then how this process of salvation is explained in the rest of verse 8 into verse 9: “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Now we understand how this applies to our salvation—that no amount of good deeds one does can qualify them to be saved. Our salvation is completely a gift of God—meaning we can’t earn it or work to obtain it, and God’s reasoning behind this is that no one would be able to boast and say, “Hey, I did all of this and look what I’ve earned.” No, we understand that salvation is a free gift, cannot be earned and no one will be able to boast saying they earned it somehow.
So now, let’s look at the meaning of that one word “saved” in this verse. It means more than just the saving of our spiritual condition. It describes safety, deliverance, provision, healing, etc. So, for example, we could translate this phrase: “For by grace you have been HEALED!” “...and that HEALING is not of yourselves.” “...not of works (getting into all the things we try and do to get and stay healed and healthy) “...it is the gift of God” (Do you know when something is no longer a gift? When you have to pay for it!)
So, we see that healing is all “because of grace”—meaning, it has been provided for us all because of the grace of God. This is the first thing we need to get our hearts established in—the grace of God has provided healing and wholeness. And we also need to understand that although this healing is received through faith, it is not obtained nor walked in “of ourselves”—meaning, we do not need to see our healing as having anything to do with us. The reason I say this is because of the subtleties of our flesh to believe that we are healed because of our “great faith,” our dietary habits, our exercise routines or our own righteousness etc. No, no, no, you must always remain sober to the fact that receiving and walking in divine health and healing “is not of yourselves.”
The reason this is so important to understand is because it is easy for our heart to be deceived and begin to believe that our own works of diets, exercise, applying spiritual principles and even our “believing” is what obtained the healing. And if that is how we believe, we are in danger of taking our eyes off of the object of our faith—the Grace of God Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is not a good place to be.
Then, it is imperative that we know that it is all “because of grace” that we have been and can be “saved” in any area of life. Grace is first, then faith comes next.
So, we have seen today that grace is a big part of the kingdom of God. It’s how we are were saved initially and how we experience His salvation every day subsequently. It doesn’t matter if we have been a Christians for 50 years or 50 days, it will always be the same—by grace and through faith.
And once we settle this in our hearts and begin trusting the Lord to do what is “right” in our lives by serving Him out of love and not trying to earn something from Him, then we can see grace, grace, and more grace in our lives!
There is more grace to be had, church! Let God be gracious to you today! Amen!