Matthew 19:30-20:16, 21:28-32, 22:1-14
It is still Tuesday in Mathew 19, as many of the events in the gospels are not arranged in chronological order. The lesson today deals with several parables described by Jesus, all of which explain the “kingdom of heaven.” The first parable is that of the laborers in the vineyard. Next, we will examine the parable of the two sons. Finally, we will consider the parable of the marriage feast.
The Workers and Their Pay
“But many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (Matthew 19:30). This verse serves as an appropriate introduction to the lessons about the kingdom of heaven, all of which will be explained using parables by our Lord. The way to eternal life is not through selfishness, arrogance, or pride, but through sacrifice and humility. We must turn ourselves away from every bit of deception and self-indulgence and accept the cross of shame – for it is only through humility that one can come to know the truth about the grace of God.
Matthew 20:1-7 familiarizes the reader with the scenario of the parable. It would have been common for employment arrangements to have been made in this manner. At a designated location in the city, all of the able-bodied men without jobs would gather together and make themselves available to landowners who were in need of laborers that day. In the parable, notice a few things about the owner of the vineyard. First, it is clear that he represents God. He is in charge of calling people to serve him, and is also in control of the wage. The laborers and the owner all agreed to a set price, so there was no deception involved by either party, just as God makes the terms of the kingdom of heaven clear to us. Throughout the day, the same opportunity for service is presented to even more people, some arriving to the work all the way until there was very little daylight left. Also see that there is always more room for workers in the vineyard (20:7), just as there is no limit to the number of people who can be saved. Next, a problem arises at the end of the work day (20:8-12) when the owner distributes the same payment to all the laborers regardless of when they started working. The men who had been in the vineyard all day complained that this was unfair and that they should be given proper compensation for their work.
· Indeed, a lesson that we can learn from this is that many people in the world can only find fault with God. How many of us are always trying to find something to complain about? Or how often are God’s promises not good enough?
· Is it unfair that babes in Christ be given the same spiritual and physical benefits as longtime members of the Lord’s body of saved people?
· We sometimes feel like the workers in this parable. Do you believe that your Christianity is more or less important than somebody else’s?
· The opposite problem occurs amongst younger believers. When we are new to the church, we sometimes do not want the burden of knowing that others are envious. We want to think less of ourselves than we should. Instead, we each need to realize our value to God, newcomers and longtimers alike.
The landowner resolves the situation by explaining a few things to the grumbling workers. “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?” (20:13) Indeed, no wrong had been done! In a completely fair and lawful manner, both the laborer and the owner agreed on a denarius as a fair price for a day’s worth of work. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?” (20:15) And the answer is undeniable. Of course it is lawful for this landowner to pay his laborers whatever he wants, regardless of when they were called to service. “Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” At the root of the problem is envy. These laborers were not arguing with the owner because the wage discrepancy actually was unfair, they simply thought it was unfair because they wanted more. Instead of focusing their energy on their own work, they worried about everybody else. They compared themselves to others.
· Any time we try to compare our souls to someone else’s we run the risk of becoming like these workers – looking at how many people we have baptized, or how long we have been believing, or how many faithful children we have, or how long our marriage has lasted, etc.
· In the end, the lesson for us is to stop worrying about everybody else and just work. Go to church – not because others do or do not, but because you need to.
· Practice personal evangelism constantly – not to make yourself look better, but to help others become better.
· Strive for unity; how can we ever have unity in the church if we make rank and position important (James 2:2-7)?
Are you all talk?
Next, Jesus Christ offers a parable in Matthew 21:28-32. “But what do you think?” It is interesting to see how our Lord begins this story. It seems quite clear that Jesus never viewed His audiences as stupid, but as intelligent people with, at the very least, the capacity and ability to think about spiritual concepts. “A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.” A few translations still place this son second in the parable, describing the other son first. In any case, this man had two sons with very different perceptions of obedience. This first son had a rebellious streak in him, being unwilling at first to obey his father’s request. Indeed, the command was not unreasonable, for we can all see that if a young man is going to live under the roof of his father, then it is only fair for that father to expect the son to carry his load of daily chores. Being a contemplative person, though, this son regrets his former rudeness and chooses to obey the father without saying a word.
“The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sire’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:30). The second son was one who only appeared to be obedient on the outside. He said the right things and made himself verbally obligated to go to the work. However, in the end he chose to disregard both the command of the father and his own acceptance of responsibility. And which of these two actually ended up being obedient? The one who spoke well and lied or the one who acted rudely and repented?
Matthew 21:31-32 is the conclusion to this parable. Christ explains that the supposedly righteous people of Israel – those who spoke well but lived with very little substance – were not worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Even beyond that, Christ indicates that prostitutes and tax collectors were more likely to make it than them.
· We must be careful not to misapply this verse, though; Jesus is not intimating that unrepentant sinners would go to heaven. Rather than giving a free ticket to the prostitutes of the world, He actually means that they need to stop sinning.
· Like the rude son he disobeyed at first, the prostitutes and tax collectors still needed to repent and turn from their evil ways. But there is more hope for a truly repentant person than for anybody who only claims to live righteously and does not believe he needs repentance.
· We need to ask ourselves if we have backed up our “big promises” to God? When we were first immersed, many of us did a lot of talking and grand gesturing. After a few years, however, does the excitement of Christianity wear off? Does personal evangelism become less appealing or challenging?
· We also need to make sure that repentant individuals are not treated as second-class Christians. After all, it is the truly repentant son who made his father happy, not the one who ignored the commands. Sometimes, the worst people in the world become Christians and end up making “longtimers” look lukewarm.
Are you ready to go to the feast?
The third parable we will consider in this lesson is found in Matthew 22:1-14, in which a grand wedding feast is described. Many fascinating and edifying points can be made from this text, as it deals with “kingdom” concepts in more than one way. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (22:2). The atmosphere at such a wedding feast would be one of great jubilation and to be invited to attend this function would have been a great honor. As for heaven, it is encouraging to realize that our time in eternity will not be one of inactivity or boredom. Far from it, in fact! The afterlife can be compared to a celebratory event. Matthew 22:3-6 describes the treatment of this king’s slaves when he sends them out to fetch the guests. Some of the excuses made by the invited guests are amazing! First, we must see that this was a second invitation, so it has already been made known to the people when the wedding would take place. There is absolutely no excuse for us, in the same way, when we choose to schedule events at the same time as our worship to God. Second, the excuses are generally inane or ridiculous. What kind of a man rejects an invitation to a feast at the king’s palace because he has to go to his farm or business? Even worse, what kind of man abuses and kills the king’s servants when they call? What is more sad than anything else is that people like this most certainly exist today – in abundance. Why do so many people choose to reject the invitation of Christ when the benefits are so marvelous?
In completely justifiable anger, the king sends his armies to destroy the insolent wedding guests (22:7). Will God not be equally justified, and even more so, when He returns in judgment and finds us ignoring Him?
Because the wedding would still take place, the king decided to open up the invitation to everybody else – “As many as you find.” Sending out slaves to every corner of his kingdom, the king made sure to leave room for anybody who wanted to attend, both good and evil people (22:9-10). This does not mean evil people will be welcomed into heaven, but that even evil people can hear the invitation and change their lives to become a welcomed guest at the table of the king.
Surveying his guests, the king finds a man in the midst who is not dressed in proper wedding attire (22:11-14). He asks the man why he did not dress appropriately, and the guest is “speechless”, unable to answer for his error in judgment. While some see the fate of this man as harsh or unfair, the parable simply affirms the truth about the righteous nature of God. When we are invited by God’s servants to come to the feast, we must make an adequate change in our lives to conform to the Lord’s will. Like the hapless wedding guest, we cannot think it is acceptable to come to God and not change at all – we cannot become Christians without repenting of our sins and rejecting the ways of the world. We also cannot become Christians and assume that we can “come as we are.” It is interesting that many churches today use that phrase as their motto, or as a selling point. But does God want us to “come as we are?” Truly, He wants us to put on the attire of righteousness and enter His kingdom in the right way.