The Call for Kingdom Workers

The Call for Kingdom Workers goes out early, often and continues late.

These sermons began as devotionals for my family as we met during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. We have now begun to include our friends and the devotional has now become a full sermon. We are also recording our service and will begin posting those videos in the near future.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.

When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? ‘Take what is yours and go, but 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 what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ “So the last shall be first, and the first last.”                                                                       Matthew 20:1-16 (NASB)

Who doesn’t like looking at their bank account on pay day to find a little more than you expected?! It’s always a nice feeling to find a surprise waiting for you after a hard week’s work. That Christmas bonus at the end of the year is nice too…especially when you have been with a company a number of years because you know the longer you are there the more your bonus. At least that is the way we think it should work. But what about those times when you are working on a big project and a coworker steps in to help, only for a short time mind you, and ends up stealing all your thunder, getting equal praise for completing the project? That should be enough to set anyone off…right? I have been on both ends of that situation and neither position is very comfortable.

As we resume our look at the kingdom of heaven, we find ourselves in the middle of this very type of situation. These are day workers, men who do not have a regular job, hired at the time of grape harvest to work the vineyards. Those who start work early settle for a very fair wage only to find out those hired after receive the same pay. Jesus is going to turn the tables in this parable for The Call for Kingdom Workers flips the script on how workers are rewarded in the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner hiring day workers who agree to receive just pay. Some come early, some come late but all receive equal payment. The Call for Kingdom Workers does not allow for envy over generosity because the first shall be last and the last first.

The kingdom of heaven is like the landowner seeking workers, all are called, all receive right payment. and all are equal in the eyes of the landowner. In The Call for Kingdom Workers God is generous whether you are called first or called last.

The question we seek to answer in this message is, “What makes The Call for Kingdom Workers different?”

The Call for Kingdom Workers does not depend on personal merit but desire and willingness.

1). The Call for Kingdom Workers goes out early, often and continues late.

It does not matter if you come early or late, all workers are equal in the eyes of God.

The details of this parable are very common around the time of grape harvest. In many ways this parable is very familiar but in other ways it is completely astonishing. The working hours are familiar, 6 am to 6 pm or sunrise to sunset; the wage is familiar, and in fact, very generous, for a full day’s work of unskilled labor – one denarius; the unemployed standing in the marketplace is familiar – this would be the equivalent of going to the unemployment office or to a staffing recruiter. Even paying the workers at the end of the day is familiar – workers were paid at the end of the day so they would be able to buy enough food for their families.

Within this parable are three surprises Jesus presents about this upside-down kingdom. First, there is something different about this employer. This employer seems to truly care about those who are in a down cycle in life at the moment. Instead of sending his foreman to look for workers, the employer goes himself and not just once but several times including during the last hour of the workday! Those he finds in the marketplace are unemployed, hungry and as the day grows longer, they grow increasing hopeless.

This employer cares about people, he wants to give them a job and a reward. He is indeed an unusual employer which leads us to the second surprise. At the end of the day, this employer does the familiar thing of paying the workers for their days work. What is surprising is this employer pays all of the workers for a full day’s work, beginning with those who were hired in the last hour! This amazing generosity does not sit well with some.

Your standing in the kingdom of heaven does not depend on human effort in any way! What matters is the unmerited favor of the only One who is good and accepts those who can never be good; it is the free grace of God that produces good works, not good deeds for life but a response of gratitude, a behavior springing forth from the life given us by God.

There will be many Christians who have “worked” hard for God over many years who will find themselves in a lowly place within the kingdom for one simple reason – their motivation was not purged of good works and personal reward. Many Christians who came to faith near the end of life will find themselves in a high place within the kingdom, again for one simple reason – they know they did not deserve such favor and had nothing to boast of because reward never entered their minds.

The church is to be a picture of the kingdom of heaven here on earth. We are a community of believers called and set apart to be an example to the world. As a community we are to have unity among the body. For without unity our fellowship disintegrates. There will be many external forces trying to tear apart our unity – persecution being one in which Jesus is preparing the church to face. But the main forces working against our unity will come from within. Pride and self-centeredness are the two biggest forces we must fight against in all of our relationships but especially in the body of Christ.

The Call for Kingdom Workers does not depend on personal merit but desire and willingness.

There is no ranking in heaven, all are equal in the eyes of God.

2). The Call for Kingdom Workers does not allow for envy no matter when you answer the call.

It is not the length of time you have served but your motivation for serving that matters.

We can now look at the third surprise, that of paying all the workers the same wage. It begins as one of the workers hired first speaks up saying, “This is not fair! They have only worked an hour while we spent the entire day in the hot sun and heat of the day.” Seeing those who had worked only an hour paid the same amount promised to those hired first, built the expectation of more pay for longer work. Notice the one addressed as the spokesman for the group is addressed as friend, but this is not what it seems.

Here the term is used as an ironical term. There are three times in Matthew’s gospel where the term is used this way and in each case the recipient is in the wrong. The employer reminds the spokesman they have a contract, agreed upon before the work began but now the workers are expecting this employer to break the contract. The employer is far from being unfair having fulfilled the contract both agreed to and then shows uncalled for generosity to those hired at the end of the day.

The number of years you have been a member of the church, the long hours you may have spent in hard work and the length of service hold no claim on God and provide no reason why He should not be generous to those who are called late. All are unworthy of such a generous payment; all are given it by the generosity of God. The disciples – fishermen and tax collectors – were as welcomed by God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is no ranking in the kingdom of heaven, nor can anyone claim a deserved membership into the kingdom.

Realistically, who could complain? The Pharisees? They are pleased with themselves and look down on the common people. The Jews in general? They have kept God’s laws for a very, very long time; they despise the Gentiles who are now welcomed into the kingdom on equal terms. The disciples? They have given up everything to follow Jesus, it would be easy to have difficulty welcoming into the kingdom those who despised and denied Jesus.

There is one phrase we need to understand here. The phrase “is your eye envious” is literally translated as “is your eye evil,” meaning the worker could not be thankful because he was blinded by envy. The “evil eye” in ancient times was the eye that would covet what belonged to another. So, if a disciple is focused on the earthly, material treasures as their value, significance or security, then the darkness of their evil value is also the state of this person’s heart. When we focus on something evil the eyes become the means by which evil fills the inner person.

The Call for Kingdom Workers does not depend on personal merit but desire and willingness.

We have all had a situation where someone has come along for a short time to work with us or beside us for a short period of time only to steal our thunder when the job is completed. The situation is uncomfortable to say the least but for someone to claim credit when we have done most of the heavy lifting just doesn’t sit well with us at all!

Jesus flips the script on the rewards for workers in the kingdom. Many have been in the church for a long, long time doing the work of the church and helping to build it up and keep it afloat. But The Call for Kingdom Workers is not based on personal merit and the length of time served does not matter as much as motivation and willingness.

Earlier I asked the question who could complain about the generosity of God in Jesus’ day. What about today? Who in the modern-day church could complain about the generosity of God? Pastors? Perhaps those who have sold out for the applause of man and the glory of material wealth who now see it slipping away. Carnal Christians? They have been in the church for a very long time, serving many long hard hours to build the church. Now there are new believers coming in wanting to make changes and take office – ha! Not in my church!! True believers? They have defeated self and faced untold persecution while others in the church have lived a life of comfort and ease; it would be easy to hold a grudge against those who are just now having their eyes opened.

Our witness to an unbelieving world of the reality of the kingdom of heaven is in the radical transformation of relationships within our community especially when expressed in humility, accountability, discipline, purity and forgiveness. These are to be counter cultural marks that set us apart. Our weapons against such threats come in the form of gratitude and servanthood.

Gratitude is our most compelling motivation in the kingdom of heaven. We, Christians, who have absolutely nothing in and of ourselves, have been called to the kingdom of heaven and given the privilege of being a disciple of Jesus Christ – and not just a disciple, a disciple with the promise of reward. It is when we fully understand the alternative – not being called to the kingdom – that a deep well of gratitude – thankfulness, gratefulness, deep seated joy – is produced in our hearts. All that we are, all that we have, all that we hope to accomplish – ALL OF THESE – are gifts from God and the ONLY appropriate response is gratitude.

What are you grateful for today? Are you grateful that you are able to draw breath today? For eyes to see? Ears to hear? For those loved one near to you? Are you grateful that you have been called into fellowship with Jesus Christ by God the Father? Have you even thought about the alternative of NOT being in fellowship with Christ?

We have been given a wonderful gift – membership into the kingdom of heaven – and it is when we fully understand this wonderful gift that we link servanthood with our gratitude that we are able to remove our focus from self. Our position has been secured and we find the world’s pattern of greatness turned upside down – we now find our greatness in looking out for the needs of others within our community and we give ourselves to serve them. We know that we can unconditionally trust the Father who sees to our every need and the Master who has given us a yoke that is easy to carry, so we place ourselves in the hands of God to guide us as we unconditionally serve those in our community of fellowship.

Our most compelling example is, of course, Jesus Himself who was so secure in His identity as the Son of God, that He gave Himself, without reservation and without concern for His circumstances, to serve us! In His single substitutionary, sacrificial act of service, Jesus met the greatest need of all humanity – He became our substitute, our sacrifice, our ransom for sin.

How are you serving others today? Are you giving of yourself without expectation of getting anything in return? Have you helped meet a need for someone – food, water, encouragement? Maybe even a simple smile? Are you serving in humility because of your position in the kingdom of heaven? Or do you have some other motivation for serving others?

What is your motivation for serving others today? It is only because Jesus intercedes for us that we have anything! So, we should serve out of gratitude, being concerned with rejoicing when others are called to the kingdom – regardless of the length of time you have served or the circumstances that surround you.

Love with the end in mind, for we do all things for the glory of God through Christ our Lord.

Amen and Amen.

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