SHOULD WE RESENT THE JOHNNY-COME-LATELY?
Eric V. Snow, sermonette, May 3, 2008, Ann Arbor, MI, UCG-IA
S.P.S. We must not use a misguided sense of justice to question God’s mercy towards those who are called or who respond later than we did.
V. 29-30: Notice the context immediately preceding the parable of workers in the vineyard: Jesus discussed the costs and rewards for serving Him.
Matt. 20:1+: Jesus gives this parable to illustrate God’s mercy towards all who repent. All get into kingdom of God despite some served Him much longer than others.
Avoid focusing on parable’s saying the laborers were “paid” salvation: We can’t cite a parable’s story line as proof that God endorses the behavior in question or that all aspects are literally true in revealing His truth. For example, in the parable of the unjust steward, we shouldn’t conclude that Jesus actually approves of corrupt employees giving kickbacks in order to get favors from the debtors of their employers! Instead, let’s determine doctrine based on the final conclusion or “moral of the story,” not on the story’s details or narrative plot.
V. 8: Notice the last hired were paid first, and the first hired paid last: No seniority rights here! Would we complain about that? Would we say the landowner was unfair?
V. 11-12: Would we grumble about people who come into (or return to) the faith later in life, but who end up equally saved?
The laborers questioned God’s justice: The landowner paid the same for different amounts of work. Their complaints imply God’s way of life not worth following except for getting salvation at the end: Is that true? Do people in the world overall on average really have fewer trials and pains than we do?
[Skip?] Expectations game, the entitlement mentality that tempts believers: Do we think that since we serve God that He should serve us in ways that we think we deserve? Do we think that since God is almighty, all-knowing, and greatly loving, we shouldn’t expect to have any trials, tests, or pains in this life?
Verse 13+: God’s response to when His justice is questioned. You knew and agreed to the ground rules for “employment,” i.e., for serving me and receiving salvation. You agreed to the contract, a full day for a denarius.
Verse 14-15: We can’t question God’s utter sovereignty: God is all-powerful and eternal. We’re limited and doomed to die. Much like Job, we don’t know enough to question God’s justice or fairness. God is the Creator: Since then He owns His creation, He can do with it as He wishes. If we say we can’t trust Him to do right, then His response is the Cross: His sacrifice of Himself proves He loves His creatures so much that He was willing to suffer and die like they do.
Verse 15b: We shouldn’t use a misguided sense of justice to complain about God’s mercy towards others. There’s a tension between justice and mercy, which the Cross reconciled: If people deserve to be punished, it’s fair then to inflict pain and injury on them. But if we want to have mercy, then we have to forgive and not desire to punish those who deserve it. What’s merciful may not be “fair,” and what’s “fair” may not be forgiving.
Luke 15:21+: Won’t go to the beginning of the parable of the “Lost Son,” as my NKJV titles it. After the son repents, returns, confesses error to his father, the father launches a celebration about getting back his lost son. The father in the parable is very merciful, just like God the Father is.
V. 28+: The older son complains that showing mercy to his younger brother is unfair. Do we agree with him? Is God’s mercy to others unfair to us who have served Him loyally longer?
V. 31+: Notice the implication of the Father’s statement. We know salvation is a gift. But there isn’t the time to explain that our reward, which is based on works, is how high or low a position in the kingdom of God that we will have. [Turn to I Cor. 3:10-15 if have time later]. The responsible older brother does have more than his irresponsible younger brother still, although both are reconciled to their father.
[Skip?] By the way, the parable fits the generalizations made birth order theory: Firstborn children normally tend to be more responsible and uphold their family’s traditions and honor; Lastborn children are more likely to be irresponsible and to rebel against their families and/or society’s standards/traditions.
V. 32: We should celebrate when people join or return to the faith, not begrudge it. We should celebrate when what’s lost is found as if we got it for the first time. Again, we shouldn’t question God’s mercy out of a misguided sense of justice. Also, don’t we want the church to grow? Don’t we want more people following God’s truth, not fewer? We have to accept more brothers and sisters in the faith on God’s terms, not our own: God does the calling, the picking and choosing, and those individuals do the responding, not the rest of us.
Conclusion: Unlike the older brother or the vineyard laborers who worked all day, we shouldn’t question God’s justice when He acts mercifully.
[Omit, if lack time]: If we really believe God’s ways are better than the world’s ways, we shouldn’t complain that sinners who repent later than we did then “got away with it” when God forgives them. For if God was always “fair,” we would all be executed for our sins regardless of how much we’ve served Him, since salvation is a gift based on God’s grace.
For as James explained [2:13], “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”