Septuagesima Sermon, 2017

Septuagesima, 2017
Matthew 20:1-16
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Do you believe you get what you deserve?

Concluding the parable in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says: “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).

We’re not shocked when Jesus says this, but we should be.

He just taught a parable that everyone understands, but the characters in the parable that we identify with are the villains.

When have you seen someone do less work than you, contribute to a project less than you, show up less than you, and care less than you—when have you seen someone do that and get paid the same as you—and you not cry foul?

Jesus describes a situation that is completely unfair.

We should be shocked.

No business could retain its employees if the hardest worker is treated the same as the worker who happens to call in sick every time there’s a home game. One gets promoted. The other complains about getting fired again on Facebook.

And that’s fair.

The kingdom of heaven isn’t fair.

You don’t get what you deserve.

Are you a sinner? We confess that we deserved temporal and eternal punishment—that our holy and righteous God hasn’t given us what we deserved is proof that we don’t get what we deserve.

You get what God gives you. And how gracious is that!

Today, Septuagesima, seventy-ish days away from Easter, when God truly gave us all what we could never deserve, today, we should realize how wrong we are to think that we deserve from God better than what He’s given us.

Ask yourself: “When do I grumble against God? When do I lack contentment?”

Maybe you don’t say the words, “O God, what have you done to me? I deserve so much better.”

But what do you say?

Do you complain about your spouse? Your work? Your house? Your children? All of those are gifts from God—and yet we complain about them and wish them to be different than they are.

“Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).

And St. Paul writes: “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Consider the workers in the vineyard.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who 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” (Matthew 20:1-2).

The emphasis isn’t the work of the laborers but the graciousness of the master who calls the workers.

He doesn’t have to hire them. He wants to.

The master goes out early, the master hires laborers, the master has the vineyard and the cash.

The laborers are simply there. They do work—but only after they’ve been called.

This is a parable about the kingdom of heaven—you’re supposed to realize that you don’t actually do any godly work until after God has called you out of darkness and made you His own dear child.

I’ve taught in Sunday school and in various other classes and sermons—for example—that only Christians can pray and only Christians can do good works, and this is what I mean.

What contribution could the workers make prior to being called by the master? They can’t hire themselves to work in the master’s vineyard. An unbeliever can’t pray to the God he doesn’t believe in. He can’t serve the God he doesn’t believe in.

The workers, prior to being called by the master, contributed nothing, because they could not. When they’re called, they work what the master has given them to work.

So it is for us.

And then, notice how the workers are quick to complain the moment they perceive that they’re being treated unfairly:

“When those hired first came [to be paid] they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’” (Matthew 20:10-12).

This parable isn’t about unbelievers who reject God’s grace. They certainly do, but Jesus, in this parable, is showing us that Christians reject God’s grace, too.

They don’t grumble about being paid. Everyone’s happy about receiving salvation, that’s the wage.

They grumble about being made equal to those who, in their eyes, are less than they are.

Did you know that if an evil man repents before his death, in heaven, his bliss will be the same as yours? Did you know that?

That we never think ourselves to be the evil man forgiven moments before his death tells us that we draw comparisons too easily.

We forget that no one deserves the grace that God pours out so richly. Even pew-sitting Christians.

This is why Jesus says, “the last will be first, and the first last.”

It’s not because they change places. It’s because Jesus treated them and their works by the same standard.

This is still a lesson we need to learn.

It happens every day in the Church.

When do you grumble against God?

When do you lack contentment?

The simplest answer is, “Whenever you compare someone or something against what you say instead of what God says.”

The laborers weren’t upset because God said one thing and did another. God did exactly what He said.

They grumble because they thought one thing and God did another.

I think it’s true of every marriage that the wife will ask her husband a question. The husband thinks he’s answered that question. The wife thinks she understands her husband’s answer. And then the kitchen’s on fire, because nobody understood a word of what was said.

That didn’t happen. I’m just saying.

It happens so often: we grumble because we thought one thing and they did another.

Like the laborers in the vineyard, we grumble against God when we think things should go one way, our way, and they don’t.

We grumble against God when we think we deserve preferential treatment because of our age or experience or name.


God gives because He’s gracious. He loves you. And He wants to provide for you and for all.

As the master of the house said to those hired first: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (Matthew 20:13-15).

The point is, the master of the house planted the vineyard, went out early, hired laborers, promised them pay, sent them to work, and paid them the wage.

No matter what happens, how could you grumble about that?

The laborers, with no merit or worthiness of their own, were called forth by the master and provided for.

Just so, our Lord planted Eden’s Garden, brought forth mankind, promised the Savior, sacrificed His Son for our salvation, sends us into the harvest, and fulfills His Word to us.

What do we have to complain about?

We have no cause to grumble. God has created us, redeemed us in Christ, and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit.

Grace alone called us forth. Faith alone which God created in us and sustains in us by His Holy Word, faith alone saves.

We work the harvest, because God has given us parents to honor, friends to love, children to teach, and neighbors to serve.

We work the harvest to train ourselves to boast in God and not our works.

That’s what Jesus has in mind when He says, “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).

It’s not because they change places. It’s because Jesus treated them and their works by the same standard.

If someone comes a long and sows half what we do but reaps twice as much, so what!

If someone works one hour and is paid for twelve, so what!

If your wife isn’t what she used to be, if your husband isn’t as smart as you, if God isn’t giving you what you think He should, so what.

His name is holy, and your name is not. And He says, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27). Your worrying does nothing.

Let God be God, and He really loves you. And that’s a good thing, because we deserve nothing or worse than nothing.

We have only because God gives. And God has given us all we need for this body and life. And He promises, on the Last Day, to raise us all and to give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

When we know that, when we believe that, faith rejoices in God’s bounty poured out whenever, wherever, and however.

That’s why we baptize babies, and eat and drink bread and wine, and confess our sins, and listen to others and forgive them, too.

From a human standpoint, those are pointless deeds.

But from God’s perspective, they’re His means for our salvation.

Because you don’t get what you deserve.

In this parable, we’re the ones hired at the end of the day, getting paid for the work of the whole day.

That is, we get credit for the work of another, Christ Himself.

He went out to work His first hour by being beaten and shamed to cover all our shame.

In the third hour Jesus was crucified for us.

At the sixth hour, He was suffering fully in body and soul for what we deserved.

And at the ninth hour He was crying out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

By the eleventh hour Jesus had been taken down from the cross and put into the grave.

The work of your peace, the work of your salvation, has all been done and had all been done by the Eleventh hour when we come in only to receive the reward and benefits for which He worked for us.

God gives what we could never earn.

And He gives freely, out of the greatest love.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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