First/Last, Last/First – Matthew 20

Have you ever been waiting in a line and someone cuts in front of you? This makes us indignant; after all we’re the ones who’ve been waiting and now who do they think they are to cut in? We want our rights, and don’t dare to infringe upon them. There are two examples of this concept in this chapter.

First is the parable of the landowner. It was harvest season and a landowner went, about 6 a.m., to a place where available workers hung out; he hired the workers promising them a denarius (minimum wage for a day’s work). The agreed and went to the vineyard and got busy. The landowner went back around 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and hired people promising to pay them fairly. At 6:00 he called everyone to pay them for their labor, starting with those he’d hired last. He gave each a denarius. When he got to those he’d hired first, they assumed they’d get more that the promised denarius. When they didn’t they grumbled about the unfairness of it, after all they’d worked all day in the sun and some of the others had only worked an hour. “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:13-16 NIV) God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy are the same whether we are saved as a child and spend our lives working in His fields, or if we live a life filled with sin and have a deathbed conversion. As believers, who have known Him all our lives, we have no more “right” to heaven than someone who believes late in life. “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 KJV)

The second example is James and John, whose mother approached Jesus requesting places of honor for her sons in Jesus kingdom. This upset the other disciples, needless to say, after all, they’d all been there working beside Jesus. Jesus responded, “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28 NIV) Paul reiterated this in Philippians, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV) We are to take Jesus as our pattern of service. He served and died, for us.

            So, let’s put aside our selfish desire to be first, and follow Jesus example. Find a place to serve, bless, and be blessed as we look forward to heaven. Heaven is not our right, but our reward for faithful service, whether for a lifetime or for a moment; none of us deserves it.

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