Laborers in the Vineyard – Matthew 20:1-16

I preached from this parable when we studied the Book of Matthew. I tried to teach what I thought was the Lord’s primary lesson. There were several groups of laborers, and each served for a different length of time, but they were rewarded equally. Tonight I’d like to take another look, but emphasizing different aspects of the Lord’s story. Without actually saying so, this is a parable, and so there are opportunities for different interpretations and different applications.

But I believe we can agree that the primary subject is the “Kingdom of Heaven.” After that, as I have pointed out before, there is debate about what exactly that Kingdom entails. I have had teachers who said that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is not the same as the “Kingdom of God.” But in comparing related verses from different gospels, I am compelled to disagree. I think that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is just another way of saying “Kingdom of God.” But after that – is it the millennium, is it internal, is it spiritual or is it political? Is the Kingdom of Heaven past, present, future, perfect or a perfect participle? I think that everyone should be able to agree that where there is a kingdom there must be a king. Who is the King of Heaven? The answer is Jehovah God. Therefore the “Kingdom of Heaven” is the “Kingdom of God.” I also hope that people can see that there is an element of evangelism in this kingdom. Matthew 13 is filled with “Kingdom of Heaven” parables. And like this one, most of those parables speak of spreading the seed, the Word of God. They speak of crops, hidden treasures and pearls of great price. And just as we see here, the King of this kingdom is sending out laborers into His kingdom, to work in his fields – for His benefit.

Tonight let’s notice the calling of the laborers.

The landowner had work to be done. Again I remind you that no parable is perfect. We have to take our parable with a little salt – it keeps the blood pressure under control. While it is not true of Jehovah, THIS householder was unable to do the work himself; he needed help. There were too many vines or too many grapes and only a small window of time to get the work done. In this case, he didn’t have ten sons, or twelve apostles, on whom he could call to do the work. So he went into the labor market and hired some able bodied men.

Let’s state from the outset that you and I are depicted by these workers. Out of a gaggle of people in the market place, all of whom are blessed by the general economy which the householder creates for general society, we are the servants who have been invited to serve the Lord. Those who have refused to serve are still in the kingdom, but they aren’t good citizens. And they shall one day be cast out.

Have you ever noticed that something is missing in these verses? Unlike the Matthew 13 “Kingdom of Heaven” parables, there is nothing said about what the laborers were called to do. Before I gave it much thought, I just assumed that these men were called to harvest grapes. That is probably not the work of this day, or we likely would have been told of the number of clusters or the number of baskets of grapes. It is more likely these men were called to transplant vines, to prune, or to weed between rows. It may have been their duty to carry buckets of water, pouring out a little at the base of each vine. Maybe their job was to carry stinky fertilizer into the fields.

But it seems to me there are more scriptures extolling the work of the harvester than other laborers. “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” There are verses like the one from last week’s scripture “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” Harvesting is great, but for every hour in reaping, there is at least another hour in producing that crop. And who is to do that work when all the laborers are only interested in harvesting?

What is that work to which we have been called? To borrow from a different parable – “the seed is the Word of God.” And from another scripture – “Christ is the vine.” You and I, along with the missionary to Chile or Korea, have been called to work among the vines, seeds and hopefully the grapes. But what would that householder have thought about his new hires, if they sat around the water bucket all day talking about new techniques in transplanting vines? What if they spent hours debating which minerals or fertilizer to dig into the soil?

The householder did not hire anyone to entertain the rest of the men with good music and humorous stories surrounding a few moral maxims. God’s work is certainly not teaching farming techniques to Indians who’ve been nomads for centuries. It is not the passing on the ability to read, simply for reading’s sake. Time after time, liberal missionaries have taught people to read, and those people then picked up Marxist and Leninist books. God help those so-called missionaries when they stand before their Judge.

No, the work of God’s laborers is the glorification of the King for whom we labor. Again I must deviate from the parable a little. It is our task to speak well of our Master; It is our job to share those things which He has shared with us. Perhaps it is something which the Lord gave you during a message you’ve heard. Maybe it is a whole series of messages – such as are contained in those books back there. But generally speaking, it will take 10 hours of planting, transplanting, watering, fertilizing and weeding before there is a single minute of harvesting. Yes, there are fields already white unto harvest; but that it due to people who have prepared the way. And if we aren’t preparing soil and planting seeds today, there may be no harvest next autumn.

So there is a work to be done, but who has God hired to do this work? You can forget about angels; they aren’t experienced enough and fit enough for this work. And the Chamber of Commerce won’t do it; they are too busy making money. The Federal government says its against the Constitution. We can’t leave this work to the Methodists, because they are too liberal. The Church of Christ thinks that the gospel is made of water. And the Seventh Day Adventists are too preoccupied with the Sabbath and healthy food. God has invited you and me to go into His harvest. I believe that the Bible teaches that every born again child of God should be member of a scriptural New Testament Baptist church. I believe that every New Testament church has been directed into the work of world evangelism. Therefore, I believe that everyone old enough to be a member of our church bears a part of the responsibility of field work. And that means here in this tiny corner of the world, as well as the big wide world itself.

But there is another fact: God gives specific jobs to specific workers. He may say to one laborer, “I want you to work over there in that part of my vineyard.” To another He says, “Stay close to the house.” Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, Paul and John were especially called of the Lord for specific work. And each of these men were different in character and talents. Jeremiah was an emotional yo-yo, while John was like a deep-running river. Isaiah was a man walking in important political circles, but Paul was cast out of those circles. Another difference between servants is the time when God enlists and commissions them. I was saved from sin when I was 15 years old, and I was called to preach two or three years later. You might say that this was early in the day of David Oldfield. Moses on the other hand didn’t enter into the vineyard until he was 80 yrs old. Perhaps he should have been there earlier, but the fact is he didn’t go. Paul was in this thirties, and Isaiah was already busily serving God when he was recommissioned. You see, some workers begin at sun-up, while in their teen years or even earlier. Some are called at the third hour, and some join the Lord’s work force at noon. Then there are some able servants who begin their obedience late in life.

When is it time to pick up the harvest sack or the seed bag and start to work? Simply put, it is never too early and it is never too late. Just because you are an inexperienced novice doesn’t excuse you from sticking a seed in the ground. You might not have the words to say to someone who is in pain or under conviction, but there are tracts for that and books for that. If you are 85 and forced to retire from hard-rock mining, you might still be able to look for the pearl of great price in the empty field next door. Your back might not let you bend over to plant seeds, but you should be able to use a watering can. You might be 60 years old before God calls you to the mission field of Indonesia. If it happens, then you had better go. Yes, I know that few mission boards would think about sending you. But go. Those mission boards are unscriptural man-made organizations anyway. No man has the right to veto God’s call, even if it is late in the day.

Consider that vineyard.

Where is the Lord’s field? Jesus answers that question in two ways. One of which is, “Lift up your eyes, behold the fields are white unto harvest.” If you were standing in the heart Cajamarca and you lifted up your eyes, you’d see Peruvians. If you were in Timbuktu and you lifted up your eyes, you’d see the country of Mali. And on whom do our eyes fall? Americans, Idahoans, Washingtonians. After that Christ said in Matthew 13, “The field is the world.”

Here is one of the things which I appreciate about our church, which I didn’t see in most churches when I graduated from Bible school. “Missions” here is not confined to some place across an ocean and where a foreign language is spoken – like Australian. A person does not become a missionary just because his plane lands somewhere after sixteen hours of flight. When I graduated from Bible college, Canada was not a mission field by the Baptist Bible Fellowship. I guess it was because they spoke American English, and demon possession wasn’t as obvious as it was it Haiti or at the headwaters of the Amazon. Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver and Toronto are mission fields, as are Spokane, Post Falls and CdA.

What is a vineyard? It is a field where grape vines grow, and those vines are source of income to the owner. So it can be a place of wealth. Some of the most needy fields of the world are not Third World countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia. Paul was a missionary after the strictest sense, yet he went to the most wealthy, prosperous, educated places in the world to give them the gospel. We are in error if we don’t call all the world a part of God’s vineyard and thus a part of our responsibility.

One of the key elements in this parable is TIME.

The story implies that the time for labor, whether planting or harvesting was one working day. Some men began early in the day and labored through the hottest hours. While some men were contacted and hired at the eleventh hour.

I believe that you and I are likely in the last hours of the season. The signs of the times demand a recognition that Jesus stands at the door. Israel is back in her own land; and the wolves are howling for her destruction. Europe has virtually reestablished the Old Roman Empire. We have wars and rumors of war; earthquakes in abundance, famine and drought. Apostasy has overspread our nation and the wrath of God is well-deserved right where we live. Jesus Christ is coming again, and when He does our work will be over. There is a time coming when no man shall work. Tomorrow may be too late to tell our neighbors about the Lord’s grace. That Heavenly trumpeter may be just out of earshot, with the Lord standing close by. So now is the day of salvation and now is the time of evangelism.

And one more thing is see in this text: there is a PAY-DAY.

At the close of the day all the laborers received a penny for their wages. And you can be sure that God keeps better books than any ordinary land owner. When Jesus comes to reward his servants, it will be a day of faithful reckoning.

But it needs to be noted that there are two ways to be compensated. Some of those workers worked for the money, and some worked for the man. You can tell who were who, especially among those who were there for a full 12 hours. Those who were working for the penny, cried when they didn’t get 2 or 3 pennies. If we serve God for reward, we shall have our reward throughout our service. If you are seeking the smile and the praise of your peers, you will have your reward, but it may be all you receive. Oh, but if you serve Christ out of love for Him, then no matter what the wages, you will be satisfied.

Following the close of our working day, all the children of God shall stand before His throne. And every man’s work shall be manifest, for the day will declare it. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ….” Just as it was in the text, there are going to be a lot of disappointed people. They will be disappointed when there are no rewards for their greedy hearts. They will disappointed when some “lesser Christian” receives greater glory. They will disappointed when they see how much of their lives and resources they wasted on sin and worldliness. I grant you that not all our judgment that day will be based upon our efforts to win the lost and our support of missionaries winning the lost, but some of it will. I hope that we will not be ashamed at the coming of Christ.