Matthew 19:17-30, 20:1-16; Mark 10:29-31
Jesus had a way of turning everything upside down. When the disciples tried to block the crowds from troubling Him with their children, Jesus not only told them to let the children come to Him…He told them that they needed to become more like the children! When the young, rich, and influential came to Jesus, He didn’t tell declare that their wealth was evidence of God’s favor…He told them to walk away from it altogether!
That might have been comforting for His disciples because they had left everything to follow Jesus. When Peter pointed this out, Jesus said that it was true. The reward for the choice of His disciples to walk away from their former lives and follow Him would bring them great treasures in this life and the next.
But that reward was not for them alone. Jesus went on:
“‘I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.’”
Did you notice that Jesus describe great blessings in this life and the one to come?
As the disciples listened to Jesus teach, they believed that what He said was truth. In fact, their hope and future depended on what He said. They had not only left everything because they took His words seriously, they had put themselves in great danger for His sake. The religious leaders were paying close attention to Jesus, looking for ways to silence Him. Surely they were paying attention to who His favored students were as well.
There was another great danger for the disciples, far worse than anything another human could bring against them.
What if in their great sacrifice for Jesus, their hearts grew just as proud and hard as the Pharisees?
What if they began to see themselves as better than everyone else and lord it over them? Jesus told them another parable:
“‘…the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.
“‘He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
“‘“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
“‘He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
“‘When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers to pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going to the first.”
“‘The workers who were hired at the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when the those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of work and the heat of the day.”
“‘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 a right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
“‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’”
As Jesus told this parable, He was talking to His disciples who had given up their lives to follow Him. They were like the first group of men that were hired to work in the field. The first workers would have toiled in sweat and discomfort as the blazing sun beat down on them from high in the noonday sky. As the hours went slowly by, their backs would ache and their arms would grow sore. Their clothes would grow dirty with sweat and dust. By the time evening came, they would be exhausted. The effort of their labor was a picture of what the disciples were giving to Jesus. They had already begun to make tremendous sacrifices for Him. Most of them would go on to die for the sake of His name. And though their offerings would greatly please God, it was nothing less than what they owed Him. God deserves every part of their lives and ours…Jesus brings us salvation for all eternity!
Many others would come along and put their faith in Jesus as well. They are like the men who came to work in the vineyards later in the day. They wouldn’t suffer, and their work would be short and quick. They started when the day was already cooling off, and they were finished almost as soon as they started. Yet they would receive the same wage as those who worked all day. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? How would you feel?
While Jesus’ disciples would serve Him in powerful ways, their faith and their strength to follow Him were actually gifts from God. The right attitude for them was grateful humility, not arrogance or demanding pride. If their hearts were right, they would rejoice in the generosity of their Master as He gave lavishly to others as well. Pettiness and competition have no place in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus repeated once again that those who are first will be last, and the last will be first. In His Kingdom; it is those who seek to serve that are honored in the eyes of God. When we humble ourselves before God by showing generosity and kindness to others, we are surrendering our natural selfishness to the hands of God. We are turning to His goodness and greatness with trust, finding our significance and hope in His love and power. Once we have let go of our own ambition and the need to prove ourselves and bring ourselves honor, we make the way for God to work. We are able to hear and see. But as long as we are worrying and jostling and pushing for our own way, we limit His work in our lives. We put ourselves in last place for spiritual growth.
Jesus was saying that in the end, we will be very surprised at who is most highly honored by God in Heaven. God will sift through all that we have done, looking for thoughts and actions that were pursued with a pure heart. He will be looking for everything about us that was infused with meekness and humility and mercy. Those are the true, eternal treasures that will last forever. Many who went about quietly and humbly on the earth doing the work of the Kingdom, whose names are long forgotten, will shine magnificently with God’s praise. And many who worked in the name of God, but sought their own glory and honor will find themselves last on the list for God’s rewards. May we seek the exalting grace of humility on earth so that our reward in Heaven will be great!