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Saturday, May 31, 2014

God's Ways are Past Finding Out


God’s Ways are Past Finding Out!

Matthew 20



Jesus had so much to teach his disciples and so little time.  He reminded his disciples that time was getting short – that soon they would be traveling to Jerusalem and when they got there He would be betrayed.  (Matthew 20: 17-19)  And Jesus adds that the religious leaders will give him over to the Gentiles and they will put him to death.  (The Roman soldiers who were Gentiles carried out the orders to crucify him.)


All this talk about Jesus dying made no sense.  The disciples did not want to hear what Jesus was telling them.  They were still arguing about which one of them would be the greatest when Jesus comes into his kingdom.  ((Matthew 20: 20-21) So Jesus tells them that the greatest among them will be the servant – the one who serves.  And the one who desires to be first will be a slave to the others.  (Matthew 20: 26-27)  And He tells the disciples that He will be their example.  That He has come to serve them (and us) and He has come to give his life a “ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:28) 


Jesus sat down and told a story to the disciples and to the crowds.  Maybe this story could help them to understand that God sees and judges things differently than we do.  Jesus tells them the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  Jesus starts out this way:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard owner who goes out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agrees with the workers to pay them a denarius for the day’s work and then he sends them out into his vineyard to pick the grapes. (Matthew 20: 1-2)


The vineyard owner wonders if he has enough workers to bring in all the grapes so he goes out again in the middle of the morning and finds more people standing around in the marketplace looking for work.  He hires these people also and sends them off to his vineyard telling them that he will pay them what is right.  A few hours later the vineyard owner goes out again and hires even more workers to pick grapes and yet again in the middle of the afternoon, promising to pay them all whatever is right.  And then just as the sun is going down the vineyard owner rushes out and hires even more workers for that last hour of work.  He wants to get the job done!  (Matthew 20: 3-7)


The work day was about twelve hours and ends when the sun goes down.  They can’t pick grapes in the dark.  Remember they didn’t have electric lighting back then!  Jesus continues his story:  “The owner of the vineyard asks his steward to call the workers and give all of them their wages beginning with the last group and on to the first.  And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour and received a whole denarius, the first group who had worked all day supposed that they would receive even more money.  But then when the steward gave them their wages they were given a denarius also, like they had been promised.  It didn’t seem fair and they complained to the owner of the vineyard.”  (Matthew 20: 8-11) 


And this is what the workers who worked all day said to the owner of the vineyard:   “These men who came and worked only one hour got the same pay as we did!  Don’t you see that we worked all day and bore the burden and the heat of the whole day?  It isn’t fair!”  (Matthew 20: 12)  And the owner of the vineyard answered the workers that he just wanted to be generous and give the same amount to the men who only worked one hour.  Didn’t he have that right?  And anyway, he had given them what they had all agreed on at the beginning of the day.  Jesus’ story or parable ends with these words:  “So the last will be first, and the first last.  For many are called, but few are chosen.”  (Matthew 20:16) 


What do we learn from Jesus’ parable about the workers getting the same amount of pay even though some work long hours and some hardly work at all?  What is He trying to teach us?  One of the lessons here is that God is absolutely sovereign and gracious in granting rewards.  And rewards will be given by heaven’s standards and not earths. The disciples had been arguing about who would receive the grandest reward in heaven for their services.  Perhaps Jesus is trying to rebuke the spirit of serving for the reward itself rather than serving out of love. 


 And I suppose that Jesus is telling the disciples and all his followers that things will be judged very differently in God’s kingdom than we are used to here on earth.  Jesus starts out by saying that the kingdom of heaven is like this parable.  (Matthew 20:1)  It may seem to us that the kingdom of heaven is an upside down kingdom!


We may think that we have never been in a situation where the person who worked twelve hours got the same amount of pay as the person who worked only one hour!   Even God would see this work situation as unfair, we think.  But would He?  We have all been that person at one time or another - the person who worked twelve hours and got the same amount of pay as the person who worked only one!  We have all had chances in our lives to ask why God acted or didn’t act to make things “fair” to our way of thinking.


Have you ever been mad at God because He didn’t do things the way you thought He should have?  He didn’t stop you from that big mistake?  Or from the accident that took your loved ones’ life when others were spared?  Your beloved child died when other children laugh and play and grow to adulthood?  And the disease that is taking over your body isn’t getting better even after you have prayed and prayed about it?  Where is God anyway?   Why is He silent?  It doesn’t seem fair. 


Job asked these questions when he had sores all over his body and God had allowed all of his children to die and all of his wealth to disappear.  God had called Job a “righteous” man.   And since Job was so righteous, where were his rewards for being so good?  Job wondered about that and didn’t think it was fair!  He wanted God to come down and explain it to him.  He wanted to argue his point!  A human arguing with God!


 But then God did show up and answer Job.  But God’s answers to Job were really questions.  Job got a glimpse of God’s mighty sovereignty and total power and overwhelming love.  Job could visualize God’s great loved for him and how God plan was working only good things into his life.  Job fell on his face and worshipped his God accepting the fact that he could not understand how God worked by rational thinking but only by faith alone.  Job’s faith finally rested in the fact that God’s will toward him was good and that God’s ways are past finding out.      


Scripture says that: “Humans judge by outward appearances but God judges the heart.”  (1 Samuel 16:7)  We judge a person by the number of hours worked or by how much physical strength or beauty he or she has.  We judge by how many games a sports team can win and how much money a person can make.  We can only judge what we can see on the outside and on the surface and we don’t ever see the whole picture!


 Our judgments are influenced by the opinions of others around us and clouded with prejudices.  We often join a crowd in believing something because at the moment it is the “in” thing to believe and we want to fit in.  We often believe what is in vogue and what we are “supposed” to believe!  And even though we think that we are judging “fairly”, in truth we humans are fickle and as Scripture puts it: “Now (on this earth) we see through the glass darkly…” (1 Cor.13:12)       . 


But God can adequately assess how faithful we are, how much we love and obey, and what we are all made of.  God can see it all.  We are to let God judge because He is “faithful and just” and He is always fair.  He is the One who created the whole world and keeps it moving and He sees the whole picture.  God is holy and merciful and full of love.  We need to trust God in all of his judgments and rest in his unfailing grace.  He sees the beginning from the end and His will for us is good.  (John 10:10)   “Oh the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unsearchable are His judgments, and  His ways are past finding out.”  (Romans 11:33)    




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