The First and The Last

2 months, 2 weeks ago

Matthew 19:27 – 20:16

“1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? 7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” – Matthew 20:1-7

In Mathew 20 verses 3-4, 5, and 6-7, the householder, who is God in the parable, went out and hired other servants throughout the day, making a covenant with each one for service and payment of a penny (KJV). The allegory for us today is simple and has but one central point; God is making bond-servants over time, at His will, by faith in Jesus Christ, to bear fruit in His name for the glory of God.

The implications, however, are critical for us, especially in this day of do nothing Christianity. The first implication is that He is making covenants with men to be His servants, having bound them to Him for work in His vineyard which is the Kingdom of Heaven, laboring continually until the twelfth hour when the day is done and that final evening comes when Christ will glorify the Father. He didn’t forgive your sin, save you from His wrath, seal you unto the day of redemption, indwell you with the Holy Spirit, and give you His instruction manual in the New Testament so that you could do nothing and still expect your due. “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” – 1 Timothy 5:18

That’s a two-way street, a double-edged covenant. We most often rely on God, for He is worthy, to keep His end of the agreement knowing that our rewards are in heaven with Him. But we have a testimony of our utility to Him in the Kingdom carrying out the given duties, being a laborer, bearing much fruit for Him knowing that indeed He is just to repay our works. Shall we do nothing for our King and expect a full day’s earnings?

And don’t miss the price Christ paid for you in sacrifice on the cross, beaten and bloodied to death for your sin. At that price, receiving salvation in eternity, what toil is too much for you to expend for our King?

But Jesus rose from the grave proving His power to put your hand to the plow, chosen in Him, that you might be perhaps the least of the laborers called in the eleventh hour, yet what tremendous blessing “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:9

The endcap to the parable is so beautifully fitting.

“16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” – Matthew 20:16

How great the liberty of the New Covenant, where service is a joy, telling of our great High Priest, laying down the seed of the word of God in the newly piqued interest of a soul to whom Mighty God is revealing himself. The work of the vineyard for our soon-returning householder is a full day’s labor for some but for others, an easy last hour yet receiving the day’s total wage.

The parable set before us is in answer to, or, the conclusion of Matthew 19:27-30. Jesus teaches the reward to His apostles because they had forsaken all to follow Him. In verse 30, Jesus states, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” – Matthew 19:30. Compare this verse with the conclusion of our parable, verse 20:16. These two verses are the bookends giving us the edges within which to seek the purpose of Christ’s teaching in this case.

There are various explanations for Matthew 19:30 and 20:16 and many ridiculous assertions outside of the simple setting of addressing His disciples. Some take these verses and make up a whole new theology, but context matters.

Parables have one central message. The more esoteric conclusions to the teachings of God come from those trying to ascribe more than is plainly meant to be taught by the immediate principle in the parable. Some make a dispensationalist distinction between Jews in the Old Covenant and those under the New Covenant when they read first and last. That’s a difficult stretch of the text’s meaning, but as we’ll see, one of the purposes of the Church of Jesus Christ is given.

The simplest explanation is taken in the context of Jesus answering Peter’s question as spokesman for the Apostles. Peter asks, in Matthew 19:27, “…what shall we have therefore?” Jesus states that they will be chiefest among the regenerate, judging the twelve tribes. The Apostles, though the last of those called under the law, will be first, chosen to rule even above the patriarchs and Noah, Moses, and David. That is what Jesus is teaching them in the moment.

It seems this is the central application of the parable; being the last of the line under the Old Covenant, the apostles would be first to bring thousands and thousands born again into the body of Christ in the earliest days to establish the New Covenant, ending the old. Being firstmost, they would serve in the harshness of stonings, beheadings, crucifixions, receiving many stripes, set upon, beaten, robbed, and having their property taken by civil authorities while losing family and friends as Christ came to set mother against daughter, son against father. And persecutions still arise at different eras in the farthest habitable reaches of the earth, as Christ builds His temple, those in who the Holy Spirit inhabits.

But (Matthew 19:29) they would also gain the family of God, Christ’s Church. Serving Christ will cost you something but look to what’s given. “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” – Matthew 19:29. Don’t dismiss the blessings of an intact blood family in the New Covenant; that’s the exception, we think, to the rule.

But what of the Church?

“29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.” – Luke 13:29-30

As Christ brings in His Church, calling and choosing who He will, the parallel verses in Luke draw the best application for us today. We mustn’t dismiss how Luke records this first and last statement, for the vision is of the Church in the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus states in Matthew 20:1.

There is a particular thought toward pre-destination in verse 16 of Matthew 20, but that is not of the lost compared to the saved but that among the saved, some are first, not chronologically, but have been called and chosen to more service, working the whole 12 hours of the parable for their just reward, toiling in the heat all day. At the same time, some serve in a less productive role bearing less fruit. Some work continually, called to labor, at war in the world with the spirits of kingdoms seen and unseen, the Holy Spirit always bearing down upon us to produce ever more in the Kingdom of God to bring righteous glory to God the Father through Jesus Christ by planting, watering, and gathering fruit for the Master. “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” – Matthew 20:27. We must never begrudge those whose simple task is to grab low-hanging fruit, called and chosen into the Kingdom, yet they avoid the heat of the day. Their burden is quite simple in the few hours they serve.

And for us, in comfort and ease, are we not the last, the least of the disciples? Millions of Americans have never yet set foot in the vineyard; though Jesus touched their soul, birthing them anew, they are idle sheep being prepared for the coming slaughter.

Built to work, the first man tended the Garden. And today, men are to work in the vineyard of our husbandman. You’re just the person God wants! You’re the exact right one for the tasks of the harvest He has set before you. We see no day, heaven included, where men will not serve. You’re precisely who God has chosen to bring Him glory now and forever, even in the regeneration.

And what of holy God’s divine sovereignty?

You’ve been given a station in the Kingdom by order of the Lawgiver. Shall you question your position or pay, challenging He who created heaven and earth? No, you must glory in His design upon your life. The sovereignty of God overrules all things; laid down by His word before the creation of the worlds, He will keep and protect you ’till the appointed day of just compensation.

“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” – Matthew 20:15

Not only were the works created for God’s delight that you might labor in them, bringing glory to His holy name, but your very soul was created for this exact purpose: His good pleasure to do with as He delights that the Christ of God might glorify the Father in you. In that final hour, your labor accomplished, and your penny due, coming into your regeneration, you shall receive his bounty according to your works. As agreeable as that sounds, no appointments are possible but that Christ sanctifies, blesses, and prospers it; the results and the workers, all creations of God, belong to Him.

Any such crown as you may perceive you will gladly, full of love for Him, thankfulness, and open frame, cast upon the ground at your Sovereign’s feet as all creation sings holy holy holy, for none are noble but the Lamb that was slain and resurrected having all authority to bring us, each one, into the new creation, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” – Revelation 4:11

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You are currently reading "The First and The Last", entry #33615 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Religion and was published January 3rd, 2023 by PGF.

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