Today’s Bible reading includes some familiar words from Jesus:
“So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16 CSB) The context of His comments is the conclusion of a story of vineyard workers who grumbled about their paycheck. Now, there’s another hot topic!
Some of the day-laboring vineyard workers were hired early in the morning. Some were hired three hours later (
At the end of the day, the owner of the vineyard prepared to pay their wages by lining up the workers from those most recently hired to those hired at the beginning of the day. Those who worked only a couple of hours were paid a day’s wage. Those who worked three hours were paid a day’s wage. Those who worked six hours were paid a day’s wage. And those who had worked all day long were paid a day’s wage.
Those who were hired early in the day complained that they had been cheated. They slaved throughout the heat of the day. But the people who only worked one hour were paid as much as they were. That isn’t fair, they said.
We tend to describe “fairness” on our terms, especially when we’re the ones who were shortchanged. Based on Matthew’s account, it does seem unfair that all of the workers were paid the same, though they didn’t work the same.
So we need to dig a little further. We find that the key to understanding the last/first, first/last statement can be seen in verses 13-15.
“He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’ Matthew 20:13–15 (CSB)
The owner of the vineyard reminded the grumbling workers that it was his vineyard and they had agreed on the wages before the work began. Then, he pointed out that he had upheld his end of the contract. Besides, it was his vineyard! He owned the vineyard and they were merely paid workers.
How do you respond when you feel you have been treated unfairly? If we focus on us, it’s easy to get all bent out of shape. But we gain a better perspective when we back up and get the big picture.
When it comes to our salvation, we bring nothing to the table. We have absolutely nothing of any value to contribute. We owe an insurmountable debt to an infinitely holy God. God owes us nothing. Nothing! We … all of us … deserve eternal punishment from the King of the Universe because of our offense of High Treason.
God is the King in His Kingdom. He calls the shots. He makes the decision. It’s all about Him. It isn’t about us.
God owes you nothing but punishment for your sin.
But in His infinite grace and mercy, He grants forgiveness. He grants a pardon to all who put their trust in Him. Everyone who receives His grace and mercy receives an infinite amount to cover their infinite debt. No one receives more than any other because no one is any more deserving than another.
In Matthew 20, the disciples wanted priority over each other. Sometimes we do the same today. And when we do, we need to remember this chapter and realize that to grumble against God’s goodness demonstrates how much we still need to learn about grace!
Jesus gives us more than we ask.
In today’s Bible reading, Jesus encounters lots of people and heals many of them. He begins with some men bringing a paralytic on a stretcher. Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. (Matthew 9:2)
But wait, his friends only brought him to be healed! Why would Jesus tell him that his sins were forgiven? Neither the man nor his friends asked for forgiveness. Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven because He knew that healing the man’s paralysis wasn’t his greatest need.
Matthew concludes Chapter Nine with Jesus telling the disciples that the fields are ready for harvest. He’s looking at the spiritual need, having met the people’s physical needs.
Too often we become shortsighted, concerned about things that really aren’t the main things. How often we overlook the most important things, like our spiritual health.
Don’t get me wrong. Physical health is a big deal, especially if you or a loved one is dealing with physical issues. But in the grand scheme — in light of eternity — our physical lives can be compared to our breath vapor on a cold day. What is most important is our spiritual health.
Lots of people watch what they eat. Many make a trip to the gym a part of their day. How about you? Are you being a good steward of your body?
But like I said, the bigger issue is your spiritual life. So what are you doing to steward that? Are you spending time every day praying? I’m not asking if you are “saying your prayers.” Are you conversing with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe — your “Papa” — every day?
Jesus tells us the right way to give, pray, and fast in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his instructions in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” (CSB)
He lists three Spiritual Disciplines — probably the most public of the Disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting. He doesn’t say, “If you give”, “If you pray” or “If you fast”. He assumes that we will do these things “when” or “whenever“.
Each of these activities is important for a growing Christian life. Jesus warns us to not do these three things like hypocrites do; they do them so that they will be recognized by
Jesus says that if we give, pray, and fast — only in public, like the hypocrites do — we will receive our reward just like they do: in public by the people we’re trying to impress. Jesus says, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. But you won’t get any recognition from God.
I’ve said many times before, it’s all about relationship. Religion looks good. “Good works” looks good. But Jesus tells us plainly in today’s reading that our focus should be on our relationship with God and His Kingdom, not ourselves and our kingdoms. (Matthew 6:33)
Jesus cautions His followers that if we want to be recognized by God for our giving, our praying, and our fasting, we need to do them in secret, where only God knows what we’re doing. And then God will give His reward.
The bottom line is, whose applause do you want? Whose recognition do you want? Whose approval do you want?
Today’s Bible reading is the beginning of The Sermon on the Mount. Throughout the Sermon, Jesus gives some very practical behaviors that believers should strive to emulate, not to give you a right standing before God, but because you have a right standing before God.
Hidden in today’s reading from Matthew 5, we find a striking statement. Don’t miss it!
So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23–24 (CSB)
Jesus says that our relationships with other people need to be right and healthy before we give an offering to God. In fact, he adds that we should do everything we can to have a good relationship with our adversaries. (Matthew 5:25-26)
How are your relationships with your friends? Your family? Your spouse? Your coworkers? Your superiors/inferiors at work? How are your relationships with others in your church?
How are your relationships with people who seem to always know which buttons to push to push you over the edge?
You will never grow in intimacy with God if there’s something within your control that isn’t right with someone else. Yes, it’s that important!
In today’s Bible reading in Acts 8, we are introduced to a Samaritan sorcerer named Simon. For a long time, Simon had amazed people with his magic. And then he heard the gospel. Simon and many other Samaritans responded to the gospel message and were saved. (Acts 8:13) Simon began to follow Philip, watching God do marvelous, miraculous things!
The Apostles in Jerusalem could hardly believe their ears! Samaritans have been saved?! Peter and John went to check it out and learned that the Samaritans had been baptized in Jesus’ name, but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.
Now, I don’t want to get into the discussion here of Holy Spirit baptism as being simultaneous vs. subsequent to salvation. I don’t have the space or time to get into that right now.
When Simon saw that the Samaritans received the Spirit (there were obviously physical signs), he was amazed and offered money for the “authority” to bestow the Spirit by laying his hands on people. (Acts 8:19)
Peter sharply rebuked Simon (Acts 8:20-23) who immediately repented deeply of his sin.
So what was Simon’s sin? All he did was ask to be able to lay hands on people so they could receive the Holy Spirit. What’s wrong with that? That sounds like a noble request, doesn’t it?
Peter said that Simon’s heart was not right with God. Simon’s heart condition resulted in his offer of money in exchange for the authority.
Transactional religion is dangerous. Unfortunately, people practice it all the time, often without even realizing it!
Transactional religion resembles a vending machine. You give the machine money and the machine gives you a soda.
The most obvious example would be someone who asks God to save their dying child and telling God they’ll go on the mission field in exchange. But there are far more subtle ways that believers practice transactional religion. We read our Bible, study our Bible, memorize verses from our Bible, pray, fast, etc. “believing God” for blessings of one form or another. Yes, there is a blessing that comes from doing all of these spiritual disciplines. but God is not obligated to do anything for us!
Perhaps having an attitude that God is indebted to us for something that we do demonstrates that we don’t really understand what the Gospel is all about!
The Gospel has nothing to do with us doing anything. It is all about all that Jesus has already done for us. It’s a very unfair exchange: All of our sin, rebellion, alienation, and lostness in exchange for Jesus’ holiness, righteousness, and forgiveness.
That’s the Gospel. It can’t be bought because it’s free! It can only be received.