1-31-21 Septuagesima

Bible Text: Matthew 20:1-16 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Gesima 2021 | Jesus presents working in the vineyard as a privilege. What else are you going to do? Sit in the marketplace with nothing to do, worthlessly whiling away the time? And it is a privilege to work in the church, which is what the vineyard represents. By work in the church I don’t mean what Pastor Richard and I do. I mean what every Christian does. We come to hear the Word of God every Sunday. We come to eat the body and blood of Jesus. We live the Christian life, we pray, we repent of our sins, we learn to obey our Lord’s commandments, we suffer the crosses God puts in our lives, we forgive as we have been forgiven. This is what it means to be called to work in the vineyard. And it’s an absolute privilege. All of it. Some of what we do will seem like no work at all, eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus, what Jesus tells us to do often and what we look forward to with sighs fast thronging, and these are like picking grapes in the cool of the evening. Some will be hard, some will hurt, some will force us to pray, Thy will be done, and will test us, and these are like working in the heat of the day. But simply to be called to work, that is, to be called to be a Christian, a child of God, and to act like it, this is so far and beyond the greatest blessing imaginable, that to choose instead to live an aimless and worthless life outside of the church should be unthinkable.

All Christians are called to work, but we’re not rewarded for our work. We’re rewarded because of God’s grace. He chooses to give the same to the one who does hardly any work as to the one who spends his whole life in work. Because our work doesn’t earn anything. It’s quite the opposite. Your work isn’t the cause of your salvation; it’s the result of your being saved. It’s not your entrance ticket into the Kingdom, it’s what you get to do once Jesus brings you into the Kingdom. In other words, Jesus has earned you the right, the privilege, to work. He’s earned you the honor to be and to live as a child of God. It’s His work, His suffering, His death, His blood, His prayers and sighing, His taking not simply the heat of the day but the fire of God’s wrath against every wicked thought and word and work that have stained our hearts, His matchless sacrifice and love, that have won us our Father’s grace and favor and the Kingdom in which we live.

Those who work the whole day in the vineyard forget why they’re working in the first place. They begin to think their work deserves something. Especially when the work doesn’t seem so pleasant anymore, doesn’t seem so light. Like the people of Israel in the desert of Sinai, after God provided everything for them and worked a wonderful salvation, they complain, they give up the race, lose all endurance, because they take their eyes off the goal, off of Jesus, who is our everything. They’re a warning to us Christians working in the church, striving to be good members, good givers of offerings, good fathers and mothers, good, chaste, unmarried men and women, good children, good workers, good husbands and wives. You turn your eyes away from the Master, away from the Lord, you turn your eyes away from Him and His grace and His love and the great privilege that at the end of the day, and in the middle of it, and every single second of it, in everything you work and everything you suffer, He is yours and you are His, that His blood has perfected your work and covered all faults and cleansed all sin and filled every lack and will relieve every sorrow, and you keep your eyes fixed instead on your work and what you do and how others, those ever annoying others, don’t work as hard and don’t deserve as much, then you end in bitterness and you turn what God meant for good into torture and complaint.

What a beautiful and necessary warning from our Lord Jesus. Let’s pay attention. He speaks for our good, because He loves us. Keep your eyes on Him and on His suffering and His grace, His undeserved love for you, and everything you do as a Christian, from coming to church to being a faithful mom or dad or son or daughter will seem not like a chore but what they really are, the glory of living in God’s kingdom. This is what you get to do. You get to know and do what it means to be human, to be created in God’s image, to reflect His love, even to suffer as your Lord Jesus suffered. What could possibly be greater?

Jesus doesn’t tell this parable out of the blue. Peter just heard Jesus tell a rich young man to give up all his riches, sell everything he had, and give it all to the poor, and come follow him. And when the rich young man went home sad, Peter heard Jesus say those remarkable words, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. So Peter says, Look, Lord, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have? Now, you would think Jesus would stop Peter in his tracks and, like He’s done so many times before, rebuke him and correct him. Say, no, Peter, you don’t understand, you don’t earn a thing, it’s all by my grace. Whatever I give you it will be because I bleed for it, not because you earned it or gave up things for me, but because I gave up my life for you. But Jesus doesn’t. He saves that for later. Instead He lets Peter know how much He values good works. It’s a beautiful thing. He doesn’t say, “What will you have? You have no business asking that, you filthy sinner, you deserve nothing.” No, he shows that He’s actually pleased when Christians live the Christian life. So he tells Peter what he’ll have. He says that Peter and the rest of the apostles will sit on twelve thrones and judge with Jesus Christ Himself on the last day. And then Jesus goes further and says that everyone who leaves behind houses or mothers or fathers or wives or children or lands for Jesus’ sake, will receive a hundredfold on earth and eternal life in the world to come.

Jesus, in other words, is more than happy to praise the good works of Christians. He loves them and cherishes them. For the rich young man, Jesus demanded that he abandon everything and come and follow him. That’s because the rich young man was addicted to his money. Loved it more than the poor and more than Jesus. And so he needed to get rid of the idol that chained him. And for you, it’s whatever chains your heart. Throw it off. Your Lord Jesus is better. More important. And more than this, He gives rest, and fulfillment, and eternal contentment in God our Creator, He is the goal of human existence. So anything and everything and anyone and everyone who stands in the way of him is not just an impediment but an enemy. In our day and in our America, this is so often money. There’s a reason that Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Money gives us easy access to every desire. And it puffs us up, makes us feel more important. In America we seem to think that the more money we have, the more stuff we should have. Jesus says the more money you have the more you should give. Why is it that we think that our standard of living should go up more and more the more we make? As if it will ever stop? Why not just be content? Why not the more you make the more you give to the church and to the poor? There is a real risk here, and Jesus pegged it with this rich young man. If we are not content with what God gives us, if we are constantly thinking we need what we want and what money can give us, we are not using money, we are trusting it, enjoying it, glorying in it, and this, if it doesn’t altogether tear us away from Jesus, will stunt our growth as Christians, as humans, as men and women created in God’s image. So don’t love money. Jesus told the young man to sell all he had. He hasn’t told you to do that. But he has told you to follow Him. And you cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money. If we could have on our lips the prayer of David, who after giving 3000 talents of gold and 7000 talents of silver, and after the people of Israel gave generously of their riches, for the building of the Temple, thanked God that God so honored them as to let them give their money and praise to Him! Isn’t that amazing! HE says, “Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer these things willingly?” And this is the perspective we need, this is why David is called a man after God’s own heart, that we get to serve God, sacrifice our riches, that we get to pray to him, get to hear his word, get to live by it. We get to work in the vineyard.

It’s remarkable that when Peter says that he’s left everything and followed Jesus, Jesus doesn’t correct him. Because we know that Peter still owns a house. It’s in Capernaum. Jesus has stayed in it, healed Peter’s mother-in-law in it. And we know that Peter hasn’t abandoned his wife. St. Paul says that not only does Peter have a wife, but he brings her along when he goes on his trips. And we know that after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and some other disciples still own their fishing boats, are still fishing, still own their businesses. They haven’t given up all their property, they haven’t left their calling as husbands, they haven’t stopped making money. But Peter can honestly and truly say that he and the rest of the disciples have left everything to follow Jesus. And Jesus agrees with Peter when he says it. Because every Christian can say this. It’s a matter of the heart. They love Jesus. They trust in Him. They would give up everything for him, and everything they do they do for him. And Peter may do and say some really stupid stuff, which of us doesn’t, which of us hasn’t, but Jesus wants to make clear to us that He absolutely loves to see the fruits of our faith, see that we trust in Him and try to do His will, even if we fumble about doing it.

This is why Jesus is always looking for fruit. Already in the Old Testament He’s looking for it. What more could I do for my vineyard, the Lord Jesus says, when he weeps that when he came to look there were nothing but thorns? And when He sees the faith of the centurion or the faith of the Syro-phoenician woman, he sees the fruits of the faith, their beautiful confessions, their love for their children, their confession of His love for them, and He wonders at this fruit and praises it. Even St. Paul tells the Philippians that he doesn’t need the fruit of their faith, but he’s so happy to see that it’s there, because it gives joy to God in heaven. So don’t ever think that because you are saved by grace, therefore what you do and how you live doesn’t matter. It’s exactly the opposite. Because God loves you so dearly, because your Lord has sought you out and made you His own, because He gives you everything you don’t deserve, righteousness instead of guilt, love instead of anger, eternal life instead of punishment, because He has called you into His Kingdom, He loves your works and He wants you to work them in joy.

So the parable He tells puts everything into perspective. It’s all by grace. God’s underserved love. At the end of the day, at the end of your life, when the Lord Jesus comes in His glory, you will receive the reward He has earned, that He gives freely, that you have by faith now. It won’t depend on your works, it will depend on the blood shed for you and now put in your mouth. But in the meantime, you work. You live the Christian life. Live it like you’re picking grapes in the cool of the evening. Even when it seems hard, when you feel the sacrifice, when it hurts. Because you live it with sins forgiven, in communion with your Creator, knowing your eternal future, with your Lord and Master smiling on you and with you. And believe what your Lord Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And find your rest, and your shade from the heat and all trouble, in Him who is your fortress and your eternal refuge. Amen.

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