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Eleventh Hour Paradox

Just when you think you have Jesus figured out, he says something so mysterious and paradoxical that it puts you back to square one.  He loves Lazarus and then lets him die, only to go to the tomb and bring him back to life.  He tells the Syrophoenician woman that he cannot give meat to the dogs, and then He heals her daughter anyway.  He goes to sleep in the midst of the storm that scares His disciples half to death, then calms the storm and upbraids them for their lack of faith. 

Matthew 20:1-16 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. 8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. 9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. 11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Ephesians 2:4-9 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

This parable about the eleventh hour laborers flies in the face of our sense of fairness.  Anyone who has ever worked in the labor force for a wage knows that a worker ought to be paid according to the amount of work done.  

Imagine, then, how those who worked all day long felt when they found out that the Johnny-come-latelies were paid the same amount they were.  The pay for the ones who just showed up for the last hour of the day was the same as those who worked for twelve long hours.  Either this was an inexcusable miscarriage of justice, or Jesus was expressing a profound spiritual truth.  Most of you know it had to be the latter.

It’s All About God and the Kingdom of Heaven

The first truth we need to understand is that this is not about business practices or labor unions.  It is not about a fair wage or how vineyards are to be operated.  This is about the kingdom of heaven.  

Pardon me if I get too preachy right off the bat, but I have something very direct to say to you today.  

Everything in your life must be about the Kingdom of Heaven.  To every new convert, never lose sight of the fact that it is all about the Kingdom of Heaven.  To those who have served the Lord for a number of years, it is very possible—in fact, probable—that you slowly and almost imperceptibly, have filtered the spiritual and godly out of your daily lives.  I have come to ask you some questions. 

Has your life become more and more about you and less and less about God?

Are you living in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of Earth?  Has the God who saved you become the God who annoys you? Has the church of the Firstborn become the family that bothers you?

Have the worship that once inspired you now become the rituals that bore you?

Has your cheerful giving turned into begrudging payments?

Have your hours of prayer become your seconds of silence?

It does not matter how high you rise in this life; it does not matter how self-sufficient you become;

It does not matter how many important people you know; it does not matter the number of degrees you earn;

Not pride, not prestige, not wealth, not security, not money, not position.


You will never associate with a greater group of people than your brothers and sisters of this like precious faith!  You will never engage in a greater mission than the one the church is involved in today! 

Ephesians 3:14-21 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
The Kingdom of Heaven is more important than your job.

The Kingdom of Heaven is more important than your club, clique, association, union or party.

The Kingdom of Heaven is more important than your overtime, side jobs, pastimes or leisure activities.

David said, “I was glad when they said it unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

Standing Idle

These words—standing idle—have almost a sinful ring to them.  There was a harvest to be gathered, and yet there were those standing idle.  Standing idle doesn’t mean that these men were incapacitated in some way.  It didn’t mean that they lacked the basic training to do the work.  Standing idle implies that they were wasting the time and opportunity afforded them to do some productive work.


What exactly does it mean to be “idle”? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes idleness as “groundless”, “worthless”, “useless”, “not occupied or employed”, “inactive”, “lazy” and finally to “spend time doing nothing”. In the Bible, GOD condemns the behavior of being idle.

Romans 13:11-14 11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

“But,” you say, “I don’t have time!” 

If you have time for “surfing the internet”, you have time for GOD.
If you have time for hobbies, you have time for GOD.

If you have time for pets, you have time for God.

If you have time for sports, you have time for God.
If you have time to rent DVD’s, you have time for GOD.
If you have time to goof off with your friends, you have time for GOD.

It takes 2-3 minutes to read one chapter in the Bible.

It takes 5 minutes to pray for five people.

It takes 2 minutes to make a call to someone to invite them to church.

It takes 2-3 minutes to send an email or text someone.

It takes 1-2 hours a week to visit a shut-in or make a hospital visit.

It takes 10 minutes to send a card to someone.


We may not have the time to do everything we want to do.

We do have the time to do everything we need to do!

The Bucket

Here is a good illustration given by a teacher to his class.  The teacher pulled out a small bucket and set it on the table in front of him. He then pulled out several fist-sized rocks and carefully piled them into the bucket. When the bucket was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit in, he asked, “Is this bucket full?” 

Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”

The teacher said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a sack of gravel and dumped some into the bucket, and shaking it, he caused the pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

He smiled and asked his class, “Is the bucket full?”

By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered.” “Good,” he replied. Again, he reached under the table and brought out a sack of sand. He started dumping the sand into the bucket and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked, “Is this bucket full?” “No,” the class shouted. Again, he said, “Good.” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began pouring it into the bucket until it was full to the brim. 

Then he asked, “What is the point of this illustration?” One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you really try hard, you can always fit some more things into it.”

The teacher replied, “No, that’s not the point. The point is: if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

Contract or Discretion 

Now, I want to take you a step further in this parable.  I saw something in it the other day that I had never paid attention to prior to this.  In fact, I believe this is the key to the very response that the Master of the Vineyard gave, the response that seemed to be so unfair.

Early in the morning, when the Lord of the Harvest went out to the marketplace to hire workers, you will notice that he promised them one denarius, or about $20 for the day.  It was not an arbitrary decision.  It was a contract that both the owner and the laborer agreed upon.  I don’t know if the final wage was offered by the owner or demanded by the worker, but it was definitely the amount that they negotiated. 

At the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hour, something very different happened.  He did not negotiate with the workers.  In fact, he did not quote them a wage at all.  He said something very different, something that violates the bargaining instincts of most workers. 

Matthew 20:4 (KJV) And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

“Whatsoever is right.”  They went to work based on trust.  They trusted that the owner of the vineyard would not cheat them out of a fair wage.  They had missed out on the initial hiring, so they had no expectation of receiving $20.  If you think about it, the math tells you that they should have gotten $16, $12, $9 and about $1.50 respectively.


Anyone who works alongside of other people knows that eventually everyone finds out what everyone else is making.  The first hires were outraged when they heard that the workers who came later—especially the eleventh hour workers—made over thirteen times what they did! 


They complained to the owner, but their protests got them nowhere. 


Matthew 20:9-14 (NIV)
9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.
10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.
11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.
12 ‘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 the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?
14 Take your pay and go.

Do you know why?  Because, before they picked a single cluster of grapes, before they filled a single bushel, they knew what they were going to get.  They had already agreed on the price.  Their fellow workers, however, left their wages up to the Master. 


Don’t ever try to bargain with God.  If you have something in your mind that you think God should do for you, you will always underestimate Him.  When you leave the wages up to the Master, He will always do you right.  In fact, He will always do more for you than you expect.


Matthew 20:14-16  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.
15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This is a critical point in the parable, and in the message today.  Hear me well.


The world is the vineyard and the church supplies the laborers.  There are some in the church who have been serving God all of your life.  You’ve given, you’ve sacrificed, you’ve worked hours and hours, and you’ve attended thousands of services and endured—I mean heard—thousands of sermons. 


Others who have just joined us have not put in a fraction of that time working for God.  They may have been standing idle in the marketplace most of the day.  Now, you feel like you should be given greater consideration for your pay.


I don’t think most of us complain about receiving less than others get.  I think we are happy that others receive the remission of sins when they are baptized in Jesus’ Name, and when they get the joy of the Holy Ghost as God fills them to overflowing.


But we do have a problem with something else.  We often think that we deserve better treatment from God than we do.  In fact, I believe the single greatest factor in discouragement, hurt, and bitterness is when we feel that God allowed something bad to happen to us—something that we don’t think we deserved.  It’s why many people become atheistic or agnostic.


I can’t tell you the number of times people have shaken their heads and said, “I just don’t understand it.  I’ve served God all these years.  I’ve paid my tithes.  I’ve lived according to the teachings of the Bible.  I’ve been faithful to church.  Why is this happening to me?


And guess what?  I’m only human.  I end up sympathizing with the laborer!  I see their point.


Yes, I would like to question why.  Why were the incredible missionaries, the Willoughbys, stricken with cancer after they had done such an unbelievable job in Singapore?  Why did Sister Melissa Anderson, secretary of the Ladies Ministries for so long, lose her life in that terrible accident on the way home from General Conference?  Why did one of the greatest men I know, Bro. J. L. Hall, editor-in-chief of the UPCI for so many years lose his mind to Alzheimer’s?


Why did God allow Sister Pat Caudill to have that horrific explosion and reduce her to a frail invalid?  Why did God let this person or that person lose their job when they have a family to feed?  Our standard answer is “We’ll understand it better bye and bye.”

We are tossed and driv’n on the restless sea of time;
Somber skies and howling tempests oft succeed a bright sunshine;
In that land of perfect day, when the mists have rolled away,
We will understand it better by and by.

By and by, when the morning comes,
When the saints of God are gathered home,
We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,
For we’ll understand it better by and by.

We are often destitute of the things that life demands,
Want of food and want of shelter, thirsty hills and barren lands;
We are trusting in the Lord, and according to God’s Word,
We will understand it better by and by.

Trials dark on every hand, and we cannot understand
All the ways that God could lead us to that blessèd promised land;
But He guides us with His eye, and we’ll follow till we die,
For we’ll understand it better by and by.

Temptations, hidden snares often take us unawares,
And our hearts are made to bleed for a thoughtless word or deed;
And we wonder why the test when we try to do our best,
But we’ll understand it better by and by.

You may be thinking, “Pastor, you’ve got us out on a limb.  What’s your answer?”

After all these years, I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the song.  Stop and think about it.  “And we wonder why the test when we try to do our best, but we’ll understand it better by and by.”  It’s like saying, “God, you are being unfair with me, but I’m sure you will explain yourself when I get to heaven!” 

First of all, we desperately need to understand that we deserve nothing from God. 

Romans 3:9-18 (KJV)
9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
17 And the way of peace have they not known:
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Romans 3:19,23 (KJV)
19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

The truth is that we don’t have a right to one blessing, one day in the presence of Jehovah, one drop of grace, one moment of mercy.  Whatever we have, be it material blessings, family relationships, good job, whatever, they are not wages, but God’s divine generosity.

If God should give any of us what we deserve, we don’t stand a chance.

We deserve the same fate as the devil and the fallen angels.

We deserve eternal punishment in a lake that burns with fire and brimstone.

We deserve a total separation from God thoughout the endless ages.


Instead of questioning why something bad has happened to you; you should ask why something worse hasn’t happened!  Think about it:  would you rather have a good job and be lost, or have a bad job or no job and be saved?  Would you rather be perfectly healthy and lose your soul or have poor health and enter into the joys of heaven?

When you sink into a sea of bitterness and rancor because of the supposed inequities of God, you lose your concept of the grace, the mercy and the generosity of God.


Don’t be so worried abour your financial well-being that you forget about the treasures you’ve laid up over there!

Don’t be so concerned about your physical health that you forget about your glorified body over there!


Jesus did not take the repentant thief down from his cross, but He said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise!”


Is It Worth It?


This entire parable was an answer to a question that Peter asked in the previous chapter.


Matthew 19:23-27 (KJV)
23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?

This question that Peter asked is put another way in the Message Bible.

Matthew 19:27 (MSG)
27 Then Peter chimed in, “We left everything and followed you. What do we get out of it?”

The enemy of your soul is always goading you to ask, “So, I’ve served God for x number of years.  What am I getting out of it?” 


It’s a question that comes from frustration, disappointment, unrealized expectations.  It comes from comparing yourself with others that seem to have more, but they are not quite as educated, or skilled, or accomplished as you. 


I want to remind you today what you are getting out of salvation and right living:


You are washed with the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb!

You have a conscience that’s free from condemnation.

Your name is written down in the Lamb’s book of Life.


In the depths of your deepest trial, you have a companion who walks with you every day.

A split second after the trumpet sounds, you will dismiss every misfortune, every trial, every trouble from your mind.  The moment you lay your eyes on the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, your losses in this life will be transformed into gains.


John 14:1-3 (KJV)
1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.


Oft times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear,
We’re tempted to complain, to murmur and despair;
But Christ will soon appear to catch His Bride away,
All tears forever over in God’s eternal day.
      It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
      Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
      One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
      So bravely run the race till we see Christ.


To the eleventh hour workers, Come on!  Join in.  The harvest is too great for us to handle by ourselves.  We need you.  We don’t care how much you get paid.  We don’t resent you.  We don’t want to block you or keep you from being used of God in a great way.

You have a part in this glorious kingdom of God.

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