First and Last (Matthew 20)

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Service Notes

Septuagesima + February 17, 2019
  • Order of Service: Divine Service 3
  • Hymns: HYLS #19, LSB #566, 637, 923

Theme Verse

So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:16)

Sermon Text

As we prepare for our entry into the journey of Lent, we have these three Sundays that bring out the three solas of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. This morning's parable gives us one of the greatest examples of Jesus teaching salvation by grace alone.

The master of a vineyard goes out at different times of the day to hire workers for his vineyard. He goes out first thing in the morning. Again, he goes out at the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours. Different workers are hired at each of those times. But each worker receives the same wage.

To relate it to the Christian life, Jesus brings salvation to everyone at different times in their earthly life. He begins when we are born. Parents bringing infants to the font. Others are brought later in childhood. Other are brought in as young adults. This is becoming more common today because many young adults haven't been raised in Church. They don't know what Christianity truly teaches. They only know the lies society tells them. Others come, you could say, as part of a mid-life crisis. They have lived in this world for decades and know that all the world's promises are "vanity and striving after the wind."[1] They are fed up with the world's emptiness and embrace Jesus' fullness. Still others come at the very last moments of their life. We don't hear too much about death bed conversions except for criminals on death row, especially the repentant thief on the cross.[2] But is their salvation any different than the infant who was baptized in the hospital moments after birth? Absolutely not! And there is one reason why salvation is the same no matter how long you've been a Christians. That reason is Jesus.

At all times of life, there is still only one Master. Only one Jesus. He holds salvation. There is no salvation outside of Jesus.[3] He gives it away. And He gives it away for free. You don't receive salvation because of anything you do. Nothing you do grants you salvation. Jesus gives it to you by grace alone, as seen from this morning's parable.

Everyone who works in the vineyard receives the same pay. Whether they have worked for one hour or twelve. Each receives a denarius.[4] The payment agreed upon when they were hired. The master of the vineyard offered those who were hired in the first hour a denarius.[5] When he went out the other times, he offered them "whatever is right."[6] Salvation is no different from someone who is baptized moments after they are born than someone who is baptized at 100. There aren't different levels of Heaven based on the length of time you've been a Christian. Jesus said to the repentant thief, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise."[7] There is only one Heaven. Only one reward for faith.

Why is there only one reward? Because Christ is the reward. Jesus treats first and last the same. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter when you are called. You could be a great missionary Apostle like Paul.[8] Abraham speaking face-to-face with God.[9] A parent faithfully surviving those wonderful toddler years and the recurrence in the teenage years. A faithful saint who has no way to bless anyone except through folded hands. None of this matters to your salvation. All of this is a fruit of your salvation. Grown in you through the measure of faith the Holy Spirit has given you.[10] He made you as one of the last, but He loves you the same as He does the first. Jesus loves you just as much as any of the great saints we read about in the Bible. Everyone, whether first or last, receives Christ's reward of salvation.

And no one receives anything different. No more. No less. Salvation is by Christ's grace alone. You only have it because He gave it to you. Jesus as you have received every good thing in this world. All by grace alone. The workers who were hired first forgot that part of their life. They thought they were entitled to more because they had done more work.[11] They resented the master for making the last workers hired equal to them. But what does the master say? "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?"[12]

He makes everyone equal. Everyone who believes in Christ are sheep in His pasture.[13] Each of us receives the same reward. None of us can look down on anyone else because they haven't earned their place in Jesus' pasture. You didn't earn your place either. It was given to you by the one who called you to faith. You were nothing special when Jesus called you.[14] In fact, you wanted nothing to do with Him when He called you.[15] But He graciously called you anyway.

He offered you the reward. He continues to hold out the reward to you even when you grumble and complain against Him.[16] When the Israelites complained about their lack of water in the wilderness, did God abandon them? Of course not! Even though they were angry that He had brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness, He gives them water from the rock.[17] Later, He gives them manna and quail.[18] Not because they complained. Because He is gracious.

Wherever the Prophets describe God, one refrain is repeated: "He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."[19] This is the Master we serve. A gracious and loving master who makes everyone equal. Even when we gripe and complain against Him, He still holds out His reward to us. He graciously makes us equal with everyone who believes in Him. Whether you are one of the great pillars of faith or someone who struggles with even the most basic doctrines.

Look at those great pillars of the faith. Abraham and Moses were cowards.[20] Peter kept putting his foot in his mouth.[21] All the disciples were scared out of their wits on Easter evening.[22] No one really understood what Jesus had been saying. But they aren't alone. Luther was worried whether he was following and obeying Christ's Gospel properly or not. C.F.W. Walther wondered if the move to America was worth it or not. These pillars had their doubts. You have your doubts. But Jesus is above all doubts. He is above griping and complaining. His grace knows no limits. It has no boundaries. It is as eternal as He is.

Are you first or last? It doesn't matter. You are Christ's and it is all by His grace. Jesus tells the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard to show those who want to earn their way into Heaven and restrict access to those they consider inferior or unworthy. Jesus makes you worthy. He makes the first and the last equal. And He does it through grace alone. Amen.


  1. Ecclesiastes 2
  2. Luke 23:39-43
  3. Acts 4:12
  4. Matthew 20:9-12
  5. Matthew 20:1-2
  6. Matthew 20:4
  7. Luke 23:43
  8. ??
  9. ??
  10. ??
  11. Matthew 20:10
  12. Matthew 20:15
  13. Psalm 95:7
  14. ??
  15. ??
  16. Exodus 17:2-3
  17. Exodus 17:6
  18. ??
  19. Joel 2:13; etc.
  20. ??
  21. ??
  22. ??