Sermon: Do You Begrudge My Generosity? (Matthew 20)
Order of Service: Divine Service 1
#534, “Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor”
#555, “Salvation unto Us Has Come”
#827, “Hark, the Voice of Jesus Calling”
Location: Triune God, Brooklyn Center, MN
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15)
“God loves a cheerful giver.”12 Corinthians 9:7 We’ve all heard it before. Dozens, if not hundreds, of stewardship sermons have used that verse to help generate more giving in the offering plate. However, this is not THAT kind of stewardship sermon. In this parable, Jesus is not teaching us to be good stewards of what we give. He’s teaching us to be good stewards of what we have been given.
It’s really simple. The master of the house offers a gift. The gift is the same for everyone. We must not grumble about the unfairness of the gift because the gift itself is even more unfair. The master of the house is generous in his gift.
There you go. Everything you need to know about this text. We can go on with the rest of the service now, but you guys pay me to speak for at least another six or seven minutes. I should take that time to unpack it a bit more.
The parable begins with the master of the house coming out and finding workers to go out and work in his vineyard. This offer of work is a gift. The master already has servants, but he is offering to pay others for this work. His servants already work for their sustenance. Their lives are held in the master’s hands. Everything they had came from the master’s good pleasure and grace.
Who is the master of the house? That would, of course, be Jesus. The Psalm tells us, “The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth He has given to the children of man.”2Psalm 115:16 He has given the earth to us as a gift. Although He is “enthroned in heavenly splendor,”3LSB #534.1 He gives material blessings. This was the whole point of man’s Creation. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”4Genesis 2:15
But Jesus doesn’t only give material blessings. Primarily, He gives spiritual blessings. The greatest spiritual blessing is the gift of salvation. We don’t deserve salvation. In fact, we deserve damnation. But Jesus would not let us wallow in our own sins. He came down to earth. Took on our flesh. Gave up that flesh. So that you might be saved.
Jesus offers this same gift to everyone. Just like the master in His parable. Whether the laborers were hired at the first, third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hour, the master offers them a denarius for their work.5Matthew 20:2, 9 There is no difference regarding the gift. Jesus gives the same salvation to everyone who calls on His name. Whether they were baptized as infants or as senior citizens. Whether they walked with Him in the flesh or they believed right before He returns. “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”6Joel 2:32
It also doesn’t matter if you have spent your life helping others or only helping yourself. Pharisees like Nicodemus received salvation from Him.7John 3:1-13; 19:38-42 Tax collectors like Matthew8Matthew 9:9-13 and Zacchaeus9Luke 19:1-10 received salvation from Him.
And He has always done this. St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, “Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.”101 Corinthians 10:1-4 How many of the people who pass through the Red Sea, that were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” also walked through the Jordan River? Two. Somewhere around two million Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Only two saw the wandering come to an end.
Everyone was offered the same gift, but people can’t help but grumble and complain about the gift’s unfairness. The laborers who had been hired first grumbled because they only received a denarius, the same as those who had been hired last.11Matthew 20:10-11 As sinful human beings, we would rather grumble about the circumstances in which we receive Jesus’ gifts. So, He asks us, “Do you begrudge my generosity?”12Matthew 20:15
We find it unfair that miserable wretches can also receive salvation. By nature, we are no different than the Pharisees and Sadducees. They wanted Jesus dead because He taught that anyone can receive forgiveness and life everlasting. In fact, He went so far as to tell them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”13Matthew 21:31 The Pharisees and Sadducees thought it completely unfair that those who purposely and blatantly broke God’s commandments would receive salvation and theirs was in doubt.
We complain and grumble because people who we see as undeserving receive the same gift as us. But the craziest thing is that the gift itself is even more unfair. You and I don’t deserve salvation. Admit it. There are things that you enjoy doing, but they are against God’s will. There are also things in God’s will that you don’t enjoy doing, but God wants them to be done. But Jesus covers all of these sins!
Throughout our worship, we ask for things we don’t deserve. That we haven’t earned. But Jesus has promised them all to us! We can come before Him, as we did in the Confession, and say, “We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us.”14LSB p. 151 What audacity! “We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. … Forgive us?” Why on earth would God forgive us? Why would we ever consider asking that question? Because He has sent Jesus.
Jesus came into our flesh. But He didn’t just take on our skin. He took on our sin. All the sins of all the people past, present and future. Every sin was nailed to His cross. Not one of them was left out. He died so that we might live! Talk about unfair! Jesus gives us salvation by dying our death. Giving us His life. The gift is far more unfair than who receives it.
A few minutes ago, we sang, “Since Christ has full atonement made and brought to us salvation, each Christian therefore may be glad and build on this foundation.”15LSB #555.6 Jesus is very generous with His gift of salvation. Offering it freely to all who will listen to Him.
When the Israelites grumbled that there was no water at Massah and Meribah, God told Moses, “I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”16Exodus 17:6 God shows His generosity in a most dramatic way. Not only did He make water come out of a rock. He made enough water come out so that the two million people would have enough to satisfy their thirst! He had already provided them with manna so that they would not hunger.17Exodus 16 But they will later begrudge His generosity, calling the bread from Heaven “worthless food.”18Numbers 21:5
It is so easy to begrudge God’s generosity in Jesus. Many times, that comes by taking His gift for granted, like the Israelites calling manna “worthless food.” Many times, we take His gift for granted because it is so well-known among us. We’ve heard the message over and over again from sermons and Bible studies. We hear it weekly in the liturgy. It can become so commonplace, but it is important that we keep it before our eyes. It is so easy to begrudge God’s generosity.
And how does He react to that? He forgives. He reconciles us to Himself once again. His generosity knows no bounds! Especially when it comes to the forgiveness of sins that He gives to His children.
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard is really simple to understand. The master of the house offers a gift. The gift is the same for everyone. We must not grumble about the unfairness of the gift because the gift itself is even more unfair. The master of the house is generous in his gift. Praise God that He is that generous master and don’t begrudge His generosity. Amen.