Sermon for Septuagesima, AD 2022

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus Christ has given you good work to do, and all by grace. While you did not deserve to do anything but idle without any meaning, He has brought you into his vineyard to work, to do something that really eternally matters.

The master of the house in the parable has a vineyard which needs workers. He has work to do. So going into the marketplace he finds men early in the morning, agrees on the wage of one denarius, and sends them off. Later he finds more men idling and sends them off, not agreeing to a wage, but to whatever is right. At the very end of the day, he finds more idle men who haven’t been hired by anyone and sends them into the vineyard, not even mentioning pay.

All the workmen are brought in under slightly different circumstances, and at different times, but one thing is the same – they were once idle and now they have work. Now some may look at work as a bad thing, as something to get past. This is a culture of “working for the weekend” – work is just something done so one can eat and have a home and do the things that one really likes to do. This is not the way that scripture speaks about work. Clearly in this parable the master is doing something good by hiring these men out of idleness into work. Proverbs says that “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15) and “whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, be he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Proverbs 12:11) and “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys” (Proverbs 18:19). It is clear that idleness is not a positive, it brings no gain or help to a person, and therefore for someone to bring people out of idleness is to do a good thing.

Therefore, at the end of the day, when those who were hired first see they are being paid equally to those who were hired last, the reply of the master makes sense. He has done them no wrong. He has given them a job and pay besides for their work. If he had not come, they would merely be sitting idly in the marketplace, one denarius poorer, but also poorer for the lack of work. The work is harder than standing idly in the market, but it’s also more fulfilling. If you’ve ever had a day where you’ve done nothing at all, maybe a day you even looked forward to, and at the end felt kind of empty, you know what I mean.

Maybe you could say the first-hired are not complaining as much about the work as that they are being treated equally to those who worked much less. Isn’t this the same thing, though? The first-hired either are complaining that they would have been better off being idle all day and working one hour for the same pay, or their full day of work is undervalued for what they could have been doing…which is standing idle in the marketplace. See the first hired don’t value the work, they like idleness and they like the pay, and the less work for the more pay the better for them.

Now here you need to remember that the parables are not one-to-one representations of things which really happen in the world. In the real world, the men would not have to work for the particular vineyard owner, but could still work. Maybe they could find another job that was more fulfilling, maybe another job with better pay. So Jesus isn’t saying here that workers should not have fair wages. The Bible speaks many times as well about not oppressing the hired worker. The point in this parable does not concern different jobs, but work versus idleness. These are the only alternatives we have for the story. When you look at it from a spiritual perspective, seeing the kingdom of heaven, having only those two choices makes much more sense.

Spiritually, there are only two options – to be idle, or to be working in Christ’s vineyard. Spiritual idleness is where you are by nature. Due to the sin you inherit at birth, you cannot do anything spiritually that is lasting or pleases God. This does not mean that you are physically idle. In fact, someone can be spiritually idle and doing many great things before the eyes of men. A spiritually idle person can build bridges and fund hospitals, feed the homeless, donate everything he has to the poor, be seen as the most upstanding citizen there is. Yet outside of Christ there is no spiritual work done.

Without Christ life is spiritual idleness, there is nothing to be gained at all. The secular philosophers came to this conclusion in the last century. If we are all just atoms bouncing around, then what value is there to anything? If every accomplishment on earth will be swallowed by an expanding sun and be pulled into a black hole, how can anything have meaning? Some would answer, “just make your own meaning, define your own life.” This is possible as a way to cope, but it’s still dependent on you. When you die, in 100 years when everyone who knew you is dead, it will make no difference how you defined you life.

Only in Christ is anything you do valuable, because in Christ you have been brought into His life and His works. Only He is the one who has defeated sin on the cross and risen from the dead. This He has done so as the master of the vineyard, he can come down and rescue you out of your spiritual idleness. In your baptism into Him you receive both the denarius of eternal life and the promise of good work in the vineyard now. Everything and everyone in this world only deserves death and destruction, but for the work of Christ. Christ took all that we deserved on Himself, the punishment of the Father, and instead brings life, an eternal life of purpose and meaning. You are not random atoms, but you are a new Adam, the first man who was sent to work and tend the garden of Eden.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has restored all work so all good works are eternally important. You to not gain this by the efforts or importance of your own works, but by His free gift to you. Trusting in him, we are the idling workers in the market who he comes to and says “work for me.” All because he chose to do with His things as He saw fit. Not by any merit of your own, but out of his compassion he brought you into this resurrection life. Now whatever you do to serve God and neighbor is eternally important. When you serve your spouse, kids, parents, co-workers, boss, pastor, political leaders, friends – you are doing work which Christ has set you apart and called you out of idleness to do.

This is why the complaint of the first workers is so terrible. Yes, some are called earlier and have more expected of them. Some only hear Christ’s gospel very late in life. Yet all who are called and trust in Christ did nothing to receive it. For it is all by grace, a free gift. Therefore, in the kingdom, there can be no comparison of one’s gift to another. Some will suffer much for Christ. Some will seem to have it easy. Some seem to have gotten away scot-free by only believing at the last minute. But what is that to you? Christ will do with His things what He will.

You have not been called by Christ out of idleness so that you can be better than others or have it easier than others. If that’s what you want, go back to idleness. If you want a life of meaning and purpose, one that eternally matters, trust in Christ and His work. Do not turn to jealousy, but keep your eyes on Christ. Hear his word and receive His gifts. Exercise self-control that you have been given by the Holy Spirit. Remember that the work and even the difficulty is for good, it has eternal importance and an imperishable prize. Amen.

No Comments






1 Corinthians 1 Kings 1 Peter 1 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 10th commandment 2 Corinthians 2 Peter 2 Timothy 2020 4th petition 9th commandment Abraham Acts Adam Advent Ahab and Jezebel All Saints America Andrew Angel of God Annunciation Ascension Assyria Augustine of Canterbury Babel Beatitudes Bede Bethlehem Bible Candlemas Christian life Christmas Christology Christus victor Christ Daniel David Deuteronomy Diet of Worms Easter Eden Egypt Elijah Elizabeth Enoch Ephesians Esau Esther Eve Exodus Ezekiel First Article of the Creed First Article First Commandment Fourth Petition Galatians Genesis Gerhardt Gethsemane Good Friday Gregory the Great Hallmark Hebrews Herod Holy Spirit Holy Week Hosea Immanuel Independence Day Isaiah Israel Jacob James Jeremiah Jerusalem Jesus Jews Job John the Baptist John Jonah Josephus Joseph Judah Judas Iscariot Jude Last Judgment Law and Gospel Lazarus Lent Lord of Sabaoth Lord's Prayer Lord's Supper Lord\'s Prayer Lord\'s Supper Luke Luther Malachi Manna Mark Martha Martin Rinkart Mary Matthew Matthias Maundy Thursday Messiah Micah Moses Name of Jesus Nativity Nicene Creed Nicodemus Noah Old Adam Palm Sunday Passion Paul Pentecost Peter Pharisees Pharisee Philippians Proverbs Psalm 22 Psalms Psalm Real Presence Rejoice Revelation Roman Catholic Romans Rome Ronald Reagan Samuel Sanctus Satan Saul Sea of Galilee Second Coming Sermon on the Mount Seventh Petition Shepherd Simeon Simon Peter Simon Son of God Son of Man St. James the Apostle St. John St. Michael St. Paul Stephen Tampico Thanksgiving Thomas Transfiguration Trinity Triumphal Entry Valentine Word of God Zechariah abortion absolution adoption adversity allegiance almsgiving angels anno domini apostle ashes atonement authority banquet baptism beggars binding of Isaac bread bribe business call catechism ceremonial law children church discipline church growth church militant church triumphant church circumcision circumstance comfort commandments compassion compromise confession confirmation conflict confrontation conscience consolation contentment cornerstone courage covetousness creation cross crucifixion crucifix culture cup deaf death of Jesus death demons descent into hell destruction devil discipleship disciples disciple discipline divine service division doubt dragon election end times endurance envy ephphatha evangelism evil exclusive eyes faithfulness faith fall false prophet false teachers fasting fear feast of tabernacles feast feeding fellowship finite contains the infinite firmament fishing fish flood forgiveness freedom fruit of the Spirit funeral future giving glory of God glory godparents good life gospel government grace healing heaven hell history holiness holy wounds of Jesus hope humility hymn hypocrisy ideology idleness idolatry images incarnation inerrancy infant baptism inspiration intercession invocation of the saints joy judgment justice justification kingdom of God king lamb of God language leniency lepers life lilies love magic magi manger manliness marriage martyr masculinity meaning means of grace meditatio memorial mercy miracles miracle mission mocking money mortification motives music mute mystical union nationalism nations new man ninth and tenth commandments normalcy bias nostalgia nunc dimittis office of the ministry oppression original sin orphan paganism parables parable paraclete paradise paralytic parenting passover patience perfection persecution personality pilgrims plague politics praise prayer preachers preaching presence of Christ pride prison prophecy prophet provision purpose reason redemption reformation refuge regeneration repentance resurrection rock rulers sabbath sacrament sacrifice sanctification scripture second commandment self-denial sermon on the plain sermon serpent sheep sight signs sign sinners sin sixth petition slavery small catechism social trust sparrows spiritual warfare spirituality state of humiliation stewardship steward stone storm student suffering sun teacher temptation ten commmandments throne tiktok time tomb tribulation trust truth two natures typology unbelief victory vindication vocation voice waiting war water weakness wealth wedding wickedness widow will of God wine wisdom wise men witchcraft witness works work worry worship wrath of God