So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, “Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.” and then those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day. But he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to the last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (Matthew 20:8-15 NKJV).
Jesus told this parable to communicate to us one of the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven; or better yet, one of the attributes of God. Wrapped in that single denarius is that five letter word- Grace – that often eludes me and is contrary to the nature of man. I do not mean grace as we define it in the dictionary but as it flows from the Father. The kind of grace that I still do not completely understand but has been alive and active in the world from the very beginning.
According to John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” From that Word came forth grace, which was also manifested in the fullness of Jesus Christ to show us how to be givers of grace; not just receivers of grace. How many times have we sung “Amazing Grace” without really understanding the words? I admit to have done so too many times to recount.
I was recently reminded of how little I understand God’s grace and was convicted in the process. Not long ago I attended the funeral of someone I knew growing up and learned that he had undergone baptism a week before finally succumbing to cancer. I was upset at the idea that someone who spent his entire life focused on doing as he pleased without regard for God, would only now give his life to Christ during his last few days of life. He left no room to serve God, in the same way he didn’t while he was healthy. Even though I readily acknowledged that where his spirit rests is in the hands of God, I was really doing just what the laborers did.
Later I was confronted with this parable, again. Only this time with a rebuke that sunk deep into my being and brought me to my knees. My anger was not justified nor was it righteous, even if I felt it was. God does not need me to come to his rescue, He has that all under control. Without realizing it, I was being what Jerry Bridges calls a “twelve hour worker” in his book “Transforming Grace”.
I was reminded of the thief on the cross, who was united with Christ in heaven after Christ forgave him his sins only hours before he drew his last breath. We may ask, what did the thief do for the kingdom before that day? Even that question points to a misunderstanding of grace. We cannot earn our way into heaven! It is a gift; a gift that has no value to the giver but is to us, invaluable; no value because He gives it freely and without measure. But if we were to answer the question, it would be wise to look at it from the perspective of how what he said that day and Christ’s response to him serves to educate us of His grace today.
So, are you (we) givers of grace or receivers only? The first thief sought only to be saved, the second sought to be forgiven. He was gracious in his words to Christ; he was a giver of grace. As Bridges points out, the parable of the laborers gives us the reaction of the laborers who were there the longest but we can assume that those who only worked one hour were very pleased with the grace the land owner showed them.
I fell into the trap of being a twelve hour worker who felt anger towards what I considered a selfish act, instead of looking to Jesus and rejoicing in His grace; the grace that saves me and you. So how do we receive God’s grace? I am sure God allowed me to have this recent experience as a pre-curser to what I am now studying. It is my joy to point out my own mis-step so that someone, somewhere, can benefit from it in a positive way. I pray that you will recognize and live out His grace in your life and I humbly ask that you do the same for me.