October 8, 2017
If today’s Gospel reading sounds familiar, it is because you heard it two weeks ago. It was the reading assigned for that Sunday. But I included it again today as we are beginning our series of messages on some of the “Solas” of the Reformation. We are saved by Christ alone, not because of what we have done but by His grace alone, which we receive through faith alone, not by our works. We know all of this through Scripture alone and because of all of this, we live to God’s glory alone! Today we consider Sola Gratia/Grace Alone.
Sometimes people take offense when we speak about “Grace Alone.” It offends their sense of being able to do things on their own. It tells you that you need help, and some people don’t want to hear that. But Grace tells us some things we need to know.
· It points to Christ, who gives you what you don’t deserve
· It points at you and reminds you that we are undeserving
As I said, by nature, people don’t like to hear this. We like to think that we can merit stuff, that we earn what we have. Often times that starts at an early age. “If you behave, you can have ice cream later.” There were plenty of times in my life when I heard that and didn’t get ice cream. And the reason was I DIDN’T BEHAVE! I didn’t earn it, so I didn’t get it. Other times, I did merit a reward, and I got it. We learned that is how the world thinks and operates. At least we think that is how things should work.
· I’ve worked hard. Can I get a promotion?
· I’ve served faithfully. Can I get some recognition?
· I’ve raised my kids right. Doesn’t that deserve something?
And when things don’t work out this way, we are offended. That is the point of this parable about grace.
Matthew 20:1-7 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
Jesus tells a story about harvest time in Galilee. The landowner needed help to harvest his crop, so he goes out early to the marketplace. This is an open air marketplace called an agora where goods are bought and sold. And there were day laborers there looking for work. The landowner finds a group and hires them. These were the people who were willing and eager to find work. After all, they got up early to be there as soon as potential employers came looking. And these first hires considered themselves fortunate to be hired first thing in the in morning – at 6 a.m. They wanted to work and they agreed to do so for the going rate, a denarius. This would be about $15 by today’s standard, which was not a lot, but they were willing and jumped at the chance.
It soon became obvious to the landowner that he needs more workers. So he goes out at 9 am and he sees more people at the marketplace. These guys got there when it opened, not before. He figures they will do okay, so he hires them. Note that when they agreed to work, the text doesn’t state their wages. He simply says he will pay them “Whatever is right.” So the question is: What is right? This parable is based on the fact that we think we know the answer to that question. To our way of thinking, they will not earn the same as those hired earlier. They will get something less. But is that what is right?
He goes out again at noon, three, and five and all three times, he finds more people. But these are not the kinds of people you want to hire, right? They seem less motivated, not wanting to get up early to look for work. But he hires them anyway.
6 pm comes. It’s time to go home. And it’s also time for the checks to be passed out.
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 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.
I’m not a Spurs fan, but Manu Ginobli is a tricky, crafty player. He completely faked out Kevin Garnett. It looks like he’s going to pass it, but no! Instead he makes an easy layup. This parable is a pass fake. It looks like one thing is going to happen, but no! Everyone gets a denarius. But why? It doesn’t make sense. And the workers who came early in the morning don’t like it.
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.’ Matthew 20:11-12
A couple of years ago Cheryl and I were flying out to Arizona to visit our kids there. We usually fly Southwest, but this time we were on another airline because we got a better deal on the tickets. The flight was very crowded, but we had assigned seats so we were not concerned, even though we were in the last group to board. When we finally got in line, the desk agent asked if there was anyone who had two seats together that would be willing to exchange those seats with a mother traveling with her child who could not get seats together. I looked at Cheryl and she said, “Sure, why not!” So I walked up to the counter with our tickets and said we would exchange them with the mother. The agent took my tickets and thanked me, but she did not give me two separate seats. Instead, she gave me two tickets in First Class, and they were right next to each other! I don’t know why she did not give those to the mother, but I wasn’t complaining. I got premium seats for the same price people sitting in coach had paid! The people sitting in coach might have complained if they knew the deal we got.
I would guess the workers hired at the end of the day felt like we did – they got an upgrade the did not earn or deserve. But they took it, happily. The ones who worked all day complained. So the owner responded.
13 “He answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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?’” Matthew 20:13-15
The land owner wants to be generous. He can do what He wants with what is His. And that is Grace: God’s generosity to people who do not deserve it. This parable gives us an important lesson about God’s Grace.
1. Grace is not based on merit.
Remember last year when Tony Romo held that press conference conceding that Dak Prescott had earned the starting job, even though Romo was healthy enough to play again? He stated, “Football is a meritocracy.” In other words, you get what you deserve. You have to earn your position. And most of us understand the world in the same way. You get what you deserve. However, this parable tells us that our relationship with God is not a meritocracy. Grace is not based on the merit of the receiver, but on the generosity of the giver.
By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone.
2. Grace is appreciated by sinners.
Those who understand that we deserve nothing but punishment from God are the ones who truly appreciate God’s grace. That point is driven home in a short parable that Jesus shared with a Pharisee named Simon.
Luke 7:41–43 41 “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Both people owed a debt that was insurmountable for them, even though one was 10 times greater. And that is our situation because of sin. All of our debts are astronomical because of sin, something we can never pay. But some of us think our debts are not as big of a deal as some other debts. The reality is that one sin is more debt than we could ever pay. And when you think that your sin is not that big of a deal, you miss the glory and greatness of grace! It is only when you realize just how sorry you are that you will appreciate just how generous God is!
Our only hope is in what Christ accomplished for us, in our place, having lived a perfect life, which He offered up on the cross, shedding His blood to pay our debt, and giving that to us freely. That is Grace.
As we remember and prepare to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, part of the heritage we have is the understanding that God’s Word comes to us in Law and Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and gives us the guidelines for how God would have us live, but it always tells us we are not deserving of anything good from God, that we have a debt we cannot pay. That is why Grace is so important. Along with the Law, God gives us the Gospel message of all Jesus has done for us. God gives us forgiveness and hope and life, not because we deserve it, but because Jesus earned it for us. That was the message of the Reformation, and that is the message of Sola Gratia.