Chardon church of Christ

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First Come First Served

Posted by Chardon in Matthew 20

First Come First Served

Matthew 20:1-16

INTRO:   Good evening.   Continuing our look at the parables of Jesus I would like you to recall we recently looked at the parable of the wicked tenants.   We saw that God has entrusted to man the care of His kingdom.   God had left His tenants in charge of His vineyard, and He gave them everything they needed to do to the work in that vineyard.

The text for today is Matthew chapter 20 verses 1 through 16.   In it we are going to see that everyone He calls upon is entitled to work in His vineyard, no matter where they are from or when they decided to listen to His call.    

This text is sometimes called the parable of “The workers in the vineyard” and we are going to learn that it’s not always a case of “First come, first served”.

In the world today everyone wants service now, and it seems there’s a real lack of humility. Maybe it is our fast passed society, or just that there are so many of us, but we are always in a rush. When you go to the market sometimes it can be a struggle to pay at the checkout because people are rushing, trying to be first in line.  

The attitude of the world is one of expectations, isn’t it?  People expect to be served first even though there were many there ahead of them.  People expect to be treated better than others, especially if they believe they are in a position of importance.    There are times you can understand this.   In England the queen, for example, would expect to be served first wherever she went.   But humility is counter to the way of our, me first, my rights, society. Humility is not just something that Christian’s practice; humility is the lifestyle of a Christian.  As far as society goes I think a recent advertisement by Grubhub sums it up quite well; “I want it all and I want it now.”

Before we begin to find out what Jesus was saying in this parable we first need to understand the background to it.  Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 19:16-25 where we find a rich young man who came to Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him, “Obey the commandments."  The young man asks, “Which ones?”  Jesus said to him, “'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" To which the young man replies, “I have kept them all. What do I lack?”

Jesus tells him.  He says, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." This was too much for the young man, so he went away sad, because he was rich.

Then Jesus talks to His disciples about how hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God and then He goes on to talk about how people can be saved.  He says in Matthew 19:26-30 "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"   Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

It is at this point that Jesus goes on to tell the parable of “The workers in the vineyard” in Matthew 20:1-16.  

Many years ago a young preacher met Dr. Adam Clarke, the great commentator who had produced a wealth of literary treasures. The young man, anxious to emulate the distinguished doctor, asked him how he managed it. "Do you pray about it?" he inquired. "No," the doctor quietly answered, "I get up and start working."


  1. In this parable we find the issue is not how long the people worked in the Lord’s vineyard; the issue in this parable is the spirit in which the work was done.

    1. Notice that there are two types of workers in God’s vineyard.  The first lot are those who came to an agreement with the master.   Jesus said in Matthew 20:1-2“"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. "Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” [NKJV]

      1. These workers agreed to work for Him if they were given the right amount of money.    These first laborers were given a contract, a denarius for a days work.
      2. A second lot of workers came to work for Him later.  Matthew 20:3-7 – “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, `You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And they went.” "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, `Why have you been standing here idle all day?' "They said to him, `Because no one hired us.' He said to them, `You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'”
    2. The difference between these latter workers and those who had an agreement is that they were glad just for the chance to work. To them their pay wasn’t an issue because Jesus said about the landowner, “He would pay them what was right.”
      1. As an aside; you know it’s sad when people think they will only work for God if they get paid enough to do it.  On the other hand, just because some get financial support to work with a congregation, doesn’t mean that they have to do all the work, just because they get paid for it.
      2. But that’s not the point of this parable.   In this parable the workers didn’t get their pay until the work was finished.  Jesus isn’t talking about actually receiving a denarius when we get to heaven.  He’s revealing a spiritual and moral truth to His disciples.   He’s saying that your reward will be the same as mine and that reward is eternal life.
    3. A Christian doesn’t work in God’s kingdom for the money.   A Christian works in God’s kingdom for the joy.  Proverbs 10:27-28- “ The fear of the Lord prolongs days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened. The hope of the righteous will be gladness, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.”
      1. 1 Peter 1:8-9 – “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
      2. It’s a joy to serve and work for the Lord; we all work for Him because of the joy we get out of serving our Lord in His kingdom.
      3. Years ago I heard a story about someone who stole some lug nuts from one of the wheels of a man’s car, a Studebaker.   The man went to a junk yard to get replacement lug nuts.  He asked the counter guy, "Could you give me two lug nuts for my Studebaker?"  "Sure," the salesman replied. "Sounds like a fair exchange."
      4. When it comes to inheriting eternal life; nobody is going to get ripped off, whether they’ve been a Christian for one day or 50 years.
    4. We all know that Jesus’ disciples were the first Christians in Jesus’ church and in Acts 2:41 we find that others were added and became a part of His church.
      1. In Acts 5:14 we find that even more people were added and became a part of the Lord’s church.
      2. Jesus’ disciples had to learn a hard lesson.  First come doesn’t mean first served!  Jesus explains what He meant when He said to His disciples about their position of honor in Matthew 19:26-30.
      3. Jesus is telling them that the disciples couldn’t claim any special place of honor just because they were Christians before anyone else.  He says in Matthew 20:16 “The last will be first, and the first will be last."
    5. There’s a big lesson for the church today here too, isn’t there?  Many people just because they have been members of the Lord’s church for many years, think that the church partially belongs to them.  They think they can dictate and control what goes on within the congregation.  
      1. Just because you’ve been a member of the Lord’s church for 40 years doesn’t give you any special privileges.  Just because your father was an elder of a church for 20 years doesn’t give you any special privileges. It is not about genealogy. We are to serve with humility.
      2. In the church, authority doesn’t necessarily mean honor.  Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should not honor those who have been in the Lord’s body for many years because the Bible teaches us that we should honor those who are older in the faith.
      3. I’m saying that just because you’ve been a part of the kingdom longer than some others, doesn’t make you more important than any other Christian.  No matter where you come from or when you became a Christian, you are of equal worth to God as any other Christian.
    6. We are to remember its God’s vineyard not mine, not yours. It’s God who is dishing out the wages. He’s the one doing the hiring.   It’s His work that’s being done.  We are all workers and He’s the owner.
      1. The point is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Christian for one hour or 40 years, you are of equal worth to God in His kingdom.   Galatians 3:26-28“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.   For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.   There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
      2. Those who are young in the faith should learn from those who are older in the faith, who are more mature and whose knowledge is greater.
      3. This is also important.    It may well be that those who have been Christians for a long time have got things to learn from those who are younger in the faith as well.
    7. That was the problem the Jews had, they knew that they were God’s chosen people and they never forgot that.   They also never forgot to remind other people about it.    Because of this; they continually looked down on the Gentiles.  They hated and despised the Gentiles and hoped for nothing but their destruction.  Their genealogy was a stumbling block. To a Jew if the Gentiles were going to be allowed into God’s kingdom, they must come in as inferiors and on their terms.
      1. We know a couple of examples of that.   In Acts 15:1 we find some Jews saying to the Gentiles, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  We also know that the apostle Peter stumbled with this didn’t he?   Paul had to rebuke him for that mindset.
      2. In Galatians 2:14 – “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?”    In other words the Jews were willing to allow the Gentiles into God’s kingdom only if they were circumcised and followed their traditions.
      3. That particular spirit hasn’t changed much today in some religious circles, has it?  Even in the brotherhood some say you can only be a part of the church if you were baptized by a church of Christ minster!
        1. You are only a real Christian if you know and fully understand all the doctrine of the church of Christ before you were baptized!
        2. You will only get to heaven if you use this translation or this song book or use one cup during communion!
  • There are people who think they are more favored in God’s eyes, because others don’t match up to their level of spirituality.
  1. As someone once said, “In God’s economy, there is no such thing as a most favored nation clause.”    There is no master race in Christianity.  “you are all one in Christ Jesus,” as Paul reminded us in Galatians 3:28.  Instead of looking around at each other and wondering whose doing what in God’s kingdom, maybe we should be searching for those who are eager to work in the kingdom.
  1. We realize these men that Jesus was talking about here were standing in the market place but they weren’t being lazy hanging around the street corners wasting their time.    They didn’t have job centers to go to like we have today.   The market place was the place to go to find work.    A man would go there first thing in the morning with his tools and he would wait until someone came along and hired him.

    1. Some of them would get hired first thing in the morning, but others would wait all day to get some work.   Some men worked only a few hours and some men worked all day.  When I say all day, I don’t mean a 9 to 5 job.  I mean these men started at 6:00 am and finished at 6:00 pm.  

      1. Even though work usually finished at 6:00 pm some of these men would still be waiting at 5:00 pm hoping to get a job.
      2. Jesus said the landowner went in the morning, then the third hour, and then the sixth hour and then the ninth hour and then finally he went again to the market place at the eleventh hour.  Apparently there was a lot of work to do and this also shows how desperate for work they were.   They were still there waiting in the market place when the day was nearly spent.
      3. We go out of our way to encourage people to read the Bible, so that one day they might become Christians.  Maybe we should consider continuing that encouragement in helping them find a job within the kingdom of God after they have become Christians.
    2. The point is that we should be working in His kingdom.   This parable also tells us about the generosity of God.
      1. Matthew 20:8-10 – “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 when 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 a denarius.”
      2. What is going on here?   These workers didn’t all do the same amount of work, putting in the same time, but they did receive the same pay.  
      3. The way the world works when it comes to pay is some people get more than others depending on the jobs they have.    Usually if people work in the same place and do the same job for the same length of time, they expect to get the same pay, but these workers didn’t all work the same number of hours.
      4. These workers were grape harvesters and the grapes in Palestine would always be ready for harvest around the end of September.   It was always a race against time to get the grapes in before the rains came.   Because of this, anyone who was willing to work was welcome to work at this time, even if they could only work for an hour or two.  Each man was given what amounted to a day’s wages for a man back then.
      5. Because a job was hard to come by, getting a job for a day’s wages sometimes meant the difference between living and starving.   God knew that a denarius was no great wage.   He knew that if the workmen went home with less than a denarius there would be worried wives and hungry children.  
      6. If this happened in today’s world, people would instantly go to a lawyer and say I want justice.  This parable tells us that God goes beyond justice.   He gives us more than we are due.   Justice says that we deserve to die in our sin.   God goes beyond justice and offers us eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ.
    3. Look at Ephesians 2:3-5 which I’m going to come back a little later. It says; “among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. Notice what it says next But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),”
  • When it comes to God’s justice and the way He gives His grace to us, there are two great lessons to be learned here.  The first one is this: All service ranks the same with God.    It’s not the length of service that counts but the love in which it is given.

    1. Matthew 20:11-12 – “And when they had received it, they murmured 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.'”    You can always tell the people who think they deserve more from God than their fellow brothers or sisters in the kingdom.    You can tell them because they grumble a lot.   People have always been grumbling against God,  not only in today’s world but also in the Biblical world.

      1. Remember back in Exodus 16:2?   “Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”  Who were they really complaining against?   It was God.
      2. Even after they received the Promised Land they grumbled.  Psalm 106:24-25 – “Then they despised the pleasant land; They did not believe His word, But murmured in their tents, And did not heed the voice of the Lord.”
      3. People have always been grumbling against the Lord.   Even to this day. James warns us in James 5:8-9 – “ You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.   Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!”  
      4. We need to be patient and grateful for the little work that anyone is doing in the kingdom.  God doesn’t look at the amount of work performed.   He looks at the heart of the worker.
    2. Think about this in terms we have seen, what’s worth more?  A millionaire giving you $100 or a grandchild giving you a card on your birthday that just cost little but they have saved up to get that card to give to you?  What’s worth more?   All service ranks the same with God.
  1. The second thing we can learn from this is: What we receive is by God’s grace.   Matthew 20:13-16 – “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 this last man the same as to you.   `Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'   "So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”  

    1. We cannot earn what God gives us.   We do not deserve it and we can not put God in our debt.

      1. People are always trying to put God in their debt, people are always trying to tell God who deserves to go to heaven and who doesn’t.  They even try to bargain with God.
      2. You know when you talk to non-Christians about the kind of people you find in church, they seem to think that we’ve always been in the church.  We’ve always been God-fearing people, but people aren’t born Christians, they are born again
      3. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3-8 that people need to be born again to enter the kingdom in the first place.  Peter says that you need to be born again to be purified.    
    2. 1 Peter 1:21-23 – “who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.   Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,   having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,”
      1. Purified from what?   Purified from our sin. All Christians have a history of sin, nobody comes to the cross sinless.
      2. What right does someone have to say to God, “Hey God that person is a criminal; they don’t deserve to get to heaven?”  “Hey God, that person is a liar, they don’t have any right in your kingdom.”
      3. When we look at others with that attitude, do you know what God is going to say?   He will just say to us what He said in the parable, “Don't I have the right to do what I want with My grace? Or are you envious because I am generous?'”
    3. Let me share with you the kind of people you will find in congregations and I’ll Paraphrase this.   Galatians 5:19-21 tells us that there are people who used to commit “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.”  There are people who used to commit “idolatry and people who used to practice witchcraft”.    There are people who used to be filled with “hatred, discord, jealousy, they had fits of rage, they were selfish in their ambition”.  They used to practice “dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”.
    4. Obviously, if you were to tell that to the average person on the street and they would say, “Well I’m not going to that congregation, they have allsorts in there”.
      1. The point is that the people in the congregation used to do things like that.   Past tense, they used to, because when they were born again they put off that old nature and put on a new nature.  Instead of following the ways of the world, they turned their back on the world and started following the ways of Christ.
      2. Why?  Galatians 5:21 concludes with; “… those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  We understand why we needed saving, it was because of our sinful lives, and everyone can be born again.
    5. Romans 3:22-24 – “the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe.  For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
      1. I remember hearing a story about the British Evangelist G. Campbell Morgan.   He was walking home one night with his friend when they noticed an inebriated man staggering homeward.  His friend said, “What a sorrowful state to get in.”  Morgan replied, “But for the grace of God go I.”
      2. What God gives us is given out of the goodness of His heart, out of His grace. What He gives us is not pay, but a gift, not a reward but a grace.  This is something we all need to get a grasp on.
      3. I’m sure most of you have heard of a man named John Newtown. He knew all about grace.   If you do not know who he is, you should know one of the famous hymns he wrote and we still sing today.   It’s called “Amazing grace”.
      4. The first stanza says this, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”



Let’s finish by looking at Ephesians 2:1-9. Paul says; “1. And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2. in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3. among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5. even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6. and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7. that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9. not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

That’s grace and that’s amazing.   It’s a gift of God so that no one can stand before God or other people and say, “Look how great I am, look what I do as a Christian.”    I haven’t missed a service in 13 years. I’ve never done this.   I’ve never done that.


Grace stops that from happening. It’s a gift, which cannot be earned so that no one can boast.  It’s available to everyone who is willing to obey the gospel call of Christ.  I don’t care who you are. I don’t care where you come from or how ugly your past has been, you’re in good company here.


God calls us through His word.   When we hear the gospel message, just like those we read about in Acts, we can make the choice to respond.   We can obey and accept God’s offer to be workers in His vineyard, His kingdom. Those that are faithful to do the work, no matter how long they have, will be faithfully rewarded for their service.


The landowner here is God.   The vineyard is his Kingdom, the church.   The laborers hired to do the work are Christians.   The payment stands for the eternal reward in heaven. The evening is the end of life and, in a sense the judgment. The generosity of the landowner represents the goodness of God.   The complainers represent the self-righteousness of those who consider themselves worth more than others.   The time sequence in hiring represents acceptance of the gospel call at early and later times in the life of Christians.   It is not always early in a person’s life that they are in the marketplace ready for work, receptive to the gospel. Sometimes the opportunity comes later and sometimes it is later in life, after the evils of the world have battered a person that they become receptive and enter the market place to receive the call. The work represents service Christians are expected to give God in His church. I would like to note that those who were in the marketplace at the eleventh hour had a great risk that the landowner would not come and offer them work before the day was done.


God wants you to inherit eternal life as much as the person sitting next to you today.

If you become a Christian then you too, will be able to work with us and come to understand why God’s grace is so amazing.    If there is anyone here evening who needs to respond to the gospel, or if you are in need of prayer or need to come before the church for one reason or another we encourage you to do so as we stand and sing this song of invitation.


Invitation song: ???


Reference sermon by: Mike Glover




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