October 12, 2014: Thank God That God Isn’t Fair!

Let us pray: Dear Savior, amid a world filled with injustice, how wonderful it is that Your perfect justice is tempered by Your boundless love for lost, hurting souls like us. May we never cease rejoicing over that fact. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO FINDS US AND SAVES US

TEXT: Matthew 20: 1-16

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

“Life isn’t fair!” How old were you when you figured that out and uttered those words for the very first time? I don’t remember exactly when I first said it, but I know I did. We all do, or will. It just isn’t fair that Jimmy got to go on a fun vacation and I didn’t. It isn’t fair that I worked hard in math class, but didn’t get “A’s” like my sister Susan. It isn’t fair that I had to wear glasses in the 3rd grade but Keith never did. Life isn’t fair.

As we get older, we experience more forms of unfairness that bother us a lot. We have a relative that is probably the 3rd in line for the top job at a huge Midwest company. He works extremely hard and pushes himself at every turn. His hard work has paid off. I’m told that he doesn’t like our lesson today because: It isn’t fair! In it God rewards those who labored all day long with the exact same wage as those that worked only an hour or so. He would never do that in his business. To him it smacks of unfairness. What’s my answer to him? It is this:

THANK GOD THAT GOD ISN’T FAIR!

I

What?! “How can you say such a thing, and you a Pastor?!” But, it’s true. Let me tell you exactly why.

First, let’s deal with the context of our lesson. Christ is winding down His public ministry and getting ready to embrace His passion, His suffering and death on a cross, for us. The disciples have been with Him for about 3 years. They have labored with Him through thick and thin. They also have had the privilege of spending all that time learning directly from Christ about the ways of God and the glories of heaven that await. So, how did they feel when other, last minute converts, came on the scene and gobbled up their “face time” with Jesus? Were they a bit jealous? Did they consider them second-class followers? Did they treat them accordingly? Did the words: “It isn’t fair” ever cross their lips or their hearts?

Christ tells them this parable to make an astounding point about God’s grace. He begins: “The kingdom of heaven is like….” That’s a tip off that He’s talking about God’s Church—both on earth and in heaven. Then He relates how the owner of a vineyard needed workers to tend his vineyard. Early in the morning the owner went out and picked some workers for an agreed upon wage: a denarius. At 9 a.m. the owner repeats the process and hires a few more workers telling them he would give them what was right. At noon it happens again. At 3 p.m. again. Then at 5 p.m., an hour before the work day is over, the owner again goes to the marketplace, finds a few more people and says to them: “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They reply: “Because no one has hired us.” So, he does hire them for that final hour.

Now comes the payoff. It’s 6 p.m. and they line up to receive their money. The foreman begins with the last hired and pays them a denarius. The others in the back of the line immediately think: “Good, we’re going to get more because we’ve worked longer.” But no. Everyone gets the same wage. You can hear some of them even now saying: “It isn’t fair!” “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

So, what’s the owner’s reply to this criticism? “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.”

II

To the human mind, not influenced by grace, all this seems very unfair. Of course, it’s not. Only the first hired agreed on their wages, the others simply trusted in the owner to do what was right. But this is really all about grace. No matter when you come to faith in Christ and receive His grace, His passkey into heaven, the fact is: salvation is salvation. God’s love is God’s love. Forgiveness is forgiveness. Those who embrace the gift of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, buying us back from sin and death; those who do so right before they die don’t receive a “lesser” amount of salvation. That is the nature of grace. Or as Isaiah says in today’s OT lesson: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord…so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Think about the extreme joy of those last second workers? They must have thought: “Wow! I didn’t deserve so much!” Shouldn’t we rejoice with them? And those long-time workers, or Christians, think about them. You, who have known Jesus all your life and had Him backing you up all life long, what a blessing you have received. You’ve been able to raise your kids the right way: “In the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” You’ve avoided a whole lot of heartache in life because of it. By God’s grace you’ll see them in heaven someday because of it. Yes, long-time believers receive blessing after blessing all because of God’s grace. All this because God doesn’t save us on account of “our thoughts,” one being: I know what’s truly fair……

If God wanted to operate on total fairness, we’d all be sunk. “The wages of sin is death.” We’re all sinners, so we deserve death—eternal death—that’s only fair. God is totally just. He never plays favorites. Isaiah says elsewhere that: “All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags” before God. But God’s perfect justice, or fairness, is trumped, over-ridden by His boundless love for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered our death, paid our infinite debt of sin to God the Father for us, and now gives us total forgiveness. He even gives us the faith necessary to take that gift home with us. So, grace always wins out in the end. Good Thing! And that brings us back to our theme: Thank God That God Isn’t Fair! Amen