The Life of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels

Lesson Text:
Matthew 20:1-16 (KJV; also read Matt. 20:17-34)

Lesson Plan:
1. The Vineyard (v 1)
2. The Laborers (vs 1-7)
3. Their Wages (vs 8-15)
4. The Last First (v 16)

Lesson Setting:
Time: March, A.D. 30. A short time before the crucifixion.
Place: Southern Perea beyond Jordan.
Place in the history: Jesus on His last journey to Jerusalem

Research and Discussion: The song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-4. Where is the Lordís Vineyard? Application to the Jews of Christís time. Application to our country. Application to our individual selves. What Christ has done for His Vineyard. What fruits does He expect? Signification of the penny a day wages.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 20:1

1. The Vineyard

A vineyard in those early days was to Palestine what a farm, with its orchards, gardens, grain fields, and other cultivated lands, is to us. It took great care, skill and expense to transform it from the surrounding wild land, into rich and valuable fields. It required constant care and many laborers. The Vineyard represents anything God has redeemed from a wild uncultured condition, on which He has bestowed care, love, expense, requiring laborers to cultivate, enrich, and, working together with God, helping to bear good fruit.

One view of this parable: The Vineyard represents the Israelite Nation, for whom (described in Is. 5:1-4) God has, through long centuries, done so much. Additional views The Vineyard could apply to other things, too, such as: (a) The whole world in which we live. (b) Our country as a whole. (c) The church. (d) An individual congregation of the churches of Christ. (e) Our town. (f) Our own souls. Only the parable of the unjust steward has elicited more numerous and diverse explanations by commentators than has this one. It will be seen that here indeed is another one; but, among so many and various opinions, one more could not possibly do any harm.

Consider these analogies in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard: The household is God. The chief steward is Jesus Christ to whom the Father hath committed judgment. The vineyard is the church. The laborers hired to work in the vineyard are Christians. The penny payment stands for eternal reward in heaven. The evening is the end of life, and, in a sense, the judgment. The ones hired first represent the legalist and his contact with God. Those hired last, without agreement, are relying on God’s grace. The householder’s generosity represents the goodness of God. The complainers represent the self-righteous, i.e., 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-cycle of Christians. The work represents the service Christians are expected to give God in His church.

Patriotism: Patriotism is “Love for one’s country; the passion which moves a person to serve his country, either in defending it from invasion or in protecting its rights, and maintaining its laws and institutions” (Century Dictionary). In our lesson this patriotism is shown by laboring in God’s vineyard, the people of Israel. It required all the people and officers to live as good and ideal citizens. It required every act to be in accordance with its principles, making Israel realize its mission as the representative of the kingdom of heaven.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 20:1-7

2. The Laborers

The laborers represent Christians, i.e., those who belong to Christ’s kingdom, seeking to do God’s work on earth, helping to bring mankind into the kingdom of God. Note: The eagerness of the householder. All his wealth lies in that vineyard, on the face of the hill above his house. But the vines are perishing for lack of tending. The whole crop of grapes will perish unless laborers do the work. All night he tosses on his couch sleepless, and before the sun comes up he steps over the sleeping servants, making for the village, where the laborers will already be gathering in the hope of being hired.

Illustration: The owner of a successful greenhouse, known for cultivating beautiful roses, said to be worth their weight in gold, was once asked, “How are you able to produce roses so obviously more beautiful that any others?” He replied, “I love them so.”

The first call: “Went out early in the morning to hire labourers” (v 1) so that they could have a full day’s work. Included were those who were eager and ready to work, waiting for the call. These represent the apostles and early Christians, who were first ready to work for and with Jesus. They could also represent children and youth, eager to do something for God’s cause.

v 2 ... “He ... agreed with the labourers for a penny a day.” There was a silver penny when the Bible was translated. We have no coin i.e., the Roman silver denarius. It was the basis of common transactions during our Lord’s time on earth, as the dollar is with us, the franc in France, the mark in Germany, the lira in Italy, etc. The silver denarius was about a day’s pay for a Roman soldier, with a monetary value of about $32 it was a fair price for a day’s work.

v 3 ... “And he went out about the third hour.” The Jewish and Roman days (daylight time) were reckoned from sunrise to sunset, each period divided into twelve equal spaces. The sixth space was always noon. The hours therefore varied in length, i.e., longer in summer, shorter in winter. But each day always contained the same number of hours. The third hour was always halfway between sunrise and noon. At this time he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, the open square where business was transacted. To these he said ...

v 4 ... “go ye also into the vineyard,” where there was much to do. With those he hired at the first hour, he made a bargain for the day’s work, but to those going to work when a quarter of the day had gone, he simply promised them “Whatsoever is right I will give you.”

vs 5-7 ... “He went out about the sixth ... ninth ... eleventh hour.” Several times the householder went after laborers, for there was more work to be done than the first ones called could handle.

v 6 ... “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” They answered “Because no man hath hired us” (v 7). “No man would stand all the day in the marketplace idle, unless because he wanted work and could not get it” (Expositors Greek Testament). In God’s spiritual vineyard there are various reasons why persons have not been called to service. Some have not prepared themselves; some are so retiring that they do not let it be known what they can do; some insist on doing only certain things which they like; some are too busy with other things; some are in a congregation where the leaders have overlooked their special talents. But as a rule most everyone can find work in God’s vineyard, though it may not come till the eleventh hour. Sadly, too many Christians are hurriedly passed by because church leaders, i.e., elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, and others either overlook them or consider them to be of little promise or value to the kingdom. But God keeps searching for workers, and in time everyone gets the call.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 20:8-15

3. Their Wages

At the close of the day the Lord of the vineyard instructed his steward to “call the labourers and give them their hire” (v 8). Everyone received pay for a full day’s work, whether working one hour or twelve. Those who had worked from morning to night, when they saw that the one-hour workers received twelve hours’ pay, expected to receive more than the wages they agreed to work for; and they complained to the householder ...

v 12 ... “saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden of the day and the scorching hear” (R.V.). The householder answered that he had been strictly just, and had kept his agreement.

v 15 ... “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” The householder knew that these laborers needed the money for their families. He gave not to the lazy but the needy. This parable has been criticized as not true to life because, it is said, that business men do not pay their laborers in the parable’s way. But in fact, on occasion, good business men do act on this plan. Is it not true that sometimes a person receives a full wage while they cannot do the full work? And is not true that soldiers who are wounded in their first battle receive the same pensions as those serving longer? There are two kinds of pay or reward for service:

First: There is an equivalent of some kind which is sought and gained, like the day’s pay of the first laborers, for which they bargained. It was just and right that they should claim it and receive it. Then the claim was settled. The Pharisees prayed in the streets and gave alms, to be seen of men. Their pay was honor and praise from others. They had their reward. The claim was settled. They could expect no other reward – not of answer to prayer, for their prayer was not real; not the blessings of benevolence and love; for their giving was not benevolent or loving. So in Luke 6:33, 34 Jesus said, “If ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. “And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.”

Second: But there is another kind of reward for those things which are prompted by love to God and man; the fruits of self-denial; the consecration to the kingdom of God, and the betterment of our fellow-men; the whole life of virtues cherished for themselves and not for gain. For these Christ and His Gospel are abounding in promises. Each beatitude has a blessing attached. Even the cup of cold water given in his name shall not lose its reward. The whole Gospel of Christ glitters with promise of future blessing. So Jesus promises that “there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mk. 10:29, 30). Notice that these rewards are only for those who do not do these things for pay, but for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s. No amount of pay has ever made a good soldier, a good teacher, a good artist, or a good workman. For love of country, or leader, or duty, or honor men fight and die. Pay is required only as a necessity for support, but no one working merely for wages, doing only what mere wages require, can ever gain or enjoy the rewards of success. This is vastly of more meaning and truth in the service of Jesus Christ.

Anyone who makes a profession of religion for the sake of gaining business or prestige cannot have and will never enjoy the blessings of true religion. He that is honest because it is the best policy is not really honest at heart. (a) The blessings Christ freely promises are the natural fruit under God’s spiritual sun and rain of the conduct and virtues belonging to the kingdom of God. “We cannot earn the kingdom of God.” (b) For the good of mankind it is necessary that the virtues enfolded in love should bear the fruits of the kingdom of God. And that the vices and whole brood of selfishness, should reap the evils they have sown. (c) It is necessary that these fruits appear in Christian people and Christian lands, in order that those who are not Christians may see the results of living moral and Christian lives. The blessings of living according to the principles of the kingdom of God are not theoretical, but visible realities. Take away from Christianity what Christ holds forth to man under the hope of reward, and you rob it of all power of appeal to the heart of men. An old Scottish preacher put it this way: “Rejecting the rewards that Jesus has in mind is virtually the same as rejecting the mercy of God, the kingdom of heaven, comfort, God-sonship, or requiring that morality renounce all connection with the church of our Lord. A love without faith and hope – this Jesus never wished, this He least of all thought possible.” (d) These fruits attract people to Christianity. People around the world are becoming Christians because they can see the fruit of Christianity bettering the outward conditions of life. (e) While the fruits of Christianity will not make anyone a Christian, still, by placing unbelievers under true Christian influences will more than likely be an encouragement to folks to become Christian at heart, a marvelous first step toward obedience to Christ. It is to test His disciples, preventing them from becoming hypocrites, that Jesus coupled with His promises of joy, heaven, and all the blessings He offers, the facts that they shall not lay up treasure on earth; that men shall revile them, and persecute them. But we should rejoice and be glad because these things develop character, increase usefulness, and unfolds the love of God. (f) Although God is omnipotent, yet He uses men as laborers in His vineyard. He gives the privilege of being co-workers with Him to all His disciples. It is the greatest blessing that He can confer upon them. It is training, development, growth, and enlargement of their whole nature. (g) The demand for Christian workers has never been greater than today. There are unprecedented opportunities for building up the kingdom of God, both at home and abroad. God calls us to, “Go, work in My vineyard.” There are many kinds of work for a Christian. Every kind of work that seeks to accomplish the object for which the church of our Lord is ordained is Christian work, even though it may not be done through a church ‘committee.’ (h) There are two ways of increasing the number of laborers. One is by adding to their number; the other is by increasing the power and value of each one. (i) This lesson has several applications to children. A boy did an errand, for which folks usually pay, but this boy refused to take anything, saying, “I am a Boy Scout, and the Boy Scouts are pledged to do every day, if they can, some service for love, and not for pay.” Every child needs teaching at home about doing things because of love and helping out. There are extra things for which a parent might offer pay, providing the child with a little spending money, but doing everything possible at home as a loving and happy duty is still one of the best trainings.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 20:16

4. The Last First

Not in every case, but frequently. Those that work mainly for pay will always be far behind those working from a sense of duty, honor and love. Those filled with the true spirit of service always come nearer the ideal, nearer perfection, than those with an inferior spirit of service. Those with special talent, who cultivate it with dedicated devotion, will naturally more forward more swiftly than others. Those with lesser talents, by intense love and faithfulness, can move ahead of those with greater talents but who have less love and faithfulness. Example: Paul came late into Christian service, but became equal with all the apostles. Spiritual growth is achieved through the fullness of consecration, the intensity of spirit, a degree of faithfulness and the greatness of love.

v 16 ... “Many are called” to the work “but few are chosen” as laborers, because they will not enter the vineyard of the Lord.

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