Sermon – Matthew 20.1-16 (Septuagesima – 2021)

Lord God, heavenly Father, through Your holy Word You have called us into Your vineyard: Send, we beseech You, Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may labor faithfully in Your vineyard, shun sin and all offense, obediently keep Your Word and do Your will, and put our whole and only trust in Your grace, which You have bestowed upon us so abundantly; through Your Son Jesus Christ, that we might obtain eternal salvation through Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

 2 “Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

 3 “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

 4 “and said to them,`You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.

 5 “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.

 6 “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?’

 7 “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.’

 8 “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.’

 9 “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.

 10 “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.

 11 “And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner,

 12 “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.’

 13 “But he answered one of them and said,`Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?

 14 `Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.

 15 `Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’

 16 “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

Things that are good in one context is bad in another. A fire in a fire pit gives warmth and enjoyment, but a grease fire in your home is dangerous and frightening. Shooting someone is a good and patriotic thing if that person is an enemy soldier in war. Shooting a random stranger on the street is a wicked and criminal activity. Sex is a good work within a marriage relationship. It is a sinful and harmful act outside of marriage.

Jesus’ in our reading is making a point about the place of good works. Where do they belong? Good works necessarily follow faith. They are part and parcel of the life of sanctification, that is the new life of believers baptized into Christ. Works are necessary for our neighbor and we do them out of love for our neighbor. And we do them out of thankfulness to God’s love, and to His glory. But then, do good works belong in the equation of our salvation? The answer is clearly “no”! Just ask those workers in the parable. They’re leaving that vineyard at the end of the day. Ask them if their work for the day figured into the amount of reward they received at the end of the day. Well, no, not at all. Regardless of how much they worked, all the workers received the same amount.

And to help make this point, Jesus said, “Many are called and few are chosen.” He is bringing up the doctrine of election, which we’ll discuss today.

But here’s another place where something butts in where it doesn’t belong, and that is our reason. In fact our human reason often tries to go places where it doesn’t belong, whether it’s examining the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, or pondering the Trinity or the two natures in the one person of Christ. We must use reason to understand what God reveals to us about Himself and His workings in His Word. Yet reason must only be a servant submitting to the Word of God. Reason goes beyond its bounds when it stops being a servant and begins to act as a judge and authority over Scripture.

And so we submit our minds to God’s Word, and consider God’s election, and how it confirms to us that we are saved by grace alone.

Jesus says, “few are chosen.” Few are chosen to receive the heavenly reward. These few are undeserving fallen and rebellious people that had been graciously elected by God in eternity before the foundation of the world to be saved. So the eternal salvation of these few have already been decided from before the foundation of the world.

But then reason takes this truth to false conclusions that contradict Scripture. There are church bodies that reason this way: If God has not elected all men to salvation, He must have elected the rest to damnation. He must not have desired their salvation. But what does Scripture say, “God desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Christ’s suffering and death on the cross for the entire world shows that God desires the salvation of all mankind. Even the verse that serves as our focus today shows that God desires the salvation of more than the elect. He says, “Many are called.” What are they called to other than the salvation that God has prepared for them by the sacrifice of His Son? God, in His grace, desires the salvation of all mankind.

But then our prideful reason intrudes again, and thinks this way: so if God is the cause of the salvation of the elect, He must then be the cause of the damnation of the damned. Again, this is contrary to Scripture. Where does Scripture put the blame for those who are lost eternally? Listen to what Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Mt. 23:37-39). And hear the words of Stephen which he speaks to his accusers, “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). The lost are to be blamed for their

And then reason argues, “Then if it is the resistance of the unbelievers that is the cause of their salvation, then it is the lack of resistance and rebellion that is the cause of the salvation of those who are saved.” But this, too, is contrary to Scripture, for all people are under the power of sin. All are completely fallen, and at enmity with God as Paul explains in Romans, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God… There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:10,11, 18). And furthermore, the fact remains that God’s election of grace in eternity is the cause of the salvation of the saved.

And so, either we obey our fallen human reason, and contradict Scripture. Or we simply admit that God is wiser than we are, submit our reason to Scripture, and learn from and find comfort in this doctrine of election of grace, that “few are chosen.”

Those workers of the vineyard that are there at the end of the day receiving their reward. Why are they there receiving a reward? They are there because the landowner is good. They are receiving their reward, not because of works, or anything that they have done. By grace they have been brought into the vineyard, whether it was at the beginning of the day and they persevered throughout the day, or whether they arrived at the last hour of the day. They are there for the same reason, because the vineyard owner brought them in. And they all receive the same gift of grace from the landowner.

So also, it is by the grace of your heavenly Father that you dwell in the kingdom of heaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” This doctrine of election isn’t just a theoretical doctrine. It is practical. God elected those who would be saved from eternity, and He works out this election in time. He has established His kingdom by the sacrifice of His Son. For no sinner could dwell with God without the forgiveness of sins. And without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. But Christ shed His blood so that sins may be forgiven, and so that there is then reconciliation with God, and life with Him in His kingdom. Like those who were called into the vineyard, you were called into this kingdom. The Holy Spirit has come to you and called you by His gospel. By Holy Baptism He has brought you into the kingdom of heaven through faith, where you have sins forgiven, peace with God, and the reward of eternal life! All this is given you by God’s grace, for we do not deserve any part in His kingdom.

As you live in the kingdom, you must bear the heat of the day. The devil seeks to destroy your faith and steal you away from the kingdom. The world presses against you, for the world is ungodly, you are people of God. We live against the stream of the world. And it is difficult. We must also deal with our fallen reason, the pride of our flesh, and self-righteousness.

And so God gives us the preaching of the Word, both Law and Gospel, to preserve us in the faith. And heed the law: Repent of your prideful reason. Repent of your rebellion against God, and your resistance to the Holy Spirit. As Scripture says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb 3:15). Do not think of yourself first, thinking that the gift of eternal life is something that you have earned, or something that you deserve more of than the next guy, even the criminal who comes to faith at the last hour. For the gift of eternal life is a gift of God’s grace.

But then God works out His election for you by giving you the gospel. You are forgiven all your sins for the sake of Christ’s suffering and death for you. You are preserved as God’s own people in the kingdom by His grace.

And so that we may find comfort from this we need to ask the right question. Don’t ask whether or not you are one of the elect. Rather, ask the practical question: Is God working out my election in my life.

Has Christ died to establish a kingdom that I may dwell Him.

Am I baptized and through baptism brought into the kingdom of heaven?

Does the law convict me, threaten me from abandoning the vineyard, and lead me to acknowledge my sins before the Lord?

Is the gospel proclaimed to me, the gospel that is the power of salvation for all who believe, that forgives me my sins and gives me eternal life? Does it draw me near to Him by faith that I may dwell in Him as my refuge, who sustains and keeps me through troubles and trials and through the heat and burden of the day.

See, the Lord is working out His gracious election in your life. He will continue this work in you, keeping you in the palm of His hand, from which no one can snatch you away.

God will do this so that when the end of your day comes, you may receive the reward of God’s grace, the reward He elected you to have from before the foundation of the world: eternal life with Him. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

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