Sunday LinkUp – 24September2023









I grew up in apple country.  My grandparents and my parents owned apple orchards, and each year we would hire laborers during harvest time to pick and pack apples.  We paid a fair wage, and we rarely had trouble finding laborers.  Sometimes a worker had to leave early or start late for some unforeseen reason, and I sometimes saw my dad or my grandfather pay them a full day’s wage anyway.  Still, I’m not sure I ever saw them do the practice we read about in the book of Matthew.

In chapter 20, Jesus tells an interesting parable to illuminate the kingdom of God.  He spoke about a landowner who sought to hire workers to labor in his vineyard.  Similar to when I was young, day laborers at that time would gather at a central location and wait to be hired.  The landowner hired his first batch of apple-pickers early in the morning, around 6:00, and agreed to pay them a denarius, which was the typical daily wage for work like this.  He went out and hired workers at 9:00, 12:00, 3:00, and 5:00.  When evening came, the landowner decided to pay all of the workers, starting with the last hired.  Seeing that the landowner paid those hired at 5:00 a denarius, those hired first expected to be paid more.  When they also received a denarius, they began to complain.  Those hired at 5:00 only worked one hour yet were paid the same wage as those who worked for 12 hours in the hot sun.  In Matthew 20, we read the interesting response of the landowner in Jesus’ story:

But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.  
Matthew 20:13-16

A lot is going on in this story.  The one central lesson is that God, the landowner is good, gracious, and generous to all of his servants.  This is the triune God’s nature, all the time.

The concept of human fairness is brought into question.  How can a laborer who worked just one hour get the same pay as a laborer who worked 12 hours?  The story is not really about labor laws and fair wagesIt is about a personal God who offers grace and salvation to all.

Let me ask a strange question – “Are grace and salvation better for me than they are for you?”  There are no degrees of separation, and Jesus’ teachings always deflate the notion of a competition or contest.

The landowner has space and rewards for allAs Jesus assured his followers, “In my house are many mansions.”

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.


Matthew 20:1-16


The text for today is one that many/most of us are familiar with … It’s referred to as the parable about workers or labourers, BUT it is really about a landowner.

So, rather than talking about The Story of The Murmuring Workers, I want to talk about The Story of the Generous Landowner.  Let’s look at the text to see why …

Matthew 20:1-7,8-16 (NKJV)




“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.  

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.’ So 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  [q]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, [r]and whatever is right you will receive.’  

“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. 

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 [s]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 (are you envious or jealous) because I am good (generous/kind to others)?’  16 So the last will be first, and the first last.  For[t] many are called, but few chosen.” 



Notice the last verse of today’s text … and compare it with the last verse of the previous text.

  • Matthew 20:16  So the last will be first, and the first last.  For[t] many are called, but few chosen.
  • Matthew 19:30  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.    

It seems, therefore, that the parable was told to illustrate that the first will be last and the last will be first.

Who are the first?  Who are the last?  Notice the two verses again …

  • Matthew 20:16  So the last will be first, and the first last.  For[t] many are called, but few chosen. 
  • Matthew 19:30  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.    
  • In the parable, He mentions “the last” being first BEFORE He mentions “the first” being last … Is that significant?  Well, notice Matthew 20:8 …
  • Matthew 20:8  “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.’  

Why pay the ones who were hired last first?

  • Probably to make sure the ones who were hired earlier heard
  • Probably to make sure readers of Matthew understand that the payment of the wages was not really for the work that was done … but an act of generosity on the part of the landowner.

What, then, does the denarius wage represent?

  • eternal life … given that each worker got the same amount
    • NOTE:  It is important to note that a parable is intended to make just one main point … so we have to be careful when comparing parables or characters/things in different parables.  A denarius, in another parable, may refer to something else, other than eternal life. 

How can the last be first and the first be last?

  • To understand, I think we need to go back to the context … and notice the preceding verses, especially the last verse …
Matthew 19:16-30

16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good[k] Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

17 So He said to him, [l]“Why do you call Me good? [m]No one is good but One, that is, God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18 He said to Him, “Which ones?”

Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept [n]from my youth. What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.   

23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  

25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”  

26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  

27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” 

28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother [o]or wife or children or [p]lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.  30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.   


So, how will last be first?

  • That can be in terms of TIME
      • Jews were in relationship with God BEFORE Gentiles
      • Paul was called AFTER the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:8–9) … but he worked harder (2 Corinthians 11:23)
  • It can also be in terms of PRIVILEGE
      • Romans 9:3-5
      • Romans 11:11
  • It can also be in terms of STATUS
      • Matthew 21:31-32
      • People that persons see as “small” or “insignificant” (last) in society will be “prominent” (first) in the Kingdom of God.

Which action of the landowner best represents God as good/generous?

  • Matthew 20:6-7,9
  • The generosity is more obvious if we understand that the workers who were hired at the 11th hour may not have been idle (as some versions say) … and they more than likely had dependents at home.


A.  So what can we take away?

B.  A lot … but I want to conclude with something President Greg said in his message …

The story is not really about labor laws and fair wagesIt is about a personal God who offers grace and salvation to all.

C.  We serve a God who is good and gracious, as well as generous, all the time and for all people.







Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top