The verses I want to blog about today (Matthew 19:16 – 20:16) have three different stories all linked together and which I think need to be read together so that they can be fully understood.  First the rich young man who declines to sell all he has to give to the poor and follow Jesus at Jesus’s invitation.  Second, the clarification to the disciples of how difficult conversion is for the rich and an explanation of the heavenly reward for difficult sacrifices.  Third, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who are all paid equally even though they were hired at different times of the day.

I think the key to it all starts with the JST of Matt. 19:26 as Jesus explains who can be saved if it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God:

But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
But Jesus beheld their thoughts, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but if they will forsake all things for my sake, with God whatsoever things I speak are possible.

So Jesus puts the spotlight on how the sacrifice of all things for Christ’s sake is an important principle of salvation, and of course we are to understand that the rich are very reluctant to sacrifice, which keeps them out of the kingdom.

So then the disciples ask what the reward of their sacrifice will be, since they have given everything up to follow Jesus, and Jesus tells them how they will be given a hundredfold of what good things they had to give up, and receive eternal life.  But then He adds a caveat that the first will be last and the last will be first, and He tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard to illustrate what He means.

The parable shows laborers who were called to work latest getting their wages first, and the first laborers becoming miffed that working all day didn’t give them a bigger reward.  If we only focus on the time factor, we only get part of the message.  We are meant to understand that the length of time we are part of the kingdom doesn’t matter as much as something else.

There is something the first laborers say in their complaint—“Thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.” (Matt 20:12)  They are complaining, but if they could only see from the master’s perspective, a more optimistic view, this could become a cry of triumph and praise—“Thou hast made them equal spiritually unto us!”  A certain thing has made them equal, worthy of the same reward, but the first laborers don’t understand what it is.

This factor is SACRIFICE, as Jesus mentioned earlier.  We don’t get this from the parable very well because the laborers were standing idle before they were hired, but we can easily see it if we think about what it takes to be converted earlier in life versus later in life.  For those converted early in life, the sacrifice happens as they remain faithful all their lives.  For those converted late in life, they sacrifice all they have been and done previously, all the life they previously built for themselves, as well as their sacrifices to remain faithful afterward.  If we are inclined to dismiss someone else’s sacrifice, we will certainly find ourselves among those complaining laborers, thinking someone else is not worthy of the reward the Lord gives and expecting more ourselves.

I also believe that when the day of judgment comes and the rewards are given out, they will be given out in the order described in that parable.  Those who converted latest in life will be rewarded first and those of us who have grown up in the church will receive our rewards last.

Why will it be done like this?  I think Heavenly Father and Jesus understand how anxious will be those who converted late in life, and it is done this way to reassure them. 

Just imagine if you had converted at age 86 and you saw that the “lifers” were rewarded first?  You’d really worry you’d be found unworthy of glory in the highest degree, wouldn’t you?  You’d worry you’d only end up with a lower degree of glory, wouldn’t you?  Now imagine you (still an 86-year-old convert) watch someone in front of you who was converted at age 96 getting their full reward of glory in the highest degree.  You’d then be completely reassured and be able to wait with joyful anticipation, wouldn’t you?   You can also see that while the rewards are given out this way it will be so easy to fall into the error of thinking the reward would be greater the longer you’ve been in the church.  This is why we have to be aware that the important principle that makes us equal is sacrificing all things for the Lord’s sake.

And again, this is why the parable ends with the words “So the last will be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matt 20:16).  Indeed, many are called to sacrifice, but few have chosen to sacrifice all things for the Lord’s sake.  And we don’t know what others have sacrificed to join the church, but the neat thing is that God makes us all equal as we sacrifice all for Him.

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