Theme: Mercy and Grace
This week’s lesson teaches us the reasons why we should serve the Lord.
But he replied to one of them, ‘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.”
In the earliest days of Old Testament history, from the calling of Abraham about 2,000 years before Christ, God began to deal with the Jews in a special way. It is almost as though he turned his back on the Gentile nations, at least for a time, as he began to create, redeem, and eventually teach and disciple those to whom the Lord Jesus would eventually come. The Jews were quite proud of that heritage, as we ourselves would be.
But instead of remembering that what they had received was due entirely to God’s grace (grace they had often resisted), the Jews began to suppose that the benefits of their position were really due largely to themselves. They thought they had earned their position by centuries of faithful labor for God. They were not complaining; they were glad for the arrangement. But when Jesus came, all the benefits they supposed they had earned by centuries of hard labor were now offered freely to the Gentiles, who had done nothing to deserve them. Gentiles were like the prodigal, who had squandered the father’s wealth, or the tax collector, who was wicked to the Jewish way of thinking. Moreover, in time so many Gentiles were converted it seemed as if their cherished Jewish traditions would be discarded.
As I have suggested, a number of parables deal with this problem though in a variety of ways. The account of the older brother and the parable of the workers in the vineyard are similar. In each the faithful, hard-working people (the son in the one case and the workers who were hired at the start of the day in the other) are resentful of the father’s or owner’s generosity to those they believe deserved less. The son stood outside and refused to go in (Luke 15:28). The workers grumbled against the landowner (Matthew 20:11). The root problem of each was envy of the ones who had been treated kindly.
In the parable of the banquet the diagnosis is somewhat different. In the end the outcasts enter to enjoy the master’s banquet, but the reason the ones who were first invited are not there is that they refused the masters invitation.
Those are different ways of analyzing the same problem, a problem that was evident in Jewish reactions to Gentile blessings. But it is not uniquely a Jewish problem. It is a problem for any who think that, because they have served God faithfully for however many years, they deserve something from him. We do not. I say it again: We never deserve God’s favors. If we think we do, we are in danger of losing them entirely.
I remember a story told by Reuben Torrey, growing out of some meetings he had held in Melbourne, Australia, He had been teaching about prayer, stressing the power of true prayer, and one day just before a noon meeting a note was placed in his hand. It read:
Dear Mr. Torrey,
I am in great perplexity. I have been praying for a long time for something that I am confident is according to God’s will, but I do not get it. I have been a member of the Presbyterian church for thirty years, and have tried to be a consistent one all that time. I have been the superintendent of the Sunday school for twenty-five years and an elder in the church for twenty years; and yet God does not answer my prayer. Can you explain why?
Torrey replied that he could explain it quite easily. He said, “This man thinks that because he has been a consistent church member for thirty years, a faithful Sunday school superintendent for twenty-five years, and an elder in the church for twenty years, that God is under obligation to answer his prayer. He is really praying in his own name, and God will not hear our prayers when we approach him in that way. We must, if we would have God answer our prayers, give up any thought that we have any claims upon God. There is not one of us who deserves anything from God.” At the close of the meeting a man came to Torrey, identified himself as the one who had written the note, and said that Torrey had described his case exactly.1
That story has to do primarily with prayer, but the principle applies in other areas, too. It applies to anything we may do for God and to anything we may expect from him. What Jesus says is that we have to get over thinking of our service in terms of debt or obligation, and instead learn to serve in the spirit of the son who served because he loved his father, rather than in the spirit of the hireling who serves only for his wages.
1 R. A Torrey, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1955), pp. 138. 139.
How does Dr. Boice relate this parable to the Jews specifically?
What was the root problem of the workers in this parable?
How does the letter to Mr. Torrey reflect the same theme of this parable?
How must our thinking be changed when considering the service we do for the Lord?
We never deserve God’s favors. If we think we do, we are in danger of losing them entirely.