“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)   

In the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus paints a picture of grace in a way the disciples would never forget. Like us, the disciples struggled with grace. They connected God’s acceptance with their performance, purity, or heritage as opposed to the unmerited favor of God.

Grace is undeserved. We can’t earn it, work for it, or purchase it. To get the picture, Jesus tells a story how people get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus bookends the story with a similar statement at the beginning and the end. He begins in Matthew 19:30 saying, 

“But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”

And He ends the story in Matthew 20:16 saying, 

“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”  

Between these bookends, Jesus tells the story of how a landowner went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Then, at 9:00am, he passed through the marketplace and hired some more people who were standing around doing nothing, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. He did the same thing at noon, at 3:00pm, and finally at 5:00pm. That evening, he told the foreman to call all the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. Here’s where the story gets interesting. The owner of the vineyard paid those who were hired last a full day’s wage! The assumption of those who were hired first was that they were going to make more money since they had worked longer hours. When they were paid the same amount, they protested!

“‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ they complained. The owner of the vineyard answered them, Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?Matthew 20:12-15 (NLT)

This parable is not about rewards for service; it’s about salvation. It’s a picture of grace! It paints the picture of God’s kindness and generosity. Regardless of whether you’ve turned to God early in life and served him all your life or repented later in life, it took the same grace to save you! The price of redemption was the same! Those who come to Christ early are no more deserving of His grace than the criminal who repented as he was dying on the cross next to Jesus. Like those who were hired early in the day, we can develop a superior attitude and even begrudge those who turn to God in the last moments of life, thinking they are not as deserving as we are of God’s grace when, in reality, no one deserves eternal life! It is the free gift of God to undeserving sinners!

This parable is also a reminder to new believers who may have come to Christ later in life that they are just as accepted and forgiven as those who have known Him and followed Him for years! Regardless of how long you have been a Christian, the Bible says, 

“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)

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