The First, The Last

Posted on 02/17/2008 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.

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Today, because my husband and I both have bronchitis, we're going to worship along with some other worshipers. Click the pulpit for a notecard, and let's enter his presence with worship.


Lord I lift your name on high
Lord I love to sing your praises
I'm so glad you're in my life
I'm so glad you came to save us

You came from heaven to earth
     to show the way
From the earth to the cross
     my debt to pay
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Lord I lift your name on high!


Pour out your Spirit Lord
     on your people (x3)
Let it rain, Let it rain

Pour out your mercy Lord
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Let it rain, Let it rain

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Turn the hearts of fathers
     to the children
And every nation to the
     God of love and holiness
Let the fire of your Spirit burn


Jesus, Jesus
     Holy and Anointed One

Jesus, Jesus
     Risen and Exalted One

Your name is like honey
     on my lips
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     to my soul
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     unto my feet
Jesus I love you
     I love you

Thank you Lord, it is our honor and great joy to worship you today! Speak to us through your word, and bring us a little bit closer to you.

You can be seated.

Please bear with me today. I'm in the middle of having bronchitis, but with God's help, I'll do my best to bring the word of the Lord to you today.

The title of today's message is "The First, The Last." We've all heard the quote from Scripture which says, "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first," and, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Well today we're going to take a look at this passage and pray for insight into what God would have us learn from it.

Let's read the whole passage from Matthew chapter 20, verses 1 through 16.

1 “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.”

Of course in today's world, the land owner, who represents God, or more specifically the Kingdom of Heaven, would not be allowed to get away with such unfair wages. The labor unions would get involved and God would be in serious trouble. Kingdom of Heaven, Inc. would be in for a rude awakening. Or at least that's what they would think.

But this story is outlining not an earthly model of fairness, but a heavenly model. The earthly mindset of the workers was of what they could get. The heavenly mindset of the landowner was of what he could give.

We would have sympathy on the workers hired first. They worked for eleven hard hours in the heat of the sun, only to have others come in after doing nothing all day, work for an hour, and then get paid just as much as they. We'd probably all agree that either the late-comers should have been paid only one twelfth of what the early-comers were paid, or that the early-comers would be paid twelve times as much.

The land-owner ended his conversation with the outraged early-comers by saying, "Or is your eye evil, or are you envious, because I am generous?" The truth of the matter was that they were not envious simply because he was generous, rather they were envious because he seemed to be more generous to others than to them.

But let's step back for a moment, if you will, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, let's take a look at this with heavenly perspective. And with the Holy Spirit as our teacher, let's bend our ear to hear what God wants to say to us today through this story.

Verse one says that "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner." So the central figure in this story is the landowner, the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven advances by violence, and the violent take it by force. He also said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and that it is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

So this landowner, the Kingdom of Heaven, this righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit who dwells within the believer and advances to set more souls at liberty as we whole-heartedly seek after it for ourselves and those around us, went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

This reminds me of the words of Jesus in Luke 10:2, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray  the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

We know that in this context, Jesus was referring to souls who were ready to be brought into the Kingdom, and needed only those who would work in the field to point them to Jesus and disciple them.

I believe that while the landowner represents the Kingdom of Heaven, the vineyard can represent the fields which are white unto harvest. And we would do well to make note of the fact that Jesus did not say, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, so pray that you would have greater strength and speed and that the Lord of the harvest would therefore pay you that much more when the harvest is done." Rather, he instructed us to pray for more workers to come into the field, with absolutely no reference to pay.

This is where we can take a trip to Psalm 126 and verse 6, and get our first glimpse of the heavenly perspective. Psalm 126:6 says, "He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."

This doesn't say that those who get paid the most at the end of the day will sing and rejoice. Rather, those who sow seeds with sorrow will sing songs of joy, as they carry the harvest with them.

If we hold on to our earthly perspective, we will be consumed with asking, "What's in it for me?" But if we abandon our earthly perspective and get a firm hold on heavenly perspect, that question will be replaced with, "How many seeds can I sow, and how many souls can I bring into the Kingdom with me?"

Those who were called into the landowner's vineyard late in the day received substantially more money per-hour for their labor than those who were called in early; but how many sheaves did they bring with them? Since they did not sow one single seed, and they had no vested interest in the harvest, their only joy was a little bit of earthly gain. But those who sow seeds of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and enter the field with the love of God for those who they've been sent to gather, will completely forget about any temporary earthly gain, and will sing and dance for joy as yet another soul is saved from eternal torment away from God, and is transformed and given eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Earthly perspective asks, "What's in it for me?" while heavenly perspective asks, "What's in it for the Kingdom, and who can I reach for whom Christ died, and which ones for whom Jesus' heart breaks can I lead into his everlasting arms?"

And this is why the landowner said the early workers were full of envy. He said, "Is your eye evil because I am good?" You see, they had earthly perspective. They did not care about the harvest, but about what they could get out of their labor.

And this passage ends with the enigmatic words, "For many are called, but few are chosen." We know there are many who work in various forms of ministry, and unfortunately our attention is generally drawn to those who are found to have less than pristine motives. There are many more who are called to the ministry but, because of the cares of this world, things onto which they hold that keep them from the necessary intimate walk with God, fears, and all the other hinderances thrown in front of us and all-too-often by our own hand, never enter in. They don't see the reward as being great enough, or doubt their ability to be used by God; or, rather, God's ability and desire to use them.

So many are called, but few are chosen.

Let me tell you today that YOU ARE CALLED. God has called you to walk daily with him in an intimate and ever-deepening love relationship with him. God has called you to daily take up your cross, crucify your flesh, and follow whole-heartedly after him. God has called you to use your gifts and abilities to work in his harvest field in ways specific and unique to who he has created you to be.

You most definitely are called. What have you chosen?

God chose Saul to be Israel's first king. But he sought more after his only glory what was in it for him rather than what God desired and what brought God glory; and David, who sought after and trusted God, and who gave him credit for all his victories, and who refused to see God's enemies defy him unavenged, was chosen to replace Saul. Saul was chosen by God, or called to be the chosen one. But he walked outside of the choice of God in exchange for his own fleshly direction. So in the end, Saul was called, but David was chosen.

Do you see the parallel here? You've been called to be a chosen vessel of God. But many are called, while few end up being chosen. Those who worked in the vineyard and grumbled about their pay were called. But those who sowed seeds with the heavy burden for souls that comes only from a personal relationship with the Lord of the harvest, and who came in singing songs and rejoicing, they were chosen.

The called were counting their money, while the chosen were counting the sheaves.

And by called, I mean those only called, but not chosen.

The called tend to care about recognition for what they've done, while the chosen are excited about the harvest coming in, even those in which they have no part.

Are you only called today? Or are you positioning yourself to be chosen? It's a matter of seeking after the heart of God instead of your own. And only the Spirit of God can create that truly God-focussed, God-seeking heart of the chosen in you.

You know, we all tend to be a bit selfish, a bit self-seeking, wondering what's in it for us, seeing things from an earthly, carnal perspective instead of from a heavenly, God perspective. But that's why we're being changed from glory to glory into the image of Jesus; from called, to chosen.

I'd like for the ministry team to come to the front.

Do you want to draw closer to God? Do you want your perspective to be less earthly and more heavenly? Do you want to take another step out of being just called, and into being chosen?

I hope all of us here today would answer that call. And if you don't have that desire, but you know you should, or even if you do have that desire but you want it more, pray with me now.

Say, "Jesus, please increase my desire for you, and please increase my desire to seek after the heart of God. I don't want to just be called, I want to be chosen. I don't want to be motivated by the cares of this world, but by the priorities of the Kingdom. And I ask you to work in me by your Holy Spirit. Amen."

This altar is open. If you just prayed that prayer or if you want to draw closer to God and hear more of his heart and be controlled less by earthly perspective, come to the front and let's seek God together.

If you need to go, you're free to do so. If you'd like to carry on a conversation, you're invited to make your way to the room on your left where we'll meet in a bit for fellowship.

If you need someone to pray or speak with you, instant message someone on the ministry team.