Grace of God: The Parable of the Disciples’ Reward
Follow along listening on audio while reading the full transcript below…..
Daniel 2:22, says, “It is He who revealed the profound and hidden things. He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him.” We trust that He’ll give us light.
Let me just review the section in Matthew that we’re dealing with, and then we’ll try to pick up our discussion where we left it last time. We’ve been studying Matthew 16:21-25. You can see that’s a big part of the message of Matthew. This section deals with what we call the nature of the kingdom of heaven. The whole book deals with the kingdom of heaven, but in a special way these chapters deal with the nature, and it is this, it’s a spiritual kingdom. It’s a heart kingdom. It deal with internals rather than externals.
In order to make it simple we’ve divided it into two parts; 16:21-chapter 17, and then chapters 18-25. 16:21-chapter 17 describes the principles by which we are spiritual. What is a spiritual person/hristian? There are three stories in this section, and each story lays down a principle. If those principles are true in your life you are spiritual. If any are absent in your life, to that same degree you are not spiritual. From the story of the transfiguration we learned what it means to be spiritual. To be spiritual is to see Jesus glorified. If you are not seeing Jesus by the light of the Holy Spirit, you are not spiritual. You may be religious, but you aren’t spiritual. You’ve got to see Jesus glorified.
By the story of the healing of the lunatic child, we learn this principle; trusting Jesus unreservedly for everything. If you are not trusting in the Lord and not totally surrendered to the Lord, you are not spiritual. From the third story of the miracle of the coin that was lodged in the fish’s gill, we get the principle of resting in the all-sufficiency of Jesus. What does it mean to be spiritual? It means to see Jesus, to trust Jesus, and to rest in Jesus. That’s the heart, the essence of spirituality.
Then chapters 18-25, where we are now in 19, there are eight or nine stories that describe the life of those who are spiritual. If this is true in my heart, and I’m really seeing Christ, and trusting Christ, really resting in the all-sufficiency of Christ, what will my life look like? What are the characteristics of a life that is spiritual? We’ve looked at 3 ½, and we’ll finish the other half that we began last time.
Let me get them before you again. The first is chapter 18:1-14; childlikeness. If I’m really spiritual, then one of the main characteristics of my life will be childlikeness, helpless dependence upon Him. And Matthew 18:15-25 is a forgiving spirit. Like Him, I’ll have a forgiving spirit, and won’t be holding grudges and having a heart that is filled with vindictiveness and animosity. Matthew 19:1-15, a holy life, a righteous life. Then when we left off last time we were discussing the fourth characteristic of a spiritual is that they live by pure grace; by the grace of God. He’s not only childlike, and forgiving, living a holy life, but he lives, operates and moves and exists in the pure grace of God.
We began to discuss that last time. One word further by way of review, and then we’ll pick up our new session. Let me block off the session on the board in order that you might see how the Holy Spirit develops the grace of God in this section. They are really two stories. Matthew 19:16-19:26 is the story of the rich, young ruler. Then in Matthew 19:27-20:16 is the story of Jesus giving a parable to his disciple, the parable of the land owner. He’s illustrating one point, but He does it twice. He does it in the life of the rich, young ruler, and then He sees the same spirit in the life of His disciples. So, He turns around to His disciples and lays down the principle again, only more forcefully than He did the first time. The principle is the grace of God. The spiritual live by the pure, unadulterated grace of God.
In the story of the rich young ruler remember in our discussion, we saw where there was a heart cry from this man. He wanted to please God. He said, “I’ve kept the commandments.” He wanted rest, but he cried out, “What do I lack? There’s an emptiness in my life.” He wanted to surrender, but he found that he was not able to surrender. He had great wealth and much property. This rich young ruler, because he did not understand the grace of God, he didn’t see the high standard; “There’s only one righteous, only God.” And he tried to obey, but he couldn’t do it in his own strength. He tried to rest, but he couldn’t. There was still something lacking. He tried to surrender, but he couldn’t. There was too much attraction to this world, and things that are going to pass away. He didn’t understand the grace of God, and neither did the disciples.
Jesus explained that in order to obey the camel must pass through the eye of the needle. It takes a miracle to obey God, and in order to rest and be content and fulfilled in life, the camel must pass through the eye of the needle. It’s not natural to rest. It’s a miracle of God. In order to surrender, that heart attachment to things physical and temporal, and passing away, the camel must pass through the eye of the needle. Nobody can surrender to God without a miracle. It takes a mighty miracle of God. Nobody can obey and nobody can rest. If your heart is crying out to please God, and to rest in God, or crying out to surrender, there’s a good chance that there is an element of a legal spirit in you, that you are not living by the pure grace of God. The pure grace of God takes us deep into pleasing God and resting in God, and surrendering to God. Only by the grace of God can it be done.
He illustrates it in the life of the rich, young ruler, then Peter (Peter representing rest) makes a statement, and Jesus recognizes that same legal spirit in His disciples. So, He turns around again in this next section. It’s what we’re going to look at this evening. He turns around and faces the same problem here, and He deals with it again, but always with that same principle of pure grace.
Follow along in Matthew 19:27-20:16. I’ll share an outline of what I’d like us to consider. First I’d like to clear some of the air concerning this particular passage of scripture, and then I’d like to reemphasize the main point; mainly, the grace of God. In order to be practical in our lives, I’d like to show how the grace of God expresses itself in our own lives. If you follow that, it will be intensely practical.
Let me clear the air of some of the misconceptions of this passage, and put it in its setting. Before saying anything about the passage I have to admit with all the other commentators that no matter what approach you take in the interpretation of this, there will be difficulties and problems, even as you approach the passage. Some of the interpretations have less problems than others, but all of them have problems. Some of the things the Lord Jesus said are very difficult to understand, and that’s one reason, we’re constantly thrown back upon the Spirit of God; how we need the Lord to instruct and teach us, and guard us from that which isn’t true. Some interpretations have completely ignored the context, so it’s rather easy, then, to see where they’ve gone a little off the path.
From the rich young ruler, chapter 19:16 right through to the disciples, it’s all one story and one context. It all took place at the same time. The disciples saw the rich young ruler walk away, unable to surrender because he was so attached to his wealth. They saw that, and then in verse 27 Peter answered and said, “Behold, we have left everything,” same as to say, “We’ve not like him. That rich young ruler walked away; he couldn’t surrender, but we did surrender. We left everything and followed You. What will there be there for us?” he asked. Both stories go together. Peter, I believe, is contrasting himself with that rich young ruler. He wanted to let everything go; they did let everything go. So, he wanted to know what was their reward. They did it, “We surrendered everything and we let go of houses and lands and fathers and mothers and wives and brothers and sisters and farms; we let it all go. Now, what will be our reward?”
Peter thought he was the opposite of the rich young ruler, but the Lord Jesus didn’t see him as the opposite. He saw the same spirit in Peter that he saw in the rich young ruler; that is the legal spirit; dust trying to please dust. His question, “What will there by for us,” gives it away, and shows what was on his heart. It was the same spirit that the rich young ruler had, mainly the rich young ruler tried to please God by works, by what came out of his own life. Peter is also approaching his surrender and sacrifice as works, and asks, “Okay, what is our compensation, our reward? We are dedicated. What will we earn for that? What is at the end of the trail for us because we’ve given up everything? In this he does not understand pure grace.
You can’t understand this parable unless you study it in that context, and understand that He’s talking about that legal spirit. The parable is nothing more than the answer to Peter’s question. Peter asked the question, “What will be there for us?” He answers it with the parable. So, you’ve got to see the connection there. One way to see that it’s tied together is to look at 19:30, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Then look at 20:16, after the parable, “Thus, the last shall be first, and the first last.” Notice how the parable begins, first word of chapter 20, “For the kingdom of heaven is like..” In other words, He says that many are last, and they’ll be first, and the first last, for the kingdom of heaven is like…” Then when He’s all finished with the parable He says, “Thus, the last shall be first, and the first last.” Whatever the parable is, you know it’s an explanation of the first last, and the last first, because He starts with it and ends with it, and He says “for”, and He’s illustrating whatever that truth is. And that’s what we’re going to have to look at, and what it means. We have to see that He was speaking to His disciples concerning pure grace.
Many try to interpret this parable by itself, as if it had no context, as if Peter had never said anything, and the rich young ruler had not been there. Matthew 20:1-16, and they just have a sermon on that, and pull it right out of its context, and come up with all kinds of things. I read one book where it says, “This is Jesus teaching on the social order,” and that Jesus was giving a parable on management and labor. In other words He was showing in this parable how wrong it is to have unions in life, because the employer has the right to do what he wants to do with his own money and resources. He has the right to pay whatever wages he chooses, and if he wants to have respect of persons, it’s okay to do. He can give equal pay for unequal work, if he wants to. They say that Jesus taught that, and this parable is on the social order.
Jesus isn’t telling in this parable the world how to operate their secular businesses. That’s not His point here. Others get more spiritual, but they still pull it out of its context, and say, “He’s talking about how to get saved.” Those who make it a matter of salvation generally base their interpretation on the broken day. In those days the days were broken up from sunrise to sunset, and twelve hours. Notice in the first verse, the landlord was early in the morning. Then in verse 3 he goes out again on the third hour, and verse 5 he goes out in the sixth hour and ninth hour, and verse 6 he goes out in the 11th hour. In our time that would be 6am, 9am, 12noon, 3pm, and 5pm, the eleventh hour just before closing time. Some people say, “See what He means here. There are many stages in life, and life is like a day, so the early morning is infancy, and then the third hour would be childhood, and then you move to youth and then adolescence, and then adult and finally the eleventh hour is old age, and they are ready to punch their card and sign out. They divide it up that way. For example, they say, “The thief on the cross would be an illustration of the eleventh hour Christian; he came in right under the gun. Actually he came in at quarter to six, right under the gun, and had no time at all. Whereas Timothy would have been that first hour and third hour Christian, “From a child thou hast known the Holy scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation.” They say that the Lord Jesus just calls at every stage of life; the first hour, the third hour, the fifth hour; no matter how old you are or how young you are, He calls everybody. Once again, that’s true, and that’s the truth of the Bible, but it’s not the truth of this parable. That’s not what He’s saying.
Someone else would say, “What He’s talking about is dispensations. He’s not talking about the stages of life, but the stages of history. The first to the third hour takes you from Adam to the flood. The third to the sixth hour would take you from the flood to Abraham. From Abraham all the way to David, and from David to Christ, and from Christ to the second coming, or the end of the world, and so on. Maybe, but I don’t think that’s what He’s saying.
Try to put yourself in the place. There’s this rich young ruler and he walks away, he’s so attached to his worldly goods, they look at him and they contract themselves and say, “We’re not like that. We’ve surrendered everything.” You’ve got to see the context, or you can end up with all kinds of things.
Some people say that the only way to understand this is to see that He’s talking about the Jews and the gentiles. The Jews should have been first; they were called first, but they rejected. And the gentiles were last, but then the gentiles ended up first, and the Jews ended up last, and so on. I have a hard time with all that kind of interpretation. It seems like you are forcing the scripture. Maybe some are deeper than I am and they see those kind of things, but I think there is a natural interpretation, as it lays on the surface, and means something. If you look at it on the surface you’ll see the great principles, and at least this is what satisfies my own heart. When you study this passage or any passage of the Bible, study it in its context; look at it in terms of what was going on and who was speaking and who was being talked to, and what is going on in their minds, and what were they feeling. Try to enter into that, and you’ll be amazed at how then the principles will come to the surface. We’ll study it in terms of that, speaking for the rich young ruler.
In order to get the full benefit from this passage, let me restate the great message and then illustrate it from this passage. The message of this section is the pure grace of God. Last time we touched on what pure grace is; it’s what God does. It’s His infinite favor on those who are infinitely undeserving and ill deserving. The reason I believe the Lord used this parable, laborers in a vineyard, and wages, is in order to show that the rewards for Christian service are rewards of grace, and not rewards of debt. I think that will make more sense as we get into this. Just reading on the surface you’d expect that those who were employed early in the morning would get more than those employed late at night. If one hour’s work in the cool evening earned a denarias, certainly twelve hours work in the heat of the day ought to give more than that. That would be true if these were wages paid for labor, but Jesus is illustrating that’s not the case. What confuses people is, “Has God called us to work?” The answer is yes. Are there such a thing as rewards? The answer is yes. Do the rewards have anything to do with work? The answer is no. That’s what is confusing. So, Peter says, “We’ve done this. Is there a reward?” Jesus says yes, there is reward, but not because you surrendered, and not because you’ve sacrificed everything. God is not man’s debtor. He’s not owing you a thing because you sacrificed. There is reward, but it’s based upon grace. It’s not based on anything you are or that you do. I think that’s why he chopped the day up into little pieces, because when I read verses 8 through the end and see that the last was rewarded first, and he only worked for an hour, and then he got paid, what I see when he got paid, I realize that it’s not wages. He got more than he ever bargained for, more than he could have ever dreamed of.
If the parable just told about those who started work early in the morning, and then at night, according to the law, because Deuteronomy and Leviticus says you’ve got to pay them every night, not once a week, and if there were only those who were hired in the morning, by the time they got paid at night, I’d say, “They were just getting their wages. They are getting what they deserved. They worked hard and they deserve payment.” But by chopping it up into days and paying the last first, you realize that the wages have nothing to do with the labor that was performed. It was all grace.
Have you seen that ad on TV about Smith Barney; they earn it. Well, Peter had this idea that they were earning something from God, that paying that last laborer who came in right at the closing bell, He’s illustrating that this isn’t payment duties performed. This is grace. Peter felt that his sacrifice, giving up his fishing boats and nets, and all that life promised in his business, his lands, prosperity and bank account, that he thought there would be a good reward for that. Verse 27, “What will there be for us?” And like those early laborers in the parable, they felt cheated, and mistreated, and felt an injustice had been done, “Certainly I deserve more than those who only worked one hour. We labored all day long, we ought to get more.” They didn’t understand. They were thinking on the low level of earth. They were doing it for reward, for pay.
It’s a sad state to miss the message of pure grace. Do you realize when you sacrifice and surrender to the Lord, for reward, you don’t really surrender to the Lord. It’s no longer a sacrifice. Once you sacrifice for a purpose, for a reward, for compensation, you’ve struck up a deal, and it’s no longer a sacrifice; now you are doing it for pay, for wages. Verses 27-29, “The Lord Jesus said to Peter, ‘Yes, there is reward. In the regeneration when the Son of Man sits on His throne, there will be tremendous reward. You’ll be sitting on the throne, too.” In some way, and I don’t understand all that future stuff, there will be glory and administration in the millennial reign of Christ. I don’t understand all of that, but He says, “Yes, there’s going to be rewards, and not only for you and the apostles, but for everyone who has left houses and brothers and sisters and fathers or mothers or children or farms, shall receive many times more.” If you read Mark, same passage, verse 30, it says, “A hundred times more,” and then adds in, “this life.” And Luke adds, “And wives also, and in the life to come, eternal life.” Is there reward? Indeed there is; tremendous rewards! There’s going to be great blessing and great benefit, great treasure. It has nothing to do with your service, to do with your labor, and nothing to do with your works.
Alright, we come to the point of the parable. Matthew 20:1, “The kingdom of heaven is like a land owner,” and that isn’t how we generally read that parable. We generally read the parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like laborers; some who went out at this time, and some who worked longer and so on.” It’s not like laborers. The kingdom of heaven is not compared to Christians working. It’s compared to the land owner; to God Himself, calling and rewarding according to His own pleasure, not us laboring and earning something. Just as you know this last fellow did not earn his reward, so the first man did not earn the reward that he got. It’s that legal spirit that makes us think of cause and effect.
I’m going to get into the parable a little deeper, but there’s one thing that we really need to understand, so I’m going to push a little bit harder before we move on, and there’s all sorts of confusion about this particular point. When you are talking about rewards after you die in heaven, or whether you are talking about the blessings of God on earth, remember the blessing of God, the rewards, are always a matter of pure grace. None of them are earned, or deserved in any way. You say, “Oh, I believe that,” and yet sometimes we deny that in our lives. Let me give an illustration. We deal with individuals or we teach or share or in our own lives this happens. We’ll say, “God provided for me.” Does God provide? Yes or no? Yes, indeed. God provides. Don’t answer; just think. Why does God provide? Someone says, “Because I trust Him.” Does God ever provide because you trust Him? The answer is no; never. You might say, “Because I pray.” Does God ever provide because you pray? I don’t have to clear my throat when I say this. Never, God never provides because you pray. You might say, “Because I’m surrendered and sacrificed everything.” Does God ever provide because you are totally surrendered and sacrificed everything? Never! God does not provide because of anything that you do, or anything I do.
Why does God provide? It’s because He’s a good God. That’s why He provides. He’s a God of grace and He wants to, because He loves you, because He’s compassionate and He has a father’s heart. That’s why God provides; because He’s full of mercy. I like to think I’m doing something right. I like to think that God moves in my life because I have something on the ball. We have a duty, a responsibility to surrender to God because He is our Creator and we’re His creature, and it’s only right that the creature depends upon his Creator. That’s your duty. You have a responsibility to trust your God because He’s God and you’re man and woman. We’re just creatures of the dust; insects of a moment. We’re gone tomorrow. It’s right to trust Him. It’s our duty to trust Him, but after you’ve surrendered and after you’ve rested in the Lord, and after you’ve trusted Him, and after you’ve prayed and done your duty, don’t you go with the attitude saying, “Okay, God, now you owe me. Pay up, Lord, there’s a debt that You have now.” No Christian earns the blessing of God. No Christian deserves the goodness of God. No Christian brings down God’s blessing by prayer or by faith; not in a million years. That’s the legal spirit that contradicts the grace of God. God will deliver and God will guide and God will heal and God will provide and God will do many things, but never because of us; never, not for a lonely moment.
Some folks actually view faith as if it were heaven’s money; if you have enough you can buy things from God. They are always talking about more faith, and stronger faith, and they get discouraged if they have little faith, or weak faith. They say, “I wish I were rich in faith, because if I had riches, high with faith, there would be no end to what God would do for me. I’d spend my faith as if God were running a market, and He has all these things and you go in, and the medium of exchange is faith or trust and that kind of thing. You hear it all the time, “If you had faith God would do it for you. Trust God. He’ll give you a job. He’ll give you a wife. He’ll put oil in the tank. He’ll pay the bills and all of the rest.” He does that, but it’s by grace. We’ll see that as we examine this parable.
Don’t get proud when God blesses you. Don’t think you’re getting something because you’ve done something right. When you’ve done everything right, when you’ve trusted Him right and when you’ve surrendered right, and you are finally resting right, and you are doing everything right, then bow your head and quote Luke 17:10, “So you, too then, when you’ve done all those things which are commanded, you say, ‘We are unworthy slaves. We have only done that which is our duty to do.” After you’ve done everything right, you just say, “Lord, it’s our duty to trust You.” We still don’t deserve any reward for that. We don’t deserve any blessing because we trust God. It’s our duty to trust God, and unless you can exceed your duty, you can’t have merit. And we’ll never exceed our duty. You’ve exceeded your duty when you’ve given every ounce of your breath and every moment of your time, all of your strength and all of your heart and all of your mind and all of your soul, and you love the Lord your God with all your might. That’s your duty. When you’ve exceed that, then you can start talking about merit. You can’t exceed that, and so since we can’t exceed duty, we can never merit with God.
Don’t look at some individual or some group and say, “They don’t have the blessing of God. They aren’t doing it right. They’ve got the whole thing wrong. They are so messed up. No wonder God is not blessing them. Be careful about that, and be careful about looking in your own life, because God is good to you, and you think you are some kind of a spiritual Green Beret hotshot. You’re not. If God is good to you it’s because He’s a good God and not because you deserve it, and not because you’ve got something finally right. No, no. It’s our duty to get it right, and then He does it because He’s so good. I’m not telling you to not rest and not trust and don’t obey and don’t yield and don’t surrender and don’t reckon and all the rest. Do that; that’s your duty to do those things, but don’t stand there and expect a reward for doing all of those things.
Sometimes my blood turns cold when I hear some of these charlatans on the radio, and they tell you that you can use your faith and trust God for cars, boats and houses and vacations and that kind of thing. This passage straightens all of that out. There is reward, and praise God we’re going to see some of that, but it’s not payment; it’s not wages. There are marvelous rewards. We began by singing that song, “Learning to lean, learning to lean; finding more blessing than I ever dreamed,” but it’s not rewards, because we’re getting something straight. It’s by the pure unadulterated grace of our great God. That’s the only reason He blesses.
The chief principle of Matthew 19:16-20:16 is the pure grace of God. The rich young ruler came with a legal spirit. He didn’t understand that the camel had to pass through the needle’s eye, and now that same spirit, “Now what’s in it for us? When are we going to get paid?” Jesus now begins to deal with it in the life of His own, His dear ones; His sheep, His disciples. It’s a tremendous warning He gives to Peter. We need to heed this warning. If there’s anything in our Christian life that we’re doing for reward, we’re going to come in last. We might be first in this world, first in profession, first in the opinion of others, first in our own opinion or in our own confidence, but in the heart and in the mind of the only One who really matters in God’s view, we might end up at the end.
Look at Matthew 19:30, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Again in Matthew 20:16 He does it again. Since the whole parable revolves around that truth, then we’ve got to understand what He was talking about. Many Christians haven’t taken the time to consider what our Lord Jesus was intending here. The only time I’ve ever heard Matthew 19:30 quoted or applied is by Christians when they are at a dinner line at a church supper, and somebody cuts in front of them, and then someone turns around and says, “Well, the last shall be first, you know.” I’ve heard that so many times. I’ve never heard it any other way, except when somebody cuts in front of you in line. I don’t think that’s why He gave this verse. There may be an application there, but there’s far more to it than that. We need to seek these things out in the presence of the Lord.
Again, I’ll admit that I’m not going to give the full answer on all of what that means. There are many difficulties and mysteries attached to it, but I think I have a direction, and that means we’ll be at least a step closer to understanding it. I have some things that are suggested. They aren’t exhaustive, but they might at least get us looking in the right direction.
I think it will help us if we look at the facts in terms of life principles. That’s always more practical. I find that’s what works in my own heart, so that’s the way we’ll do it. In order to give logical connection, we’ll call this three expressions of the life of grace. In other words, if I really learn this and really let God burn it indelibly into my heart, the pure grace of God, that He does things only because He’s good, then how will that express itself in my life? I really let God burn it indelibly into my heart, the pure of grace, that He does things only because He’s good, then how will it express itself in my life?
Let me give three simple principles and then we’ll illustrate it through the parable. The first can be expressed, a Christian walking in pure grace is a responder to the opportunities that God brings his way. He’s a responder to the opportunities God brings his way. The first man we see receives a denarius. He worked twelve hours. The second man received a denarius. He worked nine hours, and so on. The next one worked six hours, and three hours, and finally the fifth man only worked one hour. All men received the same reward. Clearly, God’s rewards are not based on length of service; how much time you’ve got logged in. He’s not talking about that. The point of segmenting the day as He did is not to call attention to the earliest and the latest. Surely those who worked the longest worked the hardest, but that’s not His point.
His point is this. He divided that day in order to call attention to faithfulness. These men responded when they were called to work. That’s His point. Everyone in the parable responded when they had the opportunity to respond. And when He questions them, “Why didn’t you respond earlier,” they answered, “We didn’t have the opportunity.” I think that’s why He put that in there, in order to illustrate that. In the Christian life God gives some more opportunities than He gives others. Some have less opportunities. You can’t accomplish in one hour what you can accomplish in twelve hours. That’s clear. The whole point of this parable seems to be that He’s not talking about what they accomplished, because He’s not rewarding them on the basis of how much they achieve, how much they did, how much they accomplished. He’s not rewarding them on that basis. He’s rewarding them on the basis of faithfulness. When you come to chapter 25 in the parable of the talents, He’s going to develop this in great detail, that principle of faithfulness. Here all who responded received an equal reward; the twelve hour man, the six hour man, the one hour man; the point is they all responded.
The first and the last were put on the same footing. The last man received a denarius and the first man received a denarius. The last is first and the first is last in the sense that they all received the same reward, because they all responded equally when they were called; equal faithfulness receives equal reward. You’ll see that in great detail in chapter 25. The one who is living by pure grace is the one who just responds when he’s called. He’s not looking for compensation. He’s not trying to get rewarded and he’s not earning wages, and he’s not meriting anything before God. He just responds because He’s called. Some Christians complain, “What can I do in an hour? Wish I had three hours or six hours or twelve hours.” He’s not talking about time. He’s not talking about accomplishing great things for the Lord. He’s talking about responding.
Let me give the second principle and then come back to truth in that first one. Those who live by pure grace are not only responders, that is they are faithful to their calling, but they’ve recognized and are enjoying true treasures. I need to explain that a little bit. When the Lord Jesus was talking to the rich young ruler, notice Matthew 19:21, He offered him treasure in heaven. In verse 22 it says he went away grieved because he had much property. Property on earth is contrasted with treasure in heaven. Remember that He was speaking spiritually. He did the same thing in verse 29 when He says, “houses, and brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers and children and farms,” and Luke adds “wives”. It says, “You will receive a hundred times that in this life.” You are in trouble if you take that literally, if you give up one life you’ll get a hundred. I don’t think He was saying that; give up one house and you’ll get 100 houses. Give up your parents and you’ll have a hundred mothers and fathers. That’s not what He was saying. He’s speaking spiritually. He’s talking about earth and heaven. I’m talking about principles now. He’s talking about things physical and things spiritual. He’s talking about treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. He’s talking about two ways to live. When He says, “Let go of your wife and let go of your treasure, He’s talking about heart attachment. It’s a spiritual attachment. He illustrates in with the rich young ruler, literally to let go, in order to illustrate the spiritual letting go. God hasn’t called us to literally let go of everything, but He has called us to lay our affections on things above and seek that which is from God, to put our heart where our real treasure is. Then He points out that it’s not only later. We’ve got the idea that when I die, not only that. The rich young ruler comes saying, “What can I do to have eternal life, that is, when I die?” Jesus drops the word eternal and said, “Enter into life.” And when He gives His great rewards He says, “Now, in this life, a hundred fold.” It’s not only when you die; it’s right now.
I used to think that eternal life was duration. I knew it was different than God is eternal; that is duration on both ends; He’s eternal in the past and eternal in the future. I felt that I was only eternal on one end, that I’m going to live forever and ever and ever. That’s not eternal life; duration. It includes that but that’s not eternal life. Eternal life is quality. That’s why He said, “This is life eternal, that you might know Him.” It has to do with quality of life. I like to put it this way and say, “Eternal life is the life of the eternal One.” The eternal One is in your heart and that’s eternal life. It’s a quality of life. It has to do with enjoying it with the knowledge of God.
Here’s what Jesus was saying, “There’s two ways to live; on the earth, and in heaven. This is first, and this is last.” It’s the same thing the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:46, “The spiritual is not first, but the natural. Then later, the spiritual.” What he is saying is that the first shall be last, and the last first. What He’s saying is this, “If you are going to live this way with your heart attached to this physical, and live first, then you are going to come in last. But if you take the last, then you are going to come in first.” I think that’s what He was saying. He’s comparing the physical with the spiritual. This rich man was clinging to the first, and he came in last. Those who cling to spiritual things are going to come in first, not only at the end, but right now in life.
Let me give one other expression of the life of grace and then we’ll close. The one living by grace not only is the faithful one responding to whatever God gives them, the one living by grace is not only the one enjoying heavenly treasures and doesn’t care about being last now, oh this is heart searching, the one who is living by pure grace, and if this isn’t true in your life, then there is still a legal spirit, has the attitude of humility. He knows his own unworthiness. On one hand he’s not proud and on the other hand he’s not jealous. It’s easy to fall into this spirit. I don’t think anybody is really free from it. There’s all kinds of degrees of it. I know it’s in my own heart. The idea that if you work hard, and if you really labor for the Lord, and you give up other things, you think you deserve something more than someone else who just seems to be slipshod and hobbling along in the kingdom and in the ways of God.
The people in this parable were discontent, not because they felt they deserved an unjust wage. They agreed on the wage, but because they were jealous, not because they didn’t have enough but because the other guy got too much. They didn’t want him blessed. What a revelation of our natural heart! We get jealous if someone else gets blessed more than we do. That’s a sign of a legal spirit, and a sign that we haven’t understood pure grace. If we understood that God blesses, like He said, “What I have is My own and I’ll do what I want.” He blesses out of the good pleasure of His heart, for His own reasons and His own purposes. If we believe that, then we wouldn’t care if God blesses someone down the street, and not us.
How many times we try to get into this whole thing because of what it would mean to us. We’re so subjective, “Oh, this will be a great blessing for me.” No, you minister to Him because it’s a blessing to Him. You trust God because it’s His will for your life. That’s why you trust God. You surrender because it’s your duty to surrender, and in His pleasure and in His redemptive purposes for you He wants to bless you, then lift up the hands of your heart and rejoice and praise Him that He wants to bless you. But if for His purposes He decides to withhold a blessing, don’t think you’ve been cheated. You just smile and continue to surrender and fulfill your duty to God. If the man or woman next to you gets exalted, you praise God, because that’s of His pure grace. Nobody deserves it.
Sometimes I see possibilities of Matthew 20:10-15 creeping into this old heart of mine; it’s a terrible thing to be jealous of grace. It expresses itself in many ways. Someone gets more opportunities in the vineyard than we get. Right away the old feathers come up, “How come I never have those same opportunities? How come he’s getting more than me? That’s not fair. Why is he always invited and I’m not invited. Why is she always called?” That’s the legalist heart. If you understood the grace of God you’d rejoice when your brother is exalted. “Why should they get all the credit? I helped. I gave, too. I’m never noticed. I’m always in the background. Nobody ever cares what I do. I gave and I prayed. Let’s get a little credit around here.”
It’s amazing. These servants weren’t demanding any more for themselves. They just wanted less for others. As we go on in the pure grace of God, we’re going to learn to rejoice when God exalts our brother. When God gives an opportunity and exalts him or sets him up, we’re going to respond humbly, “Thank You, Lord. Every blessing is from you and it’s all grace. Nobody deserves anything.” God’s grace injures nobody and benefits everybody. Until we’re really grounded in grace, then we’ll understand that. Grumbling is a terrible thing when someone else is blessed, but that’s our natural heart.
Let me put it altogether. The fourth characteristic, if I’m really spiritual, if I’m seeing Christ glorified, if I’m trusting Christ unreservedly, if I’m resting in His all-sufficiency, I will be living by the pure grace of God. I won’t be honoring the Lord because of some reward, or what I’m going to get out of it. I’ll be honoring the Lord and walking in His statutes, and I’ll be going forward in the revelation of Christ in this book, and I’ll love His law, and obey Him, and trust Him, and I’ll cling to Him, and I’ll honor Him, and I’ll share Him, and I’ll exalt Him, and I’ll radiate Him, because it’s right, and not for any blessing, not for provision, not for grace and not for anything; just because it’s my duty. If I understand grace, I’ll respond every time God calls me. No matter how short the hour or how small the work, I’ll be faithful, if I’m living by grace. Not for any reward; just because He called me. If I’m living by grace then I’ll know true values, and I’ll have my affections set on things above and not the things of the earth. I’ll go after the last now and end up first later. Things that are spiritual, things that are unshakable, things that don’t pass away, things that the moth and rust can’t corrupt and the thieves can’t break through and steal, things that are real and abiding; relationship with God; spiritual things; my heart will go after that. That’s really first.
Finally, I will not be proud and I will not be jealous. If I’m really living by grace, I realize when God sends a boom my way, that I don’t deserve it. And when He exalts someone else, they do not deserve, and I’m not to be jealous or envious of them, “How come they’re getting it and I’m not.” May God teach us to live by pure grace! Peter had the legal spirit. If Peter and the Apostles had the legal spirit, who is free from the legal spirit? May God have mercy on us! We need to learn to walk by pure grace. God does it all. It takes a miracle to be a Christian. If in your Christian life you can do anything on your own, you haven’t understood the Christian life. It’s not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord. From start to finish it’s a miracle. If you are going to walk on water, then the camel has to pass through the needle’s eye. May God deliver us completely from the legal spirit and all its subtle forms, and ground us thoroughly in the grace of God!
Our Father, we do thank You, not for our understanding of grace or this passage. We know that it’s a surface look of such a tremendous thing. Teach us Your grace. We know that we deserve outside of Christ only hell. In Christ, oh how You’ve blessed us! We know that it’s because of Him and not because of us. Teach us Thy grace, we pray. In Jesus name. Amen