Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Gary] Jesus taught in parables—short stories with a double or symbolic meaning. Now many of his parables are about the Kingdom of God—sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven.
One of Jesus’ parables is about how the Kingdom of God is like an expensive pearl. A man finds this pearl and sells all that he has in order to buy it. Well, the meaning is obvious: a person should be willing to give up everything in order to be welcomed into God’s Kingdom.
Some of Jesus’ parables are a little more difficult to understand. Today, we’re going to look at two parables that many times leave people bewildered and see how they apply to your life. When you read Jesus’ parables, do you ever see yourself as one of the characters? Which one are you? Today, let’s answer: What’s That Parable All About?”
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[Gary] The parables of Jesus were given to teach profound truths about God, our relationship with him and the Kingdom of God. The meaning of some parables is instantly clear; others can seem, well, confusing. One parable that bewilders people is the Parable of the Laborers.
This parable seems real to me because I’ve seen farm laborers in the early morning waiting for the farmers to show up in their trucks. The farmers hire however many workers they need for the day. It is a similar, although ancient setting for this parable.
Jesus told a story about a landowner who offers a group of laborers a day’s wage to work in his vineyard. After a few hours the landowner realizes there aren’t enough laborers to finish the work. So he hires another group and tells them, “Whatever is right I will give you.” He hires more laborers in the afternoon and then again towards the end of the day.
The hard day’s work is finally finished and the landowner gathers the laborers together to pay them. Now, to their elation, the laborers who were hired at the end of the day were given a full day’s wage. Now, when it came time to pay those who had worked all day, they naturally thought that they would receive a full day’s wage plus a bonus. I mean, that would seem fair, right?
Well those who had worked all day were shocked to receive—a day’s wage. The same amount as those who had worked only a short time.
Well of course, they were incensed. They complained to the landowner, “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” (Matthew 20:12).
Well I suppose if this was a modern parable, the story would tell of one courageous farmhand who persuaded the full-day workers to go on strike and beat up the one-hour workers who tried to cross the picket line. This storyline would seem more fair.
In Jesus’ parable, the landowner replies, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?”—that’s a day’s wage. “‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few [are] chosen” (Matthew 20:13-16).
Now wait a minute. The hero of Jesus’ parable is the landowner who is paying the same wage to those who worked all day to those who only worked an hour.
So what is Jesus teaching us?
Now, we can glean three important points from the parable of the laborers.
The farm workers had owned no land. They were at the complete mercy of the landowner. They were dependent upon his favor.
You know, it’s the same in our relationship with God. The privilege of experiencing his involvement in our lives, the opportunity to work in his vineyard—it’s possible only through his mercy and his favor.
You and I don’t initiate a relationship with the landowner of the universe because we call him up on the phone and say “Hey, let’s do lunch.” God initiates a relationship with us because of his goodness—not ours—his mercy—not ours—his favor—not ours.
And this is the premise of the parable.
The second point is:
Remember, originally, each laborer, those who had worked hard all day—those who worked only in the hot afternoon sun—and those who worked for only an hour—all agreed that whatever the landowner gave them, that was fair.
So let’s not forget this, when God offers us—you and I—his mercy, we’re not looking for fairness, we’re looking for forgiveness. We don’t negotiate a contract with God. He takes us off the street and offers us the privilege of working in his vineyard.
The men who went in to work early in the morning were happy to have a job. They felt privileged. They had been given an opportunity to earn money, to put food on the table and take care of their families. They only became disgruntled when they compared their wages with someone else’s wages.
This brings us to the third point:
In this parable, the laborers who worked all day were disgruntled because others who had not worked as long received the same reward. They were happy with a generous landowner until the landowner’s generosity seemed to give others more than what they had received.
I’m reminded of a conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus told Peter that at the end of his life he would suffer for Jesus’ sake. Well Peter looked at John and asked, “But Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21).
Peter was comparing himself with another disciple. He thought that if he was going to suffer for Christ then John should also suffer for Christ.
Jesus replied, “If I will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:22).
What is it to you how God relates to another one of his children. Jesus sums up our entire purpose in life in three little words, “You Follow Me.”
This is the same lesson of the Parable of the Laborers. It is self-defeating to compare what God may be doing in someone else’s life and believe that because well, I’ve been a Christian longer, I’ve worked harder, or sacrificed more for God then I should receive a bigger bonus. This is a sure path to bitterness.
The purpose of this short story is to remind us that Jesus Christ is returning to set up God’s Kingdom on this earth. His reward is with him to give it to those who are chosen to labor in God’s work. God is calling you to labor in his vineyard and to receive your reward at Christ’s return. It’s time to accept the landowner’s invitation, roll up your sleeves, and get about doing your Father’s business. The big question is, are you doing that? As you read Jesus’ parables, do you ever see yourself as one of the characters? Which one is it?
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We’ve looked at the Parable of the Laborers. Now let’s look at another parable about the Kingdom of God that sometimes people find a little bit bewildering.
In the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who is going on a long trip. The man gathers his three top employees and gives them specific instructions.
To one employee he gives five “talents.” Now the word talent, in the greek language, is a sum of money. In this parable, the rich man is giving his employees resources and the responsibility to use those resources. To the second employee he gives two talents and to the third, one talent.
Well when the rich man returns from his trip, the employee who received five talents eagerly announces that he has doubled his employer’s investment. The one who received two talents makes the same announcement.
The rich man tells both of these employees, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).
The third employee has a different approach. He tells his employer, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered [seed]. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25).
The employer’s response is quick and harsh. He calls the employee “lazy” and says the least he could have done is put the money in the bank and let it earn interest. He then takes the resources from the man who had only one talent and hid it and gives it to the man who had 10 talents.
Well I suppose if we tried to rewrite this parable to fit today’s politically correct society then everyone would receive the same amount of talents. The man who failed to use his talents would be sent to therapy to find out why he is filled with such fear of his employer. The employer would then need to go through some sensitivity training—and share everyone else’s earnings with the lazy worker.
But what is Jesus teaching us?
You know, there are no useless Christians. God gives to all whom he calls something to contribute to his greater purpose. I know this can be difficult to accept. It’s easy to believe, “Well, God doesn’t want me. I have no talents, or abilities. I’m too old or I’m too young. I don’t have enough education. I don’t have enough money,” or you just fill in the blank.
But God wants you to be in His kingdom and He wants you to contribute to what He is doing right now. Remember the parable? It’s the employer who gave the gifts to the employees. It is God who gives each of us the gifts and opportunities that He wants personally for each of us, for you.
Now the second point:
Not everyone can sing praises to God in a beautiful voice, but someone can sit with the sick, or teach a child to love God, or be a Godly husband, or share the gospel with someone who is searching for God, or hold someone’s hand in a dark hour, or do the dirty work no one else will do in order to serve others. Understand, all of these things are important to God.
What God is offering you, if you heed His call, isn’t a promise of present wealth and a life without difficulties and pain. He is offering you the opportunity to receive His gifts and to do His work. And you know what, in all honesty, sometimes His work is hard, and dirty, and exhausting and unappreciated by others. But I can tell you something, there is no better, happier and more meaningful way to live than doing the work of the almighty God!
The third point of this parable:
In this parable, Jesus is emphatic in declaring an eternal reward to those who respond God. To those who use the talents to do their master’s work He declares, —now listen to this—“enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
But to the lazy and fearful employee He says, “…cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30).
When God calls you to His kingdom, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, your education, whether you are male or female, your race, your background, your IQ or your talents. God will give you what you need to accomplish what He wants.
The only real question is will you accept what He wants in your life and let Him accomplish what He wants to do in your life?
When we combine the Parable of the Laborers and the parable of the talents, we discover that together they teach us four profoundly simple truths about the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is about how God’s grace is manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the substitute for what we deserve as flawed, sinful human beings. It is about being changed and rewarded when Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom on this earth. And it is about laboring in God’s work right now.
Jesus Christ is speaking to you in these parables. How will you respond to Him? As you read Jesus’ parables, do you ever see yourself as one of those characters? Which one are you? You know, not all of them are looked upon with favor, are they? We want to identify with those who are in line with our master.
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We’re joined by fellow Beyond Today presenters Steve Myers and Darris McNeely. Now we’ve been looking at the two parables given by Jesus that can seem a bit bewildering, but actually teach very important lessons about the Kingdom of God.
Now, Darris, I read an article you wrote about the one parable. I just thought it was fascinating. And you said there was something that you learned early on in your life that helped you understand the parable.
[Darris] Right, I was a teenager, just in my first year of college and I was looking for a summer job. My dad had a job at a construction company. He said, “Come on out. They are hiring day laborers.” So I went out to the room at the company for a couple of mornings hoping that I would get hired, and I wasn’t. Kind of like in your parable—somebody went looking for workers. And after two days I realized I just was not going to be hired, in place of these older more experienced men in the construction crew. So I had to go out and find a different work, which I did. But it was a big lesson not to rely on anyone else, but also a lesson that the boss is going to be in charge and know what’s best for his business and will make those decisions.
[Steve] Yeah, and who are we to tell the boss what to do? Too many times I think we take that responsibility when he’s the owner of the company! God owns us and He knows what’s best for us. And so, if He wants to give one, one amount and another, another—that’s His prerogative. And so who are we? What is our relationship with God? Are we close enough to God that we see His mercy, His grace on us? And what does it matter what He does to this fellow over here? I think so many times we have that tendency to fall into: “Well, how come he got that or why did he have that blessing? And look at me, why—i deserve that?”
[Gary] But you know, sometimes it does just feel unfair if somebody else gets something and we worked harder or we don’t get as much, but there really is an important lesson in this about our relationship with God.
[Darris] Right, it’s a lesson in grace. God is merciful to all regardless of when that calling and appointment might be, as in again, hiring laborers in the vineyards. God hires us in a sense by calling us into His work and by drafting us through a calling to salvation. But God is the master of timing about that and He knows when it is best for each one of us. And so that grace extends to those who work all day or those who work only for a short time at the end of the day.
[Steve] I think it also speaks to the relationship between the workers as well. Am I supposed to envy you for the benefits that you receive? We are even told in the New Testament, it’s not wise to compare yourselves among yourselves. You know, you need to worry about your relationship. Are you right with God? Are you right with others? That becomes so important.
[Gary] You know I was thinking about this parable as I was putting this program together and I thought you know, part of this too, one of the lessons here is that the sheer joy we’re supposed to receive by doing God’s work. We’re working in God’s vineyard and it doesn’t matter how long we work there compared to someone else. The joy is in doing the work itself. I think it’s a very important point here.
Now i also went through Matthew 25—the one parable there about the Parable of the Talents. What’s some of the things we learn from that parable?
[Darris] That we all have talents, whether we realize it or not. We better have a talent or we won’t even be in the parable. And if we’re not in the parable, we’re not going to be in the Kingdom and to have that relationship with God. We all have a talent, a usefulness before God and coming to understand what that might be or what they might be, because it could be more than one—and for most, it is more than one. But, capitalizing on it and giving it over to God, and letting God through His calling and most importantly, through the addition of His spirit to magnify that gift, that talent that we have. So that’s one major lesson I think, that we all have a talent.
[Steve] The Apostle Paul wrote we’ve been given gifts. We have been given a gift. Do we know what that gift is? And we’re not supposed to bury that gift like the example in the parable. That God expects growth. He was talking about money in that case, but whether it’s a talent that we’ve been given, whether it’s been some kind of blessing that we’ve been given, that we’ve got to use those things and it should increase in our lives so that it benefits, not only us, but others as well.
[Gary] And I think that’s, once again we’re back to, we selfishly look at others. We’re like the man who was afraid—hid his talent. We forget these talents were given to us by God. God gives us these things. So there is a responsibility that goes along with it. And one of those things that was brought up in this parable is that there are eternal consequences on what we do with what the gifts that God gives us.
[Steve] Maybe saying it just a little bit differently, we’ve been given gifts. We’ve been given God’s grace and his mercy. But the New Testament also warns us, don’t take the grace of God in vain so that we have to be productive with what God’s given and it’s expected! He expects us—He’s expecting a profit from the blessings that He’s given to us. And so we’re supposed to grow spiritually and continue to have a deeper relationship with God.
[Gary] It shows us something about the nature with God. He gives. He expects that to be given and shared with others. There may be some time in the future we’ll do some more programs on some parables.
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Jesus told parable after parable about the Kingdom of God. Remember the four points we learn when we combine the Parable of the Laborers with the Parable of the Talents.
When God, through his grace, calls us to be in His kingdom we are expected to labor in doing His work in our lives.
Two, God’s grace towards one person doesn’t lessen the value of what He has offered to another who may have worked longer.
Three, when God calls us to be in His kingdom, He gives each of us resources—physical resources, spiritual abilities and opportunities. He expects us to use those gifts to accomplish His work.
And four, God holds you responsible for how you respond to His call and use the gifts and opportunities He gives you. Our response to God has eternal consequences.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the Gospel of the Kingdom. We invite you to join us in continually praying, “thy kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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