Sermon #54                                                     Series: Matthew

            Title:                The Last First and The First Last

            Text:                Matthew 20:1-16

            Readings:   Bobbie Estes – Ron Wood

            Subject:          The Parable of the Householder

            Date:               Tuesday Evening - August 15,1995

            Tape #            R-67




            This parable was given by Christ in response to the disciples question in the latter part of chapter 19, verses 27-30.  In fact, this parable seems to be a continuation of our Lord’s conversation with them.  In chapter 19 verse 30, he says, “Mary that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” There is no need for us to guess what that means. The parable given in 20:1-16 is an explanation and illustration of our Lord’s doctrine in chapter 19, verse 30. Really chapter 19, verse 30 seems to be the introduction and the same thing is repeated in 20:16 as the conclusion – “So the last shall be first and the first last.”


            Our Lord’s parables are earthly stories, or illustrations by which he demonstrated his doctrine. Always look at the parables as you would the use of an illustration in a sermon. The illustration is not the sermon. It is an illustration of the sermon, or of some point in the sermon. Even so, our Lord’s parables are not the basis of our doctrine. We do not build our doctrine upon parables. We build our doctrine upon the plain statements of Holy Scripture. The parables are illustrations of spiritual, heavenly truths.


            We do not need to search for hidden meanings in the parables. Instead of doing that, we must look for the obvious. When you have discovered the obvious message of a parable, you have discovered all that it is intended to reveal. Do not look for more.




The obvious message of this parable has to do with following Christ, serving him, and the reward of doing so. That is what our Lord is dealing with in the context. The message of the parable is this – “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” In other words…All true believers are the servants of Christ equal in the eyes of God, and shall have an equal, infinite fulness of reward in heaven.


            There are three things in this parable that obviously demand our attention: The Laborers, The Master, and The Reward. We will look at these three things in the message.


I.  First, this parable talks about people who are described as The Laborers. (v. 1).


            The parable is about the kingdom of heaven, or the church of God, the household of faith. The laborers hired to work in the Master’s vineyard are all true believers. This is not a parable about pastors, missionaries, and evangelists. It is a parable about believers. How I wish I could communicate this one fact to all who hear my voice: In the church of Christ there is no such thing as clergy and laity. All true believers are the servants of God. Some serve in one capacity and some in another. But all true believers are God’s servants. We are all in the ministry. Faith in Christ, in its essence involves surrender to Christ as my Lord, my Master and my King. It is the giving up of my life to the rule and service of Christ.


A.  The Place of Labor is “His Vineyard” – The Church of God (v. 1).


            I know that God sovereignly uses all things according to his purpose, to accomplish his will. He sometimes uses people who do not behave in normal order.


            Illus: A. W. Pink


But God’s order is not to be despised by us. There is no excuse for neglecting God’s order of things. He will hold us accountable.


            Illus:  “We sought him not after the due order.” – (I Chron. 15:13).


            If you and I are going to serve God and serve our generation by the will of God, we must find our place in his vineyard, in his church, and serve him there.


B.  The Whole Affair of Serving Christ, as it is set forth in this parable, Is A Manifestation of God’s Free And Sovereign Grace


            Let me talk to you plainly. I am so weary of half-heartedness, apathy, and indifference. I am sick to death of religious exercise without heart, doctrine without devotion, and religious conversation without real commitment.


1.       Wholehearted devotion in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ is a very reasonable thing – (Rom. 12:1-2).

2.       The very best service that we can give our Master is in itself altogether unworthy of him and unacceptable to him. (Isa. 64:6).


Even our prayers and sacrifices are acceptable to God only when they are washed in the blood of Christ and robed in his righteousness. (I Pet. 2:5).


            Illus: The Ewe and The Adopted Lamb


3.       Any gifts, talents, and abilities we have with which to serve God are the gifts of his free grace – (Eph. 4:7).

·        Mental Abilities.

·        Gifts of Ministry.

·        Ability to Build.

·        Gifts of Hospitality.

·        Material Wealth.

·        Thoughtful, Tender Care.


4.       Every opportunity to serve God, by serving men, is the gift of his grace, arranged by special providence.

·        Churches

·        Pastors

·        Individuals.


5.       Even the length of our labor and service in the kingdom of God is altogether determined by God’s sovereign grace.

·        Some are called in the dew of their youth.

·        Others are called in the middle of the day, as grown men and women.

·        Some are called in old age, at the eleventh hour of the day.

Illus: McCheyne



The Dying Thief


II.  Secondly, this parable is intended to teach us about The Reward of God’s saints, the reward of those who labor in the Master’s vineyard – (vv. 8-12).


            This was a real problem with our Lord’s disciples. They judged, by carnal reason, that since they had sacrificed more than others and had done more than others, (at least in their opinion), they deserved a greater reward.


·        Matthew 18:1

·        Matthew 19:27

·        Matthew 28:20-22



A.  God Almighty does not measure things the way we do.


            He will reward every laborer in his vineyard, but not as men judge that he should. He will reward his people in a way that will exalt his grace, exalt his Son, and give no room for the flesh to boast.


1.      He has no regard to the time of our service or the amount of ground covered.

2.      God does not measure out reward according to the abilities of his servants.’

3.      Heaven’s reward will not be given according to the judgment and estimation of men.

4.      God will not be impressed with the impressions we make upon men.

5.      He will not deal out his reward according to the measure of our apparent success.

Illus: Noah – Isaiah – Jeremiah

6.      God will not reward us according to the measure of our gifts.

NOTE:  It is not how much we give that is important, but how much we have left!

The widow!

7.  God will not even reward us according to the measure of our faithfulness.


B.  The reward that God gives to his servants at the end of the day, in heaven’s glory, will be a matter of pure grace and will be one that makes all his people equal – (vv. 12, 16).


·        Romans 8:17

·        John 17:5, 22


God will reward us according to the merit of Christ, which has been imputed to us.


·        Revelation 20:12

·        Revelation 21:29

·        Revelation 22:11-12


1.       In Christ we are one.

2.       Christ is our Reward.

3.       Our reward in Christ is glory – No Degrees!

Illus: Bro. Cavenaugh – “What more is there?”


III.  Thirdly, our parable reveals much about the character of our God, represented by The Master.


A.  He is Just in all His Dealings with Men – (vv. 13,7).

B.  He is Faithful to all His Word – (v. 13).

C.  He is Sovereign in The Exercise of His Grace – (v. 15).


Application: Verse 16


1.       There is an Equality among the Saved.

2.       The only distinction between the saved and the damned is distinguishing grace – “Many called, few chosen.”