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Matthew 20:1-28

First or Last?

  • Matthew Dodd
  • Weekend Messages
  • June 9, 2019

In our study of Matthew’s Gospel, we will come face to face with what it means to be first in the world, but last in God’s kingdom; to be last in the world, yet first in God’s eyes.

First or last. That’s the question.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

First or Last?

Matthew 20:1-28


1 Corinthians 1:18, For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1.The way of Jesus does not make sense to the world, it’s foolishness.

2.For those who have confessed their sin and placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, the way of Jesus makes perfect sense, it’s the power and grace of God.

3.Yet as Christians, we all experience the pull of the world to fall back in line with the way of the world.

a.To value what the world values.

b.To pursue what the world pursues: the fame, the power, all for personal gain; to be first.

4.Tonight, in our study of Matthew’s Gospel, we will come face to face with what it means to be first in the world, but last in God’s kingdom; to be last in the world, yet first in God’s eyes.

5.First or last. That’s the question.

Matthew 20:1-28


1.In Matthew 19:16, we are introduced to a rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to “obtain eternal life”.

2.Jesus told him exactly what he needed to become His disciple; sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. Why did Jesus say that?

3.Jesus told him to do those things in order to reveal what was preventing him from entering into the fullness of life that God wanted for him.

4.Unfortunately, the young man walked away, grieved in his heart, because he owned much property, or perhaps I should say, his property owned him.

5.As he walked away, Jesus explained to His disciples how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle”. (19:24)

6.In essence, Jesus said it is only when we recognize our spiritual poverty, that we are spiritually bankrupt and cannot save ourselves; that we can enter into the kingdom of heaven.

6.The disciples were amazed and asked, “Then who can be saved?” (25)

7. Jesus replied, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. (26)

8.Peter then responded, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” (27)

9.Jesus declared, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last first.” (28-30)

10.Jesus then gave the parable that we are studying today.

This parable teaches us about God’s heart and His heart toward those who enter into the kingdom of heaven.

11.It also gives us an opportunity to look at our own hearts and to understand the way God wants us to live, the heart He wants us to have, the character He desires to pour into us, and the transformation that comes from being more like Jesus.

I. The Lord of the Vineyard is Generous

  • In Matthew 20, Jesus used a parable to explain eternal life along with the blessing and rewards in the kingdom of heaven.
  • The parable is about a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
  • It was common in that day for those who needed work to gather at some designated location to wait for a landowner to come by and hire them.
  • The landowner would have hired the first men around 6 a.m. with the agreed upon wage of a denarius for a day’s work. He went out again at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours to hire more laborers.

At the end of the day, which would have been around 6 p.m., the landowner instructed the foreman to pay the workers beginning with the last group. Each group was given a denarius.

Those who were hired first were offended and they grumbled because they expected more.

The landowner then answered, “Is your eye envious because I am generous?” (15)

A. Immaturity always favors itself

1.This parable is about amazing generosity. That’s the heart of God and that’s the character of our Savior! It truly is a wonderful story.

2.Yet the contrast between the generosity and grace of the landowner and the attitude of the first group of workers shouts out at us.

3.The parable clearly teaches us about the generous love and grace of God towards everyone who receives His offer of eternal life, and that is a great example for us to follow.

4.But notice the selfishness of the first workers.

a.They had agreed to the wage before they started their day of work.

b.Yet, they expected more than what they had agreed to because they were first and worked more hours than the others. Immaturity always favors itself!

ILLUS – An insured box of cigars

5.Again, the worker’s response is a revelation, a revelation of immaturity because immaturity always favors itself.

3 John 9-10, I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

ILLUS – Sports

B.Nobody wants what they deserve

1.Please note that parables were given to teach one main point so we should not try to milk every possible theological nuance we can from it.

2.For example, eternal life is not a wage paid to those who have earned it.

3.If God paid us what we truly deserved, I guarantee we would not want it!

Romans 6:23, For the wages of sin is death…

4.But God gives grace to all who receive His Son.

Romans 6:23, … but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

5.It does not matter if you are a child, middle-aged, or even on your death bed, God will welcome all into His family who place their faith in His Son for salvation. Our God is gracious and generous.

ILLUS – Leading a 95-year-old man to faith in Jesus

ILLUS – Remember Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross…

Luke 23:42-43, And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

C.God rewards faithfulness

1.We also learn from this parable that God rewards faithfulness.

2.Again, God’s gracious generosity is a theme we see throughout the Scriptures and it’s a theme that should motivate us and characterize our lives.

3.You see, the things in our lives that do not have eternal value will be burned up.

4.But those things which have eternal value will remain.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

APPL – May I give a word of caution here?

  • It is true that God is generous and He rewards faithfulness.
  • That said, God is not mocked for He knows the motivations of our hearts.
  • So, seek the Lord, not the reward!
  • It seems that Jesus also used this parable to call out His disciples’ motives.
  • After the rich, young ruler walked away, Peter basically asked Jesus, “What’s in it for us?” (19:27)

Lamentations 3:24, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”

II. Be a Servant Like Jesus

  • According to verses 17-19, Jesus once again explained to the twelve what would happen in Jerusalem, but with even greater detail, that He will be crucified.
  • But He also declared for the third time, that He will be resurrected on the third day. Sin and death swallowed up in victory!
  • Shortly thereafter, the mother of James and John, brothers who had earned the nickname, “Sons of Thunder”, came to Jesus with a request.
  • Remember, Jesus had mentioned to the twelve that they will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne. (19:28)
  • It looks like mom wanted her boys seated next to Jesus so that they may have the highest places of honor and authority.
  • Jesus used this exchange as an opportunity to reinforce how to become great or first in God’s kingdom.
  • It’s also an opportunity to learn what it means to be more like Jesus, for becoming more like Jesus is the very thing we need most in our lives.

A.  Do not look out for your own personal interests

1.When the other ten heard what the mother of James and John had asked, they were indignant.

2.Why? Because they were planning to have their moms make the same request!

3.Jesus called them all to Himself and corrected their hearts; we should receive the same words.

4.The mother’s request, and therefore the request of James and John was selfish. They were trying to exalt themselves over their brothers.

5.Jesus pointed them toward the world and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them”. (25)

6.In other words, in the world, everyone wants to be greater than others. Unfortunately, you can even do ministry with the wrong motives.

7.It happened in the Apostle Paul’s day…

Philippians 1:15-17, Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.

ILLUS – The explanation an assistant pastor gave me for dividing a church

APPL – It’s the Lord’s church!

Philippians 2:3-4,Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Transition – We must…

B. Have the attitude which was also in Christ Jesus

1.Imagine a kingdom of servants! That’s a kingdom I would want to live in and be part of.

2.But we all need to have that attitude, that heart!

ILLUS – Imagine what marriages would be like if the husband and wife had hearts to serve one another. Imagine what church would be like if everyone in that church had a heart to serve one another.

John 13:34-35, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

3.If you can imagine a kingdom of servants, try to imagine the opposite, a kingdom of people trying to lord themselves over everyone. That’s why Jesus said, “Do not be like the Gentiles.” His way is clearly the better way.

4.Jesus said that He was the example that they must follow, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (28)

APPL – Has Jesus served you? Absolutely, when He died on the cross to take your sins upon Himself because of His great love for you.

Philippians 2:5-8, Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

APPL – Was Jesus humble? Absolutely. So much so that God highly exalted Him.

Philippians 2:9-11, For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Psalm 139:23-24, Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.

Matthew 20:1-28    NASB

1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.2 When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place;4 and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went.5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’7 They *said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’9 When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.10 When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?14 Take what is yours and go, but 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 what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’16 So the last shall be first, and the first last.”
17 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,19 and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She *said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They *said to Him, “We are able.” 23He *said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

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