A thought-provoking discussion on “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

“But many who are first will be last, and the last first. For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 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?’ 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.’ 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.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they murmured against the landlord, 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.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 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 chosen” (Matthew 19:30–20:16).

IDEA: God’s way of doing things is different from ours.

PURPOSE: To help listeners appreciate that God works from a different principle.

Do you remember the first proverb you ever heard?

The first one I ever heard that I remember, I heard in Ireland when I was a boy and my uncle said to me, “The more haste, the less speed.” I didn’t have the slightest idea when he was talking about.

That nature of these sayings is that you have to think about them.

There’s a saying like that in Matthew 19:30 and 20:16—”The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

I. What do you think that saying means?

It means that God’s way of doing things is different from ours.

Those at the end of the line will be the first served.

Those at the head of the line will be last.

That is a major truth of the Bible: God reverses the way we do things.

II. Matthew applies this truth to Jesus in the passage immediately following the parable, Matthew 20:17-19:

“Then Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.’ ”

Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man. It’s a way of saying that He was God’s king, and what would be expected to happen in Jerusalem.

Jesus says that He will be treated as a common criminal by those who are first in that society, the chief priests and scribes. He spells out the kind of death He will die: mocked, flogged, crucified. that’s how common criminals were treated.

In the hierarchy of things, where do we put criminals who are being executed? Last.

But then Jesus says that on the third day He will be raised to life (Matthew 20:19). That’s the principle: the first shall be last and the last be first. It is true of Jesus.