It Isn’t Fair

October 16, 2022 | Jess Rainer

Passage: Matthew 20:1-16

Have you ever read your Bible and felt angry?  There are so many passages in the Bible where you want to stop and go, “That’s not fair!”  Why is that?  Why do we sit down and read the words that God has chosen to give us and we can walk away feeling angry?  It probably stems around the concept of justice.  Our sense of justice is the one of the most frustrating aspects of our lives.  Justice is deep-rooted in all of us.  How many of you parents had to teach your children the phrase, “That’s not fair.”  I haven’t read any parents book where there was a chapter focused on teaching your kids about injustice.  It’s innate.  Every person walks around with some concept where they tell themselves, “I deserve this,” or “I’m owed this.”  Our personal and professional lives are often fueled by this framework.  God’s grace isn’t fair.  Be honest, what was your reaction when you read todays passage?  Even though you know that this whole passage is about grace, what happened internally when you thought about those first workers who labored all day and received the same pay as the workers who showed up at the 11th hour?  I read this passage umpteen times this week, and I still had moments where I would go, “I would feel the same way as those first guys.”  I want you to take that feeling and let this passage change how you see the world.  If you let it, you can walk away with more trust in God, even with the world seems so heavy.  Here’s where we start: There’s no contract with God’s grace.

1) There’s no contract with God’s grace. (vs. 1-9)  Before we jump into verse 1, let me ask a question.  What is God’s grace?  Now we pick up in verse 1 with the parable from Jesus.  And we see this parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven.  We’ve spent extensive time over this year learning what it means to live in God’s Kingdom while living as citizens of this world.  This first verse tells us a landowner is looking for day laborers.  1“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.   “Early one morning” most likely meant around 6am.  In verse 2, we can see that there was some kind of agreement reached between the landowner and the workers.  The landowner agrees to pay them a denarius – which was a full day’s worth of pay.   He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.  In biblical times, workers were dependent on their daily work.  For most, if they didn’t work, they didn’t eat, and their families didn’t eat.  At this point in the parable, everything seems normal and fair.  But as we go deeper into the parable, something changes.  The landowner keeps going back to the marketplace 4 more times.  9am, noon, 3pm, and 5pm.  “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing.  So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.   So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.  “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’  “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’  And these aren’t lazy workers. They have been looking for work, but no one hired them.  But what does the landowner tell the other groups?  He didn’t agree upon an amount with them before they started work.  All he said was what? “He would pay them whatever was right.” 

Let’s go to the end of the workday. It ends at 6pm.  There are five groups of workers that all started their work day at different times.  The last group only worked for an hour.  Now, look what happens at the end of the day.  “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage.   The workers are all lined up and the landowner brings his bag of coins.  The reactions of each group.  In this parable, there is clear intentionality.  The landowner could have lined up everyone and started paying the workers in order.  The first workers could have received their fair pay, left, and then the generosity could have flown without the first workers knowing.  Jesus is making a point and making sure we feel something when we take in this parable.  Do you remember the passage from last week?  The rich young ruler wanted to get into heaven, so he was trying to do everything he could to earn heaven.  He was trying to contractually get his way into heaven.  “I’ve done all these things, so do I get heaven now?”  But Jesus told him to let go of his contract mentality and surrender fully.  That’s why this parable ends with the same statement as the conversation last week.  Here is the point Jesus is making:  Salvation is not a reward for doing the right things.  Salvation is a gift that must be accepted.  There’s no contract with God’s grace.  You don’t want to get what you deserve!  Quote: “Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you don’t deserve.” – Tony Evans.  I think that’s worth saying again.  There are two reactions we have to God’s grace.  The first reaction requires us to make an honest assessment of hearts.  How do we respond when others don’t get what we think they deserve?  What happens when others receive any abundance of grace?  The second reaction:  Don’t be appalled by God’s grace.

2) Don’t be appalled by God’s grace. (vs. 10-12)  If you were one of those workers who worked from 6am to 6pm, and you saw those 1-hour long workers get a full day’s pay, what have been your thought?  If it was me, I would start doing the math.  I worked 12 hours, so I am going to get 12 days’ worth of pay!  And that’s exactly what they did. Look at verse 10.  10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage.   I can see the scene:  Hand out. Big smile. Head nodding. Excited breathing.  Then just the one coin.  A pause as they look down in their hand.  And then waiting that hopefully another coin would soon follow.  But the landowner walks away.  Someone, out of pure action, says, “Hey! Wait a minute!”  Then look at what they say in verses 11 and 12.  11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner,  12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’  In their minds, what was fair was that either they get more or the other workers get less.  Because working 12 hour is worth way more than 1 hour.  We want things in life to be just.  Here’s the problem with that: we want things in life to be just for others and not ourselves.  The 6am workers got what was just.  Their contract was one day’s pay and they got exactly that.  But they were upset at the fact the other workers got grace.  We want people to get what they deserve, but we have to remember that we didn’t get what we deserve.  As Christ followers, we must constantly remind ourselves that we really don’t want justice because what is just is not good for us.  There is a quote I came across and it’s harsh, but it’s still true.  Quote: “Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice? Then go to hell.” – D. A. Carson. 

I don’t think many of us would come out right and say, “God’s grace appalls me.”  But if we are honest with ourselves there are some diagnostic questions we can ask:[1]  I read these this week from another pastor and thought they were worth sharing:

1) Am I bitter because God has withheld some blessing from me I think I deserve?   I’m guilty of this.  I’ve prayed before, “God, I’ve gone through ______, do you think you could give me _____ now?”  God doesn’t owe us anything.  And let’s not forget that God gave us everything we He sent His son to die for us.
2) Do I get angry when God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I think he should?  Getting a “no” from God can be one of the hardest parts of life.  When we get a “no,” we don’t get to see the big picture of why we get the no.  We must hold on to Romans 8:28.  28 And we know that God causes everything to work together[a]for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  
3) Do I feel uncertain about where I stand with God or insecure about my future?  This one got hit me hard this week.  If you have a contract mentality with Jesus, you’ll either do something wrong and fear that God is going to pay you back for that OR something bad will happened and you’ll question what you did wrong to deserve it.  That mindset causes you to learn in constant insecurity because you haven’t fully taken hold of God’s grace.  If we aren’t careful, as Christ followers, and we may not be forthright about it, but we can let God’s grace take a posture that it is not supposed to.  What’s the right reaction to God’s grace?  We are to see that God’s grace isn’t fair and that should surprise us.  Be surprised by God’s grace.

3) Be surprised by God’s grace. (vs. 13-16)  The land owner addresses the workers who protested their pay.  Look at the response starting in verse 13.  13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage?  14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you.  15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’  16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”    We should look at God’s grace and ask why He chose to save me in the first place.  We should look at God’s grace and not question why we might have to so little, but question why we have anything at all.  We should look at God’s grace and not question our future, but be surprised that we even have the past we have.  We should look at God’s grace and ask, “Why me?”  Why did God send Jesus to die for me?  What did I do to deserve this?  I know my heart and it doesn’t deserve heaven.  And it surprises me time and time again.  Here is an illustration:  I gave away “skip the line passes” at an amusement park that I paid for.  The two friends asked me in complete surprise, “what did we do to deserve this?”  I told them: “Nothing”  I paid the price and they receive the gift.  That’s exactly what Jesus did for us and it should surprise us every time.  

I’m going to close with one final part of the parable that’s easy to miss.  What did the landowner keep doing throughout the day?  He kept going back to the marketplace to find more people.  I might be reading into the parable a little bit more than I should, but it seems to fit that the landowner knew he was going to pay every worker the same from the beginning of the day.  The landowner had something that the workers needed.  As Christ followers, that’s us.  We all have the gospel – the hope of Jesus – that everyone around us needs.  God’s grace should move you to the marketplace.  You know those two friends I gave the passes to – do you know what I regret about it.  That I didn’t share Jesus with them.  God’s grace in me should move me to the marketplace to share the hope of Jesus.  I should be so in awe of what Jesus did for me that I can’t help but share Jesus.  God’s grace isn’t fair.  It’s not fair that we get to receive His grace.  Let’s go tell the world they can receive His grace too. 

[1] From JD Greear (

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Series Information

This sermon series will a year long journey through the book of Matthew in 2022.  These messages will examine the broader themes in Matthew like God’s character, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promises for a Messiah,  and the importance of internal integrity over external behavior. It lays out practical application points like the need for salvation, baptism, and repentance.  It also provides answers to the question “Who is Jesus?”.  It invites you to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and to receive him as Lord of your lives.  This sermon series provides the groundwork for a clear explanation of the Gospel.  

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