Undeserved Rewards

Sermon for Septuagesima based on Matthew 20:1-16

Dear labourers in the vineyard: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

God has promised great blessings to those who keep His commandments. For instance, Psalm 19 says that there is great reward in keeping God’s rules (v. 11). Proverbs 29 says, “Blessed is he who keeps the law.” (v. 18) Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” (v. 1) Proverbs 3 tells us to write God’s commandments on our hearts so that we will find favour and good success in the sight of God and man (v.3-4). The Fourth Commandment has a special promise connected to it: Honouring your father and your mother is rewarded by God with long life (cf. Ex. 20:12). Malachi 3 says giving a tithe to God will result in God opening the windows of heaven for you and pouring down on you a blessing until there is no more need (v. 10).

Do not let the blessings God gives you confuse you into thinking that you thereby earn favour with God through following His commandments. This can never be, but this is the error into which the first labourers of the vineyard fell, and the error into which we fall when we think that God owes us something.

The workers who worked all day grumbled because they thought they were entitled to more than they received. They thought they deserved to be rewarded. If the workers who worked for only an hour were given a day’s wage, surely they thought they deserved more than a days wage, having borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

When it comes to business, this is certainly true. You cannot run a business paying workers who work for only one hour of the day the same as the workers who work twelve hours of the day. No one would be willing to work for you more than an hour in a day.

The whole point of Jesus’ parable is that the kingdom of heaven is not like a business; it is not like life on earth. You cannot work your way into it. You cannot deserve it. Entry into the kingdom of heaven is by grace, and only by grace. The workers in the vineyard were rewarded for work they did not perform. So also you will be rewarded for work you have not performed.

The simple truth is that God owes you absolutely nothing. He doesn’t owe you health or wealth. He doesn’t owe you clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, or anything that you have. Most especially, God does not owe you entry into the kingdom of heaven.

This is contrary to popular opinion which holds that everyone should go to heaven. Everyone is entitled to grace. Sins don’t matter. Everyone getting into heaven is right and just. We all deserve heaven.

This is of course nonsense. No one deserves heaven. We all deserve the torments of hell. What we deserve is far worse than a miserable, pathetic life on earth filled with suffering and affliction, poverty and sorrow, illness and a slow, painful death. Because of our sins, we all deserve nothing but punishment.

If you realize that you only deserve punishment, then you realize what Jesus is teaching in this parable. God doesn’t think like you. He doesn’t reward workers how you reward workers. If God rewarded us as we deserve and paid us for what we have done, we would all end up in hell for eternity.

God out of His great love for you, without owing you anything, gives you what you do not deserve. He welcomes you into His kingdom because of work not done by you, but by Jesus. Jesus did the work that you could not do. He did what the Law demands of you but you could not fulfill. He suffered a brutal and bloody death to pay for your sins.

This is the heart of the Gospel: God rewards those who do not deserve it. He loves poor miserable sinners and gives them eternal life. He is so generous that He gives eternal life to those who deserve eternal death.

Do not begrudge His generosity. Is He not allowed to do what He wants with what belongs to Him? If God gives unbelievers their daily bread why should this bother you? If you see the wicked prosper, do not be envious of them (cf. Ps. 11, 73). God makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). This is God’s generosity, that even unbelievers benefit from His grace. When an openly public sinner turns from the vileness and wickedness of his ways, do not begrudge God’s generosity in showing him mercy.

Do not ask God to give you what you deserve. Even if you have to bear the burden of the day and the scorching heat, God owes you nothing. Yet, by His grace, He gives you everything. He gives you everything you need for this body and life, and He gives you entry into the kingdom of heaven.

Grace is undeserved and unearned. Grace is a gift. God has given you His only Son and brought you into His kingdom through water and the Word as a free, undeserved gift. You are thus not just a servant or labourer, but an adopted child of God and an heir of the kingdom. He grants you a place at His table where He gives you Jesus’ body and blood and He blesses you so that your cup overflows.

Entry into the kingdom of heaven is not owed to you, but is given to you by grace. You are rewarded with work that Jesus has done for you. Praise and thanksgiving be to God for His generosity. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sola Gratia

Midweek Advent Sermon – Sola Gratia (Gen. 6:1-8, Eph. 2:1-10, John 1:14-18)

Dear people saved by grace alone: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

For our midweek services this Advent we will be studying the three solas of the Reformation. While we won’t be learning much Latin in these sermons, we can learn these three terms. Sola means “only” in Latin, and these three solas of the Reformation clarify the Scriptural teaching concerning salvation. The three solas are sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Scriptura. What they mean is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone.

Tonight we examine sola gratia – the Scriptural principle that we are saved by grace alone.

Scripture teaches that by the Fall of Adam, all men have become sinners, and according to God’s judgment pronounced in the Law, all men are guilty and subject to eternal damnation. Our first reading condemns all mankind by saying, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) On our own, mankind is incapable of doing good because of the condition of our hearts.

Scripture furthermore teaches that we cannot change this verdict of condemnation by striving to keep the Law. Trying our best to do what is good and right cannot change our guilt nor can it fulfil the Law of God. In fact, Scripture specifically teaches that if we attempt to be justified by keeping the Law we are under a curse (Gal. 3:10) because we cannot fulfil the Law’s demands of perfection (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16).

Thus, we see the necessity for grace. If we cannot save ourselves by fulfilling the Law, the only way for us to be saved is by grace.

Grace describes the unmerited favour and goodwill of God towards us, despite our sins, despite our failures, despite the Law’s just judgment of condemnation against us. Grace is God saying that He will not charge us with the sins that we have committed. God shows us grace because Christ was charged with all of our sins and paid the full price for them. On account of Christ’s death in our place, God the Father shows us grace, that is, He gives us the free, unmerited gift of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

As we heard in our Epistle lesson, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but out of God’s grace, we have been made alive together with Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) Grace is God’s free gift of forgiveness. It is not our own doing. It is a purely underserved gift because God is loving and merciful.

God offers His grace to everyone, without exception. There is no one on the earth for whose sins Jesus did not pay. God desires for all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:3-4). God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezek. 18:32)

While God’s grace is offered freely to everyone, there are those who reject it. They reject God’s grace freely offered, and instead strive to work to save themselves. Such people reject the Scriptural teaching that without God, man is dead in his trespasses and sins. They think that there is something good in man that he can work to bring out if he only tries hard enough. As we heard earlier from Scripture, such men are under a curse (Gal. 3:10), because there is no one that does good; not even one (Rom. 3:12).

There are also those who misunderstand grace to be a ticket to live in sin, like a get out of jail free card. They presume to remain in sin and not turn away from it because of grace. But Hebrews 10 says, “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (v. 26) Here you are warned that if you do not turn away from your sin, Christ’s sacrifice for sins does you no good. You have only hell in your future.

Romans 6 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:1-4)

We are to walk in newness of life already now, not just when we are raised from the dead. We already live a new life as God’s baptized children. We certainly do so imperfectly, but we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and thus He gives us the desire to do God’s will; the desire to do what pleases God instead of doing what pleases our sinful flesh.

Even though we now strive to do what is good, it is not that striving or that doing that saves us. We are still saved by grace alone. Sola Gratia.

Grace is evident perhaps no where better than in Baptism. An infant who is helpless and is not able to do anything good is baptized into Christ’s death and receives the forgiveness of sins. It just seems too easy; too simple; too underserved. That’s why when grace is rejected, Baptism is rejected.

But God shows His grace by giving it to babies, by giving it to the elderly on their death beds, by giving it to the thief on the cross. God shows His grace by freely offering it to everyone regardless of what they have done or left undone; regardless of the sins you struggle with every day; regardless of your failures to do what the Law demands of you.

God’s grace is free and underserved. God’s grace rescues us from ourselves, from the world, and from hell and the devil. God’s grace is certain because He has promised it to us in His Word, which never lies.

As we sang:

            By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying;

                        In Jesus’ promise I rejoice;

            For though I know my heart’s condition,

                        I also know my Saviour’s voice.

            My heart is glad, all grief has flown

            Since I am saved by grace alone. (LSB 566 st. 6) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.