Our Identity should fuel our Activity in Christ.
Frozen in Time
As you look at your heart…to get very, very honest about what your heart has exchanged for counterfeit. I want you to know, It doesn’t compare. When you hold up your idol it pales in comparison to the person and work of Jesus Christ…What I want the Holy Spirit to do in my life today is allow me to hold up my idol… To let my heart honestly see that Jesus Christ is infinitely more beautiful, infinitely more valuable, infinitely more hope-giving and worthy of my affections, than whatever it is right now that has become my savior that only the true savior can give me.
When God Goes Silent
God never hides, but He waits for us to return to Him– He is constantly calling for our trust. When I learn to trust the heart of God, then hearing His voice is seemingly irrelevant. We treat God as if He is another person, assuming we ticked Him off somehow and He is giving us the silent treatment. Even our close friends give us the cold shoulder sometimes, so why wouldn’t God? Listen as our guest speaker takes us through what it means to listen for God’s voice in times of silence.
Who is My Neighbor
There are blessings and benefits found in living as a good neighbor to others.
The Various ‘Ups’ of Isaiah 40 // Isaiah’s prophecy concerning God’s people came at the most pivotal moment in their history. They were a divided nation, riddled with immorality and idolatry, and they needed someone to speak a message to them that was stern enough to dissuade them from the course they were on.
The Bible’s tweets about your future.
FIVE O’CLOCK GRACE
DR. MARK YOUNG
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Dr. Mark Young visits this week to discuss God’s grace, given to us unexpectedly and undeservedly, as the core issue in our relationship with him.
Craig: Hi, Mission Hills. I am so honored to be able to introduce our guest speaker for this weekend. Dr. Mark Young is a great man of God. He’s an amazing communicator of God’s Word. And he has a long history of helping people become like Jesus and join him on mission all over the world as a missionary, and then as a faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary. We’re not gonna hold that against him. But now he has seen the light, and he is the President of Denver Theological Seminary, right here in South Denver. I’m so excited to have him bring God’s Word to us today. Would you join me in welcoming Dr. Mark Young?
Dr. Young: Thank you. I love your pastor. Well, even before he said those nice things about me, I liked him. What a tremendous leader he is for this congregation, a shepherd, a pastor, a teacher. I’m so thankful that he is here with you. And I’m so thankful that you support him in that role.
Is God fair? It’s a question that’s been asked throughout the ages. In fact, my wife and I just got through reading through the Book of Job and that’s a question that comes up again, and again, and again, is God fair? Job’s complaint is God, you’re not fair. This is a question that troubles people, bedevils them. And sometimes, in fact, it keeps them from wanting to know the God who they believe is unfair.
It’s not just a question in the Old Testament. There is in fact, a number of places in the New Testament where the question comes up. And we’re gonna look at one of those today in Matthew chapter 20. So if you have a copy of the New Testament that you’d like to use, whatever medium you prefer, turn to Matthew 20. Now, before we start this passage, we need to be aware that we’re talking about a parable. We’re gonna read a parable together. Parables formed a way that Jesus taught and communicated. Parables were based in life.
And so when the people who heard Jesus teach heard his parables, they could immediately relate to what he was talking about. They didn’t have to go to a lexicon, or they didn’t have to get some high falutin theologian to explain it to them. He told stories that were grounded in their lives. And that was great, that’s the way they connected with what Jesus was saying.
But for you and me, he’s telling stories when we read these stories, they’re stories that aren’t a part of our daily lives. In these parables that we read, we sometimes see behaviors that aren’t what we do, we hear words that aren’t our own words, we encounter people who aren’t necessarily like the people we know.
So in order for us to understand what Jesus is saying, in a parable, we have to try to enter into their world, into that 1st-century Jewish world and understand the parable as Jesus told it. So I’m gonna try to help us do that today as we dive in into this parable and ask the question, is God fair? So let’s look at it together. Matthew 20:1.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner, who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day, and sent them into his vineyard.” Now, what Jesus does is lay out for us two different kinds of people in the 1st century world, in the 1st century economy.
At the top of the pile were landowners. Israel was essentially an agrarian society, an agrarian economy. So those who possessed land were those who had the opportunity to generate wealth, and to sustain wealth. So landowners were those who had the resources necessary to live prosperous and respected lives in the 1st century. If we were to break down the economy of the 1st century, we could see another class of people just underneath those landowners, these would be those who had a trade.
For example, Peter, who was a fisherman. Peter was able to apply his trade, to ply his trade so to speak, and from that earned enough money to survive. Now, it’s wrong to think of Peter as a business owner. Peter, more likely than not didn’t own his own boat. More likely than not, he had to pay someone to use a boat to get out on the Sea of Galilee. And more likely than not, he had to pay severe taxes when he brought in the fish. So although Peter was a tradesman, so to speak, or had a profession of sorts, he still wasn’t wealthy. Only the landowners were wealthy.
So the landowners, the tradesmen, and then below them were those who are the household servants. Those who owned land would take into their house in an indentured way, people who would work for them. Now in the 1st century world, according to Jewish law, and according to Roman law, landowners had certain legal obligations and responsibility in relationship to the household servants. They worked for the landowner. They lived on the estate. And in many regards, he was responsible to make sure they had a place to live and food to eat, much, much unlike, in this particular case, the evil of slavery that we had in our country.
And below the household servants, were the day laborers. So in this parable, we hear the landowners and the laborers. Now, who were the day laborers? For whatever reason, they didn’t possess land. They could be Jewish. They could have been those who weren’t a part of Israel earlier. They could be those who lost their land because of indebtedness. They could be those who, for whatever reason, had violated the law or fallen out of favor.
But here’s what you have to know, no one looked out for these people. These day laborers lived day to day. If they didn’t work today, there would be no bread tomorrow. It kind of puts some perspective into the Lord’s prayer, give us this day, our what?
Congregation: Daily bread.
Dr. Young: Daily bread. There were no legal requirements that anyone hire these day laborers. They would gather in the city, hoping that someone would come by and hire them so that they can work for a day in order to eat for another day. They were the poorest of the poor.
Now, this landowner, Jesus tells us went out early in the morning, verse 1, to hire some day laborers. Now what you have to know to make sense of this parable is that the workday in the 1st century was a 12 hour workday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Clearly, we’re not talking about the French in this parable. So they worked from 6 a.m., 12 hours until 6 p.m. So he goes out into the city, and he hires a group of workers at 6 a.m. to work a 12 hour workday. And he says to them, or he agreed that he would pay them a denarius for the day. And then he sent them into his vineyard to work.
A denarius was the standard wage for a day’s labor. It was the custom that you would pay a day laborer a denarius for that 12 hours of work.
Now, verse 3, “About 9:00 in the morning, he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, you also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right. So they went. He went out again about noon, and about 3:00 in the afternoon, and did the same thing. About 5:00 in the afternoon, he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ And they answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
And he said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.'”
Now some of you may be reading a translation of the Bible that talks about the 3rd hour, the 6th hour, the 9th hour, and the 11th hour, that’s basically 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., okay? So this landowner goes out all those different times, 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and hires workers. And if you’re listening to Jesus tell this story, you’re thinking to yourself, okay, I understand that a landowner would go out and hire workers, but why is this landowner going back five different times to get what he needs? It kind of reminds me of me and Home Depot when I have a home project I have to do.
So he might be a particularly lousy businessman. So he had to harvest his grapes, or perhaps prune his vines, or do some clearing of the land or whatever. And he started the work, he says, oh, I don’t have enough workers. So he goes back and he gets more workers and he still doesn’t have… So he goes back and gets more and he still doesn’t have enough, so he goes… That doesn’t make sense. And so if you’re listening to Jesus tell this story, you’re thinking to yourself, I’m not really sure what’s going on here. This is very unusual.
There’s nothing in this story to indicate that he was an incompetent businessman. In fact, his integrity and his goodness throughout the story are clear. I think there’s a little bit of an issue here we have to pay attention to. When we read that phrase, “Why are you standing around doing nothing?” that may give us the impression that these were lazy people. That’s not the case. They were doing nothing because nobody hired them and there was no work for them to do.
Now think with me. If you were gonna hire day laborers, to do the work that you needed them to do, you would obviously hire the youngest and the strongest, and the most skilled day laborers at the beginning of the day, wouldn’t you? So by the time you get to that 5 p.m. hiring of those laborers, there’s no doubt that these were the least desirable workers. Perhaps they were too old. Perhaps they were too young, too weak. Perhaps they’d been accused of being dishonest. Perhaps it was known that they were drunkards. For whatever reason, even at the end of the day, no one had hired them.
And so this landowner goes back again and again, and even the least desirable workers, he hires. The way Jesus tells this story, he makes you think that there was no one left to hire after the landowner had hired these.
Verse 8, “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'” And you’re saying, hmm, that doesn’t seem quite right. It would make sense if you paid the first workers first, and the last workers last. So my contention is, if you were standing there listening to Jesus teach, at this point, you would be a little bit on edge wondering what is it he’s getting at? The landowner has been involved in unexpected behavior, and now he’s going to pay the last workers first. What is Jesus getting at?
Verse 9, “The workers who were hired about 5:00 in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.” Now if you were a 1st century person, and you heard that line, “The workers who were hired last came and each received a denarius,” you would say something like, what? I’ll give you a chance. I’ll read it again and you can try to enter into this. “The workers who were hired about 5:00 in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.”
Dr. Young: Exactly. Exactly. By the way, when you read Jesus’ parables, particularly the ones that are more developed and involved like this one, always look for the surprise. In these parables, there are always those moments when Jesus says something or does something or a character does something that is least expected. And it’s in those moments that the point Jesus wants to drive home is made most salient. What?
He promised that if you worked 12 hours, you would receive a denarius. These guys worked one hour, and they didn’t receive one-twelfth of a denarius, they received an entire denarius. This is completely and totally unexpected generosity. It is undeserved. It is something that they were not owed at all. Unexpected and undeserved favor from someone who owes us nothing. The Bible calls that grace. Unexpected, and undeserved favor from someone who owes us nothing, that’s grace.
The vineyard owner literally had no legal obligation to pay them anything. By convention, he agreed to pay them a wage. They in turn, had no one to whom they could appeal for justice if he didn’t pay them because they had no rights. They were completely dependent on his willingness to bless them because of their work.
Years ago, I heard Stuart Briscoe talk about the relationship between God’s justice, God’s mercy, and God’s grace. And he described it like this. I think this will make sense to you. God’s justice is getting what we deserve from God. Because we have sinned, God’s justice is poured out upon us.
God’s mercy is not getting fully what we deserve because we deserve the punishment for our sins. God stays His hand of judgment and allows us to continue to live. And God’s grace is getting what we do not deserve. That is God’s favor given to us simply because he wills to give us his favor. God’s grace, my dear brothers and sisters, is the core issue in the relationship between God and his people.
Paul could hardly find language to describe God’s grace. In Ephesians 1:6, he writes of God’s glorious grace, “Which he has freely given us in the one he loves, Jesus Christ.” Later in the same passage, he writes “In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished upon us.” It’s almost like Paul can’t even come up with the right language.
So he talks about the riches of it. He talks about God lavishing his grace upon us. It’s out of control grace. It’s opulent grace. It’s extravagant grace. It’s jaw-dropping, eye-popping, head shaking, breathtaking spine-tingling favor poured out on us by God. That’s God’s grace. That’s God’s grace. It exceeds anything that we could possibly imagine.
God’s grace doesn’t make sense, by the standards of the world. You cannot reason your way to God’s grace. And if you try to, you will lose its wonder. For those of us who have believed in Jesus Christ and received the grace of God, it ought to cause us to step back in silent awe and then to burst forth in glorious praise. This is the grace of our God. But not everyone responds to God’s grace that way.
Look at the next verse in the parable. “So when those who came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.” Well, of course. I mean, they could do the math. I’m a theologian, and I could do that math. If a person worked 1 hour and got a denarius, what’s fair is for a person who works 12 hours to receive 12 denari, right? That seems fair. And by the way, let me ask you a question. How many of you ever had to teach your children to say, “That’s not fair?” Anyone ever have a child in their home who never said, “That’s not fair?”
We all have this keen sense of injustice, especially when we think it’s perpetrated toward us. So these guys know. They see that the person who worked for an hour got a whole denarius. So they’re standing in line thinking, I worked 12 hours. Like if we had a cartoon, their eyes would be bulged out and there’d be big denarius signs right there on their eyes. They thought they were gonna get 12 days of wages for 1 day of work. They expected. They felt they were owed 12 denari for this day of work.
And then Jesus says in the parable, “But each of them also received 1 denarius.” And all God’s people said, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair.” They didn’t think it was fair. Do you think it’s fair? By the world’s standards, it’s intensely unfair. Jesus goes on in the passage, and he says, “When they received their denarius, they began to grumble against the landowner.” That may be a milder term than actually what was going on. Those who were hired last worked only one hour. And they said, “You have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the work, and the heat of the day.”
And they had, they’ve worked the whole day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the heat of the day. They had borne the bulk of the work, and they got the same wage as those who had come at 5 p.m. and only worked for an hour. Is that fair? Grace, my dear brothers and sisters, grace violates our sense of justice. It disturbs our equilibrium. Grace is disruptive. We feel like the rules have been changed when we come face to face with the grace of God. I love what Philip Yancey has written, “Grace has about it the scent of a scandal.”
Years ago, I was teaching in a youth camp in southern Poland. I couldn’t speak Polish at the time so I was using an interpreter. The way these camps work, the students came in for two weeks. We were out in the remote village. They came in for two weeks and I would teach for four hours a day, five days a week, and basically teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So because I needed an interpreter, a woman by the name of Alina came down to interpret for me from English into Polish. She was an English student at the university in Warsaw.
And I found out that she came simply because she wanted to hear a native…be around a native English speaker. This was during the Communist era, and they didn’t have a lot of opportunity to interact with native English speakers. So, you know, I thought to myself, man, if you knew the way I talked, you probably wouldn’t wanna come. But anyway, she came and so for four hours a day, five days a week for two weeks, she interpreted me teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then that camp was over and another group of campers came, she decided to stay for the second set of…for the second camp.
So once again, for two weeks, five days a week, four hours a day, she interpreted me teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And then she stayed for the third camp. So Alina interpreted for me for six weeks, five days a week, four hours a day, and she heard about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the way these camps worked at the end of the camp, the campers would build a big cross. It was about that big around, that big log. It was probably close to 3 meters long, maybe longer and the crossbar was a meter and a half, 2 meters.
And we put it on our shoulder, and we walked through the mountains, dragging that cross for a short period of time reflecting on what Christ had done for us on the cross. So throughout the course of the six weeks that we were together, Alina and I didn’t have a lot of conversation. She was an introvert. I’m basically an introvert as well. So we didn’t talk a lot. As the camp went on, she would show up, I would teach, she would interpret, we just didn’t get to know each other very well.
But on this last weekend of this last camp, as we were walking through the mountains, she pulled me aside, and she fixed me with her stare, with her eyes. There was an intensity that I had never noticed before. And she said to me, “Mark, I have a question for you. If Adolf Hitler had believed, in the last moment of his life, what you have been teaching would God have welcomed him into heaven?” And I said, yes. And she said, “I will never believe in a God like that.” Grace violated her sense of justice and she walked away.
I came to learn from her friends that eight members of her father’s family had been murdered by the Nazis in the camps in Poland. Grace disrupted her sense of justice. It violated her sense of justice. She could never believe in a God like that.
The parable goes on. “The landowner answered one of them, ‘I’m not being unjust to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last, the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money, or are you envious because I am generous?'”
What a conundrum. Can we believe in the grace of God and still believe that God is just? One commentator has written it this way. “The God who is generous, far beyond what could be expected is also never less than just.” And so the question comes up, how then can we possibly bring together the justice of God, and the grace of God and have it makes sense? Let me give you three ideas if we wanna try to make sense of God’s grace.
God’s grace only makes sense when we realize the hopelessness and the helplessness of the human condition, before God. Ephesians 2:1, Paul says it’s this way. “As for you, you were dead, in your transgressions and sins.” I’ve done a lot of funerals and I can say to you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, dead people can’t do anything to change their situation. They’re dead. Not mostly dead, fully dead. And they can’t do anything. They’re dead.
And you and I, Paul says, are also dead because we are reaping the consequences of our sin. Paul wrote it this way, Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” Now listen, I’m not in any way going to diminish that the rebellion against God that was perpetrated, that was worked out through the evil of Nazi Germany is an evil and a sin and a rebellion that wreaked havoc in the lives of millions of people, destroyed millions of lives. I’m not beginning to say that our sin begins to equal the destruction that was a part of that particular individual’s sin.
But I will say this, each and every one of us in this room has intentionally pursued evil at the cost of other people. Each and every one of us has pursued our own ends, and we have wrought damage in the lives of others through that. And we are dead in our trespasses and sins, unable to do anything, to bring God’s favor upon us. That’s the first point we have to make.
Secondly, we can make sense of God’s grace when we see that Christ’s death on the cross satisfies God’s justice. Paul says it this way, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” And then Peter goes on and adds, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.” You see, God has to judge sin, because he’s holy, because he’s righteous. The sins, your sins, and my sins have to be judged. The penalty for that sin is death.
And so the sentence of death has to be executed. That was executed. And it was borne on our behalf by the person of Jesus Christ. He paid the penalty for our sin. God’s justice and wrath were poured out upon him so that God’s justice could be pure, and grace could abound because in the death of Christ, he accomplished not just the justice of God, but the grace and the mercy of God. And in him, we have newness of life. Our sins are forgiven, because of what Christ did on our behalf. And we will not pay the ultimate penalty for our sin.
The third thing that we have to do to make sense of grace, we have to realize if there’s nothing we can do, if God’s grace is completely not earned and undeserved, then what we must do is receive it as a gift through faith. Paul said it this way, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.” Faith turns what seems like a senseless, an offensive, an unjust act when God pours his grace out upon us into an awareness of just how magnificent God’s grace is. Faith turns, “I could never believe in a God like that,” to, “That’s the God that I want to believe in.” That’s God’s grace.
I’ll tell you a story here to finish up. I had an uncle by the name of Clarence. We loved Uncle Clarence. He retired from the Marine Corps 30 years, as a master sergeant, heart and soul of the Marine Corps. He came to live in our little town where my family had grown up, and we got to know him, we loved him. So many times I shared the Gospel with Uncle Clarence. He had lied about his age so that he could join the Marine Corps and go fight in Korea, which he had done. Then after Korea, he was in Vietnam before we were officially in Vietnam.
And when I would share the Gospel with him and talk about the forgiveness of sins, he would always say the same thing to me. He would always say, “God could never forgive me for what I have done.”
He would never talk about what he had done. He wouldn’t talk about what he had seen, and what he had experienced, and what he himself had done in war. But he knew one thing, no one could ever forgive him for that. We loved him. We shared the Gospel with him. We brought him into our family.
And at the age of 79, he came to faith in Jesus Christ. Man, he was set free. God’s grace was lavished upon him and he was set free.
Now, I told you, I’m a theologian so basically my math skills stop at Father, Son, Holy Spirit. But I did a little math. I took his age at his death, age of 87, and I divided it by 12 hours, the number of hours in the workday. And then I multiplied it by 11, and I came up to age 79. Uncle Clarence experienced 5 o’clock grace, 5 o’clock grace. And he’s not living in just one-twelfth of heaven, he’s got it all. He’s reveling in all of the grace of God, in the presence of the One who could forgive him because the wrath of God had been poured out on his Son.
I have no idea what you’re thinking of as you think about your relationship to a just God. But I do know this, it’s time, it’s time for you to recognize that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins. And the just God is pouring out his grace upon you, and all you have to do is believe. It’s time to let it go and allow God to save you.
Let’s pray together, shall we? So our Heavenly Father, I pray that if there is someone here who cannot make sense of grace, that through your Holy Spirit, you would convince them that your justice is satisfied by the death of your Son on the cross. And that your grace is poured out on any and all who would believe. And I pray Heavenly Father that you would give whoever it is, who is receiving by faith, this great news that their sins are forgiven in your grace, I pray that you’d give them the courage to tell someone, maybe those who are gathered to pray at the front, maybe me, whomever.
And I pray that you would convince them every second of every day that your grace is lavished upon them. And it is sufficient, no matter what they have done, or where they have been. And for those of us who believe, Heavenly Father, I pray that our lives would be characterized by constant gratitude for your grace. And that we too would live in the freedom of knowing that your justice is satisfied, that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. And that you are continuing to pour out your grace in our lives, day by day by day. We thank you for this in the name of the One who was crucified, rose again, and will come to complete your great work of redemption, our Lord Jesus. Amen.