The Bible’s Bad Examples

Golden Calf

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

So often the examples the Bible provides to help us are not positive, but negative. Few of the families we read about give us good examples to follow. They behave more like characters in a soap opera. But when we see the results of their bad behavior, we have a good idea about the kind of behavior to avoid.

God’s interaction with the nation of Israel often worked the same way. “These things happened to them as examples,” Paul says. The examples he cites describe tens of thousands of them falling into sin and paying with their lives.

Still, the examples can help us. First, they serve as a warning: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Don’t be like the overconfident child who says to his father, “Don’t worry about me, dad, I can take care of myself.” Given the right set of circumstances, there is no sin that is beyond the capability of my own sinful flesh. The potential is always there for me to fall. I must always turn away from myself to find my strength.

The second help comes in the form of a reminder. “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man.” God does not allow even a single person to be attacked by superhuman, unique temptations that surpass what other people have to bear. Don’t despair. Don’t give up. Don’t assume that we are doomed to fail, so there’s no use in trying. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of temptation, but we shouldn’t overestimate its power, either.

Now come a handful of God’s promises that are a bright light of hope among all these warnings. “God is faithful.” Here is where our focus belongs. We cannot be trusted. God can. How can we know this? Look at those same gracious gifts we are tempted to overlook. Hasn’t he been devoted to us from the very beginning of time? He made the world a perfect paradise in which we might live. He created our first parents in perfect innocence, and when they fell into sin and made a mess of his creation, he picked up the pieces himself. He came to them when they tried to hide from him. He still finds those who aren’t looking for him. He brought them to repentance. He promised a Savior.

He built and expanded on that promise through thousands of years of history. Generation after generation turned away from him, but he never wavered on his promise. Keeping it cost him everything. If that meant letting creatures he had made, and for whom he provided every day, look down upon him and mistreat him, still he would keep it. It did. If that meant suffering the hell these creatures deserved, and dying like a dangerous criminal, still he would keep it. It did. God is faithful, and he has never wavered on the promise to save us, or any other promise he has given as well.

In light of such unwavering faithfulness, Paul’s next promise might not seem so shocking, but it is no less good news: “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” How could he? After literally dying to have us, after giving his life to own us, how could he sit on his hands while wave after wave of temptation washes over us and eventually drowns us in a sea of sin and despair? Our Savior still keeps Satan on a short chain. He still decides that temptation may go this far, but no farther.

And even though temptations still come, he promises, “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Notice that the way out he promises doesn’t make the temptation disappear. Usually that may be what we want, but God has a different way of dealing with us. The temptation isn’t good, but it has served to expose our human weakness. Now God’s way out is to give us the divine ability to stand up under it. And how can that be found? By focusing on the love of a Savior, whose love changes our hearts and sets us free from the power of sin to control us.

When you are feasting on filet mignon, ground beef loses some of its appeal. When you are watching a golden sunset transform into a brilliant symphony of light, the cheesy sitcoms playing on the TV inside the house aren’t much of a distraction. And when our hearts are being captivated by the tender expressions of Jesus’ love, then the petty promises of this world’s perverse pleasures haven’t disappeared, they just can’t compete with our true love.

No Place To Be Casual

casual

1 Corinthians 9:27 “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Our country is becoming a more casual place. Etiquette, formality, and seriousness are out. “Do what feels comfortable” is in. We dress casual, almost everywhere. We interact casual, on a first-name basis with everyone.

Whether you find this trend towards the casual refreshing or regressive, there is one place we must agree it does not belong: A casual approach to Christianity will not do. You can no more be casual about your Christian faith and life than you can be casual on a battlefield. But we are all tempted to try.

Paul was taking his faith and life seriously when he confessed, “I beat my body and make it my slave.” He understood the serious consequences for failing to do so: “so that…I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” He recognized a basis for his concern in Israel’s history: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

Look at the advantages God gave to the people who came out of Egypt. They all traveled under the shadow of the cloud of God’s special presence. You remember that cloud that led them, that appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They themselves had walked on dry ground through the middle of the Red Sea. They personally experienced the most important act of deliverance and demonstration of God’s saving love for his people in world history before the coming of Christ!

God’s special graces didn’t stop on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, the manna God gave them in the wilderness. It’s not hard to understand how the manna took care of their bodies. But in what sense did it feed them spiritually? Moses gives us the answer in Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your forefathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” The gift of manna taught Israel a lesson in faith: Every day they must trust God to take care of their needs. They could not save manna for a month ahead, or a week ahead, or even a day ahead. If they tried it turned rotten. And every day God kept his promise, confirming that he was still thinking about them and loved them. This message behind the manna became food for their souls.

And then what happened? “They served God wholeheartedly as his obedient children and marched through the wilderness from victory to victory until they all reached the promised land.” No. “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert” (1 Corinthians 10:5). Israel took a casual approach to all the good things God had done. They overlooked God’s gracious gifts, turned against the Lord, and they died in the desert for their sin.

It shouldn’t be difficult to see the point of Paul’s little historical review: Beware of casual approach to God’s grace! We haven’t walked between walls of water, but we have seen God himself die on a cross to free us from sin. We know how he broke through the walls of his own tomb when he rose on the third day. Do you think those Israelites who walked through the Red Sea ever forgot the experience? But somehow it lost its impact on their souls. I don’t believe any of us will forget that Jesus sacrificed himself for us on a cross and took his life back three days later. But somehow we lose our sense of wonder at it. We stop marveling. It doesn’t seem so important anymore.

Israel got used to the idea that the miracle of manna would be there day after day. They even got tired of it. We get used to the idea that there is church this week, and next week, and every Sunday after that as far as we can tell. And dare I say it–sometimes we even get tired of it? Such a loss of appreciation for God’s saving grace, such a casual disinterest in the sacrifices God has made to rescue from the eternal night of death, is death to our faith. It is dangerous to overlook God’s gracious gifts!

Unconditional Surrender

Surrender

1 Corinthians 15:25-26 “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

When I was in grade school, someone gave me a model of the Battleship Missouri to build. In the box was a picture of the signing of the terms of surrender that brought WW II to an official end. Members of the Japanese delegation are dressed in their dress uniforms, or even suits with top hats. They stand dignified at the table quietly signing the documents. Though they were signing terms of unconditional surrender, there is no trace of humiliation apparent from the old photograph. Their emperor Hirohito retained his life and his title, continuing as a symbolic leader of Japan until 1989, forty-five years after the surrender.

Contrast that picture of those defeated with the one here. Ancient kings stood on the necks of their defeated enemies, literally putting them under their feet, usually before having them executed. For the ancients it communicated to people on both side the absolute powerlessness of those who lost. It signaled the utter end of their resistance, unconditional surrender. Jesus rules until he achieves just this end–all his enemies absolutely powerless, unable ever to raise any opposition, unconditional surrender.

Do you see why Jesus does not stop short of such an end? Our life in this world has been a struggle. It is a struggle caused by great opposing powers. Every physical pain we suffer, every indication that we are slowly aging toward death, is the result of the first sin introduced to our first parents by the devil. Every strained relationship in which we are involved–every broken friendship or disintegrating marriage–is the result of clashing sinful natures, unable to lay aside self to serve and love.

And how often isn’t the world right there throwing gasoline on the fire? If the devil, the world, or our own sinful nature continued on in any capacity after the Last Day, could heaven possibly be heaven? So long as some vestige of these defeated dominions might rise to power and authority again, could eternity possibly be secure? Jesus secures unconditional surrender from his enemies so that he might truly be king. Then heaven can provide all the freedom and joy he has promised. Then our faith can be confident the world to come will not be a repeat of the sin and heartache we know now.

For all of this to be so, there is one last enemy Jesus must destroy. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Contrary to a growing body of opinion, death is not your friend. Death is an enemy. That’s what the Bible says. I read a humorous and imaginary interview with death in a magazine once. Death said that it was trying to remake its image. It didn’t want to be seen as scary, gloomy, or depressing anymore. It was getting a new wardrobe, taking up some new interests, apologizing for some of its past bad behavior. Sometimes it seems like death has actually hired a marketing firm to fix its broken reputation. People champion the “right to die,” as though you had to be afraid that somehow you might miss out on the opportunity. Believe me, you don’t have to fear that you are not going to die. It’s going to happen. Sometimes death is advertised as part of the great “circle of life,” as oxymoronic as such a statement is. Becoming dinner for something else on the food chain is not a part of living. It is the end of living. Death is not your friend. It’s your enemy, because it is the enemy of Jesus.

Sometimes even Christians become a confused about this. Christians don’t live in fear of death, not because death isn’t scary, but because we can overcome fear with faith. We believe that Jesus’ own death and resurrection have defeated death. We believe that death opens up the door to the life to come. That doesn’t make death itself your friend. You wouldn’t want to take it with you to heaven. It is still the wages of sin. It still takes some people away before we have the chance to lead them to faith. It still creates pain and loneliness. It still deprives us of the love and presence of friends and parents and siblings, and sometimes even children, if only temporarily. Death doesn’t play nice.

But Jesus rules until the end, when he will destroy even this enemy: death. Already his saving work at the cross and in our hearts has placed in us a new life death can’t touch. Already he has transformed death from a permanent and incurable condition to a temporary one. Soon, his rule will banish death from existence altogether, and everything he set out to do for us will be complete. That is Jesus’ end, his goal, his purpose.

Then the end will come. Then begins a new life that knows no end.

A Simple Place to Start

Friends

John 1:45 “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.”

Many people hear “evangelism” today, and it makes their blood run cold to think of standing on some stranger’s doorstep hoping they aren’t going to be insulted as the door is slammed in their face. Most of you aren’t going to be finding others to tell that way. The early Christians looked for opportunities among their family and friends. They followed the social networks that were already in place. They spoke about Jesus to people they already knew, people who were already in the habit of talking to them.

Isn’t that what Philip does? Nathanael was a fellow Galilean, from the nearby village of Cana. Philip has found something too good to keep to himself, so he wants to tell others. He doesn’t start by chasing down strangers. He could find a way to reach them in the future. He starts by looking for someone he knows, and he finds Nathanael, a friend, to tell him Jesus is the Messiah God had promised.

I could share statistics with you that tell us more people are won for Christ in this way today than by any other kind of mission work. But my point isn’t to discourage other ways of spreading the gospel. The point is this: After Jesus finds you, a good way to start finding others is to start with those you already know.

And a good place to start the discussion is to tell them what you already know. None of the Twelve Disciples were rabbis when Jesus found them. At most, some of them were active laymen in their synagogues, men who took the Old Testament Scriptures seriously and were waiting for the Lord to fulfill his promises. At worst, some of them were irreligious social outcasts like Matthew the tax collector, or anti-government terrorists like Simon the Zealot. None of them were academic theologians.

As a result, Philip’s presentation to Nathanael is relatively simple. He starts with what he knows. God promised to send the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior in the Old Testament. Now God has kept that promise. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, the carpenter’s son, is the one. He doesn’t delve into deep theology. He doesn’t even make a systematic presentation of sin and grace. He simply tells Nathanael, “You need to know Jesus.”

One of the most common reasons people give for not talking about their faith is, “I don’t know what to say.” But you do know what to say. Start with what you know. Can you remember the Apostle’s Creed? That’s a nice summary of Christian faith. Do you know that sin condemns us and we can’t pay for it ourselves? Do you know that Jesus took it all away at the cross? The core of the Christian faith is nothing more than that. It’s a start. Can you do what Philip did, and tell someone, “You need to know Jesus”? You can talk about your faith.

Just keep the focus on Jesus himself. “‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” Nathanael was a skeptic, and so are many of the people we run into today. They have doubts and objections about all kinds of things found in Scripture. As much as we try to prepare ourselves, we may not have an answer for every objection every time.

But Philip didn’t get into a debate about a side issue. In his head he may not have had the answer to every question. But in his heart he knew what he knew. Jesus is the Savior. He didn’t respond with an explanation. He responded with an invitation. “Come and See.”

You can still do that. After Jesus has found you, you can find others and tell them to come and see. He can take it from there.

Where Jesus Leads

Hiking

John 1:43 “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

My previous congregation had an elementary school. Sometimes I watched the children in the lower grade classrooms be the leader for the day. They love to be the first in line, to have everyone stop when they stop and everyone go when they go. It’s the following that is the hard part. And if I heard dissension in the ranks when they were out in the hall on the way to or from recess, if someone wasn’t happy with what was happening, it almost always came from the followers.

We adults shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back. Ever serve on a committee? As people sometimes joke, if you have four people on it, you have five opinions. They can’t all get their way, and that can get tense. When it comes to what we believe and how we live, Jesus doesn’t even make it a committee of two–him and me– as though we could work out some compromises between us along the way. “Follow me,” he says. That means giving up the lead, even over my own life–even over my own heart and mind! And that’s something we don’t naturally want to do.

Why not? Why isn’t following Jesus easier? Following him means going where he goes, experiencing what he experienced, living like he lived. When Philip was younger, I doubt he said to himself, “When I grow up, I am going to join a persecuted little minority, give up my desires and comforts to love others and spread the gospel, and die by execution thousands of miles from home.” But that is what following Jesus, and living a life of love, led to in Philip’s case if we can trust the writings of early church fathers like Eusebius.

That’s not to say that following Jesus is all pain and unpleasantness–not by far! The blessings are immeasurable. But following Jesus in love is less about self-fulfillment, self-promotion, or self-realization, and more about self-giving, self-denial, and self-control. Following Jesus is a life lived for others. Following Jesus is a life of service and sacrifice. That’s where he went.

It’s no secret why many refuse to follow him, many stop following him, and we are tempted to go our own way. My sinful nature doesn’t like where Jesus is leading me in this world. It doesn’t like the things he lets me suffer. It doesn’t want to give up what he asks me to give up. It doesn’t want to see others have it all while I seem to be falling behind. It doesn’t want to follow him in faith.

Following someone means one other thing. It means staying close and keeping them in sight, so that we don’t lose our way. For three years Philip walked where Jesus walked, slept where Jesus slept, ate where Jesus ate. Think of what he witnessed! The sick healed, the dead raised, the greatest sermons ever preached, violent storms stopped in their tracks, vile demons forced to retreat, a cross with God’s Son hanging on it, a tomb with God’s Son lying in it, an empty grave with God’s Son overcoming it.

Following Jesus still means never letting him out of our sight. We don’t see him with our physical eyes, but he is near us in his word and in the sacraments. We hear and read the same things Philip saw in the sermons we hear and the Bible classes we attend. We come to the same table at which Philip once ate, and we receive the same body and blood given for the forgiveness of our sins. In God’s word, in God’s house, gathered in Jesus’ name, he is still in our sights, leading us closer to our heavenly home each day.

In this sense, “Follow me” is as much a special invitation, a blessed gift, as it is a command. From that blessed spot right behind Jesus you can peer into his manger to see God becoming weak, and little, and human so that he could live with you and be your Savior. Just behind Jesus, following him, you can look up to the cross where every sin we ever committed drains his life away, while he drains sin of every penalty and all its power. Following Jesus from the grave you can see the shades of your own empty tomb in his.

When Jesus finds you, follow where he leads, and you will never regret it as long as you live…which will be forever.

In God’s Court

Christ-Judgement

Daniel 7:10 “The court was seated, and the books were opened.”

Doesn’t this sound like our own courtroom procedures? What happens when the Judge walks in? The bailiff calls out, “All rise.” Everyone stands up in respect as the judge makes his way to the bench. Once the he has taken his seat, and it is time to begin the proceedings, everyone is seated as well. Then we begin the trial and anticipate the judgment.

God’s court, however, functions differently than our own in some important ways. There are no lawyers arguing the cases. There are no witnesses, no scientific experts, being called to the stand. There is no jury hearing the case. From start to finish, all eyes are on the Ancient of Days, anticipating his judgment.

That is because he is the one who holds the books. All the facts of the case for every human soul have been perfectly recorded. No lawyer’s rhetoric, no DNA testing, no lying witnesses can change the verdict. God knows all our deeds. More than that, God knows our hearts.

Does that fill you with fear or with confidence? Do you anticipate the day with dread or with longing? Do you know what your entry in God’s book looks like? For every believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, it looks like the words we hear from Jesus in his great description of the Judgment: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

All God knows of us are the good things we have done. By faith, all our crimes and sins have been removed from the books, erased by Jesus’ blood. By faith, all our lives have been made to look clean and new, covered by the loving perfection of Jesus’ holy life. When we join this scene from Daniel chapter 7, and stand in the presence of the Ancient of Days, Jesus makes it possible for us to anticipate his judgment with joy.

That’s because how God sees us is even more important than how we see him. In Jesus, we have never looked better.

Heaven’s Formidable Force

Angel Spear

Daniel 7:9-10 “…the Ancient of Days took his seat…Thousands upon thousands attended him, ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.”

These hundreds of millions standing before God and attending him are not the people gathered for the judgment. They are the angels. In other contexts they serve God mostly by serving us.

Their name means “messenger,” and often they serve as heaven’s heralds, the postmen of Paradise, delivering important news to God’s people below. Sometimes they are guardians, delivering entire nations from their enemies or wayward individuals from their own mistakes. On the Last Day they will serve as ushers and crowd control, making sure each man and woman is gathered and seated in the proper section of the courtroom for sentencing, whether they are slated for heaven or for hell.

Now Daniel sees them standing before God himself and serving him. Their very number and appearance together is enough to send chills up your spine. Have you ever been gathered in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of people, all making their presence known with their cheering? The mass of people and volume of their voices produces a thrill of emotion, a kind of perception of power and infectious joy.  The very sight of so many people can stir the soul.

Now Daniel sees not ten thousand, but ten thousand times ten thousand–hundreds of millions of God’s holy angels gathered for this occasion. These angels are not the Ancient of Days himself, but their presence surely heightens his glory.

And their number inspires our comfort. There is a passage in Revelation chapter 12 that suggests God’s holy angels outnumber the demons by a margin of two to one. Sometimes we Christians feel like a beleaguered little minority in this world, an ever shrinking resistance movement to the forces of evil. We are weakened by defections and infighting. We struggle to hang on.

But “those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” as Elisha once told his servant frightened by the enemy army encircling them. “We are not alone” is more than a slogan for fans of science fiction or believers in UFO’s. We are surrounded by extraterrestrials. But these are the angel armies of the Ancient of Days, the ranks of heaven God uses to protect us. Their presence and numbers give us courage to fight God’s battles today.

The Ancient of Days

Sun-Clouds

Daniel 7:9 “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire and its wheels were all ablaze.”

Unlike our names, which we often choose because they sound nice, or they have been in the family for a long time, or they are trendy, God’s names are always meaningful. Daniel wrote approximately 2600 years ago. This name tells us the Lord was already ancient then. Unlike some ladies and a few men who want to hide their age, the Lord is proud of his. This title places him before human memory, before creation, before there even were such things as “days.”

That is a truth that confronts us when we think we are in a position to confront God. It forces us to acknowledge his glory. We commonly take issue with the way that God is running the universe. Some people even doubt his existence because of the presence of disease, hunger, and injustice. But it is not the suffering of others that bothers us most. It’s when he lets it happen to me. Frankly, God seems more than a little incompetent when he lets me live with such pain. Why does everything I try to accomplish seems to be frustrated? I have to put up with the knuckleheads at home, at work, or in the neighborhood. Who does God think he is, anyway?

Have we forgotten? He is the “Ancient of Days!” He is that grand being who comes before us in every way. He has experienced every moment of the past and knows every detail of the future. The better question is the one he once put to Job, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you , and you shall answer me? Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone–while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” A lowly little newcomer like me question the Ancient of Days? That is the height of presumption and arrogance. The only proper demeanor for us when our eyes are on the Ancient of Days is humble submission that acknowledges his glory.

Other features of Daniel’s vision unveil God’s glory. “His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like pure wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him.” The whiteness of his clothing and the fire in which he sits emphasize the Lord’s holiness and purity. There is not a speck, not even a trace, of the moral contamination. He is pure, holy, selfless love and absolute justice.

That glorious God is not only pure in himself. He also purifies. The fire of his holiness flows out from this throne in a river. You know how fire purifies things. It’s heat makes our food safe to eat. It can cauterize a wound or refining precious metals. The author of Hebrews quotes Moses in reminding us that “Our God is a consuming fire,” but the impurities he burns away are not bacteria that spoil food or the trace minerals that spoil unrefined gold. The fire of his holiness consumes every taint of sin in anything the Lord contacts.

This is hardly a warm and cuddly picture of the Ancient of Days. I don’t think Daniel would have been tempted to run up to the Ancient of Days on his throne in this vision and wrap his arms around him in a bear hug. There is too much of a sense of awe and holy fear. In order to keep our image of God from becoming distorted, we need to balance Daniel’s vision here with “The Lord is my Shepherd,” with God lying in the manger at Christmas, with the Lamb of God hanging on a cross and dying for our sins. The same God who thunders from Mount Sinai dies for us on Mount Calvary.

That this God–the Ancient of Days, whose existence spans eternity, burning with his zeal for holiness and white in his purity, so much greater than ourselves–that this same God would condescend to make himself small and human, to suffer like we do, to die for the sins we committed, doesn’t detract from his glory. It makes it shine ever so much more brightly. It inspires our humble worship and enthusiastic praise.

Even Better Than “Fair”

Coin

Matthew 20:8-10 “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.’ The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.”

Equal pay, but definitely not equal work–some had worked for twelve hours in the vineyard, others barely one hour. Yet each received the same.

The same heaven is waiting for each of us at the end our life’s day. We will all enjoy the same eternal bliss in the presence of the same God who shares with us the same eternal love. That reward is not based upon our service but God’s promise. And for that we can be deeply, deeply thankful. During high school and college I spent eight summers working on a dairy farm.  I didn’t get paid much my first summer, but I was a complete novice. If I had been paid what I deserved I would have been deeply in debt at summer’s end.

Honestly, hasn’t our Christian service been like that? Bad church politics and selfish decision making mar our service on the one side, and unwillingness to participate, unwillingness to contribute, stand in the way on the other. Who knows how much of the vineyard we would have uprooted and destroyed if God didn’t transform our humble efforts with his grace! When the day ends, we have every reason to pray, “Lord Jesus, don’t pay me what I deserve. Just give me what you promised. Let grace guide your motives when you reward your workers.”

But pride doesn’t see it that way. “When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day’” (Matthew 20:11-12). They speak no lie. Their work was hot and hard. Ours often is, too. Churchill offered the people of England nothing but blood, sweat, and tears as they engaged World War II in 1940. Work in the vineyard is one metaphor for our Christian service. Warfare is another: “Onward Christian Soldiers,” right? It isn’t always tea and crumpets. That doesn’t mean we should punch out and go home. It doesn’t mean that we should desert the ranks. It does mean we can expect some sweat and tears.

And the Master did treat them all the same. Working longer didn’t make him treat them better. Instead, he was consistently gracious and faithful. What they denounced as a miscarriage of justice was actually a miracle of his mercy. “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man 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?” (Matthew 20:13-15).

The Lord keeps his promise in spite of our subpar work and unappreciative attitude. He didn’t pay these workers more. He didn’t dock their pay either. He paid them just the same. Because all our failings find forgiveness at the foot of Jesus’ cross, because God loves us not for our service but for our Savior’s service as the sacrifice for our sin, we can expect him to keep his promise when our last payday comes. Like the rest, we will receive infinitely more than we deserve. After all, what more is there than the denarius we have been promised? Where do you go up from heaven? How do you get more than eternity?

Our Master truly is generous. Why not equally share the wealth that all humanity can never exhaust or consume in the unending world to come?