The Generosity of God

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“So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16 HCSB.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right. ’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing…”

As he began giving out wages in the evening, the first ones to join the workforce felt aggrieved to see the last ones receive the same pay as they –

“ …you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!” (Matthew 20:1-16 HCSB)

This story actually gives me great comfort. My father received Christ in his last decade. For much of my life – particularly after I was saved – I wondered what would become of him. With many tears, my sister and I interceded for our father’s soul. Then at last, the prayers of many were answered and he put his trust in Jesus. But, then I wondered, was his not a wasted life? So many years spent doing things that were of little value for the Kingdom of God. And at that late stage in his life – and housebound with Alzheimer’s dementia – there was little time for him to put in any worthwhile work in God’s vineyard. Would he have to be content with the beggar’s wage at the heavenly gate?

(My father, I am sure, had no time for such thoughts – he was busy rejoicing in his newfound assurance and praying for the world to turn to Christ).

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

As Christians, we know that no earthly achievement will matter in the end. All wealth, fame, honour, conquests, Nobel prizes and Olympic medals will be forgotten – consigned to the ashes. Only what we have done for glory of His name will last.

This story may still rankle with many. Life, we are told is never fair, but on the Day of Judgment, God will set things right. But here, we see something totally unexpected. On the Final Day, when the books are opened God’s tremendous generosity is on display. Think about it. And think about the ones who came last.

Many of them will have been rebels all their lives, having resisted God’s grace until the last hour. There will be plenty of former criminals and fraudsters, drug addicts and prostitutes, bankers and politicians. We have all heard of deathbed conversions – Darwin, I read, had one. Some, who had spent all their lives on the scoffer’s seat, mocking God and His servants, will be let in.

Others like Paul had persecuted the church, but at least he spent much of the remainder of his life building up the Kingdom. But what about those, who did nothing for the Kingdom, and then managed to sneak in at the last minute – the ones who “never bore the burden of the day and the burning heat?” Will they be handed the full reward, alongside the super saints – Mother Theresa, and the rest. And Christ has warned us that so many respectable ‘Pharisees’ of all ages would be left outside.

 “So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Think about the alternative. The last ones are given lower places, smaller crowns and plainer clothes. At the banquet, a meagre portion is laid out for them. Shouldn’t they, after all, receive their just deserts for resisting God for so long? But then, would the heavenly banquet be just as joyous?

This generosity of God reflects His overflowing grace, and also His tremendous joy to find a prodigal child home, safe and sound. In welcoming them, He is also thanking the soul who shone a light in the prodigal’s path – who shared the word or a meal, visited him in hospital or in prison, had a kind word or persistently followed the lost sheep.

When God receives the latecomer home, He will not count the time or money the prodigal threw away in decadent living and in wasted opportunities. He will have no word of complaint or rebuke, only a warm embrace and a seat of honour. At that great celebration, there will be no time for reproaches or token consolation prizes. All who come will receive the victor’s crown if they hold on till the end.

So, when I see loved ones stranded on the sea away from Christ – as I plead for them from the safety of God’s shore – this story gives me reason to hope.

Thank You, eternal Father, for Your wonderful generosity. You love to bless and are full of kindness. Help us to be more like You as the years go by, forgiving others easily and forgetting what people may have done in the past. We look towards the day when we will be reunited with all our loved ones in Your home.

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