For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16, 17)
Jesus once told a story about workers in a Vineyard:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
About the third hour 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 the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing? Because no one has hired us, they answered. He said to them, You also go and work in my vineyard.
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. 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.
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?
So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20: 1-16)
The meaning of this parable as printed in my Concordia Self-Study Commentary reads: To work in the vineyard (serve the Lord) is a privilege and the pay is pure grace; to question that grace for others is to lose it for oneself. God’s gift of grace is available to all who come to faith before their life here on earth is over. It makes no difference whether they were brought to faith as an infant through baptism or during the last hours/moments of their earthly life. The “pay” is the same – eternity with the Lord in heaven.
There is nothing we can do on our own to become right with God and fit for heaven. God demands holiness and we are sinners. But Jesus paid our debt of sin through His perfect life and innocent suffering and death on the cross. He conquered death and Satan when He rose again three days later. Jesus is the true meaning of “Grace”. Through faith in Jesus we become holy in God’s eyes. Our sins no longer count against us. Our debt to God is paid. Without God’s grace offered through the sacrifice of His Son, we are doomed to destruction and will suffer in Hell for eternity when this life here on earth is over.
I was reminded of how precious this promise of God is recently, with the loss of a dear friend and family member. Jerry was called to his eternal home on Easter Sunday (4/20/14) at 6:15 A.M. He was not only a brother-in-law, but a good friend of my husband and me and our family for many years. He was funny and loving, and a good father. He was the type of person that people genuinely enjoy spending time with. He made everyone laugh, but beneath that fun-loving and joking exterior, was a man who truly loved his family, and when the situation demanded it, he knew how to be serious and make responsible decisions. He spent many hours with our two sons – teaching them to fish. The boys loved him and learned so much from him.
But there was always one thing about Jerry that pulled at my heart. Although he was born into a strong Catholic family and baptized as an infant, he never truly lived his faith. He grew up going through all the Catholic rituals of First Communion and Catechism, and attended the Catholic school, but outwardly it seemed as if his heart wasn’t in it.
He was introduced to the Lutheran Church by his wife in the early seventies, but still took no interest, at least outwardly it didn’t seem so. His claim was that one did not need to be a member of a church to believe. This fact is true, but there is more to it than that. A faith that is not nourished with God’s Word can become weak and vulnerable. It can get trampled and lost in the daily hustle and bustle of life.
One important thing to remember is that God’s church is not a building or a single denomination. His church is made up of all who believe in, and profess Jesus as their Savior from sin.
Therefore all who believe in Jesus are members of God’s family and are recipients of His never-ending grace. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8). So we are saved by God’s grace (His undeserved love) through faith in Jesus, His one and only Son.
Our faith is the rope which attaches us to Jesus. Time spent hearing and studying God’s Word strengthens that rope. It makes our faith grow and blossom, and will cause it to deepen into a truly meaningful relationship with God. As that faith is strengthened, it will become evident in our life. We won’t be able to hide it, and we won’t want to hide it, because we will have a burning desire to hear and learn more about Him. The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith through the Word, so as we hear, read and study the Word, we will see and feel Him working in our lives. Through faith we will become tuned in to God’s presence and more tightly attached to Him.
This attachment is not one which we need to fear, as in an earthly attachment which can be snatched away from us. Jesus promises to always be with us. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). There are times in life when we may loose the grip on our end of the rope of faith and wander away, but Jesus will never let go of His end. He will use life situations both good and bad to draw us back into His fold where we are protected and loved.
God disciplines those He loves and His loving discipline, although unpleasant and painful at times, is for our good. It is for our “Eternal Good” and/or for the eternal good of others we come into contact with. His discipline makes us realize that we need Him. Jesus tells us; Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me (Revelation 3: 19, 20).
In the spring of 2013 Jerry was diagnosed with brain cancer. The tumor was surgically removed and he went through the usual Chemo and radiation treatments, but to no avail. The tumor came back and the doctors said there was no more they could do for him.
Jerry heard Jesus knocking on the door of his heart and tugging on his rope of faith through his cancer. The Holy Spirit moved him to open the door and reach out and grab tightly onto that rope which had kept him attached to Jesus all these years. About six weeks before his death he re-acknowledged his faith in Jesus and with a repentant heart he asked to be given the Lord’s Supper. We can be confident that he is in heaven receiving the end result of God’s precious gift of grace. We can be sure we will see him there on the day we are called home.
The nagging feeling I always had regarding his eternal good is now gone and I am at peace. The fact that he was called home at 6:15 on Easter morning, the same time of day that Jesus rose from death that first Easter so long ago, is a comfort to me and should be to all who love him. It was Jesus’ way of communicating to us; You don’t need to worry. He is safe here with me. You will see him when you get here.
I am sure Jerry is making people laugh in heaven just like he did while he was with us here, and he has probably already found the perfect fishing spot to take his nephews to when they arrive some day.
Although he spent 72 years here on this earth, the biggest majority of that time was not spent working earnestly in the Lord’s vineyard. He is somewhat like the worker in Jesus’ story who only worked for one hour, or like that thief on the cross beside Jesus who came to faith in his last hours of life. But Jerry, like the thief on the cross and the worker in the vineyard, still received his “denarius”. He is now living in the mansions of heaven and serving the Lord joyfully for eternity. God’s grace is a free gift to all who believe. And all who die believing will receive their pay no matter how long or how diligently they labored.
Thank you Jesus for your wonderful gift of grace!
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke 23:42).
Gloria Dei! Amen.