First and Last: Genesis 39-40, Matthew 20

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I grew up in a Christian school. And like most kids, our class liked to get and give “cuts” in line. “Cuts” is exactly what it sounds like, cutting in line, except that it’s sanctioned by the person you’re cutting in front of. We’d say:

“Can I get cuts?”

and the other person would say:

“no way Jose Caseco… but you can get ‘back cuts.'”

Which are cuts behind the person instead of in front. You could almost always get back cuts because no one ever cared where you stood in line as long as it wasn’t in front of them.

But one day, our whole line-cutting world got turned upside down. We learned that day in Bible class that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Our teacher explained that the person who chooses to be last will be first in line in the Kingdom of heaven, and the person who chose to be first would be last in heaven.

From that day forward, we did everything we could to get in the back of the line. We would fight over the back of the line, assuming that God would see our desire to be last, and mark us down as first in heaven. Whatever that meant.

the problem with this line of thinking, to quote Matt Chandler, is the Bible.

“The last will be first, and the first last,” comes from Matthew 20:16 as the moral to a very specific parable. In this parable, Jesus tells the story of a man who needs help in his vineyard. So this man goes to Home Depot in the morning and picks up a bunch of guys and promises to pay them a certain amount to work for the day.

Later that day, this same man goes back for more help and picks up a bunch more dudes. And, as evening draws near, he picks up a third round of guys.

At the day’s end, he begins by paying the newest workers first. He pays them a full days wage! The guys who came first are excited because they assume they’ll be getting even more. But as the man goes down the line, he pays everyone the same, regardless of how long they worked.

The full day laborers are understandably upset and confront their boss about the situation. He says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

Then Jesus explains:

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

See how that changes the picture? The last will be first, and the first last means that everyone gets the same no matter when they show up. The last don’t get more just for being last. Everyone gets an equal share.

So what’s Jesus’ point?

He begins the story with these words: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”

This parable tells us what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s like a boss who pays everyone the same not matter how long they work for him.

The Kingdom of Heaven is about a God who gives grace generously and equally to all who come to Him through faith in Jesus. The reward of the Christian is to become equal partners with Jesus in the rule of God’s perfect kingdom, to share equally in His infinite glory, power, and majesty. And everyone, no matter if you’ve been a Christian for 80 years or 80 seconds, everyone gets an equal share.

Because it’s not about our work. It’s about Jesus’ work. He worked a “full day” of labor to pay for our sins on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to pay it, make it up, or stand indebted to anyone. God stamps our work perfect in Jesus and we all share equally in the the most glorious treasure in the universe, God Himself, forever.

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