Thoughts of kingdoms consume us. Not that we call them kingdoms – but if you are not constantly worrying about your home life, your finances, your job and your company, then you are fixated on the Olympic medal count, how things are shaping up for the mid-term elections, or something else that overwhelms and dominates your mind.
Jesus invites us to look far above all this and consider a very different kingdom. Many of our Lord’s parables begin just as today’s does: “For the kingdom of heaven is like…”. This means that the parable, the story, is going to use something the hearer will understand to explain what we do not understand: the kingdom of heaven.
In the kingdom of heaven, extraordinary love fills the heart of the landowner, who represents God. But we also learn that the field is his, not the workers. He is in charge, not the laborers.
What this means is that to God everything belongs. God makes, man is made. He is the Creator, we the created. So when He sends us into His vineyard, the rules are His, the order is His.
But He is no cruel despot, no tyrant or slave-driver. He gives lavishly, generously, more than what is deserved.
He tells the workers hired at the third hour, “Whatever is just, whatever is right, I will give you.”They suppose him to mean that he will pay a fair wage. But he does not. He pays more.
But the meaning of the parable is not that some workers got a greater hourly pay, the same money for less work. No, there is something more joyous and wonderful at work in the parable. God does not give whatever is just; He gives justice itself. He does not give what is right, He bestows righteousness—external, unmerited, undeserved righteousness.
That’s what forgiveness does. It lets the sinner off the hook. We don’t like to forgive, because we want the person we are mad at to pay, to suffer, to grovel, to atone. God doesn’t work like that. He gives His grace, His love, His kindness freely, generously. And difficult as it is, the followers of Jesus start to do the same.
But then we get to this thorny problem at the end, the problem of election, or predestination. “Many are called, but few chosen.” God’s Word clearly teaches election, that God chooses His saints for salvation.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,” (Ephesians 1:3–5 NKJV)
Now there are two great dangers when thinking about election: security and despair. The secure person says, “I am a Christian, God forgives me, therefore I can do whatever I want, good or evil, and it does not matter, I am still saved.” Such a person remains secure in his sins. Is this you? Do you think of your sins as something light, trivial? Do you suppose you can deliberately commit sins, and so abuse the grace of God? This is not faith, not the faith created by the Holy Spirit unto salvation. You will perish in this false faith. Repent, and believe the Gospel, that sins are forgiven in Christ, and seek also to improve your life. Works will not save you, but they do serve your neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.
But then some of you are driven to despair, as you gaze at your works and sins and focus upon them. For when are the good works ever enough? How deliberate are your sins? When can you say, “I have improved my life as far as it needs to be improved”? It is never enough. So you can begin to doubt whether you really are among the elect. The only voice you can hear from God is the voice condemning the hypocrites on the last day, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Or in the horrifying words of the landowner in today’s Gospel, “Take what is yours and go your way.” It is a terrible thing to be expelled by God from His vineyard, to become an exile in a desolate country.
Are you terrified of your sins? Good. Then rising from your knees at confession, or falling to them again at the Communion, look to Jesus, about whom the Father says:
Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.” (Isaiah 42:1 NKJV)
We heard the voice say last week, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is elected, Jesus is chosen by God. His election is the one that matters.
Do not think about your own election. Think about His. The Son of God, having taken on human flesh, went into the Jordan to be baptized for you, with you, in your place. The sinless one chooses to become a sinner, the sinner. And the Father declares, “This is My Elect One in whom My soul delights!” He is transfigured on the mountain, and the Father declares again, “This is My Elect One in whom My soul delights.” Jesus is crucified for us, and the Father declares, “This is My Elect One in whom My soul delights!” Jesus is risen from the dead, and the Father declares, “This is My Elect One in whom My soul delights!”
Then you are brought to the font, and God declares over you, “This one is in Jesus, My Elect One; in this baptized child My soul delights!” And Rachel comes to Confirmation and the Father declares, “This one is in Jesus, My Elect One; in her who confesses My name My soul delights!”
The Formula of Concord, the last great Reformation confession of faith, speaks about Election this way:
1. The human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ. By His faultless obedience, suffering, and death, Christ merited for us the righteousness that helps us before God and also merits eternal life.
2. Such merit and benefits of Christ are presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments.
3. By His Holy Spirit, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, Christ will be effective and active in us, will convert hearts to true repentance and preserve them in the true faith.
4. The Spirit will justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith. He will receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life [Galatians 3:19]. 5. He will also sanctify in love those who are justified, as St. Paul says (Ephesians 1:4).
6. He also will protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh. He will rule and lead them in His ways [Deuteronomy 8:6], raise them again when they stumble [Proverbs 4:11–12], comfort them under the cross and in temptation [2 Corinthians 1:3–5], and preserve them for life eternal [John 12:25].
7. He will also strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work that He has begun in them [Philippians 1:6], if they cling to God’s Word, pray diligently, abide in God’s goodness, and faithfully use the gifts they received [Matthew 25:14–30].
8. Finally, He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified. [Solid Declaration XI; McCain ed.]
Who is the driver of all the action? God. He has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ. He gives you His mercy in Word, Baptism, Supper. The Holy Spirit works through the Word. The Spirit justifies you. The Spirit sanctifies you. He protects you. He strengthens you. He will save you.
Now there is something for you to do here: Hang on to this! Pray! Stay in God’s Word!
This explains why some are not chosen, as in today’s Gospel, “Many are called, but few chosen.” What is the characteristic of the man evicted from the garden? He despised the Master’s generosity. We could say he despised his word, his grace. The grumbling man boasted in his works, his labor, how much he had suffered. He resented the people who came later and had few works.
Such a man stands before God and speaks about what he deserves. But we must never ask God for what we deserve, or else He may give it. “Take what is yours, and go your way.” What is yours? What do you have that you can keep? Nothing. Everything you possess will be destroyed, or inherited by another. Your very body, in which you trust, will return to the dust.
The person of faith, despairing as she is of her works, stands before God and says, “I have what is mine, but it is insufficient. Give me what is Yours, O God, for having that, I shall have everything I need.”
So repent, look to the Elect One, your Lord Jesus Christ. Then do what He gives you to do. At the end of the day, He will not give you what you deserve; He will give you the kingdom of heaven. +INJ+