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Divine Unfairness

Matthew 20:1-16

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Jan 28, 2018 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

St. Paul very clearly tells us in our Epistle lesson for today that everything that took place and is recorded for us in Scripture is recorded so that we might learn from it.  OkayÖso what do we learn from todayís lessons?  WellÖbased on the parable we hear in our Gospel lesson, itís clear that life isnít fair.  Now, I know that some of you will be quick to disagree.  I know you wonít disagree with the fact that life isnít fair.  Itís not, and no one will argue that.  However, some of you will disagree with the fact that this should be the message we should glean from the text.  After all, the Master in this parable very plainly tells the disgruntled workers that He most certainly was fair in His dealing with them.  He gave them exactly what He told them He would.  He didnít cheat them in any way, shape, or form.  He didnít renege on the deal.  He didnít change the rules.  In fact, we could rightly say that He was fair to everyone involved.  Heís free to do what He wants with His money, and He agreed to give everyone a denarius, whether they worked all day or just a few minutes.  He was fair.  He kept His Word.  If your takeaway from this is some simple Chicken Soup for the Soul type of advice that life isnít fair, then you really arenít paying attention to the text. 

Then againÖisnít that what mercy and grace are all about?  If you remember, mercy is defined as not receiving what you do deserve, and grace is understood as receiving something you absolutely do not deserve.  When you think about it, thereís nothing fair at all about mercy or grace!  To say that these lessons really are all about unfairness isnít wrong at all.  In fact, it really gets to the heart of the matter.

Look at the Old Testament lesson.  What did those whiny, thankless Israelites deserve?  Keep in mind that these are free Israelites who are grumbling and fighting and making a stink.  Theyíre no longer in Egyptian captivity.  Theyíve borne witness to Godís care, protection, and providence time and time again.  They were brought through the ten plagues.  They were brought out of Egypt.  They were brought through the Red Sea while Pharaohís mighty army all perished.  They were led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  They were given manna and quail to eat.  And they complained the entire time!  In fact, they went ahead and made a golden calf and worshiped it, basically giving the middle finger to God.  And yet He didnít strike them downÖeven though they certainly deserved it.  They were given all that they didnít deserve, and they didnít receive what they definitely deserved. 

Todayís lesson is just more of the same.  Today we hear them complainingóagainóthis time that theyíre thirsty.  Think about this.  After all God has already done for them; after all that God didnít do to them, even though they deserved it; after all this undeserved and unmerited grace and mercy, all they can muster up is more self-centered complaint. 

And how does God respond?  Not how we would, right?  If someone repeatedly acted like this to us, that would be it.  Three strikes and youíre out, and thatís assuming that it even makes it to three strikes.  Sometimes it comes down to the one strike warning: Go ahead and cry, and Iíll give you something to cry about!  (I know Iím not the only one to have ever heard that growing up.  And I deserved it too!) But thatís not how God deals with these folks.  In fact, He actually gives them what they want.  He rewards them!  Talk about not fair!  Iíve complained to God plenty of times, and Iíve never received what I was complaining about.  Maybe I need to step up my game.  (Thatís NOT the lesson God is teaching me here!  I know!) Why do these schlepps get rewarded and I donít?  Thatís not fair.  God gives them what they donít deserve, and He doesnít give them what they do deserve.  And the same can be said for the messed up Corinthian Christians Paul is writing to.  The same can be said of the apostles, which is who Jesus was teaching this parable to.  The same can be said for us. 

And it is precisely here that we can rightly speak in terms of fairness; fairness for everyone, no matter who you are, who your daddy is, what you did in high school, what your tax bracket is, or what your IQ is.  All this talk about ďlife isnít fairĒ finds a HUGE exception to the rule when it comes down to sin, death, and damnation.  St. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that ďall have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and the wages for that sin is death.Ē All means everyone; every man, woman, and childóeven the littlest lives still dwelling in the womb.  Everyone is a sinner and everyone deserves temporal and eternal punishment for that sin in the eyes of God.  Remember: Sin isnít just what you do; itís who you are, by nature.  As children of Adam, we are all sinners.  Weíre all dead in our sin.

Of course, the exception to the rule that ďlife isnít fairĒ isnít just restricted to matters of death and damnation.  It carries through and bursts into the wonderful Gospel reality that God freely gives His grace and forgiveness to everyone, even and especially to those who donít deserve it (which is everyone).  Remember: God so loved the whole world that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for it.  That means that Christ died for EVERYONE!  And right there: You want to talk about unfair?  Jesus Christ, the innocent and perfect Son of God; the blameless, the sinless Son of God, died for the sins of the entire world.  The innocent died in place of the guilty.  The undeserving One suffered our justly-deserved wrath and punishment.  Our heavenly Father gave to Jesus all that we deserved, and He gave to us all that we didnít deserve.  Thatís the very epitome of mercy and grace.  Thatís Godís mercy, grace, and love for you. 

And I want you to really think about what this means.  When it comes to our complete forgiveness before God; when it comes to our eternal life and salvation in God, we are all equally and completely forgiven because of the selflessness and the love of Jesus Christ.  This means that Iím not more forgiven or more blessed than any of you.  You are not more forgiven or more blessed because you give more of an offering or more of your time than anyone else.  Thatís trying to rationalize and conform these gifts of God to your fallen and sinful logic.  Thatís not how God works though, is it?  ďAm I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to Me; namely, My grace, My forgiveness, and My gift of eternal life, or do you wish to put yourself in the place of God and begrudge My generosity?Ē

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus: When you really think about it, even Godís not fair, and thatís a good thing.  All are equally damned sinners in His eyes, and all are equally saved and redeemed in His eyes because of saving faith alone in Christís death and resurrection alone.  He made His Son take the fall and punishment for the whole world so that all of us could have eternal life with Him.  No one was left out or excluded from this divinely unfair display of wrath and love.  God died for us.  Thatís not fair at all.  Thank God that He doesnít operate with our notion of fairness.  Thank God that He is lovingly and mercifully unfair to us because of Jesus Christ.  My friends: Thank God that our lives with Him are not fair at all. 

May this same sense of true Christian unfairness shine forth from this point forward in your daily thoughts, words, deeds, and dealings with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and may the true peace that comes with simply trusting in Godís loving and complete unfairness guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus alone.


Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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