WILL YOU BE THE FIRST OR LAST?

By Arch Hoercher

Have you ever thought that you will receive more blessings in heaven than the murderer who has repented?  Have you ever thought that if I pay my tithes and contribute to the poor, you will receive greater blessings in heaven than the person who has not?  Jesus’ disciples did not have a handle on this.  They frequently discussed among themselves as to who was the greatest.  In Matthew Chapter 19 Jesus had a discussion with the rich young ruler about eternal life.  The man wanted to know what good thing that he must do to get eternal life.  Jesus knew his heart and said that he should sell all that he had and give to the poor then come and follow Him.  The rich young ruler could not do this because in his heart his wealth was more important.  Jesus said soon after this that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”  The disciples were astonished and asked “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”    He said in the last sentence of Chapter 19 “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”  Right after this Jesus told a parable about the workers in the vineyard.  He told this parable specifically for the benefit and teaching of His disciples and what He meant when He said that the first will be last and the last will be first. 

Matthew 20:1-16 (NIV) – “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to pay them a Denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.  About nine in the morning 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 noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.  About five in the afternoon 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 five in the afternoon 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 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, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend.  Didn’t you agree to work for a Denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the one 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.”

Jesus was teaching His disciples a very important concept about the Kingdom of Heaven.  Simply put, if you are a believer, you will receive the full benefits of God’s immeasurable grace.  And each and every other believer receives the same thing in the same amount.  The thief on the cross will receive the same reward as Peter and James and John who gave their lives in service to Jesus Christ.  The blessings of Heaven are not based upon a scorecard.  Forgiveness is given equally and completely irregardless of the weight of one’s sin.  It does not matter how long or how short of a time one has been a believer.  Each and every person who enters the Kingdom of Heaven will receive the FULL abundance of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  We all will receive the same spiritual blessings in heaven.  Some might think that this is not fair.  Some might think that I have worked very hard under persecuted conditions for many years.  We need to remember that what God is giving each and every believer if far more generous than what we actually deserve.  As in the parable, the landowner gave each worker a Denarius.  A Denarius was far above and beyond the wage that should have been paid to the workers.  The wage was more than what was deserved, and the person who worked the full day received the same wage as the person who only worked one hour.

This parable was told by Jesus to His disciples for the disciples benefit.  In Chapter 19 the rich young ruler just walked away.  The disciples were disturbed.  Peter asked in verse 25, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus’ answer was “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Salvation is totally God’s work.  No person no matter how wealthy or how famous or how powerful or how long they followed Jesus, can earn salvation on their own merit.  It is totally a gift of God.  Jesus told this parable to teach the disciples that salvation is not dependent upon how long you have worked or what you have done, salvation is the work of God and the blessings of salvation are equal for all believers.  All the glory and grace and blessings of heaven are the same for the disciples as the thief on the cross.

Let’s look at a made up example of the Kingdom of God and His blessings for the believer.  This is a made up story about myself and no part of it is true.  It is to be an example of God and His Kingdom.  One day, several years ago, a man kidnapped my child.  This man tortured and then murdered my child.  He was caught and sent to prison for life.  Of course I do not believe that his punishment is justified.  I believe that he should have been given the death penalty.  In my heart I want him to burn in hell for eternity.  Sometime later, when he was close to death, he confessed his sins and asked God to forgive him.  He became a believer even though he would pass away the following week.  According to God’s Word, this man will receive the same blessings in heaven as the child he killed and me.  Is this fair?  Shouldn’t he suffer greatly for what he has done to my child and me and my family?  The overriding principle involved here is that God loves this man as much as He loves me.  The blessings of salvation are his in abundance just as they are mine.  But one thing that needs to be remembered is that neither one of us deserves salvation.  Salvation and the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with us.  It has everything to do with God.  Romans 9:15 (NIV) – “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’”  Romans 6:23 (NIV) – “For the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  This is for every believer no matter their record of sins.  Salvation is available to everyone who (1 John 1:9 NIV) – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from ALL unrighteousness.”

Salvation is available to all, no matter how heinous the sins.  The blessings given to the believer are the same no matter how long we have been members of the Kingdom.  Ephesians 2:6-7 (NIV) – “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”  The grace and riches are the same for each and every believer no matter their worldly history.

So what are the important points:  Salvation is not earned, it is a gift of God.  God gives the same abundant grace to everyone who follows Christ.  We will all live in the Father’s house (John 14:2).  We will all be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

The carry home lesson:  We do not receive a portion of Heaven, we will receive the ENTIRE package.  Thank you Jesus and praise God for His love, mercy and grace.

What about being first or last?  This is simply meaning that a Christian will neither be first or last.  We will all enter at the same time.