“A” comes before “Z” except for when it does not! Do you remember the times in school when the teacher told the students to get in line in alphabetical order to go to the lunchroom? The “A’s” were always in front of the line. If your name started with a “W” or a “Y,” it could be a tough position in which to be. However, once in a while the teacher would say, “Now everyone turn around.” Then, all the sudden the last one in line became the first. In those situations, when the “A’s” were expecting to be first, they generally were pretty disappointed to see that they were now last to go to the lunchroom. On one occasion Jesus drew what appears to be a “Z” before “A,” picture. It took place in the twentieth chapter of Matthew. Recall the story, “parable,” He related about the “master of the house” who went out early to hire laborers for his vineyard. He sent them to work. Then as the day progressed he hired more laborers at the third, the sixth, the ninth, and even at the eleventh hour, and sent more laborers into the field. He had agreed to pay each laborer a denarius, a day’s wage, if they would go work.
Tension arose at the end of the day when it was time to pay the laborers. Those who worked all day got paid a denarius. That was fair! When those that went into the field at later points during the day got paid a denarius, those who worked all day were pretty upset. In essence they said, “Hey, that’s not fair!” When it was explained that it was the owner’s field, and it was his right to pay what he wanted, to whom he wanted, and that they had received what was agreed upon, he encouraged those who complained to take what he gave them and to go. Then Jesus added, “So, the last will be first, and the first last,” Matthew 20:17. In the opinion of the earliest workers, the owner changed the rules, but did he? Some felt that the whole ministry of Jesus was a change in the rules. The Jews of Jesus’ day had an interpretation of the will of God that was far different from what Jesus taught. However, the work of Jesus was to set the record straight. What Jesus taught is that no matter what one thinks is right, or what he thinks is God’s will, does not always make it so. Through His teaching they came to realize that God’s will is His own, and when Jesus revealed what was right, it sometimes made truth too hard to bear. Case in point, beginning in Matthew 19:16, a young man went to Jesus asking Him what good thing he needed to do to have eternal life. The Master teacher responded that he needed to be faithful to the law of Moses, even listing half of the ten commandments. Noting that he had done those things from his youth, he asked what further was required. The Lord then said to go out and sell all his wealth, give it to the poor, then come and follow Him. The Scriptures give us the idea that this was too large a sacrifice to make, and so the young man went away sorrowfully, because he had great possessions, Matthew 19:22. He might have accused the Lord of changing the rules. But, did He? Jesus was seeking to help people understand that a relationship with God is worth giving up all of the riches, or hindrances that they hold onto in this life. When Jesus explained how hard it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven, Peter observed that he and the other apostles had left everything behind and followed Him. In other words, they made themselves last! The Lord told them that their sacrifice meant they would be sitting on glorious thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. He further revealed that anyone who sacrificed ALL would similarly be blessed a hundred-fold (10,000%), and given eternal life. He then said, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” Matthew 19:30. What could the rich young man have done to become first? Had he sacrificed all, giving himself totally to God, he then could have been considered first through God’s elevation. James said, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up,” James 4:10. Yes, God will make the man who put himself last, first! So what does the parable mean? It means that God has a great blessing to give to those who do His will. Do not confuse a day’s wage with heaven. To be a laborer in the vineyard of God is a GREAT opportunity, but there is a cost involved. There is a sacrifice to be made. And, when the sacrifice has been made, then the reward is truly a wonderful prize. Heaven is a great gift! Never underestimate the value of the gift, or the goodness and mercy of the Giver! For when you always remember the blessing, then the circumstances that sometime present themselves in life as obstacles will always pale in comparison. For instance, what if someone desiring to come into the Kingdom, realizes that to become a Christian, to obedience to the call of God, means that their baptism will stand in judgment against someone special in their family who never obeyed the gospel? It is easy, like the rich young man, to spend too much time focusing on the value of the lost family member to the neglect of sacrificing in order to receive the reward of heaven. Some cry, “Hey, that’s not fair!” Willingness to become last, to sacrifice all, to give up the concern for dead relatives in order to become a forgiven child of God, seems too much for many. Yet, Jesus was saying that the sacrifice would be worth it all. Why? It is because Heaven is the reward! Too many go away sorrowfully because of the concerns of this life. Earlier in Matthew 19, Jesus spoke of those who would become “eunuchs for the Kingdom’s sake,” Matthew 19:12. This, He said in view of some who would be willing to give up an adulterous relationship in order to go to heaven. It was another case of the last becoming first. How? Well, one who would make such a sacrifice as giving up an adulterous mate would find it a most difficult thing in life to do. Many cringe at the idea that someone would have to go to such an extreme. How could someone give up that much unless they were so convinced that heaven was worth giving up whatever earthly wealth they may have in order to go to there? Would you sacrifice a marriage if you knew it was what stood between you and heaven? Tough challenge? Oh, yes! It is a heart-rending thing to see those who are so entangled with earth’s treasures, that are use to being first place in life, grapple with what is involved in becoming last in order for God to make them first. On the Day of Judgment many will cry, “Hey, that’s not fair!” Yet, some how, some way, the beauty of heaven must be related in such a way that it will cause everyone to decide now to give up anything, any possession, any comfort, any thought, or any relationship that would keep him or her from enjoying it. As the song goes, “Heaven will surely be worth it all!”