Here’s an example.
Say I need some landscaping done at my house. So I go to the day-laborer place and I hire up all the guys standing around. We agree on $100 per guy for a day’s work. They work hard for a couple hours, but it doesn’t look like we’ll get all the work done by quitting time. So I go back to the day-laborer place and get some more guys.
A couple more hours go by. I need more guys. I go get ‘em. They work.
A couple more hours. More guys. More work. By this time my yard looks like an ant colony with workers swarming all over the place pulling bushes, planting trees, laying sod, hauling decorative rocks, building planters, etc.
Everything looks good, so I go get the guys some chicken and beers to show my appreciation. With about an hour of daylight left, I head back to my house and pass the day-laborer place on the way. To my surprise, I see some guys just showing up looking for work.
I think that these guys are slackers. You don’t show up at the end of the day looking for work. They probably slept all day after partying the night before. Now they’re here to hook up with their friends who actually got their butts out of bed to earn some money.
So I pull in and ask them why they’re standing around. They say, “Look man, you know...we been standing here all day and nobody hired us.”
I know they’re full of it, but I’m a good guy. I have plenty of cash and these hosers look like they could use a break. I hire the guys and haul them to my place. They get about an hour of work in before everything is done and we all sit around eating, drinking and BS-ing.
It comes time to call it a day and pay the workers, so they all line up. Of course the slackers step up first, beers in hand, licking their fingers clean of fried chicken. They’re delighted as I hand each a 100-dollar bill. Then the next group. They get $100 too. Same with the next guys...and the next.
About this time, the guys who showed up first think they may get more since they worked the entire day. They step up. All eyes are on me. They each get $100. They look at me like I’m the Frankenstein monster and they’re the townspeople ready to attack with shovels and pitchforks. They start shouting complaints.
I say, “Hey, you agreed to a day’s work for $100. That’s a good wage. If I want to give the last guys the same as you, it’s a free country. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or are you giving me the evil eye because I’m good?”
Jesus tells a story just like this in Matthew 20:1-16. Then you know what he says? He says, “Let me tell all y’all somethin’. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the last are first...and the first are last.”
WHAT?!! You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s outrageous. It’s not fair. Who would pay good money to guys who don’t deserve it and then shove that fact in the faces of the guys who worked the hardest? But there you have it, right there in the Bible.
That’s just one example. Go read about the rebellious son who squanders all his dad’s money on hookers and booze. You know what he gets for it when he comes home? His dad buys him new clothes and throws him a party while his brother works in the field. The religious folks get a tongue lashing from Jesus while the drunks, outcasts and whores get the Kingdom. The meek inherit the earth. The persecuted are blessed. It’s all simply scandalous.
In the real world, you work, you get paid. That’s reality. You study hard, you get an “A.” That’s the way of the world. You do bad stuff, you get punished. You do good, you get rewarded. However, God’s ways are certainly not our ways.
So what is he up to?
Why all of this insane generosity to the worst and weakest of us?
I’ll tell you. It’s the way that he chastens us. It’s the way he sets us straight.
“Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
There you have it. He doesn’t give us cancer or earthquakes. He doesn’t get us fired or wreck our car. He doesn’t take our children or our spouses. He doesn’t do any of this to teach us a lesson. That’s what you would expect. In fact, that’s how all the pagan gods do it, but not Yahweh.
If he were interested in punishing us for the evil in our hearts, death and destruction would be in order. Sure we’ve seen that kind of thing in the Old Testament, but that was all part of God setting the stage to come himself to take the punishment humanity deserved. Now, he’s not mad at us anymore. He spent all his anger on Jesus; there’s none left for us. God was never interested in wiping us out. He’s interested in getting us to turn around and come home. He’s interested in getting us to repent, and to do so, he blesses us. God literally blesses the hell out of us.
Listen to these words from Spurgeon:
“When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”
So while it’s not what we expect, it’s what the gospel is all about. That’s the good news. Jesus taught that it’s the way things work in the Kingdom of Heaven. You see, we can’t work hard enough to get God to owe us anything and we can’t be bad enough to get him to punish us.
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).
What’s more, grace through faith is not just how we get into the family of God. It’s how we live (Galatians 3:1-3).
All that isn’t to say that there aren’t consequences for the stupid things we do. On top of that, there’s the mess we all experience from living in a fallen world. But don’t confuse that stuff with God’s punishment. There’s no punishment left after the cross.
However, he does want to bless the hell out of us. This is obviously great news for the slackers who show up hungover to work for an hour and get paid just as much as the guys who worked all day. It’s great news for the prodigals who get to come home to a party after spending dad’s money partying. It’s great news for a jacked up guy like me. But for the older brother and the guys working in the field all day, this great news is a tough pill to swallow.
Robert Farrar Capon, in Between Noon and Three, expresses their thoughts on the gospel with style:
“Give us something, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance. Lord, let your servants depart in the peace of their proper responsibility. If it is too much to ask, send us to bed with some few shreds of self-respect to congratulate ourselves upon. But if that is too hard, leave us at least the consolation of our self-loathing. Only do not force us free. What have we ever done but try as best we could? How have we so hurt you, even by failing, that you should now turn on us and say that none of it makes any difference, not even our sacred guilt? We have played this game of yours, and it has cost us. Where do you get off suggesting a drink at a time like this?”
It’s not fair, but that’s how the Kingdom of Heaven works. If you don’t like that, I bet you’ve been working really hard to please God. I also bet you can be a big pain. Lighten up. He’s already pleased.
As he loves us, we become more loving. As he indiscriminately accepts us, we become more indiscriminately accepting. As he blesses us, we become a blessing.
May God bless the hell out of us all!