first and last

by Pastor Doug Engel

About seven weeks ago I took in a rescue salamander. The weather had been so nice that some of the critters were coming out of hibernation and walking on the snow, confused and cold! Now my other salamander (that I’ve had for over four years) has a friend.

It only took about two weeks for the little guy to figure out that when my fingers were lowered from the sky it was feeding time. Now the two of them compete to see who can be first. It’s hilarious watching them snapping and climbing all over each other trying to get the advantage.

There is an interesting phrase in Matthew 19:30 and then repeated again in the next chapter: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

In chapter 19 Peter points out to Jesus that he and the other disciples had left everything to follow him. This was in response to seeing the rich young ruler refuse to give his riches second place behind following Jesus. Jesus then lets the disciples know that in the future they will receive a just reward and then adds that anyone who sacrifices the pleasures of this life will also receive their reward, which includes eternal life! And that’s when Jesus drops the phrase about the first being last and vice versa.

To understand this phrase Jesus continues with a story. A landowner had a vineyard, and I’m assuming it’s harvest time because he needed a lot of workers. He went out early in the morning to hire anyone willing to help and promised a day’s wages. As the day goes on the owner is desperate so he goes out four more times to hire labourers. Each time he tells the newly hired employees that he would give them what was right when it came time to collect their pay.

Here’s what happened. When the workers lined up to receive their pay at the end of the day the ones who were hired last received their pay first. And surprisingly, the owner gave them a whole day’s worth of pay! In fact every person, no matter how long they had been working in the vineyard, received the same. The ones who had worked all day complained because they thought the owner wasn’t being fair, thought that they should have received more. The owner asked them why they would be resentful or jealous just because he had decided to be generous.

That’s when Jesus repeats the phrase, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” In a nutshell, heaven’s standards are much different than earth’s standards. Entering the kingdom of heaven and receiving eternal life doesn’t depend on how much money you have or how long you’ve been a follower of Jesus. By the world’s standards riches and seniority might be given preferential treatment but that’s not how God operates.

Those who have very little to offer (education, money, skills, pedigree, failures) are promoted to the front of the line if they follow humbly and wholeheartedly. The other thing we can glean from this passage is that the landowner (God) is ridiculously generous. His provision is all you need. You don’t have to look anywhere else.

Apparently my salamanders don’t know how generous I am. I have plenty of food for them. They don’t have to compete. I won’t let them go without.

What about you? Do you know how generous the Lord our God is? Do you know how much he wants to pour out his grace on you? You don’t have to compete for God’s grace. Just come to him with a humble and willing heart and he’ll put you at the front of the line!