When you die, what’s going to happen to you? Most people answer, “I hope I go to Heaven.” If asked why they would, most will say, “I’m a pretty good person; I’ve tried to be good all my life … well, most of my life… there was that one period there when things went a bit haywire, but really, for most of my life I’ve lived by a pretty good standard of right and wrong.” But when Jesus was asked straight out what it would take, asked by a guy who had really worked hard to follow God’s laws, Jesus told him he wasn’t qualified, at least not yet. (Matthew 19:16-22)
In fact, Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a guy like that to get into Heaven. The disciples were bewildered. They were asking, “If that guy doesn’t make the cut, who can?” Same question each of us asks. Will I make it? Have I done enough?
“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (Matthew 19:26)
Jesus freaked them out more by saying, many of the people you might think would be at the front of the line to get in to Heaven are going to find themselves at the back of the line. He illustrated the point with a weird parable about a man with a large vineyard going down to “Labor Ready” to hire some guys to work. He went early in the morning and then several more times during the day. But at the end of the day, he paid everyone the same amount, even the ones who had only worked an hour. And they got paid first. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that.”
Huh? That goes against everything we’ve learned about being rewarded for working hard. The guy who had really been trying to do the right thing, who really wanted to know, “what do I have to do,” wasn’t fit to get in! And Jesus seemed to imply everyone who does make it receives the same reward no matter how much or little they have worked for it. Does that leave you with any questions?
That whole section of Matthew (19:16 – 20:16) is connected. Read through it and you will notice that Jesus invited the man to follow Him, something he was unwilling to do. In the parable, every one of the workers got the same reward, not because they had worked the same amount but because they had each agreed to go with the landowner. The landowner, Jesus said, gave each of them the same amount because he was “generous.”
Getting into Heaven is not about working for it, but rather agreeing to follow Jesus. It’s about being welcomed in with Jesus by the generosity of The Father. This runs counter to a deep conviction we have. We think, “This doesn’t seem right; there has got to be some work involved.”
Quite right. There was some work necessary. Here is the next 3 verses in Matthew:
” Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”” (Matthew 20:17-19)