"So the last shall be first, and the first last." — Matthew 20:16
Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard applies not only to the issue of salvation, but also to the issue of rewards in heaven.
This discourse begins in Matthew 19:16 with the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, “What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. The rich young ruler turned away because he was unwilling to give up his riches. Now, don’t misunderstand: Jesus wasn’t saying the man could have gotten into heaven by giving up his riches. But the fact that he was unwilling to do that demonstrated he was not nearly as holy as he thought he was. He needed grace and salvation like the rest of us.
The disciples watched all that take place, and they were thinking, "Lord, You were right about that rich young ruler. He wouldn’t give up anything!" Notice what Peter asks Jesus in Matthew 19:27: “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” Peter was a bottom-line kind of guy. He is saying to Jesus, “Unlike that rich young ruler, we have given up everything to follow You. So what’s in it for us?” Isn’t that what we all want to know? Now, if there are no rewards in heaven, this would have been a great time for Jesus to say, “Peter, you don’t understand. We will all receive the same thing in heaven.” But He doesn’t do that. Instead, notice what He says: “You who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (Matthew 19:28-30). Notice there is a relationship between how much you give up in this life and the rewards you receive in heaven. I want you to notice three principles about rewards in this passage.
First, our rewards in heaven are based on God’s sovereignty. God gives His rewards to whomever He chooses to give them. We find that in Matthew 20:20. The mother of James and John asked Jesus to let her sons sit next to Him in heaven. In verse 23, Jesus said, “This is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” Ultimately our rewards are based on the sovereignty of God. He is free to reward whomever He chooses.
Second, rewards in heaven are based on our motives. Why we do something is more important than what we do. There are a lot of reasons people sacrifice and work for God. They might do it to improve their self-esteem or as penance for guilt or to earn a good reputation. But the Bible says there is only one sound reason for sacrificing for Christ: for His name’s sake.
Third, this passage reminds us that our rewards in heaven are based on the amount of our sacrifice. Present sacrifice equals future rewards. We are not talking about earning your salvation. That is a gift you receive from Christ. We are talking about rewards we receive in heaven after we are saved. Whatever you give up here will be multiplied by the rewards you receive in heaven.
What kind of sacrifice are you willing to make for the kingdom of God? Are you willing to sacrifice a little sleep so you can spend time in God’s Word? Are you willing to give up your freedom to travel on the weekends so you can be in church, serving in a place of ministry? Those of you who are students, are you willing to sacrifice your GPA or reputation in order to take a stand for Christ in your classroom? Those of you in the workforce, are you willing to say 'no' to something unbiblical in your workplace, though it might cost you a promotion or even your job? What about how you spend your money? Service to God that costs nothing is worth nothing.