On Wednesday night, at youth group, we talked about the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. And in the middle of it, my perspective shifted. The parable goes something like this:
The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agrees to pay them a denarius for the day. Three hours later, he goes and gets a few more workers. Three hours later, he goes and gets a few more, and then again three hours after that. Then, at the 11th hour, an hour before quitting time, he goes out again, gathers up the rest of those waiting for work and asks them to go work in his vineyard. At the end of the day, he pays each one a denarius. The workers who were hired first begin to complain that it isn’t fair. They worked more, they should get more. And the vineyard owner says to them, “You agreed to work for a denarius. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? What’s it to you if I want to be generous.”
That’s it, in a nut shell. So, as I started to talk to the girls in my group, the question of fairness came up. Most obviously, we sorted out that God doesn’t play fair. And that’s lucky for us because if he did, we would all be headed for hell. But, something deeper began to stir in that little group. (Man, I love those girls.) I could hear echoes of one question over and over and so I asked it straight out. “Why do we follow Jesus?...no wait…Why do YOU follow Jesus?” A few answered, “because it’s the right thing to do.”…“because my parents taught me to.”… “so we can go to heaven, and not hell.”… and then, in a quiet, but self-assured voice, “because it is the only thing that satisfies.” Bingo.
See, for the last few weeks I have been mulling this question over in my mind, and this very same notion has begun to well up in me. I have spent a lot of years believing that I followed Christ mostly because of the hope of heaven. And, you know, that IS part of it. We are so blessed to know that some day we get to leave this world behind and live in perfect blessing with Christ. And there are definitely days when that thought is what gets me through. But, I have come to believe that our greatest reason for following Christ is that in the midst of this world that falls so short of satisfying us, we get to live a life fully satisfied in him. Right here. Right now. And heaven is the extravagant icing on the cake...it is a fuller, richer, more tangible version of what we get to experience here if we choose to follow Christ.
The thing is, if we mostly follow Christ to go to heaven and avoid hell, then we can’t help but be concerned about fairness. So, if someone comes to Christ late in life, at the 11th hour, so to speak, we think, “Pfft…I’ve followed you all my life, Christ, and this latecomer gets the same reward as I do? That’s not fair.” But, if we follow Christ because we know he is the ultimate satisfaction, here, right now, while we are on earth, our attitude towards the latecomer might be something more like, “Hey guy, I’m so glad you made the decision to follow Christ and I’ll be seein’ you in eternity, bro. But, man, I’m so sorry you missed out on life with him here on earth. It would have been so much richer. I’m just dang sorry about that.”
And then, my reason for evangelizing changes, too. Because telling people that they need Jesus so they can go to heaven and live with him eternally isn’t always a convincing reason. It’s just too abstract for most people. And it seems far away. But, if I tell people, that Jesus Christ will bring them a satisfaction like nothing they have ever known, even in the midst of all the junk they have to go through, and, as a bonus, we get to spend an eternity with him in perfection. Well, that’s a reason to get on board. That speaks to our deepest longings. And that’s what he meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Dang, I love Jesus!