In Mt. 20:1-16 the Lord told the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The essence of the parable is that the landowner went out at various times of the day and hired men to work in his vineyard. He did so right up to the eleventh hour of the work day. This was unusual because workers were typically hired early in the morning and not thereafter. At the end of the work day all the workers were paid the same amount, including those who had been hired at the eleventh hour.
This parable illustrates the graciousness of God in two ways. First, He will continue to call us to come into His vineyard right up until the very end. In other words, the opportunity for salvation is open to everyone until the “work day” of life is done. Second, those who are saved at the very last will receive the same reward as those who have spent a lifetime in the kingdom. All of the saved will be in heaven, no matter at what point of life they obeyed the gospel.
When we ponder this aspect of God’s character, we see that He is giving us every possible opportunity to be saved. Like the workers who were hired early in the morning, God wants us to go to work in His vineyard at the earliest possible time. However, like the landowner in the parable, God keeps coming back to offer us the opportunity to enter His vineyard. Day after day, year after year, God calls us to obey the gospel and to come work in His vineyard, which is the kingdom of Christ, the church that the Lord purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
Like the workers in the parable, who needed work in order to survive, we need the salvation that only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can provide. Like the workers in the parable, we must answer the call in order to enter His vineyard. A worker who refused an offer of work could not expect to be paid at the end of the day. One who refuses to answer the call of the gospel cannot expect to enter heaven at the end of time. Therefore, it is essential that we obey the gospel just as soon as we hear its call.
This is where we learn the most important lesson from this parable. The men who were not present to be hired at the beginning of the day had no guarantee that they would be hired later in the day. When the landowner hired men at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour, this was an unexpected and unwarranted blessing to them. In the same way, when God calls us by His gospel at various stages of our lives, it is the very epitome of what grace is. It is an unwarranted opportunity that we have done nothing to merit. For this reason we must not ignore it.
Someone once said, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be grasped in the lifetime of the opportunity.” The point of this statement is that even the best of opportunities will one day be gone and once they are gone they cannot be recovered. The Lord illustrated this truth in the context of salvation by declaring that no one knows the day or hour at which He will return for judgment (Mt. 24:36). To this James added that human life is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (Jas. 4:14).
Even though the Lord will accept us even at the eleventh hour of our lives, we have no idea when that hour may be. Therefore, we must obey the gospel at our very first opportunity, lest our eleventh hour come and go while we remain disobedient.