THE ELEVENTH HOUR CHRISTIAN
In Matthew 20:1—16 Jesus made a comparison of His religion to a wealthy land owner who went into the public marketplace and hired workers into his vineyard. The man hired the first group of workers at 6:00 a.m. and agreed to pay the going wages for a full day of work which, in the coin of their day, was a penny. Because of the urgent need to harvest his grapes, he went to the marketplace again at 9;00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 3:00 p.m. and even went again at 5:00 p.m., just one hour before quitting time. The work—day in ancient times was twelve hours, and the hour between five and six p.m. was commonly called the eleventh hour. On that particular workday, some men labored a full day, others a half—day, a third of a day, and some worked for just one hour. The story takes a very strange turn when the workers came to be paid at the close of the day, for everybody received the same wages. The man who worked twelve hours received pay for working the entire day, but the man who worked just one hour also received pay for working a full day. The mystery clears up when we learn that this story is teaching about men and women who become Christians and serve God in his church and kingdom. The householder in the story represents Christ, the vineyard refers to the church, and the laborers in the vineyard signify Christians. The church is the vineyard of Christ, and by way of figure, it is the place of work for Christians. If you are not a member of the church Jesus purchased with His blood, you are rendering no service to God and are not in line for the reward of eternal life. The church is compared to a vineyard, but it is not a place to sit down
and eat grapes. It is a place to harvest grapes, to win lost people to Christ, and to do something for the Master. The twelve hour workday symbolizes the brief period of human existence which lasts seventy or eighty years. Life is so short that it can be fittingly symbolized by a twelve hour work—day. According to the symbolism of the story, the most any person can work for God is twelve hours. The wage paid at the end of the day represents eternal life. The chief thought in the story is that we are all standing in the marketplace of life, and Christ stands before us seeking people who will work
for His cause on this earth. Each one of us is steadily moving, in the marketplace of life, towards the eleventh hour period. Before we know it, we shall reach the eleventh hour of life, and we may be in it right now although unaware of the fact. Let us think together on the theme, “The Eleventh Hour Christian” and may it be both solemn and profitable.
First, this parable teaches that people may become Christians in any period of life after reaching the age of accountability. God calls peop1e out of the world from the service of sin at all periods of life. However, we cannot enter the vineyard of the Lord to work in His church until we are old enough to believe in God, turn from our sins, and obey the commandments of Christ. But after we have reached the age of responsibility and accountability, there are no limitations so far as age is concerned. Some have been Christians since they were ten or fifteen, while others were not converted until they were ninety. It is God'S will that people become Christians, however much they have advanced in age. As long as a man or woman is living, and I also am living, I will preach the gospel to them. God is just as able~ to convert a man with grey hairs on his head as he is to convict a man of thirty. We all stand before him as sinners, and God is pleased to save the grey haired man just as he is the young man. Those who went to work at 6:00 a.m. remind us of people who become Christians when they are very young. It is a distinct advantage to grow up in a Christian home. Paul said that Timothy knew the holy scriptures from a child. When mother and grandmother are Christians, children often become Christians very young. Those have it best who become Christians earliest in life. The less time we spend in the service of the devil and the more time we spend in fellowship with God, the better off we are. The reward promised to a young person for serving God is eternal life. Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white ready to harvest, and he who reaps receives wages and gathered fruit unto eternal life”(John 4:36). Thus, the young who become Christians are privileged to work for the Lord in a good place, for a good Master, and on good terms.
The vineyard owner saw others standing idle in the marketplace and hired more workers at 9:00 a.m. They would make only three quarters of a day, but it was for their good to cease from loafing at the street corner. These are like people whose childhood is past but who are not yet old. He told them to go into the field also and work, but he did not promise them a definite sum of money, as he did those whom he first hired. Yet he said, “Whatsoever is right I will give you,” so they went to work. Oh, that young men and women who are in their rising manhood and womanhood, would at once take up~ their tools and begin to serve the Lord of heaven and earth. To our surprise this employer called in more workers at 12:00 noon when the day was half gone. Men and women who are forty and fifty also have the invitation to accept the Christian religion. Yes, and about the ninth hour of the day, men were engaged. At sixty the Lord invites people to give their lives to Christ and serve in His kingdom. When the day was nearly over, when only a single hour remained, when it was the eleventh hour, the generous householder was willing to take on more workers. This speaks of people over seventy who humble themselves, obey the gospel, and become New Testament Christians. In view of God̓s gracious offer, why are any of you remaining idle towards God? If you are over seventy and still not saved, it is time that you went without delay into the vineyard to do something for Christ and His church. There are no age limitations for salvation; as long as people are alive there is hope for them.
Secondly, we learn from this parable that there is but one hope for all Christians and that is eternal life in heaven. The householder in the story paid the workers a full day's wage regardless of how many hours they worked. When some of the laborers murmured against the gocd man of the house, he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I do you no wrong: did you not agree with me for a penny? Take what is yours, and go your way: I will give unto this last, even as unto you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own? Is your eye evil, because I am good?” (Matthew 20:11—15) The mystery of the transaction clears up when we understand that a whole day of pay represented eternal life, and the householder in the story represents Christ. Christ himself will decide who will and will not receive eternal life, when the workday of life is over. Humans are in no position to judge, complain, or criticize as to how God will dispose of the lost and saved. Eternal life is the one reward for serving God in this life, and this is the promised reward whether one enters His service early or late in life. God's sovereignty in this matter is not to be questioned. Anyway, the quality of a man's work is more important than just putting in his time. Ability, attitude, and opportunity are considerations. A hustler will get more done in half a day than a time server will do all day. God will decide the merits of each case. A Christian who has served God only ten years may get nore done for Christ than one who has been in the church for fifty years. Effective service in the kingdom of God is not to be reckoned by years as men count them. The Christian serves longest who serves the best. Many a person has crowded half a century into a single year. God can make people to live much in a short space of time.
If I take out an insurance policy for $100,000 today and lose my life tomorrow, my wife gets it all. It does not seem fair, but it is right because the company made a promise. If a person is baptized into Christ today and accidentally gets killed tomorrow, that person will go to heaven. It does not seem fair from a work viewpoint, but it is right because God promised. Every worker in the parable who worked in the vineyard received pay for a full day of toil, and every faithful Christian will, in God's own time, be in heaven. It will be enough to be with Christ, and how could one Christian be more with Christ than another? All true Christians are washed by the blood of Christ, all are equally justified, and scripture indicates that their heaven will be equal.
Thirdly, we learn from the parable that Christ urgently needs workers in His religion. The vineyard owner went out to hire men at all times of the day, and it is implied that He did this because He urgently needed workers. It was time to harvest grapes, and his grapes were going to waste. Furthermore, the man was short of workers. The fact there was a shortage of laborers and much work to be done may account for the generosity of the man in rewarding the the workers. He appreciated the willingness of the men to work even a part of the day in his vineyard. They helped to save his grapes, and for this he decided to reward them handsomely. God also is in urgent need of workers in His church. Jesus said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few pray therefore the Lord of harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37). The harvest in this passage refers to the millions of people on earth who are lost and need to be saved. God is not willing that any of them should perish but that all should be brought to repentance. However, God wants to save them within the framework of the Christian religion and according to its provisions. The gospel plan provides for the teaching of the gospel to every creature, and all who believe and are baptized shall be saved. Those who disbelieve and disobey shall suffer the same punishment as Satan and the fallen angels. With every tick of the watch, three people die, I am told, who have never even heard there is a God in heaven. There is a critical shortage of workers to help save the lost millions of people. If we understood the urgency of the situation and God's great concern with the dying millions of earth, we would understand this parable better. The urgent need for soul winners provides a special opportunity for late comers into the Christian religion. Even though you may be up in years, there is work for you to do in the kingdom of God. Your time, money, and effort can be used to great advantage in the vineyard of God. Any faithful service rendered in this situation is sure to please God, and that servant shall not go without his reward.
Fourthly, the text impresses us with the imminency of the eleventh hour of life. The eleventh hour of the day is the last hour, a short time before the sun goes down. A sevety or eighty year old person is by necessity in the eleventh hour and can have but a few short years in which to serve the Lord. In all probability, you have not more than a few years to live, and perhaps not more than a few months, weeks, or even days, and then you must go the way of all flesh. As the Lord God lives, there is but a step between you and eath, between you and you and death between you and missing heaven.
Young people may smile at these words and say, “All that is good advice for old age, but why should we think about such things yet? We have not come to the eleventh hour yet?” It is not wise to make that statement, for you do not know when your eleventh hour may be. Does any person know which will be his eleventh hour? Does anyone of you know how many more days you may have to live? I do not, nor do you. It is possible to be in the eleventh hour when a baby, a teenager, a young adult, or a middle adult. The eleventh how; is whenever death is near. A sudden heart attack, a sudden disease, or a sudden accident may propel us into the eleventh hour of life. The angel of death may be this moment coming in at the door and flapping his black wings across the place, to find someone who is marked for destruction. And ere you shall have entered your house, your soul may have departed, and you may have gone from this stage of existence. If you are a young person and unsaved, have you not given too much time to Satan and the world already? I do not like Satan well enough to think that he ought to have the first twenty years of a person's life. If you are standing idle in the marketplace of life, you have given enough of your time to Satan, go into the church and work. I close with the thought that this passage of the New Testament contains good news for the aged. Aged men and women are most certainly in the eleventh hour of life. God has no objections to age; he wants them to become Christians also. Think not that you are beyond the pale of hope because you are old. Are you desirous of pardon? If you are under a sense of sin and desire to make it right with God, there is mercy in Christ even for you. You have procrastinated far too long, and your life is almost gone. Do you wish for a Guide across the trackless desert which leads to heaven or hell? Do you want a Conductor to lead you into paradise? Do you earnestly desire to be cleansed by the blood of Christ? If so there is mercy for you. People who have been standing idle in the marketplace of life from 9:00 in the morning till 5:00 in the evening are living dangerously. Yet there is work even for you to do in the Church of Christ. Surely no one in heaven will praise God more than grey haired men and women who became Christians and worked hard at the eleventh hour of life. Farewell, my aged friends. I know not who you are, but I have come to you standing idle in the marketplace of life seeking you as a minister of the vineyard owner. I give you his message, “Why do you stand here all day idle? Go also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that you shall receive.”