Mike’s post yesterday gave me much to chew on, and I started to remember all the ways that the Bible makes my brain hurt. One in particular stood out to me:
So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.
Matthew 20:16 NKJV
The verse above is a perfect example of just how NOT human our God truly is, and how maddening His ways are to me when I’m not in the Spirit.
Can you imagine the reaction if we tried to implement that verse into the world? Oh, the fistfights that would break out, the bloody howls of outrage that would echo through the halls of every building that had people queued up for something—utter pandemonium would ensue! That’s to be expected, of course, but I’m not sure that the reaction would be any better if the last were made first in your average church. Think about the parable that this verse caps.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise” (Mt. 20:1-5).
This goes on until the last group of workers is there only an hour. And then the vineyard owner pays each man exactly the same amount, regardless of the amount of work they’ve done. Needless to say, the first group isn’t very happy. Honestly, I remember reading this parable when I was young and I wasn’t very happy either. I remember thinking, “Well, God, that’s not fair!” And by any definition of the word “fair” (i.e., treating people in a way that does not favor some over others), God is absolutely not.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9 NKJV
And how! When Mike likened each surrender (encounter of the Cross) to paying a toll before continuing down the road, what really leaped out at me was how many of those tolls have to do with God’s absolute sovereignty. It ever and always comes back to the fact that I’m not in charge, and the One who is, doesn’t do things the way I think they should be done. Just look at the Almighty burn leveled by the landowner at the end of the parable:
‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’
Not so much as a “By your leave, good fellow!” Nope, if there’s one thing that God makes plain through sheer repetition, it’s His inviolate, immovable sovereignty. Paul asked, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” That’s not even nice, let alone fair!
And sometimes I think that that’s the point. My fallen nature, which is always accessible to me, ever flirts with the lie that there are no consequences for disobedience to the Word of God. (“Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” [Gen. 3:4].) It is the enormous love of God that hammers home, over and over, the indisputable FACT that He rules ALL—and I exist only as He sees fit to let me.
Sandy commented on Mike’s post, “Talking about an exchanged life, it seems one needs an ‘exchanged’ brain first!” I think that’s brilliantly right. The mind of the Spirit is NOTHING like my natural mind. I cannot comprehend the mind of God, let alone His alien ways, without the mind of the Spirit. I cannot walk in His ways, or carry out His will, without the indwelling life of Jesus Christ exchanged for my own. And without the unearned, inexplicable, and life-giving love of God the Father, I wouldn’t even know how much I just don’t know.
Every toll represents the death of my pride, the sacrifice of my rights, the surrender of my thoughts, and the end of my life as I know it. It’s humiliating and painful. And that’s how He set this up. Strangely, the less I try to understand Him, the better I know Him and the more I love Him. God is just…GOD.