tortois and the hare October 25 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30; Matthew 19:16–20:16

The Last Will Be First

Today's Bible study is well illustrated by the story of The Tortoise and the Hare (a story from Aesop's Fables). The tortoise is ridiculed for his slowness. Tired of it, the turtle challenges the rabbit to a race. The tortoise is very slow, so slow that the hare races far ahead. The hare, however, gets overconfident in his speed. After a while, he stops to take it easy and falls asleep. He is fast, far ahead in the race, and has so much time–no need to hurry. Meanwhile, the tortoise plods slowly along. The hare does not notice that the tortoise eventually catches up with him, passes him, and wins the race. The last is first and the first is last.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus gives two real scenarios when the last will be first and the first will be last—the story of a rich young ruler and the parable of the workers in a vineyard.

One day a rich young ruler comes to Jesus asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18, NIV). Jesus answer to him is to keep the Ten Commandments. The man responds, “All these I have kept since I was a boy” (18:21, NIV).

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” (Luke 18:22-25, NIV).

Why is it hard for many rich people to enter into the kingdom of God? Perhaps it is because they feel self-sufficient like the members of the Laodicean church of the first century A.D. In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, Jesus says of them, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17, NIV). Each of us, whether rich or poor or somewhere in between, must realize that we are as spiritually depraved as Jesus said they are, and apart from him we have no chance to enter the kingdom of God (heaven). Humility, repentance, and the willingness to give up everything for Christ are necessary for salvation. We have to turn to God from our idols–anything that is more important than God (1Thessalonians 1:9).

The problem of the rich young ruler is that his riches are his god. He obeys all the other ten commandments except the first, “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3, NIV). Are your riches or your desires to be rich keeping you from the kingdom of heaven? Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money,” (Matthew 6:24, NIV).

The disciples are amazed at Jesus’ words to the rich man. They ask him, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26, NIV). Implied in this question is the thinking that if a rich young ruler who has power, prestige, and riches cannot be saved, then who can?

Jesus’ replies, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27, NIV). Salvation is by God’s grace through faith. Salvation is not obtained by our power, position, prestige, riches, or any philanthropic deeds we do. Salvation is a gift given from God and is given because we turn from our sin to God, having faith in Christ's saving work for us (more...).

The Apostle Peter, a close disciple of the Lord, then asks him,

“We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on 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 fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life,” (Matthew 19:27-30, NIV).

Following Jesus is worth anything we may have to give up or suffer. Any person on earth, whether rich or poor, influential or insignificant will have to give up anything he is holding onto and seize Christ for his salvation. We cannot just add him to our life. He who would be first in this life, who trusts in himself and his attainments, will be last in the next and suffer an eternity in hell. Those who are humble and repentant and trust only in God’s salvation through Christ, however, will be the first to enter heaven and will be rewarded.

In the second scenario, Jesus tells a parable of the kingdom of heaven (a parable is an earthly story illustrating a heavenly truth). In the parable a landowner hires laborers to work his vineyard for an agreed upon price. When the end of the day comes, the last laborers to be hired are paid the same as the first laborers to be hired. This seems unfair to the first laborers since they worked all day in the hot sun. However, they had made an agreement to work for a certain amount of money, so the landowner is not unfair just because he is generous to the latecomers.

Jesus does not explain his parable, beyond the main point that God is gracious and Sovereign, and the last shall be first in the kingdom of heaven. We could speculate that there is symbolism in this story with the hired workers of the first, third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours, but we are not sure. The landowner represents God, and the vineyard seems to represent heaven in this context. The Pharisees (religious leaders) think they will be first to be admitted into heaven because of their Jewish heritage through Abraham. Jesus' disciples might also be prideful because of their association with Jesus. However, those who think they should be first because of their heritage will not enter heaven because of their pride and unbelief, and those who think they are Christians because of their association with Jesus will not enter heaven. We all need a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ to be saved!

The rewards of heaven are given by the Sovereign will and grace of God, whether people enter into God's vineyard early or late. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Some may think God does not want them–they are not religious, rich or talented, and have no good connections–they are bad and it is too late for them, but God is gracious. He only requires repentance and faith in God's Son Jesus Christ to be saved and receive the rewards of heaven (more...).

Now is the time to call out to God to be saved! The Apostle Paul says, I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation (2Corinthians 6:2a, NIV). Let us not be foolish like the Hare and fall asleep in the race of life. Only through Jesus can we win heaven and its rewards.

Lessons to Live By

  • Beware—wealth and comfort can become idols or gods to us.
  • Those who want to be first in this earthly life, seeking power, position and wealth for themselves, risk totally missing out on heaven and suffering in hell.
  • Following Christ is worth any sacrifice.
  • Those who choose to follow Christ above everything or everyone else will be rewarded.
  • The rewards of heaven are determined by the Sovereign will and grace of God. We should not be proud because of our Christian heritage–we need personal faith in Jesus Christ to be saved! (more...)

Focus Verse

Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (NIV)

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