Growing up, we’ve always liked the idea of being first. We want to be chosen first for the dodgeball team in gym class. We want to be first in line to get the biggest piece of cake with the most frosting. And we want to get the first place ribbon for our project in the science fair. And as we get older, that mindset doesn’t really change. We live in a society which, unfortunately, often puts a very large emphasis on comparison and competition. So we work hard to earn some sort of honor. To us, being “first” means both being and receiving the best. Anything less than that feels mediocre and disappointing. And we, of course, would never dream of willingly allowing someone else to take our place in the front, right??
Jesus surprised everyone when he told the parable about the first being last and the last being first. It seems much more logical to our human minds that those who had worked the longest would receive more - especially when it comes to the reward in salvation. But this parable was emphasizing God’s grace and generosity toward us. He forgives the darkest sin as soon as we confess our sins and turn our lives around. He welcomes us into His kingdom with open arms whenever we surrender our lives to Him.
There will be many different kinds of people in Heaven that we might not expect. The Bible tells us in Luke 23:40-43 that Jesus forgave a contrite criminal just moments before they both died on their crosses. That man lived a life of sin, but found forgiveness at the cross. We are just as undeserving of His mercy, but we, too, have found forgiveness through the cross of Jesus.
The newly repentant outcasts will be standing in Heaven alongside those who have faithfully served the Lord for many years. And in the meantime, they will be standing alongside each other in church services and conferences. When it comes to the Kingdom of God, there is no first and last place. No matter how long you have been serving the Lord - whether for 60 years or 6 days - God sees us all the same, and He loves us all the same. If you have been serving the Lord for many years, be careful not to feel that you are better than someone who has just started their journey with Jesus. And if you are new to following the Lord, know that you are just as important and valued as anyone else!
We shouldn’t begrudge those who turn to God in their last moments of life because in reality, none of us are deserving of eternal life. And our motive for serving God should be purely to see the lost saved and find the truth... not to gain some sort of prize or recognition for ourselves. Can we lay aside our pride and entitlement to put on a spirit of acceptance and grace? Can we be as gracious to others as God is to us? Can we give up our place here on earth to let someone else feel like they belong? Let’s rejoice when the sinner receives their place in eternity. Let’s love one another and help each other in our walks with God. Let’s willingly step out of first place to humbly allow someone new in the faith to take our place. Let’s take the last place.
Pray: “Jesus, help me to see others as You see them - as souls. I want to show the same love and forgiveness that You always give. I want to have the humility to give up my place for someone else. Don’t ever let me think I have some kind of right to be first, but instead help me to make every new soul feel accepted and valued in the body of Christ. No matter what position it costs me.”