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Singing Psalm 30 the last will be first

How is it that the last will be first?

What is its significance in the day-after-day moments of your life?

To ask it another way, which is better, tears at night and joy at dawn or joy at night and tears at dawn?

There seems to be a principle at work such that the last will be first, and the first last (or somewhere in the middle, but you get the point.)

Those who have places of honor might find disgrace later. Those who have it easy and pleasant at first find that it gets harder and unpleasant later. The last will be first and the first last.

  • The boy whose family called him ‘stupid’ becomes a brain surgeon.

  • The ace student grows up to be average.

  • The girl who couldn’t make it once around the track breaks the school record the next year.

  • The child prodigy whose family counted on her with such high hopes does just okay.

  • One who couldn’t speak without stammering and stuttering grows to be a gifted orator.

“When prosp’rous, I once boasted,    ‘Unmoved I shall remain.’But You, LORD, by Your favor    My mountain’s strength maintain;” ~ Psalm 30:6-7a

When you love the Lord you know that all he gives you, whether you’re living in plenty or in want, whatever he has given or taken is done out of love and will result in good for you.

Understanding this results in a steadiness, an equanimity of emotions, and strength that yields contentment and joy even through suffering.

Singing Psalm 30 brings to mind the parable of the vineyard workers, what they might have found challenging, and their opportunities for growth through their plights.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of the house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…So the last will be first, and the first last.” ~ Matthew 20:1, 16

Firstly, what does it mean in this situation for the first to be last? Here are some examples of people where things went well for them at first but then not so well later. Which of these people are among those Jesus would have in mind when he said, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”?

  • No sooner did he dedicate the temple and make a great multitude of sacrifices, no sooner did he hold a feast such that all the people went from it joyful and glad of heart, no sooner did he display more wisdom in all areas of life such that it blew away a queen, than did Solomon turn from the LORD.

  • Haman was first in King Ahasuerus’ good favor only to fall out of it and learn that the one he hated, Mordecai, was brought in his place.

  • Job’s friends seemed right until they didn’t.

  • Saul was king while David was a self-proclaimed worm.

  • Jacob’s 10 sons did all they could to destroy Joseph who later came to rule all of Egypt saving them in the process.

  • John the Baptist said that Jesus must increase and that he must decrease. Jesus assessed John as first and best as his herald. Later he was wrongfully imprisoned and murdered foreshadowing the impending suffering of his Savior.

Jesus is speaking of his people both those who went from first to last and those who went from last to first. Disciples of Jesus who were chosen first or at a younger age, therefore, ought not cast aspersions on those who were chosen later or at an older age. Of course, the longer someone is not in Christ, the longer their perspectives and attitudes are against God, and the more sins they will have racked up. Paul certainly had grievous sins to forsake as he embraced the Lord and the immense grace and mercy that Jesus extended toward him.

He is not referring to those who seemed to be with him but at the end showed that they never were his. Those are not in the mix here.

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” ~ Matthew 11:11

Singing Psalm 30 the last will be first as they are brought from sad to joyful

Let’s look at the emotions of the day through the eyes of those laborers who were hired last.

It might be that some of the workers were angry, and even, like Job, cursed their lot in life still reasoning with the Lord about their wretched state, perhaps something like:

“For when your face was hidden,    I then became dismayed…O where is the advantage    If my blood should be shed?Will dust declare You faithful,    Can praise come from the dead?”  ~ Psalm 30:7b, 9

Most likely they were discouraged and despairing. Perhaps a few among them prayed with faith that they could receive work to support themselves and their families. 

Sometimes the tears of the night linger into the day. Then unexpectedly joy breaks into your sadness as in faith you wait for the new dawn. The last will be first.

“His anger lasts a moment,    His grace through life goes on;Though through the night tears linger,    Great joy comes with the dawn.” ~ Psalm 30:5

It is likely that singing could be heard coming from the lips of those among them whom the Lord was making meek. The last will be first.

“Sing praises, O you godly,Who to the LORD belong;And to His name most holy    Show gratitude in song.” ~ Psalm 30:4

“You turned my grief to dancing,    From sackcloth set me free.You wrapped me up in gladness;    I shall not silent be.” ~ Psalm 30:11

Singing Psalm 30 the last will be first as they are brought from independent to dependent

Let’s look at the physical state of those laborers who were hired last.

They were standing around in the heat of the day. Waiting. Unemployed. Hungry. Sweaty. Thirsty. Was there even an inkling of “the last will be first” in their minds?

Though you don’t yet see what you hope for, by faith you have it completely. The Lord promises to finish every good work he began in you. The last will be first. You can rest in him when your faith is in him, that he is good for it. He will do what he said he will do. When he speaks, it is as good as done.

Each man was like an unemployed independent contractor until agreeing to work for the master. Each one was brought into the master’s vineyard where they were dependent upon him for their working and living. They trusted the master to pay them when he told them “…whatever is right I will give you.”

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. ~ Matthew 21:28-32

Though we wish not to (and that is the difference), even in Christ, until he comes to complete our redemption, we continue to sin even as Jesus has brought you from walking in darkness to walking in the light. This ensures that you rely not on yourself but on Jesus alone who cleanses you from all sin. As you cry out for his mercy, you remember the last will be first, and you put your hope in him.

O LORD, to me be gracious,    And hear me as I’ve prayed.To You, O LORD, I cry out    O be my help, my aid.” ~ Psalm 30:10

Singing Psalm 30 the last will be first as they are brought from rejected to thankful

David envisioned this psalm to be sung at the dedication to the temple, though it was not him but his son who was chosen to build it.

The last vineyard workers were passed over all throughout the day. “No one has hired us.”

They dedicated their bodies, temples of the Holy Spirit, making them available and willing to work. Though rejected at first, they were at last thankful that they were given generously paid work. The last will be first. You can take heart that the last will be first as you make yourself available, willing to do whatever is needed to advance the kingdom of God however humble your work might be.

The magnitude of God’s grace is on full display here. Those that received it early ought to be wide-eyed with wonder over it and even more so as they admire the great compassion that the master has for those who have been waiting in the hot sun until the last hour of the day when they at last enjoyed meaningful, purposeful work.

The last workers were rewarded for the work that they would have done as if they were hired from the beginning of the day. To say they were thankful would be quite the understatement!

When you long to do good things but are not able or are hindered in one way or another, and you see others doing those good things, you might feel rejected and dejected.

Remember that the Lord Jesus took your burden of sin, rejection, and shame to the cross and paid for it there to set you free from burden and debt.

Take heart, friend, that the last will be first. The Lord will reward you for the good that you would have done if you could have done it. The last will be first. Rejoice, be glad, and hold the Lord your God in the highest esteem, adoring him for including you to freely share in his eternal riches and glory!

“Whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” ~ Matthew 20:27

Jesus was the stone that the builders rejected who became the head of the building’s corner.

“This was the Lord’s doing,    And it is marvelous in our eyes.” ~ Matthew 21:42

“Indeed, my soul, my glory,    Will praise You and adore;O LORD, my God, I’ll thank You    Both now and evermore.” ~ Psalm 30:12

August 11-18, 2023


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