We’re following the last chapters of the book of Matthew. And we’re realising that because we listen to Jesus and we belong to him, that we have been let into a very important secret. And once we’ve been let into an important secret, our life is never the same. We can never think like an unbeliever again.
If you can picture two people on a train, different carriages. One of them is just having a reasonably aimless life; the other one is about to marry in a week’s time. Everything for that second person is governed by this event which is coming, this other person who’s about to come into their life and change everything. Or think of two people, one is out of work, looking, hoping, one is waiting to meet the CEO to discuss the new job. And for that second person, this individual who they’re about to meet is governing the way they’re going to think and live. And we who have been called by Jesus, have been told by Jesus that there’ll come a day where we meet Jesus. And that meeting with him which will take place, it will take place, it sheds light on everything that we do in this world. It sheds a good light on everything in this world.
Now, what we discover in these closing chapters of Matthew is that he tells us what’s important in the time that we have until we meet him. And I guess, they’re summarised most powerfully in the last three verses of Matthew’s Gospel chapter 28, where he says, “I have all authority, and your task is to be involved in the making of disciples. As you go, make disciples, and I’m with you always. Now, this doesn’t mean that we drop normal life and become weird. It just means that in living our normal life, we won’t let disciple-making drop away. It will have priority. And we know that the priorities that Jesus has given us are right because he’s moving himself to the cross. And he’s going to the cross because that’s the only way a person can become a disciple, by having their sins paid for, and then that friendship with God takes place. And we know that these are the priorities because the great topic of Jesus is cross, resurrection, return.
I guess everybody knows that life is temporary in this world, but any Christians know that we’re on a temporary assignment. The non-Christian doesn’t understand the temporary assignment from Christ. And so the only question that is being asked of the person who doesn’t yet know Christ is, “Well, what will I do? What’s my obligation to myself or my family? And for those people who’ve got masses of time and masses of resources, it’s, you know, “How do I finish off my bucket list? How do I read those thousand books, and see a thousand films, and go to the thousand places?” But the Christian can’t fall into that because that could well cut across the task of the temporary assignment, which is to be available and to make disciples. And we know that everything hinges, therefore, on listening very carefully to what Jesus has told us. Is he going to die on the cross? Well, that’s going to be the key to forgiveness. Is he going to rise from the grave? That’s going to be the proof there’s a future. Is he going to return? Well, that means we’re accountable.
In Matthew 24:25 he strings together reminder after reminder that we’re going to meet him. And as we saw last week in chapter 25, we’re called to be ready like those wise bridesmaids, who have not just got a lamp, but they’ve got oil. And we see this week in the parable that was just read for us, that we had to be in some way productive, responsible. We’re going to give account. The parable as you know, is about a man who gives resources to three servants, two of them are faithful, one is not. Now, you might like to tune out for the next minute or two, but I’ve thought to myself, how many of these parables about master-servant are there in the New Testament? And I began to realise that there’s three of these master-servant type of parables. There’s one in Matthew 20, which is about a master who pays his workers an equal wage, whether they come at 12 or 9 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoon, they all get an equal wage. It’s quite a disturbing parable because it doesn’t look right. But it’s teaching that grace is given freely whatever time people turn up.
Then there’s another parable which is a kind of a bombshell aimed at the Jewish unbelief. It’s recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And it’s that parable where the master sends to the workers in the vineyard to get some fruit, and they take no notice of the messengers. And eventually, he sends his son, and he says, “They will respect my son.” But they don’t, they kill the son. And this, of course, is a weapon which Jesus is using to expose the reaction of the Jewish people to their own Messiah.
But the third type of master-servant parable is the one that we’re looking at today in Matthew 25; then there’s also a sort of version of it in Luke chapter 19. And this is the parable where a master is giving out some resources to his servants. And this is the only parable where the master gives different resources to different servants, so five to one, two to one, one to one. This is the only parable where the resources that the master gives are huge, massive. And this is the only parable where the response to whether you’ve been faithful or unfaithful is really extreme. I wanna ask four brief questions this morning:
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- What does it mean to be faithful? Does that mean successful?
- What is the reward? Is it a kind of promotion?
- What is unfaithfulness? And what’s going on with this weird third servant who says, ‘I was afraid’ and then gets punished quite seriously.”
- What is the punishment? Is it unfair?”
What is Faithfulness?
Here’s our first question, what is faithfulness? Verses 14 and 15 of chapter 25, a man’s on a journey. So obviously, Jesus. He’s leaving, and he entrusts property to three servants. He gives them resources. Another word, talent is the word we normally use for ability, or gift, or skill. But actually, the word talent is a currency word, and it’s a very big currency word. It’s the word which we might replace with the word “a million”. A talent was a huge amount of money, almost a million. And so you see that this master is giving one servant about five million, one’s being given about two million, one’s being given about one million. It doesn’t mean that you’re just being given five abilities. And I suppose we could say that if we want to work out what this means for us here this morning, it’s everything that we’ve been given by God, resources, abilities, opportunities. What do you have which is his gift to you? The brain you’ve got, the gifts you’ve got, the resources, the plenty, maybe the not so much, whatever the Lord has given to you, we might summarise as these talents to be used in his service.
Servant number one, verse 16, starts at one’s. He’s obviously faithful and keen. Servant number two, verse 17, seems to do the same. Servant number three buries the talent in the ground. It wasn’t of course, unknown to bury treasure in the ground. We know from one of the parables in chapter 13 that a man discovers some treasure in the ground that was a kind of a cheap bank. And so burying it in the ground was a way of kind of keeping it safe but not doing anything with it. Before we see the challenge which the parable finishes with and we need to face it, we can’t just have sweet things said every Sunday. Before we face the challenge, I do want us to notice the comfort because the comfort is the first ten verses of the 18 verses.
I want to say to you to encourage you that these first two men are given all that they need to be faithful. They’re not short-changed, they are not sent out to do something which is too difficult. The master doesn’t ask impossible things of his people. He doesn’t ask us to produce rabbits out of hats or to create success. He doesn’t say, “I’m sending you off with nothing, and I want you to produce masses. I remember seeing a Richie Rich cartoon, any of you remember Richie Rich? That little rich boy and his father went away for a few days, and said, “I’m gonna leave you completely with nothing.” And he found a piece of string and a pin, and he caught a fish, and then he caught two, and then he caught three, and then he went and bought a fishing line. And he caught ten fish, and then he bought two fishing lines, and he gave them to two friends, and about the time the father came home, there was a massive fish industry going on the side of the river with factories, and workers and it was just unbelievable. Well, Jesus doesn’t do that. He doesn’t say, “I’m giving you nothing, and I want you to produce masses.”
And then these men simply use what they have. There’s no super success. They don’t come up with a 1000% increase. It’s not fast; it seems to take the whole of their life because the master is away for a very long time. Verse 19, and the five produced five, and the two produced two. And the response from the master is as good as you could hope. He looks at his servants, and I’d say it’s one of the most wonderful and valued sentences in all the scriptures. He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And he says the same thing to the man who had five, and the man who had two. So I want to remind you this morning, those of you, and this is most of you who serve the Lord in your home, in your work, in your world, in your church, when nobody gets what you do, nobody sees what you do, nobody appreciates what you do, nobody understands what you do, but you are seeking to put God’s word into practice, this sentence from Jesus Christ is going to totally compensate.
I’m not saying that it’s easy to wait for that sentence to come. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t encourage one another along the way. But I’m saying that these words from Jesus will outweigh every cost and every struggle at the end. So before you use this parable, as some of you this morning will do to terrify yourselves, one of the tragedies on a morning like this is the people who should be comforted will burden themselves, and people who should wake up to themselves will care nothing at all. That’s always the danger, isn’t it? The sermon that’s meant to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comforted ends up disturbing the disturbed and comforting the comfortable.
So before you terrify yourself, I hope that you’ll remember that this master is a great and gracious master. He gives abundant resources. He simply asks for willing service, not superhuman service, the sort of service that says, “I would like to use what I have.” And you will discover that he is thrilled by such faithfulness. So faithfulness means, friends, that you’re looking at what he’s given you, and you’re working out how you might use it, doing what he’s asked you to do. Please don’t tell him what he’s asking you to do. Please don’t do what some do which is to say, “This is what I do. And I’m not listening to what he asks me.” But listen to what he asks you, especially those last three verses of Matthew 28, where we get our commission and use the opportunities you have and the time that you have.
What is the Reward?
Second question, what’s the reward? We can’t push all the details in a parable too far, but you’ll see in verse 21 and verse 23, that the reward means commendation, well done. It means greater usefulness, you’ve been good in a few things, I’ll now ask you for many things, and thirdly, come and enter the happiness. So those three things are the reward in the parable. The commendation of Jesus and again, I say to you that you will value that day and his approval immeasurably. And if you focus on his approval, it will free you from many dangers and disappointments.
I was talking with a wise pastor who’s here this morning, Sam Carson, and I was telling him over lunch this week, that this is a hard lesson to keep going and wait for that “well done” on the last day. He said, “Well, my friend, you have to remember that a pastor is greatly loved on the day he arrives and greatly loved on the day he leaves, and not much in between.” And with many other genuinely comforting words, he encouraged me not least to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith. The commendation of Jesus, wait for it.
The second thing in the reward is the greater usefulness. You’ve been faithful verse 21, verse 23, in a few things, I will entrust you now with many things. It is ironic, isn’t it? That the man who’s been given five million is told, you’ve done well with a few things. What could the reward be if you’ve been given five million, and you are now going to receive many things? Luke says in his equivalent of this parable, “You’ve done well with some coins, now I’m going to give you some cities.” It’s almost absurd; it’s almost as though the master is gone crazy with reward and affection.
And we want to remember, don’t we? That our master is incredibly generous. And I’m telling you this because when we come to the third servant if you’ve got bad views of the master, it will affect everything badly. And the third part of the reward is that we’re invited to share the master’s happiness the Greek says, “Enter the joy of your master.” And this could mean enter a joyful place. But it may well mean, I want you to enter into my joy. I want you to rejoice as I rejoice. I want you to experience what I experience. I want you to know what perfect joy is. This is amazing.
Who’s the happiest person in the universe? It’s the living God. Not because he’s careless about suffering and sadness, these things grieve him dreadfully, but he knows exactly what he’s doing, and nothing gets in his way. And he wants us to share in his joy. When you consider how tragically people look away from Christ to get their joy and their happiness, the idea that, “If I just collect and accumulate and get lots of money, and I spend it on myself, that suddenly I’ll be satisfied,” it never comes. “And I’ll get personal recognition.” It never really satisfies. “And it’ll fill the void inside.” Well, it will for a short time. But the long term effect of accumulating and hoarding, and holding, and not releasing is really deep dissatisfaction, and even more seriously self-preoccupation, and the inability to serve or sacrifice someone else.
And even the corrupting of our values, if you remember that book that came out ten years ago, called “Affluenza” one of the most disturbing sentences in the book is that “When money rules the day, ethical decisions become economic decisions.” And when ethical decisions become economic decisions, you are really in trouble as an individual and as a community. Well, friends, we’ve been made for Christ. It’s good fellowship with Him which will give us deep peace and real joy. And there is no peace like his peace, and there’s no joy like his joy, and his reward is immeasurable. Well, thirdly, what’s unfaithfulness? So I think we know what unfaithfulness is. I heard a story of a couple who were asleep in bed, the phone went, and the lady reached over, picked up the receiver and after a few seconds, she said, “Well, I don’t know. We live 90 kilometres away, put the phone down.” Her husband said, “Who was that?” She said, “I don’t know. Some lady was asking if the coast was clear.” Think about it. That’s unfaithfulness.
What Drives Unfaithfulness?
What drives unfaithfulness? What is it that drives it? Because in chapter 25:24, the servant who buried the talent has a problem with the master. Have you noticed that? He’s got a problem with the master. He says, “You’re a hard man. You don’t sow, but you expect a harvest. You don’t scatter, but you expect to gather. Well in the face of your hardness, I hid from fear what you’d given me.” Verse 25. Now, friends, we have to ask where does this kind of thinking come from because there are people who think like that about God. I don’t exactly know where it comes from, it could be bad teaching, it could be bad modelling, it could be some kind of perversity, but where does this idea come from that God is a ruthless tyrant? It’s got a curse, hasn’t it? Of Genesis Chapter 3 where the serpent sows the idea in the man and the woman’s head that this God who’s given the whole of the garden, with all the trees and all the beauty, and all the perfection is holding out on you. He’s a bit of a sadist. He’s a cruel tyrant. He’s a tightwad.
When you begin to think like that of God, it affects the way you behave. And it’s completely different from the biblical picture. If you find yourself unbalanced in this area, I would suggest in your Bible reading; you collect every verse you possibly can to balance up, and even up, and perfect a proper doctrine of God. A verse comes to mind which is one of my favourites of Isaiah chapter 30:18, “The Lord longs to be gracious. He rises to show compassion.” That’s the God of the Bible. And there’s something very disturbing going on here where this servant says to the master, “You’re a bit of a tyrant.” The master, of course, doesn’t agree. Verse 26 and verse 27, and he says, “Look, even if it were true, wouldn’t it have been better if you were logical? If you were telling the truth, wouldn’t it have been better if you just banked the money?” At least something would have come in.
But this servant is speaking very sinisterly. And the problem is not the master, the master gives everything that people could need, and does not take or squeeze, or treat us unfairly. The fatal sentence if you look at verse 26, is where the master lifts the lid on the servant, and sees right through this idea of fear, ridiculous idea, and strips away the excuses, and he says in very, very disturbing language, “The servant is wicked and lazy.” The problem is not the master; the problem is the servant.
I remember seeing a very cynical fridge magnet or some cards, “Jesus is coming, look busy.” And it’s just repeating this sort of double insult, isn’t it? That he’s a bit of a looming tyrant. But you can fool him and get him off your back. But then it’s a double insult, isn’t it? The fact of the matter is he’s not a looming tyrant, he’s a gracious Heavenly Father and deserves none of that insults. And he’s also one who can see through our excuses. One commentator says this third servant has the philosophy “play safe.” And I suppose some people do play safe, don’t they? And say, “I don’t wanna get hurt, I don’t wanna be insulted. I don’t want people to think badly. I’m just going to bury everything. I’m gonna be a secret disciple.”
But friends, you can’t be a secret disciple because either the secrecy kills your discipleship, or the discipleship kills the secrecy. Some other commentators say that the third servant’s philosophy is “Do no harm” and all Bishop Ryle again, says, “This is the philosophy of the stone, not the servant.” It’s a great sentence that isn’t it? It’s the philosophy of the stone on the ground to say, “I do no harm.” And I hope I remember that when somebody says to me, “My philosophy in life is “Do no harm.” I hope I’ll remember to say, “You mean like that rock on the ground?” Surely we can do better than that.
Bearing your responsibility according to this parable, conducting your Christianity as a private thing, being an invisible member of Christ’s fellowship, coasting, travelling, being a passenger, refusing to do what he asks you to will be exposed. And I greatly fear for people who think they’re getting away with it because it’s just impossible on the last day. Well, let’s think about the punishment.
What is the Punishment?
Fourth and last question, what’s the punishment? It looks excessive in verses 28 to 30, doesn’t it? The gifts are taken away, the servant is sent away into the darkness, which is a code word in the rest of Matthew for hell, and you wonder whether the servant has really been over-punished and whether he’s even lost his salvation. Now, I think the probable answer is that this man never had salvation. He’s had a whole life time to respond to the master, but he has chosen to refuse and reject the master for the whole of his life, and now his time is gone. He’s obviously treated the master as an enemy and refused to serve him. I think this sounds like an unbeliever. Being exposed for what he really is, just like the fig tree in Matthew 21, remember Jesus cursed the fig tree because it was all leaves and no fruit? Or the bridesmaids in chapter 25 who had lamps but no oil. This man has wanted to distance himself from the master and run his own life and forget about what he’s obligated to do or think, and now he’s getting his wish full-blown. He’s getting his distance full-blown.
Remember C.S. Lewis said on one occasion, “If you stand outside the door of the kingdom, and you’re invited in, and you say no, and you’re invited in, and you say no, and you’re invited in, and you say no, and then the door closes and you find yourself outside, you can’t be surprised if you’re outside.
Well, of course, we deserve this treatment. We’ve treated God badly. We’ve viewed him badly. Our rebellion deserves the casting away. But we can’t read the word darkness, can we? Without remembering that somebody else has experienced darkness for us. The one reason that we can be at peace, that one reason that we can keep going forward with joy, the one reason we can be glad about forgiveness and the future in front of us, is because this person, Jesus, voluntarily went into the darkness and acted like he was a rebellious servant for us, so that we might be treated as the utterly faithful servants. It is incredible, but what took place at the cross when Jesus went through with the crucifixion was that he took all the darkness that a rebellious servant like you, or I deserve, and he took it, and he dealt with it, and he consumed it.
And he gives to us the status of servants and sons. And the huge privilege of serving a Heavenly Father with resources that he’s provided in the strength that he gives, for the days that he gives, for a reward at the end which will outweigh the world. He is incredible.
I want to just finish by telling you that I was listening recently to a man called Bruce Dipple, who was the director of the missionary organisation SIM. And he said that on one occasion, somebody came in and offered missionary service. And she said, “You know, I have no abilities whatsoever, but I do play the violin at Sydney Symphony Orchestra standard.” And somebody in the room, this is the sovereignty of God said, “The Santiago Symphony Orchestra needs a violinist.” And they sent her under the umbrella of the missionary organisation. And she went in as an obvious Christian witness, and played, immediately was able to know the music language, quickly picked up the Spanish language, and became a useful, fruitful servant.
Another man came to the organisation, the SIM organisation said, “I’m retired. And I’ll tell you what I’m good for; I can fix diesel engines.” They sent him to the Sahara for six months, and he fixed diesel engines and enabled power to flow in many needy situations. And then somebody came to the headquarters of the SIM and said, “I’d like to do mission work, but I can’t even leave my suburb. My gift’s IT.” And they linked this young guy up with a missionary organisation overseas, and he worked on their website and made it effective and functional and helped their evangelism. And then they moved him onto another mission website. And from this very city, he works as a mission partner. And I simply want to say to you that the Lord has given to every believer in this building, gifts and graces, and the key is to be willing, it’s not to be successful, it’s to say, “Lord, here’s the day you’ve given me, and here’s the gift and the graces you’ve given me.” How can I be useful today? Because the way you live your life will say a lot about the way, you see the master.
Let’s pray, we thank you our gracious God, for the servant the Lord Jesus. We thank you for all that he did so faithfully, perfectly, and sacrificially. And we thank you too for the new life that has come through His death, and we pray that you would hear our prayer, to help us to serve you as you deserve, with what you’ve given us, in the time that we have, to really honour you, bless others, until we see the Lord Jesus face to face. We pray this in his name, Amen.