If you have your Bible’s I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 25, as we continue our study in the gospel of Matthew, particularly in these passages where the Lord Jesus is telling us about the things to come, about the end times. All along in our study of Matthew 24 and 25, we have emphasized that the Lord Jesus is telling these things not to tickle you fancy, not simply to give us some interesting information about the future, but He’s telling us these things for very practical purposes. He desires that these truths impact us now, the way we’re living now, especially that we take account of our own hearts to see if we are prepared for the day of accounting, that great day which will com at His return. So turn with me to Matthew chapter 25 and we’ll begin in verse 14:
Our Lord and our God, we ask by the grace of the Holy Spirit that You would help us receive the stern and sober warning set before us today by the Lord Jesus. Help us to take account of our own hearts, see if our love for the Lord Jesus Christ is real, and to receive the message of this, Your word, we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
What does it mean to be a Christian? What is a person who is a true Christian look like? What are the things that a true Christian does? What are the attitudes that a true Christian has? We could ask that question in many different ways and we could give many answers which are legitimate to that question, but I want you to see that Jesus is pressing that home on His disciples. He’s preaching this message to His own disciples and yet He’s talking to them about people who appear to be servants of the king who do not live as if they are servants of the king. And He’s giving them a tremendous warning against those who profess to be His followers but in their lives, totally neglect to live as if they were His followers. I’d like you to see the 3 parts of this story this morning. If you look at verse 14 and 15, you’ll see a description of the trust that this master gave to his slave before he went away on a long journey. Then if you look at verse16-18, you’ll see an account of how each one of these servants did and what they did with the trust that had been given to them. And then finally in verses 19-30, you’ll the master return to settle his accounts with theses particular slaves and you’ll see how two of them were rewarded and on of them was condemned and punished.
Let’s look them at the message of this passage today beginning in verses 14 and 15 where you see the description of that trust, this sum or weight of money or goods which had been giving to each of these three servants. As we look at this passage, Jesus is reminding us of something. He’s reminding us that He has furnished all of his people with personal resources for the sake of building up His kingdom. The Lord Jesus is reminded us that all of us have things in trust from God which He expects us to use for the building up of His kingdom and by which He will take an account at the end. Wealthy masters, in Jesus day, often went on long journeys and when they do this, they would appoint certain accountants in their business to control their money and their assets while they were away and also to invest those assets and that money. Sometimes these were free men who were in the employment of a wealthy master and sometimes they were actually servants that he owned. In this case, Jesus makes it clear that they are servants of this master and their job would be to invest this money or these goods and to bring a return to their master while he was away on other business. We’re told that sometimes these returns could be quite extraordinary. For instance, there’s a story of one man who loaned money to an entire city and over a relatively short period of time, he got a 50% percent return of his investment. Apparently, there were very few people who had the kinds of resources to make large capital loans and so the ones who had those resources could reap tremendous interests rates off of the lending of their money. So the story that Jesus is telling would have related to everyone is Jesus’ audience. They would have immediately recognized the details of this, perhaps some local magnate had done it and they knew about it and had made a lot of money while he has away through the investment of his accountants.
Let me also say that in this passage, the word “talents” can be a bit confusing. We normally think of talents as native abilities, personal attributes, or capacities that a person might have. People might talk about someone being a talented pianist or a talented artist. We might say he has a real gift and there are many talents which we can speak about, but we normally think of these as native abilities. That talents being spoken of here are not natural aptitudes or native abilities, but these talents are rather something that has been entrusted by a master to be used for his benefit. Tasker puts it this way, “The talents in this parable belong to someone else and they are entrusted by that someone to the servants in order to used, not only in their interests, but for his.” In other words, these talents were a sum of money or goods, a weight of measure of money or goods that were to be used by the servants to advance the interests of the master while he was away. Yes, they would reap a reward for their faithfulness. Yes, it would be to their benefit to enlarge the financial wealth of the household, but ultimately the agenda for the use of these talents is for expanding the master’s kingdom. So, while he is away, the servants are to use this trust, the trust that they have been given, not for primarily for their own benefit but for the benefit of the master. Now I want you to notice four or five things here in verses 14 and 15.
I. The master's challenge.
Notice that Jesus goes out of His way to say that the master gave this weight of money or goods to his own servants. Look at verse 14, a man about to go on a journey called his own slaves. Jesus is stressing that the people to whom the master gave the trust already belonged to him. They were his slaves, they were his servants.
Notice also in verse 14 a second thing: the money or goods that the master gave them belonged to him. He entrusted his possessions. That’s twice now that Jesus has stressed that the servants belonged to him and the possessions belonged to him. Are you getting the picture here? This is a picture of the lordship of God over His people. We belong to Him and all of the resources He has given to us belong to Him, but it doesn’t stop there.
Notice in verse 15 that the amount of resources that were entrusted to them was enormous. We’re told that he gave talents. When Luke tells this story, he talks about a man giving minas, which were a relatively small amount of money, but a talent, some say, some say, if it were a talent of silver or gold, was equal to ten thousand days wages for a common day laborer. Somebody did the math for me after the first service and said that works out to about 38 years of labor. That’s almost a lifetime of labor for a common day laborer. One of these men was given 5 talents, so 5 five lifetimes of income for a day laborer, one was given 2, 2 lifetimes, and one, one. This is an enormous amount of money given and it reminds you of the wealth of the master and I think that Jesus has alluded to the fact that the Lord our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
Now that’s not the only thing. You’ll also see in verse 15 that the distribution of these talents, this sum of money, this weight of measure was not arbitrary. It was done each according to the ability of the servant. Verse 15 says that it was given each according to his own ability. The master assessed, you know that servant has shown real gifts at investment and I’m going invest more with him, I’m going to give more in his charge, and this servant, he’s done well and I’m going to give him 2 talents to invest and this servant, well, he’s still learning, and I’m going to give him this amount to invest. He has taken assessment of how these have ability at earning money in his absence.
And then we’re told, finally, that he went away for a long time. In verses 14 and 15, we’re told that he went on a journey, and in verse 19, we’re told that he went on a long journey. He had been away for a long time, and that, perhaps, is another hint at the delay of Jesus coming. Jesus is wanting His disciples to remember that He’s not going to be coming back in a couple of weeks, it may be a long time before He comes again.
But the point of the story so far is that Christ has entrusted His church with gifts and those gifts are to be employed for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and for His kingdom’s sake. We don’t belong to ourselves, we belong to Him, what we own doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to Him, all that He has given us, He has given us so that we might glorify Him and that we might do good to our neighbor. The point here is that Christ has furnished all his people with personal resources for the sake of building up His kingdom.
II. The servant's response.
Now He tells us in verse 16 through 18 what happened. He gives us an account of how each servant managed the trust and this, in and of itself, reminds us that Jesus is keenly interested in how we live. Sometimes we think that the only thing that matters in our relationship with Christ is that we have made a decision in the past or that we have prayed a prayer or signed a card, but the Lord Jesus here is taking stock of the lives of people who claim to be servants of His household and it reminds us that He is keenly interested in how we live.
As we return to the story, two things happen. Two of the servants gain a 100% return on what the master had entrusted to them, two of the servants doubled what had been given to them, while the third servant buried what the master had entrusted to him. Now we can already see a hint that this was a bad thing to do, at the very end of verse 18. Notice, we told, that he dug a hole in the ground and he hid his master’s money and once again it’s emphasized that this is money or goods or a weight of measure that belongs to his master, yet he put it in a hole. So we have three servants, but two basic results. Two were able to double their master’s trust while one, literally, buried it.
Now Jesus is not drawing attention to the enormous return that the first two servants gained as it indicates to us that if you work really hard and do lots of good works then you’re a real Christian. The point of this parable is to focus on the servant who did nothing. You’ve got to understand that or you’ll totally miss this parable. Jesus is not telling the story so that you’ll believe in salvation by works. Jesus is telling us this to warn against the Christianity which professes to be with lips, but is not reflected with the life. The focus is on the servant who did nothing. You see, the faithfulness and diligence of the first two slaves is simple an expression of their love and their loyalty to the master. Have you noticed in the passage how we’ve told that as soon as the master gave them the money they did what? They immediately took the money and they invested it. They didn’t do it grudgingly or wasn’t drudgery for them, they were excited about the opportunity to invest the master’s money. They were grateful for this tremendous privilege and responsibility that had been given to them and they were anxious to go about doing the master’s business. The other servant, his laziness and his indolence in taking care of that trust is a reflection of his relative lack of love and loyalty for his master. He seems to have no sense of obligation to his master and so he simply buries the trust given to him.
My friends, one of the things that Jesus constantly reminds us of, and of which the apostles remind us throughout the New Testament, is that the gifts of the spirit are for the fruits of the spirit. God gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we might bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit and Jesus is reminded us here the reason that God gives us resources is so that we might bear fruit. That’s why were given resources in the first place. It’s part of an expression of our love and loyalty to the Lord who saved us by grace.
Jesus is setting this story before to remind us that there are many Christians who profess to be believers with their lips, but their lives say indicate that that man or that woman really doesn’t care about the Lord Jesus Christ. They view Christianity as drudgery, they view a personal, viable relationship with Him as extraneous, His kingdom and fellowship with Him are rarely on their minds, and they can’t wait to get out of the sanctuary to get on with something more important. There are many, many Christians who profess Him but who’s lives are totally devoid of Him and Jesus is speaking to us about this in this very passage.
III. The master's judgment of the servants.
And now we see the verdict in verses 19 through 30. Here we see the respective accounts of these three servants and how the master rewarded two and punished another. This passage reminds us that Christ’s final judgment and reward is going to be in accordance with our faithfulness. In this passage, you see first the reward of the servant who had been given five talents, then the reward of the servant who had been given two, then the condemnation of the servant who had one talent.
In verses 19 through 21, you see this pattern. The first servant who had been given five talents comes forward and he’s clearly anticipating his master’s return and when the master calls for a report, he happily and enthusiastically comes forward and says master, I took your five and talents and I gained five talents more. He gives it with joy to the master and the master says well done you have done well enter into my joy, you participate too in the benefits of my kingdom. Clearly this first slave is enthusiastic about the relationship with his master. He knows his master to be a generous man and he loves the idea of gaining interest with for his master.
Then the second servant comes, who had been given two talents, and he reports to his master happily that “master you gave me two talents and I’ve earned you two more.” I’m so thankful for that second slave, the Lord doesn’t call all of us to earn five talents for Him and He doesn’t give us all five talents. To some of us He gives less and He expects us to do proportionately with what He gives us. He doesn’t’ say that you all have to do this, He just gives us certain abilities and resources and says to be faithful with what I’ve given you. That’s the point of the correspondence between five talents given and five talents earned.
Again, this is not some story about earning your salvation. To both of these faithful servants he gives a blessing and it’s a beautiful blessing, look at the end of 23, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Notice the generosity of the master here. Notice also that the disciples were also jockeying for the positions of importance in Jesus’ kingdom. And Jesus, I think, in a very gentle way, said to His men that if you want positions of importance in my kingdom, then you be faithful with the resources that I’ve granted you. If you really want to have positions of importance then you be faithful to me, you take the resources that I’ve given you and you use them wisely.
But condemnation of the third servant, which you see in verses 24-30, is entirely different from these first two reports. The third slave’s report is both an excuse and an accusation. The third slave excuses his unfaithfulness by saying two things. First, he says, he was afraid of his master and, second, he disclaims any other responsibility for the talent. He says, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man…” “And I was afraid” and he also says to him to take back what is yours. Now we know from Jewish transactions that that was a way of saying, here I am putting it in your hands, I have no further responsibility for this, the responsibility is all yours now. So simultaneously, this servant tells us that he feared his master, not in the Old Testament biblical sense of the fear of God, the awe of God, trembling before mighty God of heaven and earth, but a servile fear which thinks ill of God, which thinks that God is unjust and unfair and God will treat us in a biased way. So this man fears his master in that sense, he’s afraid of him.
Then, we told, that he disclaims further responsibility. He hands it over to his master and says here it’s your problem now, you take it back, you gave it to me in the first place, it’s your problem now. So he excuses his unfaithfulness in this way. Then, he doesn’t stop there, he goes on, he’s even more insulting, he excuses his unfaithfulness by accusing his master. He says that he’s a hard man and that he knows he’s man that has a habit of making profits without ever investing in the fist place.
Now the master takes issue with this accusation. You can see this in verse 26 when he begins to do it. In 26 and 27 he says that if I was really the kind of man that you say I am, I think that I would have acted differently than you did. If I was such a hard man, I think I would have at least put that money in the bank to bring me back some interest in stead of burying it in the ground. You see the point of the story, friends. The point about the third slave is that he did nothing. Ostensibly he was a servant of the household and had been entrusted with gifts from God, but he did nothing with them. The point of the story is not that the slave was a murderer or that the slave was an adulterer or that the slave had committed some great crime, in fact, this slave was not even the prodigal son, he hadn’t even wasted the father’s money. He just did nothing. He claimed to part of the household of God, but his life did not reflect the life of God in his soul. And so he is condemned by the master. The master does not reward salvation, as it were, to the other two servants because they have worked. It had never entered into theses other two servant’s minds that what they earned was going to determine whether they were saved or not. They worked happily for the generous master. But this one servant, who had a view of God that is hard, who thinks that God is unfair and unjust and reaps where He does not sow, this man is condemned not because of what he did, but because of what he didn’t do.
I want to ask you a question to day because it’s the question that Jesus is asking all of us. In your circumstances in life, do the hard circumstances of life prove out for you that you truly trust in God and that you are concerned for His kingdom? You know, often times, we learn how much we really care about God in the hard times. I’ve had friends who were professing Christians who came up upon tragedies in their lives and those tragedies made them bitter people. People who hated God, hated His people, and who fell away from their profession of the Christian faith because they were angry at a God who’s providence had allowed them to go through difficult things and their lack of faithfulness was displayed in the very way they responded to those trials. On the other hand, I have seen friends who in the very midst of trials have shown that their concern for faithfulness for the Lord is at the very heart of who they are.
Derek Thomas and I had the privilege of interviewing David Ellis this last week First Things, the radio program. David was the missions conference speaker at the seminary, he was a long-time missionary, and has served with the OMF and has been a great missionary statement for the Lord, but he has gone through some very difficult trials in his life and he shared a very poignant event in his own experience. While David was in Singapore ministering, his brother and his sister-in-law were expecting their second child. And his brother died and left a four and a half year old girl and a baby in the womb. David had to come all the way back from Singapore to Scotland to preach that funeral and six months later after the little baby had been born, his little niece, five years old, was in the day care in the day school in Dunblane. Perhaps that name Dunblane still rings a bell. All of us have our hearts and minds on Fort Worth right now and the tragedy that occurred there with those children in the congregation. Many of you may remember that 3 or 4 years ago, a man entered into the school in Dunblane with an automatic weapon and killed sixteen children. David Ellis’ niece was one of those children and his sister-in-law was not a believer and when he and his family gathered together, of course they were trying to collect themselves in the midst of the grief, how can you even describe that grief, the loss of a husband and the loss of a child in that sort of a tragic way, how can you even process that. All of them were grappling to know what to do with what the Lord was doing in their lives, but they were determined that as a family that the Christian members of that family were going to bear witness to that sister-in-law who did not know the Lord. And so even in the midst of their pain, their first concern was bringing that woman into the kingdom, showing her the love of God in Christ and doing in consistently and never stopping. He said it was very interesting. He said that the unbelievers also at the time of this tragic event poured out love towards this woman, but over time the unbelieving members of this family fell by the way side. They stopped checking on her and they stopped helping her, but David and John and his family said that they were determined that they were going to love her into the Kingdom and they were not going to quit until she had seen that Christian love did not give up. In the midst of a crisis, they could have become bitter towards God, they could have thought of God as a hard man who does not really care for His people, but instead, as faithful servants, they determined that they were going to use even that horrendous event to bear witness to the gospel because their hearts were with the kingdom.
Maybe you’ll display your heart towards the kingdom in the way you treat the possession that the Lord has given you. Do you see them as something to be used for ministry to others? Do you see the wealth entrusted of you as something that you would use for the furtherance of God’s kingdom in the church and elsewhere? All of us, by what we do and we don’t do, manifest whether we have a real love and loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and this parable is about a man who shows that he really has no loyalty to Christ by the way he leaves and, especially, by what he doesn’t do. J.C. Ryle says this, “Let us leave this parable with a solemn determination by God’s grace, never to be content with the profession of Christianity without practice. Let us not only talk about religion, but act. Let us not only feel the importance of saving faith in Christ but do something too.”
We are not told that the unprofitable servant was a murderer or a thief or even a waster of his lord’s money, but that he did nothing and that was his ruin. Let us be ware of a “do nothing Christianity.” Such Christianity does not come from the spirit of God. “To do no harm” says Richard Baxter, “is the praise of a stone not of a man.” Let us with our lives, as well as our lips, express our loving loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. Lets pray.
Our Lord and our God, we ask that at the day of Your coming, we would be found ready because we love You now and we love Your people now and we manifested Your love to all those who a far off for Jesus sake. Amen.
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