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Be Ready, Part 1: The Faithful Slave

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Sep 5, 1999

Matthew 24:45-51

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If you have Bibles, please open to Matthew chapter 24, and we will begin in verse 45:

"Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 "Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 "But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' 49 and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth."



I. Who is the faithful servant?

Who is the faithful servant? The faithful servant is the one who fulfills his responsibilities to his brothers and sisters. So the faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ is going to be rewarded as he is found faithful in his dealings with his brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus is asking a question in verse 45 which is basically this question: What does a person look like who is ready for Christ’s coming? Look at verse 45. He says, who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charger of his household to give them their food at the proper time. He is asking the question, who is the faithful servant? Or, to put it in this way, what does a person look like who is a faithful follower of me? What is a person look like, what is a person doing who is a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ? What does the person look like who is ready for Christ’s coming? And he puts it in the context of a question, but He is really telling a story.

He is telling a story which would have been immediately understandable to everyone who heard him speak that day. It was very common for wealthy landowners, for householders, to take long journeys. Often those where business journeys, in which the whole family would be uprooted from their home and would travel to another place. Often times, it was simply removal to a summer home. Or, to a winter home in some other part of the Mediterranean world. And it would have been standard practice for a wealthy householder or landowner to put the chief servant, the most trusted servant in charge of all his possessions and in charge of all the other servants. And then when the landowner, or the householder came back, that servant would give account as a steward for all his actions and what he had done while the landowner had been away.

Now, perhaps most of us don’t live in that kind of situation today. But we can relate to what Jesus is speaking about. Let me give you an illustration, which we will refer to throughout our discussion this morning. All of us can relate to people helping us clean up from time to time. Maybe you can’t afford a professional clean-up crew at your house, even though you think you need it. But your friends from time to time, will help you out. Not long ago, we needed some major clean up done in the yard and I didn’t have the time to do and I had friends who volunteered to help me and we did some major clean-up. Well, imagine this scenario. Your husband has a very important business meal that he needs to put on for his clients and for some of his clients and for some of his colleagues and you, his wife, have been assigned the glorious duty of preparing for this great event. Now there is so much to do that you literally cannot prepare for it on your own. You need extra help. The house has to be just right. And you have to give special attention to the presentation and the food that is going to be given on this occasion. It is going to be large event. And you have extra help who comes in to help. You know how you want that help to perform. You know what you want them to do and you know how you want to find their work completed when the day arrives.

Now keep that in the back of your mind, because that is very similar to the scenario that Jesus is speaking of in verse 45 and then again in verse 48. He is asking us, how do we want one who is helping us to respond, to behave, while we are away, in preparation for the great day? And so, Jesus asks this question. And after introducing this common story and asking this question, who is the faithful and sensible and good slave? He gives us the answer to that in verses 45-47. And you will see five parts to his answer.

The first parts of his answer begin actually in the question itself. It is interesting, before He has even gotten the question out of His mouth, He has already answering the question. Look first of all in verse 45. There He gives you a description of the slave. How does He describe him? He is faithful and sensible. That is the first thing. The description of the slave. He tells you the very qualities that the ready Christian ought to have. He is sensible. His feet are on the ground. He is not speculating, he is not dreaming. He has not stopped working to go off into a cave in the mountain to wait for the return of the Lord. He is sensibly working. He is faithful. He is doing what the Lord Jesus Christ told him. So these two qualities, faithful, he is sensible. These are the very qualities of the ready Christian.

Then again in verse 45, you see a second thing. He tells you the position of this slave. He is not just a slave who has character qualities of sensibility and faithfulness. He is someone who has been put in charge of his master’s household. He is a Christian leader. He has been given responsibilities over the household. It is apparent that in this passage, Jesus is especially speaking to His disciples, and to those who have the responsibility of leading the flock, ministers, and elders especially. Although everything that Jesus says here applies to all believers, it especially applies to those who have been put in charge of the flock. These are put in charge of the Master’s household.

Then again, notice their function at the end of verse 45. What are they to do? What is the service that they are to render to the household? They are to feed the household, to give them their food at the proper time. The main point there is their job is to serve not their own interests, but the interests of the master’s household. They are to look after, yes they are to be responsible for good order, but primarily they are to provide for the needs of the household while the master is away. We are already seeing that Jesus is describing a good master here. He is someone who, when he goes away, really cares about his household and he leaves people behind to take care of them.

And then if you will look at verse 46, you will see a fourth thing. The actions of this blessed slave are described. The slave who Jesus says is blessed, is the one who the master finds doing what he told him to do when he went away. The slave who is blessed is actively obedient. He is marching to the beat of his master’s drum. The master told him to do something. This slave who is blessed, is doing what his master told him to do.

And then again in verse 47, you will see fifth thing. The reward of the slave. What is his reward? He is given yet more responsibility. I think that that hints to the truth that there is to be done in glory. And what we are doing now, is in preparation for that blessed labor which will be without toil.

Now there are several things that you notice as you look at this story. First of all, you see that Christian watchfulness, is not just passive. Christian watchfulness doesn’t just mean reading books which speculate about the nature of the end times. Christian watchfulness just doesn’t mean thinking through different theories about when and how Jesus might come again. And the very sequence of events which will accompany it. Christian vigilance, Christian watchfulness means faithfulness. To be ready is to be faithful. To be faithful is to be ready. There are duties to be discharged as believers. And those duties are the things which Christ has entrusted us with and in this passage, He is especially stresses, what? Looking out for one another, caring for one another, ministering to one another. Notice in this story, that the master is gone away for a long time. I wonder if Jesus is hinting to the disciples that his delay in coming may be a little longer than their anticipating. It may be a while before His return comes. He speaks of the master being away for a long time.

But notice also, that Christians here, are called the Lord’s slaves, the Lord’s servants. You know that reminds us of at least two things. It reminds us, first of all, of the soul lordship of Jesus Christ. He is not only Savior, He is our Lord. That is what He is. And our baptism, in our baptism, we see publicly demonstrated the reality that He is Lord. Read Acts chapter 2 sometimes, you will see that the reason baptism is required of all those on the day of Pentecost. They had been mocking the Lord Jesus Christ a few moments before. Now in baptism, they will show now that He is their Lord. That is one of the things that baptism sets forth. And Jesus is saying here that Christians are His servants. We are servants of Christ, our Lord. But that also teaches us something about our relationship with one another. We cannot lord it over one another. We all have, but one Lord. Our job is to serve one another as our common Lord has taught us to serve. And Jesus stresses that in this story.

Notice also that the position of Christian leaders is staked out in this story. They are merely slaves in the household. Christian leaders are not to be pompous ecclesiastical officials who line their own pockets and fleece the sheep and advance their own cause. They are people who are given to a life of serving. Listen to what Don Carson says, “whatever authority we as disciples of Christ possess, we dare not forget that we serve another. To whom we must one day give an account. Only that perspective will preserve some Christian leaders from claiming pomp and power for themselves and then degenerating into higherlings. More interested in fleecing the sheep, then in protecting them from ravaging wolves and leading them to good pasture.” Christian leaders are servants. And when we see examples of those who are not in their lives, we may take from that a warning, because there is judgment to come. And the person who is ready for the Lord’s return in this story, is the one who is doing exactly what the master told him to do. He is trusting and obeying. His priorities are right. His heart is right. He is doing towards his brethren what his master told him to do.

Now every professing Christian ought to take stock and ask, am I ready for His coming in light of this story? Do I look like someone who is ready for His coming. We ought to take stock of our faithfulness according to Jesus’ standard of measure. Are we obedient to His commandments? Do we want to be obedient to His commandments? Are we more concerned about His own agenda, His kingdom agenda, then our own agenda? Or is He on the periphery of our thoughts and experience? We ought to be faithful because the reward of blessing awaits every faithful servant of Christ. Jesus, in Matthew 25, is going to tell us that He won’t forget it if we give a cup of cold water in His name to someone.

You know, in this life, and even in this congregation, you’re going to do many things for the sake of your Savior that nobody else will ever know about. In fact, you will probably over the course of a lifetime in this congregation do some very kind things out of spiritual desires for people who will not know that you did them and who will at some point later on be critical of you. And that is hard. But the Lord Jesus Christ has something to say to you. I want forget if you give a cup of cold water in my name. The Lord Jesus Christ sees everything that we do. And in this parable He tells us that He is going to reward us for everything that we do in response to faithfulness to His call. We ought to faithful in view of further advancement in His service. You know the disciples were always wanting to be moving up the Ecclesiastical ladder, placed on the right and the left of the Lord Jesus, reigning and having positions of prominence.

And it is interesting, isn’t it, in verse 47, the Lord Jesus says, I tell you, if you are faithful, here is going to be your reward is. Your reward is, more responsibility. Your reward is you’ll have that advancement that you crave. That advancement will simply come at my coming. In the mean time, you are to serve one another. Then will be the time for reigning and responsibility. Now the time is for service and for humility.

You know, friends, Christians who are obedient to this call, all possess similar qualities and characteristics. But they express those similar qualities and characteristics in many different ways. Right now, my mind is literally flooded with examples of faithful people. And these are not people that are doing extraordinary things that are gonering newspaper headlines. They are not even necessarily people who are drawing attention to themselves in their own congregation. But they are being faithful and the Lord Jesus Christ says, as you are faithful, you are ready. And I am thinking of Laverne Ricks right now, who taught Sunday School for so many years at Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Laverne became a Christian later in life. She had a husband who was hard to the things of the Lord. He did not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was an alcoholic. He did not appreciate her conversion to Christ. He thought that she was fanatical in her attendance to worship services every week, and her involvement. But in the midst of her own personal pain, Laverne Ricks decides she will become a Sunday School teacher. And she was dearly loved, especially by the young women, the high school girls of the congregation. They loved Laverne and she loved them and she prayed for them and she taught them Sunday after Sunday. And, she determined that she was going to do just at the apostle instructed. She was going to attempt to win her husband without a word. That is she was not going to nag him into heaven, she was going by her life and service bear a clear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. What a faithful woman. Was Laverne Ricks ready for the coming of the Lord? You better believe it!

The phone rang on Friday night. It was my brother-in-law. I love my brother-in-law, and I was really looking forward to a good conversation with him. But about thirty seconds into the conversation after a few niceties, he said, Ligon, I really need to speak with Anne. And I wondered if something was wrong. And so I handed the phone off, and he began to tell Anne a story and then Anne called up a friend. On Tuesday morning of this week, Susan Berry’s husband got up and went to work like he always does. She and her three children were home and a few hours later, Susan received a call from the coroners office. Mrs. Berry, could you tell us what kind of car your husband drives? And a series of questions like this. And she answered the questions, a few questions, and she said, excuse me, is there something wrong with Carry? We can’t tell you that over the phone ma'am, I just need to ask you these questions. After the series of questions, “Ma'am, you are going to need to come down to the morgue and you are going to need to bring a friend, an adult friend, who can drive you home.” Susan continued to ask is there something wrong with my husband, has something happened to my husband? No answer was forth coming. She gathered her three boys together, 13, 12, and 7 and she said, children, your father is either dead or something very serious has happened to him. But he is with God, and we must remember that God takes care of His people. And she went to identify her husband who had been in a head on collision and who had been burnt up in his automobile. And as Susan came back to her house, to minister to her children, with twenty dollars in her bank account, facing the prospect now, of not rearing three children with a husband, but three children as a single mom, there are a couple of thoughts that were foremost in her heart. What do you think they were? Well, first of all, she wanted to make sure that her sons were confident in their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, even as her husband Carry had been. And then she immediately began to be bothered about the fact that Carry and she had been praying for years about his relatives, none of whom trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, none of whom are Christian. And she began thinking, how can I witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of this, so that I can testify to Carry’s relatives? And so on the day of Carry’s funeral, on Friday of this week, she gathered them together, before the service and she said, you know friends, Carry was so worried about you, and I just have to ask you today, where are you spiritually? Because Carry worried about the state of your heart, and you know when Carry drove into work on Tuesday morning, he didn’t know he was going to die. And Carry wants you to be where he is now. He is in the arms of Jesus. You know, when tragedy happens, you learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about your priorities. And I want to ask you a question. Do you think Susan Berry is ready for her Lord’s coming? You better believe it. Her heart is right. She is ministering, she cares about the ultimate things. And I could go on and on and on giving examples of people who won’t be noticed by the newspapers and they won’t be noticed by those around them and yet they are faithfully doing what their Lord told them to do until He comes. You see that is faithfulness.

J. C. Ryle said, "True Christians aren’t to live like good servants whose master is not at home, but they should seek to keep their hearts in such a frame that whenever Christ appears, they may at once give Him a warm and loving reception." You see, the faithful servant in that clean-up crew that you hired is the one who does what you ask them to do and when you come back to the house, everything is ready and you are ready to entertain you guests.

II. Characteristics and rewards of the evil servant.

Now Jesus tells the flip side of the story in verses 48-51. Here He gives us the characteristics of the rewards of the evil servant. And the evil servant here is a nominal Christian. This is somebody who claims to be a Christian, with their lips, but they are not there in their heart. They are not there in their lives. They give lip service. Matthew is responding to the issue of hypocrisy in this passage. Like he so often does in his Gospel. And he shows us through Jesus’ words, what a person looks like who is not ready for Jesus’ coming. In fact, we learn that the nominal Christian is threatened with judgment not only here, but here after, because of his evil thoughts and ways. Jesus tells this story of an evil servant and He describes him and he tells us his characteristics in this passage. Look at verses 48-51. The description of this evil servant. Well, that is exactly what he is. He is an evil slave. Notice the bluntness of this assessment. You know normally we don’t talk about our friends as evil people. I mean if you are non-Christian here today, you will be happy to know that we Christians normally don’t sit around describing you as evil people. In fact, we kind of like some of you. But here is an ultimate assessment about a person. Here is a person who doesn’t trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and is not faithful in his way. And you know what they are called at the end? Evil. That is blunt, but it is reality.

And Jesus goes on in verse 48 to explore the thoughts that are going on in that person’s heart. My master is not coming for a long time. You see carelessness and spiritual laziness, and spiritual presumption. This person doesn’t care about ultimate spiritual realities, like the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a man says to himself is often more important than what he says openly. Because it is within the secret precincts of his own being that a particular man converses wickedly and irresponsibly. Nobody else sees it, but it is true.

Then again in verse 49, he tells us the actions of this slave. He beats his fellow slaves, he eats and drinks with drunkards. Two parts to that. He abuses his position. Instead of being a help to the household, he is a hurt to the household. He doesn’t help the household of faith, he hurts them. Furthermore, he associates himself with those who indulge in fleshly desires. He clearly doesn’t have spiritual desires, he would rather indulge in the desires of the flesh.

Verse 50. What is going to happen on the coming of his master? He is going to be taken by surprise. Why? Because the natural will always be taken by surprise by the second coming. He will be taken by surprise because he doesn’t really believe. It will be unexpected to him, because he is not prepared. He is not expectant. And so, the Christian must live expectantly. In contrast with the natural man who will be unprepared and unexpecting of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice in verse 51, the brutality of the judgment. The slave's judgment. He will be cut to pieces. That is an immediate judgment. He will be assigned the place with the hypocrites. Notice in contrast, if you will look at Luke 12:46, when Jesus preached this sermon the first time, he said that the wicked slave would be assigned in the place of unbelievers or in the place of the unfaithful people. But here, Jesus say, he will be assigned to the place with the hypocrites. Why? Because He is speaking especially about professing believers who aren’t ready for His coming. They are hypocritical. And then we are told in verse 51, that in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Even when the judgment comes, as horrific it will be, there will be no repentance. They will gnash their teeth at Christ. They will grind their teeth in defiance against Him. They will hate Him, more than they have every hated Him before. Jesus is especially warning us here against the parallels against religious hypocrisy and nominalism.

Perhaps you have had the experience. You come home, that crew was supposed to been at the house all day cleaning up. You finally get dessert in order and forty-five minutes from now, the guests are going to arrive and the dust bunnies are all over the floor, and the counters are smeared and the house looks like your three year old just had a party with chocolate on every single piece of furniture. You’re very, very disappointed with how your help performed.

The Lord Jesus is saying to us, you must be ready by being faithful. He is not asking you to put your binoculars out and look for His coming. He is saying be faithful to what I have commanded you to do. And as you’re faithful, you will be ready. Be and remain actively loyal to the master. Sensibly and joyfully carry out the task assigned to you by Him in the interest of those who are precious to Him. That is how you are ready for the coming of the Lord. May God help us all. Let’s pray.

Oh Lord and God, we need the spirit to be transformed from the inside out if we are to be ready for the coming of our Lord. Help us, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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