Waiting: God’s Call to Faithful Improvement

Sermon by Gary Sinclair on November 17, 2019

Matthew 25:14-30

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Let me invite you to take up God’s Word and to turn with me to the gospel of Matthew this evening as we read from Matthew 25:14-30. In our evening services, many of you will remember, over the last few weeks we’ve been studying a number of the parables. We took a break for a couple of weeks to enjoy the installation and ordination of deacons and with Dr. Joel Beeke here, and this evening we continue in our series of the parables. And the one we’re going to be looking at this evening is a parable that encourages us to faithfully improve that which has been entrusted to us. And in the midst of the encouragement, there’s also a very stern warning, and it’s a warning that ought to cause us to stop and to assess our life before God this evening once again. 

So before we read Matthew 25, let me ask, because I wonder how many different kinds of waiting we can think of. Those of you in the congregation who have little children will know that if you turn to your son and say, “It’s only ten minutes till dinner,” it’s not going to stop him from being a shadow till you give him a snack to eat to curtail the hunger. And yet if I’m in my study and I’m busy working on the next part of a paper or a sermon preparation and I hear “ten minutes,” well ten minutes is just not long enough. And so it becomes this frenetic moment to try to bring to completion that which I set out to do. One author said, “It’s the same length of time but one is waiting in one way and one in another way.” 

Then there’s the kind of waiting that you enjoy when you meet the man or the woman of your dreams. Time always seems to pass way too quickly and you wish the moment could be frozen. It’s almost as if you want the time to stand still so that the magic of that moment could continue for hours and hours and hours. And yet, there does come a moment where you’ve got to let it go. Then there’s the kind of waiting experienced when you’re desperately ill, waiting for the wretched effects of another chemo treatment to pass you by, feeling like Job, having to take up pieces of pottery and to scrape the sores and crying out, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

See, there’s different kinds of waiting, and so when we come to a passage like Matthew 25, which at the very heart of it is about waiting for Jesus, we need to ask within its context, “What does God say regarding how we as Christians, as believers, are to wait for Jesus? What posture are we to assume as we wait for His coming in the clouds of glory?” And so with that, let’s turn to God’s Word and let’s read from Matthew chapter 25, and we’ll read from verse 14 through to verse 30. This is the Word of God:

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Let’s bow our heads as we come to the Lord in prayer. Let’s pray.

Our great God in heaven, we bow before You this evening asking You to take Your Word and to wield it powerfully in the hearts of every man, woman, boy and girl that is here this evening. And we ask You to do this for Your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now as we come to a passage like this, this parable we’re studying this evening, it’s part of the larger section that is given to us in Matthew 24 and Matthew 25, commonly called “The Olivet Discourse.” Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with His disciples. There are approximately three days until the horror of the cross and so there’s a sense in which there is urgency in what He is teaching His disciples and everyone else who is listening. And so we must consider this parable within that larger framework. One commentator stated this. “One speaks of the future judgment for the sake of the present.” “One speaks of the future judgment for the sake of the present.” And so Jesus here is pressing home the reality that a day is coming when He will return. We will see His lovely face – a face of majesty and beauty; something that this side of glory we cannot comprehend. And yet on that day, we will be called to account.

And it’s in that moment that everything will be laid bare. There will be no excuses, no facades, no agendas, no ducking and diving; only complete transparency. And so as we come to chapter 24, I’m just going to trace through what Jesus is doing in these couple of chapters. In chapter 24, Jesus teaches us to wait, and to wait for the Lord so as not to be surprised. Wait for the Lord so as not to be surprised. When He returns it will be like the days of Noah, we are told. People will be getting married, there will be funerals, there will be births, there will be celebrations and parties. People will be living their life. And then in a moment, in a flash, one will be taken and one will be left. And so we are to wait so as to not be surprised when the bridegroom comes back. 

Then in chapter 25, the first thirteen verses just prior to the passage that we read, Jesus implores us to wait as if His return will be long delayed. In other words, we are to prepare for the marathon, not for the 100 meter sprint. We don’t expect that when we come to a place of conversion, as much as we would like for Him to return in that moment, we can’t expect that He’s going to return the next day, but we need to prepare for the long run, for the long haul. And then in chapter 25, verses 31 to 46, the verses that are after our text, we wait in the knowledge that there will be a separation of sheep and goats – those who are faithful and those who have been unfaithful; those who are unbelievers.

And then in our passage, verses 14 through 30, it highlights what we are to do in the time before the separation. And we are to wait for the Lord as slaves commissioned to improve our master’s assets. Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s saying, “Do not be surprised,” and “Prepare for the long haul. And when that day arrives, there will be a separation of sheep and goats, but before that day you are to faithfully live to improve the Master’s assets.” In each of these parables, there’s a decisive separation. Five virgins are welcomed into the marriage feast and five are locked out. Two slaves are welcomed in and one is banished to outer darkness. And then of course the sheep inherit the kingdom and the goats, they themselves are banished as well. And when we take Jesus’ statement, when we take these parables seriously, we need to admit that our generation is closer to that day than the previous generation. In fact, this week is closer than last week. And that ought to stir our hearts to rejoice, but also to assess our lives.

And so what I want us to do this evening is I want us to have a look at a couple of details in the parable and then I want us to take some time to apply the parable to our lives. This parable – it’s very clear – it’s about the story of a wealthy master who is going on a journey, a journey that would take an undisclosed length of time. But at the end of this journey, he would return when the time is right. So there’s no date; there’s no year that is given. And it’s meant to remind us I think somewhat of Jesus’ statement that only the Father in heaven knows the time when the Son will return. So the master calls his three servants. Now the Greek word here is doulos, and in some sense many of the commentaries say that a better translation is that of “slave.” In other words, these three slaves he calls to himself. Now again, we need to remember that the way we understand slave in our 21st century is not the way it was implied and what the meaning was given in the 1st century in Biblical times. But slave also connects us to the New Testament’s teaching that you are either a slave to sin or you are a slave to Christ. And so that brings in a richness in this picture. And so he calls his three slaves and he calls them together to inform them that he’s going away. And then he proceeds to entrust his wealth and his property to them. 

Please notice that he treats his slaves not in a commercial sense – that because he’s leaving, therefore he’s going to sell them. No. But he treats them in a Middle Eastern sense as partners in his endeavors. That’s very important in terms of the imagery that carries for us who are in union with Christ. And we’ll pick up on that a little bit later. So he gathers them; he divides his wealth among them according to their unique gifting. To the first slave he gives five talents, to the second, two talents, and to the third, one talent. And he implores each one of them to go and to use that which has been entrusted to them, to use it wisely and profitably. Notice that there is no expressed numerical expectation from each of the slaves. He’s not asking for a percentage return on investment so to speak. All he’s saying is, “Go and be faithful with that which I’ve entrusted to you.”

Now this word we translate as “talent,” it’s held in a slightly different connotation to the way that we might apply a meaning to it today. It was a monetary unit in Biblical times. It was the weight that was used to measure out a precious metal like gold, silver, or copper. And what’s interesting here is that the master is giving his slaves something of a significant value. This was not something to be sniffed at. Most commentators will say that one talent was the equivalent of 6,000 denarii, which was approximately 20 years’ wages for the average laborer. So one of these slaves was receiving a hundred years’ wages, the other forty years, and another twenty years; in one foul swoop, that was being given to them. 

Now with regards to this word “talent,” in our 21st century I think that sometimes the way we attach a meaning or the interpretation that we sometimes think of is that we think of a person who is talented. In other words, it’s a reference to someone who has excelled in a particular way because of an innate ability. And so we distinguish and we separate those people who are talented over against everyone else who is ordinary. That is not what Jesus is driving home here at all. He insinuates very clearly that each one is given a talent, a treasure, a gift, and each is responsible to faithfully steward that which is his, and that you are to do it for His benefit and for His joy. J.C. Ryle – he’s an English commentator, a pastor, and a writer – he gives a helpful definition, I think, of a talent. He says, “It is anything whereby we may glorify God.” Anything whereby we may glorify God. 

Now eventually we need to understand that this parable is actually about our life before God. It’s a parable about the stewardship of life. Eventually, the master, he goes his way, and a while later he returns and a day of reckoning takes place as per verse 19 through to verse 30 of the text. And we will speak about that in just a short while. Friends, this parable confronts us with a number of truths – a number of truths about life and about ourselves. So let me just mention a couple. 

You Are Not Your Own

The first one is this. You are not your own. You are not your own. Hopefully you notice as you read through this text and as you go home and reread it again, but you’ll notice how the theme of ownership is woven into the very fabric of this parable. These men belong to their master. It’s the master who took care of them so that they could serve him. They had no innate rights in and of themselves. On top of the fact that the men belonged to the master, everything that they had was not their own. Everything that they owned, plus this exceeding amount of metal that had just been given to them, this precious metal, none of that belonged to them. It belonged to the master. Not one cent belonged to the slave.

Now isn’t this a fact of life for us as well? And it’s something that we need to be reminded of pretty regularly because we tend to this, even though we know that when we go to the grave we cannot take anything with us, I think that so long as we’re this side of the grave we seem to think that what we have is our own. There is literally nothing that we are and nothing that we have received which is not from God. The whole of Scripture impresses this truth upon us. You just think of the doctrine of creation. You did not spontaneously decide to create yourself. That sounds foolish, doesn’t it? It was God who created you. It is He who knew you from before the foundation of the world and He’s the one who knitted you together in your mother’s womb. He’s the one that breathed life into you. He’s the one that gave you your life. 

What about the doctrine of providence? We’re told in the Scriptures every day, “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights.” God gives us breath – today, yesterday, and if the Lord wills, tomorrow. He enables this complex frame called the human body to function in this environment where the brain works, the heart beats, the blood flows, and it’s all perfectly designed.

What about the doctrine of salvation? For when we come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, one of the first things we recognize is that we are no longer our own, by way of the blood of the Lamb. We have been bought at a price. Apart from Him, we would be dead in our transgressions and our sin. But in the foolishness of the cross and the action of Jesus on Calvary, the penalty for sin was paid. And as we come to Him, repenting and believing, we find that we don’t want to be our own. We want to serve the Master.

Friends, have we truly embraced the fact that God owns us? Have we embraced that, that it’s His life, His days, His strength that is given to us, His gifts, His money? Everything speaks to the fact that it is His. So let’s serve Him with vigor, faithfully. So you are not your own.

You Are Responsible 

Secondly, you are responsible. You are responsible. If the talents are His and they are from Him, they are to be used for Him. It’s interesting that the children’s catechism, the verse that goes along with that would probably be something like 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat, whether you drink, whatever you do” – in other words, in the totality of your being – “whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” Again, remember the Middle Eastern perspective that the servants were an extension of the master. Brothers and sisters, when we come to a saving knowledge of Christ, when we’re in union with Jesus Christ, we recognize that we are adopted into His family, we become His hands and feet so to speak and His mouthpiece, so that by owning the name of Christ on our lips we’re not pointing to ourselves but we are pointing to our Master. 

Now think with me for a moment about an option that could have taken place and that Jesus could have set forward as an option in this parable. It could have been possible for one of the servants to take everything that had been entrusted to him, and as soon as the master had gone, to actually go in the opposite direction. In other words, to basically steal it all. But that’s almost unimaginable in Jesus’ perspective here. And yet how many times some of us, unthinkably perhaps, we’ve taken and used God’s good gift for our own ends. John Noland, he’s a commentator, he writes this. He says, “Jesus, at this point, is addressing a certain kind of nominalism among His contemporaries – those who are quite happy to be in a general way within the orbit of the people of God, but they are unwilling to make themselves answerable to God’s expectations in any committed sense.” In other words, John Noland, speaking of Jesus in this parable, is saying there are some people who would like to associate with the name of Christ by profession, but their lives don’t really change. And so their gifts are buried and only at the end of time will it be shone for what it truly is. I suppose Judas Iscariot is the ultimate example of this. He was a servant, a slave of the Master, a disciple of the Master for three years, and at the end of his life we realize that he was serving the Master for his own ends. Let that not be of us, is part of what this parable is challenging us with because those are wasted years.

I remember a congregation member in South Africa, shortly after arriving at the congregation he was sharing a bit about his testimony and he said that he grew up in the church, came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, everything in terms of his testimony would set forth the fact that he belonged to Christ. He loved the church. He loved Jesus. He loved the Scriptures. But through a sequence of events both in his personal life and in the life of the church, he slowly started to slip away and eventually he moved away from the church and he started to do things for himself. By God’s grace, later on in his years the Lord recaptured his heart. And the one thing I remember him saying is this – “If only I hadn’t wasted so much time for Jesus.”

What did he mean? In the eyes of the world, he was absolutely incredibly successful, but you see, he had come to an understanding that the treasure of the Gospel that had been given to him, he had not grown in his understanding and the depth of it so that he can be able to set forth the fruit of the Spirit and explain it to others. The treasure had been buried in some sense. Let me ask you, how seriously do we take responsibility for the gifts that have been entrusted to us, that God has given you this insurmountable treasure of the good news of Jesus Christ, He’s changed your life from darkness to light, and He’s given you a unique personality to be able to go and express that and explain it to those that you come into contact with? One author wrote this. “It is a universal tendency of western society to trivialize the serious issues of life and to solemnize the trivial.” To trivialize the serious issues of life and to solemnize the trivial. It fits in very nicely with what William Carey said as well. He said, “I’m not afraid of failing. I’m afraid of succeeding at things that do not matter.” Do we take responsibility for the glory of our King?

You Have Been Uniquely Entrusted 

So you are not your own. You are responsible. And you have been uniquely entrusted. You have been uniquely entrusted. The passages tells us in verse 15 that the master entrusted the talents according to each one’s ability, according to each one’s ability. And one of the truths that Jesus reminds us of here is that the Creator has uniquely and He has specifically gifted us as His image bearers. There are no two of us that are exactly the same. One of the things I had the privilege of doing was leading a couple of the devotions in the classes in the Day School this past week. And one of the things I asked them to do was to take a marker and to go and take their fingerprint and go and put it on the paper and then to get their friends to do it around. There’s no two fingerprints that are exactly the same. No two irises are exactly the same. You are unique, and that’s not just with regards to your outer frame; it’s with regards to the way that God has wired up your personality and all the other details of who you are. 

And the implication here is that we ought to refrain from overestimating what has been entrusted to us. What do I mean? Stop trying to be a Calvin or a Luther or an Edwards or whoever else you want to be. God has called you to be you. At the same time, we are to refrain from overestimating but we must also refrain from underestimating the wonder of what has been entrusted to you. Don’t go around saying, “What can I possibly do for the sake of the kingdom?” Look at how God has wired you up and go and be faithful. 

Now in the eyes of the master, this third servant was equal value to the others. And if he had faithfully improved on that which had been entrusted to him, he too would have heard those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” So what had happened to the third person? Had he become resentful of those who received more? “Why did he get two and he got five? I only got one?” Had he forgotten that his worth was in being an image-bearer of God, endowed with gifts and graces to offer back to God as a spiritual act of worship? Had he forgotten what his master was like? That seems to be one aspect that seems to have tainted his understanding. We read in verse 24, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

Let me speak to the young people here this evening. We live in a day of social media where the expectation is a pressure upon you to try and conform to the normative of society. Let me say to you, God has created you specifically and He’s gifted you uniquely. Go and be who God has created you to be. Don’t try and be someone else. He’s given you the personality. Just love the Lord Jesus Christ with heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor and just be faithful in that. 

And to those of you perhaps in your later years, God has gifted and He has specifically given you gifts and graces as well and He has had you on a course of life that is unique to anyone else here. That’s your testimony. Take your testimony and share it with others please, especially those who are still starting out in the Christian race. It’s so important that we hear how God’s fingerprint is all over the lives of people so that we can be encouraged to press on and keep our eyes fixed upon the Savior. 

Now as you look back at the text, Jesus tells us that the third servant, he was labeled as wicked and slothful. Wicked for his false perception of his master that he had come to believe, and he was slothful; interestingly, not untalented, just lazy. And it’s intriguing because this lazy slave, his perception was not the perception of the other two slaves. When they got around to it, they found their master to be rewarding and gracious and encouraging, so much so that he says to them, “Come share your master’s happiness. Come and take a seat at the table.” And part of what that indicated was that the master saw them as equals as he invited them in. 

You Are Accountable 

So you are not your own. You are responsible. You are uniquely entrusted. And finally, you are accountable. We see that in verse 19. After a long time, the master returned to settle accounts. Friends, there is a day of reckoning. There is a day when each of us will stand before our Creator, before our Owner, before our Master, and we will be asked to give an account. Please do not think for a moment that you can escape that day or bypass that day. The fact that you’re here this evening is maybe a reminder to you that you will stand before the Master one day. But please notice that the judgment is on the basis of faithfulness to the Master. It’s not on a return of investment, if the fact that you’ve repented and believed, you’re a child of God and you have lived your life, you have lived out your faith faithfully. There are two groups. There’s the faithful and there’s the wicked and slothful. And ultimately, as you look at the text, I really do believe that what differentiates the way that they respond is those who are faithful knew their master. And on the basis of the fact that they knew who their master was, so they actually were devoting their lives to serve the master. 

You know, the imagery that I had in my mind as the master returns and asks for an account, it’s almost as if it’s with joy with the two slaves who had been faithful that they come in and they’re bounding and they just want to say, “Master, you gave us five. Look what we’ve done!” And immediately when the third one comes in he starts off with excuses. Doesn’t he? “Master, I knew you to be a hard man.” The faithful celebrated the joy of the master at his table, and the wicked and the slothful, they were cast, he was cast into the darkness away from the master in a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Let me close with this, because I think it’s safe to say that John Piper, if he was summarizing this parable, he would simply say, “Don’t waste your life.” C.T. Studd, he was a missionary, would also summarize this parable with, “There is only one life; it will soon be past. Only that which is done for Christ will last.” So God calls us through this parable to faithfully improve His assets, to deepen our love for Him, to enjoy Him, and then to go and spread that joy and set Him on display.

Let me close with this. Scripture gives us the testimony of two men by the same name who, at the end of their lives, wrote something down for us in Scripture. The one, Saul, who became the apostle Paul, writes this at the end of his life. He says, “I have kept the faith. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race.” What a wonderful statement to be able to look back and say and declare that. But there’s another Saul in the Old Testament. He was a king. He wrote this at the end of his life. “I have played the fool. I have erred exceedingly.”

Let’s pray, shall we.

Our gracious Father, we thank You for Your Word and especially this evening we thank You for passages such as this one that are a tremendous encouragement to us to keep pressing on until that day when we will see You in the clouds of glory upon Your return. And yet Father, it also is a passage, it’s a parable that confronts each and every one of us. Father, we pray this evening that You would forgive us for wasted time where we get wrapped up in things that, quite honestly, in the realm of eternity count for very little. Help us to be a people who daily come to the throne of grace, asking for You to sustain us, to strengthen us, to open our eyes to see the opportunities that You give to us with each new day. And then, Father, to have the courage and the boldness that through our words and our actions to put Christ before others. Father, we thank You for this treasure that You’ve entrusted to us. Father, use us for the furtherance of Your kingdom, we pray; in Christ’s name we ask, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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