“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.” —Matthew 25:21, 23
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
—3 John 4
Next week we’ll be back in Romans 8. But today I have some things on my heart as we start our new ministry year together. Every August people come back from vacation and reassemble their lives for another year. New people will be coming to Immanuel Church. It’s a special opportunity. We members at Immanuel are the core group for the new Immanuel Church God will grow in 2009-2010. Then a year from now, whatever we are then, we’ll be the core group for the new Immanuel God will grow from 2010 to 2011, and so forth. Here we go!
But let’s begin today by remembering how we got started. In the summer of 2007 there was a buzz going around a Sunday evening Bible study: “Do we want to start a new church?” But it seemed right to change the question: “Does God want to start a new church?” The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is sacred. So we agreed to set that fall aside for Bible study, prayer and relationship-building, to see how God might lead. At the end of November, we funneled down to decision with two questions. One, “Do you feel a clear call from God to launch a new church for our city?” Two, “What will be your financial commitment to this new church in 2008?” From the response, it was obvious – God was creating a new church.
We stayed in incubation for several more months as we built some basic infrastructure, and then around Easter of last year we began meeting here on Sunday mornings. We’re thankful to Otter Creek Church of Christ for leasing us this building.
Here’s the heart of Immanuel Church. This church was born out of a longing for revival. We believe that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city. Nashville needs a church with one strong gospel for family people and single people, one strong gospel for heterosexuals and homosexuals, one strong gospel for rich people and poor people and different colors of people, because that’s what our city is. And everyone in our city needs the gospel. The Bible is clear. Everyone with Christ goes to heaven. Everyone without Christ goes to hell. As Jeremy says, we want to make it hard to go to hell from Nashville, Tennessee. The Bible says of the early church, “Awe came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43). When we in our city hear the gospel with a casual, “Yeah, that’s what I believe,” we don’t get it. But when we hear it and respond with, “Lord Jesus, why do you love me so much? Why do you keep forgiving me? Is there no end to your grace? I don’t get you” – when our hearts go there, we do get it. When we think we get it, we don’t. When we know we don’t get it, we do. It’s when awe comes over our souls – the glory of Christ coming down on all kinds of people. At the heart of Immanuel Church is a tender longing for his grace to revive us as he forgives us so massively we can’t help but change. We expect judgment, and that’s why it doesn’t change us. We don’t expect grace, and that’s why it changes us.
In this parable our Lord teaches us how to translate that longing into action, how to get practical, how to take advantage of our new ministry year. I’ll explain the context first, then three insights to help us.
At this point in the flow of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is explaining how we should wait for his Second Coming, what we should be doing until he returns. 2000 years ago the Son of God came down to us. He didn’t ask for any favors. He did us the favor. He lived the perfect life for us that we should have lived. He died the guilty death for us that we deserve to die. Then he rose up from death by the power of God, ascended to the Father and is coming again in the future to bring his kingdom to complete triumph, and you can be a part of it. He wants you to be part of it. But here’s the surprising thing. Those who will be there with him in his new world are not the good people. The good people will be in hell, precisely because they were so good – too good for Jesus. But the sinners, who could only hold out empty hands to receive his mercy – he’s preparing a place for them. But until he comes back to take us bad but forgiven people there, we have work to do. That’s the context – what to be doing while we wait for Jesus to come back. In verses 1-13 the foolish virgins thought that waiting for the bridegroom would be easy. They were wrong. Here in our parable the foolish servant thought that waiting for his master would be too hard. He was wrong. The two other servants knew what to do.
What the master did
The master entrusted his own property to his servants. The property stayed his. It wasn’t theirs. Verse 18: “his master’s money.” Jesus called the master’s investment “talents.” What are they? In this parable, that word doesn’t mean abilities, like a talent for singing. The word “talent” is a unit of measurement, worth about twenty years’ labor for a common worker. In our terms today, if a guy makes $15 an hour and works 2000 hours per year, that’s $30,000 per year and over twenty years it comes to $600,000. That’s about what a talent was worth. So the master is putting a lot of his money into their hands. And in verse 21 he calls the five talents – $3,000,000 – he says it’s only “a little.” So the master is rich, and he wants to get his servants involved in his success and his joy. The master is good and generous and fair and happy. How does he promote his good servants? “Enter into the joy of your master.” So this master is not only a brilliant entrepreneur, he’s also the kind of man you’d love to know and work for. He’s a good boss.
Now, if that’s true of Jesus Christ, and it is, if that’s the way he treats his servants, if that’s what he does, how then should we be waiting for Jesus to come back? We should be increasing our Master’s resources, his property. Our lives are richly supplied with his resources, and he wants us caught up in his success. No other boss in all the world can say, “Not only will the business succeed at the professional level, but I promise you your own personal happiness as well.” But that’s what Jesus is promising. To get us set up in business for him, he gives us all we are and have – our relationships, the neighborhood we live in, the alumni association we belong to, our careers, our families, our hobbies, our brains, our money, our church – all we are and have is his property, not our own. And our job, until he comes, is to parlay what we have into more for him, because he wants to say to us, “Enter into the joy of my success.” We don’t belong to ourselves. We belong to a very wonderful Person. Let’s live like it. What do you call an investment broker who uses someone else’s money as if it were his own? An embezzler. What do you call an investment broker who doubles his client’s money? A friend.
The risen Christ has lavished upon us an opportunity to improve his resources. How do we do that? By spreading the gospel. That’s exactly what the Lord says three chapters later, at the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). That’s where the whole story is going. So, when you’re out mowing your lawn and interacting with neighbors walking by, what is that moment about? It’s about making more friends for Jesus. He put your neighbors in your life. When you’re signing a contract at work, what is that moment about? It’s about building more credibility for Jesus. He worked that contract for you. When you’re tucking the kids into bed at night and singing them to sleep, what is that moment about? It’s about more of the love of Jesus going into their hearts. You’re raising your kids for him. Until Christ returns, this is how Christians live. And now the Lord has given us Immanuel Church. It’s a privilege from him. Let’s grow this church by Jesus, for Jesus, in 2009-2010. We want our Master to do one more thing for us. We want to hear him say to us, “Well done.”
What the servants did
We know what the two good and faithful servants didn’t do. They didn’t earn the master’s approval. If he didn’t approve of them, he wouldn’t have entrusted the talents to them at all. The Bible says, “We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). We don’t work for his approval; we work because of his approval. Jesus Christ is an overflowingly happy person who loves to draw more people in. It’s who he is. But the master was pleased with the entrepreneurial get-up-and-go of these two servants because of what it revealed about their hearts toward him. They believed he was a good master: “Well done, good and faithful/faith-filled/believing servant. You’ve believed in me. You’ve cherished me as I really am, and it made you productive for me.” The master had given them a life worth living. They loved him for it. They were loyal to him. They were excited about their lives, because everything they had came from Christ and was for Christ and was going back to Christ. They had a sense in their hearts that because of Christ they were significant people doing significant things. The two-talent guy didn’t make whiney comparisons with the five-talent guy, and the five-talent guy didn’t think he was better than the two-talent guy. They loved their master and got busy increasing his wealth. In fact, verse 16 says of the five-talent guy that “he went at once” and traded with the five talents. No delay. He was pumped. That’s a faithful servant. I’ve heard people make excuses in the name of faithfulness: “We may not accomplish anything, but we’re faithful.” “Faithfulness” by holding your own – where is that in this parable? Not where we want to be.
So here’s the one-talent guy. He explains his life in verses 24-25: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man” – bad start – “reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” – it’s getting worse – “so I was afraid” – fear makes him resistant – “and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” What is he saying? “Master, you stingy tightwad, you put me to work for you, but you’re going to take what you want anyway. You’ve got all the power. So here I am in business for you, but where does it get me? If I succeed, the profit goes to you. If I fail, the blame comes to me. And I’m supposed to be motivated? So, here’s your talent back – no more, no less.” The master called him wicked and slothful. He’s the guy who sees only problems. But the reason he sees his own life in a dark way is his dark view of his master. This man perceives his master as an impossible-to-please corporate warlord. He doesn’t deny the master. He doesn’t go work for another master. He’s in the company. But he won’t do anything bold and productive. Why? He’s stuck in self-pity and fear. He doesn’t believe that Christ is a good boss to work for, and his life looks like it. He has not given his life to Christ. And the master does not say to him, “Enter into less of my joy than the other guys.” The master says to him, “Go to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The key to it all is how all these servants saw their master. Two very different perceptions – one perception highly motivating because the master is wealthy and happy and generous, the other perception paralyzing because the master is one tough hombre. Everything depends on who Christ really is. Living for Christ is either a pathetic slavery, worthy of no passion and no boldness and no fun and no risk, and it turns people into grumbling foot-draggers, or living for Christ is the opportunity of a lifetime. Which do you believe? When we know and feel the grace of Jesus, we love to increase his fortune until he returns. His grace makes us accomplishment-hungry. It’s a great way to live now and a great future forever because of who he is. He is wealthy, generous, happy, and he wants to share his success with us forever. That truth must change us. That truth must crack our hearts open and make us active for Christ.
This morning every one of us can say to Jesus, “Lord, I haven’t been the investment you deserve. Forgive me. And I’m just as weak right now as I’ve ever been. But I give myself to you. Reinvest in me, pour out more grace on me, and use me to increase your property here in your world, for your glory. I want to hear you say to me, ‘Well done’”? That gets us into point three.
What we should do
First, I want to speak to everyone here who is forty and above. We have an opportunity to increase our Master’s resources, and it’s a happy thing to do. Near the end of his life, as an old man, the apostle John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). Is there anything more exciting than knowing that because of you someone else is walking in the truth of God’s grace? Your “children” might be your literal children, but that can describe anyone you influence for Christ, anyone you pray for and care for and evangelize and encourage and lift up for Christ. Is it your job? Yes. But it’s also your joy.
Fifty years ago, A. W. Tozer wrote, “The glory of God has not been revealed to this generation of men.” That’s no longer true. God is revealing his glory to people such as I haven’t seen since the Jesus Movement of the 70s. Everywhere I go – Dallas in November, Raleigh in February, California in March, Chicago in April, New Mexico in May, Northern Ireland last month – God is stirring the hearts of the rising generation, especially. God is showing them his glory. The timing is perfect for us at Immanuel.
There’s something about our culture that leaves young men feeling deeply trivialized: “My abilities are video games, pornography and goofing off, I will never change, and I see no reason to change.” Then along comes the gospel and tells us that we matter to God. Along comes theological grandeur that lifts our minds into lofty things. Along comes the cause of Christ in the church that gets us working in ways that will still matter a bazillion years from now. The gospel is smashing its way through the trivialities of our culture and claiming the next generation for Christ. And we older people right now have the privilege of lifting them up and saying to them, “You can accomplish something with your life that will count forever. God will give it to you by grace. Go for it!” Maybe the greatest thing Immanuel Church can do is encourage and instruct and inspire and unleash a new generation for Christ. We have no greater joy. And it’s how we can increase our Master’s resources.
Now, to everyone under 40 I want to say this. Have you received the grace of Jesus, to forgive you, renew you, put you to work? Will you receive him now with the empty hands of faith? If you will, he will give you a life worth living. Have you given your entire life to him in complete surrender to his will and glory alone? Are you willing to live a lifestyle of the classical Christian disciplines that make a life useful to God – Bible study, prayer, church membership, tithing, personal evangelism – the life that God can use? Whom will God call from this church to preach the gospel? Whom will God call from this church to biblical scholarship and teaching? Whom will God call to be a missionary or a church planter? Ask him and beg him for his glorious call on your life!
In June I had breakfast with other Acts 29 pastors in Tennessee and Alabama. It seemed to us that God was calling us to plant new churches in the I-65 corridor from Nashville to Mobile, and across from Memphis to Chattanooga. I call it “the cross vision.” Our first step here at Immanuel is to partner with Jeremy Rose and the Axis Church in Nashville. Another A29 couple is soon moving to Birmingham. New churches cost money. Will you give? We as a church have no greater joy than seeing more and more people walking in the truth. This is our opportunity from the Lord. It’s how Christians live until the Second Coming. And for you younger guys especially, I have a DVD for you from Mark Driscoll. There should be a warning label on this DVD. It’s eight minutes that could redirect your life. If you want your life to count for Christ, watch this DVD and ask God what he wants you to do about it. Immanuel Church is here to encourage you.
In April 1564, John Calvin was dying. He called his fellow-leaders to his bedside. Here’s what he said: “You older ones, be not jealous of the gifts which the younger generation has received, but be glad and praise the Lord who has given them. And you younger men, be humble; for youth tends to despise the opinions of others.” We need each other. And together, we can increase our Master’s resources. We can spread the gospel together. That’s our job at Immanuel in 2009-2010. We have no greater joy.