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
J. Gresham Machen, the great Presbyterian theologian, wrote this: “The very core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.” John Stott defined God’s grace this way: “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” Is there a single one of us here today who doesn’t need God to care and to stoop and to rescue?
That divine grace is powerful. The grace of God changes us. Grace landed so hard on the Pharisee Saul that he was forced to start using extravagant language like “the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17) because he’d always believed God was small-hearted, and language like “sufficient grace” (2 Corinthians 12:9) because he’d always believed God would let him down, and language like “the riches of grace” (Ephesians 1:7) because he’d always seen God as easily depleted. I wonder how you see God. When Saul’s eyes were opened to the fullness of grace upon grace in Jesus, Saul became Paul.
What is the gospel of God’s grace? The gospel is the good news that God has chosen not to treat us as we deserve. God has chosen to give us his best through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit. Our part is to receive his grace with the empty hands of faith. That changes us.
The story goes that Abraham Lincoln went to a slave auction one day. He was appalled. He saw a young woman on the auction block. The bidding began and Lincoln bid until he bought her. After he paid the auctioneer, he said to the woman, “You’re free.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked. “It means you’re free,” Lincoln answered. “You mean I can do what I want to do? I can go where I want to go?” “Yes.” She said, “Then I think I’ll go with you.” Immanuel Church is here for the grace of God to get you saying to your Liberator, “I think I’ll go with you now.”
This parable in Matthew 25 shows us one way God’s grace gets us following Jesus. How so? We move from playing it safe to taking new risks, and it goes really well for us. Two weeks ago we thought about Jesus and community. The good news frees us from merciless comparisons with others as we are amazed that God loves us at all. Last Sunday we thought about Jesus and fullness. When we know how God gives and who Jesus really is, we ask him, and he gives us a new fullness within. Now today, Jesus and risk.
Here’s the context. In Matthew 25, Jesus is explaining how we should wait for his Second Coming. Jesus is coming back. His return is scheduled on the calendar of this world as a real event in the future. Look at verse 31: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” Jesus is coming back to destroy all evil and set up his glorious throne forever. On that day, all possibility of repentance and change will end. We will be what we will be. We will stand before God and report in (Romans 2:16; 14:10, 12). How then should we live now? How does the grace of God help us to change now? Jesus is answering that question here in Matthew 25.
The point is this. Richard Sibbes, the old Puritan theologian, put it well: “The goodness of God is of a spreading nature.” The goodness of God is spreading out, further and further into the world today. That’s what this life is for – to join with the risen Christ in spreading his goodness to more people. That’s how grace changes us – his goodness spreads to us and through us to more people until Jesus returns. 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 were living proof of the power of God’s grace.
What the master did
For it [the kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. Matthew 25:14
In verse 15 Jesus tells us that the master’s property was “talents.” But in this parable, that word doesn’t mean abilities, like “athletic talent.” The word “talent” here is a unit of money. And it was big money. A talent was worth about twenty years’ labor for a common worker. So the master is putting huge sums of his money into the hands of his servants. In verse 21 he calls the five talents – twenty years of work times five – so take your annual income, multiply it by twenty, then multiply it again by five, so now you’re thinking of 100 times your annual income – in verse 21 the master calls his investment only “a little.” What’s the point? The master is fabulously wealthy. And he is very kind. He wants to pull his servants into his success and his joy by sharing with them his own resources. This is a great boss to work for. Look how he promotes his employees: “Enter into the joy of your master” (verses 21, 23). He’s not only a brilliant entrepreneur, he also welcomes his employees into his own personal life and shares his happiness with them. “Won’t you come over to my place for Christmas and let me give you presents and feed you turkey and watch football on my ginormous flat screen TV? I’m going to have a blast, and I’d love for you to be there and enjoy it with me.”
Do you think of Jesus that way? He is like that. He said so. The risen Lord is our Master. We are his servants. And he is drawing us into his success and his joy. Total grace! How then should we be living while we wait for him to come back and take us to his everlasting party? We should be increasing our Master’s resources. We should be parlaying our five talents into ten, or our two talents into four, or our one talent into two – whatever he has given us. Our bodies are his, our time is his, our brains are his, our families are his, our jobs are his, our education is his, our friendships are his, our neighborhoods are his, our alumni associations are his, our money is his, our hobbies are his. Everything we are and have came from him and belongs to him and is to be deployed for him. The worthless servant got that right anyway: “Here you have what is yours” (verse 25). Our Master Jesus has given us all so much, to make us successful for him. No other boss in all the world can say, “Not only will the business succeed at the professional level, but I promise you personal happiness as well.” But that’s what Jesus is promising in this parable. He sets us up with everything we need to serve him. Our job, until he comes, is to increase and to enlarge what we have and grow it into more for him, because he wants to say to you and me on that great and final day, “Enter into the joy of your Master.” But when we live for ourselves and give in to selfishness and fear, it doesn’t feel like joyous success, does it? We all know that. We all know it’s a lie in our hearts that tells us, “Secure your future happiness by hoarding and withdrawing and taking no risks.” But here is the good news. We belong to a good Master. He died to free us from our designer lives that kill our joy. Now we know that when we live for him first, we really live! 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? Good and faithful.
So, how do we develop the Master’s business? By spreading the gospel. That’s what the Lord says three chapters later, at the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel: “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). The goodness of God spreading out through us – that’s where the 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 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 the Lord has given us Immanuel Church. It’s a gift of his grace. What does he want us to do with it? Grow it. We want to hear our wonderful Boss say to us, “Well done. 2013 was a great year. To everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” This is his grace, giving and giving and giving. But not wasting.
What the servants did
We know what the two good and faithful servants didn’t do. They didn’t earn the master’s approval. He entrusted his resources to them, because he already approved of them. “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. But as we see in the parable, the master rewarded the entrepreneurial get-up-and-go of these two servants. They worked hard, they took risks, and it went really well.
Why did the two servants reach and stretch and dare new things? Because they knew they had a good master. They believed he was worth living for. Verses 21 and 23: “Well done, good and faithful/faith-filled servant. You believed in me, and it made you productive for me.” The master could have left them out. But he drew them in, and they were excited about their lives. They knew 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 got busy. No foot-dragging. He was eager. He saw his life as a privilege. He wasn’t thinking, “Do I have to?” He was thinking, “Do I get to?” That is a faith-filled, grace-inspired, risk-taking servant of Jesus. I’ve heard people make excuses in the name of faithfulness: “At our church, we may not accomplish anything, but we’re faithful.” “Faithfulness” by holding our own – where is that in this parable? Not where we want to be.
Look at the one-talent guy. He explains his life in verses 24-25: “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.” What is he saying? “Master, you stingy tightwad, you put me to work, but what does it get me? You’re going to take what you want anyway. You’ve got all the power. So here I am in business for you, but what do I get out of it? 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, take your talent back – no more, no less.”
The one-talent servant didn’t lose the money. He didn’t spend it on himself. He didn’t give it to his master’s competitors. He just sat on it and did nothing while he waited for the master’s return. I wonder what you think of that. We don’t have to wonder what the master thought of it. Verse 26: “You wicked and slothful servant!” Verse 30: “. . . the worthless servant.” Strong words. We need to face those words. That could be us. If the grace of God doesn’t change us, it will be us.
What is the insight here? It’s this. We think our job in life is to avoid the really big bad sins. We think our job in this life is not to do certain things. And as long as we’re not doing those big bad things and we just maintain, we’re okay. That’s how we think. But look at the parable. This servant is judged not for bad things he did do but for daring things he didn’t do. He did not go out and do horrible things. He just sat on his opportunity and failed to do good things. Our job in this life is not to avoid doing things but to do things. Our job in this life is to do new and creative and smart and risky things, to develop the Master’s enterprise further. Our job in this life is not to preserve what he has given us but to multiply what he has given us. The bad servant wastes his opportunity, and he ends up in hell. Verse 30: “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be [not the master’s joy but] weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Let that shock you. Let that make you wonder, Has Jesus just changed his whole message here in verse 30? Is he now telling us that we have to work our way out of hell and into heaven? No. But he is saying that if we aren’t living for him, there is a reason. And the reason is, we don’t believe he’s a good Master, and we feel safer keeping to ourselves and taking no risks for him. If that is true of us, he will say, “You can have your petty little fearful life. You could have had me. I gave something of myself to you. But you completely misjudged me. You thought I was a hard man, someone to avoid. Okay. You will avoid me forever.”
This is scary, because I see myself in this wicked servant. How about you? This is the tedious kind of guy who can see only the problems. He can see only reasons for caution, never reasons for risk. He sees the master as an impossible-to-please corporate warlord. He doesn’t deny the master. He doesn’t go work for another master. But he won’t do anything productive. Why? He’s stuck in self-pity and fear. He is not living by faith. He is not transformed by the gospel. He honestly believes that Jesus is a bad Boss to work for, and his wasted life proves it. The master does not say to him, “Enter into less of my joy than the other guys.” The master says to him, “Get out. You don’t know me at all.”
How do you see the Master? There are two opposite perceptions – one perception exciting, because the Master is wealthy and happy and generous, the other perception paralyzing, because the Master is one tough hombre. Living for Christ is either the opportunity of a lifetime, or living for Christ is a pathetic slavery. How do you see him? If we see Jesus in his glorious grace, we will be accomplishment-hungry, and we will be successful, because of who he is.
What we should do
Very briefly, I want to propose just one area where the grace of Jesus gets us taking risks for gospel-advancement, until he returns. Our families. It is possible to bury the talent of our children. They are not ours. We are to raise them for Christ. But have you ever found yourself thinking, “Life here in the city is hard. So many problems and dangers. The influence on our kids is bad. Let’s move out to the country and get away from all this and protect the kids”? Where do we see that way of thinking here among the three servants in the parable? Maybe God does want you to live in the country. Somebody has to live for Christ in the boondocks. But if your motive is to withdraw and play it safe and avoid risk, you almost guarantee that your children will not love Jesus and they will not love you and they will not be safe. They will end up feeling so controlled, they will spend the rest of their lives running from Jesus and from you. The last thing a young person wants to be is conservative. Every young person worth his salt wants to be radical. Satisfy that desire. Urge your children to live all-out for Jesus, as you live all-out for Jesus. They will grow up confident in him and excited about the challenge of life and respecting you. We could paraphrase verse 29: “To every parent who risks for Jesus will more family joy be given, and he will have an abundance.” Do not damn your children by retreating from the call of Christ the only Savior. Put Jesus first, above your family, and he will graciously give you himself and your family.
Jesus Christ is the best Master to work for in all the universe. Until he returns, let’s live like it.