We worship the Lord also as we hear him speak in his Word. And this morning our text is Matthew chapter 25 and we’re looking at verses 14-30, Matthew 25, verses 14-30. Coming back to this wonderful Olivet Discourse, the sermon of our Lord on his Second Coming that takes 24 and 25 of Matthew. A great, great passage of Scripture. This by the way, is our twelfth message in this section of Matthew 24 and 25.
T.S. Elliot, the famous playwright, wrote a play entitled Murder in the Cathedral. And at one point in the play, he has the chorus speaking a very, very interesting line. It is a line demonstrated to portray the emptiness of life. And the chorus says in unison, “Throughout the years we have gone on living, living and partly living.” And as I thought about that in reference to this text, I thought that perhaps it was a fitting way to approach this text. For in the text before us, there are three servants; two are living and one is partly living. One is expressive of the emptiness of life, the uselessness of life, the worthlessness of life when opportunity and privilege is carelessly wasted. That’s the essential message of our text: The tragedy of wasted opportunity.
And in the church of Jesus Christ, among the living, there are the partly living. Among those who are the genuine children of God, there are those who are ingenuine. Among the true there are the false; we’ve been learning that all through Matthew’s Gospel. There is good soil and there is bad soil. There are houses with foundations and without. There are people going on to the broad way and the narrow way, going through a broad gate and a narrow gate. There are those who are virgins with oil and virgins without oil. There are wheat and there are tares. And now there are true servants and there are false servants in the parable to which we look. And as I say so often to you, I am deeply concerned about the fact that the church seems to tolerate people within its walls, within its organization, within its structure who do not really live, who do not really know the Lord, who do not really walk with God. Maybe they’re like the businessman who had just opened his business and was brand new and just gotten his office organized, and he sat behind his desk waiting for his first client. A man walked through the door, and no sooner did the man walk into the office than he began his act. He immediately reached for the telephone, picked it up, and had a lengthy conversation with the president. In fact, most of the conversation involved him telling the president how to do things and supposedly answering questions from the president and giving very astute and wise answers. And after the man stood in front of the desk for a long time listening to this, the man behind the desk hung the phone up and said, “Pardon me, sir. I’m sorry to make you wait. That was the president. What can I do for you?” He said, “Oh nothing, I’m just here to hook up the phone.”
And I’m afraid there are some people who would have us believe they’re having a conversation with God but the phone isn’t hooked up. And the church cannot tolerate that kind of situation. The church must bring that to exposure. There are virgins without oil in their lamps. There are houses without foundation. There are tares that look like wheat. There is soil that seems to flourish for a little while but has no depth. There is a net caught as it were in the kingdom that has to be sorted out the good from the bad. And there are servants, true and false.
The picture of the parable before us is a picture of the kingdom. Within the outward visible kingdom, within the church if you will, are contained the true and the false. We see it in this problem as we’ve seen it so many, many times. And again, it is a parable of warning. The Lord is simply saying, “I’m coming back and when I come I’m going to separate the true from the false. I’m going to separate the wheat from the tares. I’m going to separate the house with foundation from the one without. I’m going to determine the good soil and the bad. We’re going to find out whether the road you’re on really went to heaven or not. We’re going to sort out the sheep and the goats. All distinctions are going to be made when I come in my glory, so you better be ready.” Why? Back to verse 36 of chapter 24: “Because the day and the hour when the Lord comes knows no man, no not the angels of heaven nor the Son but my Father only.” All of us must be ready for the coming of the Lord because no one knows when he’s coming. Verse 42 says, “Watch therefore, for you know not what hour your Lord does come.” Verse 44 again, “Therefore, be ye also ready for in such an hour as you think not the Son of Man comes.” Verse 50 says it again, “In an hour that he is not aware of.” And then chapter 25, verse 13 says it, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man comes.”
You see the disciples had asked the question back in chapter 24, verse 3, “When shall these things be?” And Jesus now answering it says five times, “You don’t know and no one knows and no one can know. Only God knows.” The time of the coming of Christ is unknown to us; we do not know the moment or the hour. We know the general seen because it’s described in detail for us in chapter 24, verses 4-35. We know the general setting but we don’t know the specific moment and we don’t know which generation he’ll come to, so we have to be ready in all generations for the coming of the Lord. And the Lord in emphasizing that we must be ready gives two parables about readiness. The first one in the first 12 verses is the parable of the virgins, the second in verses 14-30 is the parable of the talents. Both emphasize the need for readiness, the need for watchfulness, the need for preparedness for the coming of the Lord. The parable of the virgins I told you last time emphasizes watching, being alert. The parable of the talents emphasizes working, serving, fulfilling our duty. We don’t watch in indolence and laziness; we watch and work at the same time. We are alert. We are ready. We are prepared if he comes, but until he comes we are diligent and faithful in serving him. And so these two balance out the privilege that the Christian needs to have.
Now looking again at verses 14-30, we find here a call to preparedness. What is the emphasis here? What do we need to know to be prepared for the Second Coming? To be prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, to judge the world and establish his kingdom. What do men need to know? First of all, and we’ll review the first two and then go onto the second two. We need to know the responsibility we receive. Within the framework of the kingdom, we have received a great responsibility. Notice verse 14. It’s like a man traveling into a far country. What is? The kingdom. “It’s like a man traveling into a far country who called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one. To every man according to his ability and took his journey.” Now the parable is very simple, it’s a story about a man who has a lot of servants and he goes away and he leaves them in charge of what he possesses. And he divides the possessions out five, two, and one, giving them responsibility commensurate with their capability. And the idea is that they are to handle that so that he receives a return when he comes back. Being gone a long time, he does not want to lose that which could be profited. He wants to make sure he goes along with the economy, makes the most of his opportunities, and so he puts the servants in the charge of those things based upon their capabilities.
It is this way in the kingdom. In the kingdom of our Lord, and we’re talking about the visible kingdom, the outward kingdom, the external kingdom, that kingdom which is defined as those who belong to the church or those who belong to the assembly of Christians, whether they’re true or false, whether they’re wheat or tares. The idea here is the outward visible earthly kingdom, as opposed to the inward heavenly, invisible, real kingdom of the redeemed, which is not the point of reference here. So in the kingdom there are going to be true and false servants. Just like in the kingdom 25:1 says, “There will be virgins who are prepared and virgins who are not.” So in the kingdom there is a man and he gives responsibility to his servants according to their abilities. And we said that this is Gospel privilege last time. In other words, this is the privilege of being exposed to the truth of God, to the saving redemptive truth of Christ. And some people are fives, they’ve been given tremendous privilege, tremendous privilege. Some of you who are in this church would have to be considered at least a five on this particular scale, because you have been given great privilege in hearing the Gospel and understanding the Gospel and having it articulated to you and demonstrated to you and patterned for you.
On the other hand, there are some folks who would be on the level of the one who received one talent. Their exposure to the Gospel is very minimal and they have come into an assembly of redeemed people that know very little, that are rather primitive, that are rather simple in their understanding of divine truth. But it differs; God gives differing privilege. And you take the persons capability and their privilege and opportunity and you put it together and you’ll come up with a number that God has given them in terms of talents. That’s what he’s trying to illustrate. We have differing privileges spiritually in being exposed to the Gospel. Some have heard it rather simply and perhaps rather infrequently. Others have heard it in full complexity and many, many times and are the more privileged ones. And that’s the responsibility we receive.
Now he’s talking, remember here, about people in the kingdom, that is those who are visibly identified. To illustrate it further, I spoke to a man earlier this week who said to me, “I visited your church on Sunday,” – it was last Sunday I guess – “I came to your church on Sunday, and I learned more in one Sunday at your church than I’ve learned in my entire lifetime at my own church.” That’s a rather shocking thing for a person to say but that illustrates the point that I want you to understand here. There are some people who’ve had very minimal privilege. Oh, maybe they’ve gone to church for a long time but they hear the same sermon every week with a little different introduction and conclusion maybe and maybe the preacher yells in different places, but it’s basically the same thing.
There are others who have heard the full scope of the message of Christ, some who’ve been to Bible college or been in a church where the Word of God is taught or sat in a Bible study or read great books or whatever. So it varies, and we have that responsibility that we have received. That’s our privilege. That’s our Gospel opportunity. And some people with all that privilege don’t respond, and that’s what the parable is all about.
That takes us to the point two and that is the reaction, the reaction we have. From the responsibility, the reaction. Verse 16, what is done with spiritual opportunity? “He that received the five talents immediately went and traded with the same and made other five talents.” Now here’s a person who makes 100-percent return on the investment the Lord has given him. He maximized his spiritual privilege. He returned back to the Lord full service. He is a true believer. He is a genuine Christian. He gave the Lord all that he had. He got a full 100-percent return. And I don’t care what kind of business person you are, 100-percent return on anything is good. That’s maximal, an excellent return. The point being that he illustrates the kind of person who makes the most of his spiritual opportunity, who believed the Gospel that he heard and who gave back to the Lord a full life of service.
And then you have in verse 17: “Likewise, he that had received two he gained two more.” The servant who received two did the very same. He had limited privilege in terms of comparing him with five but he made the use of the privilege that he had. He fulfilled all that he could from the opportunity God gave him and returned also a full service rendered based upon the privilege and opportunity that he had received. And it’s kind of a wonderful thing to know that there will be people who don’t have five in terms of opportunity, who only have two. But if all they have is two in terms of opportunity, all God wants is a return on what they have. You understand? So that sort of relieves a little bit of the burden of wishing that everyone could have the fullest kind of privilege. And so the first two returned to the master a full wholehearted maximum return of commitment and service. And they are marked as the true believer, the one who really served with a full heart. Oh, it’s not that all believers will serve with that full a response, but that’s the pattern, that’s the example, that’s the supreme mark of genuine love and service, wholehearted service. So they use their privilege.
Then you come to verse 18: “The one who received one talent went and dug in the earth and hid his Lord’s money.” Now there’s the mark of a false servant. He made nothing in terms of effort, absolutely nothing. He did nothing. He thought about nothing. He invested in nothing. He is not a true believer. He is a virgin with no oil. There is no fruit in his life. There is no inward grace in his life. There’s nothing. No service rendered. He did nothing; he buried it and that’s it. He illustrates the one who given privilege does not return the opportunity given to him, does not take advantage of it, does not use it. When he hears the Gospel, he doesn’t respond to it. And even though he’s heard it on a limited basis, he is still responsible.
Now listen, you could hear it on a five level and not respond. You could hear it on a three or two or four or whatever level and not respond. And if you wonder why it is the one-talent person that doesn’t respond, it is because the Lord wants to illustrate this, that the person would be seem to be the most excusable is not excusable. You understand that? If the person with the massive privilege, the five-level privilege doesn’t respond, someone might think that God condemned him, that God condemned him because he was angry that he wasted such privilege, because he was overly guilty, because it was a super-abounding guilt and hell is only for people who having had massive privilege waste it. And so to make sure that that isn’t implied, the Lord picks the one who had only a very limited privilege and lets us know that hell is for people who waste even a limited privilege. Every person exposed to the Gospel, every person brought into the outward kingdom, a part of the church no matter how limited the privilege within that, if they have at all been exposed to the saving truth of Jesus Christ become inexcusable, inexcusable if they waste that opportunity.
Now that brings us to the reckoning. The reliability, the reaction, and then the third thing we need to know if we’re going to be ready is the reckoning. There is coming a time of reckoning. Verse 19 says it: “After a long time, the Lord of those servants comes and reckons with them.” He was gone a long time. The implication there again, as I told you earlier, is that the Lord is telling them his coming will be delayed, just like 25:5 where he said the bridegroom tarries. Those are veiled ways of him telling the disciples he’s not going to set up his kingdom as soon as they think he is. And after a long time, the Lord is going to come. And during the time before he comes, men and women are going to be having these privileges, some on a level of five, some on a level of two, some on a level of one. But the day is coming when the Lord comes back to reckon. The word is a commercial term, it means to compare accounts. He’s going to come back, take a look at the books, take a look at what you’ve done with the privilege. It’ll be judgment time. It is a time for revealing the heart. It is a time for evaluating the service rendered, finding out who the true servants are. As described in verses 31-46, it is a time for separating the sheep from the goats. The goats go out of the kingdom forever; the sheep go into it.
And so when he comes, the tares and the wheat will be separated. The good soil and the bad soil separated. The houses with and without foundation separated. The net pulled in and that which is in it separated. It’s the idea then of judgment, the time of the Lord’s discerning. And so verse 19 says, “The man comes back to check on his servants.” Verse 20 tells us what happened. “He that had received five talents came and brought five more talents saying,” – and I want you to hear it in the Greek word order – “Lord, five talents you delivered to me. Behold, five talents more I have gained.” The emphasis here is on the five talents. And he’s very excited, because he can face judgment with excitement and enthusiasm and anticipation, because he knows what he’s done with his privileges. He knows what he’s done with his opportunity. He knows that he has rendered service to the Lord. And so in terms of the New Testament phrase that Paul uses, “He will have boldness in the day of judgment. He will have boldness in the day of judgment.” Or as John says it, “He will be not ashamed at the coming of the Lord,” because he knows he has something to show for the opportunity that he was given. He’s filled with excitement, and that’s the way it ought to be with every believer. There ought to be in our hearts no fear of the coming of the Lord but only great anticipation because it will be our privilege to demonstrate to him at that moment the service that we have rendered. It’ll be our joy to be able to say, “Yes, the privilege you gave to me I received and responded to and rendered back to you the service that you were due.”
And that’s the emphasis here. “Master, five talents you delivered me,” tells us that he knew the source of everything was the Lord. There’s no ego here. There’s no boasting here. There’s no pride here. There’s no self-styled sort of spirituality here. He’s saying, “Five talents you gave me. I recognize the source of every privilege. I recognize the source of every opportunity, of every reliability. I have what I have because of you, not because of me. Five talents you gave me. But behold,” – and it’s an exclamation. It’s a statement of surprise, of wonder, of joy. “Five more talents have I gained. Yes, I recognize that you are the source, but I also rejoice that I was faithful in responding.” It’s no different than the apostle Paul in writing to Timothy when he expresses these words, “For I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day.” Second Timothy 4:7 and 8, he says to Timothy he says, “Look, I’m ready to go. I know I’m going to receive a reward when I get there.” And that’s not ego, that’s a sense of fulfillment. That’s a sense of rejoicing. That’s a desire to go to be with the Lord you’ve loved and served, to receive that good thing from his hand which he promises to his servants.
And the master recognized his integrity in his heart. Look at verse 21, he knows he’s not boastful. His Lord said to him, and the Greek word is just two letters, epsilon and – well it’s just an E and a U. U, that’s it, and it means excellent, excellent. “Excellent,” he says. Good, inherently good. Good inwardly, genuinely good, and reliable, trustworthy, faithful servant. And he’s not saying, “You did well and you could be trusted in this.” He says, “You are good and you are trustworthy.” It is a characterization. He’s not just commenting on his service; he’s commenting on his character. Excellent, good, trustworthy servant. It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it, that the holy God, the God of the universe, the Lord God whom we love and serve could look at us and say, “Excellent, you good and faithful servant.” Isn’t it? That certainly isn’t the provision of the law but it is the provision of the grace of the Gospel, is it not? It is the provision not of our own strength but of the power of the Holy Spirit. But oh, what a wonderful day that will be when those who have truly serve the Lord Jesus go to be with him and show him at that moment their faithful service and hear from him, “Excellent, excellent, you good and trustworthy servant. You made the most of privilege. You made the most of opportunity.” And that’s as it ought to be, and that commendation will outstrip any metal ceremony the world will ever know anything about, to receive that incorruptible crown of righteousness, which the Lord waits to give to all those who love his appearing.
What does it mean to love his appearing? To be anxious for it because you know when you get there you’re going to have something to show, right? Because you’ve given him faithful service. Frankly, it would’ve been enough, just the commendation would’ve been enough. I mean it would be enough for me to just hear, “Excellent, MacArthur. You’re a good and trustworthy servant.” That’s enough. But the Lord is so generous and he’s so gracious that he doesn’t stop there. He says to the servant, “You have been faithful over a few things. I’ll make you a ruler over many things. You’ve proven you’re trustworthy. You’ve proven you’re good. And if you can handle a few things, I’m going to put you over a lot of things.” You want to know something? What you do in eternity and what I do in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of service rendered to him is determined by my service right here. That’s right, that’s right. Because eternity will be a time of service. The kingdom will be a time of service. Those who are alive on the earth when the Lord comes who are the good and faithful believing servants will go into the kingdom in their physical form, and they who have proven faithful will be given more responsibility there than they had even here, more privilege there than they had even here.
To put it a simple way in a principle: Rewards for the believer are basically greater opportunities for service. In other words, when we go to the kingdom, when we go into heaven, it isn’t going to be sitting on a cloud playing a harp forever and ever and ever. I had a little girl say to me last Sunday, “Heaven seems very boring.” And I understand that. I used to think it was boring too. I used to think about what would you do if you played basketball? Everybody would make every shot. If you played golf, everybody would make a hole in one every time. I mean what do you do in absolute utter perfection? Well, heaven is not going to be boring. If service to the Lord here is the greatest joy of life and heaven is ultimate joy, then heaven is ultimate service. And heaven and the kingdom as well prior to the eternal heaven and new earth is going to be a time of service, time of great and glorious service. And the level of service you will render then will be determined by the kind of service you render here. If you’re faithful here over the little service opportunity that he gives you, he’ll make you Lord over many things there. That’s marvelous.
You say, “In other words, in heaven there are going to be ranks of people?” Well, let me see if I can’t help you with that. Yes and no. First of all, let’s say no. In heaven, we’ll all possess eternal life, right? You can’t have more or less eternal life. Eternal life is eternal life, period, paragraph. We’ll all be like Jesus Christ; you can’t be more like Christ than I am. We’ll all be exactly like Christ. We’ll all be perfect without sin, and you can’t be more perfect than perfect. So you can’t be more eternal than eternal. You can’t be more like Christ than like Christ. You can’t be more perfect than perfect. So in a sense, everybody will be all equal in glory and eternity, and that’s what is meant by the parable of the servants who served in the field, you remember? Some worked an hour, some worked 12 but they all got the same pay, because we’re all going to end up in glory in a dead heat on the one hand. We’re all going to win at the same level. But while that is true, it is also true that there will be differing levels of service, unquestionably. There will be differing levels of service in the kingdom, for those who go into the kingdom and as well for all of us in eternity, dependent on our God-created capacities.
Now service in the kingdom now demands different kinds of people doing different things, true? And I believe eternity will be the same way. All of us will have differing assignments in eternity. We won’t all have the same assignment. We won’t all have the same service rendered to God. But as the angels serve God with ranks, do they not? Angels and archangels and seraphim and cherubim and principalities and powers and rulers and all of that. I believe we in our glorified state will all find a special place of service, and that place of service will be related to the service we rendered here, all right? And the service we’re able to render here is in a measure dependent upon sovereignly-designed Gospel privilege, so that ultimately our eternal service is dependent on God’s sovereign choice for us and our response to that choice.
Now let me say this having said that. When you get to heaven, you won’t have the sense of relative service. You won’t say, “Well I’m a janitor over in the left wing and I’m pushing this holy broom forever and ever while so and so’s up there singing solos in the choir.” No, I don’t think there’ll be any sense of the difference. I don’t think it will be relative; I think it will be absolute. Each one of us will be exactly like Christ, exactly perfect, absolutely sinless, fully possessing eternal life, so whatever service we render it will be infinitely, eternally, and perfectly satisfying. You understand that? So there will be no sense of disparity or no sense of lesser privilege or greater privilege than anyone else has, because the privilege we occupy there will be in exact accord with our eternal God-designed and God-given capacities. So we’ll be operating on maximum level in all ways.
So when people say, “Are we all going to be the same in eternity,” the answer’s yes. And are we going to be distinct, the answer’s yes. And we let God resolve those paradoxes that are beyond us. But here he says to the one who had five, “You were faithful with the five I gave you. You were faithful over a few things. I’m going to make you ruler over many things.” To the one who has two, same thing, look, verse 22: “The one who received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered unto me two talents, behold I have gained two other talents beside them.’ His Lord said unto him, ‘Excellent, good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I’ll make thee ruler over many things.” Same thing. Now notice there’s another part of the commendation at the end of verse 21 and at the end of verse 23: “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” Oh, this is a marvelous statement. We not only will receive a verbal commendation from the Lord. We not only will receive service capacity to serve him eternally, but we will enter into the very joy of the Lord himself. It’s inconceivable. We will be as joyful as the Lord is joyful. We will be as satisfied as the Lord is satisfied. And imagine the satisfaction of the heart of the Lord to know that redemption is accomplished, to know that Satan is defeated, to know that sin is abolished, to know that the righteous kingdom forever and ever is established, to know that he is ultimately and forever glorified. Imagine the consummate joy of a redemptive plan completely finished, and it is that same joy of the Lord into which we will also enter.
It is that joy it says in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus saw when he went to the cross. It said, “He endured the cross for the joy that was set before him.” And that very same joy of accomplishing our redemption, that very same joy of destroying sin, of exalting righteousness, that joy that our Lord experiences we will experience as well. Just an incredible and marvelous thing.
Now in Luke 19 I want to show you two verses very briefly, just to kind of give you another little insight. Here is the parable of the pounds. It’s a different parable but it illustrates another point we need to look at. In Luke 19, verse 17 he says to this servant in this parable, it’s a different parable with a different point, “Because you’ve been faithful in very little, have authority over ten cities.” Okay. “Have authority over ten cities.” Verse 19: “And he said to him, ‘Be thou also over five cities.’” Now that’s all you need to know and you can go back to Matthew. Let me comment on that. In that parable, you have servants given various amounts. And the one who did the most was ruler over the most. The one who had the lesser result was ruler over less in terms of cities. Now I think what you have here is a picture of going into the kingdom, first of all. During the time of our Lord’s reign on the earth, there will be people living in the kingdom. In other words, there will be people like you and I alive. They’ll live through the tribulation, be redeemed. The church will be taken out during the tribulation. People will be saved. The Lord will come, they will still be alive. He’ll set up his kingdom; he won’t kill them. They’ll go into the kingdom in physical bodies alive. We’ll come down in glorified bodies, so the kingdom will be made up of the Lord ruling. He’ll have physical people on the earth and he’ll have the spiritual supernatural glorified folks that have already gone to be with the Lord and come back in their glorified bodies. And they’ll comingle in his rule there. And I believe he will apportion out certain positions, certain rules. I don’t mean rules, certain rulerships, certain responsibilities. And to those who have greater capacity as demonstrated in a faithfulness prior to his coming, he’ll give greater extent of rule, as those with a lesser capacity will receive a lesser level of rule.
So we want to keep in mind that as God has designed things sovereignly, even though eternity and the kingdom provide a certain amount of equality, there will also be a certain amount of absolute inequality in the sense that we will all be distinct serving and ruling and honoring the Lord in ways unique to us as to our privilege, capability, and service rendered to the Lord. Okay? And we must keep all those things in mind. And God has sovereignly designed it so that ultimately when he’s redeemed all of us, we’ll all fit perfectly into the plan of giving him glory forever and ever and ever, and ruling and leading at whatever level he has designed and we have proven faithful to that design.
All right, let’s go back to our parable again. So the man with five, he receives three commendations. That is first of all a verbal one, and then he is made responsible for even greater things, and then he is to enter into the very joy of the Lord. And the second man also who was faithful to two receives the very same threefold commendation. What a glorious day that will be when we receive those commendations who have served the Lord and have loved the Saviour. Then verse 24: “Then he that had received the one talent came. And he said, ‘Lord, I knew thee, that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown and gathering where thou hast not spread. And I was afraid and went and hid thy talent in the earth. Lo, here is what is yours.’ And this is completely different. We go from the glad part of the story to the very, very sad part, very, very sad.
Here is one who professes to believe. He says he is a servant. He belongs to the household. He is in the estate, if you will. He says he’s a steward. He says his goal in life is to serve his master, but there are two things that betray this guy. Number one, he produced nothing. He produced nothing. There was no fruit. So first of all, we would say he is revealed as a nonbeliever by his lack, by his lack. Secondly, by his attack, by his attack. He attacks the character of his master. He proves himself not to be a loving servant who respects and loves his master. He says, look at it again in verse 24, “I know thee,” – and this is his opinion – “that thou art an hard man.” Now he’s not a man who is anti-God. He’s not an atheist. He’s not antichrist. He’s not a wicked, vile, God-hating, Christ-rejecting individual. He says he’s a servant. He says he belongs. He doesn’t waste his master’s goods like the unjust steward of Luke 16. He doesn’t spend it all on riotous living like the prodigal of Luke 15. He doesn’t embezzle it like the unmerciful servant of Matthew 18. No, he just does nothing with it. He is not illustrative of a wasteful, evil, vile, wretched life. He is illustrative of a man who just wasted opportunity, and that’s tragic. He lived in the environment of redemption. He said he served the Lord, but he didn’t. And first we know it because there was no fruit; he hid it in the ground. It was his lack that proved there was nothing there, and then it was his attack. Look what he says, “You’re a hard man.” He uses the word “Scleros.” We get sclerosis from it, arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries. “You’re hard. You’re unforgiving. You’re unrelenting. You’re unbending. You’re unmerciful. You’re ungracious. You’re unkind. You lack compassion. You’re too tough. You have no sensitivity.” That’s not so. He’s functioning out of fear, see, he says. “You’re just too tough. You’re just too hard. Religion is too difficult for me. I couldn’t cut that standard that you asked. It’s just too much, and I knew you’re a hard, hard person. And so knowing that, I acted the way I acted.” And religion is full of people who would make that excuse. “Well it was too much for me. I just figured you were too hard a God and too unbending and too condemning and too judgmental and too ungracious.”
And then he says, “Reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t spread.” You know that that means? Stealing somebody else’s crop. When you reap what you didn’t sow, you’re harvesting somebody else’s work. That’s right. And when you gather where you haven’t scattered, you’re picking up somebody else’s wheat. He says, “I know two things about you. One, you’re hard and ungracious, and two, you take things from other people.” Now does he know the God that we know? Does he know the Lord that we know? Who really knows the Lord, could characterize him as ungracious, as unmerciful, as lacking in compassion? He doesn’t know the Lord at all. He doesn’t know his master at all. He has pretended to be a servant but he doesn’t know his master. How he could say that that you’re uncompassionate, unkind, ungracious. And then to say that even the things that we do for you you get the benefit. That portrays a non-worshipping heart. You know what the greatest joy in my life is, is to serve the Lord so that he can get the benefit. Isn’t that your desire? Anybody who says, “I don’t want to do that because you get all the glory,” does not understand who his Lord is. There’s no submission in his heart. He doesn’t serve the Lord here. He is blind to his Master’s kindness. He is blind to his Master’s grace. He is blind to his Master’s mercy. He is blind to his Master’s compassion, and he’s equally blind to his Master’s honor and his Master’s majesty and his Master’s glory and his Master’s worthiness. I pray that all of my service would be to his praise, don’t you? I don’t want anything out of it. There’s no sense of the glory of the Lord here. There’s no sense of the worthiness of the Lord, no sense of the great inestimable privilege of serving God. There’s no worshipping heart here. This is not a worshipping heart. This man attacks God. He attacks him, calls him ungracious and unworthy of collecting the harvest from somebody else’s labors.
So then he says in verse 25, “I was afraid. I was afraid of such an unbending, ungracious God.” And what does he mean by that? Well, he probably means I was afraid that if I tried to invest it and gain something and lost, I’d get punished, and if I gained something and gained it, you’d take it anyway. So I couldn’t win; I would lose either way. If I lost, I lost. If I gained, I lost. So I was afraid of you and I went and hid it in the earth and figured the best thing to do is just make sure I can deliver it as is back to you when you return. “Here,” he says. The Greek says, “Here, you have what is yours.” Fair enough. But this is an excuse. This is just so much bologna, to put it in the vernacular. Verse 26: “His Lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant.’” Stop there. He doesn’t say, “Oh, you poor misguided fellow. You’ve got a fouled-up theology.” He knew better. That man was a part of a community of servants. He knew the nature of his master. That was revealed to him; he knew that. And anybody associated with the redeemed community knows our Lord, doesn’t he? You know what the characteristics are. You can read the Scripture. You can hear the message. He is a God of grace and mercy and compassion. He doesn’t say, “You misguided servant.” He says, “You wicked and lazy servant. You are wicked in the sense that you pursued your evil pursuits. You just took the money and stuck it in the ground. You just hid that talent away. You made no use of that privilege because it got in your way, the way of your wickedness and the way of your own lazy lifestyle, and you would not give up your wickedness and you would not toil in my service because you had no heart for that. You are a wicked and you are a lazy servant.”
By the way, wickedness and laziness go together if any place in Scripture, certainly in the Proverbs chapter after chapter after chapter where slothfulness and laziness and wickedness are twins. And so he says, “You are a wicked and lazy servant. You chose evil and you made no effort to take advantage of privilege to hear the redeeming truth of God.” And then he says this, interesting, and he isn’t saying that it’s true. He is just picking up from the servant and he says – let me see if I can read it in the way it’s intended. “You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reaped where I sowed not and gather where I have not spread, did you?” In other words, he’s saying, “Oh, is that so? You knew that, did you? You knew that I was hard and that I expected a return. You knew that.” And then he says in effect, “If you knew that,” verse 27, “you should have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with interest.” In other words, “If your problem was really that you thought I was a hard man and you thought I wanted to take and harvest something that somebody else had worked for, if you knew that’s what I wanted, then why didn’t you at least give it to the exchangers and get me a little bit of interest.” He’s saying to him, “You’re a liar. You didn’t care what I was like. You didn’t analyze what I was like until you needed an excuse. You went on with your evil, lazy lifestyle ignoring your spiritual opportunity for no other reason than your own desire. It had nothing to do with your theology, and don’t let that be an excuse.”
The point is very, very well taken. He says, “You could’ve put my money to the exchangers.” That’s a word for bankers or benchers, as they used to call them. In the Roman empire, they had a banking system. You took your money and gave it to the bankers and gave it to the bankers and they paid you interest. Then they took the money you gave to them, as we do today, and they loaned it out to someone else. The maximum loan rate at that time in the Roman Empire history tells us was approximately 12 percent. And so they were loaning money out at 12 percent. They were probably paying the one who put it in there about six percent or whatever. And so you could put your money in there and get at least six percent. And the word used at the end of the verse, he says in verse 27, “I should have received mine own with tokos,” that means simple interest, simple interest. And maybe it would have been only a talent plus 0.06, I don't know, but it wouldn’t have been a full return like five on five and two on two. But at least you could have done something with it. He’s saying to him, “If you really thought that I was a God to be feared, then at least you would’ve done that.” It was easier to do that, by the way, than to dig a hole. You just go through the city gate one day where the bankers were and hand them the money and sign the paper and make the deal and that’s it; it took very little effort at all. If you really had feared me, you would have at least done that. But the excuse doesn’t hold water.
By the way, as a footnote, it’s interesting that Jesus here seems to see that this is a proper thing. It’s good to invest your money and get a return, and it’s even permissible to receive interest for it, just in case some of you have wondered about that. But the Lord says to him, “You’re unmasked as a liar. You didn’t hide it in the ground because you were afraid of me, because if you were afraid of me you’d have done something even in your laziness to at least give me a little bit of return. You hid it in the ground because you were too wicked and too lazy to care. You wasted your privilege, totally, totally wasted your privilege.” Every time I think about this I think of Judas who was the classic illustration in all of history of wasted privilege.
And so from the responsibility to the reaction to the reckoning. And then finally to the reward. What happens to these servants? Verse 28: “First of all, take therefore the talent from him and give it to him who has ten talents.” Why him? Well he was best able to carry it. He was the one with the greater capacity. Oh, it’s a wonderful thought here; it’s a great concept. Let me see if I can get it across to you. Now in the church today, a lot of people are “serving the Lord,” right? There are people who take the offering, people who help you park your car, people who teach your kids in the Children’s of Vision, people who listen to Bible verses who work with young people, who work with older people, who clean up around the church, people who have a home Bible study, people who sing in the choir. Many, many areas of service are given to the Lord. Do you realize that some of this service is being rendered by people who belong to the outward visible church but are not redeemed? You realize that, don’t you? Sure.
There are people in the church who are tares, right? But tares aren’t always the ones sitting around doing nothing. Sometimes tares are very involved. When I first came to Grace Church, there were a couple on the board who were not Christians. That’s not uncommon, believe it or not, because Satan is very clever. But the church has people doing “ministry” who are not redeemed people. From time to time, this becomes manifest, doesn’t it? We find that out. I remember one time finding a lady who was teaching my children in Sunday school who was not a Christian. We found that out because she was taking them to the bakery during the service on Sunday morning and we wondered why; that seemed like an inappropriate time to go there. But she had absolutely no interest in what was going on in the church. She had volunteered for the assignment. This was before we had a checking system and probably why we have one at this particular point. Nice lady, but missed the point. She thought she was serving God, but she couldn’t serve God because she didn’t know God. But in terms of the outward visible kingdom, she was doing her service.
You may turn on your television and see somebody who proports to be serving the Lord in the kingdom and visibly and outwardly identified with the church, but if the truth were known the person isn’t even redeemed. And there are people going on, believe me, I don't know how many, the Lord only knows, singing songs about Jesus who haven’t got any idea who he is. So there are people who “render service to the Lord.” But the day is going to come in judgment when any service they ever thought to render will be taken away from them and given to someone who is a true servant to render to him. You understand that? So in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and on throughout eternity, there will be no service offered other than that which is offered by true believers. And that with the sham believer now offers will not any longer be offered. And that’s what it means in verse 28 when it says, “Take it away from him. Take away his privilege. Take away his Gospel opportunity. Take away the privilege of using his privileges and give it to someone else.”
“For unto everyone,” – here he quotes this principle that also he used in Matthew 13:12, so it must’ve been a common one for the Lord. “Unto every one that has shall be given.” In other words, the ones who have demonstrated fruit, the ones who have used their privileges and used their opportunities, they will receive more; he will have abundance. But from the one who has not shall be taken away even what he has. And the implication there is he doesn’t really have it, but what he appears to have will be taken away. It’s a marvelous statement. “But from him that has not shall be taken away what he has.” How can you have if you don’t have? It’s a conundrum. “From the one who has not will be taken away what he has.” If he has not, what is there to take away? Well the idea here is he doesn’t really have it but he appears to have it, and what he appears to have will be taken away and given to someone else who can render true service.
So what happens in the reward? First of all, the true and faithful servant receives more privilege, more opportunity for service, more divine-service capacity. And I believe – these people ask, “Well why did he give it to the one that had ten and not the one that had four?” I don't know. Because maybe his greater capacity he could handle it better than the one who had two. I don't know, you’ll have to ask the Lord when you get to heaven about that. But he chose to give it to the one who had ten. Maybe the best answer, at least the way I lean, is that God is sovereign; he’ll give the service to whomever he wills in glory. But one thing for sure, he’ll take it away from the phonies.
You say, “Then what happens to them?” Verse 30: “And cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” If ever there was any question in anybody’s mind about whether that servant is a question, that ought to eliminate it, right? Because that is the definition of hell, that is the definition of hell. It’s just like Matthew chapter 22, verse 13 where you have the man who came into the wedding feast without a garment. That is he had no righteousness. “Bind him by hand and foot. Take him away. Cast him into outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And we’ve read that over and over again in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew describes hell as darkness because, “God is light,” says John, “and in him is no darkness at all.” Then the absence of God is utter darkness, and hell is a place where God is not and never will be. And it is a place of torment as illustrated by the statement weeping and grinding of teeth to show the unrelieved pain of being out of the presence of God.
So, people, let me just sum it up very simply. In the kingdom, in the church, in the assembly of the redeemed, there are going to be those who are prepared and serving the Lord. There are going to be those who are unprepared and who outwardly may be active but are not ready for his coming. And when the Lord comes, there will be a separation and a delineation based upon their service rendered to him. All excuses set aside. False service will be ended and that which they appear to be doing will be given to some others to do for throughout the kingdom and throughout eternity.
And what the parable is intending to say is stated in verse 13, “Just be sure you’re ready when that day comes.” And it may not be that you wait ‘til the Second Coming for that day; it may come the moment you die and that may be very near. If the church is raptured out and you’re still here, you may die during that tribulation and never live to see the Second Coming. You may die before the church is even raptured. But the moment that you face God this will become a reality, whether your service was true or whether it was false. It’s a fearful thing to realize but there are bridesmaids without any oil in their lamp. There are servants who think when the Lord comes it’s going to be okay, and it isn’t. It isn’t.
Well let’s bow in prayer. A poet has written some thoughtful words. “There is a time, I know not when, a place I know not where, which marks the destiny of men to heaven or despair. There is a line by us not seen which crosses every path, the hidden boundary between God’s patience and his wrath. To cross that limit is to die, to die as if by stealth. It may not pale the beaming eye nor quench the glowing health. The conscience may be still at ease, the Spirit light and gay. That which is pleasing still may please and care be thrust away. But on that forehead God hath set indelibly a mark by man unseen, for man is yet is blind and in the dark. How long may man go on in sin? How long will God forbear? Where does hope end and where begin the confines of despair? One answer from the sky is sent: Ye who from God depart, while it is called today, repent and harden not your heart.”
Our Lord, we ask that your Spirit would work in every life, that we might examine ourselves to see whether we are true servants, servants whose lives are marked by fruit, even if a small amount, even if just simple interest, at least some return to demonstrate that we’re genuine, and marked by worship, that the deepest part of us longs to serve you and sees your glory, not resents you and attacks you as ungracious and demanding. So, Lord, may we know the true believers are manifest by their fruit outwardly and by their attitude inwardly toward you. Help us to look, to see what marks our lives. Is it a heart of worship, a heart of adoring praise, a heart of love, a heart that says I will give a life service to the one who is so worthy? Is there fruit? Are we ready? Should we face you soon?
Lord, we thank you that you have enabled us to be ready by the work of Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again for our salvation. And, O Lord, we pray that there might not be anyone leave this place who is not ready, who is not prepared, whose heart is not made right, who will not hear, “Good and faithful servant. Excellent, you’ve been faithful over a few things, I’ll make you ruler over many. Enter thou in the joy of thy Lord.” May it be that all of us can hear that someday because we have taken advantage of privilege, even the privilege today of hearing again the truth.
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