Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant
What a dramatic last week of earthly ministry it was for Jesus. A week that began with an eventful entry into Jerusalem that ranged from people shouting praises to Him to religious leaders demanding He silence the crowd. A week that ended with Jesus being arrested, tried, and crucified.
Between His entry and His crucifixion, Jesus did a lot of teaching, much of it challenging His followers - especially His disciples at that time, but it extends to those of us who follow Him even now - to be ready whenever He returns. We know neither the day nor the hour Jesus will come back, and the days and years until He returns will feature troubled times, but we are to be ready in any and all circumstances.
Today, two of the teachings Jesus gave the week between His entry into Jerusalem and His crucifixion, the first one once again on the need to be ready. For today, the Parable of the Talents. Matthew 25:14-30.
The parable begins with setting the scene. A man - a very rich man - preparing to go on a journey, called his servants to a meeting and entrusted to them his property.
To one he gave five talents. One talent at that time is defined as being worth more than 15 years of wages for a common laborer. Put into today’s terms, a talent would be about three-fourths of a million dollars. Five talents therefore added up to about three-and-three-quarters million dollars worth of property. Such a scenario obviously made the man very wealthy.
To another servant the man entrusted two talents, or about one-and-a-half million dollars. To yet another servant, he entrusted one talent.
Notice the word “entrusted.” The talents were not gifts. They still belonged to the master. He simply gave them to his servants for them to use while he was gone.
After distributing his wealth, the man went away.
Right away, the servant who had received five talents went and traded with them.
We know, do we not, that as often as we read a passage, there seem to be things we notice or wonder about that have not before crossed our minds? As I worked on this message, I was intrigued by the word “traded.” I wondered what that word refers to.
I looked to a number of sources and was further intrigued at not being able to discover what is the meaning. Did that servant invest the wealth, hoping to gain dividends? Or did he get involved in business deals in which he bought certain products and held them until their worth grew, then sold them for a profit? Or was there some other kind of trade?
I do not know. However, according to the parable - again, this is a parable, which is not a report of an actual event, but a story told for the purpose of teaching something - whatever the servant did and however long it took, he doubled what had been entrusted to him. The three-and-three-quarters million dollars of property he had became seven-and-a-half million dollars.
The one who had received two talents made two talents more. The worth he had went from one-and-a-half million to three million dollars.
However, the servant who had received one talent, instead of trading, took it, dug in the ground, and hid his portion of his master's wealth.
After a long time - how long is not mentioned, but after a time - the master of those servants returned. It was then time for him to settle accounts with them.
The first meeting was with the servant to whom five talents had been entrusted. I imagine that servant was very happy for the meeting. I imagine he shared his report with confidence. “Master,” he said, “you delivered to me five talents. Here I present to you, not only those five, but also five talents more that I have earned.”
The happiness of the servant was more than matched by the happiness of the master. He was eager to say, “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.”
With that servant staying near the master, the next meeting was with the servant to whom two talents had been entrusted. He also was happy as he reported, “Master, you delivered to me two talents. Here I have those and two more that I have earned. I present them all to you.”
The master continued to be happy, saying to the second servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have also been faithful over a little. I will also set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
The meetings had both gone well. There was happiness all around. But then a change of mood came when the third meeting happened. The meeting with the servant who had received one talent.
Here is the report given by that third servant at his meeting with the master as the first two servants stood by. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not winnow, so I was afraid. In my fear, I went and hid your talent in the ground. I have dug it back up. I have it with me. Here, take what is yours.” That servant handed to the master the same amount that had been entrusted to him.
The third servant at least returned what had been given to him, but the master was not amused. He answered, “You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I have not winnowed? If that is what you think of me, you should have at least given my property to bankers so that at my coming I would have received what was my own with at least some interest.”
Listen to how the master continued. “Take the talent from the unproductive servant.” He then pointed to the first servant and said, “Give the single talent to him who has the ten talents, for to everyone who has, will more be given, and he will have abundance. But from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Then this. “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.” A place so scary and forlorn that men “weep and gnash their teeth.”
The Parable of the Talents.
The man going on a journey represents Jesus, who was, in a relatively short time, going to go away. In a few days, Jesus would be crucified and then buried. On the third day after that He would be resurrected, but a few weeks later, He would ascend, returning to Heaven.
That is the meaning of the man going on a journey. But while Jesus would be gone and while He is still gone - remember the teaching mentioned about not knowing when He will return, which is also taught in today’s parable in which there is no indication of when the master returned, but while Jesus is gone - we who were or now are His servants are to use what He entrusts to us.
Such as what?
How about spiritual gifts like teaching or pastoring, serving or encouraging, showing mercy or giving? There is kind of a sub-teaching in the parable. None of the servants was entrusted with the entire wealth, which means no follower of Jesus has every spiritual gift. But even the third servant received something, which means each follower of Jesus has at least one spiritual gift to use between now and when our master Jesus returns.
How about doing other things mentioned in recent messages? Reading the Bible. Praying. Fellowshiping with other followers of Jesus. Worshiping Jesus.
Those are opportunities entrusted to us by Jesus. The point of the parable? Those opportunities and the spiritual gifts entrusted to us are to be used. They must not be hidden. They are to be used between now and whenever it is Jesus returns.
The main goal must be to please the master. As the first two servants grew what belonged to their master, thereby benefitting not themselves, but their master, so are we to make use of the opportunities and gifts Jesus gives us.
Pleasing Jesus must be our main goal, but do we catch the joy in the parable? The joy of the first two servants. The joy that will be ours when Jesus finds that we are using His gifts and opportunities. I want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I look forward to being with Jesus, not only in the joy of an ever-increasing closeness to Him now, but eventually in Heaven.
Again, pleasing Jesus must always be our main goal. But how wonderful that those who are good servants of His will be rewarded. What joy there is in that promise.
However, do we also catch the terror in the parable?
Two weeks ago we talked about the Parable of Ten Maidens, in which five of the ten were not ready when the one for whom they waited appeared. Those five were not allowed into a feast. They pounded on the door. They cried to be let in. But they were not let in.
The point was that those who are not spiritually ready when Jesus returns will not be allowed into Heaven. They will knock. They will cry out. But it will be too late. The challenge is to be ready and stay ready for Jesus all the time.
Last Sunday we considered the prediction that when Jesus returns, He will gather His people, who are those who are ready for Him when He returns. Jesus said that some will be taken, including those at work in fields and mills, while others will be left. The point was made how sad - how horrified - those left will be when they realize they should have been but are not spiritually ready. The challenge again is to be ready and stay ready for Jesus all the time.
In today’s parable there is also a dire warning. It centers on the third servant. The one who did not use what was entrusted to him. Remember? What he had was taken from him. He was called worthless and he was cast into outer darkness. Spiritually, into Hell. A place so terrible that the people there will weep and gnash their teeth, doing so forever and ever and ever.
Are you ready for whenever it is Jesus returns? That involves, first and foremost, accepting Jesus as your Savior from sin. If you have not done that, please, please, please do so. Then it involves using whatever spiritual gift or gifts you have received. It also involves using the opportunities you have to read the Bible and pray and fellowship and worship.
If you are not ready when Jesus returns, the consequence will be horrendous. The consequence will be eternal, made even worse by knowing you should have been ready.
But if you are ready, what joy will be yours as you will be gathered by Jesus and admitted into Heaven where you will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
* * * * *
Now, I hope none of us thinks the Lord has given us nothing in a spiritual sense to use until He returns. Remember even the third servant was entrusted with something. The same is true spiritually. The Lord does not leave any of His servants empty-handed. That is also taught in something else Jesus said during the last week before His crucifixion.
For this teaching, let’s think about Mark 12:41-44, where we find Jesus between teaching sessions. He sat down, so perhaps He was resting a bit. But He also watched what was going on around Him.
This happened near the treasury, near where people made contributions for the upkeep of the Temple.
Many rich people walked by. Most of them gave large sums of money. Though it is not worded as such, the mood of this passage seems to indicate the rich ones made quite a show of their giving. In my mind I picture those people making sure they were noticed as they approached the metal containers into which the contributions were placed. I picture them almost throwing their money in, thereby making much noise to attract even more attention.
The rich people who gave did indeed give large sums of money. Money that was needed for the Temple. But then a poor widow appeared. She had just two coins with her, the equivalent of a penny, which she placed in a container, in my mind, doing so very quietly, as if embarrassed she had so little to give.
Indeed, the amount the woman gave was very small. Compared to the total needed, her penny was hardly enough to be noticed. But it was noticed. It was noticed by Jesus, who said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all the rich who are contributing to the treasury. Her giving is more impressive than all the others, not because of the amount, but because she gave out of her poverty. She gave all she had. Her whole living, rather than just some that others could easily afford.”
Unlike the third servant in today’s parable, the woman did not hide what had been entrusted to her. She used it by giving to a cause greater than herself. The result? Being known to this day as being very, very generous. In the context of today’s parable, hearing from Jesus, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Use whatever it is the Lord has entrusted to you. Use it as part of your preparation for whenever it is He will return. Use it for His glory and so you will one day be commended by Him for being a good and faithful servant of His.
* * * * *
Throughout this Lenten season, we have been thinking about some of what Jesus did during the last week of His earthly ministry. We have also been thinking about some of what He said as He was being crucified. Words of forgiveness for those who had been and were mistreating Him and for one of the two others being crucified at the same time, and words of love as He gave His mother Mary to His disciple John and John to Mary so they could help and encourage each other.
Today’s statement is found in Matthew 27:46.
About the ninth hour - about 3:00 in the afternoon - very shortly before He died, Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Think of the agony of Jesus. Not just physical agony. How utterly, totally severe that was. But now emotionally and spiritually as well. God is perfectly pure. He cannot look on sin. Jesus had taken all our sins on Himself, which means God could not look on His Son. Jesus, who was Himself perfect, was, at that moment, forsaken by God.
The challenge - the plea - is that you and I do all we can to be worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice, which begins by accepting Jesus as Savior. If you still have not done that, do it, even now. Please.
It then means to read His word and pray to Him and with Him and fellowship with His people and worship Him. May we all grow in taking advantage of opportunities to do all those things.
It extends to using whatever spiritual gifts have been entrusted to us so that His Kingdom can grow and grow and grow.
One more time, doing all that will be pleasing to Jesus. It will honor Him. But it will also benefit us as we will one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And this one more time. May we all do all this all the time as we continue to be ready for whenever it is Jesus will return.
Today’s closing song is the hymn Because I Have Been Given Much.
Because I have been given much,
I too must give:
Because of Thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live,
I shall divide my gifts from Thee
With all the people that I see
Who have the need of help from me.
Because I have been sheltered, fed,
By Thy good care,
I cannot see another’s lack
And I not share
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
My roof’s safe shelter overhead,
That each, too, may be comforted.
Because love has been lavished so
Upon me, Lord,
A wealth I know that was not meant
For me to hoard,
I shall give love to those in need,
Shall sow that love by word and deed;
Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.
The Lord has given us so much. So many blessings, so many gifts, so many opportunities. May we see all He has given us as things entrusted to us to use until He returns. Then let’s use what He gives, thereby showing our appreciation for His sacrifice for us as we look forward to hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Amen.