Ready or Not (3): Quit Doing Nothing
Date: August 9, 2015
Intro – Jesus is coming again. And just as His first coming was literal and physical and personal, so will be His second coming. In this passage, even tho He has not even left yet, Jesus is already preparing His hearers and consequently us to be living expectant lives – expecting His soon appearing.
So, how do we do that? In vv. 35-40 He urges that we Wait Expectantly. And in vv. 41-48 He urges that we Work Earnestly. Wait and work! The Thessalonians only got that half right. They were so convinced of Jesus’ imminent return that some gave up their jobs and took up laziness as a hobby while they awaited his return. Paul warned them in II Thess 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Waiting expectantly for Jesus’ return is no excuse for not working earnestly! We can’t be like the boy whose father was trying to talk him into staying in high school. He said, “Son, you just can’t quit. All the people who history remembers didn’t quit. Abe Lincoln didn't quit. Thomas Edison, he didn't quit. Dwight Eisenhower didn't quit. Elmo McCringle . ..” The son interrupted, “Who’s Elmo McCringle?” Dad replied, "See, you don't remember him. He quit."
Jesus has been talking about the importance of being ready by waiting expectantly when Peter interrupts in v. 41, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” Jesus does not answer directly but gives another parable which emphasizes that those who are ready for his return will be working. It contrasts a faithful servant with the unfaithful servant. And by the end it is clear Jesus is contrasting real believers with those who merely profess to be believers. So, this is a parable for everyone -- contrasting possessors with professors. Possessors are working earnestly even as they wait expectantly. Like the Minute Men in the Revolutionary war -- out in the field with the rifle in one hand, waiting expectantly – and a plow on the other hand, working earnestly. Mere professors have given up long ago. Jesus gives us a threefold contrast in the attitude of these two very different kinds of people.
I. Possessors Are Faithful; Professors Are Faithless
V. 42, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?” Possessors are faithful to their mission. Faithful managers feed the household. This obviously applied particularly to the apostles who in the first century were responsible to spread the gospel and teach new believers the word of God – to feed them. In expectation of Jesus return, they were doing all they could to bring as many people as possible into the kingdom of God.
God has gifted us all to work earnestly. Rom 12: 6)Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” That applies especially to the way that God has gifted us to work in ministry in the church. But it is equally important that we be using the gifts and abilities that God has given us in our lives away from church – our secular work or school -- to represent Him and to invite others to become part of his family. God has a mission for each one of us wherever we are and Paul reminds us I Cor 4:1-2, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Beloved, as possessors of eternal life we have been entrusted with the most wonderful message the world has ever heard. If we are true believers, true possessors, we will be faithful in spreading that gospel in whatever way we can. That's what possessors do. They are faithful.
Tim Keller was pastoring in Virginia when he felt that God had called him to found the church in NYC. All of his contacts told him that it was impossible. They said that the few remaining congregations in the city had survived by adapting Christian teaching to the ethic of tolerance that predominated. They said, “Don’t tell people they have to believe in Jesus – that is considered narrow minded here.” When Keller insisted that the new church would teach the historic tenants of Christianity – the infallibility of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the necessity of spiritual regeneration, he was told that those doctrines would be rejected as hopelessly outdated by New Yorkers. Keller said, "Nobody ever said “fuggedaboutit” out loud, but it always hung in the air. Nevertheless, we launched Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and by the end of 2007 it had grown to more than 5,000 attendees and had spawned more than a dozen daughter congregations in the immediate metropolitan area. The church is quite multiethnic and young (average age about thirty) and is more than two-thirds single. We were as stunned by this as anyone.” Now I'm not suggesting that everyone will have the same success that Keller did. I am suggesting that his faithfulness in the face of adversity is exactly what characterizes true believers who expecting Jesus’ return.
But what about mere professors? 45 “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk. There is no faithfulness here. This person may have professed faith in Christ at some point; they may still even attend church; but he or she has long ago given up any hope in the literal return of Jesus. They returned to a lifestyle dedicated to their own selfish agenda. They are concerned about others only as it may help them. They feel no sense of accountability to a master they don't really believe is returning. They are unfaithful because they are unreal. Their profession is a lie.
A few years ago US Air had a special half fare for wives who accompanied their husbands on business trips. Hoping to get some valuable testimonials, the PR department sent out letters to all the wives of businessmen who would use the special rates asking how they enjoyed their trip. A large number of letters were returned comprised of the same question, "What trip?!" I imagine that led to some interesting conversations about faithfulness! Similarly there will be a day of accounting for all unfaithful servants. Heb 10:26 warns, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” You don't have to look any further than Jesus’ inner circle to find an example of an unfaithful servant – a professor as opposed to a possessor. Judas is a prime example that you can be that close to the truth and miss the whole thing. True believers are faithful workers in expectation of Jesus’ return.
II. Possessors Are Wise; Professors Are Unwise
V. 42, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager?” Who is wise? The person who can see beyond this life into the next. Wisdom sees beyond time and into eternity. True believers do that. Professors do not. Their whole life is taken up in creating comfort and ease for themselves here and now.
Abraham is a great example of a wise servant. He was the recipient of a magnificent covenant from God – promising him countless descendents, blessing, and land. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews tells us about Abraham’s attitude in the midst of all these promises. “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:9-10). Abraham was looking beyond the immediate promise to its ultimate fulfillment in heaven. Though he was rich in this life, he would never have been the guy in Luke 12:20 who was figuring out how to build bigger barns to house all of his earthly possessions so he could live in comfort the rest of his life on the very night when God came to him and said, "Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” Everything he had lived for was tied up in those earthly possessions and now they were gone just at the moment when he was about to enjoy them. And he had made no provision for what came next. He forgot what former UCLA football coach Red Senders knew. Commenting on the long-standing rivalry between UCLA and USC he once said, "It's not really a matter of life and death. It's much more important than that." The wise servant understands that too. There are things much more important than this life, and he is working to prepare himself and others for what comes beyond the grave in patient expectation of his master’s soon return. But what of professor?!
A cartoon in The New Yorker showed two Pilgrims disembarking from the Mayflower. They were sharing their goals with each other. One said to the other, "My short range goal is religious freedom, but my long-range goal is to go into real estate." Great! But the wise servant understands that if our long-range goals only extend to the end of this life, they are way too shortsighted. So we must ask ourselves – how far out do our goals extend? Are we expectantly waiting for and earnestly working for the coming of our Lord and Savior. Jesus is coming again beloved. We must be ready.
III. Possessors Are Rewarded; Professors are Punished
43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” Great reward awaits possessors – faithful servants. Servants who are full of faith. They believe in Jesus. They know he's coming again. They are living for him now even as they look for his appearing later. And they will be rewarded for their faithfulness. Most important of all, heaven will be theirs. Everything they have sacrificed here will be restored ten thousandfold.
Years ago an elderly couple approached the night clerk in a Philadelphia hotel seeking a room. A citywide convention had left no rooms available. The man inquired, "Are there any rooms left anywhere?" The clerk thought for a moment, realized his own room was available because he was working the desk all night long, so he gave his room to the elderly couple. The couple invited the clerk to join them for breakfast the next morning. The gentleman said, "Young man, you're too good for hotel in this place. How would you like for me to build a big hotel for you in NYC?” That's exactly what he did. John Jacob Astor IV went home to build the famed Astoria hotel. And the obscure, isolated night clerk eventually became one of the greatest hotel men in the world. His faithfulness paid off.
But believe me that’s nothing compared to what Jesus has in store for his faithful servants. In Revelation faithful servants are called conquerors, and the list of rewards goes on and on for those who are faithful. Jesus says in Rev 2:7, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’” In 2:11 he “will not be hurt by the second death” (that’s enough reward right there, isn’t it?). In 2:17 he is given “some of the hidden manna, and . . . a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” In 2:26, “authority over the nations.” In 3:5 Jesus promises, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” It pays to be a possessor, Beloved. In 3:12 he is made, “a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” In 3:21, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne.” In 21:7, “I will be his God and he will be my son.”
So what about the unfaithful servant – the professor. Surely they have at least a place in a corner of heaven. Surely there is a space for him. Oh, Beloved, I am afraid not. That is not his destiny at all. Jesus says of the unfaithful servant in v. 46, “the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” That is language that speaks explicitly of separation from God eternally. That one will be cut off without remedy. You say, "Are you absolutely sure about that?" I'm afraid so, Beloved. Psalm 73:27 describes the fate of those who are unfaithful: “For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.” And Rev 21:8 removes all doubt: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless (that’s our word), the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Hell awaits those who are unfaithful, those who by their life deny His Lordship. That is the fate of the unfaithful servant. He claims Jesus as Master, but he is like those in Matt 7:22 who on judgment day will protest, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” That is the end of the professor.
There is one interesting mitigation here. Note v. 47, “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Lesser punishment is reserved for those who do not know the Master’s will. The principle is clear. The more light, the harder the punishment. I can’t begin to describe exactly what that means, but it seems clear that there are degrees of punishment in hell just as there are degrees of reward in heaven. That is no comfort to any of us here this morning. We have all received amazing light for which we are fully responsible. So we must be faithful servants – eagerly anticipating the return of our Lord and Savior, but meanwhile working earnestly at whatever mission He has outlined for our lives.
Conc – Sam Jones was an old style southern evangelist. During the course of his meetings he would usually have a "Quitters Night." On that night, people were asked to bring symbols or pictures of representing sins of which they needed to repent. So people would bring whiskey bottles, pictures of mistresses, firebrands representing their tempers, books and magazines that they knew were not appropriate or edifying, catalogs representing their covetousness -- whatever they desired to represent their repentance. On one night, the fiery evangelist noticed that an elderly woman whom everyone considered one of the great saints of the church had responded. He was surprised and asked, "Aunt Sally, what are you repenting of?" She replied, “I ain’t done nothing -- and I’m gonna quit it!”
Perhaps some of us here this morning are in that same boat. Wouldn’t this be a good time to leave the ranks of the professors and become a true possessor of eternal life? Wouldn’t this be a good time to become a faithful follower of the great master? Wouldn't this be a good morning to begin looking beyond time and into eternity? You’ll never be disappointed. And you’ll be ready for Him – whenever He returns. Let’s pray