Hungry for More?
The Importance of Questions
Jesus had been teaching for some time now. He engaged his hearers by asking them questions and drawing them into the stories he had to tell – he made them live the stories with him. He also invited them to reflect on the illustrations he employed. In short Jesus’ methods encouraged people to think about things for themselves.
Some of the questions Jesus asked were challenging; the decisions men and women took had implications and he wanted them to realise just how serious these might be.
But it wasn’t only Jesus who asked questions. We also find others asking Jesus questions and how glad we should be that they did! Questions gave Jesus the opportunity to give some more of his wonderful teaching. It was Peter’s question that drew further teaching from Jesus that day.
Jesus had been teaching his disciples but the crowds had pressed in around him and one man had even interrupted him trying to enlist Jesus’ help in a domestic matter. When Jesus had dealt with this interruption he carried on teaching his disciples. He told them that they had no need to be anxious or worried about the necessities of life but instead they were free to pursue more the more spiritual goals of laying up treasure in heaven and of ensuring they were properly spiritually prepared to respond to God when he called.
Peter had listened to all this but now he wanted a little more clarity. Was it to his closest followers alone that Jesus had intended to speak about being spiritually prepared or did he mean his words to have a wider application than that?
It was an interesting question and one that touches upon an important subject. It directly relates to how we are to understand what Jesus says.
Let me give you an example to illustrate just what I mean – I hope it’ll help you to realise how important it is to know to whom is actually addressing his words.
When Jesus was crucified he wasn’t alone on Calvary – two other men were also being executed at the same time. In addition to these poor men there were some soldiers whose job it was to carry out the gruesome work of crucifixion and otherwise to generally keep order. And then there were the mixed crowds of curious onlookers: Jesus’ enemies were well represented and there was also quite a number of his supporters there.
Now crucifixion was a long-drawn out business and a victim did not die quickly. This enabled a dying man to speak out and the gospel writers carefully recorded a number of the things that Jesus spoke while he hung upon the cross. One of the things he said was:
"Today you will be with me in paradise." Lk.23:43
The words themselves are tremendously encouraging but they weren’t meant to be an encouragement to all regardless. They were spoken to just one man that day and we can only properly apply them to others when they fulfil the same conditions.
You see Jesus spoke those encouraging words to the repentant thief who had confessed his own guilt, professed the innocence of Jesus, and called out to him for help. This man wasn’t somehow ‘just hoping for the best’, he had placed his trust in Jesus expressing his confidence that Jesus could save him.
Jesus spoke his encouraging words to this man. He didn’t speak them to the other thief who remained unrepentant and abusive. He didn’t declare that the soldiers would all be welcomed into paradise nor did he say that all his enemies would either.
For any person to turn the pages of the gospel and find this verse and then to assume that it amounts to an absolute promise to everybody regardless of their spiritual state would be completely wrong. For any of you to assume that all will be well for you regardless of your spiritual condition would be utter foolishness. How important it is to know to whom Jesus addresses the various things he says. How important to meet the appropriate conditions if we want to reap the appropriate rewards!
So, to return to Peter’s question:
v.41 ""Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?"
It was a good question, an appropriate question. And we should never be afraid of asking Jesus our questions too!
Jesus Tells another Story
Sometimes a straightforward answer is not the answer we most need. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ may seem the clearest answer that might be given but it might be an answer that fails to promote deliberate and careful thought. A simple answer may actually stifle any further reflection as to what the personal implications might be for us.
At any rate it doesn’t appear on this particular occasion that Jesus gave a simple answer rather he told another story and invited his hearers to work out some personal answers for themselves.
Now, before we continue with this parable, which again takes up the whole question of spiritual preparedness, we do need to say that this is not the only time that Jesus tackled the matter of spiritual preparation and readiness. While on this particular occasion Jesus sought to make his hearers think as to whether or not they were directly concerned by what he had to say on at least one other occasion he made it abundantly clear that being spiritually vigilant was by no means something to be restricted to the apostles alone:
Mk.13:37 "And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."
Jesus varied his method depending upon the circumstances but the truth remains the same!
It’s now time to think about the parable Jesus told.
It concerned a man who was about to leave on a journey.
Before leaving this man wanted to entrust his affairs to a manager who would have the responsibility of overseeing them. This manager would have a certain number of tasks to carry out during the undefined period when the owner was away.
How will the manager go about his business of carrying out his responsibilities? What will be the factors driving him?
Jesus presents us with two options:
Firstly, the manager might decide to act wisely and with faithfulness. If he chooses this path he will carry our his tasks well genuinely looking out for the interests of his Master who has appointed him. At the same time the other servants who have to work under his authority and direction will be well-treated and well-provided for.
Secondly, the manager might follow a different path of behaviour entirely. Instead of considering the interests of his Master the manager now functions selfishly, promoting his own interests. He reasons with himself that since no-one knows when the Master is going to return it doesn’t matter what he does while the Master is absent. With such a mindset he cruelly mistreats those for whom he has responsibility and at the same time indulges himself with idleness and booze.
And then, unannounced and unexpected the Master returns.
If the manager had pursued option one and performed his tasks wisely and faithfully he would be well prepared for his Master’s return. Simply by taking his Master’s word seriously and accordingly doing the right thing he would be ready. No mere hearer of the word this type of manager but a doer of it also! And as a consequence he will be rewarded. Jesus’ story tells us that he would receive promotion and occupy a position of greater responsibility and significance.
However had the manager decided that option two was the way for him his Master’s return would find him totally unprepared. He had known what was expected of him but had deliberately chosen to refuse to do that preferring instead to do things his way. Yes, he too will receive a recompense but not a pleasant one. Promotion is not the reward he will enjoy but instead his loss will be serious. Jesus speaks of it in terms of being "cut in pieces", "put with the unfaithful" and of receiving a "severe beating".
That was Jesus little story. But he had begun it with a question. He wanted Peter and the others who were listening in to think as he drew them into his tale.
"Who is the faithful and wise manager?" he asked.
Now of course the question is a simple one and anybody listening in could say it was the first example in the story. You don’t need any spiritual illumination to do that. But if we’re spiritually illuminated in any measure we know that more is involved than this.
We can draw this out by altering Jesus’ question just a little and make it more pointed:
"Are you the faithful and wise manager? Am I?"
When we hear a story we tend to identify ourselves with one or other of the characters involved. The central character is the manager here but who can operate in one of two ways – which one do I approve of? which one am I most like?
What am I doing with those things, those gifts, those truths, that my Master has entrusted to me? How am I conducting myself? Am I taking my responsibilities seriously? Are you? Or am I plain lazy and unconcerned about the Master’s instructions and interests?
Let he who has ears let him hear!
A Particular Application
While the exhortation to be ready and spiritually prepared for God’s call or for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ is one that must surely be heeded by anyone who makes a claim to belong to Christ and to be one of his followers, Jesus’ little story may well have a particular relevance for those who are called to be leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.
If this be indeed the case then ministers, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and any other office holders in the Christian church must pay special attention. It would also apply to missionaries and lecturers in Bible colleges etc.
Jesus’ story follows a reference to the coming of the Son of Man and this is regularly understood to refer to the second coming of our Lord and Saviour. If we understand Jesus’ story in the light of this then the Master leaving on a journey is a reference to Jesus himself. The "manager" left to oversee the Master’s affairs would then be readily applicable to any church leader. As the manager is described as being responsible for providing the food of the servants of the Master’s household we might understand this to refer particularly to the teaching and preaching ministry which helps meet the spiritual needs of those servants, church members.
Of course Jesus was speaking first and foremost to his apostles who would exercise a foundational role in the establishment and in the life of the early church but the application can be readily extended to take in any pastor or teacher who has such responsibilities.
This story would then include a serious charge to such men to carry out their responsibilities wisely and faithfully. Our Lord has gone to glory and until he returns pastors and ministers must exercise their ministries properly without giving way to temptations of idleness or laziness. How utterly inappropriate too for the representatives of Christ to lord it over the flock entrusted to their care! Pastors and teachers must not abuse the flock in any way – it is the after all Christ’s flock.
The apostle James wrote about this added responsibility and cautioned men from entering lightly into the work of the ministry:
Jas.3:1 "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."
And Peter adds that the shepherd is to
1Pet.5:2-3 "exercise oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
And of course it was Jesus who taught that the disciple is not above his teacher and the servant not above his Master. If Jesus came not to be served but to serve then no church officer should act in any other way!
So, friends, pray for your church officers, for me your pastor and for your elders. Pray that we work well, wisely and faithfully. That we know what it is to rightly handle the word of truth that you might be nourished with the true Word of God. Pray for the Sunday school teachers that they too might serve well.
Such teaching is relevant for us too on the day we move home and have to find a new church to attend or when it is time to call a new pastor here. You want to sit under the ministry of a man who is not going to use his office to further his own aims and ambitions at your expense.
Oh who is sufficient for such things?
Thanks be to God that what is impossible for men is not impossible with God. Praise his name that he enables us to do all things through Christ who strengthens us!
Some Final Considerations
Jesus’ story indicates very clearly that men and women will be held to account for the way in which they live their lives here on earth. Indeed if there were to be no day of reckoning then this very parable would lose its influence and its warnings would prove to be empty.
So let us take it to heart! What we do here and now, in the period during which we wait for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, matters and matters very much indeed.
There are rewards to be won and enjoyed but there is also a retribution to be avoided if at all possible. Which awaits you at the end of the path you’re walking on?
Or you seeking to serve Christ wisely and faithfully or are you self-seeking and careless of the interests of others?
Perhaps you think to excuse yourself by saying that you don’t understand much of this, that it is all too difficult for you, well beware. It may be true that much of your sin has been done in ignorance of just what your Master’s will is but it is sin nevertheless. Jesus declares here that ignorance of his will might lead to a lesser punishment but punishment remains:
v.48 "But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating."
We are of course familiar with this in our own legal system where "ignorance of the law is no excuse".
The reason being that ignorance is never complete after all as the psalmist tells us "the very heavens declare the glory of God" a truth which the apostle Pul elaborated upon when he wrote to the church in Rome:
Rom.1:19-21 "what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened."
But you are not really in that ignorant state are you? You’ve heard, and some of you many, many times, what God’s plan and purpose is and you’ve been told what Jesus has done and called upon to put your trust firmly in him. If you refuse to serve him faithfully then your sin is not ignorant sin it is high-handed sin, it is sin against the light:
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."
v.48 "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."
May God have mercy on us all and fill us with his grace. Amen.