How do you relate to Jesus?
Do you realise that it is quite possible to know a lot about Jesus and still be in a muddle about him?
Did you know that it is even possible to believe a lot of right things about him but still to get matters in a real twist and draw unwarranted and wrong conclusions?
People were like that in Jesus’ day. Many latched onto the fact that he was somebody important, very important even, but then they really didn’t understand just how he was going to accomplish God’s plan and purposes. Some things they got right but not others and they needed to be put straight.
We can be like those people too and then we also need to be put straight. And so, week in week out, we gather to listen to what God has to say to us in his Word the Bible. This morning we come to a story that Jesus told which was designed to help men and women get their thinking straight. Like the rest of his parables the story was easy to grasp as a simple story – but to those with just a little bit of spiritual understanding it was more than that, it was a story that was all about Jesus himself.
Why did Jesus tell this story now?
We are given two reasons as to why Jesus thought it necessary to tell this story at this particular time.
Firstly, he was nearing Jerusalem.
Now Jerusalem was the place where Jesus knew that the climax of his ministry would occur. Jerusalem was the place where he, God’s anointed and chosen One, was going to accomplish what he had come for. The Most Important Person who had ever walked upon the face of the earth was about to arrive at his designated destination – the salvation of the world was about to be achieved by the Saviour of the World.
Jerusalem was the capital city and it was there that the religious leaders were going to hand him over to the Gentile Romans who would execute him by nailing him to a cross. It was there that the unholy alliance of Jewish and Gentile leaders would do exactly what God’s hand had predetermined they would do – they would kill the Prince of Life. They meant it for harm but God meant it for good!
So Jesus told this Parable of the Ten Minas because the crucial time had come and the events that were about to unfold were of the utmost importance. He didn’t want to leave men and women in any doubt about that and he told them this story which made himself the centre of attention – he did so out of love because the eternal future well-being of men and women would depend upon how they relate to him.
Secondly, Jesus told his story because people had wrong views concerning the future. As his ministry had developed the Kingdom of God had become a hot subject of conversation. Some were convinced that this Kingdom was going to appear as soon as Jesus got to Jerusalem but they were wrong and Jesus told his story in order to set their thinking right. The kingdom was not going to appear immediately but instead there would be a certain delay – the end was not for just yet – and Jesus wanted to draw attention to that delay and to what was expected of men and women during that time.
We are living today in that delay period – it is the period between Jesus’ departure (his death) and his return (the Second Coming). And during this period we have responsibilities to fulfil. We must ask ourselves a simple question: Are we fulfilling those responsibilities?
But we are getting ahead of ourselves – let’s get back to Jesus’ parable.
Jesus’ story was set in the culture of his day and as such its details would have been readily understandable to his hearers. Even if we may require a little more explanation of some of the details because our culture is very different from that of 1 st century Palestine the general story is itself straightforward and easy enough for us to understand.
We will work our way through the story to see just what it is that Jesus wanted to teach.
A Nobleman goes to be made a King and then to return.
The main character in the parable is this nobleman who is about to undertake a journey. We should understand that this main character points us to Jesus himself. How appropriate it is as a picture of Jesus! After all what nobler man is there than he who is the Son of God, the perfect, spotless, sinless Lamb of God?
This man is preparing to go into a far country where he will receive for himself a kingdom and then he will return.
Now this might sound a little odd to our ears – why go to a far country to receive a kingdom if you’re then simply going to return to where you were before? If it sounds a little curious to our ears it wouldn’t have done to Jesus’ contemporaries. They were living in the Roman Empire and this sort of thing was normal. The Empire was made up of many vassal states that enjoyed a certain amount of independence and local rule under the overriding authority of Rome. That was precisely the situation the prevailed in Palestine under King Herod. When Jesus spoke this way his contemporaries knew what he was talking about. When a "vacancy" occurred to rule as king in one of those vassal states a nobleman might well take himself off to Rome, that "far country" if you’re looking at things from Palestine, and present the case for his own candidacy.
Of course, if he were successful you would expect to see him return to his kingdom in order to take up position and exercise his authority as the new king.
To undertake such a mission and to embark upon such a journey would inevitably take time and Jesus’ story places a strong emphasis this. Not only would the time be needed for all the travel involved but also the hanging about waiting for appointments and all the necessary admin would take up time too. And remember travel wasn’t as quick then as it is today – the quickest trip from Jerusalem to Rome would be 20 days for a single journey and could easily take much, much longer.
Jesus was near to Jerusalem and he knew that once there his immediate task was not to reveal the kingdom but to be rejected and to be killed. This rejection and death would not signal however that he had failed in his attempt to establish the kingdom, rather this was the very way by which he would secure it!
Jesus’ death is the equivalent of the nobleman’s departure on his journey to secure his kingdom. Jesus was also to go on a journey – back to his Heavenly Father having received all authority necessary to rule. He was to come again to exercise his rule and he will come again to establish the kingdom and his undisputed kingship over all the earth.
But before the nobleman could leave he had some instructions to give to his servants. He had tasks that he wanted them to carry out while he was away. So he called 10 of his servants and gave to each of them a relatively small sum of money – about three months wages each. The nobleman wanted them to use this money in business, they were to trade with it. When he returned he would hold them to account for what they did with it. And it was only after he had issued these those instructions that the nobleman set off.
A Counter Delegation.
And now we find that this nobleman was not popular amongst the citizens of his country. Now we must be careful not to allow our feelings about democracy colour our judgment here – Jesus did not tell this story with a view to critiquing the prevailing political conditions in the Roman Empire. We will go astray if we automatically feel sympathy with these citizens especially when no reason is given to explain just why the hated the nobleman and why they didn’t want him to rule over them!
These citizens weren’t living in a democracy and couldn’t vote on who they wanted but that didn’t mean they had nothing they could do and we find they did what they could.
They sent a counter delegation after the noblman. This was the option open to people in the Empire, they could plead their case before the same authorities in that same "far country" and hope that their campaign won. In the Roman Empire candidates could be opposed and they were. No, of course there weren’t elections such as we know them but influence has always existed and men have always tried to exert it over those who have power.
Those behind this counter delegation would later be described as the king’s enemies and we can perhaps appreciate something of the dangers that must have been involved for them in opposing their potential future ruler.
Just as this nobleman had those who hated him so also did Jesus. And they hated him without a cause! This one who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him, also had his enemies. They certainly did not want him to rule over them and even objected to the title "King of the Jews" being nailed above his head as he hung dying on a cross.
That this is the case is plainly taught in the Bible but it is something that the Christian always struggles to understand. To the Christian, the one who has put his personal faith and trust in Jesus, it is always a mystery why anyone should want to reject Jesus who is so good, so kind, so strong and so firm. Jesus offers us so much and he does so at his cost not ours and we wonder why anyone should want to reject him.
But there again we know that the god of this world has blinded the mind of the unbeliever to keep him from seeing from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (cf.2Cor.4:4).
In the event the delegation failed in its attempt to frustrate the nobleman who returns now as King to his kingdom. It is now time for the settling of accounts.
The Nobleman and his Servants.
Upon his return the newly crowned king called his servants together to find out how they had got on with his instructions.
The first servant reports that he has managed to turn the one mina he had received into ten as a result of the business trading he had undertaken.
The king’s response is warm:
v.17 "Well done, good servant"
We should perhaps make that a little stronger to bring out the force of what Jesus actually said. It is not a simple "well done" but more of a "splendid!" or "excellent!"
And it is not the size of the profit that is the important thing. What really thrills the king is the faithfulness that this first servant has displayed.
The servant probably knew his Master was not liked by a certain number of his citizens and in what may well have been a somewhat hostile situation he had nevertheless carried out his Master’s instructions with a degree of success.
This servant is about to be rewarded: not only does he have his Master’s approval he is about to receive a reward – he will be promoted! The giving of the money in the first place turns out to have been a test to prove ability and having passed the test he now is raised to a position of real influence and authority. How good his Master was to his faithful servant!
Then the second servant comes in and although he has not succeeded in making such a big profit he too has demonstrated what the Master was looking for – faithful service – and he too is rewarded with promotion according to his abilities.
But the situation is really very different with the next servant who is mentioned in Jesus’ story. He had received the same initial sum of money and the same instructions that he was to use it in business but he had done something totally different with his responsibilities. Called in to give his account to his king he can’t hide the fact that he hasn’t heeded his master’s instructions at all! Not only had he flagrantly disobeyed those instructions he tries to justify his behaviour. In doing so he digs himself into an ever deeper hole as he casts the blame for his failure upon the king himself!
Let’s look at what this servant said:
I didn’t put your money to work but hid it in a handkerchief
I acted like this because I was afraid of you
I was afraid because I think you’re a hard and unjust man
He accuses his master of being completely unreasonable – reaping where he hasn’t sown and picking up what he hadn’t put down: a hard man, an austere or severe man.
Was that really true? Does it fit with the king’s exuberant response to the earlier servants? It would appear that this particular servant did not know his king very well at all and now he is desperately trying to find an excuse for his faithless disobedience. His duplicity is not hidden from his master who is about to bring it into the open so that it can be seen for what it really is!
vv.22-23 "He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’"
If this servant had really believed what he had just said then he would never have taken the risk of doing nothing but would have acted differently. If he feared doing business himself he could have put the money to work by placing it with moneylenders and at least he would have had some return. But no, doing nothing was faithless, disobedient behaviour and it too would have its consequences.
This servant receives no reward but loses even what for a time he had. It was a serious thing to ignore the instructions of his generous master.
I wonder whether you understand what this has to say to us?
Jesus, our king, has left his people each with their own set of gifts and abilities which he expects them to use them while he is away. He doesn’t expect us to keep them hidden away in the disobedience of inactivity. What he expects of us as we live our lives awaiting his return is faithful service that gets on with the business of serving him.
I can’t tell each you individually what that will mean for each of you: but it may involve a change in lifestyle, an abandonment of bad habits and the adoption of new better ones; it may mean going out of your way more often to help another; it may mean deliberately looking for an opportunity of befriending someone with a view to telling them about Jesus; it may mean committing yourself to praying seriously for others and finding out what most needs prayer in their lives; it may mean moving out of your comfort zone when there is some need that must be met and no-one else seems to be stepping up to the plate – perhaps helping in Sunday Club or the HBC in some way; perhaps it will mean putting your hand deeper into your pocket to support the work of the gospel in this church and further afield.
Every Christian is a servant of Jesus Christ and we’ve all received some gift or ability from him – but are we using it?
How will we respond to Jesus when he returns and asks us what we have done with the gifts he has given us? Which answer do you want to hear: the "well done, good servant" or the "you wicked servant"?
The first two servants are evidently believers who act faithfully in carrying out the instructions of their master but the same cannot be said for the other servant: if he is a believer it would appear that he is so in name only for he fails dismally. While it is true that no-one will be saved by their deeds it is also true that Jesus said in another setting that a tree is known by the fruit it bears. What do you think the fruit of faithless disobedience suggests about this servant who doesn’t know his master properly at all?
The King’s Enemies.
There is one final group of people that the King has to deal with before Jesus will bring his story to a close. Earlier we have been told that a group of his citizens hated the nobleman and in fact did everything they could to prevent him becoming king over them. How will they get on as the king returns?
The answer is quite simply they will get on very badly indeed!
They are guilty of high treason and will pay the ultimate price – their lives will be forfeited. In the cultural context of Jesus’ day his hearers would expect to hear nothing else.
But what are we to make of this? We are used to hearing of our king as "gentle Jesus meek and mild" can this section of the parable really have anything to do with him?
And the answer is a sobering "yes".
The citizens who hated and rejected the rule of the nobleman represent the men and women who do not want Jesus in their lives and who do everything they can to keep him influencing them. Some will take part in overt acts of rebellion – they’ll be the ones heading off in the delegation to oppose him, but there will be others equally opposed to him who will wait quietly at home hoping the others will prove successful on their behalf!
You see it is possible to express your hatred of Jesus in more than one way. You can do so as an outright foul-mouthed atheist but you can reject Jesus while looking as though you’re a fine upstanding member of the community.
But the reality is that Jesus will be the judge of all on judgment day. And he can read the human heart. He knows those who love and seek, albeit falteringly, to follow him and his instructions and he knows those who don’t. The Bible teaches us clearly that the eternal future of these two groups is quite distinct: reward and blessing for the one and utter loss and destruction for the other.
It is possible to be lost outside the church as these enemies of Christ but it is sadly possibly to be lost while outwardly attending the church but persisting in living outside of Christ. The good news is that you don’t have to be lost at all – for King Jesus is able and willing to save all those who put their faith in him and live out that faith in their everyday lives.
To God be the Glory!