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REVIEW. Jesus' last week on earth as a mortal man. He is experiencing His last week of human wants and needs, happiness and sorrows, physical and mental pain and hurt. He's had 33 years to feel human emotions as you and I feel, to stumble as you and I stumble when we stub a toe. He's had 33 years to meet temptation head on every day - only He won daily.

He had come to Jerusalem shortly before the Jewish Passover and was greeted with HOSANNAS from the crowds with empty, hungering souls - souls so unaware of their hunger that they will shower praises on this possible source of hope one Sunday and then ignore Him later in the week as their expectations are not seeming to be met. He came in and [1] disrupted the usual business conducted in the temple area before the Passover by overturning the tables of the money changers and those selling animals for the necessary Jewish sacrifices. He [2] threatened the authority and the respectability of the established Jewish religious leaders with His parables of the wicked tenants and the marriage feast where other "less desirable" guests were allowed to feast with the King. He [3] taught His disciples to reject the leadership of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Yet He claims to be "the Son of David" -- "He that comes in the name of the Lord."

The people as a whole begin to lose interest as [1] He doesn't seem prepared to overthrow the Roman occupation of this land given to this nation by God. They lose interest as He spends more time in [2] conflict with the establishment, more time [3] teaching His disciples, and less time [4] tending to the people's physical needs, unaware that He is preparing to heal their spiritual needs as no mere mortal man or animal sacrifice could ever begin to do. They lose interest and return to preparing for the Passover, to preparing for their children's future in this world, to preparing for their retirement years, the next meal. They lose interest in this "would-be Prophet" and go back to their own daily lives where their sins are not forgiven--they are just put on a charge account year after year by sacrificing yet another innocent animal in another meaningless ritual that puts no man in an acceptable state of cleanliness to be in the presence of God. They are unaware that all of their charge accounts of sin are about to be paid in full by this forgotten Prophet who has the SELF WORTH to pay the debt for all mankind.

The people's interest is waning, and Jesus turns His attention to teaching His disciples with more parables. What does He teach them? BE PREPARED. Not for the next meal, your children's future, or your retirement, but be prepared for what really matters. PREPARE YOUR SOUL TO MEET GOD. He spends a brief time preparing them for the fact that their beloved temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed some day, and that false prophets will be coming, but even that won't matter in the long run. What matters is the condition of each man's soul when the Lord requires all to return to Him and to give an account.

In chapter 24 He told them to be prepared and be watchful because no man knows when He will return. Men will be making plans for the physical future, marrying and giving in marriage, when He returns - just to learn that it was all in vain. There will be no more future for physical man. And in case someone didn't understand that, He says it again in the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant at the end of chapter 24. Some will think the master has been delayed--they have plenty of time to beat their fellow servant, to eat and drink with the drunken. But the Master will return when the servant does not expect Him and will punish him.

And just in case some poor soul STILL doesn't understand, in chapter 25 Jesus tells us the Parable of the Ten Virgins - five wise, five not so wise. Five fully prepared and ready to meet the bridegroom at whatever hour He may come, and five only prepared to meet the bridegroom if He should happen to come sooner rather than later. Jesus' message is "My coming may be a LOT later than men may think. You must be prepared to wait for Me throughout the duration of time. If you're gambling with your soul that I'll come when you are expecting Me, and allow a period of unpreparedness in your life, you may lose." If you've thought, "I'll give Christianity a try for a while and see if it helps me in my daily life," you are not prepared. There are no trial memberships in a "Christianity club," and there are substantial penalties for early withdrawal or failure to pay your dues.

In the Parable of the Talents, we have an example of one who failed to pay his dues - not that the one-talent man failed to increase the value of the talent given him, but he failed to pay his dues by not preparing his heart. What was due on the master's return was not just a monetary profit, but a loving SERVANT'S HEART. A heart willing and eager, PREPARED TO SERVE THE MASTER and to please the master.

Servanthood. We've talked a lot about servanthood in our study of Matthew. In this parable all three were servants of the master. All three had the relationship of servant to the master. Verse 16 tells us that the servant who was given five talents went AT ONCE and took care of the matter of trading and increasing the talents given him. We see a sense of urgency in this man to be prepared whenever the master might return. And when the master returns, we see in verse 20 that this servant came first and settled the matter with his master. He seems eager to please the master. When he received his task he took care of it skillfully and immediately and is pleased to return to his master with his results. He hears, "Well done, good and faithful servant..." And likewise for the servant given two talents. They are rewarded for their preparedness and their actions and their loving servants' hearts.

The one-talent servant acts also, but he took the WRONG ACTION. He didn't stuff the talent into his pocket or put it in a drawer and forget it. It took real physical labor to dig a hole and bury that talent. This was a very deliberate act on his part. Did you wonder why he would do that? I think this parable is applicable to many heart conditions. Let's explore some of the possibilities:

  1. IGNORANCE. Perhaps ignorance of not knowing what to do? Was he listening to the Razorback game when the instructions were being given, or fussing with his hair in the bathroom? What earthly matter could have kept him from being properly prepared to receive the proper instructions? Did he think or did someone tell him it was the right thing to do, but didn't check to see? We know some people like that, don't we. They are doing something, thinking they are doing for the Lord, but have failed to receive the proper instructions from His word. They have failed in their preparations by not serving as the Lord has required.

  2. ATTITUDE. Did he bury this talent because of a wrong attitude? Did he have the wrong attitude because he didn't understand his master and what He expects out of His servants? If he doesn't understand his master, it is because he hasn't taken the time and energy to KNOW his master. From the account of his actions later upon his master's return it is clear the servant doesn't really know his master, for he accuses Him of being a hard man, reaping where he does not sow, gathering where he does not winnow. Not knowing his master well causes this servant to misunderstand his master, possibly inflicting a wrong attitude in this servant's heart.

    Could that wrong attitude have been DEFIANCE for only getting one talent instead of multiple talents like his fellow servants. (Defiance--what an American attitude--where we expect everything to be fair and equal.) Instead of being happy and content with being entrusted with one talent, did he begrudge his fellow servants and defy his master's will by burying the one talent. Do you know anyone like this, so envious of what others have been given they squelch what has been given to them? We could talk all day about that one.

  3. OVERPROTECTION. He had only one talent--none to spare. Did he think it would be better to keep it safe than to lose it, or to trade with others like the other servants, for fear of losing everything? Going out with this talent, or going out with this talent to trade it, could possibly result in having no talent. He didn't have any to spare! Do you know people like this? Do you know some who won't go out into the real world to share the gospel with others because they might lose it themselves? Do you know someone who won't or can't lower themselves to mix with sinners because they might lose their own righteousness? Uh-uh. This is God's righteousness we have. No one can take it away from you. You are the only one who can give it up. We are not of this world, but we have to live in this world. We must mix with the others in this world and trade like the five-talent man. We don't trade our righteousness, but we show them how to trade their sins for God's righteousness. We trade our selfishness for God's service. We must not overprotect what is meant to be taken out freely into the world.

  4. MISUNDERSTOOD. Did he misunderstand his master so much that he looked upon this one talent as a burden instead of a blessing? If so, then he had his goal mixed up with his reward like we talked about in chapter 20. Do you remember the good doctor whose goal it was to serve patients and as a reward he received his fee, but the bad doctor had switched the goal and reward and made the fees he received his goal, therefore he HAD to see patients. No one wants to go to that kind of doctor, because they are there only to serve themselves, and the patient becomes a burden that the doctor has to put up with to receive his goal of money. The STRESS becomes unreal and burdensome because one can never make enough money to serve that kind of goal. Was this servant like that? Was his service to his master a burden? Did he return only to receive a reward instead of seeing how else he could serve his master?

    Do you know anyone who sees their service to God as a burden to be endured? If so, they probably have gotten their goal confused with their reward. We in the church tend to perpetuate this confusion when we teach our children, "You want to become a Christian so you can go to heaven." This is not a bad thing to be teaching our young. Most of you in here probably became a Christian either because you wanted to go to heaven or you wanted to avoid the alternative. But, there is a time to grow beyond that reasoning. That is living on the milk of the gospel and not the solid food of maturity (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Some people get through Christianity with heaven as their only goal, because that is as far as they have matured. That may be fine, but from that viewpoint, heaven is a light shining from the end of a long, dark tunnel. This makes the journey along the path dark and burdensome. It makes it hard for others to see the light in a Christian with this kind of tunnel vision. It makes it hard for others to see the joy when one is a slave to this kind of thinking. When heaven is the goal, then one HAS to serve, which makes the serving a burden, robbing the Christian of the joy that can be found in serving. That is replacing the goal with the reward - therefore, you HAVE TO live right and serve. And we end up with trying to earn our salvation by our works instead of receiving the gift of salvation by grace.

What is the correct goal? The correct goal is "To PLEASE and SERVE the wonderful Lord who has provided a means to redeem sinful man to Him." Serve Him with pleasure and with joy and eagerness like the five-talent man. How do you develop this service attitude? By coming closer to understanding the LOVE OF GOD. When you understand the love God has for you, you can't help but respond to that love. (That doesn't mean just being able to sing "Jesus Loves Me.") You respond to that love with a Love for God that is expressed through service to the least of His brethren (verse 40). I don't think the one-talent servant understood the love of his master that the other men enjoyed.

When you have the correct goal, you can't keep yourself from serving. There is no making yourself serve. It's the knowledge that the Lord has done so much for me by redeeming my soul with the blood of His Son that I am just not content unless I am serving this wonderful Master of mine. This goal becomes so natural to you that you're not even aware that you are serving a master, because this is so joyous. And what do you know? Upon His return He has a reward for me in heaven, a reward that I don't deserve and never could earn, but my gracious master is giving it to me anyway. We don't see any hint of that kind of attitude in this one-talent man. Perhaps he had confused his goal with his reward and his talent had become a burden to him instead of the blessing it was meant to be.

God expects something out of each of His servants. It is our duty to find out what He expects from us. Ephesians 2:10 says we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works. So I know good works is something He expects out of a servant who loves Him. Maybe we need to check our attitude. Why are we a servant? Why are we doing these good works?
-- Are we serving to get the reward - therefore we HAVE TO SERVE? What a burden.
-- or Are we striving to please and serve the Master - therefore we get a reward?

With success comes... rest? (That's not until Heaven.) No, more opportunity to serve. Opportunities that should make us happy that the Lord has entrusted them to us.

Make a quick mental note that the one-talent man was not punished for having tried and failed, or having tried and just wasn't the best man for the job. Isn't it fortunate that God doesn't require His servants to be the best servant for each job. If that were so, I'm afraid we would have no preachers, teachers, elders, song leaders. Nothing would get done if we had to wait around for the "best" person for the job to get it done. He doesn't require us to perform our tasks excellently; He provides the excellence. God gives each servant at least one talent. It is up to us whether to be wise and work with that talent or to bury it. Don't worry if it is the best job that can be done by anyone, God will give the increase and make us richer - if not in money, then in blessings and other talents with which to serve.

I think we can conclude that it is better to be rich in talents and wise than to be poor and foolish. Are we flighty, haphazard servants, unprepared to stay the course and unprepared to utilize what God has given us? Do we have the right attitude and relationship with God to know what He expects of us? Are we serving to please God?

Jesus told this parable to His disciples. Did the disciples interpret this Parable of the Talents as "they had best be productive with what their master had entrusted to them"--the message of the Gospel? Eleven of twelve gave and gave and served. They saw to the preparation of others. They didn't bury their talents. They used them with purpose and with urgency. They had a mission to fulfill: tell the world of their Master's love. They showed the people how to serve God by their service. They showed others the way to be great is to humble oneself to providing food, drink, clothing, shelter to others and encouraging visitation to the sick and the imprisoned, so others may know the joy of serving the Lord and thereby inherit the Kingdom prepared for them since the beginning of time. Jesus asked them to give of themselves so others might receive the reward and live in eternal joy.

Does He ask less of you and me? We are to use the talents entrusted to us for His service and to His glory. The alternative is frightening. When we bury our talents we bury the Gospel. We serve no one. We become as selfish as the billy goats. Goats go to the left, and you know where those on the left are headed (Matthew 25:33, 41). Let's prepare ourselves to be used to His glory. If we are prepared to serve, we will be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.

Jeannie Cole

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Ladies Bible Class, Spring 1991

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