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Getting Faithfulness Right

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | July 31, 2011

Selected highlights from this sermon

Have you been faithful with what God has given you? This life is an entrance exam. We’re accountable with what God has given us, and it will be the basis for how much responsibility God will give us in the kingdom.

The way we live now will have consequences in the millennial kingdom and perhaps through all of eternity.

So are you the faithful person who does good, the unfaithful person who does nothing, or the wicked person who does evil?

Today I begin with a question and that is this. Are you living for something that is beyond simply your existence? In other words, do you have something in mind that you are striving for that is so much bigger than you are that it is quite probable and quite correct to say that it is out of this world, that it exists in another sphere because you are living for eternity and not for time? Perhaps you say today, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I have a vocation that I absolutely hate. I hate going to work.” I don’t care what kind of a vocation you are in and what kind of a predicament you may be in, God is calling you to something great, and today we’re going to find out exactly what that is.

The passage of scripture is Luke 19. This is the only parable that Jesus ever told that has a historical basis. When he was telling this parable he was actually using something that the people were acquainted with in those days, a political event that had great repercussions for them that they all would have remembered.

In order for you to have the background I need to remind you that King Herod was a wicked king. Do you remember the Bible says he tried to kill Jesus and he did many other evils? But after Herod died he left his kingdom to three sons, and one of them was named Archelaus, and he was the one who ruled there in Judea. But in order for him to actually be acknowledged as a king he had to go to Rome and speak personally to Caesar Augustus because only Augustus who controlled the world at that time could acknowledge him to be a king and to give approval for his leadership. Well according to Josephus, fifty Jews were so angry that Archelaus would be their king that they went ahead of him to Rome and they gave their reasons why he should not be installed as a king. And when he got there Archelaus didn’t get exactly what he wanted. He did get the kingdom of Judah, but he was never called a king. He died being a king “wannabe.” And when he came back he punished those who were against him severely, killing them, because he was as evil as his father.

Well that’s the background really to today’s parable, but you’ll notice that there is a parallel to Jesus, but of course there are also many dissimilarities. But let’s look at the text itself beginning in Luke 19:11. “And as they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” Now Jesus is in Jericho. The previous story is on Zacchaeus, who was converted there in Jericho. Jesus is about 17 or 18 miles from Jerusalem, and you must realize that in those days the Jews believed that when Messiah came the kingdom would be established. There were all of those verses in the Old Testament about the greatness of God, and that the law would go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and there would be peace and prosperity in the world. They believed that when Messiah came that’s what would happen. The problem was that here they were beginning to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but the kingdom wasn’t being established.

So Jesus told this parable to help them to understand that before he receives the kingdom he has to go away first. He’s talking about the ascension, and that when he comes back it is then that he is going to evaluate his servants, and that’s where the parable begins.

Jesus said in verse 12, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. (So much of that is like Archelaus.) Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities’”

Just that far for a moment. Let’s just look at this parable rather quickly. We’ll go through it to help us to unpack it to understand what Jesus is talking about. First of all, the parable opens with the resources being distributed. Now if you know your Bibles, you’ll be tempted to confuse this parable with another one in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. In Matthew 25 there is an uneven distribution of talents. You have one person having five talents, somebody else three, somebody else one, and then it says, “Each according to his ability.” That’s not what is happening here.

A mina, by the way, was about three months wages. The amount really doesn’t matter for us to understand the point that Jesus is making. But here you have ten servants and each servant gets one mina. Now what could the mina possibly refer to? What is it that all servants of the Lord have in common because this has nothing to do with one’s ability? Abilities are unevenly distributed. Opportunities are unevenly distributed, but in this case everyone gets the same. I believe that the only thing that it can really be is the Gospel itself, which saves us. And that Gospel message is that Jesus died for sinners, and because he died and was raised again, he can become our savior and reconcile us to God. That message (that posit) of the Gospel is given to everyone of God’s servants. In fact, you can’t be a servant unless you understand the Gospel and believe.

It’s interesting that the Apostle Paul frequently uses the phrase, “entrusted with the Gospel.” In the first chapter of First Thessalonians he talks about the fact that “God entrusted me.” By the way, isn’t that a beautiful word? God entrusted me with the Gospel. This king trusted his servants, and he gave them something special - “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to and not of us.” We are entrusted with a message that saved us, but what are we going to do with it? So the resources are distributed and every one of the servants gets the same. Do you realize today that the same Holy Spirit that saved the Apostle Paul is the same one who saved you, who saved D.L. Moody, who saved Billy Graham, who saved the great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon in England whose grave I visited a number of years ago? We are all united in the good news of the Gospel.

But now instructions are given, and the instructions are very clear and what the nobleman said in verse 13 was “Engage in business until I come.” He’s saying, “I’ve given you something and now I want you to do something with what I’ve given you.” Because the whole issue here is one of accountability, God says, “I am going to hold you accountable for what you do with the gift that I gave you. Do something with it so that when I return I’ll get a good return on my investment.” The message isn’t yours. The Bible talks about he Gospel as belonging to God. It is God’s Gospel that he has given to us. The question is what are we going to do with it? So the instructions are clear. Invest it; do business until I return.

Now we get to, first of all, the faithful servants who are rewarded, and I read the text a moment ago. The first came before him (verse 16) saying, “Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.” And he said to him, “Well done, good servant. Because you have been faithful in a very little you’ll have authority over ten cities.” Wow! Here’s a man who actually hears from the lips of Jesus, “Well done.” What beautiful words, and to think that a servant would actually hear them!

But we have two servants in the text. We have one who is faithful and the other not so faithful. The second servant says that “Your mina has made five minas,” and he said, “You are to be over five cities.” We have to pause here. The topic being discussed here in this verse is the judgment seat of Christ. The Bible says in Second Corinthians 5:10, “For we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or bad.” Wow! This is reckoning time. This is not a time that is really unimportant, that you can forget about. This is what you should live for.

Now we don’t understand the ten cities. You know, how many cities are there going to be in the millennial kingdom? How many cities will there be throughout all of eternity? Are we actually going to be ruling these cities? Well, the answer seems to be yes for the faithful. You have one man who receives “Good and faithful” from the lips of Jesus. The other doesn’t. He’s not so faithful but he still gets five cities.

I’ve been talking very quickly. I want to talk to you directly so that you understand from my heart to yours about this. Most people, when they think about rewards at the judgment seat of Christ, think it’s going to be crowns – medallions that we throw at the feet of Jesus and then walk away and forget about how badly we lived on earth. We might be getting those crowns, and we might throw them at the feet of Jesus, but we’re going to have to pick them up again because the Bible says that we are going to rule with him. But not everyone in heaven is going to receive the same reward. Remember this. This is a thorough evaluation. This is very, very serious. Some people will have more responsibility in heaven. It isn’t just the idea of some crown that I throw at the feet of Jesus. No, this has to do with responsibilities in the kingdom.

For those of you who have taken college entrance exams, the reason for those exams is to know where you are to be slotted in terms of what courses you can take. All of life is an entrance exam so God knows how much responsibility to give you in the kingdom. The way you live now will have consequences during the millennial reign and probably throughout all of eternity. Wow!

Jesus said, “He who overcomes, to him I shall grant to sit with me on my throne even as I overcame and sat with my father on his throne.” I read this and I say, “How disproportionate.” I mean the person who used his mina to get ten minas, that was great. That’s a thousand percent, isn’t it? I’m just doing that in my head as I’m moving along. You remember that I always say that when it comes to arithmetic, as long as I am right ninety percent of the time, who cares about the other five percent. (laughter) A thousand percent! That’s great! But does he really deserve ruling over ten cities? Of course not! Oh God is so generous when he rewards faithfulness, it boggles the mind.

Well, that’s the faithful servants, but we’re not at the end of the story, and now the story becomes even more sobering because there is one servant who isn’t faithful. You’ll notice it says in verse 19, “You are to be over five cities.” But verse 20 says, “Another came saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid way in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Okay, I understand. You’ve got some bitterness and fear so I’m going to excuse you.’” If that’s what your translation says you are reading from the reversed vision. He says in verse 22, “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? (Is that your opinion of me?) Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?”

This takes our breath away. Let me make a couple of comments. First, the man was filled with fear. He said, “You know, God, you are very austere. You are very unknowable. You are very judgmental, and so I was afraid and I accepted this mina (I accepted the Gospel) but I kept it wrapped up and because I am so full of fear about you I decided to play it safe. I was willing to take any kind of risk at all for the purpose of the Gospel. I only played that which was safe, that which was close to the vest, as the saying goes. And then, not only was he fearful, but the bottom line, of course, was that he was very faithless. The reason, you see, he took the Gospel for himself, hid it in a handkerchief, and never shared it, was because he did not have confidence that the Gospel had the ability to multiply itself. He didn’t believe that if the Gospel were shared and if he got involved in propagating the Gospel that it would have an eternal impact, so he was content to have the Gospel be something that he enjoyed and benefited from, but he himself was not going to do anything to advance it. No interest in the bank!

And I think there’s something else going on in the text. I thought of it this morning. I think he’s angry. I mean these are the words of somebody who is angry, and when you have somebody who is angry with God, angry with the Church, angry because of the way in which their money has been spent, what do they do? They say to themselves, “You’ll never get anything out of me. I may be here to lick up a blessing for myself, but I’m not going to lift a finger to bless anybody else.” Oh, bitter people are oftentimes very stingy and angry people, and they take the mina and they’re glad for it but they don’t share it.

The rest of the story is not heart-warming at all. You’ll notice that Jesus did not look upon this and say, “Well, I’m going to excuse you because you had a hard background.” Instead he says, “Why didn’t you put my money in the bank? If you thought that I was so austere and so angry, you should have been working hard to please me. That didn’t give you an excuse not to do anything.” And then you’ll notice Jesus said to those who stood by (in verse 24), “Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.” And they say exactly what we would say. “Lord, he already has ten.” Why give it to the man who has ten already? Why should he have eleven? And Jesus said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” And then he says the most solemn words of all. “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.”

You know this is the meek and mild Jesus. I am so amused when sometimes on the news they say, “Well didn’t Jesus just preach love?” Yes, he preached love and died to demonstrate it, but he’s also the Jesus of great judgment.

Now what I’d like to do is to bring this down to where you and I live because I intend that you life be changed because you are hearing God’s word. Our lives should always be changed when we hear God’s word. And a sobering word like this from the lips of Jesus should not escape us at all. Let me make a couple of comments.

First of all, we’re accountable for what we do with the Gospel. Did God’s Gospel save you? I realize today that most of you I’m sure are saved. Many of you are not. But for the moment I’m talking to those of you who are and you know it because of your faith in Christ. Did you know that you are going to be held accountable? Did you know that you are going to come into the presence of Jesus and Jesus is going to say, “What did you do with my Gospel that saved you?” How do we invest in the Gospel so that we are not embarrassed at his return?

First of all what we need to do is to share the Gospel. How can you explain a man or a woman, saved by Jesus for all of eternity, working with people perhaps in a business, and the person next to them year after year does not even know that he or she is a Christian because they keep that Gospel wrapped in that handkerchief as they hide it under a bushel and make sure that no one sees it because they are ashamed? But that’s not the real reason. Did you know why people don’t witness for Christ? No matter how much he does for us, it is so difficult to get Christians to speak about him. You say, “Well, it’s because they don’t know how.” Listen, there are tons of courses out there on how to witness, and it’s so easy. You can give them a book and say, “Read this book and I’ll talk to you about it in two week’s time.” Not to put too fine a point on it but one book you might like to use is One Minute After you Die. That would be a wonderful book to give to somebody and then say, “I’ll talk to you about this in two weeks.”

That’s not the real reason. We’ve got methodology coming out of our ears. The real reason that people do not share the faith is because they themselves are not walking in spiritual victory and therefore, they say to themselves, “Who am I to commend Jesus to someone when obviously I’m not walking in fellowship with him at all?” You see, that’s really the reason, and that’s why evangelism happens when the Holy Spirit helps us clean up our lives. It is then that we begin to share the good news.

Many Christians are like a cup half filled, trying desperately to spill over, but they have nothing to give to others because their own cup is only half full. We should share the Gospel.

Also we can invest in the Gospel by supporting the Gospel. We support the Gospel. Our children’s ministry here at the Moody Church is maxed out. It’s not only maxed out in terms of VBS, though I want to say a word about that, but it’s maxed out for other reasons, because it has been entirely too successful. And we need workers. I’m going to say a word now to Moody Church. I realize that this message eventually goes to all kinds of churches over the radio and other means (by the Internet) all over the world, so you can apply this to your own church, but I’m going to speak to the people at Moody Church just for a moment.

When you invest (when you contribute) to the ministry of Moody Church financially (when you make that contribution), you are actually extending the Gospel. You are investing in the Gospel so that young people can go to camp, so that our children’s ministry can be strong and healthy because, you see, those of us who work with the budget always say to ourselves, “This ministry is expanding but we don’t have enough money for it.” What we’re interested in is not paying the bills and keeping the lights on and the floors swept. All that is because of a much greater reason, namely the extension and the investment of the Gospel around the world. That’s what it is that we are committed to here in this church (applause) because someday Jesus is going to say, “What did you do with the Gospel that saved you? Did you share it? Did you help extend it?”

When you volunteer as a children’s worker at great sacrifice, when you volunteer as a car parker, or an usher, or all of the other ministries (we publish a booklet a couple times a year with all the opportunities), what you are really doing is you are investing in the Gospel, and what an investment it is because we are accountable.

There is a second lesson that we must realize, and that is that we are not rewarded equally. Now when it comes to interpreting parables we have to be very careful that we shouldn’t necessarily draw a lot of lessons from the parable because parables have one point, and this point is that Jesus is going away and will hold all of his servants accountable. But I tend to think that this servant who had nothing to show for himself was a Christian.

Now I woke up this morning at 3:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I hope that I am awake this morning. I think I am. I don’t want to be like that preacher who dreamed he was preaching, and then woke up and found out he was. (laughter) But lying there in bed, like Velcro affixed to my soul, I thought of the words of Jesus to this servant. “You wicked slave,” and I wondered if Jesus would ever speak to one of his own that way. Wow! You say, “Well, no, of course he wouldn’t because Calvary covers it all,” and “There is no therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” All that is blessedly true but the fact that we are redeemed and clothed in Christ’s righteousness does not mean that God will not review our lives. This is so clear from Scripture.

Jesus said in Revelation 22, “Behold I come quickly and my reward is with me to reward each person according to what he has done.” Wow! Now of course, throughout all of eternity those who do well and those who don’t do well will all be one. It’s something like a chandelier. Some lights burn brighter than others, and all of them are giving glory to God. But I’m talking to you today about something very, very serious because you and I, as believers, will stand before Christ, and he will ask you what you did with the Gospel. Did you advance it? Did you contribute toward it? Did you volunteer for it? Did you share it?

When you give to the ministry of Moody Church you are also giving to missions, and you’ll notice on our envelope there’s a special category for that, and missions giving happens to be down. And I know that these are difficult financial times, but at the end of the day, what we’re interested in doing here as a church and as a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ, is extending the Gospel. And each of our missionaries are doing that in different parts of the world, and we’re saying that we will stand with them because we are committed to its advance and its investment because someday we’re going to explain it all to Jesus, and it’ll all be very clear. This ought to be very sobering.

So we’re not all rewarded equally. Yes, Calvary covers it all, but the question is what are we doing with the gift Calvary offers.

There’s a final lesson, and that is that if you reject the king, you don’t get into the kingdom. I read the verse a moment ago that should send chills up our back. Verse 27 says, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” It’s Jesus who judges.

In this parable you have three different people. You have the faithful person who does good. And you have the unfaithful person who does nothing. He’s content with having his mina wrapped in his own handkerchief, all kept to himself, uninvolved in the proclamation and the extension and the investment of the Gospel. So you have somebody who does good. You have somebody who does nothing, and then you have the wicked that do evil. There are three categories in this parable.

Now I need to explain that for many of you who are on a spiritual journey and you’ve never come to saving faith in Christ, saving faith in Christ and becoming a member of the kingdom is not something that happens because you were baptized. It’s not something that you grow into. It is a personal decision to stop trusting yourself and to trust Christ alone for your eternal soul and your eternity. And once you have that you have your mina. That is to say that you get the free gift of the Gospel, and that gift is free. But then we have the responsibility of living it out.

You know Jesus told parables and I began this message by talking about the fact that Jesus wants us to live meaningful lives. Some of you who are in very difficult circumstances say, “How can I do that?” Well, you can pray for the extension of the Gospel. You can pray for the ministry of Moody Church. You can pray for missionaries. You can pray, but everyone is involved in extending the Gospel. We all get the same gift. What are we doing with it?

There’s a parable Jesus told that I’m not going to be speaking about in the series, and that is Jesus said two people went into a temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and he prayed and said, “Oh God, I thank you that I am not like other people. I’m a good person. I don’t commit adultery. I tithe and I fast.” Remember that story? Jesus said next to him there was a publican and this publican was kind of like a tax gatherer and on the outskirts of society, and he never even looked up. You know, when we sing the song, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and it says that the eye of sinful man thy glory cannot see, I don’t know about you, but I am deeply convicted. I can’t even look up. But he wouldn’t look up to heaven. He simply said, “God, be merciful to me the sinner,” and Jesus said, “Which one went home justified?” Well, it’s not the one who said, “I don’t need the Gospel; I don’t need justification because I’m good enough.” It’s the man who saw his need and responded in simple faith. That’s the beginning point, and then once you enter the kingdom, you’re going to have accountability, and all of us will give an account for what we did with God’s most precious gift, his son – the good news of the Gospel.

Let us pray.

Our Father, we want to thank you today for the great opportunities that you give us, and they are many, but Lord, we sometimes hold back. We ask this morning that you’ll help us as you’ve spoken to us about areas of ministry and involvement. Help us to know that we’ll give an account, and help those who have never trusted Christ as savior to see his beauty and his saviorhood. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.

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