Luke 12:41-48 “Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’ The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master I taking a long time in coming,’ and then begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
One problem we have with the religious broadcasting of the BBC is its lack of discrimination. Virtually all the speakers in the early morning ‘Prayer for the Day’ or the slightly longer ‘Thought for the Day’ say ‘we’. The promises and blessings which are described in the Bible as purchased with the blood of Christ, and sealed to every disciple of Christ by the regenerating and indwelling Spirit are made by these broadcasters ‘ours,’ that is, the possession of every single person who happens to be listening to the radio at that moment, atheists, agnostics, scorners, unrepentant, irreligious as well as the true followers of Jesus Christ. What are very rarely mentioned, in fact I have never heard them on the radio, are the warnings of our Lord about unbelief, the need for personal repentance which was his very first message, the dangers of false teachers (wolves in sheep’s clothing) whom he denounced in the Sermon on the Mount, and the reality of the broad road that goes to hell. This religion is, in effect, humanism stealing Christian language for which it has no entitlement. This is what has destroyed the impact of Christianity as salt and light in Wales in the last 150 years, the lack of discrimination and application in public preaching. All those in a congregation are considered to be believers, but many of you know that that is not so. You are not all Christians yet. You are still counting the cost of repentance and following Christ.
So in this comprehensive sermon in the chapter before us our Lord Jesus has come to preach about the end of the world, his return, and our need to live in a state of preparation for that event like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. Everything is to be ready for his coming again. Then Peter interrupts Jesus’ monologue. He puts his hand up, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” (v.41). Peter is perplexed at Jesus’ assumption that the twelve apostles needed a warning to be ready for the appearing of their Master. They had given up everything to follow him. They were his preachers. He could count on them serving him with all their hearts for the next fifty years. Such disciples didn’t need messages of warning. “Be positive, Lord Jesus. Encourage us. We’ll always be there for you.” He wants that to be made clear to Jesus as the apostles are glancing at one another a little concerned, wondering why Jesus is wasting time warning them about being ready. Didn’t he trust them?
Our text is Jesus’ answer. He knew them better than they knew themselves. He knew that one of them was going to sell him in betrayal for 30 pieces of silver to be nailed to a cross and put to death. He knew that another was going to deny any knowledge of him with cursing. He knew that when they saw the soldiers coming they’d all abandon him running off like frightened rabbits. Jesus knew what was in man; it was a desperately deceitful heart, and that true Christian pastoring and preaching consists of a balance of encouragement and warning, of promise and searching, discriminating application of the Bible’s words. The road to heaven is narrow, and it has a ditch on each side. On one side is the ditch of presumption and on the other side is the ditch of despair. But God has set a wall before each ditch to prevent us falling in. Before the ditch of presumption is the wall of the commandments and warnings of God – “Be ye holy as I am holy . . . Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” By keeping God’s commandments and heeding his warnings we are kept from presumption. Before the ditch of despair is the wall of the promises of God that say that whosoever believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. Is your hope of eternal life based on the good works that Jesus did perfectly and not on your own good works which are all imperfect? Are you trusting in him? Have you come to him? He will not cast out any who come to him.
Jesus does not answer Peter’s question as to who the Lord was targeting in his sermon. He doesn’t say, “Of course, you’re O.K. Peter, and John too, and James and Andrew and the rest of you. I didn’t make it clear that these warnings of mine weren’t meant for you but for the curious people who’ve turned up today and want to know how they can get to heaven. I was telling this parable to all of them – not to you Judas or Matthew or Thomas.” Christ never said that; he gave them no false assurance that they were fine. Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Jesus’ response was to tell all of them this story about a number of different personalities. Where did they fit in? Who were they?
i] There is the ‘master’ (v.42), the land-owner of a great plantation, and he stands for God our Creator, the one in whom we all live and move and have our being. Our breath is in his hands. We are made in his image and likeness. He offers to become our Saviour, and is our Judge, the one we’re to answer to for our lives.
ii] Then there is someone else “the faithful and wise manager” (v.42). The master puts this man in charge of the plantation. He has hands-on authority for the successful running of the business, but he doesn’t own the plantation. He merely manages it, and if he forgets that and behaves as if he were the manager he is going to be in a lot of trouble. He is merely the most prominent of the servants. He tells the slaves what they are to do each day, and he gives them their food allowance. This manager stands for me, and for every Christian who has any kind of authority in the church, in the home, in business. Our task is to implement all that the owner expects in his plantation. For example, we may not organize a Woodstock or Glastonbury-type festival on this land, or Sunday car boot sales, or point to point races with bookies and betting. Our Master has made it clear that he would not be in favour of that sort of thing. Replenishing the earth and subduing it, sowing and reaping, watering and weeding, producing an abundance of crops – that is what the Master wants and the manager must see that his wishes are completely respected.
iii] Then, thirdly, there are the slaves and labourers who work the fields, men and women who need constant supervision, exhortation and inspection from the manager. They needed to be rewarded promptly for the work they did by him. They stand for all the people in the professing church, made in God’s image, many of them true believers and some are not.
Then Jesus tells us that the Owner of this land is very interested and involved in what is being done in his plantation even though he can be away from it for some years at a time. He is not a careless absentee landlord. Still, periodically, the Master will return to see how things are going on there. He hopes to find the manager doing all he has asked him to do, and when he finds that this is indeed the case he is delighted. He extends the man’s responsibilities, and he puts him “in charge of all his possessions” (v.44). He might say to his manager, “You see that hill over there? I have long thought of planting the side of it with a large vineyard. I want you to do that for me, and that valley down there, I always considered it was suitable for damming and building a reservoir. I want you to do that. Of course I’ll increase your salary very much for these new responsibilities. You have been faithful in little; I believe you will also be faithful in much.” Just like Pharaoh raised up Joseph and gave him authority over the cornfields of Egypt.
But when the Master investigates another of his plantations he finds the situation to be very different. The manager there has been saying to himself, “‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and then he begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk” (v.45). What will happen when out of the blue the master turns up and discovers violence, intimidation, abuse and drunkenness? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild will show that he can also be angry at such a dissipated life. The Lord says this: “He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows” (vv.46&47). He will cut him in little pieces. He will beat him with many lashes. He will put him in hell with all unbelieving rebels. That is what the Lion of the tribe of Judah says. What is the implication of all this for ourselves? There are two or three things.
1. BEING TRUSTED IS TO TAKE ON RESPONSIBILITY.
God has entrusted you with children. That trust means responsibility. The Master that Jesus refers to in our text was not putting this man in charge of some little allotment for the summer with a few rows of potatoes and kidney beans. It was nothing as trivial as that. This plantation was a vast tract of land with men and women working thousands of acres, and the manager had been given very great responsibility by the owner and was paid accordingly. He had been entrusted with much by the Master. You or your parents have at times handed over something valuable to a friend, to a bank, or to a good family. People do this all the time. They leave the country but they keep a house in the U.K. and they hand it over to a rental agency to look after it and to pick up the rent during the years they are away. Or they might place a child in the home of adopting parents. Or they deposit funds in a bank. Or they tell a sensitive secret to a good friend.
What allows people to hand over a valuable person or an object as costly as a house in this way? How can they take this risk? They do it because they have good reasons for trusting those to whom they give the person or the object. What reasons might they have for such trust? A family I knew who went to live in Tasmania had a house in Aberystwyth and they put it in the hands of a man whom they knew went to church. They asked him to rent it out and collect the rental for them. They lived to regret a broken trust. There were thousands of men and women in New York who entrusted their life’s savings to a man who ripped them off so that they lost everything. What a breakdown of trust! He will end his life in prison and they will scrimp and save for the last years of their lives. He stole everything from them. Many of them were Jews and he was a Jew too. It meant nothing to him. We are to be careful. An adoption agency will study the family who wishes to adopt a child. A homeowner will ask a tenant for references. A teenager will know from experience whether a friend can be trusted with a secret. This week the people of Tunisia have gone out onto the streets in their tens of thousands crying that enough is enough. They have lost any trust they had in the dictators that run their country.
It is a fearful thing for a nation or a civilization to lose trust in people, in politicians, and businessmen, and evangelists, and the police force. Without trust, and reasons to trust, and things handed over in trust, human life becomes terrifying. Corrupt countries are tough places to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ because they are places of distrust. The most valuable thing ever handed over in trust is the knowledge of the Lord and his salvation. We say, “You must believe it because it is true. The third day he rose from the dead, and it is true. He will give rest to those who come to him, and it is true. You can trust what Jesus has done and said” Our message is that God entrusted to Jesus Christ his Son the message that he was to tell the world. The night before Golgotha we find Jesus praying and one of the things he says to his Father is, “I’ve given them your word,” (Jn. 17:14). He hadn’t failed to tell this world exactly what the Creator had given him to teach us. He had kept nothing back though it meant men hated him for saying it and they put him to death, but he didn’t break his trust with his Father, and he expects us to keep the same trust with him. We are to teach men all the things that the Lord has told us. That is how we disciple all nations.
Why should Almighty God trust us to be faithful? There are two reasons:
i] He has given us the Bible. Stick to the Bible. Its message of salvation and how we should live is lucid, The moral teachings of the Bible are the clearest.
ii] He has given us the indwelling Spirit of God. We have free access to an indwelling God and he strengthens us and energizes us to keep faithful.
So we have been given the message of God and given strength to live it out and be faithful to it.
Without this knowledge that Jesus Christ alone gives men, the world is trapped in a maze with no one knowing the way out. Men wander like the Ancient Mariner across endless oceans for ever and ever. Life should not be like that! There must be landmarks! There are the great I AM’s of Christ. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Without the Christian faith entrusted to believing repentant people, men are like reflectors lacking any light source to shine on them. They are at best some decent people. That is not enough. Our calling is to be the light of the world and that is only possible with the light of Christ’s truth shining in us and through us. I was reading this week of the poorest place in Africa, the southern Sudan, where there are certain skilful women who are experts in breeding camels. Each year they take a journey of 500 miles across the desert each leading 50 camels to camel sales. There are no roads and no maps – the women are illiterate. They are guided by the stars and the memorized pattern of the succeeding dunes. They have to reach a water hole each two days, and these water holes can be just one metre square. They take a spare supply of water, enough for one day, and if they go three days without water they are dead. When the clouds cover the stars and the winds move the dunes they are in serious trouble.
Now I am saying that without the words of Jesus Christ that have been entrusted to this world men and women are lost. Who are you? What is the purpose of life? What is man’s chief end? Why do men behave as abominably as they do? What must I do to be saved? How can I inherit eternal life? Who can answer those questions except the Son of God? You are like sailors near the shoreline on a black and stormy night without a rudder or a compass. Where else can you find directions for living as fathers and mothers and preachers and bosses and workmen? You will find them in the words of Christ and his Old Testament prophets and his New Testament apostles. The instructions have been entrusted to us in the Bible.
The Christian message is unspeakably precious. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and Word was God . . . Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest . . . For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . .” That gospel is the most precious thing men can have. What will it profit them to gain the whole world and lose the gospel? The Christian faith is, in fact, a trust. God entrusts the Christian faith to the church, to me particularly to teach and preach it, but to you parents to keep handing it on to your children, and all of you to pass on to your younger brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and friends in whatever sphere of influence you live. It is the message of eternal life, and the forgiveness of all our sins and God has entrusted it to his people to pass on to the world. What are these words of our text telling us? That God is interested in how we are keeping his trust in what he has given us. Of course he is. You preach a false gospel and you grieve the Spirit. Away the Spirit goes! Modernism is supremely a betrayal of trust.
Do you understand the agitation felt by Paul about the church in Galatia that had broken the trust and was preaching another message? The heretics of Galatia were saying that the finished work of Christ and putting all one’s hopes of eternal life in the Lord Jesus’ person and work was not good enough; it was insufficient for salvation and God’s blessing. In addition to such trust every Christian also had to be circumcised and keep Old Covenant ceremonies and food laws and feasts in addition to trusting in Christ. Can you see Paul’s concern? Can you hear it in the opening words of his letter? “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gals. 1:6-9). What responsibility comes from being entrusted with a divinely-created and a divinely-given and a divinely-enabled message!
That message tells us how we should live if we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. We are not to be conformed to this world but transformed by the power of God and his Word, our minds renewed. We are to be clothed in all the armour of God. There is very important word in the New Testament. It is the word ‘therefore.’ You know that great pattern of a number of Paul’s letters. He begins an epistle by explaining the gospel, and having done that with beauty and conviction, he says, ‘therefore’ if this is true for you, if you have received the mercy of God then let’s see the effects of your trust in your daily walk; this is how you should live. Be this sort of father and mother and husband and wife and child, and so on.
You say, “But I still sin as a Christian. I cannot say that my trust in Christ is 100 per cent.” That’s me! If ever I became conscious of real, absolute trust in God, without having trust in anything else, I feel I would be the happiest man on the face of God’s earth. I hope it is true of me that I do so, and I hope it is true of you. Even when we come to trust in the blood of Jesus Christ we carry so much of our own false sufficiency with us. We carry so much of ourselves with us even in prayer. We mix so much of pride and self-confidence with our faith that we are not really trusting as we ought. We are trusting, but not wholly. Not as we ought to, because we carry so much of this self-sufficiency with us.
So I am not saying that when the last day comes Christ will be looking for sinless people and that you have to be free from sin in order to keep the trust. We come to trust in God as sinners. We came to him as sinners and we keep coming to him until our dying day as sinners. But there is a difference between sins in the life of a believer, and sin in an unbeliever’s life. Think of the difference between a cat and a pig. A cat falls into mud and the cat gets out as fast as it can. It goes to the bank and begins a meticulous task of cleaning all of its fur. It is concerned that it is filthy and it will not cease until it is clean. That is a cat. A pig, on the other hand, falls into mud and gladly wallows in it, considering it to be its element. When the Master, the owner of his estate, visits his plantation that is being run by a man who has no thought of the Lord’s eye upon him, or of giving an account to the Lord for his life, then who does he find in charge, a cat or a pig? Does he find a man grieving over his foulness and seeking to purify himself? No. He finds a pig. Here is the perfect description of a pig in the 45th verse; “the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and then begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk.” His behaviour is a total repudiation of the trust his Master placed in him. His life is marked by the old sins, violence and drunkenness. What are you doing with the trust God has given you in the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit that you have received? There is another lesson from this passage.
2. GOOD WORKS ARE THE SIGN OF TRUE FAITH.
You see it in our text; “It will be good for that servant whom the master finds . . .” (v.43), what? Thinking about taking up the responsibilities of being a farm manager? Dreaming about them? Talking about them? Taking a course in them? No, “It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns” (v.43). Jesus is talking about the immense importance of working, practical, diligent, useful Christianity. We hear a great deal about religious people’s intentions, and hopes, and wishes, and feelings, and profession. It doesn’t impress the man in the street. It would be far better if we heard more about people’s practice. “Actions speak louder than words.” It is not the servant who is found wishing and thinking and planning and studying, but the servant who is found ‘doing,’ whom Jesus calls ‘good.’ Faith without works is bogus. It is a great deal better to live a holy and loving life than talking about it and defining it. A lighthouse does not need Saatchi and Saatchi’s advertising agency to draw attention to its shining – it just shines! Let your light shine before men.
When we read the teachings of Christ it doesn’t take long to discover that he wasn’t slow to insist on changed behaviour. He taught that salvation would be by his work on the cross. Of course he said, “The Son of man . . . came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). We do not save ourselves if our zeal no respite knew or our tears for ever flowed all for sin could not atone. Christ must save us, and Christ alone by giving his life as our ransom. But Jesus also said words like these, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). He said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Lk. 6:46-49). He told the disciples, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt. 10:22). He told the Jews of his day, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). These verses teach that a saved person shows he’s in a state of grace by doing good works, and continuing in them until the end of his days.
Not a perfect life but a new life, the life of heaven in the soul of man, that is what God is seeking, not just genuinely changed behaviour and doing good works but that our good works exceed the good works of others. Of course! God the Holy Spirit indwells us, energizes us, motivates us and keeps us. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” means “Unless you who call yourselves Christians, who profess to be justified by faith alone and that God the Son gave his life to die for you and that is all your hope in life and death – unless that shows by living in a way which is utterly superior to the conduct of decent average people who are hoping to save themselves by their sincerity and works, then you will not enter God’s kingdom. You are not really Christians.”
The lesson of these verses is not about justification, but about sanctification; not about faith, but about holiness; the point is not what a man should do to be saved, but what ought a saved man to be doing. The teaching of Scripture is clear and express upon this subject. A saved man ought to be “careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8.) The desire of a true Christian ought to be, to be found ‘doing.’ If we love life, let us seek by God’s help, to be ‘doing’ Christians. This is to be like Christ: He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38.) This is to be like the Apostles: they were men of deeds even more than of words. This is to glorify God: “Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.” (John xv. 8.) This is to be useful to the world: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). He will say to many in that day, “Inasmuch as you served and visited and helped others of my people in my name then you did it unto me. Come you blessed people of mine!” But there is one more lesson.
3. JUDGMENT IS ACCORDING TO KNOWLEDGE.
The more a servant knows about what his master requires, the more serious is his sin when he fails to obey, and the more strictly will he be punished for his defiance. This is what Jesus is saying: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (vv.47&48). Isn’t that repetition of the word ‘much’ in verse 48 – and two such repetitions – graphic? Four ‘muches.’ Given much? Much demanded. Entrusted much? Much asked for. We are being confronted with the sins of omission. What of the honour that servants should give their masters? What of the reverence, and the love that God requires? These have never been rendered to him and there is an infinity of guilt in that fact. That guilt will be pardoned for Christ’s sake if you ask for it.
People sometimes ask whether it would be fair of God condemning people who have never heard the gospel. From what Jesus says here, their punishment will be less severe. The more knowledge we have, the greater our responsibility, and the greater our guilt in failing to live up to what we know, and the more severe our condemnation. The person who has never heard of Christ still possesses a conscience and it rebukes him whenever he abuses and lies and steals. He also has the things of the law written on his heart. He also has the majesty of God in the skies above and earth beneath; the heavens are telling him of the glory of God so that he is without excuse when he does not bow his head and cry to the God of creation and conscience, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and ask for help to please this mighty One, but there is still this condemnation that every man knows more than he practices.
The more you have been given, the greater your responsibility to use it for the glory of God. You have lived in a land where the Christian faith has had influence for over 19 centuries. You have the Bible in your own language. You’ve had gospel preachers. You are surrounded by true Christians. So we have far more responsibility than a member of a tribe in the north west Amazon rain forest of Brazil barely touched with the gospel. Our judgment in the last day will be according to light and opportunities.
Dr. Philip Ryken the president of Wheaton College has said this recently. “If I may be permitted a word of personal testimony, God has used this verse—as much as any other verse in the Bible— to shape my life as a Christian and my calling as a minister of the gospel. My grandmother would give this verse to me when I was a little boy. She would remind me how much I had been given: my family, church, abilities, education, and so forth. Then she would say, ‘To whom much is given, of him shall much be required.’ From time to time, as I thought about what God wanted me to do with my life, I would remember this verse. I would consider how much God had given to me, and how much he would require. In the end, this is one of the main reasons I became a minister. Perhaps you are able to give a similar testimony. Whether or not you came to know Christ at an early age, and whether or not you serve in the church full-time, God has called you into his service and prepared you for that calling. He has provided for your daily needs. He has given you sound spiritual instruction through the preaching of the gospel, through good Christian literature, and through the personal discipleship of godly men and women. How much God has given you! And how much he will require on the day when Jesus comes again! Are you ready to give him that much, or not?” (Philip Graham Ryken, Luke Volume 1, P.&R. Publishing, 2009, pp. 692&693).
16th January 2011 GEOFF THOMAS