Luke 19:11-27 “While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back.” But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, “We don’t want this man to be our king.” He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it . . .” [and on to v.27]
Many commentators on this parable of our Lord helpfully seek to lock it into its historical background by reminding us of what had happened in that country a mere thirty years before Jesus spoke these words. Herod the Great, who had ordered the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem, had died. His son Archelaus was the favourite to follow him, but he had no authority to make himself king, nor could the Jewish people do that. He had to be given that royal title and office by the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. So Archelaus took over from his father immediately and ran the country, but within a year or two he had to make the long journey by boat and land from Israel across the Mediterranean to Italy for his reign to be ratified as king by the Emperor and then for him to be crowned at a coronation in the temple of Apollo.
Archelaus arrived in Rome and there he discovered opposition to his coronation at a number of levels. Some of his family were rival claimants. Also a delegation of Jewish leaders had arrived in the city, having made that long journey, seeking an audience with the Emperor and telling him that Archelaus was unfit to be king. A recent Passover had stirred up Jewish national feelings of deliverance from captivity and so Archelaus had sent his troops in. They had cut down and slaughtered 3,000 worshipers. Who was this man to be their king? Thousands of Jews living in Rome backed the Jerusalem delegation in picketing Caesar Augustus telling him that Archelaus was unfit to rule. So there was a lot of politics and back room discussions and negotiations and promises of cash and attempts at appeasement of opponents. It all took a long time. However, eventually Caesar Augustus allowed the coronation to go ahead. He would keep an eye on the new king and give him opportunity to show that he was worthy of office. Thus, finally Archelaus returned to Jerusalem where he speedily wreaked his vengeance on his opponents for their rebellion and his humiliating delay in being made king. Archelaus had gone away as a mere contender but he had returned as king exercising his royal authority.
This event had been the biggest public scandal over the last thirty years, the death of Herod the Great and the coronation of his wretched successor Archelaus. Now Luke is telling us that King Jesus was on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem. It was very near the feast of the Passover and still liberation feelings were running highest at such times. The old winter palace of the late Archelaus (Herod the younger was now the king) was near the road along which Christ was walking. So one day he gathered his disciples around him and he began to tell them this parable; “‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back.” But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, “We don’t want this man to be our king.” He was made king, however, and returned home’” (vv. 13-15). That is how the story began. You see the parallels with the story of Archelaus.
1. THE NOBLEMAN STANDS FOR THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
The parable of Jesus sounds just like the tangled history of Archelaus being crowned, but in fact Jesus was talking about himself. He was the Son of the High King of heaven who was about to receive a kingdom all his own. He had to come all the way from heaven to earth to establish it, but there were citizens who opposed him, powerful men who said, “We will not have this man reign over us,” and some of them would even put him to death.
There are a number of parallels in this parable, especially the delay in the appearing of the King. Jesus first coming had been two thousand years after Abraham had had the promise of his seed appearing and blessing the nations. In the Garden of Eden was the first divine promise that the Seed of the woman would come and bruise the head of the serpent. Abraham was given the promise that his seed would appear and bless all nations. David was promised that one from his own descendants would reign over the people from Jerusalem. Isaiah prophesied that he would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Malachi told them that the Lord whom they sought would suddenly come to his temple. Zechariah spoke of his coming with all his holy angels. They were all waiting for the Messiah to come, but the centuries rolled by, and there had been no prophets from the end of the Old Testament until the arrival of John and Jesus. Four hundred years. What empty years. Why was heaven silent? When would the Lord appear? When would he set up his rule over the whole world and fill it with his glory? Some of them thought now that John the Baptist had heralded his coming, and with the actual arrival of Jesus then God’s kingdom was going “to appear at once.” And so in this parable King Jesus is addressing that expectation of the birth of immediate glory dawning over the world when he arrived in Jerusalem and announced that he was the King.
2. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS NOBLEMAN STAND FOR THE UNBELIEVING WORLD
They are mentioned in verse 14. They are the people of the world we live in.
So he told them this parable, a man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then come back, but, Jesus tells us, “his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’” (v.14). What had happened thirty years earlier to Herod’s son Archelaus in Rome also was happening to Jesus. The people hated him too. Their leaders bribed witnesses to say that they had heard him blaspheme. They called him an evil man, a drunkard who kept bad company, a liar, a phony. “We will not have this man rule over us,” they said and they planned to put him to death. They said to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar.” His own subjects said that, totally denying he had any claims over them.
3. THE SERVANTS OF THIS NOBLEMAN STAND FOR US CHRISTIANS.
This is the heart of this parable isn’t it? From verse 15 until virtually the end of the parable Jesus is dealing with his servants. What are his servants doing during the time he’s not there to keep an eye on them? They know he’s alive, and that he has given them his word that he is returning, and so how do they behave when he is away?
i] The Commission. It is not that they don’t know what their responsibility is. It is not that each one of them has to invent their own lifestyle and conduct. He has called them to him, “Now, boys, I’m off for a certain time. I can’t say to you how long it will be. My enemies will be plotting against me while I am away but I depend on you. I will spread a table before you in the presence of your enemies. I am going to invest in each of you a certain amount of money.” Notice that it was the same amount, one mina, three months’ wages, say, seven thousand pounds, ($10,000), a considerable lump sum. This parable differs from the parable in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 25) where each servant is given a different sum of money according to his ability. That parable is known as the parable of the talents, but this is a different parable, and its theme is faithfulness and dedication. We all have the same privilege to be adopted into the family of God as his children. We each have the same access to the indwelling God. That is the investment God has made in us: God is our investment – the investment of every single believer without exception. We have the same promises accompanying that investment of his grace which always abounding to us: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” Greater is he that is in the newest Christian; the weakest lamb in the flock of God is greater than the devil lurking in the world, seeking whom he may devour. Every believer has God’s great provision of himself and so is sufficient for every possible challenge, emergency, demand or contingency – whatever comes into his life
We cannot say, “Oh, if only I had the second blessing, the baptism of the Spirit, then I could do things for you.” Hear me! God has given equally to every Christian all that he or she needs to be zealous in the challenge and opportunity for any and every good work that lies before the mere Christian, that the Christian be a complete and mature person. We can never blame our lack of resources for our failures. As we face our responsibilities – man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever then we each have the same provision – the minas that we have been given. Every single one of us has that particular high and holy calling. You know how our vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ is presented to us in different vivid ways in Scripture. For example there are the great ethical conclusions to Paul’s letters, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Cols. 3:17). That is the requirement that God has given to each of us. Or again, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Cols.3:23).
Caring for the children, tidying the house, washing and ironing clothes, driving your car, playing football, watching a TV programme, going to a wedding or a funeral, you do it in the name of Jesus Christ, you work at it with all your heart; it is all done for the Lord. That is the Christian life. Again you remember those great words of Paul to the Corinthians, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Cor.10:31). We are all under such obligations in everything we do. Or again, we are to love God with all our hearts, and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. Or again, we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. These sorts of exhortations are the giving of the mina to us and the Lord telling us to put it to work until he returns. That is how we are to live 24/7 in the physical absence of our King.
We’ve been entrusted with our Lord’s commission to serve him. We have received God the Son into our lives to empower and enable us to put the gospel to work at home and at work, and in every activity we are to show the supremacy of Jesus Christ over our lives, that we are not merely religious, or playing at being Christians, but for us glorifying God in all we do is the most important thing about us. You will never understand disciples unless you know that for them to live is Jesus Christ. There are their labours, six days shalt thou labour, as plumbers and electricians and builders, as lecturers with their scholarship, the educators with their teaching, the lawyer with his justice, the doctor with her medicine, and the artist with his craft. As long as it is done with single-mindedness, with all our might, and with the intention of bringing glory to God, anything and everything we do is an outworking of God’s investment in us while he is away.
How do we do this? It is no secret! None of us can say, “But I didn’t know what to do with the life God had saved and the provision he had given to me.” We grow in our own Christian lives through Sunday worship, through hearing and applying the word preached to us telling us how we should live, and then also by personal repentance, prayer, reading fine Christian books, daily dependence on the Holy Spirit. We do it by trusting God to meet our needs and guide our decisions. We put the gospel to work by being zealous in doing good works, and not giving up when we are weary, being very careful about the little things in life, getting any work done that the church gives us to do, done on time, done humbly, done in a God-honouring way, showing that we are reliable and trustworthy. So we serve the congregation, and we serve people in need, don’t we? Isn’t that the great humanitarian parable Jesus tells of how we serve him by serving his people” We do it by involvement in our local congregation, by being mysteriously influenced by other Christians. Inasmuch as you visited the abandoned, and clothed the naked, and fed the hungry, and paid for the education of Kenyan children, and you went to see men in prison, and you gave encouragement to the broken hearted then you did all that to Jesus Christ. We are showing the love and mercy of Christ to people who are lonely, sick, homeless, grieving, and afraid. So we live our entire lives under this great commission, the investment God has made in us.
ii] The Evaluation. We are told, “Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it” (v.15). Our Lord is someone with expectations. We have been given such a privilege to work for him. He has entrusted something wonderful to us, something that can benefit the whole world and he has given us the energy to do this, not to be crushed by the challenge. Well, how has it been with you? What have you done with it? Think of it, that God himself is one day calling us, one by one, to give an account. The Bible says that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. In other words there is an evaluation of our lives before us. Have we just been saying, “Lord, Lord,” with our lips, when our hearts have actually had other lords? Have we used his name and used our profession of being religious to feather our own nests, and develop a reputation for being ‘great Christians’ – which we don’t deserve at all? Have we in fact been sluggards? Or have we faced up to God’s mighty investment in us when he made us partakers of the divine nature? Have we lived sacrificial lives, caring for a very needy member of the family, doing things for them that other people would find it impossible to believe, and we have done it humbly, never even hinting at what we’ve had to do? We have done it cheerfully, and done it in the name of Christ and for God’s glory. No one saw us doing these things, but in that tremendous Day that lies before the whole world, the Day of Judgment, what was done in secret will be acknowledged by God himself, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” to the delight of angels and men.
So we are told that the first servant was called to give an account; “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities’” (vv.16&17). There were ten people helped by one man, ten lives transformed, ten sinners saved, ten family members strengthened and sent on the right path, ten missionaries prayed for, ten deeds of kindness done each week – “trustworthy in very small matters” – or a tenth of our income used for the cause of Christ. It all began with one private, personal change of heart in which that sinner asked this Saviour for salvation – Keith Underhill giving his heart to the Lord 47 years ago. It was all so humble and inward and secret, but its consequences are enormous. That person took the responsibility of being a servant of God very seriously – well, shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t we all? It was a matter of being trustworthy in small matters of need and service and work day by day. It resulted in tenfold blessing for others. Then there was a similar response from the second servant. His mina had earned five more and his master is again delighted, and he also received a reward commensurate with his labours.
What is this reward? “Take charge of ten cities . . . Take charge of five cities.” What does it mean? It means this, firstly that there is continual assessment of our stewardship during our lifetime, and secondly, that there is the final exam and the final verdict. So just as you students are having to go through continual assessment of your work every Christian is being assessed by God. What you did this last week has been evaluated by God. There were responses to opportunities and needs and humble tasks and duties and you did them with all your might as to the Lord Jesus Christ and for God’s glory. God saw you do them with great approval and as a result he is giving you fresh and extra responsibilities. He is giving you a new position that will give you more scope for the use of the abilities you’ve shown you possess. So you are being upgraded and entrusted with new challenges so that you sometimes feel you are getting out of your depth. You are moving from the demanding to the difficult, and then from the difficult to the impossible, and that is the challenge of the Christian life, and if your life is not like that then it is a very sad life. If you have been given much by way of intelligence, and opportunities for service, and financial support, and good health, and long life, and the support of a loving family and a praying church fellowship, and thus being given much, then much will be required of you! There will be further challenges and demands that will drive you to God for mercy and grace to help you in time of need. All that is in the first stage of the divine continuous assessment.
Then there is the final examination of your entire life which is held on the border of eternity. Jesus speaks of the sufferings of those who live as he describes in the Sermon on the Mount, and the response is hostility from the world: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:11&12). Of course we will all gain the same entry to the same heaven where Christ is all in all. We shall all see his face and all be changed into his image, but there are some believers who will receive greater honour than others, the martyrs, the faithful servants of needy people, the unknown patient sufferers who never complained, who gave God glory for everything that happened to them, even praying for their enemies as they were burned at the stake. J.C.Ryle puts it like this, “Our title to heaven is all of grace. Our degree of glory in heaven will be proportioned to our works,” And all that will be in the heavenly world where there will not be an atom of envy or jealousy or self-pity or any such thing, but we shall be rejoicing that this dear brother or sister’s service has not gone by unnoticed. God has seen it. The angels have seen it. We have seen it, and we all rejoice in the honour that God has heaped upon them. Then for eternity our works will follow us and we glorify God for ever and ever in a new heavens and new earth working there God without any weariness or in the sweat of our brow. Some there will judge the fallen angels that rebelled against God and brought our first parents into grief and have worked to resist the kingdom of God ever since. They will be judged by faithful men and women. “Take charge . . . take charge!” God will say to them, and it will be a real responsibility, with real authority and real free choice to act properly there in eternity. We will not be puppets automatically plucking away at a harp for ever and ever. That is not heaven. There will be endless creativity and opportunity and challenge and choice and excitement and joy for ever and ever.
iii] The Rejection. This takes up the last eight verses of the parable. It is not something to be ignored. It is rather the climax of Jesus’ story. There is a third servant and he too has received blessings from his Master. The Lord has invested in him before going to a distant country. How has he done? We would expect that he had earned just one more but that is not what happened. We read, “Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow” (vv. 20&21). He took the gift from the Master and he did nothing with it. In half a minute it was wrapped up and hidden away. All over! And then he got on with his life. “And more, much more than this,” he could sing, “I did it my way.” But his Master had given him the privilege of working for him and the taste of gospel and spiritual privilege that comes from knowing him as our Lord.
Let me show you this man from the letter to the Hebrews and chapter six: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebs. 6:4-6). What had the Master invested in him? Enlightenment concerning truth and error, right and wrong and the gospel of Christ: a taste of heavenly blessedness: a share of the ministry of the Holy Spirit: a taste of the goodness of the word of God; an experience of the powers of the world to come. The Master had given him all that by the gospel through Christian testimony. What did he do with all he experienced? Absolutely nothing. He filed it away and got on with life as he wanted to live it.
Why did he respond like this? He tells the Lord the reason, “I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow” (v.21). He blames his Master for his failure. He accuses his Lord of being ruthless and inconsiderate, someone who looked for something from nothing. “This business of religion, asking me to work for you and serve you, it was the worst thing that happened to me,” he says. “I met in you a hard, demanding person. I’m a victim. So I am giving back to you exactly what you gave to me. Let’s call it quits. Thanks, but no thanks.”
Aren’t the professing churches full of people like that? They have knowledge of the Bible; they have been enlightened; they have tasted the heavenly gift and have shared in the ministry of the Holy Spirit; they have tasted the word of God coming with power as Ananias and Sapphira experienced it. It moved them with its goodness and the promise of the coming age, and yet they quickly fell away. They found things more pleasing to their flesh and mind. There was no return from all the privileges they knew of hearing the Bible preached with the Holy Ghost sent from heaven.
This man had a false view of the Lord. And that is the problem with the immense decline of Christianity in our day. Churchgoers had a pathetic view of God. For some the Christian God was hard and cruel – “What has he ever done for me?” For others, God was utterly easy going; he was a big fat pussy cat and once in a while you stroked him and said “Pussy, pussy, pussy . . .” It was his job simply to forgive the whole world. They have never known the true and living God, while the god they do know is unattractive, and they have better things to do with their lives than serve him.
So God speaks to this man, “Oh, what are you saying? “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?” (v.22). Then why wasn’t he afraid of provoking so fierce a Lord? Why didn’t he think of putting the money in the highest interest account that he could find? Or why not give it to someone who would make good use of it? What do you call a servant who refuses to do what his Master asked of him, and then slanders his Master? He is a wicked servant. It is not only that positively doing something wicked is condemned. Doing nothing is also wickedness and will be condemned. If you are content to ignore God all your life you are being defiant and rebellious.
What did the Master do? Did he take the mina back and stick it in his pocket? No he gave it to the man who had made ten out of his one, and when there were cries that this was not fair, he said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away” (v.26). You understand? Let me illustrate. The modernist denied the gospel. He did not preach the three ‘R’s because he did not believe them, Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by Christ. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit were all ignored though God had given them to him, he had hidden them away. He had some Bible knowledge and some morality and influence but he did not have the gospel and so Jesus took what little light the modernist had from his church, and so it went into darkness and closed, and the light he’d got was not extinguished. It was given to those who obediently believed and preached all the teaching found in the Bible. They were already growing, and then the Lord sent more in their direction, and they grew some more. He entrusted his faithful preachers with congregations and spiritual maturity and strength – even though they were already being blessed by God – yet they were blessed more.
Look and see what congregations are growing? Where are the families and where are the children who attend church? It is in those congregations who receive and use what the Master has given to them: “Teach them to observe all the things I have given you,” the pulpits who believe what Jesus teaches and take the Scriptures that he says cannot be broken. They are the inheritors of God’s blessing today, in this world as they will be in the world to come. And if the world rejects this gospel and will not have King Jesus to rule over them, then it will experience the truth of the warning, “The wages of sin is death.” Or as he says here far more vividly, “Bring them here and kill them in front of me”? (v.27). The Lord Christ said things like that. Only he could. He alone was willing to be killed that eternal life might be given to all who came to him. Kiss the Son now lest he be angry with you. Use your gifts now for his glory.
26th February 2012 GEOFF THOMAS