“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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A person God turned around many times.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Only one talent and an angry God

This morning my wife and I were reading Matthew over breakfast. I turned to the parable of the talents. The lord of the estate was going away to a far away country. He gave his three servants coins of precious metal—to one five coins, to another two coins, and to a third one coin.
The one who received five precious coins doubled the value. Same with the one who received two precious coins. They rejoiced greatly to report the increase that would please their beloved lord. The lord also expressed his joy and invited them into a long term trust with him.
But the servant who received one coin hid his in the ground. And when asked about his earnings, the servant sounded like he was above his master, even maybe disrespectful, commanding his lord to go out and get the coin that he had buried in the ground.
The servant excused his lack of loyalty to his master as a kind of fear. (Did fear ever make you bury your head in the ground? Fear can make us all do some abnormal things.) He feared his master as a very shrewd businessman who never lost a penny in any of his deals.  He said that his lord always reaped even where he had never planted. Now, that’s a cunning deal maker! (Maybe the lord was friendly to everyone and there was a lot of gift giving! Is that what the kingdom of heaven is about?) The servant didn’t think it was possible to ever meet his lord’s expectations. At least, that’s what the servant said. But, his master saw right through the ruse.
“His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:26-30).
Wow. I’ve had commanding officers, who expected perfection. But, that kind of reaction from the lord seemed to be out of this world. That is what many would expect from Blue Beard or General Patton.
Why would the Saviour represent Himself this way? Justice without any mercy. Why would He libel His own name? Why would He apparently slander His Father’s character? Was this typical of estate owners in that time and culture? In another similar parable, the Master Parabolist made the point equally strong.
“For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?” (Luke 19:21-23).
Except for the weeping and gnashing of teeth and outer darkness, the punishment was as severe. A long future of regret was the reward for not making the lord’s worth grow by leaps and bounds. You wicked and slothful servant! That accusation must have waken up the servant out of his laziness and self-engrossment. He must have known he was doomed. And he was doomed to being cut off from the only good job in that depressed economy. His own mouth judged him. His own heart judged him.
What was Jesus really saying? What was behind such out-of-character statements of His self-revelations? There are probably many other reasons, but here are a few.
1). Jesus was representing His Father on Judgment Day. For whoever is present there, that day will not be pleasurable. Everything will be serious. It will be their day in court. It will be a court martial or captain’s mast. It will be the day of divine retribution.  There will be nothing funny about anything. Eternal punishment will be doled out without any appeal.
“For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act. Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.” (Isa. 28:21,22).
Yes, Judgment Day will be out of character for God. But, everyone who must go through that day of pure justice will do so because they would never accept the offer the great Judge gave the world in His Son. If they had allowed Jesus to be their Judge during their life, and accept His discipline and comfort, He would have saved them from their sins and they wouldn’t have had to be present on Judgment Day.
God is love; and His infinite love drove Him to offer up His own Son in order to be worthy to be our surrogate Judge in God’s place. The cost to the Son and the Father was more than His Father will ever allow again. That offer must be taken advantage of, or there is no other offer. To squander the death of the Prince of heaven is an unpardonable insult. It is as disrespectful as the parable’s servant to his lord.
True, Judgment Day will be a strange act for the God of love. But let us not forget that divine love encompasses more that mercy; it also includes justice. An earlier parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22, another similar outrage was made toward another insolent recipient of outrageous grace. He got a similar sentence, “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Vs. 13). Both refer to Judgment Day and the disposition to expect from God toward all who chose to disgrace the King and His Son.
2). The joy that the lord honestly hoped for and expected from all three of his servants. Another reason to treat the unworthy steward with such anger was because of the lord’s high expectations of happiness when the stewards would experience the approbation from their lord. The lord wanted to tell them all, “Well done!” He wanted all of his servants to receive that joy, and the first two did receive it.
“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matt. 25:21).
And they both heard the identical praise, despite the fact that one gave his master five coins, while the other only two. But because they both doubled their coin, they both received equal praise. With such a fair and loving master their joy overflowed with rejoicing together with their master. Their loyalty, the consideration of their master, their carefulness of his prosperity were what made their lord so happy. And they were partners together with him in his joy.
Therefore, when the lord heard the lowest servant’s insolence to his master’s face, together with the word that he didn’t double his lord’s money, the expectant double joy of the lord was turned into double disappointment. That servant didn’t receive as much as the others. This was because he couldn’t handle any more than he was given. They were all wisely given “to every man according to his several ability.” (Matt. 25:15).
Their lord had experience in each servant’s performance. He knew their skills, their energy, and their wise dealing with the market place. When he gave the first servant five coins, he did so because he knew that was the best servant he had. But, the next servant didn’t complain about receiving only two coins, which equated to being lesser than the best servant. He humbly admitted that his skills, energy, and wisdom were less than the first servant. Putting all that behind him, he went forward to make as much money for his lord as he had the ability to make it. With Paul, he said, “I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13,14). Bending all of his natural ability to the work, he worked as hard and as well as the best servant. As a result, he doubled the money he received. He pleased Christ by his humble willingness, and, through the Spirit, whatsoever he did prospered.
3) Another reason for the lord’s strong outburst was that all the servants needed to hear the judgment from their lord, and after the test of abilities passed. If the one who received the one coin had put all of his mind and will into the work, the one coin he earned which would have doubled his original charge, would have received for him the identical praise as the five coins did for the greatest servant. He would have entered into all the joy of his lord that his fellow servants had entered into. But, his pride and grumbling spirit wouldn't rejoice over such a small achievement. To that servant the praise would sound like shame for not making five more coins. His proud attitude showed that he had never had any joy with his lord, or at some point he had lost it.

The least servant lived in the house. This represented some who are in the church but their heart is not in the kingdom. They only want to show a great work if they are going to get involved in any work at all. His heart was never in anything he did for his lord. And this is why when judged of the least ability at the start, he was only given one coin instead of two or five. His lord knew that he would only continue what he had been already doing ever since he had gotten the job there. But, this test would make it perfectly clear to everyone there the real disloyal mindset of that servant. By his past performance, he had brought on his own destruction.
His lord called him malicious and lazy for good reason, but that judgment upon him couldn’t be given him earlier when he deserved to hear it. This is because the other two servants would not have understood the lord’s condemning judgment call and they would have looked meanly upon the righteous judgment of their lord. The sympathy of the first two servants for the least servant would have turned them against their lord. Thus, the lord would have lost the pure, loyal, conscientious hearts of the first two. Everything would have ended in disarray. The lord would have needlessly suffered, and so would have the two servants. Therefore, it was wise for the lord to delay his judgment on the unprofitable servant until he could put all of his servants to the final test, to reveal who had the golden or dross-filled character.
Probably many people have become offended by God’s apparent abuse of justice, as depicted in this parable. But, the lord’s apparently sudden reversal in attitude toward the derelict servant was not really sudden or over-reaching or passionate. The lord wasn’t bipolar or maniacal. For a while he had been watching and weighing the indolence of the servant. And the whole time before the test, he had been treating the derelict better than he deserved until the lord could reveal his true character when he failed the test of character. That exposure should have brought the derelict to repentance. But, when a person for so long has followed a course, good or bad, he will keep on in that vain. Carelessness and self-justification was ingrained in the servant’s character.
The least servant’s fear outcome was not the fear of disappointing his lord, but the fear that his lord would not have mercy on him if he earned only one extra coin. He had no faith in his lord’s grace. This is the same mindset of many who will stand outside the gates of the New Jerusalem on Judgment Day.
“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Rev. 21:7,8). The fearful are untrusting of Christ. They cannot enter into the joy of the everlasting kingdom.
John also spoke of this fear in his epistle.
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1Jn. 4:16-18).
Christ’s parables in the gospels may appear to work against the gospel of Paul. The parables seem to exalt performance and behavior over rest and faith. But, is this actually the case? The epistle of James also sounded at cross-purposes with Paul’s epistles, so much so that Martin Luther wanted to cut the book of James out of the New Testament. But, if he had, he would have had to blot out Christ’s parables.
I believe that Christ told parables like these in order to balance His message of agape love. Love is not all grace. It must also require truth and justice—accountability. This is the bigger picture of love. Love takes into account mercy to everyone; love gives good treatment to others, not only to self. Love is what Christ’s whole mission illustrated; largely His work was a work of mercy. Therefore , toward the end of His mission here, His parables show accountability. Jesus was our Lord and Saviour, not only a Saviour. He is “a Prince and a Saviour” (Acts 5:31). “Even He shall build the temple of the LORD; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (Zech. 6:13). Jesus was not just a Messiah, but also a Prince—“the Messiah the Prince” (Dan. 9:25). He would be a gracious Priest sitting upon a throne of strong truth. Peace reigns when truth and grace are joined in eternal matrimony. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Ps. 85:10).
“Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever.
Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Most Mighty, with Thy glory and Thy majesty.
And in Thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things.
Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; whereby the people fall under Thee.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” (Ps. 45:2-7).
David understood true love and he understood God’s justice, always blended with mercy while men respond to mercy. The blending of justice and mercy thrilled David’s heart. “A Song of loves. My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the King: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” (vs. 1). And likewise, the Son of David. Only those who recognize the mercy of God can accept His justice; everyone who rejects His justice has never known or had the fullness of His mercy—the joy of their Lord. Jesus never came to be our Saviour only, any more than He came only to be a Deliverer of Israel. Once He freed the children of Israel from Egypt, then He disciplined them so that they could enter their new home without repeating the abominations of the Canaanite tribes. And just as many of the Israelites rejected Moses who demanded accountability from the highest to the lowest, so do many from highest to lowest reject the Bible because of these kinds of parables from Jesus. The New Testament is as full of justice as the Old. But, the mercy of the New shined brighter than the Old because a final 600 years of justice had already disciplined God’s people and made them humble enough to receive the mercy of God without trampling His justice.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isa. 40:1,2).
Just as it took 600 years to overcome rebellion in the heart of the Jews, so it took a whole next generation of the children of Israel to accept responsible freedom, and have a Father that they could truly love. Then they could enter into the land that flowed with milk and honey. It takes time for us also to overcome our offense toward these parables, but once we do we too will enter into the joy of our Lord.


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