24th Sunday after Trinity November 10, 2002
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
398, 400, 402, 401
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the love of God the Father fill you with wonder, may the sacrifice of the Son fill you with gratitude, and may the gifts of the Holy Ghost fill you with faith and zeal. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Picture in your mind’s eye a series of five small circles drawn one above another on a piece of paper. You have to fill in one circle to represent yourself. Which one would you pick? Now, in the same way, imagine the pictures of five animals lined up in the same way on the page. They are, from top to bottom, a lion, a dog, a cat, a chicken, and a snake. You have to again pick one animal to represent yourself. Which would you choose?
This is a simple exercise used to illustrate a point. If you really did carry out the exercise above, the odds are very good that you represented yourself as neither the top circle nor the bottom circle, but one of the other three circles. Of the animals, almost no one picks the snake or the chicken to represent himself, and very few choose the lion. Most are dogs or cats.
The point is that this is how the vast majority of us have learned to look at ourselves spiritually—neither at the top nor at the bottom, but somewhere between the two. In spiritual as well as in secular matters, our level of pride or self-love tends to manifest itself between the two extremes. That is, we demonstrate our pride in how close below the very top we deserve to be placed, or (stated in opposite terms) how far from the bottom.
The question remains: Is our view of ourselves accurate? If not, is this just a bit of rather harmless vanity or naïveté on our part or does it represent some real and present spiritual danger? To answer this question I ask you to keep this test in mind as you read our text for today. When you have finished reading the text, ask yourself with which of the servants mentioned in our text you would associate yourself. Your answer will serve as something of a spiritual mirror. Our text is found in Luke’s Gospel, the 19th Chapter:
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’ And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”
Here end the very words of God. These are God’s words! May we always treasure them accordingly. To this end we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
So which servant are you? Interesting that most Christians see themselves as neither at the top nor at the bottom, but as something of a “five mina man.” In fact most of us would like to see another couple of choices. If only there were a three, two, or one mina servant that’s where we would feel most comfortable. Is there anything wrong with that sort of mentality? We will delve further into our text for answers and insight.
Our parable begins: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.” The “nobleman” in this parable is Jesus—Royal King of David’s line. The “far country” is heaven. There we know that Jesus, following His Ascension, received “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:19). The day Jesus promised to return from heaven is Judgment Day. The “ten slaves” He called-in before he left are the believers. To each of the slaves, or disciples, he gave one “mina.” One mina was roughly equal to 100 days’ wages for the average laborer. The “mina” in the parable represents the Word of God.
Upon leaving earth, the Nobleman gave the Word of God to his followers and told them simply, “Do business till I come.” (Literally, “Do business while I am returning.”) The literal words of Jesus’ command are recorded in Matthew 28: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus’ instructions could not have been clearer. No matter how long He was absent, his servants were supposed to “do business” with the Word of God that had been entrusted to them. Notice that unlike the Parable of the Talents, no one was given a greater or lesser amount in this parable. Each one of us has been given the same gift, in full. That means that each one of us possesses all that is required to carry out the work of our God. Having brought each of us to saving faith through the gospel, our Master sees each one of us as fully equipped to use the Word of God for calling sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
What happened in our parable? One slave returned the mina with ten others. Another returned his original mina with five others. A third sullenly returned only the original mina.
The “Ten Mina Man” is an example of excellence. Here we bring to mind pictures of Peter, Paul, Luther and the like—Christians who “poured themselves out like drink offerings” (2 Timothy 4:6) for the Lord. In fact, we would find this text to be rather depressing if we did not also read about the servant who returned only five extra minas. Who could be a Paul or a Peter or a Martin Luther? Who could hope to see a harvest of souls like Paul and Peter enjoyed? And yet we read that the slave returning only five additional minas also received the same “well done” from the Master.
Clearly we see that it is the faithful use of the gift of the Word of God that is important to our Savior. The numeric growth is His realm. So also Paul tells us, “It is required that a steward be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2)—not necessarily that he be numerically successful.
Note well several facts here. First of all, understand that our salvation has nothing whatsoever to do with how well we carry out Christ’s Great Commission. Salvation was given to us freely as a gift from God the Holy Spirit. We do not earn Life by our service. Salvation is ours because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins upon the cross. In fact we cannot even begin to serve our God until we have been given this gift of Life Eternal. Whatever blessing God has in mind for those who make excellent use of that Word while on earth is up to God. We leave that to Him without so much as speculating what He might intend. Remember that the parable refers to us as servants, or, more accurately, as slaves. What rights do slaves earn for doing what is expected? None whatsoever. The Bible tells us that even when we have done everything that is asked of us, still we must bow our heads and admit, “We are humble slaves. We have done only our duty” (Luke 17:10).
Only rejection of Christ as Lord and King will damn us. Those who reject Jesus’ rulership in the hearts are those who will be “slain” at his return. They will experience no mercy whatsoever. Some who call themselves Bible experts do not believe that these words came from Jesus. They do not believe that he could be so cold and harsh. Learn instead from these words a lesson about justice—God’s justice. There will be no mercy whatsoever for those who reject Jesus. None.
Without faith, Judgment Day will bring only death and destruction. The cold hard fact is that God the Father has demonstrated His divine mercy over against sin in connection with Christ Jesus—and only in connection with Jesus. There are not several different options open to mankind. All sin was placed on Jesus. When a sinner is brought by the Holy Spirit to believe and trust this truth, he is assured of God’s mercy and Everlasting Life in his presence. The Bible holds out no hope whatsoever for those who reject Jesus. Sinners who reject God’s Son can expect no mercy from the Father on the Last Day.
It is on the third servant in particular where we now focus our attention. Here is the truly sobering section of this parable. Here is the mirror where each of us sees a good bit of his own reflection. Here is the bright clear light of God’s Word we dare not hesitate to shine into the dark corners of our hearts.
There is little doubt that the third servant thought all along that he was doing the right thing with what he had been given—or at least the acceptable thing if not the best thing. It was this slave who simply kept God’s gift hidden away for himself.
Use this fact to examine your own heart. How much am I like that servant? Do I do much the same thing? Evaluate your religion and the role that it plays in your life. Why did we, for example, build our church? Was it only for our own benefit and for the benefit of those who were already one with us in the faith? Was this church—is this church—offensive or defensive in nature? The Word of God does indeed have a defensive aspect to it; that is, it does and is supposed to serve as our shield and fortress so that we do not fall away. So also this church is to serve to strengthen the faith of her members.
The Word of God is also intended to train workers for service in God’s fields. Note well the aggressive, offensive nature of the mission we were given in the Great Commission: “Go! and make disciples…” Again Mark records Jesus as saying, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Will we be damned for failing to use the Word as an offensive weapon against the Kingdom of Darkness? We know full well that it is only unbelief—rejection—that condemns us. The next verse in Mark 16 tells us plainly enough that “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Yet, what a thankless disgrace and shame to fail to use the Word we have been given to rescue fellow sinners from eternal death in hell. What a shame to keep that Word to ourselves, what a waste!
How do we hide the Word? How do we waste it, as did the third servant in our text? We do so by building church walls and cowering behind them. We do so by adapting our language, conduct, and lifestyle to blend in with the world around us. We do so by remaining silent when others claim that one religion is as good an another, or when friends or family are in need of correction and guidance and we offer none. On the other hand, putting the Word of God to good use amounts to simply sowing the seeds of Law and Gospel whenever we have opportunity.
We cannot bring one soul to saving faith—that is the realm of the Holy Spirit alone. The power to convert, the only power to convert, lies with the Holy Spirit working through his Word. The slaves in our text put it rightly when they said not “Here is your mina and I have earned ten (or five) more.” Rather they said, “Master, your mina has earned…” The Word alone has such power. The slave was faithful only in that he brought the Word to bear whenever and wherever he could.
So then, dear Christians, as we approach the end of another Church Year, look forward with renewed enthusiasm to the Lord’s return. But while you look, make good use of the trust you have been given. “Work while it is day, before night comes, when no man can work” (cf. John 9:4). May we love our Lord Jesus so much that we could not even imagine hiding his precious saving Words of Life from those who are dying all around us.
Now is the time. Today is the moment. From this moment on it is our privilege and calling to spread the Word of God as our Lord intended, to tell as many as will hear that the debt of our sin has been paid by Jesus Christ, and that there is now no condemnation for those who believe in him. God forbid that we waste one moment of our precious time of grace on earth, one opportunity to sow the seed of this life-giving Word. Every single soul lost is a tragic waste. Our Lord Jesus shed his precious blood for all. Let not one be lost for our lack of service! For the sake of Jesus Christ, and the souls he came to rescue, we pray. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.