16 November 2014

To Live in the Joy of Your Lord

Contrary to the opinion of the Master’s third slave in this Parable, the Lord your God is neither hard nor harsh, but He is very kind and generous, He is merciful and good.

He surely does not reap where He has not sown; nor does He gather where He has not planted; for all things are His from the beginning.  Every good and perfect gift is from the one and only Lord, your God.  He is almighty and has authority over all things, because He alone is the Maker of the heavens and the earth.  There is nothing that is that He has not created out of nothing by the power of His Word; and there is nothing in all of creation that does not depend on Him for its existence.

Far from taking what is not His own (for there is no such thing), He is overwhelmingly generous and gracious in sharing His own things and all the good gifts of His creation with His creatures, with His servants, the children of men, as the Parable clearly portrays.  Although we poor sinners deserve nothing but punishment for our sins, He daily and richly provides us with all that we need and far more, for body and soul, for now and forever, all by fatherly divine goodness and mercy.

His “possessions,” and therefore the “talents” He distributes to His servants, include everything that pertains to this body and life, all that is meant by “daily bread,” as well as the means of grace and all that pertains to the Gospel for the life everlasting of body and soul.

Even the abilities and skills to manage these talents are provided by the Lord, by His grace.  So, then, when He distributes His talents to His servants “according to each one’s abilities,” it is not a question of personal merit, but of the Lord’s divine mercy and gracious providence.  So, too, the abilities that He supplies are perfectly adequate and sufficient for the “talents” that He entrusts to each of His servants, for the offices, stations, and duties He assigns to each one of them.  And in the case of the Gospel with all its good gifts and benefits, it is the Lord who gives the ears to hear, who opens your eyes, your heart, and your mind to perceive and believe the blessings of Christ.

When you understand that everything is the Lord’s — including yourself, all that you are and have, and whatever you are able and given to do — then there is no contest or competing, no envy or jealousy, and neither boastful pride nor paralyzing fear.  There is only a joyful confidence that He has, in His mercy and love, entrusted you with His things, that you might use them to the glory of His Name.  You’re not earning your life with God, but simply living the life He has given you.

But when you suppose the Lord to be demanding, harsh, and unfair, then there is fear and anger and covetousness.  You work where you ought to rest, and you rest when you ought to be working.

To such a person, God is harsh, and so you receive the bitter fruits of your own false belief upon your heart and head.  For the Lord does punish those who are stagnant in spirit; who imagine that He acts arbitrarily; who presume that He will not be just or fair in His dealings with anyone.

The third slave perceives the Master in this way, and so he is afraid.  He is concerned only about guarding and protecting his own neck, and in doing so, ironically, he brings wrath upon himself.

To bury a treasure in the ground is not, in itself, as foolish as it sounds to our modern ears; though I suppose there are still those to be found, even now, who would view a mattress or a hole in the ground as a safer investment than stocks and bonds or banks and credit unions.  For a first century listener, to bury the talent was a safe and prudent way to protect and preserve the Lord’s money.  Yet, it was not the use of the Lord’s possessions that He intends.  The third slave’s actions were reasonable, perhaps even wise, from a worldly standpoint, but they were not according to the real character of his Lord; neither did they make sense according to his own assessment of his Lord!

The first two slaves are faithful in their stewardship, because they live by faith in their Lord.  They know and trust Him rightly.  Thus, they enter into His joy by faith in His Gospel, and they are likewise given a share and a participation in His gracious care and governance of His Kingdom, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden prior to the fall into sin.  They share in His joy and His authority already in their management of His talents; and so shall it also be in the Resurrection.

Although the quantities differ, the faithful slaves are alike in their faithfulness and in their Lord’s praise; their productivity and their rewards are equally proportionate to His gifts.  They are good and righteous by faith in Him, and they are consequently fruitful and productive in good works.

The real contrast here is not between different quantities of wealth and productivity, nor between differing abilities and talents, but between faith and false belief.

The Lord would have you know Him rightly by faith in His Gospel.  He would have you know Him as He is, that He is abounding in steadfast love, and that He withholds no good thing from you.

He would thus have you recognize the greatness of His gifts to you, no matter their appearance in the world.  For the way the sinful world and your own mortal flesh perceive the things of God is not according to His wisdom.  But even in the midst of sin and death, His creation is truly good, and all things are to be received with thanksgiving, to be sanctified by His Word and prayer.

At the same time, He would also teach you to understand how few and how small the good gifts of this body and life actually are, by comparison to the greatness and glory of the age to come.

While you should not despise your place and purpose in this world and what the Lord provides for you here, neither should you cling to it, nor work for it as though your life depended on it.  Rather, be always living in view of the Kingdom of God, which is yours by faith in Christ, your merciful and great High Priest, who is just and good and generous with all His gifts and benefits.

Even now, the foremost “ability” that God has given you is faith in Christ, His Son.  And the first and foremost “talent” or treasure of His Kingdom is the forgiveness of all your sins, which is the fruit of the Cross.  That Talent is then multiplied in your forgiveness of those who trespass against you, just as God in Christ forgives you.  And that is only the beginning!  By faith you are granted the wisdom and knowledge of the Kingdom of God, and as you receive and trust His forgiveness of sins, so do you live in love for your neighbor in that confidence, in accordance with that Gospel.

The Lord would thus have you live by faith in Him, in His Gospel of forgiveness, and by this faith to be fruitful and productive in your own place and position.  To say it simply, He would have you do good works with His good gifts; not to save yourself, but to glorify your Savior and to serve your neighbor in His Name.  Such good works are defined and characterized, not by fear, but by the Wisdom of His Cross, by His mercy and forgiveness and love for you and for all.  In this way, you enter into His joy and share in the good work of His Kingdom, as a servant of Christ Jesus.

Whatever you are and have, whatever it is that you have been given in this body and life, it is a stewardship of the Mysteries of God, each of you within his or her own office and station in life.  That certainly does include your actual use of money and other tangible stuff, but it is more than that.  It is life itself, your body and soul, your heart and mind, your reason and all your senses.  And it therefore entails, not only the way that you save or spend, invest or contribute your finances, but really the entire way that you live in relationship to God and your neighbors.

With this Parable, and in His preaching, even to the close of the age, the Lord Jesus warns you against false belief and unfaithfulness, in order to call you to repentance; so that you should not perish, but have life in Him through His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  The threats to be heard in the fierce conclusion of this and other Parables, are a warning to flee the wrath that is to come against all the sons of disobedience.  So, too, the promise that is heard in the generosity of the Master toward His faithful servants, is encouragement to live by faith in your Lord’s mercy.

For Jesus Himself is the faithful One, who, by the Cross, brings forth the Resurrection.  Indeed, He is faithful in all things.  As in His going to the Cross, so now also in His Ministry of the Gospel, He is faithful to those who have failed and fallen short, whether out of fear or for whatever reason.

You know God rightly in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  In Him you are given to know and understand the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God, and to believe and trust in Him; and to whom such faith is given, much, much more will also then be given.  For the incarnate Son has perfectly fulfilled the Father’s Will in His own flesh and blood.  He has used all His Talents well.

By His faithfulness, He has borne good fruits and multiplied His good gifts for the glory of His Father, and for your benefit.  For God has not destined you for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through this same Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus, by His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead, He has brought you into the Kingdom of His God and Father, to enter into His Joy.  Your Lord thus reaps what He has sown; He gathers what He has planted.

Come, then, blessed of the Father, and share this Feast of Christ your Lord in the joy of His salvation and in the fellowship of all His saints.  With His Body and His Blood He here declares that you are His good and faithful servant, with whom He is well pleased and generous beyond measure.  For it is by the grace and glory of His Gospel that you are well prepared and worthy to receive these good gifts, and to eat and drink with Him in His Kingdom, both now and forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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