The Wise and Faithful Servant: A Meditation

We’re continuing a study on the parables of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Luke and once again, last week it was my turn to teach a lesson on Luke 12:35-48, which is a short passage, but a surprisingly challenging one!  Depending on your version of the Bible, you might have a heading before this section that reads “You Must Be Ready” (or something similar) or maybe one that says “The Faithful Servant & the Evil Servant”.   So let’s jump right in and study this passage….

Luke 12:35-48“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, 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 does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Now, this is an interesting passage because there’s a lot going on here and we’re going to dive into it in a few minutes and talk about the cast of characters and what they represent, but first I’d like to make a couple observations and lay out a plan for how we’re going to unpack this parable.

First, the plan…

If you look at your outline, we’re first going to give some context to this parable.  Any time you study a part of the scriptures, it’s important to understand where it fits into the broader story of the Bible and specifically what the writer – in this case Luke – intended to communicate to his audience.  Many people quote bible passages out of context and read meanings into them that aren’t in the original text, so to be faithful to the teachings of scripture, we must understand biblical context.

From that point, we can build a bridge through time from Galilee to Birmingham and draw out applications of the teachings of the bible to our own lives.

Then we’re going to work our way through these 3 individual but related teachings of Jesus and talk about what they have to do with us.  They are:

  1. The story of the Servants and their Master
  2. A tale of the Master and a Thief
  3. How it went with the Master and his Servants

Now, what do all these stories have in common?  Yes, they all have a Master.  But one of these Masters is not like the others…  However, we’ll have to wait a few minutes to see what Jesus was up to here!

The Context

Let’s suppose you’re pretty familiar with the 4 gospels – that’s the first 4 books of the New Testament.  If so, when you read this passage, there are a few peculiarities that will kind of jump out at you, which if you’re not familiar with the Bible or haven’t encountered these passages in a while, you might miss altogether.

So then, let’s play a little BIBLE TRIVIA, why don’t we…  Let’s back up a few verses to Luke 12:22&23

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

Where have you heard this before?  I won’t keep you guessing on this if you don’t know the answer… How about the The Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 7:25?

This parable – or teaching – is also found in the gospels of Matthew (chapter 24:36-51) where it is as extensive as it is in Luke & in Mark (chapter 13:32-37) where it is much abbreviated.  Now this is a harder question for bible trivia… what are these 2 chapters of these respective gospels dealing with?  For that one, you’ll have to go read them.  But I’ll give you some hints…

These chapters both begin with the same question and then proceed to give an answer, as recorded from two different perspectives.  Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:3 record essentially the same question:

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus then goes on to predict the destruction of Jerusalem and then the end times.  That’s right, this is the Olivet Discourse.  Jesus then wraps up these prophecies with the injunction to “stay awake” and “be ready” and tells this story.  

Here’s a picture of the Mount of Olives where Jesus gave this sermon.

And here’s what the listeners may have seen when looking back toward Jerusalem…

This tells us that Jesus is using this story to illustrate how we are to prepare for the Second Coming of the Lord.  This is an End Times parable (sounds rather exciting doesn’t it?)

So, what do we know about the End Times?

Well, Acts 2 teaches us that the Last Days started out in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

Acts 2:14-21 says “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.  And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'”

1 Corinthians 10:6-13 says that the end of the ages has come upon us.  

“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”

2 Timothy 3:1-5 gives additional information about the evidence of the last days.

 “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

Sound familiar?  Hebrews 1:2 says tells us:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

There’s a lot that is confusing about the “Last Days,” but one thing that we can rest assured in… we are in them now!

Interestingly enough, in both of the alternate accounts of this parable, Jesus is in Jerusalem and it is during the Passion Week that he delivers this teaching as the conclusion of his end times talk.  So I find it very interesting that Luke chooses to place this parable here in Luke 12 which is before Jesus even arrives in Jerusalem.  If fact, at this point in Luke, he’s in the middle of his journey there.  And furthermore, Luke seems to be mixing up a few of Jesus’ teachings – the Sermon on the Mount, the Olivet Discourse – so what’s up with that?

Why do you suppose Luke choose to place this teaching here, instead of, say, chapter 21 where he talks about the destruction of the temple? (This is kind of a trick question, because he actually does talk about this in chapter 21)

I think this is for a couple reasons:

  1. In the accounts in Matthew & Mark, we sort of overhear this teaching in the context of Jesus answering a question that the disciples came to him privately to ask.  While this teaching is indeed directed toward the 12 disciples and by implication to leaders and teachers of the church, it also has general applicability to all Christians and I think that’s part of why Luke placed it here.
  2. It is evident that Jesus’ teachings were not isolated events, but were part regular teachings to his followers.  Remember that Jesus spent 3 years travelling around Judea and teaching his disciples, so is it reasonable to think that he went over these concepts many times?

 

I once heard a wise pastor say that preaching is only 10% teaching us something new and 90% reminding us of things that we already know.

So, here’s a couple questions for reflection…  If we’re in the LAST DAYS as the bible clearly teaches us, do you really expect the Lord to return soon?  Do you live your life with a sense of urgency about spiritual matters?  What would you do if you learned that you only had 1 week to live?  How does that change if you knew you had 1 year to live?  Or 5 years?

Now let’s jump into the first part of this passage with…

Lesson 1: The story of the Servants and their Master

Luke 21:35-3835 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!”

Here we have 2 characters:

  • The Master
  • The Servants

Who is this master and what’s unusual about him?  This “Indiscreet Master” comes in from his own wedding feast and… wait for it… actually dresses himself as a servant and goes and prepares a meal for his servants and dines with them.  Now this is something even we westerners can grasp a bit.  What master is there that waits on his subjects?  There’s not one.  Masters don’t serve servants, it’s the other way around!  Servants server masters.  Especially in a culture that is based on degrees of HONOR and SHAME, like the ancient middle east, no master condescends to serve their servants.

This, of course, points to Jesus, the master who did.

John 13:1-8Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

This also reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son, a familiar passage from Luke 15:11-32. This is a familiar story to many and if it’s not, I commend it to you for study.  But in this passage, the father, when he sees the his prodigal son making his way back home, he ran to him and embraced him and kissed him.  Now this is something that we westerners don’t get quite so well.  But a well to do father in ancient Israel would never run to a son that has shamed him.  It would be disgraceful, undignified… shameful.  It just wouldn’t happen.  Jesus is using this to illustrate the point about the Father’s relentless love.

The other thing that stands out in this episode is how the Master comes to the door of his own house and knocks.  Can you think of any other times where the scriptures tell us that Jesus comes and knocks on a door and then eats a meal with his people?  Hmmm…

Revelation 3:14-22 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”

Wait a minute, I thought this was a verse about evangelism… No.  Actually, this is a passage of warning to a lukewarm church to be ready and prepared for the coming of the Lord.

Jesus then makes a subtle shift in his analogy…

Lesson 2: A tale of the Master and a Thief

Luke 21:39-40But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Now we have some new characters

  • The Master
  • The Thief

Now who is the master and who is the thief?  Let’s start this one with the thief.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 – 1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

2 Peter 3:1010 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

You guessed it… The thief represents the coming of the Lord in judgement.  But the master, this one is a little more confusing.  Who is this master that allowed his house to be plundered at the coming of the Lord?

Now let’s remember that in this passage, Jesus is answering the disciples’ question to him – one in which they came to him in private – about the end times.  These disciples represent the leaders of the church and as such are masters of the Lord’s house.  So is the Master referring to the disciples?  Or is the Master generally applicable to Christians to be prepared for the coming of the Lord? 

Don’t know?  Don’t worry.  Peter speaks up for us!

The Question: “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?”

Who is the target?  What’s the answer to Peter’s question?  In other words, is this a leadership parable for Church leaders or a teaching that’s directed at all Christians?

So Jesus, as he was wont to do, answers Peter’s question indirectly with another analogy.

Lesson 3: How it went with the Master and his Servants

Luke 21:42-48And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, 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 does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Here we have some more characters and some very interesting contrasts.  They are…

  • The Master (once again)
  • The Faithful & Wise Manager – The one who the Master finds “giving the household their portion of food at the proper time.” 
  • The Willfully Wicked – The one who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act accordingly.
  • The Ignorant Servant – The one who did not know and did what deserved a beating.

The Faithful and Wise Manager

I think it’s important here to consider what it means to “give them their food at the proper time.”

Providing for God’s people what they need when they need it.

This could be physical needs [remember Joseph?] as much as spiritual needs.  By teaching others in such a way and in such a context that they are able to grasp the meaning and apply to their lives.

I think of what Paul tells Timothy in his letter in chapter 4:2: “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

Or in the book of Nehemiah when the people of Israel recovered the Book of the Law and they had a city-wide assembly and Ezra taught the people.  Nehemiah 8:8 “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”

Proverbs 15:23 says, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!”

Here’s a question… are you knowledgeable about what you believe in to articulate it to others and explain how it applies to the circumstances you find yourselves in?

The Fate of the Willfully Wicked

Next we come to the wicked servant.  Who is this wicked servant?  These are those who are placed in positions of authority who know what they are supposed to do, but don’t do it and instead indulge themselves.  Who had this problem in Jesus’ day?

Matthew 23 “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,”The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger…”

Jesus goes on to pronounce 7 “woes” on the scribes & Pharisees for their rebellion and hypocrisy.  Incidentally, in Matthew’s gospel this is right before he talks to the disciples about the end times and then tells them this story which we’re studying.

The scriptures are unapologetic in telling us the fate of the wicked.  The Bible is not a nice book of platitudes to give us good advice and help us live happy and well rounded lives.  No, the bible is there to teach us about life and death and ourselves and God – that is, eternal life and eternal death and the consequences of sin.

We don’t like to talk about the clear and present danger of sin and finding ourselves before God without the grace of Christ.  We prefer to make people feel good about themselves.  We somehow think it’s loving to emphasize the benefits of the Christian life, while neglecting to address the important reality of the consequences of sin.  Jesus didn’t have this problem.

Verse 46 “…the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.”

What?  “…Cut him in pieces & put him with the unfaithful?”  That sounds positively disgusting and most un-Christian-like.  Doesn’t it?

Here we need to keep in mind that the eternal hope of the Christian is that our souls will be reunited with our bodies and we will enjoy eternal fellowship with God (as illustrated in 1 Corinthians 15… go read it if you’re not familiar with the passage).  Here Jesus is illustrating that in the death of judgement, the body and soul are divided asunder & put in a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  This isn’t just a literary device, it is a clear warning of judgement in the afterlife.

This also reminds me of the man in Matthew 22 (we’ll get to the parable of the wedding feast in a few weeks) who was at the wedding party without a wedding garment and when the King came to him and saw that he wasn’t appropriately attired for the wedding feast, he was cast out into outer darkness.

So, what does the metaphor of the wicked servant beating the servants illustrate in our day and age?  Something to ponder…

Let’s go back to Peter’s question, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” Here Luke is primarily directing this lesson towards the leaders of God’s people.  But in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus answers this question more directly: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

So, what does it mean to stay awake, or be ready?

  • If we are leaders in the church…
  • As individual followers of Christ…

(Those are rhetorical questions for reflection.)

The Ignorant Servant

Now we come to this Ignorant Servant who clearly does not do his Master’s will, but didn’t know what his will is.  There is a contrast here between people who are in rebellion against God, but they have different degrees of intentions.  Jesus contrasts those who are exploiting the people of God for their own gain and those who are ignorant of the fact that they are leading God’s people astray.

But here’s the thing… while the degrees of punishment are different, they both fall under God’s judgement.  This isn’t a lesson about how ignorance is an excuse to avoid the judgement of God.  Many people have a mistaken belief that God will “grade on the curve” and that if our intentions are good and we don’t hurt people, how can God be angry with that?  But the key point that they are missing is that we are born with a sin problem and we can’t work our way into good standing with God.

Glimpses of the Gospel

While this teaching is given specifically to Christians and is not an evangelistic teaching (Note that this teaching was in response to what the disciples asked him privately) it has the fingerprints of the gospel all over it!

First and foremost, let’s consider this faithful and wise servant:

  • He did the will of the Master
    • John 5:19 “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
    • John 17:4 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”

So of course, I’m referring to Jesus who is the archetypical faithful & wise servant

  • He didn’t speak on his own authority, but spoke what the father said
    • John 8:28 “So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
    • John 14:10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
    • John 15:15 “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
  • He was ready to defend the temptations of the enemy
    • Matthew 4:1-4 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
  • Of all that the father gave him, he didn’t lose any
    • John 17:12 “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
  • He came not to be served, but to serve & give his life as a ransom for many
    • Matthew 20:28 “…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

He is our Elder Brother & our example.

Some final thoughts on this:

The parable instructs us to “…be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast…”  We are all people who are under a master.  The real question is not, “do we have a master,” but “who is our master?”

Romans 6:17-18 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

How do we become slaves of righteousness?  By trading one master for another.

Romans 5:8 – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Ephesians 2:4-10 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Jesus is using the master-servant analogy with his disciples.  But he was clear to them that while they may have thought they chose to follow Jesus, it was actually Jesus who chose them.

John 6:66-70After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”

Life Takeaway

There is a coming Day of the Lord.  It is coming and it will come at a time when we do not expect.  Therefore, as servants of the Lord, we should to conduct our lives such that we are ready and prepared.

Some questions for reflection:

  • When do you expect the Day of the Lord to come (or not come)?
  • What would you do if you learned that it was 1 week away? Or 5 years away?
  • What does it mean for you to “stay awake at all times,” to “be ready” and to “be on guard?”  [also consider 2 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:11-18]
  • How can we “give them their portion of food at the proper time” even if we’re not official leaders in a church?
  • Is it fair for God to condemn the Ignorant Servant?  Why or why not?

 

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