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Parables of Christ

Individual Prophecy

Various Scriptures

Lesson audio

Servants Waiting

In this lesson we examine three parables which relate prophecy concerning an individual Christian. Parables are often used to discuss prophetic matters; these parables relate to prophecy as it affects each individual Christian. We begin with the servants waiting for their master.

Luke 12:35-40 NASB  "Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.  (36)  "Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.  (37)  "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.  (38)  "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.  (39)  "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.  (40)  "You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect."

A Question of Tense

One scholar, commenting on the first sentence of this section of scripture, said that it was in the “periphrastic perfect passive imperative third plural of the verb.” This carries some truth to it, when you puzzle it out:

·         Periphrastic – means that this sentence could have been reduced to a single word. What word? “Watch!”

·         Perfect passive – it’s written in the passive voice. The content is sufficiently sharp that it shines through that.

·         Imperative – it’s a command, not a suggestion.

·         Third plural – it’s not addressed to one person, or a group of people individually, but to all of us as a group.

The older translations such as the King James begin this passage with, "let your loins be girded." That's the example of perfect passive; it's not quite as well translated in the newer translations. But these four points remain; most importantly, this is a command addressed to us as Christians in a group — the church.

Be Dressed

A Jewish Christian reading these words would immediately think of the Passover. You will recall that the first Passover was eaten while the Jews were dressed, ready for a voyage. They were prepared to do God's command.

Preparation is something that most of us think of after we failed to do it. Have you ever had that feeling? Many of us have been taught that Christianity is a spontaneous and emotional response to a situation. We have been taught that it is impossible to prepare. May I suggest an alternate model? In the military, the service man is given instructions each day concerning the "uniform of the day." There are several possibilities for this uniform but they are prescribed from above. The Christian too has a "uniform of the day." The Christian should be prepared to give, to render assistance (remember the Good Samaritan?), to comfort those who be comforting and indeed rejoice with those who are rejoicing. How do we do this?

·         Preparation is a lifestyle. If you carry a first aid kit in your car, along with some elementary tools, you are prepared to deal with most of what comes along. But don't forget the phone number of your insurance company. Likewise, if you are likely to meet those in need, be like the Good Samaritan: be prepared with first aid kit, transportation and the money. Make it a habit.

·         In a similar sense you should prepare yourself with a ready defense of the gospel. You are a Christian; you can count on others challenging the reasons for your faith. If you don't know why you believe, perhaps you should find out. Do you really think they're going to be impressed with, "he's real in my heart?"

·         Finally, equip yourself with hope. As a Christian you will live forever after the resurrection of the dead. Keep that in your heart; it changes your perspective on a lot of things.

Lamps Lit

Of course, your words alone are insufficient. The lamp in this parable is used as it is in other parables to me your good deeds. Some good deeds can be done in the manner of a stealth bomber, but most of them stick out. Other people are going to see them — particularly if they are the recipients of the deed. This is the usual interpretation of this passage.

However, to the Jew of this time there would be an echo. It comes from Psalm 119:

Psalms 119:105 NASB  Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.

 

That's how they'd see it; by keeping the lamp lit they would mean the study of the Scriptures. This in no way contradicts previous interpretation but adds to it nicely. There is a third use as well:

Matthew 6:22 NASB  "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.

 

This is a little bit more difficult to understand. It implies that you have a way of looking at things which clears up the confusion of our world. Through your eyes, the world should make sense. Others may see it as chaos; you see it as creation. This is the Christian view, and it is unique among religions. We know the creator; we see his creation — and we know the hope that he provides. Things look different when you know the right answers.

His Return

The parable ends as many prophetic ones do: with a warning about the return of our Lord. We will go into this more in the next two parables, but there are three things that you should get immediately:

·         First, his return will be unexpected. It will be a surprise to an awful lot of people.

·         Second, he will bring with him salvation in the flesh at the resurrection of the dead.

·         Third, he will bring with him the reward for each Christian.

Laborers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16 NASB  "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  (2)  "When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.  (3)  "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place;  (4)  and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went.  (5)  "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.  (6)  "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?'  (7)  "They *said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He *said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'  (8)  "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.'  (9)  "When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.  (10)  "When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.  (11)  "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,  (12)  saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.'  (13)  "But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?  (14)  'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.  (15)  'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'  (16)  "So the last shall be first, and the first last."

 

Distinction

It is surprisingly rare to encounter a Christian who understands the difference between what God can do and what God will do. We seek to have no hesitation about asking God anything that he can do, but we are rather reluctant first ask the question what he will do. His view is different than ours. That difference is what this parable is all about.

Finite Expectations

One of the difficulties of Christianity is that we are finite, and God is not. We tend to lead our lives this way:

·         There is only so much to go around. We have limited resources; we can only do so much.

·         We are responsible to God for what we do with those limited resources — we must make wise use of them.

·         When it comes to giving things away (like money), we have our standards. We are much more willing to give to those who are deserving than those we think are cheating the system.

·         We project ourselves on God; we assume he has the same problem. But he doesn't.

The Infinite God

We might well begin by pointing out that this parable has reference to salvation, not reward. The distinction is clear throughout the Scripture; the evil tax collector who repents on the last day of his life gets the same salvation that the devout Christian of 80 years would get. Our finite minds sometimes have difficulty with that. We need to understand God's point of view. For that, we need to make a side trip into mathematics.

If you ask most people what infinity means, they will tell you it's a real big number. It is actually quite different from that. A real big number is finite; infinity is, well, infinite. Let's look at how this works. Let's suppose that you have a hotel with an infinite number of rooms. All of those rooms are occupied, when a new guest arrives. How do you handle the situation? You simply move the person in room number one to room number two, number two and number three and so on. Since numbers go on infinitely this is not a problem.

But suppose that you now have an infinite number of new guests. Again, the problem is easy to solve. You move the guest in room one into room two, room two into room four and so on. There are an infinite number of even numbers, so your existing guests will fit in even numbered rooms. We also have an infinite number of odd numbers, so your new guests will occupy those rooms.

Simplicity itself, right?

God's grace is infinite. It comes from his own character, and he is infinite. Grace is his free gift, not something we have earned. He is therefore infinitely able to be generous with us. Christ points out in this parable at some of us will have a problem with this. But, as he argues here, it's God's decision to be generous. It is not ours to complain about. All of us will receive the free gift of salvation, whether we worked 80 years in the church or 80 days.

Talents

Matthew 25:14-30 NASB  "For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.  (15)  "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.  (16)  "Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.  (17)  "In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.  (18)  "But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.  (19)  "Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them.  (20)  "The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.'  (21)  "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'  (22)  "Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.'  (23)  "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'  (24)  "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.  (25)  'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'  (26)  "But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.  (27)  'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.  (28)  'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.'  (29)  "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.  (30)  "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Risk and Faith

Most Christians do not think of gambling as a professional occupation. That attitude sometimes extends into our thoughts about risk. Most of us want to avoid risk is much as possible; we want a sure thing. The difficulty for the Christian is simply this: faith requires risk. It is in the very nature of faith but you must take a risk. That's why you often hear of "a leap of faith." Faith requires trust; that trust always involves the risk that it will fail. If you are going to play the game, there must be the possibility that you will lose.

Why is this intrinsic to faith? It's because faith looks forward, towards the future. Since we don't know the future in all detail, there is a risk that we will be handling it wrong. There is a reason the bookies don't accept bets on yesterday's horse races. Do you now see that the leap of faith is inevitable? It cannot be otherwise; or it's not faith.

Risk is the other side of hope. Hope is a Christian virtue; we are commanded to have it. At the return of our Lord our hope will be satisfied, but in the meanwhile we live in hope — which means we live in risk.

Wicked, Lazy

Since risk is inevitable to the faith, and must be accompanied by hope, to fail to take the risk presented to you is indeed be sinful. It is to say to Christ that you're not really sure that he exists or that he will save, but he does return you'd like to be on the correct side. Risk doesn't work that way. So it is with the master this parable condemns his servant for doing nothing.

·         He calls him wicked. The word in the Greek does not mean you evil intrinsically, but rather implies an evil effect. It's a consequence, not a character. So it is that we can think ourselves being good people, frugally tucking away in the ground that which God has given us, and discover our unrighteousness only when our Master returns.

·         He calls him lazy. The word itself implies someone who is lagging behind; a straggler, in other words. No doubt the servant had good intentions; he was going to fight the good fight – someday. But he's a straggler and never quite gets to the front lines.

·         This is a sin of omission. If God gives you something, he intends for you to use it and will hold you accountable for what you do with it.

Do you see now, the fear of risk in the faith is the equivalent of evil to which God. For many of us, as for this man, this is generated by our fear of responsibility. We often hear single women complain that men are afraid of the "C" word — commitment. You might give some thought to that; most scholars don't think of this parable as having anything to do with marriage. But it's just possible they are wrong.

Entrusted with Little

One of the points often overlooked about this parable is the fact that the master entrusted the servant with only one talent. Evidently he knew the man and his character; he felt he had to leave him something, but it will take too much a risk on a man like this. He knew that he was risk averse, not inclined to take any chances with it. So he gave him the minimum risk he could. If things went totally wrong, the master would be out only one talent. His hope was that he would be able to complement the servant on having done something with the talent.

When it comes to reward, the actual specifics of the award will vary greatly. But you will hear either "well done, good and faithful servant" or the simple word, "worthless." You are in complete control of this result. The key is to take heed what your Lord has given you, and act accordingly.

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