Enter into the Joy of Your Master

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“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:21).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Have you ever worked for a good boss? What made that good? Or how about a bad boss: have you ever worked for one of those? What made that bad?  
I would have to say that the most difficult bosses that I have worked under tend to micromanage. It seems they were always looking over my shoulder, checking each and every step of the process, second-guessing every decision made. Ironically, the same bosses often fail to accurately communicate the priorities and goals of the team, and then they point a finger at everyone else when things go wrong. Working in that kind of environment can be quite unsatisfying—even so frustrating—that after a while, you find yourself avoiding all contact with the boss. And not surprisingly, your own job performance will end up suffering.
Fortunately, I have had the good fortune to work with many good bosses over the years. The best have given me well-defined goals, provided me with the resources to do my work, and then just let me go to it. They check up on me and give me productive feedback and accountability. The best bosses also are not afraid to get their hands dirty or do the work themselves. They don’t pass on the blame, but rather, accept responsibility—even when it is not their fault.  What a blessing it is to be able to work in such an environment!
Yes, how you view your boss can have a dramatic effect upon you and your work! Working for a harsh and ruthless master can wear you down and drain the life right out of you, while serving a good and gracious master leads to life and fulfillment, hope and joy. And so, we find much the same in Jesus’ parable today.
The parable begins with a man going on a journey. Before he goes, he entrusts his servants with some of his property. He gives to each servant according to the servant’s ability. One receives five talents—a talent is about twenty years’ wages for a servant, so this one is entrusted with a hundred years’ worth. The next receives two talents, about forty years’ worth of wages. The third receives one talent, which is still an awful lot of money. This isn’t their money: it belongs to the master, and he has entrusted it to them while he’s gone.
After a long time, he returns to settle accounts—to find out what they’ve done with his money. The one who received five talents has doubled it to ten, and the one who received two talents doubles it to four. Each receives the same praise from the master: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
At this point, it is important to mention an often overlooked detail: this master is wealthy. Between these two servants, he’s put out about 280 years’ worth of servants’ wages—and he calls it “a little.” He’s not going to miss one talent if the third servant fails to produce. And the third servant has failed to produce: he comes to the master and says, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
The master is furious. He says, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
 So what makes the master so angry? It’s not that the servant failed to double the investment: the master got his original investment back, and he isn’t going to be angry about one measly talent that was never his to begin with. No, what makes the master angry is that the servant regards him as a hard man. There’s no proof that this is true. This is simply how the servant thinks of him. The servant considers his master to be a hard man, ruthless and unforgiving. And, as I said earlier, how you view the boss can have a dramatic effect on your work.
Ruthless masters are easily resented, and it seems from the parable that—rather than serve the master—the servant has done nothing at all while the master is gone. He is so afraid of provoking the wrath of the tyrant he’s created in his mind that he’s done nothing with what’s been entrusted to him. He’s lived a life of fear, paralyzed into inaction. Or to put it another way, he doesn’t trust the master. He doesn’t see the master as merciful. He sees his life of service as one of trying to outwit an angry boss for as long as possible.
To reiterate: there’s no proof that the master is actually a hard man. This is simply how the servant regards him. But because the servant regards him as ruthless and treats him as ruthless, the servant ends up with what he’s invented. Essentially the master says, “You don’t believe I’m merciful, but hard. No matter how I act, this is what you are going to believe. You’d much rather that I be away than here with you. Therefore, you don’t want to be here if I am: so, be gone.”
That’s the sin of the servant. He believes his master to be hard. Because he believes his master is hard, he doesn’t want to serve him. If we understand that, the parable makes a lot of sense and we can apply it to ourselves. From the string of parables that Jesus tells in Matthew 24 and 25, it’s obvious that the master is the Lord. He is “gone away” in that He waits to return in glory on the Last Day. In the meantime, He entrusts many gifts to His people—to you. You’re stewards of what God has entrusted to you, and you are to use it in service to Him.
How, and how much are you supposed to make use of these gifts in order to earn the Master’s praise? That’s the wrong question. Is making use of these gifts simply in order to earn the Master’s praise really all that much better motivation than holding back from doing anything because you consider the Master to be harsh and unfair? Either view puts the focus wrongly on you and your efforts.
No, the real question is this: how do you regard your Master? Do you regard the Lord as hard and ruthless, or gracious and merciful? When you come into His presence do you expect to face the brunt of His righteous wrath or His great joy?
If you regard the Lord as hard and ruthless it will be reflected in your stewardship. You will live a life where you fear God’s anger for your missteps, rather than confident of God’s unconditional love. You will want to hoard what you have to yourself rather than freely give offerings or spend time in service to others. You’ll believe that what you have is yours apart from God (perhaps, in spite of God), and you’ll use your stuff to distract yourself from Him. Why? In part, it’s because you’re afraid. You’re afraid that your Master is a cheapskate and that He won’t provide you with anything more than you already have.
In part, it’s also because you’ll have no love for your Master if you see Him as a hard man: and you do not want to support what you do not love. If you regard the Lord as a hard man, you’ll also resent when He gives more to others because it’s so unfair. If you regard the Lord as ruthless, you’ll see worship as a mandatory check-in so as not to anger Him, and you’ll see opportunities to serve as one more chore that you have to do to keep the Master off your back. Or you will seek avoiding coming into His presence whenever you can.
If you regard the Master as a hard man, you will never believe that He loves you. You won’t want to be anywhere near Him. And so, on the Last Day, the Master will grant you your desire: an eternity far away from Him—the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But God is not a hard man. Where God is, there you will find mercy, grace and kindness—because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. There is no greater demonstration of this than the cross, for that is where God demonstrates above all that He is not a hard man. Christ becomes man to win salvation for you by His death. The Master becomes the Suffering Servant.
If the Lord were a hard master, the message of Scripture would be, “God demands righteousness from His servants. If you can’t be holy, He wants nothing to do with you.” But God instead declares that He desires you to be His beloved child so much that He has given His only beloved Son to die in your place, so that you might be forgiven and holy and righteous in His sight. Your life isn’t one of somebody who hopes he does a “good enough” job that God will let him into heaven. You’re not a slave, but a beloved child of God. Heaven is already yours!
There are two other demonstrations of God’s mercy and grace found in the master’s words to the first two servants: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” After your less-than-perfect stewardship here on earth, what does the Lord say? He’s going to give you more. The kingdom of heaven is yours—not because you’ve been such a productive servant of all the gifts God has given you now; but because Christ has sacrificed Himself on the cross to deliver you. There He exchanged His perfect obedience and righteousness for your sin and rebellion.
Rather than live in slavish fear of a hard master, you live as a servant convinced that your Master is gracious and merciful. This will be reflected in your stewardship of all that He entrusts to you. Rather than fearfully trying to escape God’s notice, you will live in a life in which you acknowledge joyfully that you are the Lord’s instrument to serve. Rather than fear His anger at your missteps and sins, you’ll quickly run to Him and confess your sins because you’re confident that Christ has died so that you might be forgiven.
 If you regard your Master as gracious and merciful, it will also be evident in your giving of offerings and service as you are able—because you’ll be able to give with the glad confidence that the Lord is able to supply everything you need. You won’t live in fear that God will turn off the spigot, because He has promised to provide. You will contribute to the needs of the Church and the needs of the saints because you want to, out of love and gratitude for the Lord’s gifts to you.
If you regard the Lord as gracious and merciful, then worship is not a chore, it’s a time in which you enter into the joyful presence of the Master, a place where He graciously pours out upon you forgiveness and faith, salvation and eternal life.
If you regard your Master as gracious and merciful, you won’t resent when others receive more from His hand than you, because you acknowledge that holy God knows better than sinful you as to what you can handle. The Lord entrusts to each of His stewards many different gifts according to ability, as He sees fit.
This text then, is not primarily about how you use what God gives. Your stewardship of what God gives is a way to examine how you regard God. And that is the primary question here. How do you regard God? Do you consider Him as a hard master? If you do, then that will be reflected in begrudging stewardship. Do you regard God as gracious and merciful? Then you will act and give and serve out of gratitude for all that God has done for you.
How do you regard God? The truth is that you’re probably somewhere in between. If you regarded God as only hard and ruthless, then you probably wouldn’t be here in church. If you unreservedly acknowledged God as gracious and merciful, then you wouldn’t be here either—you’d be in heaven, delivered from the sinful nature that still clings. But here you are, which means that you’re a conflicted mix of acknowledging God’s grace and worrying that He’s not going to provide. You are simul iustus et peccator, saint and sinner at the same time. And you will struggle with this until the day you die.
What should you do about it now? Put that old sinful nature to death daily through contrition and repentance so that your new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Repent when you consider God hard. He’s never really given you a reason to think that way. Confess the worry and fear. Rejoice in His forgiveness—forgiveness that takes away the sin and strengthens your faith against fear, and equips you for holy living.
Our Lord is not a hard master. He is gracious and merciful and he continues to pour out upon you grace and life, all for the sake of Jesus. By the faith that He gives you, cling to this treasure of salvation that Christ has won for you. For the sake of Jesus, you can be confident that, on the Last Day, your gracious and merciful Savior will say to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master… because you are forgiven for all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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