This was my last in a series of sermons at Amherst Presbyterian Church. The sermon audio is available at the link on this page (I take no responsiblilty for the content on the site hosting the audio file). The prepared sermon text is below. The idea of return on investment is something frequently discussed in the real estate investing industry. The other passage used in worship continued in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. It was 1 Thess 5:1-11. You may find it helpful to review last Sunday’s sermon first. It is available here. That sermon explains why I’m talking about Advent when many churches aren’t officially observing it yet. For further study, I recommend my sermon from four years ago on the same passage available here. (For example, despite my image associated with this sermon on this page–a talent wasn’t what we think of as money.) Some of the observations in that sermon made it into the “final draft” of this one but there are other insights that are helpful in it too. I would also like to thank Rev. Amir Tawadrous for giving me the opportunity to fill the pulpit in October and November. Next Sunday I’m preaching at Cleveland Drive Presbyterian Church on Revelation 3:1-6.
Return on Investment (Sermon Audio Link)
Last Sunday we listened to Jesus tell a story teaching the theme of Advent, which is to be prepared for Him to come again. He had already said that you need to be prepared because you don’t know what day and hour it will be. But He told the parable of the ten virgins to reiterate this point. The parable describes what the kingdom of heaven will be like at the final judgment. Five wise virgins brought enough oil for their lamps to be ready when the bridegroom arrived. Thus when he arrived they went in with him to the marriage feast. But five foolish virgins were shut out of the marriage feast because they weren’t prepared. When they came knocking, the bridegroom refused to let them in saying that he didn’t know them. Based on this parable and other passages in Matthew that this parable alludes to, we were able to conclude that you will be ready when Christ comes again if He knows you and that you can have assurance even now that He knows you if you do God’s will. To be known by Christ is to have His Spirit in your heart and to do God’s will is also to shine the light of Christ to the world. Now we come to a second parable describing what God’s kingdom will be like on Judgment Day. Thus we will also see what those who will be ready are doing now. But before we read it, you should know that the monetary unit used in this parable is called a “talent.” The English version I’m reading doesn’t translate the word but it instead transliterates the Greek letters into English letters as “talent” and adds a footnote saying that was worth about twenty years of a worker’s wages. The master in the parable passed out these “talents” according to the abilities of his servants. Thus he didn’t give any of them more than they could handle. Let me suggest that just as the master in this parable received a great return on investment from the first two servants, so too Christ will get a great return on investment from His people when He returns. Listen to Jesus as He describes the Kingdom of Heaven:
You won’t be ready for Judgment Day if you think Christ is like other kings.
The third servant in the parable wasn’t ready for his master’s return because he thought that his master was no different from masters in other nations. The rulers of the Gentiles had a reputation of lording it over their subjects (cf. Matthew 20:25). Jewish people thought of Gentile employers as hard men who you didn’t want to work for. That’s what the third servant thought of his master. That’s why they had a broken relationship. We don’t have to guess this. We see what the third servant’s heart was thinking when he says, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man!” When he said this he thought he was complimenting his master. But because he thought his master was like the masters among the Bedouin who pillaged and stole what they didn’t sow, he was insulting his master who was nothing like them. This third servant said he was afraid of his master. He didn’t trust his master. He didn’t want to risk losing his master’s money so he dug a hole and hid the money in it. This third servant wasn’t very wise. If his master was a hard man, he didn’t act like it. The master exposed this servant’s folly by saying that if the servant thought the master was a hard man and that the master reaped where he hadn’t sown seed and gathered where he hadn’t scattered seed then why wouldn’t the servant put the money in a bank where it would earn interest. Jewish people didn’t give money to bankers. Though they could charge Gentiles interest, they couldn’t charge their fellow Jews interest (cf. Exodus 22:25, Lev 25:35-37, Deut 23:20-21). But the master argues that if the Jewish servant thinks of him as a hard man like the masters of the Gentiles then the servant should’ve invested the money with a Gentile banker. At least then the master would have received a little return on investment. Return on investment is a simple formula that allows us to see how well an investment has performed and compare one investment with another. In this parable, the master’s return on investment for the money he entrusted to the third servant was zero percent. It wasn’t a fruitful investment. It was fruitless. It was a nonperforming investment. The master gave his servant one talent and that servant gave the same talent back to the master. If the servant had been willing to work at it, he could’ve brought his master more. Instead, the servant was sinfully slothful. The master also calls this third servant “worthless.” Think of it this way: there is no reason to keep a tool that doesn’t work in your toolbox or to keep a lamp that won’t put out light. Likewise, the master had no further use for this unproductive servant. The master ordered that the talent formerly given to the wicked and slothful servant be given to the good and faithful servant who had ten. And the master used the language of hell, saying, “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30). (The third servant in the parable is a thinly veiled reference to unbelievers.)
Those who aren’t ready for Christ to come again think He’s a hard man who will judge them harshly for what they’ve done with their lives when He comes. The wicked and slothful do not trust Jesus Christ for their salvation from sin and death. They have been entrusted with Christ’s wealth, but they haven’t done anything productive with it. The seed of God’s word did not take root in their hard hearts. They hold (or hide) nonperforming investments—they aren’t producing the fruit of faith in Christ. They aren’t ready for Judgment Day because they think of Christ as like other kings and lords. The best they can do is feign a compliment that’s really an insult. Therefore, Christ will treat those who aren’t ready for Him to return the way that say they expect to be treated. They expect Him to be a hard man, so He will be a hard man. They expect Him to judge them harshly, so He will. They expect Him to condemn them to hell, so He will. And yet they will still object, as they do in the next passage in Matthew, saying, “’Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me’ (Matthew 25:44-45). You may recall that Christ says those words in the context of talking about how when He comes in His glory then He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. In the Ancient Near East, some breeds of sheep and goats looked nearly identical to the average person. But the shepherd knew the difference and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that the difference was obvious by the way they treated the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. (As I said, you won’t be ready for Judgment Day if you think Christ is like other kings and lords. But if you trust in Christ for your salvation, what will the Kingdom of Heaven look like on that Day? It will have the opposite look and feel for you.)
You will be ready for Christ to come again if you trust in Him for your salvation.
The first two servants in the parable of the talents were told to enter into the joy of their master after they came forward and settled accounts with him. Both had worked hard because they believed that their master would reward them when he returned from his long journey. They didn’t know how long it would be before their master returned, but they got started immediately. They trusted their master. They thought that he was a good master. Both doubled the money their master entrusted to them. The master gave the first servant five talents and he produced five more. The master gave the second servant two talents and he produced two more. It was a one hundred percent return on investment. They were fruitful. So the master told both, “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.” And when the third servant brought forward the talent that he had hidden in the ground, the master gave it to the one who brought ten. Jesus explained this, saying, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” (The first two servants in the parable are a thinly veiled reference to believers.)
You who are ready for Christ to come again trust Him for your salvation and Christ will look at you on the last day and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In the next passage in Matthew, Jesus says, “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the cosmos. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:34-35). You do good works because you are thankful to Jesus for your salvation. You work hard at it knowing that your reward is in heaven. You believe Jesus who called you “blessed” and who promised that you shall “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the cosmos” (Matthew 25:34). You believe Jesus who said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). You have no idea how long it will be before that Day but you still are doing God’s will. Take, for example, the commandment about stealing. The good and faithful servant doesn’t just avoid stealing but works hard serving the Lord Christ to multiply what you have and what others have. Good and faithful servants believe that it all belongs to God so you give at least a tenth of your income to the church now and all of it to Christ when He returns. (Ten is the number of fullness in Scripture, so giving a tenth shows that you believe that it all belongs to Him.) Take, for another example, the commandment about the Sabbath. You aren’t lazy but instead rest in worship on the Sabbath and work hard within the next six days. You take what Christ entrusted to you and work hard to double it. Indeed, on the last day when your accounts are settled with Christ it will show that you produced a one hundred percent return on investment because you’re all in. But it would be a mistake to think that your money will literally double during this life if you believe in Christ and do God’s will. After all, Christ told the rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). It’s all His. So until He comes, you are working hard to double His return on investment. For to you, Christ has entrusted time, treasures, talents (and here I’m referring to the English word talents), the earth, and He has entrusted your lives to you. Thanks be to God. Amen.