Parable of the Bags of Gold
by Jack Wald | April 21st, 2019

Matthew 25:14-30

It has been a wonderful week. Palm Sunday with exuberant worship last Sunday, the Passover Seder Meal on Thursday, the Good Friday service, and then the Easter Sunrise service early this morning. We came to church this Easter Sunday with the expectation of joyous worship. The birth of Jesus was good news of great joy to all the people; the resurrection of Jesus fill us with joy because we know that this world, with all its suffering, is only temporary. Our life on earth is not permanent. We are comforted because God is with us and filled with hope that we are being taken to a better place.

We have been looking at parables of Jesus during the Sundays of Lent and come this morning to the Parable of the Bags of Gold – also referred to as the Parable of the Talents. What does this parable have to do with Easter? At the heart of every parable Jesus told is the resurrection of Jesus that makes his teaching possible for us to follow.

On the face of it, the parable is a pretty simple story. A man goes on a journey but before he leaves he gives five bags of gold to one servant, two to another and one to a third. When he comes back the one who had received five bags of gold had doubled the investment. The one who had received two bags of gold doubled the investment he had received. Both of these were praised. But then the one who had received one bag of gold said he had been too afraid to invest his bag of gold. He buried his bag of gold to keep it safe and returned it without any gain.

We know Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us so. Jesus loves the little children. Jesus shows mercy and has compassion on people. We would expect that Jesus would have pity on this third servant who had been so afraid he would lose the money that he buried it to keep it safe.

But that is not how Jesus finished the story. Listen to his reaction to the servant who buried his bag of gold.
‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

When we read through the Bible, we tend to skip over some details because we are familiar with the story and our biases influence us in the way we understand what we read. We know Jesus loves us so we pass over these harsh judgments of Jesus. But one day, when I listened to the Gospel of Matthew in the Visual Bible Series, I was stunned by the harshness of the judgment of Jesus in this parable. I had not realized how strong the judgment was and I thought it was unfair of Jesus to be so harsh.

The Parable of the Bags of Gold falls in the middle of two other parables. The Parable of the Ten Virgins (the parable I preached on last week) and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. All three were told by Jesus to talk about how we are to be spiritually vigilant so we are prepared for his return. The Parable of the Bags of Gold focuses on how to use the time while we wait. We are to use this waiting time well.

The first lesson from this parable is that God gives all of us talents and he expects us to make good use of what we have been given.

A talent, a bag of gold, was worth 6,000 denarii and if you remember, a denarius was the pay for one day’s work. So this was a fortune, 16 years of pay for the daily laborer.

We get our modern word, talent, from this parable because Jesus made the measure of money a metaphor for our special, natural abilities. When we tell someone they are very talented, it is this parable that created the meaning of this word in the 14th century.

God gives us special abilities. We are born with different kinds of intelligence. Some of us are better with mechanical things than others. Some of us are better problem solvers than others. Some of us can memorize more easily than others. Some of us are better at philosophical thinking than others. Some of us are more artistic than others. Some of us are more skilled relationally than others. Some of us think better in a crisis than others. But we are all born with a certain area of intelligence.

In addition to this, our environment shapes us and we develop our intelligence and abilities depending on how and where we were raised. The educational system we go through shapes our intelligence and abilities. Our parents and other important people in our lives shape us. If your parents played sports or were professional musicians, it is more likely that you will be better in sports or music than most others.

And then, when we become followers of Jesus, we are given spiritual gifts through the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:4–11)
There are different kinds of gifts … 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

There are other lists in the New Testament with other gifts: exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, and more.

The talents with which we were born, the talents that developed as we grew up, and the spiritual gifts that were given to us when we became followers of Jesus, are all given to us by God. Why does he give us these gifts?

Why did the man in the parable Jesus told give his three servants gifts? He wanted them to use the bags of gold he gave so they would increase his wealth. When the first two servants returned with a doubling of what he gave them, he praised them and rewarded them. But when the third servant reported that he had buried the bag of gold, he was judged and punished because he had failed to use the money he had been given to increase his master’s wealth.

Why does God give us talents? Like the businessman, he wants a return on his investment. What is God’s business? He wants to bring people into his kingdom. Jesus said to his disciples, (Matthew 9:37–38)
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

God wants those in his kingdom to grow in faith. Paul taught in Ephesians that spiritual gifts are given to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–13)
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So God gives us talents so we can work to expand his kingdom, bring more people into his kingdom, and encourage the faith of those in his kingdom.

Jesus is very clear in this parable that when we are judged at the end of time, at least part of how we will be judged is how we used the talents he gave to us.

Think about what God had to go through to give you the talents you have? Jesus sacrificed his rights and privileges in heaven and was born as a human baby. He willingly went to the cross to die a terribly painful death so that we would not have to suffer eternal death. He defeated the devil and rose to new life as the eternal resurrected Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. And he did all this for what? So you could live an easy, comfortable, earthly life, allowing others around you to work with Jesus? That makes no sense.

I have a cousin who was living in Southern California when I visited him. We spent two to three hours in his hot tub one night as he told me all his New Age theories. He told me there were aliens who walked among us on earth and he was able to recognize which ones they were. He told me that every cell of our body is a microcosm of the universe. He told me about all his past lives. He had been a Mayan Indian. He had been a highway robber in England in the 1700s. (I asked him why no one was ever a drunken bum in their past life.) Then he told me his assignment in his current life was to be on vacation.

The Parable of the Bags of Gold tells us that is not our assignment. We were not invited into the Kingdom of God to rest and take it easy. We were invited and equipped to be of service to Jesus to help as he builds his kingdom and God expects us to be active in our service for him.

We have other work to do. We raise children, earn money, study, and build careers and it is important that we work hard and be as successful as possible. But we need to know that what has eternal significance is not whether we get a raise, a promotion, or an award for our achievements. What has eternal significance is how God uses us in the lives of those we work and study with.

God has given you talents and he expects you to use them in the course of your daily life for the advancement of his kingdom.

The second lesson from this parable is that we are not equally talented. There are some who are more talented than we are and others who are less talented than we are.

The businessman in this parable had three servants and knew they were not all equal in ability. So to one he gave five bags of gold, confident this servant would use the money well. To another he gave two bags of gold, confident this servant would do a good job with this money in his absence. And to a third servant he gave one bag of gold, confident this servant had the ability to use this money well. He knew his servants and their capabilities and gave them responsibility according to what he knew they were capable of accomplishing.

The businessman did not expect each servant to return with five bags of gold. He gave the same praise to the servant who earned two bags of gold that he did to the one who earned five bags of gold. His expectation was that the servants would use the bags of gold they had been given.

We are not all talented in the same way or to the same degree. I play the guitar but cannot play like Maggie or Elliot. When Elliot has tried to teach me it is an exercise in patience for him. I just cannot get it. But I play the guitar better than some others.

When I listen to a sermon from Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City, I am amazed at the depth of his content and insights. I love reading his books and the books of John Ortberg. I heard Ortberg speak a few years ago at a conference in the US and he was amazing. He is so gifted.

There are many who are much better preachers than I am, but there are also others who are not as gifted in preaching as I am.

When we analyze our talents, we look around and compare ourselves to others. We wish we could speak, write, play sports, musical instruments, paint, study, lead meetings, relate with people as well as we see others do these things. We wish we were more talented and we tell ourselves God can’t use us because we are not as talented as others we know.

But do you see the problem? We are not supposed to look horizontally when we analyze our talents. We are not supposed to compare ourselves with others around us. We are supposed to look vertically. The question is not who is more or less talented than I am. The question is what talent has God given me.

We are not judged by who produces the most with the talents they have. We are judged by how we use the talents that have been given to us.

In a Hasidic tale, Rabbi Zusya, an old and wise man, muses about how much of his life he has wasted trying to be someone else. He says, “In the coming world, they will not ask me ‘why were you not more like Moses?’ Rather they will ask me, ‘Why were you not more like Zusya?’”

At the final judgment, Jesus will not ask you why you did not accomplish what someone else accomplished, he will ask you why you did not use the talents he gave to you.

The third lesson is that risk will be involved when we use our talents.

The first servant came and was given the huge responsibility of an investment of five bags of gold. He was honored by this act of trust. His years of service were appreciated. His master had seen his good work and trusted him. But along with this honor came the weight of responsibility. What would he do with these bags of gold?

He would have to take risks in investing this money. Suppose he bought olive oil and then it spoiled and had to be thrown away. Suppose he bought some fields but the weather was bad and the wheat crop was much less than expected. In an agricultural economy, the weather can make or break an investment. Maybe he speculated by buying olive oil and wheat and waited for the price to rise. But what would have happened if the price had fallen? Then he would have lost the money his master had given him to invest.

There is risk involved in using our gifts.

When I was in university I was preparing to go to medical school when I received a call from God to go to seminary. This is perhaps the most clearly God has ever spoken to me and yet I resisted. I tried to bargain my way out of this call. I argued with God and one of my arguments was that I was not skilled at speaking in front of people. I became tongue-tied, nervous with knees shaking, when I had to stand up and speak in front of people.

But after three months I submitted and set out. A couple years later I preached for the first time. The church I attended, Park Street Church in Boston, had an outdoor pulpit on a busy street corner and after our evening fellowship, part of the group went outside to stand around, hoping to attract others to stop and listen while one of us delivered a short message.

I stepped out onto the metal pulpit facing a couple hundred faces and as I began to speak, the wind came along and all my notes blew away in the wind. I stood there without notes, stammering and stuttering with my face beet red. It was a terrible experience.

A year or two later I was asked to speak at an Easter Sunrise service, just a month or so after I began dating Annie. I spoke but felt terrible about it. I was embarrassed to face Annie afterwards who clearly loved me because she said I had done a good job.

It took enormous courage to risk putting myself in front of people.

Using the gifts God has given us does not always come easily. We may try to share our faith with someone and feel afterwards we did not make sense even to ourselves. We may come on too strong or be incoherent. But we get better as we practice using our talents.

Using the gifts God gives us involves risks but these are risks worth taking.

The fourth lesson is that working with Jesus is all about relationship and not about performance.

What is the difference between the first two servants in this parable and the third servant? They were more talented than he was, but that was not what made the difference. The first servant earned five bags of gold with what the master entrusted to him. The second servant earned only two bags of gold with what the master entrusted to him. But both received the same praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Were the first two servants more risk oriented than the third servant? Some people, by nature, are more willing to take risks than others. Was it a difference in personality?

The difference can be seen in the response of the third servant when the master asked him what he had done with the bag of gold he had been given.
‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

The third servant was afraid of his master. He knew his master to be a hard man and did not want to risk the wrath of his master if he lost the money he had been given to use. By inference, the first two servants had a loving relationship with their master.

Is God a hard master? Who in the Bible viewed God as a hard master?

Mary Magdalene was delivered from bondage to seven demons by Jesus. Did she think Jesus was a hard master? After she was set free she followed Jesus and was one of the first two people to see Jesus resurrected from the dead and when she saw him in the garden she was filled with joy.

Did the woman caught in adultery think Jesus was a hard master. She stood before him, expecting to be stoned to death and when her accusers left, Jesus said to her, (John 8:10–11)
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

She left with hope of a new and better life. She left knowing that there was someone who loved her.

Did Peter, who denied knowing Jesus three times and then was restored to leadership of the disciples, think Jesus was a hard master? What about Zacchaeus the tax collector, the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and precious ointment, the woman healed of her bleeding, the lepers who were cleansed, the blind men who were given their sight, the Samaritan woman at the well? Did any of these think Jesus was a hard master?

Who in the Bible thought God was a hard master?

What about the Pharisees who rigorously followed the law in an attempt to be found righteous? They took the ten commandments and then made 613 laws from these ten. All of these laws had to be obeyed. They spent their entire day making sure they did not break any of these laws. They knew the law, they knew the rules, but they did not know the love of God.

The religions of the world have sets of rules to be followed if their members have any hope of drawing near to God. Whether it is the Nobel Eightfold Path of Buddha, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Karma of Hinduism, or the Law of Judaism, rules to be followed put fear in the hearts of those who seek to obey them. Muslims go to the grave hoping they have put together a dossier that will satisfy Allah. Hindus examine their lives and hope they have done more good than bad so they can eventually escape the endless repetitive cycle of birth and death. The religion of Christianity also gets caught up in rules and regulations that have to be obeyed. The religion of Christianity focuses on legalism and misses what makes Christian faith unique.

What makes Christian faith different is that we know we can never be good enough. Give us a set of rules and no matter how hard we try, we know we will break them. What makes Christians different is that God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. At Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus that gave us life and hope. Jesus died, taking upon himself the penalty for all our willful disobedience, our preoccupation with self.

Because of this we approach Jesus with confidence, not fear. The God we worship and follow is not distant or unapproachable. The writer of Hebrews wrote: (Hebrews 4:15–16)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

We do not follow a set of rules; we follow a person – Jesus. Our faith is in Jesus, not in a religion.

How do we know Jesus loves us? His death and resurrection is proof of his love for us. We were lost, unable to make our way, and God became flesh. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, had a three-year public ministry – demonstrating the love of God for us, and then willingly went to death on a cross. He did this because this is the only way we could be saved and brought into his eternal kingdom.

The most important thing for us in our faith is to discover how much we are loved by Jesus, to fall in love with Jesus, and to explore the depths of his love. We are in a love relationship with Jesus.

The first two servants knew this and so they were willing to risk what they had been given to invest. Whatever happened, they knew they were loved.

The third servant did not know he was loved by his master and so he buried his treasure out of fear.

The fifth lesson is that when we use our talents, our experience will produce fulfillment and joy.

When we read this parable we pass over the experience of the first two servants and focus on the third servant who was severely judged. But what was this experience like for the first two servants?

There was the honor of being chosen and given this responsibility of managing five and two bags of gold, but there was also the anxiety that comes from having to risk. What made the first two servants take the risks they did to increase their master’s wealth?

The third servant was so afraid of losing what he had been given, he failed to do anything with his bag of gold. He did not have a love relationship with his master. It was a relationship of duty and fear.

The first two servants were the reverse of this. They knew their master to be a loving master. It is true “he reaped where he did not sow and gathered where he scattered no seed” which spoke of his power, but they had a love relationship with the master and knew his power would work for them, not against them. They took risks knowing they were loved by the one who gave them their bags of gold.

So they took risks, used the bags of gold they had been given, and when the investments turned out well, they could not wait for their master to return so they could show him what they had done with the bags of gold they had been given.

When he returned the first servant went up to him and said,
‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

You can read into this his pleasure in having such a good report to deliver and then he heard these words:
‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Come and share your master’s happiness!” Those words, coming from our Savior and Lord, Jesus, are the most delightful words we could possibly hear.

The second servant had the same experience and received the same glowing praise from his master. “Come and share your master’s happiness!”

When we use the talents God has given us in a love relationship with Jesus, our experience will be a fulfilling experience with deep joy. We will have great satisfaction in having our talents used by God to advance his kingdom. And we will have a sense of sharing the joy of God as we celebrate what we have done together.

Preaching is a deeply satisfying experience for me and when I don’t preach, I miss it. I am very much aware that God helps me as I prepare my sermons. Preaching is a fulfilling and joyous experience for me.

I love sitting with someone who is asking questions about Christian faith. I love sharing the understanding I have gained over the years. And when I don’t know the answer to the question, I love thinking and researching to find an answer to the question.

Using our talents enables us to share in God’s joy.

Here is a question for you: What would have happened if the one given five bags of gold risked those bags of gold and lost three and only had two at the end when the master returned?

Would he have received the harsh rebuke the third servant received? I don’t think so. The third servant was rebuked because he was overcome with fear and did not use the bag of gold he had been given. I think if Jesus were telling the story, if the first servant had risked and lost money, the master would have had compassion on him and encouraged him. He had tried and failed, but he had tried.

My other answer to this question is that because God is at work in us, we cannot lose. It is impossible for us to fail. It is God who uses us to bring others into his kingdom. We do not do that ourselves. God uses what we do and say and then does his work to build his kingdom. We have the privilege of participating with him but it is always God who does the work. To say we have to be talented enough takes away from the power and creativity of God to use what we do to accomplish his purposes.

Therefore, when I stood out on the pulpit at Park Street Church in Boston with my notes flying away in the wind and stammered and stuttered, did I fail? I certainly thought I did and probably the people watching me thought I had failed as well. But what if someone walked by and picked up one of the pieces of paper with my notes on it and read it and God used that to bring that person to faith? What if someone heard what I said, no matter how incoherent and poorly delivered it was, and used that to bring someone to faith?

God uses great preachers and not so great preachers to build his kingdom, but he wants each of us to take risks and use our gifts. Talents risked never fail. We may look at our efforts and consider them a failure, but we do not see what God sees. We do not know what God has done with our efforts.

I know people who are not highly educated, who are not articulate, whose theology is very simple – without any nuance, but they love Jesus and have huge hearts. They love the people they share the gospel with and people hear the good news that Jesus loves them.

God does not need us to get a PhD before he can use our words and actions. We may stumble, but the power of the Holy Spirit can take our words, as weak and pitiful as they seem, and use them to bring people into his kingdom.

I remember sitting in a church in Chicago in March 1971 when a young construction worker wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt shared his story of coming to Christ. He was muscular, had blond hair, and his face was bright red with embarrassment as he talked. I had been aware of God’s existence for several weeks but had not yet surrendered to Jesus. The young construction worker was not eloquent, but as he shared I told Jesus, “ Ok, I will give my life to you, but not here in front of all these people.”

It is the power of God, not our own efforts, that accomplishes great things through us.

What are the talents God has given you? What are the things you think about doing but are too afraid to try?

What would you do for God if you knew you could not fail? Step out in faith and take the risk of using your talents. You will get better over time regardless of what you do, but it is of great encouragement to know that the power of God is at work through you to accomplish his purposes.

You don’t have to be a star, you only have to step out in faith and allow God to use you. When you do, it is important that you know this: God is delighted with your efforts.

Look at how excited and proud parents are when their baby takes his or her first steps. Is their baby the best walker in the world? That question never enters their minds. They are caught up in the pleasure of watching their baby grow and develop new talents.

This is how God is with us. Take your first steps and know that God will do the rest. He will bring fruit for his kingdom from whatever you do.

Paul wrote in his Romans letter: (Romans 8:15–17 The Message)
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!

This is the gift of Easter. You are deeply loved by Jesus. He is proud of your steps as you follow him and take risks with the talents he has given you. As you hold on to Jesus through your life, you will discover more and more how much loved you are. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.

So step out into the world without fear of failure. You cannot fail because it is God who is at work in you. And it is God who will one day greet you with joy. “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness!”