Today we are going to start with a thought experiment.
So one day your lawyer calls you and says that you have just inherited ten billion ringgit from a relative you didn’t even know you had. And he tells you that it’s going to take some time to process the full amount — it might even take a few years! — but in the meantime he is authorized to give you whatever you need for your daily expenses: rent, utilities, food, clothing, all that.
Okay so far?
Then an orphanage calls. They have suddenly been flooded with refugee children, they desperately need more space, and they’re wondering if you’d be willing to give them your house.
Would you do it?
Well…that depends, doesn’t it.
See, the real question is: do you trust your lawyer? Do you trust the process?
Any number of things could go wrong: what if your lawyer robs you? What if the government taxes you to death? What if Malaysian currency becomes worthless? What if years go by while you live on the daily allowance your lawyer gives you, being generous and compassionate — and then, suddenly, the money runs out and you have nothing saved up. What then?
Our compassion and generosity in this case would depend completely on how much faith we have in the person making the promise, and how much faith we have in the system he represents. Our lawyer has promised that one day we will be billionaires, and that in the meantime our daily needs will be taken care of. Are we going to trust his word? Or will we begin to ask for a little bit extra every day, and begin to put aside that little bit extra…just in case the inheritance doesn’t come through in the end?
These are the questions Jesus has been leading up to all day. In the morning, at the beginning of Chapter 11, he told his disciples that God is their Father, and they are guaranteed to inherit the family fortune. Now it is evening of the same day, and he has just told them that their Father is going to take care of their daily needs.
In other words: they can afford to be compassionate and generous because God is their Father. It is their relationship with God — it is who they are — that guarantees their inheritance.
In fact, it is their relationship with God that will protect them from being infected with the Pharisees’ virus. See, the Pharisees view God not as a Father but as a harsh Judge. They do not believe their inheritance is guaranteed. They do not believe that their Judge is going to take care of their daily needs. And that’s why the Pharisees have become selfish and greedy: they have to take care of themselves. But as long as the disciples remember that God is their Father, their inheritance is guaranteed, and their daily needs will be taken care of…well, they will be immune to the Pharisees’ virus; they will be compassionate and generous people.
But all this depends completely upon their faith in Jesus’ words. The disciples have to decide: are the Pharisees right? or is Jesus right? Is God a harsh, demanding Judge, who gives only to those who deserve it? Or is he a compassionate, merciful Father, who gives generously to all without finding fault?
Now — to be clear — the disciples have already decided, for the most part. That’s why they are following Jesus. They have faith that their needs will be taken care of while they travel with Jesus to Jerusalem. And they have faith that when they get to Jerusalem, Jesus is going to kick off Judgement Day, conquer the world, crown himself king, and then they will live happily ever after!
But what if it doesn’t turn out quite that way?
Jesus has already warned his disciples that he will have to be betrayed and killed before he becomes king. And he has just warned them at the beginning of this chapter that they will probably be arrested and put on trial and perhaps even executed themselves.
So far, the disciples seem to have simply ignored those bits. The idea that the Messiah — God’s anointed King — will be killed by the people he has come to rescue is just too crazy! They can’t understand it, so…they’ve just ignored it.
We’re all that way, actually. Modern psychology calls it “Confirmation Bias”, which means that we tend to accept evidence that confirms our beliefs, but ignore evidence that contradicts our beliefs. There are some really astonishing experiments that show how ordinary people can be completely blind or deaf to evidence they don’t want to accept.
So the disciples do have faith that as long as Jesus is with them they will be taken care of, and one day soon they will inherit God’s Kingdom. But their faith is incomplete, because their understanding is incomplete. So Jesus, like all good older brothers, is going to push their understanding a little further.
He says, beginning in verse 35: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,  like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.
Jewish wedding feasts could take days to finish. Basically, the party was over when the food and wine ran out. So, in this story, the servants have no idea when their master will come home: maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week!
But, they’re good servants, they love their master, so they stand ready to open the front door as soon as he knocks. They don’t want to shame him — and themselves — by leaving him outside for ten minutes at midnight, “Hello! Hellooo! Can you let me in to my own house please?”
So Jesus is saying, “You need to be like that: you need to be ready for my return, so you don’t leave me hanging.”
 “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.
And this part is pretty astonishing: Jesus is telling everyone that if he finds his servants ready when he shows up, then he will put on a banquet for his servants, and he will act as the servant to his own servants.
In that culture — and, perhaps, in many of ours — this would have been a shocking reversal of roles: for the master to lower himself in order to lift up his servants.
In essence, Jesus is saying, “If my servants remain ready while I’m gone, then when I arrive back I am going to promote them all to positions higher than mine.”
So: yeah! “it will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak!”
A promotion to a position above your master is a pretty good reward! That’s like…receiving a very large inheritance.
 “But,” Jesus goes on, “understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
Now this is where things change in an unexpected way. First, Jesus has changed his metaphor. Previously he was talking about servants being ready to welcome their master. Now he is talking about a homeowner protecting his house from a thief.
Second, Jesus has changed to using past tense. Previously he talked about the master’s return as a future event. But here he talks about the thief breaking in as something that has already happened.
So with his previous metaphor, he told his disciples, “You need to be like servants, ready for my return.” Now, with this metaphor, he is saying, “Someone has already failed to be ready for my arrival. If they had known what time I was coming, they would have protected their house against me!”
Then he goes on to say,  “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come — back to the future tense — at an hour when you do not expect him.”
So Jesus is telling his disciples, “Don’t make the mistake that the homeowner made. The homeowner was not ready for me, so I broke in and took his stuff. Don’t be like the homeowner!”
And so, quite naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is: who is the homeowner?
Well, Jesus has already used this metaphor once. Back in Chapter 11 — earlier on this same day — he told the crowds, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.” In other words: if a homeowner is strong and on guard, he can protect his property. But if a stronger thief attacks him — the homeowner loses all his stuff!
And in Chapter 11 it is obvious that the homeowner is Satan, and the stronger man — the thief — is Jesus. Jesus was telling the crowds then that they should be on his side, because he is going to win!
And now, in Chapter 12, he is using the same metaphor again. If the homeowner — Satan — had known when Jesus was going to show up to rob him, he would have been better prepared!
So, again, the lesson for the disciples is: do not be like the unprepared homeowner.
…But is Jesus only talking about Satan here? No. The metaphor has expanded since Chapter 11. In Chapter 11, the homeowner was Satan. But ever since Chapter 11, Jesus has been warning his disciples about…the Pharisees. The Pharisees are Satan’s servants: they are slaves in Satan’s household. They should have protected their master’s house against Jesus’ coming.
So, really, Jesus is continuing to warn his disciples to watch out for the Pharisees’ virus. The Pharisees got distracted. They got greedy. They were not ready when Jesus’ showed up to attack Satan’s house and rob him of all his captives.
And by this point the disciples are getting a little confused. Jesus is telling them, “Don’t be like the Pharisees: make sure you are ready for my return, which will be a surprise when it happens!”
But the question in the disciples’ mind is, “Return from where? Are you going away for a while or something?”
And they would have especially noticed how Jesus called himself the “Son of Man” here in verse 40. The Son of Man is a title from the Old Testament, and it is a special reference to Judgement Day.
So when Jesus says, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him,” that makes it sound like Jesus is going to go away for a while, and then come back again only on Judgement Day.
And that is not the timeline the disciples are expecting. Remember, they think that when they get to Jerusalem in a few weeks or months, Jesus is going to kick off Judgement Day, conquer the world, crown himself king, and ta da! paradise.
Now he is talking about going away first? This makes no sense to the disciples.
So Peter speaks up in verse 41: “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
“Are you telling the crowds out there that they need to be ready for Judgement Day in a few weeks when we arrive in Jerusalem? Or are you telling us that we need to be ready for Judgement Day at some unspecified future date?”
Because this makes a big difference, doesn’t it?
Jesus has said the disciples are going to suffer; and that’s bad. But he has also promised that their Father will take care of their daily needs right up until Judgement Day, when they inherit the Kingdom. So: no problem wat! They can handle suffering and living by faith for a few weeks or months until they arrive in Jerusalem!
But here it sounds like Jesus is suggesting it will be more than just a few weeks or months. And — even worse — it sounds like Jesus is suggesting he might not even be around for some reason.
So the disciples are getting concerned. They want to confirm that they really are hearing what they think they’re hearing. That’s why Peter asks, “Ummm, are you talking to them, or to us?”
So, of course, Jesus answers with a riddle:  The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
Jesus is describing a master going away on a long-term business trip, which often took years in those days. So he is putting one of his servants into management, to make sure all the other servants are fed and cared for while the master is gone. If that manager is faithful, and does a good job, he will get a promotion when the master returns: he will be put in charge of everything in the master’s house, not just the other servants.
In other words: a good manager will inherit everything his master owns.
 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, 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 is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
So, who is Jesus talking to: the disciples, or everyone else?
Well, he is talking to everyone else: it’s obvious that he is criticizing the Pharisees here. They are the managers who were left in charge while the master was gone. It was their job to feed God’s Word to the other servants. Instead, as the years went by, they began abuse their management position. They began to twist God’s Word so that it would only benefit themselves. Now their Messiah has arrived; their Judgement Day is coming soon; and if they do not repent, they will be cut into pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers.
But Jesus is also using the future tense: he is talking about what will happen. So: he is also talking to his disciples. He is confirming what they think they just heard: yes, he is going away for what will feel like a very long time. Yes, he is leaving them behind to feed God’s Word to God’s people while he is gone. Yes, he will one day, suddenly, return, and on that Judgement Day the disciples will have to give an account of how they fed God’s people. Those who were faithful will be promoted. Those who abused ther management position…will be assigned a place with the unbelievers.
Now that changes things a bit, doesn’t it! It’s easy to sell your possessions and give to the poor when you know that in just a few weeks or months you’re going to inherit billions of ringgit.
But if you know in advance that it’s going to be thirty or forty or fifty years before you receive that inheritance…well, now you really have to trust your lawyer, don’t you! You really have to trust the system.
And even the idea that your daily needs will be taken care of — well, that’s fine for a few weeks or months, right? But trusting someone else to support you for thirty, forty, fifty years…? That feels a little different. Especially if you are in management, and it is your responsibility to distribute funds for the daily needs of others: with every position of authority comes the potential for abuse. If, as a manager, you lose faith in your lawyer or in the system, then it would be the most natural thing in the world to start embezzling funds for yourself.
This is what the Pharisees have been doing: abusing their positions of authority. Now they’ve been caught. Now they are getting fired — and the disciples are being hired to replace them.
But the situation will be a little different than the disciples expected. They have been thinking they will arrive in Jerusalem, Jesus will kick off Judgement Day, he will crown himself king, and then they will rule alongside him as government ministers.
Instead, it looks like they are going to arrive in Jerusalem, Jesus will be killed, then he will rise again on the third day — but nobody really knows what that means — and then he will go away for a long time, leaving his disciples behind to manage things for him, during which time they might end up on trial or even executed themselves?
This is starting to sound like a very strange and uncomfortable plan.
And Jesus knows how strange it sounds to the disciples. So he warns them again to listen carefully to him (don’t ignore what I’m saying!), verse 47: “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.  But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.
The Pharisees know the master’s will; they know that Jesus is the Messiah, but they are rejecting him; they will be beaten with many blows.
The crowds do not know the master’s will; they do not know that Jesus is the Messiah because the Pharisees have not taught them. They are also rejecting Jesus, but they are rejecting him out of ignorance; so they will be beaten with few blows: their judgement will not be as severe.
But as before, Jesus is not just talking to everyone else here: he is also warning his disciples that — just like the Pharisees — they will have a greater responsibility and therefore a potential for a greater judgement. They must feed God’s People faithfully: they must teach God’s people how to be ready for Jesus’ return. If they do not, they will end up leading whole generations into Judgement. And if that happens, their punishment will be far worse than those they have led astray.
Just as Jesus says here, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
So: Jesus spoke these warnings to his disciples two thousand years ago. Should they mean anything to us today?
Yes. Jesus was speaking here to the twelve Apostles, who were called — like the Pharisees before them — to feed God’s people with God’s Word. And they did.
Now, in our own age, the Apostles are long since gone. But in their place Jesus has appointed pastors and teachers to continue feeding God’s people with God’s Word. It is my job to keep reminding us all that our sins are forgiven, that God is our Father, that our inheritance is guaranteed, that our daily needs will be taken care of, and that it is our calling to live compassionate and generous lives. If I do not keep faithfully reminding all of us about these things, we run the risk of letting our church be infected with the Pharisees’ virus.
So first and foremost, Jesus’ warnings here are for me, and for all those in the church who have been given specific responsibility for the spiritual care of others. Later on in the New Testament, Jesus’ own brother James wrote this: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
And that is a sobering thought.
But there is an application for all of us here. When we look back over Chapters 11 and 12, we can see that our Father does not just have a concern for feeding his people spiritually; he also has a concern for feeding his people physically. He has promised his children food and clothing, among many other things.
And for this purpose, Jesus has given each one of us gifts that we are to use for the good of others. We are all waiting for the day we will receive our full inheritance, but we are waiting together. We are working together, as a family, to keep the house cleaned and ready for Jesus’ return. We all have some position of authority: whether you are a man, a woman, or even a child, there are possessions or people you are responsible to care for. So the general principle holds: those who have been given higher positions of authority and responsibility will be judged more strictly than those who have been given lower positions. This is why, for instance, quite a lot of the New Testament is written as instructions for men: because God has put men in positions of authority and responsibility over their wives and children and — generally speaking — over society as well, God is also going to judge men more strictly. Men receive more instruction in scripture not because they are more important or more equal or something like that; they recieve more instruction because they will be judged more strictly.
And that is a sobering thought — isn’t it, brothers?
But even while that principle holds true, none of us who are in Christ need to give way to fear.
See, when Jesus talks about servants who know what they’re supposed to do and then don’t do it, and receive many blows, he is not talking about God’s children. He is talking about people like the Pharisees, who have blasphemed the Holy Spirit by purposefully twisting and ignoring God’s Word, who have purposefully rejected Jesus and purposefully victimized God’s people.
And when Jesus talks about servants who don’t know what they’re supposed to do because they were never taught, and then receive fewer blows, he is not talking about God’s children. He is talking about the crowds who have blindly followed their false teachers, and so have ignorantly rejected Jesus.
But we are God’s children. It is impossible for us to speak blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit lives within us, and speaks for us. Yes, we sin. Yes, we fail to be perfectly faithful, perfectly compassionate, perfectly generous. But we are not counted among those servants who deliberately reject the Saviour. On the contrary, we have accepted our Saviour’s forgiveness, and that forgiveness is forever. And this means we do not need to be afraid of receiving any blows from our Father. We have nothing to fear, nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
This is how it works: for those who have rejected Jesus’ forgiveness, there are only two options: receiving few blows, or receiving many blows. There is a bit of a painful irony here: if you insist on viewing God as a harsh, demanding, unforgiving Judge…in the end, that is the God you will meet.
But for those who have accepted Jesus’ forgiveness, who have accepted God as their Father, there are also only two options: receiving a small promotion, or receiving a huge promotion! Yes, Christians who are given higher positions of responsibility in this life will be judged more strictly in the next life — but they are still God’s children; God is still their Father; their inheritance is still guaranteed. Some of us will receive one billion for our reward; others will receive one-hundred billion. But I promise you, friends: in the presence of our Father, I will be just as happy with my one billion as you will be with your one-hundred billion.
But of course — in closing here — we have to notice that some people will object to this; they will say, “But then where’s the motivation to do anything good at all?” Going back to our thought experiment at the beginning: “if we have no fear that we might lose our ten billion ringgit inheritance, why would we bother to give away our house to an orphanage? If our inheritance is guaranteed, then…why wouldn’t we just take it easy, eat, drink, and be merry?”
Ah, but see: that’s exactly the point. If you are afraid you won’t receive your ten billions — then you’ll keep your house. But if you are certain that one day you will be a billionaire, giving away your house to an orphanage costs you nothing! Fear produces selfishness, not obedience! But confidence in our Father’s love, confidence in our inheritance, that produces compassion. It is love, not fear, that motivates us live to lives of faithfulness and compassion and generosity. It is confidence in Jesus’ return that will keep us faithful until Judgement Day. We have faith in the person who made these promises to us; we have faith in the system he represents: that is why we do good things.
Our Father has left each one of his children in management over something: some greater, some smaller. So let us all dedicate ourselves to discovering moment by moment how he wants us each one of us to serve. Let us all use what gifts our Father has given us for the good of everyone. Let us do these things without fear, and with great love.