At the end of his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus stayed with his friends in Bethany.
Bethany was the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. It was the home of Simon, whom he cured of leprosy. Jesus stayed in the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Each day he visited Jerusalem, and in the evening he returned to Bethany.
Two days before Passover, Jesus was on his way back to Bethany with his disciples. They stopped for a rest on the Mount of Olives. At the same time the leading priests and elders were meeting of the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, to plot how to kill Jesus. In the evening, Jesus would have supper at Simon’s house and be anointed with expensive perfume by a woman. Then Judas would go to the leading priests and accept 30 pieces of silver in return for betraying Jesus.
While he was in Jerusalem that day, Jesus went to the temple with his disciples. As they were leaving the temple, the disciples talked about the impressive buildings. The Greeks counted their temple in Ephesus, dedicated to worship of Artemis, as one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple in Jerusalem dedicated to the one true God was in fact much larger and far more magnificent. It was one of the most splendid and beautiful structures in all of antiquity.
Jesus seemed not to be impressed. In response to the comments of his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” When they stopped for a rest on the Mount of Olives, looking over the valley at the temple, the disciples took the opportunity to ask Jesus bout his comment.
“Tell us, when will all this happen?” they asked him.
His reply runs from Matthew 24:4 all the way to Matthew 26:2. It’s a discourse about the future and what is going to happen. Jesus talks of the end of the age and a coming judgement.
In the portion of Scripture that we are looking at today, Jesus warns the disciples of the need to be prepared. In Matthew 24:42 he says, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.”
If you think that you don’t need to keep watch, because you’ve already been saved, you aren’t alone. But there is no doubting what Jesus means. His disciples have to keep watch. You and I, we have to keep watch. We don’t know when our Lord is coming, despite what you may read on the internet from time to time.
So why do we need to keep watch?
Jesus says we are in danger from a burglar if we don’t keep watch. That seems to be a metaphor for any unexpected event. Then he tells a short story about servants. This time it’s the master, not a burglar, who turns up unexpectedly.
The first thing that Jesus seems to be saying is that we will be judged on what we are doing at the moment of his return. And of course not just on what we are doing, but on the state of our hearts at the moment he returns.
Jesus tells of a servant who was put in charge of the affairs of his master while the master went away. Most people think that by servants Jesus meant anyone who is a disciple of his. Jesus is saying that one of his disciples will be in charge while he is gone.
It would seem to be fair to assume that Jesus has chosen wisely. He has looked for a responsible and trustworthy disciple to be in charge. When Jesus returns he will not examine how this disciple was when he was put in charge, but how he is at the moment of return. If things are humming along and “the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.”
Now Jesus poses a question to his disciples. ‘But what if the servant is evil?’ We presume this to mean that he has become evil while his master was away. He is evil at the moment of return and so the master “will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
What is the good servant like? What kind of disciple will get a reward and be put in charge of everything. What is an evil servant like? What kind of disciple will be assigned ‘a place with the hypocrites’?
A good servant is one who is good at ‘managing his other household servants and feeding them.’ A good disciple looks after his or her brothers and sisters. Isn’t that an example of love? The good disciple loves and cares for others, putting them first.
The evil disciple is the one who spends his or her time “beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk.” There has been a tendency among some to think this verse means that it is evil to attend a party or to drink alcohol, which is ironically what Jesus was accused of doing. It seems rather that it is an indication of a person who puts himself first. The nature of evil appears to be to make oneself God by raising one’s own physical desires above God’s desires.
Evil doesn’t see others as human, but as things to possess and control and use.
Isaiah 5:20 – “What sorrow for those who say
that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
21 What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
and think themselves so clever.
22 What sorrow for those who are heroes at drinking wine
and boast about all the alcohol they can hold.”
Maybe we need to stop and remind ourselves at this point that evil is a real thing.
Isaiah says it isn’t just drinking as much alcohol as you can hold. That’s part of it. That’s an example of the gluttony that is evil. Evil is also thinking you are clever. And evil is saying that evil is good, and good is evil. Evil is saying dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
These verses should draw our attention to a problem with evil. It’s impossible to know when you are evil. We’ve all heard of people who defend their behaviour by saying that at least they don’t go around murdering children, or they don’t steal from the poor, or they donate to a good cause at Christmas.
These people think they are clever, but they are unable to recognise that they are evil. They are unable to tell the difference between bitter and sweet. They lack all ability to discern. We also have in our nature a tendency to define what we like as good, even when deep down inside we know it not to be so. We lie not only to our friends, but to ourselves.
Jesus shows that there are ways to discern if you are evil or good. There are ways to know if you are prepared for the end. Surprisingly, it isn’t whether you believe in Jesus or not.
The bad servant and the good servant both believed in their master, but in his absence behaved differently. Your behaviour is not what determines if you are good, it is the evidence of your heart. Are you a good person? How can you know if you are a good person?
A good person, according to Jesus, is a person who lives for others. A good person’s heart seeks the good of others. A good person’s heart seeks the truth, and brings things into the light. An evil heart is consumed with pretence and selfish desire.
We are all sinners. We are born sinners. In once sense we have an excuse, but the Bible says we are born with the message very close at hand; “it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.” (Deuteronomy 30:14) As in Jesus’ story where the servant becomes evil, so all who follow their selfish desires become evil and can no longer see the light. When we choose our own way we are choosing a sinful way that leads only to death.
Romans 1:21 says, “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.”
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul is writing to Timothy about the last days. He is warning what it will be like. Just look at verse 2 for now and read more on your own later.
“People will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.”
The people Paul is talking about are us, the people in the church. By the work of the Holy Spirit we must learn to give up our lives for others and serve them, or we’ll be lost.