A certain nobleman

A grain of mustard
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"A Certain Nobleman"

Jericho: The top of the Mound or Tell as it is today

All the parables of Jesus are characterised by great economy of words. These simple stories powerfully convey many important aspects of his teaching in a way which captures the imagination of the listener. The inquiring student will discover hidden meanings and lessons to heighten his interest and appreciation of the teaching of Jesus. Like a master artist Jesus could paint graphic pictures to enforce his preaching of `the gospel of the kingdom of God.' Mark 1:14

BACKGROUND TO THE PARABLE

Jesus spoke this parable to the crowd as he left Jericho to journey up to Jerusalem for the last time before his crucifixion. Luke is the only gospel writer to record this parable (Luke 19:11-27), and he states that Jesus introduced it at this juncture `because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.' Luke 19:11 In the mounting crisis, there was evidently a general expectation that Jesus would assert his right to sit on the throne of David there and then, vanquishing the occupying Romans and establishing the kingdom of God. Luke describes how Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem riding a colt, accompanied by the loud shouts of an enthusiastic crowd, `Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord.' Luke 19:38

Within a week of his arrival, at his public trial before Pilate, Jesus was to bear witness to his kingship, (John 18:33-37) foretold by the angel before his birth. (Luke 1:30-33) Later that day he was crucified and over the middle cross outside the city, was displayed the challenging title:

"Jesus of Nazareth The King of the Jews" (John 19.19)

As the King of the Jews, Jesus is identified in the parable with `A certain nobleman (who) went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.' Luke 19:12

Jesus never discounted the conviction of his followers, that he would `restore again the kingdom to Israel.' Acts 1:6. The story of the nobleman enforces the truth that the kingdom of God was not then imminent. A long interval had to elapse before Jesus returned from heaven, the `far country' of the parable to accomplish all things at his second coming. (Acts 1:10,11) Remember his promise that, `If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also' John 14:3.

THE NOBLEMAN'S INSTRUCTIONS

Before the nobleman left for the far country, he called his ten servants. Each was given a pound and told to `Occupy till I come,' or as the New International version puts it, `Put this money to work...until I come back.' Luke 19:13 In the nobleman's absence the servants were expected to render faithful, responsible service: not simply maintaining possession of their master's property, but using it to gain by industry and trading, an increase and profit on the original sum of money. At his return, the nobleman, having received for himself the kingdom, makes a final reckoning of the trading results achieved by each servant.

Unlike the parable of the talents, where the number of goods given for trading varies (Matthew 25:14-30), in our story each servant is given the same amount. The pound fittingly represents the common blessing of the Gospel. Jesus, as the earth's future king, gives to individual waiting servants equal opportunities to prove their loyalty and diligence in his absence. It is now that those left behind, as obscure traders, exhibit their true qualities, their fitness of character to qualify for nobler positions of distinction and authority in the coming Kingdom.

The nobleman will be looking for growing maturity, as the waiting servants make their calling and election sure.

The Apostle Peter wrote in his second letter:

`...he (Jesus) has given us his very great and precious promises...For this very reason (Peter says), make every effort to add to your faith (to this basic one pound gospel asset of the parable) goodness... knowledge... self-control... perseverance... godliness... brotherly kindness... love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ...Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' 2 Peter 1:4-11 NIV

THE SERVANTS JUDGED AND REWARDED

The nobleman wished to know from each servant in turn, how much he had gained by trading his property. The command `Occupy till I come', is an individual charge and we will be judged as individuals, on the basis of individual performance, as the Apostle Paul wrote `every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.' 1 Corinthians 3:8

It is a mistake to think that all professing Christians will be saved `en masse.' Christianity is an individual matter. We each have to work out our own salvation and are answerable to Jesus at his appearing for the way we have managed our lives. (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:11,12) Entrance into his Kingdom is not assured but depends on personal effort and identification with the teaching and commandments placed on his servants by the nobleman, their future judge. Paul wrote about the materials that can be used for building on the foundation of Jesus Christ and he warned the builder that `his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.' 1 Corinthians 3:13,14 NIV

TEN AND FIVE CITIES

The Garden of Gethsemane as it is today

When Jesus met with his disciples in Jerusalem on the night of his arrest in the garden, he encouraged them with the promise:

`...I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.' Luke 22:29,30

Similarly, in the parable, the two faithful servants are rewarded with authority over ten and five cities. Theirs was to be a literal inheritance of the earth, rulership over differing sized districts of this kingdom to be presided over by the nobleman, the appointed king.

How the first two servants were rewarded was in direct proportion to the accumulation of profit, gained from the original pound. Both servants started out with the same one pound asset; the first achieved the best possible improvement - a tenfold increase, while the second gained five pounds. These different degrees of improvement, using the same opportunities, are reflected in the gradations of the final reward, varying ranks of honour and authority - rule over ten and five cities respectively. [For similar teaching in the parable of the sower see Mark 4:20]

The Proverbs tell us, `Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings.' Proverbs 22:29 For the initial pound to gain ten pounds by trading, it was necessary for the first servant to work exceptionally hard. We can say that the gift entrusted to him came to dominate his life. All other considerations were made subservient to the prime objective, as Jesus put it, `seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.' Matthew 6:33 Every trading opportunity was turned to profitable account which met with the approval of the nobleman who said, `Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.' Luke 19:17

His fidelity and perseverance in the seemingly small matters of everyday living, showed that he was worthy to receive the king's favour and was fit to be elevated from a mere servant to high office and responsibility in the political constitution of the kingdom. His example, commended by the nobleman, illustrates the need for continual faithfulness, as the Apostle Paul writes:

`We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.' Hebrews 6:11,12 NIV

THE WICKED SERVANT

The third servant, condemned by the nobleman as `thou wicked servant' Luke 19:22, failed to occupy properly the time spent waiting for his master's return. Not that he had squandered the money in riotous living, after the example of the prodigal son in another parable. (Luke 15:13). `Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin.' Luke 19:20 To avoid loss or damage he had carefully concealed the money out of harm's way. The solitary pound, secreted away in a napkin, became a `frozen asset' from a business point of view and of little value. Neglected in this way it was impossible for the servant to make any profit. Certainly, had the incident occurred in inflationary times, the unused coin would soon drop in value from its initial worth.

When he sought to justify his caution we learn why the condemned servant out of a sense of duty, performed the bare minimum. He gave a disappointingly negative response to the challenge offered, by having custody of the nobleman's goods. He said:

`For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.' Luke 19:21

His excuse was a mistaken fear of what he saw as the harsh, unreason-able austerity of his Lord. The alleged exploitation of suppressed servants gave no encouragement for hard work, or for proper business management.

The man stood condemned by the words of his own self-defence. As the nobleman pointed out, even if such a harsh view of himself was correct, surely basic prudence should have compelled the servant to deposit the money in a bank, there to make at least a minimal investment gain from interest earned. By disregarding the charge to `Occupy till I come', he had refused to run any risk, or to inconvenience himself in any way. Out of fear and indolence he did nothing, and at the finish he lost all. The bystanders were told to `Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.' Luke 19:24 By already proving himself capable of taking on even greater responsibilities, the first servant was further rewarded with the gift of the unused pound.

LESSONS FOR TODAY

The end of the wicked servant emphasises the importance of having a balanced knowledge and appreciation of the ways and character of both Jesus Christ, the nobleman soon to return, and also his Heavenly Father, from whom Jesus receives the kingdom. Right conduct will be our positive response to the privileges bestowed on those who now serve in the nobleman's house, trading with his goods. The nobleman inspires loyalty and diligence from his waiting servants, because of their indebtedness to him for giving to them all, the same priceless hope of elevation to an inheritance in his kingdom:

`For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.' 2 Corinthians 5:14,15

A useless, self-centred existence is not what Paul means when he urges that we should live unto Christ. Like those who used the money to good advantage in the parable, we need to make our lives productive, `That (we) might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.'  Colossians 1:10.  By diligent service and application, the first two servants increased the original asset of one pound. We also gain the same fulfilment in our lives, by total commitment to the challenge of trading in the goods which belong to our Master. He says to his servants today, `Occupy till I come.'

If we are lazy and complacent, if we do nothing, then we shall finish up as failures, our lives showing a nil profit, when the account of our service is reviewed by the judge. As the nobleman tells those present at the final reckoning:

`I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.' Luke 19:26

All the prophetic signs tell us that the kingdom of God will very soon appear. For this reason the parable of the nobleman has a particular message for those awaiting the nobleman's return today.

Wise are those who heed the instruction of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:

`See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.' Ephesians 5:15-17

Are you using your time and living your life wisely?