5. Using Today’s Provisions

Wilderness Meditations: 5. Using today’s provisions

Psa 78:19  they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?”

Jn 6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness.”

Recapping:  In the last two studies we have been focusing on the realities of receiving from the Lord in the wilderness. First we faced the possibility of unbelief over this matter of God being our provider. Then we went on to consider various aspects of our side of the equation – about having a heart focused on God and not on money, having a generous and caring heart that can provide for others. But there is yet a further aspect of being a receiver of God’s provision, especially in wilderness times.

The Place of Testing: The wilderness is a place of challenge and for the believer, a place of trial and testing. It is both a place of learning and also of proving the depth of our faith. In days of plenty and unfettered freedom, it is easy to be happy and contented, but when we enter a season of time in the wilderness, we are challenged over the question of provision and contentedness. It also challenges us as to  whether we can both remain in peace as we trust God for provision and whether we can hear God as we considered yesterday, to be creative and act with wisdom so that He may provide in that way if He wishes. But behind this there is yet another principle we haven’t yet touched upon.

The Example of the Manna: So we are considering the whole question of God providing for us in the wilderness and the obvious historical example of this was the manna He provided for Israel for forty years in the wilderness: The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled.” (Ex 16:35) What is especially remarkable about that is that it was supposed to be provision for only a few months but when Israel refused to enter the Promised Land and had to wait forty years in the wilderness, the Lord carried on providing it for them. But there is one particular aspect of the manna that I want us to focus on today. Not so much the fact that it was a daily miraculous provision from God, but more from the fact that it was His provision for them for five days each week, for them to use on the day, and if they kept it longer, it went off. Yet, on the sixth day they were to collect double, part to use on that sixth day and part to use the next day, the Sabbath – and it didn’t go off on the Sabbath!

Talents: There is more than one parable that uses talents or minas or bags of gold as the provision handed out.  In Mt 25:14-30 in the NIV it is bags of gold, in the ESV it is talents, but the message is the same. The house owner hands out 10, 5 and 1 talent to his servants and when he returns home it is clear he expected them to have used and multiplied what he had given each of them. The one who declared, I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground,” (v.25) was thoroughly chastised. I would suggest there are two implications here. First, the more obvious one that we usually latch onto, is that God expects us to use all He has given us, to bless ourselves, to bless others, to bless the world and to bless Him. The second implication is that of relationship, how we view God. The third man saw Him as “a hard man” (v.24). He had a wrong understanding of his master, and that inhibited the way he lived.

How we view God: I believe the time of the Pandemic is a time of revelation, of the hearts of men and women. How people cope – or don’t cope – is an indicator of the resources they have. Believers should be those who have unlimited resources that are drawn upon as we go each morning to the fount that is Jesus. But part of it is how we view Jesus? As we suggested in the first of these studies, I don’t believe he is the cause of the Pandemic except in as far as he may have taken his hand of protection off Chinese scientists who then got it wrong and allowed it to escape into the world from the bats they had been investigating. It is more helpful to ask, ‘what can I learn from this,’ rather than worry about its origins, but that goes right back to how we view God.

To take a very basic biblical teaching: God is perfect. When something is perfect it cannot be improved upon and so in no way when you think about what God thinks, says or does, can you imagine there being a better way. We will not be able to know that of a certainty until we come face to face with him in heaven, but in the meantime it is a matter of faith and trust. Sin mars our thinking, our perception, our understanding, and it is for those reasons we can find ourselves listening to the enemy who whispers, “He is a hard man!” No He’s not. Satan is a liar.

Questions: In the wilderness the outlook is sparse and barren but with Him there with us, our resources are never in question, His love for us is never in question and so that leaves us with a question: have I received what I have as a gift from Him to be used joyfully and thankfully and fruitfully? On the other side of the coin, the question might be, have I taken for granted all the good things I have known in my life, all the good things that have happened in my life and have I therefore been ungrateful? To these we must add, am I using what He has given me to bless others, close family, friends and others He puts before me? Are my resources growing because I am using them and are they blessing others? 

53. Talents

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 53.  The Talents 

Mt 25:14-15   Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

We come to what I have to confess is my favourite parable, for a slightly strange reason that I will share later. Notice the start word: “Again”. Jesus is continuing on picturing what it will be like at the End and I suppose it can be summarised as “An Accounting”. The thrust is in the punch lines at the end but to get there we have to go through what is a fairly lengthy but simple story.

Remember the context of pointing towards the end time: Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.” (v.14) That is the background scenario, in Part 1 of this parable, a property looked after by servants while the ‘master’ is away. In a sense Jesus is ‘away’ at the present time, as he reigns from heaven, seated at his Father’s right hand. He is ‘away’ and will come back at some point in the future; that is to be remembered at the heart of this parable.

However, before he goes the master entrusts each servant with a number of “talents of money”.  A talent would be the equivalent, I am told, of quite a lot of money. This is a rich master giving out generously. To one he gives five, to another two and to another just one, “each according to their ability” and then he went on his journey (v.15) The parable is about how each one used what they had and then the Master’s response when he returned.  The one who had five made five more, the one with two made two more but the one with just the one, “dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (16-18).

Now Part 2 of the parable is of The End: After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.” (v.19) Each servant comes before the Master and accounts for what they have done with his money. (v.20) He praises the first one, “His master replied, `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!” (v.21) A fulsome praise. The same response is given to the second man. (v.22,23)

Now the response of the third man is the thing that highlights this parable because I believe it portrays the response of so many Christians and needs addressing in these days. Indeed it may be one of the most significant things that limits the church today. So see his response: “Then the man who had received the one talent came. `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. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’” (v.24,25)

I will come back here in a moment, but notice the Master’s response. First of all the rebuke: “His master replied, `You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 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.” (v.26,27) IF, and it is an ‘if’, IF the servant believed what he said, then logically he ought to have done something with the money more than he did. Whether we respond to His love and generosity or we respond out of fear of the accounting, we NEED to be Doers, responders.

Second, observe the severity of his response: “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (v.28-30) Note two actions and sandwiched between, a two-sided principle.

First action: According to this parable what has been entrusted to each of us in life, will be taken away at the End if we don’t use it wisely, i.e. living with a focus on the Father (v.28). Second action: the removal of that life will mean being cast away from God.  The Principles: 1. When you come to God He will give you His blessings and as you use that, He will give you more.  2. If you don’t come to Him you will have nothing and even that will be taken from you!

Now I need to clarify something. Earlier I said the last man often epitomized what appears to be the response of so many Christians today. Now this man in this parable ends up being cast away from God. Does that mean hell? No, I believe that means into a place of severe disciplining. I don’t believe people will lose their salvation because of their attitude that God is a ‘hard man’ but they will be disciplined, and that in this lifetime.

So what does having an attitude that God is a ‘hard man’ mean?  First of all, it is an attitude about God. Some people get locked up by the thought that God is a God of severe judgment who is to be feared but as one person on the Internet has noted, “Only about 60 verses in total in the Gospels might be construed as either directly or indirectly referring to hell” (1.58%) whereas “192 verses have Jesus referring to heaven, eternal life, or his coming kingdom” (5%). i.e. hardly any of the Gospels are taken up with the thought of what happens to sinners after death and at the End. The Gospels are Good News! It was good news for those who encountered Jesus and it is good news as far as far as our ultimate eternal life will be concerned.

I have previously recommended learning three sets of verses from Ezekiel in this respect and I do so again. They are: Ezek 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” and Ezek 18:31,32 “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” and Ezek 33:11 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”  Our God is a God of grace and mercy!

But second, this attitude manifests itself in unbelief seen in passive Christianity that prefers to sit in the pews rather than risk stepping out in faith and maybe getting it wrong, and the ‘hard man’ mentality fears being slapped by this harsh holy God who cannot tolerate imperfection. Look again at Jesus meeting with the sinners! God loves His children stepping out in faith (and sometimes getting it not quite right!!!). He is NOT a hard man and He loves all of us, when we get it right and when we don’t. Aim to get it right, but risk His love!