Begin with the End in Mind
Begin with the End in Mind
As an instructor of preaching at the Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, every semester I have the privilege of teaching classes of 10 to 14 students how to rightfully handle God's Word. Essentially, for a large portion of the semester, I lecture on preaching theory and how to formulate and deliver a message. Then, near the end of the semester, each student will prepare and preach two messages. The first sermon is shorter and based on a passage of Scripture that I have chosen, as I am helping them get their feet wet in the preaching pool. The second message is a bit longer—to be chosen by the student—and it is worth more points. After each sermon, I give some helpful feedback on what they could have done differently.
One semester, however, I only had three students enroll in one of my classes. It was a class I'll never forget.
Jackie went first to deliver her first message. She did a fantastic job. She had a lot of natural ability as a communicator. She preached on Mary and Martha and handled the text beautifully. She was a gifted and talented speaker. After she spoke, I got up as I normally do and highlighted her strengths and a few weaknesses. I gave her some feedback and mentioned she could change a few things to help make the sermon go from a good sermon to a great sermon. She could do more of this and less of that, and I knew, with her ability and character, she could handle my critique so that she could improve.
Next, Mark got up to deliver his sermon. He did a great job, too—he actually preached from the Book of Mark, about Jesus walking on water and calming the sea. His big idea was, "Whatever is over your head is under Jesus' feet." A really memorable big idea! I stood up afterwards and gave him some helpful feedback. I told him to work on a couple of things for his second sermon so that he could improve as well.
Then Tim got up to preach. He didn't do quite as well as Jackie or Mark, but he did okay. It was obvious he was a bit more nervous than the others, but he made it through to the end. Afterwards I got up and said to him, "Tim, for your second sermon, how about you work on just one thing. Work on this one aspect of your sermon." I went on to give him the one thing to work on.
Then we had a long break. I went to a conference, then we had Thanksgiving break, then we had a school holiday, so I didn't see the class for a long time. But it was to their benefit, because they had a lot of time to work on their second sermon and improve. Also, because each student was about to graduate, each one asked during the break if I could write a letter of recommendation for the ministry job they were applying for. I get asked that question frequently so I said I would be happy to, but I would wait until after their second sermon and the semester was completed.
After this long break, we came back together as a class. Jackie went first, and she preached another fantastic message. She was so talented, so gifted. I had asked her to work on several things—and work on them she did. Afterwards, I got up and simply told her, "Well done, Jackie! You have been a really great student this semester. You've been a faithful student and a pleasure to have in class. You worked on everything I asked you to, and you really went above and beyond. I would be delighted to write a glowing letter of recommendation for you. I am so excited for you, and I can't wait to see where the Lord takes you!"
Then Mark got up, and he did a really good job, too. It was obvious he had worked on the couple corrections we talked about. Afterwards I said, "Mark, well done! You, too, have been a good student. You've been faithful to your studies. It's evident you've been working hard. You worked on the couple things I asked you to work on, and I'm really proud of you. I would be honored to write a recommendation for you, and if they don't hire you, it's their loss. I am so thrilled for you, and I can't wait to see how you serve the Lord in the future!"
Then Tim got up. He started differently than the other two. With somewhat of an accusatory tone, he started off by saying, "Now before I preach, Professor Rappazini, I know you are a hard professor. I know that around Moody, you have a reputation of grading strictly. You are difficult because you require students to deliver their messages with limited notes, and sometimes no notes at all! So, Professor Rappazini—since I passed with my first sermon—instead of preaching a new sermon, I am just going to preach that same one again." And he did exactly that. He preached the same exact sermon as before.
As he was preaching, I was racking my brain as to what I was supposed to say when he finished. I was thinking, What evaluation should give him? So once he ended, I marched to the front of the class and said, "Tim! You wicked and evil student! How dare you preach the same thing again? You know I require you to preach from a different passage of Scripture and a different sermon. You know I gave you specific feedback on your first sermon. In fact, I just gave you one thing to work on, and you didn't even do that. You could have at least picked another passage of Scripture, read it, and said a prayer at the end. That would have at least been something different. Tim, I am not going to write a recommendation for you. In fact, what I am going to do is contact the ministry you were applying to and tell them to not hire you, but to hire Jackie instead. As for you, Tim, you may gather your belongings and remove yourself from the classroom."
The point of the parable
Now, I tell you this story so you can know how it feels to hear a parable. A parable is an exaggerated story that didn't really happen, but you tell it to make a point. Parables are hidden land mines, and you don't know what they are actually talking about until the end. It is there that you end up realizing the story is actually about you. There is a point to the parable I just told you, and there is always a point to the parables that Jesus told. Today we are going to look at a very similar parable that Jesus told, and the point of Jesus' parable—as well as the one I just told you—is this: Begin with the end in mind.
See, when Jackie prepared her second sermon, she prepared with the end in mind. When Mark prepared his second sermon, he prepared with the end in mind. But when Tim got up to preach his second sermon, it was obvious he did not prepare with the end in mind at all. Here's why this is important for you and me: We are on the verge of a new year, and I want to challenge you to begin this new year with the end in mind. So what do I mean?
For the last several weeks churches all around the world, have been celebrating the first coming of Jesus Christ. We set up the Nativity scene; we've sung songs about the Lord Jesus entering into this world; we've read Scripture; and we've heard sermons about Mary and Joseph, the wise man, and the shepherds. We do a great job of celebrating the first coming of our king, but what can often be overshadowed is the anticipation of the second coming of Christ. When you look through the pages of Scripture, you will see several passages that talk about Jesus' first coming, but what is talked about even more is his second coming. There is no doubt: he's coming back!
When you thumb through the pages of the New Testament, every book of the New Testament either alludes to or directly mentions Jesus' return. Do we know exactly when he is coming back? No, but here's what we do know: We are closer today than we were yesterday. We are closer this year than we were last year. We do know, from the pages of Scripture, that he is indeed returning. So the question is, "Are we ready?" What are we to do in the meantime, while we wait for his imminent return?
I want you to know that we are not the first ones to have ever asked this question before. While Jesus was still on Earth, he knew that believers throughout the centuries would be asking this same question. In fact, before Jesus left, even the disciples probed: "Jesus, if you are going away, what are we supposed to do in the meantime? What do we do when you're gone? What do we do to prepare for your return?" Jesus responds by telling them a series of parables, because he is trying to communicate—from his heavenly perspective—to these mortal men about what they are to expect of Jesus' return and what they are to do in the meantime while they are waiting for and anticipating the return of Christ. In the parable we will be looking at today, Jesus communicates that people need to live with the end in mind.
The master relinquishes
(Read Matthew 25:14-30)
"Again." He starts with "again" in verse 14, because, again, here's another story—here's another parable. "It"—meaning the kingdom of God.
Let me pause right there. Many of you have heard this parable before. This parable is usually called the "Parable of the Talents," and I'll explain what a talent is in just a moment. But essentially what Jesus is saying is, "There is a man"—we will read later on that he was a really wealthy man—"and he's going on a journey." But he calls three of his trusted servants and entrusts his property, his wealth, to them. The word "entrust" is important; it's crucial. It does not mean to simply hold, keep safe, or don't lose. No, what he means is this: "Hey servants, I'm entrusting my property to you specifically. I'm relinquishing it into your care. So manage my wealth, as I would. I want you to do what you think I would do with it. I want you to invest it somewhere and make it grow like I have done over the last several decades."
Now, don't think of a talent like a song and dance talent. Rather, a talent was a sum of money. Scholars believe that one talent would be worth around $300,000. The master relinquishes five talents to one servant. That's like 1.5 million dollars! Think of being handed five stuffed briefcases of cold, hard cash.
The people listening to this parable would say, "Wait a minute, Jesus—no master would ever give that much money to his servant!'" To which Jesus would respond, "I know, this is a parable: It didn't really happen. Chill out. There's a point, so hold on." The text says that at once, or immediately, the servant knew exactly what to do. Straightaway, he invested that money. He put it to work. He didn't keep it safe or locked up; he used it and managed that money so it could grow. And he gained five more talents.
The second servant did the same: He doubled his master's money. "But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money" (v. 18). To which we are thinking, Who would do that? Who would go and take a shovel, dig a hole in the ground, and bury $300,000? To which Jesus would reply, "Well, nobody would—it's a parable. There's a point, so keep listening."
The master rewards
"After a long time" (v. 19): Now, this cannot be overstated. This is like a really long time—so long that the servants were wondering if this guy was ever coming back. So after a long time, "the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them" (v. 19). In other words, the master investigates: "Okay, I'm back now. What did you do with the things I entrusted to you? What did you do with the briefcases of cash, the talents, that I gave to you? I know you may have forgotten this, but they weren't yours to begin with—they were mine and have always been mine. So what have you done with them? I want to know: What have you done with this opportunity I gave you?"
The first guy comes up. "The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more'" (v. 20).
When he first received those five talents, he began with the end in mind. He knew that one day his master would be coming back, and he would have to give an account for the things he had done with his master's talents. Now the master has returned, and he rewards the two faithful servants.
(Read Matthew 25:21-23)
The master rebukes
Now, if this were a movie, the soundtrack would begin to change. You know what happens next, right? The guy with the one talent, who dug a hole in the ground and buried his talent, is up next.
(Read Matthew 25:24-25)
We aren't able to hear the tone in this guy's voice, but essentially this a first-century version of the blame game. Did you notice how he accuses his master?
What is the master supposed to say next? Obviously, this guy did not begin with the end in mind. "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant!'" (v. 26). This word "wicked" could be translated as "worthless," which is probably a better translation. "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).
The master rebukes his servant: "You lazy and slothful servant! All you did was dig a hole in the ground and put the money there. You could have at least put it in the bank so it would have accrued a small interest. But you didn't even do that because of your slothfulness, your irresponsibility! You didn't want to take this opportunity that I gave you. Instead, you wasted it."
In verse 28, the master says, "Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags." To which some of us might ponder and question: Well, wait a minute, Jesus. In all fairness, wouldn't it be fair to give the 1 talent to the guy who had 4 so he could have 5 and be a little closer to the guy who had 10? Why should the guy who has 10 get even more? That doesn't sound fair.
But this parable is not about fairness. It is about something entirely different. And Jesus tells us exactly what it is about in verse 29. Here's the point that Jesus is trying to make: "For everyone who has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." This does not mean that whoever has a lot of possessions will be given even more possessions. This means that whoever has used the opportunities God has given them will be given more opportunities. And whoever does not use the opportunities that God has given, then those opportunities will be taken and given to someone else.
Jesus concludes this parable by saying, "And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 30). This servant was in the inner circle. He had a prime opportunity to use what God had given him to do something great for his master, but he wasted that opportunity. Now he is to be moved to the outskirts of the outer circle. Then Jesus, as only Jesus can do, moves on to the next parable.
But let me tell you why this parable is so important for you and me today. This next year, we are all going to be given opportunities. The question is: "What are you going to do with the opportunities God gives you?" Here's what the question is not: "Why didn't I get as many as that person?" The question, rather, is how you are going to leverage the opportunities the Lord has given you. Whether it is one, two, five, or even more—how are you going to use the gifts God has entrusted to you? Will you begin this new year with the end in mind?
Let me tell you what this may look like for some of you in this room. For some, your family and your household will be growing this next year. Maybe you are having a baby; maybe a child is coming home from college; maybe a parent or relative is moving in. Your family and your household are going to grow. What are you going to do with that opportunity? At the end of their stay with you, what do you hope it looks like? How can you leverage that time you spend with them to point them to God's words and his ways? Whether it is 18 years, 2 years, or 6 months, what do you want the end to look like? Begin with the end in mind.
Some of you will be starting new romantic relationships this next year. Begin with the end in mind. I am a big advocate of dating with purpose, dating with intentionality. I'm not saying you have to plan your wedding after your first date, but if God is going to put someone in your path, you need to enter into that relationship with an idea of where you want it to go. Taking it one day at a time, or just being in a relationship to be in a relationship, is laziness and being irresponsible. Date with intentionality. Begin with the end in mind.
For many of us, there are probably things in this new year that we either need to start doing or need to stop doing, but begin with the end in mind. Maybe it is finally starting to make and live off a monthly budget. Maybe it is making a will or a trust for your family, because the end is coming whether you like it or not. Some of us need to stop a habit or addiction.
Make a goal and have a plan. Maybe it is starting a prayer time with your family; you've been wanting to do it, and what a great time to start. Some of us need to stop arguing and fighting with our spouse or exasperating our children. What do you want them to say about you five years down the road? Ten years down the road? Twenty years down the road? Because they will say something. So begin with the end in mind.
Finally, big picture: At some point in time, Jesus will be returning. The master is coming back, and he is coming back to settle accounts. He's coming back to see what you did with all the opportunities that were given to you. Jesus says, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). So this year, begin with the end in mind.
Imagine what it would be like, after your time on this earth is over, when you meet Jesus face-to-face. When the two of you go through the slideshow of your life, what do want his response to be? What do you want his reaction to be? Do you want it to be like the reaction I had with Tim, or the reaction the master had with the servant who buried his opportunity in the ground? No—I think you, like me, want a reaction where Jesus will put his arm around us and say, "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 in your master's happiness!" Our master wants nothing more than to share his joy not just with his servants, but with his sons and daughters. So this new year, begin with the end in mind.
Chris Rappazini serves as the Biblical Exposition Program Head at the Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, WA, is an associate teaching pastor at Southside Christian Church, and is on the Board of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.