Wednesday, 14 August 2013
Luke 19:11-27 'Don't waste your life'
This morning I want us to see how Jesus should shape our priorities and show how we can be fruitful in this life.
1. Be visible
Jesus tells this parable because he is near Jerusalem and people are hoping that he is the messiah who will establish a political kingdom straight away. The people despised the Roman occupiers. It was Passover, when they remembered how they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. What a good time for a rebellion. But Jesus is not interested in such a small vision of the kingdom. He is the Messiah. But they will have to wait a while before he displays his authority in all its fullness.
It is a bit like a nobleman who sets out to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. The people Jesus was talking to knew that Herod the Great had, seventy years earlier, set off to Rome to request that Caesar make him king of Judea. He returned with that authority. Jesus is going to go away and later return in the fullness of his royal authority.
But what should the servants do while they wait for him to come back? They should remain loyal to their master—which won't be easy in this case, as the citizens of the kingdom despise this nobleman. The citizens sent a delegation after him to say 'we don't want this man to be our king.' It would be easier for the servants to keep their heads down while they wait for their master to return.
We are in that period of time when we await the nobleman's return. The citizens of our world don't want to Jesus to be their king. They may say that they admire Jesus as a man of compassion and profound teaching; but what about the Jesus who says that he is the only way to the Father, who says that we are all in desperate need of forgiveness, who died on a cross as the only means of rescue for us from the coming judgement, and who demanded that we submit every area of our lives to his rule? The world does not want the real Jesus; they want a sentimental and unchallenging caricature of him.
The first thing we need to do as we await the return of our master, Jesus, is to be visible. We need to be willing to put up our hands and say 'I belong to Jesus.' A great part of our calling is not to be ashamed of our master and his gospel. We need to tell our families, our workmates and our neighbours that we are born again. We want them to know where we find the inspiration and power to love, forgive and show mercy. We want them to understand why we avoid gossip, strive for purity, refuse to have a critical spirit and seek to be gentle. We want people to know why our lives are being transformed so that Jesus gets the credit.
2. Be fruitful
This leads on to our second point. As we await Jesus' return we are to be fruitful.
Note that the nobleman is incredible generous to his servants. He entrusts them with great responsibility. He gives each of them a mina. A mina was about a hundred day’s wages. They are to engage in business until he returns. Our lives are to be spent in the service of Jesus until he returns or takes us home.
When the nobleman returns as king he called the servants to him and asks how they have done. We get to hear from three of the ten servants. The first responds, 'your mina has made ten more.' I love the fact that he does not say, 'I made ten minas' but 'your mina has made ten more.' It was the gift that he had been given that multiplied.
The key to being fruitful is to appropriate God's grace. We can’t please him by ourselves, but he works within us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). He has given us gifts to be used in his service. Think of the apostle Paul, who wrote, 'I planted, Apollos watered. But God gave the growth' (1 Corinthians 3:6) and that 'to this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me' (Colossians 1:29). Jesus is the one who gives us the power to change and the power to be change-makers.
The nobleman hears those great words 'well done, good and faithful servant.' The emphasis is on faithfulness. Faithfulness and fruitfulness go hand in hand. Fruitfulness might not be obvious to everyone watching, but God sees. Many mountains have been moved in the secret place of prayer. One person will be fruitful as they lead many to Christ, another may be fruitful by persevering for Christ amongst an unresponsive people. Fruitfulness centres on character, we want to see the fruit of the Holy Spirit produced within us.
3. Be heavenly-minded.
The first and second servant went about business while the nobleman was away. That meant they put their head above the parapet. It meant that people knew they were serving their master, which wasn't easy given that the citizens of their country hated their master. It meant that they put the gifts that he had given to work. It meant that their focus was on their master’s return. This is the third point—be heavenly-minded.
They knew that their master was a generous man who had kindly entrusted them with more than three months wages. They loved him and looked forward to hearing him say ‘well done’. They knew that he would graciously and abundantly reward them for the efforts they made in serving him.
Their focus was on the future return, so should ours. The Bible teaches that there will be heavenly rewards. Jesus taught us to store up treasure in heaven. Some people are described as being so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good. Most of us are so earthly-minded that we are of no heavenly value. Do our priorities reflect a focus on the last day? I doubt that Jesus will want to have a look at our CV when he returns, he won’t be bothered about how many points we got in our Leaving Cert, but he will examine our character. It is a short life, but those things we do for Christ's sake will have an everlasting value. Let's use our time well.
4. Be clear about the character of God
Finally, be clear about the character of God.
The third servant hadn't used his time well. He put his mina in a handkerchief and laid it away. He is an unfaithful servant. What did he do that was so wrong?
Well, I suspect that he was hedging his bets. 'Perhaps the nobleman would not be made king and would not return with authority.' Herod the Great's son, Archelaus, went to Rome to oppose the rule of his half-brother, but did not succeed and was banished. 'Why be seen to go about my master's business when my master is unpopular with these people and he might not return?' It was easier to hide the minas, and blend in to society. 'If the master returns I can still produce the minas. But in case he doesn't I will keep my head below the parapet.'
Who does this unfaithful servant represent? Well, he is a servant rather than one of the citizens of the kingdom, which means that he has some sort of connection to the nobleman. But he does not love the nobleman, he is not willing to be identified with the nobleman, he has no desire to put the nobleman's gifts to use, and he does not receive the nobleman's commendation or reward.
I think he is a picture of someone who claims to be a Christian but whose life does not produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The evidence that we are in a living relationship with Jesus will not be the fact that we can name the day and hour that we prayed a prayer of commitment at a meeting; the evidence that we are a Christian will be seen in whether Christ has impacted our lives in this life - are we willing to be counted as belonging to him (or were we ashamed of him)? Are we willing to forgive as we have been forgiven? Do we love the church with all its imperfections and awkward people? Are we concerned about those who do not yet know Jesus personally? Do we pray? Are our priorities shaped by the here and now or are we living in light of the day we will face Jesus?
Note what the unfaithful servant says about the nobleman. 'I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow'. Amazingly, in some cultures that would have been a compliment. To have said such a thing to a Bedouin raider-chieftain should have been to flatter him. The Bedouin would praise a clan-leader who was successful at robbing supplies and camels. But this is not the picture of Jesus. Jesus is not severe, he is compassionate. Jesus does not steel, he gives in abundant grace.
Psalm 18 speaks of God saying, 'to the loyal you show yourself loyal, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, and to the crooked you show yourself crooked.' The unfaithfulness of this servant caused him to have a distorted view of God. It is hard to be excited about a God you do not think is good. It is hard to long to see a severe God face to face. Let us seek Christ's face as we strive to be pure, so that we might delight in his character, and long for his return.
It is interesting that the king says, 'if you thought that I was a severe man, why did you not put the money in the bank and make interest?' The Jewish law of that time did not allow interest to be charged and made. But then if the king was the severe man that the unfaithful servant says he is then he would have no regard for law. Perhaps the unfaithful servant avoided putting the money in a bank because that would have identified him as a servant of the king.
The king may not be the hard man that the unfaithful servant made him out to be but he is a just man. He is a king who will not tolerate rebellion against his rule. Jesus does promise that there will be a day when he returns and judges those who refused his rule. Jesus teaches, 'one day I will return to this world and when I do all my enemies will be destroyed. All those who in this life have not submitted personally to my loving rule will experience punishment on that future day. It is a sobering prospect isn’t it? But it is also a loving warning. Because those who know about it now can act upon it before its too late' (Lee McMunn).
How does knowing Jesus shape our goals in life? Can we see that if all our efforts are focused on study, career, holidays, sport, music, cars, or even meeting the right person then we are missing the point of life? We are to live in light of the last day. We are to be willing to say 'I belong to Jesus', now is the time when our prayers can make things happen, our goal should to become like Jesus, our desire should be focused on the future grace of treasure in heaven. So don't waste your life!