Seeing Jesus

We come here this morning after a difficult week. Our communities are still reeling from the murder of someone we knew. Our nation’s leaders seem too busy trying to destroy each other to deal with the business for which they were elected. Some of us are dealing with difficult health issues, family issues or work issues.

We’ve come to rest in God’s presence, to hear His Word, to be reminded that in the midst of all the troubles of this world, Jesus is still King.

And so I’d invite you to quiet your mind, to travel back in time 2000 years to once again join the crowd that’s walking with Jesus down that ancient road that leads to Jerusalem. You’re part of a growing group that includes all kinds of people. Back in chapter 15:1, Luke divided it into two groups: “the tax collectors and sinners,” and “the Pharisees and the scribes”—or teachers of religious law.

Two groups that are just as much at odds with one another as Democrats and Republicans seem to be in our country today. Two groups that think they have nothing in common—and that want nothing to do with one another.

And I ask you once again to consider: where are you in that group? Are you one of the Pharisees looking for Jesus to say or do something that you can condemn? One of those who’s sure that you have all the right answers—that you always have the right answer, that other people might need a savior but not you. Or are you on the other end of the spectrum, convinced that the things you’ve done are so bad that even Jesus could never forgive you?

Luke divided the crowd the way you and I might divide it. Good people and bad people. People who do the “right” thing and people who don’t. People who are socially acceptable and people who aren’t.

But there are other ways this crowd could be divided. And this, of course, is the point that Jesus has been making on His final journey to Jerusalem. Some of these people, like Zacchaeus, who we talked about last week, are desperate to “see who Jesus is.”  Some of them are quite sure that they already know who He is. Some of them are looking for a reason to condemn Him. Some of them are there because of what they’re hoping He’ll do for them.

But as we travel with Jesus, we find that those who respond to His message and recognize Him as Lord cannot be easily categorized: there’s a Samaritan leper, a persistent widow, a tax collector, little children, a blind beggar, and Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector—not a single one of whom would have been included in the list of those expected to be a part of the kingdom of God.

Others that everyone clearly expected to be included, like the rich young ruler who does everything right, receive no promise of salvation.

Jesus is very much aware that everyone, including even the Twelve, is confused about who He is and why He came. He’s told His disciples more than once—the last time just a few verses earlier in Luke’s gospel—that He’s going to Jerusalem to die and then to rise from the dead. And Luke says, in 18:34, “But they understood none of these things.”

His disciples are still convinced that, instead of dying on a cross, Jesus is about to be crowned king in Jerusalem. They’re arguing about who gets to sit at His right hand and which one of them will be greatest.

Which is why Jesus stops just before His triumphant Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem—stops to tell the crowd  the Parable of the Ten Minas. He tells it, Luke says, “because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11).

Jesus is trying to prepare them—not just for His death and resurrection, but also for the time until He returns. He wants them to know that his death is not an ending, but rather that it’s the beginning of a whole new thing. He also wants them to know that the fulfillment of His kingdom will not happen immediately. He’ll be going back to the Father—and we’ll enter a time of waiting—a time that we know now will last for thousands of years.

Jesus also wants His disciples to know that during that time, He has expectations for His disciples.

So He tells them about ten servants who are called by a nobleman to run his business while he goes to a far country to “receive for himself a kingdom and then return” (19:12).  He gives them each a mina (mee-na), a fairly small sum of money—representing about three months wages—and tells them to “Engage in business until I return” (Luke 19:13).

Unlike the parable of the talents that Matthew records in the 25th chapter of his gospel, in this story, all ten servants receive exactly the same thing.

And now Jesus divides the crowd into two groups—groups that are very different from Luke’s earlier division. Jesus has divided them into “servants,” meaning those who are prepared to follow Him and serve Him, and “citizens,” defined by Him as those who hate Him and do not want Him to reign over them.

Only the servants receive the minas.

So what do the minas represent? There are varying ideas about this—some think they represent salvation, others the gift of faith, still others think the minas represent the mission of the church. Whichever it is, those receiving it are to “engage in business”—what business?

Our first reading from the first chapter of Genesis, tells us that when God created men and women in His image, He gave them responsibility to care for the world and everything in it. God works—He creates. And so He expects His people, created in His image, to work, to create.

And Jude, the brother of Jesus, calls the church to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  By faith, Jude means those things we believe, not just the fact that we believe them. Jude says that this faith was “delivered” to us—some translations say “entrusted” to us.

Jude is saying that this faith is a precious commodity that has been entrusted to the saints, to those who believe in Jesus as Christ. And that because it has been entrusted, or delivered, to us, we have a responsibility to care for it, to use it, and to pass it on to future generations of believers.

Jude is reminding us of what Jesus, in this parable, is telling His apostles and the others in the crowd—He’s telling them that they have a responsibility to use the gift they’re receiving. And that He’s going to hold them accountable for how they use it.

So whether the minas represent salvation or faith or the mission of the church, it doesn’t really matter—all of these are included in the work that Jesus has assigned to His followers. Assigned not just to those believers in the crowd outside Jerusalem that day, but also to you and me and to every single believer who’s lived since that day that Jesus ascended into heaven 2000 years ago.

Matthew records Jesus’ final words in His gospel: “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus is giving His followers the responsibility of carrying on the family business in His absence—the business of bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God to everyone everywhere.

He wants us to understand that He really means it. Because when the king returns, Jesus says that he orders His servants to come and tell him what “they had gained by doing business” (19:15).

He gave minas to ten servants but He only talks about three of them—because there are really only three possibilities.

The first servant says that he took the single mina and made ten minas more. And Jesus says, “Well done, good servant!”

Back in Luke 18:28-30, when Jesus tells the crowd that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” everyone is astonished—they’d always believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and favor. When Peter pointed out that he and the other apostles had left their homes to follow Jesus, Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Now, a few verses later, He’s giving them a better picture of what they will receive. The servant who made ten minas more has, like Peter, put the mission of Jesus above all else in his or her life. This servant has made the greatest possible use of our common salvation. They were looking at everything in life as an opportunity to share the good news of the gospel, to spread the knowledge of the heights and depths of God’s love. They understood that whatever job they might have, it was for the primary purpose of spreading the message of Jesus, rather than for the purpose of building a personal kingdom.

So what’s the reward for doing a great job for Jesus? Not a ten day all expense paid trip to Hawaii. It’s ten cities to rule over. In the kingdom of God, it appears the reward for doing the hard work of serving God is more work.

This life apparently is about apprenticeship. About learning how to serve God so that we can continue to do it in eternity.

The second servant told the king that he had turned the one mina into five minas. He is rewarded, but notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Well done, good servant!” This servant has done well, but they have not made Jesus’ mission the most important thing in their life. They’ve allowed other things to come first.

The third servant, on the other hand, has done nothing. They buried their mina. When called to account, they said, “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” (Luke 19:21). With these words, it becomes clear that they didn’t really know Jesus at all. They might have come to church and participated in religious activities, but they’re still living under the old covenant. They think that it’s by keeping the law that they’ll be saved—by trying to be a good person.

We’ll never be able to follow Jesus simply by working really hard at being good, at doing the right thing. A new heart is needed—this is what we saw in Zacchaeus. And only when we have that new heart are we able to really see who Jesus is.

But when we see Him, when we being to serve Him, we find that our spiritual self, like our physical body, is strengthened through the exercise of serving. When we develop our muscles, our reward is that we can carry heavier loads and still feel good. When we act faithfully according to the responsibilities the Lord entrusts us, our capacities will grow.

In John’s gospel, the last miracle that Jesus performs before He dies on the cross is the raising of His dead friend Lazarus—bringing him to life after four days in the tomb. Luke tells us of the chief tax collector Zacchaeus, whose heart is completely changed when he sees who Jesus really is. Hundreds of years earlier, God gave the prophet Ezekiel the vision of a huge valley of dry bones that come to life when the spirit of God is breathed into them.

Jesus told His disciples that only after He departed would His Spirit be able to come and live in and with them. And not just them, but in and with every single person who can see who Jesus is.

Jesus’ mission in His lifetime here on earth was to share the good news of the Kingdom of God with anyone who would listen. He came, in His own words, “to seek and save the lost.”

His purpose for you and for me and for everyone else who sees who He is is that we, too, be about His work of seeking and saving the lost. Of telling the world that He came for much more than the nation of Israel—He came for all nations. He is Savior of the world. His kingdom is for every country, every city, and every people—and His plan is that His Church reach every single man, woman and child with the message of salvation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is our purpose. To contend for the faith in all places and at all times. To make disciples—of Samaritan lepers and adulterous women, of corrupt politicians, of those engaged in human trafficking, of those being trafficked. To make disciples of Republicans and Democrats, of Communists and Libertarians; of illegal immigrants and murderers.

Jesus died not just for Peter and Paul and James and John—He died not just for you and me and all the other people gathered in churches around the world today. He died for the guilty thief on the cross next to Him, He died for the Roman soldier who pounded the nails through His hands and His feet. He died for the chief priest who condemned Him.

Because just as He looked at the rich young ruler who rejected him and loved him, so too does He love every single one of His creatures. Loves us and longs for us to be with Him for all eternity. But because God is perfect and holy, we too must become holy before we can enter into His presence.

We, too, must learn to look at every single person and love them. Love them enough to persist in growing relationship, in bringing them to a place where they’re ready and able to see Jesus.

This is what it means to be engaged in the business of God.

And so while we might be farmers or doctors or teachers or pastors or mothers raising children or whatever other occupation God has given us, we are called first and foremost to be about the spreading of the gospel. To be less about the political transformation of society and more about the spiritual transformation of the soul, without which political transformation will never happen.

Kingdom work in this world is never easy—Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross after being beaten. And the absence of the King must be extended in order that we have time to reach all those in the world, even to the ends of the earth.

Luke wants us to know that, no matter who we are in that crowd with Jesus, none of us is too last to be found. None of us is too bad to be welcomed into the kingdom. If Zacchaeus, the short, reformed, tree-climbing con man can receive a new heart, so, too, can you and I.

He also wants us to remember that the glory of the resurrection was preceded by the horror of the cross, without which the glory could never have occurred. He wants us to think not in terms of quick and easy victory, but in terms of long delay and protracted struggle, as we seek to grow the kingdom.

And he wants us to know that whether we’re a lost sheep or a prodigal child, a leper or a blind beggar, rich or poor, white or black or red or yellow; whether we’ve known Jesus all our lives or whether we just now had our eyes opened to who He is—He died for us. Died that we might live. That through the death of God’s only Son on the cross, He offers to each one of us a new heart

Jesus, as He traveled from His baptism at the River Jordan to Jerusalem and the cross, has been continually at work reshaping the people of God around Himself, warning of the division He brings and yet offering assurance that God provides for those who follow and confess Jesus.

Freedom is not the prize—serving the master in even more ways is, along with the joy of sharing in His work.

Let us pray.