Good morning. Let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, please help us by your Holy Spirit to hear and understand the teaching of your Son Jesus. And help us by your Spirit to live it out. It is in his name that we ask it. Amen.
Who do we serve? When push comes to shove, who’s number one for us? Is it ourselves? Or is it Jesus? And in the end it can’t be both. Jesus makes that clear in Luke 16.13, when he says:
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
So as we take a look at the Parable of the Ten Minas, ‘Who Do We Serve?’ is my title. That’s the question for each one of us as we get near to Good Friday and Easter Day. A parable is a story with a meaning. And Jesus told this story just before he arrived in Jerusalem, riding on that donkey, with the praises of the crowd in his ears, but knowing all along that crucifixion lay before him. It’s there in Luke 19.11-27. Let me clear up one thing straight away. What’s a mina? A mina was an amount of money, worth, it seems, about three months wages to a labourer. It’s hard to make a contemporary comparison, but let’s say it was equivalent to a few thousand pounds today. Now, I want us to think about the background to this story; the telling of the story; and then the meaning of the story. So:
1. The background to the story
Vivienne and I have been watching a TV series. It’s very gripping. I won’t tell you which it is. Suffice to say it keeps jumping from the present back into the past. And understanding what happened in the past helps us to get under the skin of what’s happening in the present. What’s more, it also jumps forward into the future so we know about one critically important event that’s coming up. And that gives the drama a powerful sense of foreboding which is not good for the nerves! Luke points us to what we might call the backstory of this parable in Luke 19.11. Take a look:
As they [that is, the crowd around Jesus] heard these things, [Jesus] proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
He was near to Jerusalem. That’s a bit like saying of a marathon runner, ‘he was near the finish line’. Back in Luke 9, Jesus had very deliberately set out on this journey from Galilee in the north down to Jerusalem in the south. And now, we’re getting close. At the start of our chapter, in Luke 19.1 through and now presumably he’s out the other side and on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem – about one long day’s walk. So the end is in sight, and the tension is building, and what was the crowd thinking? Luke 19.11 tells us:
…they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
Why did they think that the kingdom of God was about to arrive? Well, it was obvious that there would be some kind of crisis when they arrived in Jerusalem. By now, many of them were convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah – God’s promised King, who would save his people. Why did they think that? Because of what they had seen. So, for instance, there are the two incidents that Luke records just before this. At the end of Luke 18, Jesus, with a word, heals a blind beggar. Then at the start of Luke 19, Jesus has an encounter with the corrupt chief tax collector Zacchaeus so powerful that Zacchaeus ends up pouring out his heart to Jesus (Luke 19.8):
Lord, half my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.
Imagine those two events multiplying and spreading, like a divine, life-giving virus. What the crowd has been seeing looks like the beginning of Jesus turning upside down both the material world of sickness and death, and also the human world – moral, social, economic and political. The expectation of the crowd is being raised to fever pitch. A new world is coming, and Jesus the King is bringing it in. That’s what they’ve been seeing. But there’s another reason that they thought the kingdom of God was about to arrive. It was because they weren’t really listening to what Jesus had been saying. If they had been, they would have known what was about to happen in Jerusalem. Jesus had repeatedly spelled out to those closest to him that he wasn’t going to get royal treatment. He was going to be tortured and killed. And that’s not what the crowd were expecting at all. But not even those most commited to following Jesus were listening. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear. So Jesus does what he does so often. He tells them a story to make clear what’s going on, so that when they do open their ears, they’ll be able to make sense of it all. That’s the background to the story. So:
2. The telling of the story
We heard it earlier – and I hope we ourselves were listening, from our privileged vantage point this side of the resurrection. But let’s remind ourselves of what happened. There are three characters or groups. There’s the nobleman, who goes far away to be given the authority to rule as king in his region – just as Palestinian rulers would go to Rome to be given authority to rule by the emperor. It’s clear that in this story, the nobleman represents Jesus. Then there are the nobleman’s servants. Before he leaves, he calls ten of them to him and gives each of them a mina, and tells them to get busy and put his money to good use until he gets back. And some of them do, multiplying the new king’s assets – one of them tenfold, one of them fivefold. And there’s at least one who doesn’t. He just wraps up the mina he’s been given and puts it in his sock drawer. Then there are the nobleman’s citizens. And (Luke 19.14) they:
…hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
Well, the nobleman is given the kingdom, and returns. It’s been a long journey, so it’s taken a long time. And then everyone has to give account. The new king praises his servants who’ve been faithful and put his minas to productive use. And he rewards them – not with rest but with more and much wider responsibilities. The one who made ten minas is given ten cities to look after. The one who made five is given five cities. They’ve been faithful in small things, so they keep what they’ve gained and they’re given even more. And they get back to serving their king. But what about that servant who just hid the king’s money away, disobeying what he’d been told to do? The new king condemns the unfaithful servant out of his own mouth. Because though he was supposed to be serving the king, in reality it looks like this unfaithful servant was on the side of the citizens who hated the king and didn’t want him to rule over them. And the new king calls him you wicked servant. So that’s a pretty comprehensive condemnation. And his unused mina is taken from him and distributed to those who were faithful. So they end up with even more. Luke 19.26:
I tell you that to everyone who has [in the sense of the surplus gained from productive use of what they were given to steward] more will be given, but from the one who has not [that is, who’s been unfaithful and unproductive], even what he has will be taken away from him.
And what about those hostile, hate-fillled citizens? Well there’s that ferocious twist at the end of the story. And this is not the only story of Jesus that has a ferocious twist. He doesn’t tell cosy fairy tales. So, Luke 19.27:
But as for those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.
There’s only so long you can get away with resisting and rejecting the rightful rule of the king. So that’s, first, the background to the story; secondly the telling of the story. And finally:
3. The meaning of the story
A good TV drama maybe gives us some insights into the human condition and human nature along with the entertainment value of having our emotions manipulated in a relatively risk-free way. But a parable of Jesus is in a completely different league. This is the Son of God and the King of kings teaching. His first audience largely had their ears closed. They didn’t get it. So in a sense Jesus really told this for us, and for those like us, who would come later. What then was Jesus teaching, and what are we to learn?
Jesus is the King. The crowd was right about that. It didn’t look like Jesus was the King, when he was in the brutal hands of the cruel Roman Empire, undergoing tongue-lashings or literal lashings, and being hammered to the cross. But he is the King, and even then he was in control, as he gave his life for the sin of the world – for your sin and mine. And the cross was followed by the resurrection when, in the words of Romans 1.4, he:
…was declared to be the Son of God in power…by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…
And as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wasn’t about to arrive and drive out the Romans and take his throne in the way the crowd thought. He was about to depart for a long time. Yes, his Spirit is with us. But the risen Jesus has gone away to heaven where he now is, at the right hand of God the Father. It’s already been a long time. Who knows how much longer we have to be apart from him. For now, he’s gone from us. But one day he will return. Just as the nobleman in the Parable of the Ten Minas went away in order to return and estabish his rule, so Jesus has gone away with a purpose. The day will come when he will return to bring in his kingdom once and for all. And then everyone will see him for who he is. And everyone will have to give account.
So in the meantime, while he is away, Jesus is saying there will be two kinds of people. There will be those who gratefully accept his loving rule over their lives and live not for themselves but to serve him. And there will be those who are his wicked enemies – some of whom call themselves his servants, but who in practice serve themselves and not him. So when Jesus returns, his faithful servants will be blessed. Well done, good servant, they will hear from his lips, you have been faithful. And his wicked enemies will be destroyed. There’s no hiding or escaping from that ferocious twist at the end. The danger is great. There’s only so long we can get away with rejecting the rule of the rightful King and living to serve ourselves alone.
So, back to our question from the start – who do we serve? Let’s hear the encouragment of this Parable of the Ten Minas. And let’s heed its warning. Let’s be faithful servants of Jesus our crucified and risen King, looking forward to the day he returns and we will see him face to face at last. Right up to that day he returns to be our judge, it’s never too late to stop serving ourselves and to start serving Jesus. He is always ready to forgive. That’s why he went to the cross – so we can put our self-serving behind us and start afresh, serving him.
If you haven’t yet put Jesus first in your life, then now’s a good time to put that right. Accept him as your King. When we do that, we find forgiveness at the cross, and he empowers us to serve him by giving us his Holy Spirit to help us. If you want to know more, then take a look at our website whyjesus.org.uk and keep coming back and hearing more in these services over the coming weeks. And if you already know that Jesus is your King, and you are trying to serve him – then keep going. And look forward to That Day when he will look you in the eye, and all your failures will be forgotten because he dealt with them at the cross, and he will say to you, Well done, good servant. Let’s pray:
Lord Jesus, you are our King. We praise you that you journeyed to Jerusalem to die for our sins and to set us free to serve you with the whole of our lives. Help us by your Spirit to learn the lessons of this parable, and to serve you faithfully, while we wait with eager longing for your return. Amen.