End Of Year

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Expectation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it makes the sweet moments in life all the more sweet. I think that is why my parents would put our Christmas presents under the tree a full week before the big day. It would give us plenty of time to feel them, smell them, shake them and invariably break them. By the same token it can also be the cruellest emotion, coming as it often does, before a fall. As you unwrap what you believe to be the latest in stereo technology only to find, infact, Delia Smith's 'How to Cook - Books I and II'. That is why parents often preface every reply to their children's questions about their presents with, 'Don't get your hopes up.' But it is with their hopes well and truly up that we find Jesus' followers in Lk.19. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (has been since 9:51), and is now only 17 miles from the capital. There is an underlying awareness that his mission is going to reach a climax there. The sense of expectancy amongst his followers is reaching fever-pitch. Luke sets the scene for us in v11:

While they were listening to this, he [Jesus] went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.

For three years they have followed Jesus through good times and bad. They'd left friends, family, jobs. But now they are just a day or two from pay-back. There are rumours of rebellion, that Jesus is going to raise an army like the great O.T. king David and drive out the occupying Romans. At last freedom for God's people from oppression, and then, then....you can almost hear the conversation progressing in hushed tones, and then - God's Kingdom will finally be established in Israel. This Jesus is the man to do it, after all he himself had claimed to be the Messiah, the saviour of Israel. Those great promises of the O.T. are about to be fulfilled, finally and fully - when Jesus reaches Jerusalem.

They are, however, very mistaken. Jesus' mission will reach a climax in Jerusalem, they've got that much right, but it will not be the climax that they've been dreaming of. Jesus sets out to correct their understanding of God's plan with a parable. It's a parable that packs a punch which is aimed not principally at his enemies but rather at his followers. It speaks therefore directly to most of us here this evening. A parable is an everyday story using everyday characters to teach a spiritual truth. They act rather like mirrors, as we read it we will see ourselves in one of the groups mentioned. If this parable were to be made into a play it would be a play in three acts. Act I is vv12-15a:

He said, "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed King and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.' But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our King.' He was made King, however, and returned home."

We are to picture a man of royalty, a prince, an heir. The time has come for him to become King. In order to become King, however, he has to travel to a distant country. Now transport in Jesus' day was, of course, very different to transport in our time. It was slow and highly dependant on the weather - although, having said that, anyone who has travelled by train over the Christmas period will have some idea of what transport in Jesus' time was like! - so for 'distant country' we should read 'long time away'. While he is away, of course, his subjects can't see that he is King. There were no newspapers then to report the event, no satellite live-link of the coronation, they must take it on trust. Before he sets off he calls for his servants and instructs them to look after the estate while he is away. He gives them each a 'mina', a sum of money worth about £5 000 in today's terms, and tells them to put it to work. In other words to invest wisely and work for the furtherment of the estate just as the master would if he were present. But his coronation is not universally popular, the subjects of v14 resent his right to become King. To prevent this happening they send a delegation after him in order to prevent the coronation. But they fail and the noble man becomes King and after a while returns home. End of Act I.

Well, what does all this mean? I take it that this man of noble birth refers to Jesus. Jesus is saying that the time has indeed come for him to be made King, but his enthronement is not going to take place in Jerusalem. No, in order to be enthroned he must go on a long journey to a distant country. I take it that Jesus is referring to his death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven where he will be crowned King by his Father. Jesus knows what's awaiting him in Jerusalem, and it's not a throne.

While Jesus is away his Kingship is not going to be visible, his subjects are going to have to take that on trust. Only, much later, when he returns from Heaven will he be publicly recognised as King. I imagine that the sense of disappointment amongst his followers must have been huge. I guess that's why so many deserted, why cries of 'Hosanna!' became cries of 'Crucify!' in under a week. And it is a disappointment that we too can feel if we expect more from Jesus than he promises this side of Heaven. But for those who can overcome that initial disappointment and remain followers, Jesus is not going to leave them empty-handed. They are going to receive something in Jerusalem, not glory as they had hoped but rather a mission. They are not going to receive everything that the Jesus has to give yet, a 'mina' is a fraction of what he owns. BUT they are going to get enough to serve him, they are going to get enough to demonstrate loyalty and further his cause. So, Jesus now turns the parable to address not, 'What is going to happen in Jerusalem?' but, 'Will his followers be faithful while the he's away?'.

There are two ways that people can respond to Jesus. One way: Accept Jesus is King (even though not visible) and acknowledge that as King he has every right to rule over us. Setting our agenda and priorities. The other way is to refuse Jesus as King. And those people Jesus pictures as the subjects in v14. Jesus knew what the vast majority of people would think of him in Jerusalem. He knew what was waiting for him - the mob condemning, the soldiers punching, the people spitting, the priests mocking, the crown of thorns, the cross. Hatred was what awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. And why? It's there in the verse, 'We don't want this man to be our King'.

The people wanted a King but not this sort of a King. Not a King who says, 'Your great problem is not the Romans but you.' 'The great problems of society do not lie out there but in your own hearts'. Jesus' words were as offensive then as they are today. The Bible says that written across the hearts of every man, woman and child that has ever lived are the words, 'I don't want Jesus to be my King.' The Bible calls this attitude - sin. Notice that sin is not so much an action as an attitude. By nature we don't want anyone including God to rule over us. So we push Jesus to one side and we enthrone ourselves - we make the rules. But there is a profound problem with living like that and it is summed up in the first half of v15, 'He was made King, however, and returned home.' The rejection of Jesus as King does not change the fact that he is King. We are all subjects of the King whether we like it or not and if we refuse or reject him we don't cease to be subjects, we simply become rebellious subjects. And when Jesus returns that rebellion will not go unnoticed and unpunished. To see the fate of those rebel subjects we need to turn to the last verse of the parable, v27:

"But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be King over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me."

It is a shocking and terrifying end to the parable. The fate of rebels is Judgement and death. There will be no rebels in his Kingdom. As I said at the beginning, parables act rather like mirrors, somewhere we will see ourselves depicted. I wonder if there is anyone here who identifies with the subjects? If Jesus returned tonight would he find you a rebellious subject? You are in a very precarious position. May I encourage you to keep coming along to J.P.C., to keep investigating the claims of Jesus. His claim is that he is King and you must judge him according to that claim. The good news of Christianity is that Jesus did not go to a throne in Jerusalem but a cross. There he took the death of v27, though not himself a rebel, how could he be, he is the King - yet he died the death of a rebel so that we don't have to. If this is new to you why not pick up a 'Why Jesus', or 'Choice we all Face' booklet. The New Year would be a great time to find the King's forgiveness. Act II opens with the King having now returned, calling his servants to him to judge their work, have a look at vv15b:

"Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it."

There are two mistakes that people commonly make about how someone gets to Heaven. The first is this - You can get to Heaven with good works. The second is this - You can get to Heaven without good works. Let me explain.

We can not earn our salvation, we could never merit a place in God's Kingdom. Our place their is entirely due to his grace, our salvation is a gift. However, there should be evidence that we have made Jesus our King. One writer said this, 'we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never found alone.' If there are no signs in our life that Jesus is King then it begs the question, is he? If there is no difference in our priorities, behaviour, character, speech since we accepted Jesus as King then have we really moved off the throne? There should be evidence. There is that old saying, 'If Christianity was illegal and you were arrested, would there be enough evidence to convict you?' Quaint but true. It is not saying that you are a Christian that gets you to Heaven, it is being one Not all of the servants have understood this. Act II focuses on those who have, look at vv16-19:

"The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of 10 cities.' The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned 5 more.' His master answered, 'You take charge of 5 cities.'"

Obviously Jesus is using a financial metaphor to describe the fruits of a Christian's life that should be evident on his return. The mina stands for everything that Jesus has given us to live and work for him this side of Heaven. That will include the Spirit, the gospel message and Spiritual gifts, but I think it will also include our time, money, job, education, church resources etc. The good servant, the faithful follower of Jesus is the one who puts his resources to work while he is away. The good servant works for Jesus and his cause.

What might that mean for us? It seems to me that the New Year is a particularly good time to think through what resources each of us here tonight have been given, and how we are using them. Jesus is saying that we have all been given something - what have you been given and are you using it? What do you enjoy doing in church and what are you good at? What are the needs?

If it is Bible teaching then are you making it a priority to find opportunity to do it? There is plenty of opportunity here. The growing student work needs Bible leaders, student 1-2-1 work needs volunteers, children's work is short of leaders. Why not see Ian Garrett, Alex Lindsay or Sarah and Geoff Brown. Perhaps you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands. Why not offer to meet a student 1-2-1, or help out at mother and toddlers, or lend a hand to the parish assistants on Thursdays doing office work.

Or it may be that the master has given you a well-paid job. What are we doing with that money? Again, New Year is a great time to re-think how we are using our money. Why not sponsor a missionary? What a difference an extra £50 a month would make. That is wise investment. Are we using our resources for Christ's Kingdom or our own?

This is all easier said than done. We live in a world that tells us that the wise feather their own nests. To store away our resources for that rainy day, or perhaps to see the kids through college. This world sees itself as master of its resources. But this is wrong thinking for a servant. How are we to counter the world's thinking?

Well, I think we have to keep two things in mind. First, that all the resources we have are on loan. Notice, that everything the servants have has come from the master. Second, that Jesus is returning to call us to account. There is nothing that so motivates a worker than the knowledge that his boss is returning to judge his work. The faithful servant will having nothing to fear on Jesus' return and everything to gain. But there is a second type of servant. A servant who, on his master's return, will be exposed as a forgery. And it is to this category of follower that Jesus now turns his parable in the third and final act. Have a look at vv20-24:

"Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'"

Here is the picture of a servant who is utterly inactive. He doesn't so much as steward his resources as sit on them. He wants nothing to do with the task or the resources his master has given him. Notice that phrase, 'I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.' It seems to have the sense of, 'out of sight - out of mind'. But why? I think the answer lies in v21. Fundamentally, this servant doesn't know his master. Listen to how he describes him, 'a hard man, taking out what he doesn't put in and reaping what he doesn't sow.' He accuses the master of not only being a tyrant but also a thief - 'you're the sort of man who steals the harvest without sowing the seed'. Is this a fair view? No.

The master has given his servants everything they have and he is not slow to reward. It seems to me that the wicked servant is actually no servant at all. His words are the words of a rebellious subject who thinks that the resources that all men have are not God given. He is still a man with, 'I don't want this man to be my King', written across his heart. Notice that the wicked servant doesn't even act consistently with what he says. Look again at vv22-23.

It wasn't because he was afraid of the master that he does nothing, it was because he thought nothing of the master. Or maybe he just thought that he would put the resources to work next year, but next year didn't come. Here is the 'bystander', the 'spectator', the churchgoer who never actually signs up for anything. Who never actually commits to a church event or group. Here is the one oblivious to the needs of the church. The point that Jesus is making is that we can not do nothing with the resources that Jesus has given us. And it's amazing what excuses we can come up with for our inactivity. Here's a section from 'The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass', which has some relevance:

Sunday January 12th. Six-fruit-gum talk on witnessing by Edwin this morning. Very good. Made you want to go straight out and witness to somebody. Drifted off into a pleasant day-dream in which I began to preach in the street and ended up with a huge crowd of people all repenting in tears and being healed of their sickness just by the touch of my hand. Very near to tears myself during the chorus that followed, as I pictured myself addressing vast assemblies of needy people throughout the world. Came to with a shock when I realised that Edwin was asking for people to volunteer to do some actual street evangelism next Friday. Sat as low down in my seat as I could, trying to look like someone whose earnest desire to evangelise was thwarted by a previous appointment.

We all know that feeling. Maybe we feel that we are not good enough, clever enough, gifted enough to be of use. But that is a travesty. That is an attitude that denies God's goodness to us and his providence. It is to say to God, 'You've not given me enough.' God has given us everything we need to prove ourselves faithful. And that is all he asks. It would be good to ask ourselves now, which servant best represents you at the moment? Good or the wicked? It's very easy to fool others with a religious exterior, we can look very busy for God. But we won't be able to fool the King on his return when he asks, 'What have you done?'. Our answer will have eternal significance. Have a look, finally, at vv24-26:

"Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!' He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.'"

What point is Jesus making here? Surely it is this, that those who involve themselves in God's work with the resources he provides will be greatly rewarded on his return. But, those who for whatever reason, remain 'bystanders' and 'spectators', keeping the resources as their own, not risking them on God's work, will lose everything - will suffer the same fate as the rebels. Let me finish by putting a question to you, and it is simply this, 'How different would your New Year's resolutions be if you knew Jesus would return in 2001?'

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