The Lord's Day Morning
May 8, 2011
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Luke 19. We’re going to be looking at verses 11 to 27. In my old New American Standard Version this parable is called “The Parable of Money Usage.” Perhaps in the Bible that you’re looking at today it will be called “The Parable of the Ten Minas,” although some of you, your English translations may be called, “The Parable of the Ten Pounds,” or other denominations of money usage. It's not a sermon about stewardship though. It's set in a specific context. Jesus has, if you’ll allow yourself to look back, just told the story, or Luke has just recounted the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. And at the end of this chapter, Jesus will be entering into Jerusalem, so He has now come to the culmination of His earthly ministry and the final week of His life before the crucifixion. And His disciples, we're told in the very first verse that we're going to read — chapter 19 verse 11 — His disciples are misguided in their expectations about what is going to happen in Jerusalem. And so Jesus pauses to explain to them what their attitude ought to be to the events that are about to happen in Jerusalem, and especially how they are to conduct themselves after those events happen, in doing what a good teacher does – that is prepare you for what's coming.
And I'd like you to be on the lookout for several things as we look at this passage together. First of all, when we get to verse 12, notice how Jesus, in speaking of the departure of this nobleman into a far country to receive a kingship, is drawing attention to His own departure. So He's preparing His disciples for His departure in Jerusalem in verse 11.
Secondly, be on the lookout for what Jesus says about the delay of His return. In the story, we are told that — well, before the story in verse 11 we are told that the disciples thought that Jesus was going to set up the kingdom of God immediately. That is, they were going to get to Jerusalem and the kingdom of God in all its glory was going to be set up. Why? Because Jesus had already been teaching them that there was a sense in which the kingdom of God was already here. And the disciples start thinking, “Okay, maybe the fullness of the kingdom will be brought in once we get to Jerusalem.” And Jesus is speaking to them in this parable about the delay before that happens. And so in verses 11 and 12 that delay is broached, first by Luke telling you that the very reason that Jesus is telling you the story is because the disciples thought the kingdom was going to be established immediately in all its fullness, and then in the story of a nobleman going to a far country and having to receive a kingship before he returns. So the story itself has the delay written into it.
Third, if you look at verse 14, I want you to see or be on the lookout for what Jesus teaches His disciples about His rejection in this story because in the story that He tells, the nobleman who's going off to receive a kingship isn't liked by his citizens. They don't like him. Now it's interesting. This story has a background in a real story that happened thirty years before Jesus told this story. Thirty years before this story, the cruel son of a cruel king left Palestine and went to Rome to get the Roman emperor to give him the kingship of his father. But he was so unpopular that a group of Jewish leaders followed him to Rome and argued for him not to be made king. And they were successful. He was not made king; he was given a title called ethnarch and he wasn't given all the power that he wanted to have. The man's name was Archelaus. He's the son of Herod. He had done this. So when Jesus is telling this story, understand that everybody around Him is thinking, “Oh, I've heard this before. I know how that story goes and I know exactly the man You’re talking about.” But Jesus, of course, isn't ultimately talking about Archelaus. He's talking about Himself. But He speaks of His rejection.
Fourth, I want you to be on the lookout for what He says about reward in this passage, especially in verses 16 through 18. Now this passage can get us, if we don't understand its context, it can get us running down a rabbit trail that actually takes us off point as to what Jesus is saying. So this passage does have something to say about rewards and its emphasis is on how generous God is.
And then finally, this passage has something to say about judgment. One could very legitimately preach from this passage an entire message just focused on the judgment of unbelievers and hell. You see that at the end. If you look at verses 22 to 27, the whole focus of that section is on judgment, the judgment of this unfaithful person who professes to be a servant of his master and the judgment on the citizens who hated the king. So be on the lookout for those five things as we read this passage today together and let's pray before we read it.
Our Lord and our God, this is Your Word, and we need it every bit as much as we need to eat, for we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. Lord, we know that all Scripture is not only given by inspiration, but it is profitable. It's profitable for reproof and correction and for training in righteousness. And so we pray that You would do that in Your Word today, that You would reprove us and rebuke us and correct us if we need it and that You would train us for righteousness so that we would be equipped for every good work. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
As they heard these things, He 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 said therefore, ‘A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for 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.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Do you think much about the end times? Do you think much about eschatology, which is just the fancy name for the end times — what the Bible teaches about the future and the end? I did, as a young man. I can remember as a teenager growing up in the church being very much occupied with the issue of the end times, and I must admit to you, somewhat confused. I'd read various things and I didn't know whether I was supposed to be an amillennialist or a postmillennialist or a historical premillennialist or a dispensational premillennialist. Even though I had memorized The Shorter Catechism I was confused on the end times. I remember in seventh grade getting a hold of a copy of Hal Lindsey's, The Late, Great Planet Earth, and reading it and being petrified and giving it to my best friend in seventh grade at Beck Middle School, Bobby Bradford, and he went home and read it in one night and was so terrified he got baptized at Springfield Baptist Church the next Sunday morning! And his mother called me up on the phone and thanked me for giving him that book! (laughter) But I wonder if you think much about the end times and about eschatology.
When I went to seminary I was still confused about eschatology and there were a number of us who wanted to know, “What are we supposed to think? Are we “pre”? Are we “post”? Are we “a”? What are we?” And we went to one of our professors who was a son of this congregation, he was an Old Testament professor named Palmer Robertson and we said, “Dr. Robertson, what's your view?” And he said, “Well, I'm a promillennialist.” Well, we were all scratching our heads. “We've heard of ‘pre,’ we've heard of ‘post,’ we've heard of ‘a’” — in fact, one of the elders met me at the back door today and he said, “I'm a panmillennialist. I think it's all going to pan out in the end.” Okay, that was another version. But he said, “I'm a promillennialist.” “Well, what's a promillennialist?” And Dr. Robertson said, “I believe that Jesus is coming again, we know not when, and we’d better be ready.” Those are the three points of promillennialism. That's pretty good Biblical counsel.
Well, Jesus, in this passage, is addressing His disciples about eschatology, and interestingly, just as He does here, everywhere else in the New Testament, whenever the Bible begins to teach us about the end it is concerned not to produce in us a preoccupation with speculation about the future but it is designed to help us live today. In other words, whatever the Bible tells us about the end is directly relevant to how we live today. And that is exactly what Jesus is doing in this passage. He's teaching His disciples about what to expect in order that they know how to live. The disciples already have an anticipation about the kingdom. They are perhaps hoping that the kingdom will come in all its fullness when Jesus gets to Jerusalem in spite of what He has been teaching them. As all of the gospel writers admit, they had not been understanding what Jesus was saying about His suffering and His death, and perhaps they were caught up with the expectations of the Jews of their day who longed for the kingdom to come and for the Romans to be expelled and for the nations to be converted and for the Davidic king to be set on the throne in Jerusalem. And perhaps they’re caught up with those kinds of expectations. They’re looking for the kingdom to come immediately and to be set up. And Jesus is making it clear to them that's not what's going to happen in Jerusalem. Jesus, in His kindness, is telling the disciples that they’re not going to be leading a victory parade, but instead, their life and ministry is going to be to faithfully serve Him in the face of rejection, because He's going to be rejected, and in loyalty to serve an absent King. And you see how kind it is for Jesus to explain this to His disciples so that they are not misguided in what they are to be about in this life. He's teaching them about what is to come in order to help them live day to day. That's what this passage is saying to us as well.
Now I told you five things to be on the lookout, but relax, it's not a five point sermon. I simply want you to look at three things today. I want to use three words to help you build an outline of organization. The three words are expectation, devotion, and disproportion.
Expectation — the first thing I want you to see in this passage is how Jesus prepares the disciples’ expectation for what is going to happen. It's vital for them to have the right expectation about the nature of their discipleship, about what is going to happen in Jerusalem and after, so that they know what to expect in their discipleship. And Jesus’ message to them in essentially this — expect rejection and anticipation endurance. And I want you to see this in a couple of ways. Notice what He says in the story in verse 14. “His citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” In this story, Jesus is saying to His disciples, “Don't think that what is going to happen in Jerusalem is that I am going to be embraced by the large body of the children of Israel as the King. Don't think that that's going to happen.” And of course that's precisely what happens in Jerusalem. He is rejected by the mass of the people who are there. By the end of the week, they are all shouting what? “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
I was reading a sermon by Charles Simeon a couple of weeks ago and Charles Simeon was reflecting on the size of Jesus’ influence during His earthly ministry. And he made this passing comment and it's based on what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 and some of the other resurrection passages. He basically says this — At the culminating point of Jesus’ ministry in this world, before His crucifixion, He had about five hundred followers. The rest of Israel rejected Him. He had three very close friends, He had a larger circle of twelve disciples — one of whom was going to betray Him and all of whom were going to desert Him. He had a still larger group of about seventy disciples and outside of that there were about five hundred. They were the people who were saying, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” when He came into the city of Jerusalem, but the larger crowd was not saying that. And by the end of the week, all of the larger crowd was shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Jesus is saying to His disciples, “Expect Me to be rejected. Don't expect that you’re going to be leading a victory parade in a week. Expect Me to be rejected.” Isn't that kind of Jesus to tell that to the disciples, because still today there are people who are telling Christians that they are called to lead a victory parade — “Follow Jesus and you’ll be healthy. Follow Jesus and you’ll be rich. Follow Jesus and you won't have problems. And if you do, and if you do, it's because you don't have enough faith.”
And Jesus is saying to His disciples, “I'm not calling you to lead a victory parade. I'm calling you to serve faithfully a King who is going to be rejected, and that is going to mean you are going to be rejected.” And furthermore, He says, “And don't think this is going to be over quickly. This is going to require endurance. Expect rejection; anticipate endurance.” And He conveys that — not only does Luke explain that at the beginning — the very reason Jesus tells the story, verse 11, is because the disciples thought this was going to happen quickly. And so He tells the story about a man going off to a far country. It's going to take him a long time to get there and a long time to come back. And so He's bracing His disciples for endurance. He's calling them to a marathon not a sprint. Did you hear about the man who ran the marathon in London this last week and after he ran the marathon he ran ninety-nine miles home to his village? There are some of you in here who do that kind of crazy stuff, I know! (laughter)
That's what Jesus is saying to the disciples. This is not a one hundred yard dash. This is a marathon that I'm calling you to. Isn't that kind of Jesus to say that to us? I had a poignant conversation with a dear friend of mine this week that really ministered to my soul and in the course of that conversation my friend said to me — we were talking about sanctification and we were talking about the struggles that go on in the hearts and lives of people who name the name of Jesus as their Savior — and he said, “You know, this is not what I anticipated when I became a Christian. You know, I thought my sanctification would kind of be like this and I thought that friends who so cared about the truth of the word and so embraced the doctrines of Scripture they would live lives of faithfulness — I wouldn't see their lives falling apart. This is not what I anticipated.”
Do you see Jesus in His kindness here, saying, “I'm not calling you to a victory parade. I'm calling you to the most desperate fight that you have ever been brought in to”? See, He's setting our expectations. It changes everything, doesn't it? When your expectations are set properly — “What's it going to be like Jesus, to follow You?” “Let Me tell you what it's going to be like. It's going to be a fight.” What did we just read Paul saying to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4? “Timothy, it's been a fight. I can see the finish line. Finally I can see the finish line. I'm almost there Timothy, but Timothy, you’re going to have to live life like I did too. It's a fight. It's a long distance endurance race.” And what is it that he says in 2 Timothy 4:16? It may be the saddest verse in the whole New Testament — that in his hour of need, Paul was deserted by everyone. Don't think Jesus didn't tell you. He was deserted by everyone. He was rejected by everyone. And He's setting our expectation for what it is to follow Him in the Christian life. Don't think this is a victory parade. The victory parade will come, but it's not here; it's not now.
That's the first thing — expectation.
Secondly — devotion. Notice how the charge from the nobleman to the servants reads. Verse 13 — “Engage in business until I come.” And then notice when the nobleman comes back, now a king, verse 15 — “He calls those servants back to him that he might know what they had gained by doing business.” Now a lot of times when you read this story, you immediately start, you lock in on the issue of rewards, and you think that the big emphasis here is that somehow you do “X” and you get “Y.” You do good, you do really good, and you get a lot more; you do not quite so good and you get some; you don't do good and you don't get blessings but you do get into heaven. And you have all this stuff, people arguing about it. You know – is this a picture of salvation by works or is it a picture of rewards by works or is it a picture of proportionate rewards. Don't get blinded by the details. The big picture is very clear. Jesus, in speaking of the servants being given a task whereby they were to engage in business until their master comes, and the picture of rewarding them for doing business, is all designed to point to one thing and that is their devotion to their king. They are to be about their king's business. They are not to live for themselves; they are to live for the king and for his kingdom. What they do in business is for the king's benefit and for the king's agenda, and notice their reward is not going to come from the world, even the world in which they are doing business. Their reward is going to come from the king. They don't get, they don't get the interest or the remuneration from the business they do. They get what they get from the king. That's the king's money that they’re investing.
But the whole point of the whole image is not a message about stewardship; it's not a message about your giving. It's a message about the whole of your life. It is about what you are living for. Have you ever taken stock of your life and asked yourself, “What am I living for? What do I really care about? What is my life about? If I put it all down and I was forced to put it on one sheet of 8.5 x 11, what would the sum of my life be about? What's the legacy that I'm leaving? Where do I think my satisfaction is going to come from?” The next time you’re in the stands of an SEC game and you look around and there are thousands around you, or you’re at the beach or you’re at a condominium or you’re at a ski resort and there are hundreds and hundreds of people around you, if you’re a Christian, one of the things that you ought to be every once in a while thinking about is — all of these people cheering around me, all of these people swimming around me, all of these people playing around me, all of these people skiing around me, those aren't my people. The people of God are my people. And where they’re getting satisfaction, their meaning met in life, is not where I get my meaning and my satisfaction met in life. I'm living for a different reason than so many of the people that are around me right now. They have a different goal. They have a different purpose. They have a different basis in their lives. I'm different. I'm not encouraging you to look around and sort of look down your nose at other people because we're all sinners, but I am asking you to say, “I'm servant to a different King than so many of the people around me are servant to. And does that show in how I live my life?”
And Jesus is saying here to His disciples, “You are to live life not for yourselves but for Me, for God, and for His kingdom. That is where your reward, that is where your happiness, that is where your satisfaction comes from, not from the place or places that all the people around you are seeking their satisfaction from.” Jesus is telling a story about devotion here. “Be about My business,” He's saying.
Third and finally — disproportion. Now you’re wondering, “What in the world are you talking about, Ligon?” Okay, fair enough. Here's what I'm getting at. Did you catch here that the rewards that are given are disproportionate to the amount of money that was given into the care and stewardship of these servants? A mina is approximately three months wages or a regular day laborer in Jesus’ time. Okay, so it's not an insignificant amount of money, but it's not like enough to go buy a million dollar villa, live in the Caribbean and just spend the interest for the rest of your life. It's a significant amount of money. One guy gets almost three years worth of salary, one guy gets a year and a half's salary, one guy gets three month's salary for a day laborer, and they’re told, “Go off and do business with what I've given you.” When the king comes back, the one who was given almost three years worth of a day laborer's salary — you know, picture it today, less than a hundred thousand dollars. Less than a hundred thousand dollars and he's given charge over ten cities! One's given a year and half's worth of wages, less than fifty thousand dollars, and he's given charge over five cities. Do you get the point? The reward is utterly disproportionate to the business and to the stewardship of the amount of money that was given to each of the servants. The whole point is the disproportionate generosity of God.
You know, this is not a good passage for the quid pro quo crowd — you know, you do this and God will do that for you; you scratch God's back and He’ll scratch yours – because the rewards and entirely disproportionate to the labor and to the results. And that is precisely Jesus’ point because when the wicked servant says to the king, “You’re a hard man. You’re a hard man. You take what you didn't deposit; you reap what you don't sow.” Look at what Jesus has the king saying back to him — verse 22 — and understand that when he says this, he says this ironically. He's not accepting the judgment of the wicked servant. You already know he's wicked because he's already been told that he's wicked in verse 22. “I condemn you with your own words. You knew, did you, that I was a severe man?” You understand how he's saying that? He's not accepting that he's a severe man. He's saying, “Really? I'm a severe man? Really? I'm a severe man? Okay, if I'm a severe man and I'm working for me, I'm at least putting that money in the bank. I'm not burying it in a handkerchief.” And by the way, in telling the story that way, Jesus is saying something that He knows that everybody in the crowd will look at that one servant and say, “You idiot!” The servant acted utterly irresponsibly and irrationally in doing what he did and he blames it on the hardness on the severity of this king.
Now Jesus is doing something very interesting there because aren't there a lot of us who are tempted to look at God and say, “God, You’re hard. You've given me a hard life. You've put me in a tough place. You haven't rewarded me very well. I haven't gotten what I deserve because You’re hard.” And you see, Jesus is wanting every true disciple to look at that and say, “That is ridiculous. He is disproportionately generous in the way that He rewards and He is not hard and severe, because if He were, we’d all be in trouble.” And Jesus is holding up that disproportionate reward and He's saying this — “You may go through this life and experience rejection and disappointment and betrayal, but there is a reward that you cannot even comprehend and it's coming for you and that reward then makes all the difference how you live now because it allows you not to be all turned in on yourself about what you haven't gotten here because you know that the Lord is going to take care of you, and it allows you to turn out and instead of being all tied up about what you haven't been given, you just give. And instead of being all tied up about how you've been disappointed, you serve.”
You see how this even ties into the anthem that the choir sang today. You see, what Jesus teaches about the end times has everything to do with how we live now, and how we live now will matter then. That's the point of the passage. Right now counts forever, as a very popular ministry uses as their tagline. That's exactly right theologically. Right now counts forever, so you have to live right now in light of forever. That's what Jesus is saying here and I wonder if you believe Him. I wonder if you’re devoted to Him. I wonder if you’re investing your life into the kingdom. I wonder if you take stock of your life and ask yourself, “What is it that I'm spending my time here doing?” I'm wondering if you really believe how disproportionately generous He is. That's why Jesus said these things to the disciples because He wanted them to think long and hard about them, but more than that He wanted them to think Biblically about them. You know, you can't live the way that Jesus asks you to live as a disciple unless you live by faith. You cannot live the way that Jesus asks you to live as a disciple except by faith. And do you see why the apostle Paul says to live this way, if what Jesus says about the end is not true, makes us of all men most miserable? I'm not doing this because of denial, I'm not doing this because of some faint airy-fairy hope of pie in the sky by-and-by. I'm doing this because I believe what Jesus says here — I believe that God is generous and I believe that His reward will be far more generous than I will ever receive at the hands of human beings or anything that I can get in this world. And it makes life worth living no matter what.
Lord, the wisdom and the kindness of Your Son in dealing with us blows us away. Bring these truths home today to our own hearts, we ask in His name, amen.
Now, if you’d take your hymnals and turn with me to number 540, we’ll sing, A Few More Years Shall Roll.
The One who so generously rewards pronounces this benediction upon you in His Word. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be to you.