Have you ever had to wait for something with such expectancy that you could hardly contain yourself? Carly Simon sung to us about “anticipation”, and a number of years ago, the Ketchup company “Heinz” paid for the use of that old pop song to emphasize how much thicker their ketchup was than their competitors. Their argument was, “Ours comes out slower because it has less water.” They proudly pressed their claim that water was somehow a cheater’s way to make ketchup, and sitting there with a bottle that wouldn’t yield the condiment was somehow a symbol of its higher quality. I don’t know about that – it seemed to me the bottle was perhaps poorly designed if I couldn’t get the product onto my burger without imperiling the white shirt of others at the table. Maybe I am not technically minded enough, I don’t know.
We all know what it is like to look forward to something longingly, don’t we?
The quintessential moments for many of us come when we recall in our growing up years the days leading up to summer vacation from school – where the classroom felt like a prison and the days dragged on and on. The only worse experience I can think of was Christmas Eve, lying in bed and trying to sleep when the coolest toys ever lay beneath the tree a few dozen steps away in the living room. It was child torture in my little mind.
Anticipation…the longing to see, have or hold something…we all know the feeling. As we open Luke’s Gospel once again, we follow the footsteps of Jesus, and encounter a string of three stories of people stung and throbbing with anticipation. They didn’t all want the same things. They didn’t all look forward to the same events. Yet, they all looked with anticipation that something was about to happen…Here is the truth: we don’t control the future, our Creator does. We have to learn what He says is coming, so we learn how to prepare for the days ahead. We have to tune our ears to the Creator’s voice to recognize the times we live in. In effect…
Key Principle: We must listen carefully to God’s Word to know what to truly anticipate.
Let’s start with the story of a simple walk into Jericho near the end of the Perean Ministry of Jesus (the last six months before the arrest and cross). The winter always brought crowds to Perea, and Jesus traveled and spoke to the people in places where John the Baptizer had once preached. Now Jesus was heading into the oasis like city of Jericho, where our first two encounters are mentioned. Pick up your look at the story near the end of Luke 18. There you will meet some men near the road…
The first two independent accounts recall two men, each with a distinct physical challenge, each who anticipated seeing Jesus.
The first man was a blind, roadside beggar – his eyes wouldn’t work:
Luke 18:35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Look more closely at the scene. Jesus was coming into the city, and a crowd of people were surrounding Him while others were gathering in anticipation of His entrance. Beside the road approaching the city was a lone beggar, a fixture in ancient cities. People who were needy often sat in places of high traffic to ask those who HAVE to care for their needs. His problem was obvious, and I suspect he met along that road many who were willing to help him. The truth is that people with needs are abundant all around us. They don’t need a judge to examine how they got into that state, they need a friend to help them make it through that day.
The beggar in the story had bigger aspirations – he wanted more than to get through the day. He heard that Jesus could give him back his sight, and he longed to have Jesus pay attention to his need. Here is the problem: when we hurt, when our bodies break down – it is easy for us to feel that God isn’t looking at us anymore. He isn’t paying attention to us. The enemy uses the brokenness of our bodies (even though the temptation in the Garden of Eden was his doing and the broken bodies we live in are the result of his work) to try to get us to become impatient with God. That is his ploy. In this case, the man wanted Jesus to SEE HIM so that he could in turn be enabled to SEE OTHERS.
The blind man asked people around him what the “stir” was all about. When he heard, he started calling out to Jesus. It was, no doubt, nothing more than an annoyance to others who passed by him on the road. We must remember that some are desperate for Jesus to care for their needs, and the sound of their crying out can become bothersome to the rest of us. Let’s be honest, the thirteenth time someone is crying: “Jesus of Nazareth have mercy on me!” all of us who aren’t the naturally merciful types are starting to get a bit bugged. We rationalize that they don’t seem to be truly honoring Jesus – they are just asking to get out of their problem. “That isn’t right!” we say.
Yet, look at the account of the Master. Jesus heard the voice of a broken heart, and ordered the man be brought to Him. He didn’t ask the man FOR anything – but rather asked “What do you want from Me?” The man replied: “I want to see!” How interesting that Jesus didn’t require that the man truly know Who Jesus is when we first met Him – only believe that Jesus could care for his need. The issue to Jesus seemed to be more how he responded after he encountered Jesus.
People who come to Jesus to get what they want and then take it and GO, miss the true blessing of life. The man wasn’t blessed when he got his sight – but rather when he used it to follow the Master! From that day forward, walking with the One Who defines truth and righteousness – He learned to see the world the way it truly is. I contend that his blindness wasn’t healed in one day – though in one moment his eyes started working. His ability to see clearer and clearer grew as he followed Jesus – and so will yours.
Keep reading, there is another story of a man in anticipation of Jesus’ coming. He can see with his eyes, but is blocked because of the crowd.
This man was short – he couldn’t see because the crowd was too big:
You have heard this story since you were a child – the story of Zacchaeus and the Sycamore tree…
Luke 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
This story reminds us that some don’t know WHO Jesus is – it is sheer curiosity that draws them to see Him, to listen to His words. Sadly, in the case of Zacchaeus, it was Jesus’ own followers that blocked the short man from seeing the Savior. They huddled around Him instead of moving into the crowd to get people to come to Him. They focused so much on Jesus, they didn’t recognize why Jesus came. His primary mission was to seek out the wanderers and reconcile them to God.
This problem continues into our time. Many who come to Jesus, don’t really grow up. They spend their lives as disciples and followers, but not as models and gatherers. Beloved, we need to grow past the elementary level of walking with the Master. We need to learn the disciplines that go with our incredible relationship with God – and then grow up. Like the poor soul that spends years in counseling and can name all their phobias but never see an end to any of them – many believers had saddled into the rut of “carnality” and decided they cannot be expected to grow up, get past their issues, and begin to bring others to Jesus. I do not mean to be hard hearted, and I am not perfect in my following of the Master – but I cannot license perpetual laziness and lack of growth in our lives either. We must grow up, get it together by allowing God to work in us, and then move on to helping others. A life focused on our own problems will not add one person to the kingdom; it will leave all our neighbors in darkness while we sort out our own hurts. Jesus found you in order that you would be transformed, and begin to draw others to Him.
We need to get people to Jesus – to give them time with Him. He can show them what they are missing, and in His tender sweetness, He can bring them to change. Time with Jesus was enough for Zacchaeus to give back his ill-gotten gain and restore the funds even above what was called for in the Law (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:6-7). Time with Jesus’ followers left Zacchaeus distant from God – in a tree hoping for a glimpse – but a little while with Jesus brought Him to repentance, generosity and kindness. What will it take to bring people all the way into the presence of Jesus? For one thing, the church will need to focus on doing that – and not being in the way. We cannot focus on being center stage – but on bringing people into the place where they can hear the Words of the Savior, and see His loving hands. It is there they will be challenged to change. This cannot be about a preacher’s ego or a singer’s style – it must be about the Jesus we are trying to display.
Frankly, beloved, I get tired of the ways we block people from seeing Jesus. We can bicker incessantly over our theological finer points while the world hopelessly perishes. One group thinks they have the only true Bible – never mind that much of the world cannot read that language and those that do read it haven’t used that vocabulary for more than three hundred years! Others are so busy examining how God chose them that they aren’t listening to His call to share the Gospel with the rest of their city. Some are so busy using grace to cover their personal licentiousness they can scarcely open the Bible to a single instruction they feel bound to keep. At the same time, others are so busy thumping the ungodly behaviors out of people they invite people to God’s bountiful provision of salvation and rescue.
I want sometimes to stop and shout: “Stop blocking Jesus!” I want to exclaim: “People can’t see Him – all they see is YOU in the way, desperate to be right about the argument while they remain LOST in the darkness!” We will not win a true hearing in the world until we get the church out of the way so that they can see and hear Jesus. I LOVE the church – but I want people to see Jesus, alive, well. transforming us into His image. I want them to see Him even if they go to the “other” church, if they believe the “other” thing. I want them to cherish God’s Word and find God’s wholeness before it is too late. We must get out of the way and let them see Jesus.
I am not saying that what we believe about the Bible is unimportant. To be clear, I am making the argument that not all arguments are equal, and not all are relevant. I have heard the Gospel presented in the last few years by people who sound more like Jonah than Jesus. Jonah gave the truth to Nineveh hoping that they WOULDN’T repent – so he could have the satisfaction of seeing them destroyed. He ran toward Tarshish, not because he didn’t think Nineveh would listen, but because he was concerned they MIGHT. I am surprised when I hear about the condemnation of man from people who seem to enjoy that too much! What we learn from the Word is very important, but not every theological point is necessary to understand to come to Jesus. Don’t overcrowd the message of the Gospel with your political views, your theological fine points, and the like. Most of us came to Jesus with little knowledge beyond the fact that we are sinners and He seemed to know how to fix our unrighteous status before a holy God.
Jesus watched as Zacchaeus changed. He proclaimed the man truly was saved, not simply by hearing the Savior, but by changing the pattern of his life in response to the conviction of sin. Salvation isn’t that change – it is evidence of that change. Sin is of the heart, not the hands. Sin and spiritual separation from God are issues dealt with inside of you. At the same time, a change of world view (what we call faith) without the outworking of it is meaningless (James used the word DEAD).
Luke continued his account…
The third story tells of some who were anticipating the swift arrival of the kingdom:
In the next portion, Luke recalled Jesus’ teaching as a response to the conversion of Zacchaeus:
Luke 19:11 While they were listening to this, he 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.
When the people saw the tax collector powerfully changed by God, and they knew Jesus was heading for Jerusalem in the near future, they anticipated the coming of the Kingdom of God in short order. Powerful transformation of lives draw focus to Jesus and His power – that is to be expected. When people see God at work in the lives of people, when they hear the testimonies of God convicting people and the people responding – they begin to anticipate that God is about to work in a larger and more dramatic way. Jesus wanted to slow down the anticipation, and get them focused on the days ahead. It is the Word of the Lord that sets out sight on what to truly expect. He taught:
Luke 19:12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ 14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ 17 “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ 19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ 20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 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.’ 22 “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? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ 25 “ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ 26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 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.’ ”
Just as the blind man and Zacchaeus didn’t know WHO Jesus was, others didn’t know what His Kingdom would be like, how swift it would arrive, and what it would look like. People had common and popular teachings concerning the Kingdom, but they bore little resemblance to the Kingdom as it was truly going to be. Since it is my observation that many STILL DON’T understand the use of the term “kingdom” in this context, that is where I believe we should invest the rest of the lesson – explaining carefully the story Jesus told to make that more accessible to us.
First, look at the elements of the story:
• The story began with a rightful prince, who was traveling to a territory that was his by right, and expecting the people to crown him in a ceremony when he arrived. He was not going to stay in that province, but rather be crowned and then return to his home country to rule from afar (19:12).
• Before his departure, he gave to each of ten servants an amount of money to invest on his behalf – each in the same amount (19:13). They were to use that money to grow his worth in his absence, expecting his return.
• The journey to his distant land wasn’t easy, and the people crowned him stubbornly, not desiring to have him as their ruler (19:14-15a). The prince left them and returned to his native homeland.
• Arriving home, he called the servants to give account of their investments, one by one (19:15b). He was pleased with the first, that had doubled the value – and gave him charge over ten cities of his kingdom (19:16-17).
• Another servant came before him, and this man had increased the value by half again, and was similarly rewarded with five cities of his kingdom to manage on behalf of the prince (19:18-19).
• The focus and theme of the story was on another servant. He appears to be the third who came before the prince, but we don’t know. We know his actions set up the moral of the story (19:20). Interestingly enough, he seemed to possess the same attitudes as the people in the far off country that didn’t like the prince when they crowned him. They hated the man, and this servant appeared to be like them (19:21-22). The servant felt the prince was a “hard man” who took the benefits of the labor of others and made his income off the backs of his workers.
Before we move past verse twenty-two, let’s make sure we understand the nature of the servant’s complaint. He didn’t argue the character of the prince was evil – merely that it seemed unfair to him that the prince should live in the benefits that he and other servants worked hard to produce. In every generation there are people who believe that there should be no rich or poor – but everyone should start at the same level and finish there – working in the field beside their fellows to all get the same thing. Karl Marx believed this. The rulers of the former Soviet Union espoused this. Mao and the Communist revolution taught this. The problem is, that in all those cases, there is ample evidence to show that the leaders of such movements also received more than their share of benefits. In essence, it doesn’t work. In the end, it kills productivity when there is no upward place to strive for. This isn’t a lecture on communism, but it is important we not read into the text some evil on the part of this prince – Jesus didn’t say it was his deportment that was the problem, but rather the belief system of the servant was the issue. Go back to the story…
• The prince chose to judge the servant by his own words. He told him: “If you thought that was unjust and that I was that hard, why didn’t you DO something with the money rather than hide it away?” (19:23). He ordered the money taken away from him, and told the servants it would go to the one who made the best investment (19:24). It is interesting in the story that the prince essentially had two kinds of servants – those who followed his word, and those who didn’t submit to him because (though they were called servants) they didn’t believe he was entitled to be who he claimed to be. They were like the people in the far country!
• The scene closed with others among the servant’ corps questioning the prince on his decision to give to the most rewarded servant – as if it wasn’t his choice (19:25).
The teaching or moral of the story is made clear in the end with these words: Luke 19:26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 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.’ ”
Don’t get lost in the verbiage. Jesus said the one who didn’t trust the prince’s right to rule and DO as he said, would be stripped of his association with the prince and his kingdom (19:26). In addition, those who were supposed to be under the prince but refused in their heart his right to rule over them would be done away with permanently.
Remember the context from the beginning of Luke 19:12: “…because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” That reminder set the tone for the whole story…
Let’s not go crazy with the parable, but rather work to “keep the main thing the main thing.” Remember, we are never to extract theology from the detail of a parable – that is the wrong use of the medium (it is like trying to shove a flash drive in an electrical outlet, it won’t work out).
First, if the setting was people who thought Jesus was about to go to Jerusalem and set up a kingdom – deporting Roman authority and subjecting Temple authorities – the people could get excited because of coming change, even if they had no concept of what would happen next.
Second, the people to whom the prince was a rightful ruler didn’t want his rule. Could it be that when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Rome and the Temple wouldn’t kneel to His authority? The crowd needed to consider that possibility, since the next story was about the “Triumphal Entry” at the end of the chapter, and the Temple leaders made clear they wanted Jesus to tell the Palm Sunday crowd to “Shut up!” The story looks, at least in part, as a preparation for that coming exchange.
Third, in the story, there was another group of followers that were with the prince – not just those in the distant kingdom – but those who were dubbed “servants” of the prince. They were closely associated with the prince, worked for his purposes (at least they were supposed to!) and they were rewarded by him for their labors. They seem to be the followers of Jesus that were with Him in Jericho; the ones who experienced the changes in Zacchaeus and celebrated. Now we see the tough part of the parable… Not all of them were the same. Some were followers in deed; others were follower in word alone.
Look at the servant who didn’t believe in the prince. Listen to his words. He said: “You are HARD. You take what ISN’T yours – you take what I WANT.” Can you understand his view? He believed that Jesus DIDN’T HAVE THE RIGHT to his life, his choices, and his labors. He wanted to work for HIMSELF. He wanted life to be under HIS CONTROL. Could he be a follower of Jesus who got “on board” because of the benefits, but not to be a real servant?
Step back for a moment and consider these three stories. First, a man who couldn’t see wanted Jesus, got his sight and followed Him – gaining clarity with each step he took following the Master. Next, a man who searched for fulfillment in THINGS sought Jesus, and time spent with the Master helped him see that ill-gotten gain hindered him from being truly fulfilled. Finally, some people anticipated that Jesus was worth following because of the benefits of a coming Kingdom – but they didn’t really trust Him to direct their lives and choices. His teaching also called them to consider carefully what serving Him truly meant. Remember: Just because someone is on the prince’s payroll, doesn’t mean he is truly serving the prince at all.
Let me ask you a simple question: What are you looking for? Why are you taking the time to look at this lesson? What is God saying to you? Do you trust Jesus, or do you just want His benefits?
Don’t skip that Jesus’ teaching cautioned them that there will be a delay in the lieral and earthly Kingdom of Messiah (something that is much clearer to us that would have been to them). Messiah came to die, was raised to show the acceptance of the payment for sin, and will return to take His place on the throne of David. This was the promise, and if it were a mere spiritualization, huge portions of the prophetic parts of Scripture are good for little beside balking up your Bible to make it a paper weight!
Beloved, even believers of our age consistently display impatience for the Kingdom and an earthly time and place of righteousness. Many long for heaven to take root in this time and land – and forget this world is not our home. Some rest in a prosperity doctrine, hoping wealth, health and fulfillment will be the absolute fruit of following Jesus in the here and now – but the whole idea of martyrdom doesn’t fit their theology. Don’t try selling that one in Iraq right now – they won’t buy it.
Here is the truth: Jesus is coming back. The Prince of Heaven will come, and those things He promised are coming – but not here and not now. They come with the Savior’s return.
Some express impatience by turning their attention to political enforcement of Christian morals and ethics, as if human government will ever eradicate poverty, racism or injustice – or truly promote our faith. While we should thoughtfully influence the state through informed voting and careful engagement, we are wholly unrealistic if we believe Caesar will promote Christ. If Caesar puts Christ on his placards and bumper stickers – it will be to get the church’s vote – not to promote the church’s Master. Incidentally, when the church had Caesar’s power in history, the world’s influence seemed more pervasive, impregnating the church with ungodliness, far more than the world was wooed by the church. That isn’t the best way for the church to take a stand… Bruce Larson wrote: “When I was a small boy, I attended church every Sunday at a big Gothic Presbyterian bastion in Chicago. The preaching was powerful and the music was great. But for me, the most awesome moment in the morning service was the offertory, when twelve solemn, frock-coated ushers marched in lock-step down the main aisle to receive the brass plates for collecting the offering. These men, so serious about their business of serving the Lord in this magnificent house of worship, were the business and professional leaders of Chicago. One of the twelve ushers was a man named Frank Loesch. He was not a very imposing looking man, but in Chicago he was a living legend, for he was the man who had stood up to Al Capone. In the prohibition years, Capone’s rule was absolute. The local and state police and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were afraid to oppose him. But single handedly, Frank Loesch, as a Christina layman and without any government support, organized the Chicago Crime Commission, a group of citizens who were determined to take Mr. Capone to court and put him away. During the months that the Crime Commission met, Frank Loesch’s life was in constant danger. There were threats on the lives of his family and friends. But he never wavered. Ultimately he won the case against Capone and was the instrument for removing this blight from the city of Chicago. Frank Loesch had risked his life to live out his faith. Each Sunday at this point of the service, my father, a Chicago businessman himself, never failed to poke me and silently point to Frank Loesch with pride. Sometime I’d catch a tear in my father’s eye. For my dad and for all of us this was and is what authentic living is all about.” Bruce Larson, in Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.124-5.
At the same time, there is a spiritual sense of kingdom we live with; (even today) that foreshadows the power and magnificence of our Prince above.
• He is unmatched in power and unmarred by evil.
• He is the victor over death and the Prince of life itself.
• He was crucified that I might live.
• He was beaten that I might be healed.
• He was rejected by men than I may be accepted by God.
• He was shamed before the world so that I could be lifted to glory in Heaven.