Suzie and Janie loved the beach. The shells that decorated their dorm room should have been the first clue that they were a bit unbalanced in this regard. Still, there was something about the crashing sound of the surf, the smell of salty air, and the warm feel of the sun on their sun-screened skin that made them feel the relaxation that others feel in a resort spa. They felt pampered by nature. Troubles seemed to slip away into the water with the receding tide.
They took their tubes and lay in a foot of water. The waves were particularly small that afternoon, so the rise and fall of their little tubes seemed to be more relaxed than normal. They were talking about life – assignments that were coming up, professors that were far too boring to keep their eyes open, and a book that Suzie found interesting for her Psych class. Then is happened… neither one knew exactly how. Their eyes were closed and they were silent for what seemed like only a moment. When they opened their eyes, the scenery was not familiar. They had slowly drifted out to sea. They were now far from land. Suzie rolled over on the tube, and out it slipped. She began to slap the water violently, panicking and saying something that made Janie think Jaws had just surfaced and was eating her friend. That wasn’t the case. Suzie simply panicked.
Back on the beach, an old man was collecting shells. He had noticed the two drift out to sea and became quite concerned – so he called the life station, and the guards were already informed of the problem. By the time Suzie began her epic panic, the lifeboat was already en route to saving both of the young students. As the life boat rowed more closely, the lifeguard could see that Suzie had slipped into the water was thrashing. He recognized the panic, and dove in with all his training streaming through his mind. He knew this was a dangerous rescue – because the person in distress was already fighting to live. That fight would become his fight to save her. She would resist her own rescue… and that was such a ingrained response of her panic, there was no stopping it. She would have to be overcome to rescue her – or she would slip into the sea and die because she rejected her rescuer.
Many people this Easter season will find themselves in the exact same position. Not in a sea of water, but in the sea of life. Not drowning, but dying and fighting their rescuer. This isn’t just a physical response of panic… it is the spiritual response of rebellious mankind. We want to save ourselves, and we can’t. We want to control the terms of our lives, and we can’t. We want to guard ourselves from pain and harm, but we can’t We don’t want a rescuer – we want to do it ourselves – but we can’t. Here is the truth:
Key Principle: Deep within the heart is rooted a resistance to rescue. Only those who overcome the impulse to try and save themselves will make it through to life – the others will perish.
There is a text buried in the account of Jesus’ earth ministry found in Luke 19, that tells the story of a rescuer and the fight to stop Him from saving the dying. The text offers three stories to the modern reader:
Story #1: Zaccheus’ banquet where the rescue announcement is made clear (19:1-10).
Story #2: A parable of delayed rescue that Jesus told the listeners at the banquet (19:11-27). This is actually part of the first story – but so long that it seems like an account by itself.
Story #3: The story of Jesus’ Palm Sunday journey into the Temple (19:28-48).
The account is layered in three small stories that all blend together:
- Jesus reasoning with leaders about His rescue.
- Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.
- Jesus cleaning up the Temple’s corruption.
Luke positioned the stories in the order that the interviews he made in building his Gospel account indicated – because he was trying to set the story in the actual order of the events (Luke 1:1-4). The three stories are connected by a simple thought:
Jesus came to offer a drowning people rescue – but some fought the rescuer and tried to stop Him from completing His task.
The truth is they DIDN’T WANT His rescue – they had a plan to do it themselves. They were like many people we work with and see every day. They want to control their own lives. They want to do it on their own – even if that keeps taking them from disaster to disaster. The point of this chapter is that there IS ANOTHER WAY to respond to the rescue of the Savior – and the response has EVERYTHING to do with whether or not you will LIVE or DIE.
The Rescue Announced (Luke 19:1-10):
Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. ”
Jesus came into Jericho with a plan to rescue a drowning man. Zaccheus was up to his neck in a sea of problems:
- He was marginalized by people who wouldn’t respect him enough to part and let him have a glimpse of Jesus (19:3).
- He felt inadequate, and knew he wasn’t able to do what others were – so he looked for help (19:4).
- He was despised by the people among whom he lived – and they were immediately jealous and upset when Jesus chose to be with him (19:5-6).
- He was surprised, delighted and even shocked that Jesus wanted to be in his life (19:7).
- He already knew why others felt about him the way they did – he knew he cheated people and sinned against them (19:8).
- He surrendered his sinful practices to Jesus without resistance – and he was rescued (19:8b-9).
Jesus used this man to announce His whole intention on invading the life of the drowning man or woman – He came to RESCUE THEM. That was His mission – and that was the mission God gave those that follow Him. We are called to a “ministry of reconciliation” – connecting God to people.
- Not GOOD people, but drowning people.
- Not HAPPY people, but those who feel inadequate.
- Not EASY people, but the marginalized, the unloved, the difficult.
Many will resist us, because they will want to do it themselves. They will believe they are already adequate – or they have found a way on their own. They will not understand us –because they did not understand Him. Those around us will scratch their heads when they watch us invest such time and trouble in such LOSERS. They won’t recognize what we are doing as valuable, because it won’t be as flashy as what the world seeks to do in changing itself.
- Ours is a quiet and subtle revolution. It is found in the faithful love of a husband and wife desperately praying over their children that they may raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in the midst of a rebellious generation.
- It is found in the careful instruction of the holy Words of God, quietly taught in a class of small boys and girls that cannot yet be trusted with sharp scissors and paste.
- It will be found on the lips of old grey haired men and women, who no longer capture the heart of Hollywood or Vogue magazine – but their quiet testimony offers enduring wisdom and truth yielded from a life given in surrender to the Savior.
- When fear and anger prevail in our streets, our message of rescue will SEEM weak. It will not be violent and it will not be swift. It will require love and patience, hope and endurance. It will require the application of God’s dramatic display of love in our Savior, shined through cracked clay pots from the lives of flawed men and women. That profound message of God’s love will transform, because it is powerful, not because WE are. The Gospel will not be silenced, nor will it be defeated.
The message that transformed the heart of a drowning, short, inadequate tax collection cheater two thousand years ago will transform the heart of a Muslim that does not find peace in a world view that competes for domination by aggression – but cannot be trusted to offer the truth. The message that filled the empty heart of an outcast in Jericho will still powerfully lift the discarded and worthless feeling divorced woman that has been left cast aside for a younger and more energetic woman. They are all around us and they are drowning… Oh that we could just look in the tree and see them!
The Resistance Explained (Luke 19:11-27):
Jesus told a story. It was directed at a crowd that didn’t like what He was doing – but I guess God is used to that. Most of the things He says to the drowning aren’t popular. We like to think we are MORE CAPABLE, or at least not as stupid as the other drowning guy down the beach. Here is what He said:
Luke 19:11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.
The purpose of the story preceded the telling of it. Luke made it clear that Jesus was saying what He said because there was about to be a SEVERE DELAY in the National Rescue plan to His people. Israel wasn’t ready. Disciples weren’t ready. God promised a New Covenant. He promised to bring the people back from the captors and after a while change their hearts. He promised that the Jewish people would one day experience a complete surrender… but it wasn’t going to happen that Passover. In fact, the delay was going to be significant – but purposeful. His delay of ascending David’s throne offers me salvation today. I was not part of His people then – but the Gospel made it possible that I am of HIS PEOPLE today.
The Disciples thought the Kingdom would come that week, because they didn’t see past themselves.
They didn’t see the lost around them. Whole earthly kingdoms and nation states had no relation to God. Was God to ignore the 14 million Chinese of the Han Dynasty for the sake of the immediate accession of Jesus to the throne of fewer than a million Jews? God’s math, and God’s view were different than theirs – and I am very glad – glad beyond words – that God saw it differently.
Luke 19:12 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 “And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ 14 “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 “The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 “The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 “And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 “Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 “He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 ‘Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 “And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ 26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 27 “But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”
Parables are sometimes hard to grasp. You have to be especially careful to keep the details out of the main idea, so that only the details that are relevant to the story define the message of the story. They take work, but, like a really good novel, they are worth it. The beauty and richness is lost on a fast food generation – but if you slowly savor it – you will feel the power in the story. Let’s take it apart.
There are two layers to the story.
The first layer is a story about an absentee district ruler that left on a journey to a far country that was under his possession and eventually returned (19:12). The people he was to claim rule over rejected his claim to rule, and sent a request the Senate after his visit to have another ruler over them (19:14) – so he was feeling the weight of rejection that was apparently based on his interaction with them. He felt pressured by enemies, and in the end – when it was determined that his rule would not be withdrawn by those above him – he ordered that his enemies be dragged in and killed right in front of his face (19:27).
His point in the first layer is clear: Reject the ruler and appeal his right to rule – and you will find yourself without recourse.
Set into that story was the second layer that began with his preparations for the journey, and ended with his return to his household.
In this second layer, the ruler prepared for a journey by handing part of his wealth over to three slaves – each with a significant part of his wealth – and instructed them to conduct his business with them (19:13). (A mina was a measure of gold – a word that entered Greek and Latin from its Akkadian origin for a “weight”. In the first century, a mina was a unit of currency that amounted to about a fourth of the wages earned annually by an agricultural worker. Ten minas would have been worth two and one half years pay for a farm worker – a significant amount to invest in that time.) With ten minas at each servant’s disposal, the man left on his journey. On return, he asked for an accounting of the money invested (19:15).
The first servant invested the ten and gained ten more – a 100% investment increase. The second invested and got a 50% investment increase – adding five more to his original ten. The third came in with only the ten he was originally given. The focus of this layer was primarily on HIM – because he didn’t trust the ruler (19:19). Look at the interaction between the ruler and the servant to see the servant’s position:
- He recognized the ten minas were his masters (19:20).
- He understood the task that was assigned to him (19:21).
- He feared the ruler, and knew the ruler to be a man that would keep track of the money (19:21).
- He didn’t trust the character of the ruler – and felt he gained in ways that were not to his liking (19:21).
The ruler was perturbed with the servant. He said: “Why didn’t you do it another way then? Why not put it in the bank and gain interest?” He stripped him of the minas and gave them to the one that did the most with them. The others in the room seemed to think this was foolish – after all the one with the ten had already ten more. The proverb offered to explain the scene was this:
Luke 19:26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.”
Don’t bypass these words – they are the point of the lesson. Jesus said this: A ruler offered every servant the same opportunity, but some didn’t trust his character and decided to do things that ignored his instruction. The one who used what was loaned to him in a way that became productive got rewarded. The one who decided to withhold his obedience and do things his own way, was stripped of what he was offered in the beginning.
His point in the second layer was this: Use what the ruler loans you obediently or what you have been given will be removed.
Now set the two message points back into the context of the problem…Jewish followers were already dividing up their new land grants in their hearts, as Jesus came to Jerusalem. Peter was carrying a sword under his cloak, waiting for the Master to give the order. The Kingdom of God was about to be established by the Messiah – and no one could stop Him! That is, until the King offered two important warnings:
The leadership of God’s people weren’t ready to accept the rule of their King. That rejection would be costly, but God would honor their desire and postpone His establishment of rule at that time. They had been entrusted with something extraordinarily valuable – the written word and now the Living Word –and rejection of them would bring peril to those leaders. Another generation would get the blessing of the King – but it would come in tears when they looked on Him they had earlier pierced (Zechariah 12:10-14). Jewish leadership would blow their chance – and that would leave their children open to deep pain – but the promise would still come.
When the builders rejected the beautiful Cornerstone, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43). Yet, for those who read that in such a way as to strip the Jewish people in favor of the church – let me be clear here – that is not what He said.
It is easy to read Matthew 21 as though Jesus were handing off the “everlasting and irrevocable possession” of Israel to someone else – but that is not so. Jesus was referring to offering the choice to a future generation of Jewish leaders, not the one that was standing there at the time. Evidence? First, a massive number of Jews were not in the land at the time of Jesus’ visitation. If God meant to overturn His Word concerning them, He did so with a minority presence. That alone isn’t enough, but it should give us pause. Is the majority of “the church” today walking in obedience such that we should feel secure about God using the term “everlasting” in such a manner? For greater evidence which is textual, let me add: Ask the men who were listening to Jesus in Matthew 21 if they thought Jesus was moving the blessing to non-Jews and replacing it with the church or any other entity? I suspect their question to Jesus later in Acts 1:6 “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Did they misunderstand Jesus’ pronouncement of removal, or did they appear to understand that He was pushing it off to a future time but maintaining it for the Jewish people? The answer seems clear enough to one who takes the Bible literally.
The Rescuer Fought (Luke 19:28-48)
The end of the passage is the living example of the parable. Two short stories illustrate the rejection of the leadership.
Rejection in the Parade (19:28-40)
The first was the reaction of the Pharisees in the crowd of Palm Sunday. The text reveals that they complained about the overt acceptance of the crowd of their King. When they saw their King coming on a donkey, their minds raced to Zechariah 9:9 and they saw Him openly taking the position of the Servant-king.
Luke 19:28 After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 31 “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. 37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting: “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” 40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
The Pharisees rejected Jesus’ overt claim, and the crowd’s adulation of Him. They wanted it stopped! They wanted CONTROL. Jesus cautioned them that Roman control would be exerted if a riot broke out, because of the hurling of the stones! They weren’t in CONTROL, and that wasn’t HIS doing – that was Rome’s doing. They knew it, and it made them seethe inside. The rescuer was there to save them – and they were effectively fighting Him off from completing His task. He stopped and cried because of it:
19:41 When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
You see, the Hebrew prophet in exile, Daniel, took the Word of God seriously as he read Jeremiah – according to Daniel 9:1-2. He knew that the return of the Jewish people was supposed to be in seventy years after they were brought into Babylon, because God’s Word said so. He prayed, because he was so distressed that the time was coming and the Jewish people were not preparing to leave. God answered his prayer of faith, and told him that NOT ONLY would the people be going back to the land, but that Messiah would come to them. He would come 483 years of 360 days (a Biblical calendar year) from the time Jerusalem was commanded to rebuild its wall and moat… or 173,880 days from the restoration of the moat, gate and wall system around the city. Later, the Hebrew Bible includes the story of Nehemiah 1, where the restoration was begun, starting the clock. By the time of Jesus’ arrival, the announcement of timing of His coming was already nearly five hundred years old – but the leadership that studied these things ever so closely was not willing to open their hearts. WHY? Because they were living under the illusion of control – and Jesus shattered that illusion with a single sentence.
We hate to admit that we don’t have control of things. We push off our rescuer because we don’t want to be embarrassed – as if DEAD would be better. We live under one illusion after another:
Young women stand in front of a mirror and dress to attract a man of substance and character by getting him to look at her exterior:
- As if that would attract the right kind of man.
- As if she can keep him by keeping her exterior looking like that.
- She paints it, brushes it, cares and maintains it.
The truth is that a man of character is interested in a woman of character – and she needs to give much time to developing that in order to attract the right man. She cannot get the right man solely on the exterior, and even more to the point SHE CANNOT KEEP THE EXTERIOR LOOKING LIKE THAT because she doesn’t control it.
The man of business operates with a solid sense of control – but market forces pull his business as the sea pulls on a tiny fishing boat. The young athlete sculpts his body as if he can, through sheer force of will, stop the years from changing his ability to endure. The man walks into his doctor’s office to get a diagnosis on the pain or problem, somehow believing there is a surgery or a pill that can control anything that his body may throw at him.
CONTROL IS AN ILLUSION. Fighting the rescuer to keep control of your life is a futile and perilous response that will only be shattered when the illusion of control has been stripped away.
Rejection in the Worship Place (19:45-48)
The final story of the passage places Jesus in the south porch of the Temple complex, overturning the money changers and corban (sacrificial items) salesman. This was a provocative action, but it was also revealing:
19:45 Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,’ but you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” 47 And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, 48 and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.
Did you see it? Some people rejected the rescuer, because they had an ECONOMIC MOTIVE. Surrender to Jesus would mean RESCUE – but it would also pull the cloak off of their GREED and SELFISH lifestyle that was so nurtured by them.
Others were quietly looking pious but seeking a way to STOP the Rescuer, because His FAME would rob them of THEIR FAME. They liked a world centered on THEM.
Deep within the heart is rooted a resistance to rescue.
Some reject rescue because they want CONTROL – but they don’t have it – because it is an illusion. Some reject rescue because they want POWER, MONEY or FAME – they don’t want to share the stage of their lives with a rescuer.
Only those who overcome the impulse to try and save themselves will make it through to life – the others will perish.
Isn’t it time you stop pushing away the RESCUER and let Him rescue you?