Investing in the Kingdom

Sermon: Sunday, 16th October, 2022
Speaker: Alistair Donald
Scripture: Luke 19:11-27

( Note: The tech gremlins were out in force on Sunday so regrettably there’s no audio or visual for this sermon. )

Those who hold investments tell me that those are quite chancy things at present. ‘Market turbulence’ is the term that’s used. And as we see every day on the news, there’s been quite of that in the past couple of weeks! So whether we own investments or not, it’s a good time for all of us to be reminded of the prescient words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Mathew 6:19-21)

And the story that Jesus told in today’s Bible reading – recorded for us at this point in Luke’s Gospel as the ‘Parable of the Ten Minas’ – is really the Lord’s way of driving this important truth home to us. In case you’re wondering what a ‘Mina’ is an ancient unit of weight used in the time of the Bible, used as money. Apparently there were 60 Shekels in a Mina. But all we really need to know is that a Mina, in the story Jesus told, was worth about 3 months’ wages.

Now at this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are heading to Jerusalem for the last time. It occurs just after their encounter with Zacchaeus in Jericho and they are now on their way up the long climb from Jericho to Jerusalem. The story is, in some ways, rather an obscure story; in other ways it’s quite disturbing, as we’ll see. But this is the story that Jesus chose to tell his disciples – to prepare them for the fact that he wouldn’t be entering Jerusalem as a conquering hero, to throw out the Roman oppressors, as many had been hoping.

There are often misunderstandings today about who Jesus was, and what drove him. Nearly everyone sees him as a wise teacher and he certainly is that. Some see him as a political liberator and that was what was on the mind of many in his own day. But they were to be disappointed, as people today will be disappointed if we think that’s what Jesus was about. Jesus told this story to say that he’d be leaving them in death, away ‘in a far country’, but that one day he’d be returning just like in the story. In the meantime, he’d have work for his followers to do, just like in the story. There is a similar parable in Matthew’s Gospel but that one was about using our gifts (talents); this one is about our priorities and motivation, about checking whether or not we’re Investing in the Kingdom.

The background to the story sounds a bit obscure to us today, but it’s one that everyone on Jesus’ day would have known about; it was one of biggest public scandals of recent years. We probably know that there are 2 Herods in the NT – one when Jesus was born, but who died soon after; and one at the time of Jesus’ trial. But in between there was another ruler Archelaus.

In the days of the Roman Empire, the Emperor himself had to confirm a new regional king. So Archelaus went to Rome when his father Herod died, and was duly crowned in Rome before coming back to Judea, to Israel. He’d left as a mere contender to be ruler; headed off to a distant country to have himself appointed king; and returned to Israel exercising royal authority.But by Jesus’ day, Archelaus had also died and his son Herod (he of the trial!) was ruler. But as Jesus and his disciples trudged up the long, long desert road to Jerusalem, Archelaus’s old winter palace was nearby. So Jesus took the opportunity to tell this parable: ‘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.’ (Luke 19:13-15)

That’s how the story began. You see the parallels with the story of Archelaus – but in this story Jesus was talking about himself, who would shortly be heading off ‘to a far country’ – when he was crucified for our sins, rose from the dead and went to heaven, one day to return again.

Who’s who in the story Jesus told

The Nobleman stands for the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the Son of the High King of heaven who was about to receive a kingdom all his own. He had to come all the way from heaven to earth to establish it, but there were citizens who opposed him, powerful men who said,’We will not have this man rule over us,’ and some of them would even put him to death. It was about to happen just like that!

The subjects of this Nobleman stand for the unbelieving world. ‘His subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ (Verse 14) What had happened 30 years earlier to Herod’s son Archelaus in Rome was now also happening to Jesus. The unbelieving people hated him too. The religious leaders even bribed witnesses to say falsely that they had heard him blaspheme. They called Jesus an evil man, a drunkard who kept bad company. ‘We will not have this man rule over us,’ they said and they planned to put him to death. They said later to Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ His own subjects said that, totally denying he had any claims over them.

The servants of this Nobleman stand for us Christians. This is the heart of the parable! From verse 15 to end, he’s dealing with his servants. What are they doing during the time he’s away and not round to keep his eye on them? They know he’s alive, that he rose from the dead, and they know that he’s promised to return one day. So how do they behave while he’s away?

The commission that King Jesus gives his servants

What did the Nobleman commission the servants to do? It’s not that they don’t know what their responsibility is. The man in the story has called the servants to him: ‘Now, guys, I’m off for a certain time. I can’t say to you how long it will be. My enemies will be plotting against me while I am away, but I’m depending on you. I am going to invest in each of you a certain amount of money.”

Notice that each servant was given the same amount, one mina, three months’ wages, around £7,000 so, a considerable lump sum. All Christians have the same privilege of being adopted into the family of God as his children. We each have the same access to the indwelling God, the Holy Spirit. That is the investment God has made in us: every believer has God’s great provision of himself and so is equipped for every possible challenge, every possible emergency, every conceivable demand – whatever comes into his or her life.

So we can’t say: ‘Oh, if only I had this or that spiritual blessing, then I could do things for you, Lord.’ Not at all! God has given equally to every Christian all that he or she needs to meet every challenge and opportunity for good works and service. We can never blame our failures on a lack of resources. We each have the same provision – the minas that we have been given.

Every single Christian has that high and holy calling. As Scripture says in Colossians, ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ (Colossians 3:17) Or again, ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.’ (Colossians 3:23).

Doing your studies if you’re at school or college, tidying your room, washing and ironing clothes, driving your car, playing football, watching a TV or online programme, going to a wedding or a funeral – you do it in the name of Jesus Christ, you work at it with all your heart; it is all done for the Lord. That is the 24/7 Christian life. We’ve been entrusted with our Lord’s commission to serve him. We have to show the supremacy of Jesus Christ over our lives, that we are not merely religious, or playing at being Christians. For us, glorifying God in all we do is the most important thing about us!

How do we do this? It is no secret! None of us can say, ‘But I didn’t know what to do with the life God had saved and the provision he had given to me.’ We grow in our own Christian lives through Sunday worship, through hearing and applying the Word preached to us telling us how we should live, and then also by personal repentance, prayer, reading fine Christian books, daily dependence on the Holy Spirit. We do it by trusting God to meet our needs and guide our decisions. We put the Gospel to work by being zealous in doing good works, and not giving up when we are weary. We visit a fellow-church member or a neighbour who is lonely or sick, or grieving or afraid. So we live our entire lives under this great Commission, the investment God has made in us.

The assessment

But then we come in the story to the assessment. We’re all familiar with that concept, aren’t we? There’s always a reckoning, whether that’s school assessments, exams, or that fun thing you get in the professions – the annual performance review!

We’re told in verse 15, ‘Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.’ So our Lord is someone with expectations. We have been given such a privilege to work for him. He has entrusted something wonderful to us, something that can benefit our communities and indeed the whole world. And he has given us the energy to do this, not to be crushed by the challenge.

Well, how has it been with you? What have you done with it? What have I done with it? Think of it, that God himself is one day calling us, one by one, to give an account. The Bible says that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Of course, Christians escape the final judgment that the world will face, because Jesus has paid the price for our sins on the cross. But for Christians, there is an evaluation of our lives before us. Have we just been saying, ‘Lord, Lord…’ with our lips, when our hearts have actually had other lords? Have we in fact been sluggards? Or have we faced up to God’s mighty investment in us when we were born again? Have we lived sacrificial lives, caring for a very needy member of the family, doing things for them that other people, so that one day the Lord will say to us: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’

So in the story, we’re told that the first servant was called to give an account; ‘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 ten cities.’ (Luke 19:16-17)

There were ten people helped by one man, ten lives transformed, ten unbelievers we shared the Gospel with, ten neighbours we prayed for, ten deeds of kindness done each week – ‘trustworthy in very small matters’ – a tenth of our income used for the cause of Christ. What is the reward? ‘Take charge of ten cities… Take charge of five cities.’ What does it mean?

It means this: first, that there is continual assessment of our stewardship during our lifetime, and secondly, that there is the final exam and the final verdict. So just as students and employees have to go through continual assessment of your work every Christian is being assessed by God. What we all did this last week has been evaluated by God. I find that challenging! All that is in the first stage of the divine continuous assessment.

Then there’s the final examination of your entire life which is held on the border of eternity. And finally there’s a solemn word in the parable about rejection… the last eight verses of the parable. It’s not something we can ignore. It is rather the climax of Jesus’ story. There is a third servant and he too has received blessings from his Master. The Lord has invested in him before going to a distant country. How has he done? We would expect the fellow who had been given one mina to have earned just one more but that is not what happened.

We read, ‘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.’ (Luke 19:20-21) He took the gift from the Master and did nothing with it. In half a minute it was wrapped up and hidden away. All over! And then he got on with his life. But his Master had given him the privilege of working for him and the taste of Gospel and spiritual privilege that comes from knowing him as our Lord. This is someone who had gone to church, enjoyed certain things about it – the fellowship, the singing perhaps – but had never really let the message of the Gospel penetrate his or her life. The Master had given him so many privileges! So what did he do with all he experienced? Absolutely nothing. He filed it away and got on with life as he wanted to live it.

Why did he respond like this? He tells the Lord the reason, ‘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.’ (verse 21) He blames his Master for his own failure! He accuses his Lord of being ruthless and inconsiderate, someone who looked for something from nothing. Sadly, some churches are full of people like that. They have some knowledge of the Bible. This man had a false view of the Lord. And that is the problem with the decline of Christianity in the Western World today. Too many have a pathetic view of God. Either the Christian God seems hard and cruel – ‘What has he ever done for me?’ For others, God is utterly easy going; he’s like a pet rabbit, that you keep in a box and can stroke once in a while when you feel like it. They’ve never known the true and living God, while the god they do know is unattractive, and they have better things to do with their lives than serve him.

So God speaks to this man, ‘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?’ (verse 22) Then why wasn’t he afraid of provoking so fierce a Lord? Why didn’t he think of putting the money in the highest interest account that he could find? Or why not give it to someone who would make good use of it?

The climax is that this man is killed! It shakes us to read it. Only Jesus can tell a story that ends this way. Whatever he meant by it, it certainly got his hearers’ attention, as it gets our attention today.

Let’s end with a timely reminder: It’s not what we do that earns us a place in heaven… That’s a free gift, through believing that what Christ has done on the cross. That’s how we get pardon and forgiveness. It is all of grace, all of God. There’s nothing we can do to earn even a part for that. But we will know whether we have believed by the way we respond. That’s what this story is all about.

I confess I’ve found this message personally very challenging to prepare and deliver. But the story isn’t here to make us feel bad about ourselves, but to spur us on to do better! Christ has given us our mina – all we could need for living a real, authentic, Christian life: Free forgiveness… the Holy Spirit in our hearts to guide us… the fellowship of other Christians… and many, many opportunities for service…

Let’s trust that this story Jesus told will stick in our mind, encouraging us, urging us on in the daily walk of faith. Urging us to use the investment that God has made in us, for his glory alone.