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The King’s Return

The King’s Return

Preached by Jason Abbott

Since we’ve had children, Natalie and I have taken a number of long trips with them—road trips entailing a couple days of driving. Now, when you take kids on trips like that, what question can you anticipate hearing, perhaps even a number of times along the way? (…Are we there yet?) With little children, their thinking is that no trip should take hours or days. Their expectations are off about the duration of such trips. If they’re going to endure, they need their parents to help them grasp what’s ahead—that great distances aren’t going to be traveled instantly.

           And, friends, in a similar way, Jesus tells this parable to prepare his disciples for the arrival of his kingdom. He wants to help us endure until his return.

Luke 19:11-27

11 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. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 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, 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. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 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.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 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.’ 22 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? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘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. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

There are probably a number of ways I could’ve organized this little parable. But, in the end, I decided to keep it simple. Basically, there are two central events by which we’re going to organize this short story. Those two central events are—(1st) the nobleman’s departure to receive his kingdom, and (2nd) his return as king. And, what and how we think about these events will tell us a ton about who we are and about how we should live…in between them. Let’s dig in:

The nobleman goes away (vv. 11-14).

The idea of a nobleman going away to receive a kingdom wasn’t unfamiliar to Jesus’ original audience. Herod the Great went to Rome to garner his kingdom, and when he died his three sons had to do the same to inherit the portions he’d left to them. In fact, one of Herod’s sons, Archelaus, was so reviled by the inhabitants of the region he inherited that they sent delegates to Caesar to protest his kingship (just like they do in Christ’s parable).[1] So, there’s a familiar historical background to the narrative. It wasn’t a strange or foreign idea to people.


 

Let me pause here for a moment to say something about reading parables since this negative historical background—a bad man going away to be crowned—highlights how we could possibly misread this parable.

You see, though everyone in the audience would’ve had negative thoughts about Archelaus and considered him to be an unfit king (which he certainly was), and though Jesus uses their associations to teach about the nature of his kingdom, no one, who listened that day, would’ve imagined—in any way, shape, or form—that Jesus was teaching that his kingdom was like Archelaus’s kingdom. No one would’ve pressed the details that far. And yet, often we’re tempted to.

George Eldon Ladd clearly explains the aim of a parable, when he writes—“A parable is designed to convey…a single truth rather than a complex of truths.”[2] And, since this is the case, we have to ask—What’s the single truth?


Well, with this parable, Luke tells us what the single truth is from the get-go. He writes:

[Jesus] proceeded to tell a parable…because they [his disciples] supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately (v. 11).

Friends, we can learn many lessons from this parable. But, the main lesson or the central point, which we have to learn, is about the timing of Christ’s coming as conquering king. It did not come “immediately” for those in that original crowd, and, with them, we still wait today for his kingdom’s full arrival. The single point or lesson, which Jesus teaches, is that he must go away—his crucifixion, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension—(he must go away) to be crowned king.

If the disciples don’t get that, they’ll be lost and confused and vulnerable. And, if we make the story about the differences between good and bad stewardship or about the certainty of the king’s judgment or about the character of God’s king and his kingdom, then we will miss what Jesus primarily wants his people to know: namely, that he must go away in order to come back as king.

           I wonder if you have ever struggled with the delay of God’s kingdom come. I wonder if, perhaps, you’ve ever felt ridiculed by friends or family for your belief in the return of Christ.

           I recall discussing Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in a literature class while at Mizzou. (If you’re not familiar with the play, it’s the story of two friends who have an absurd conversation while waiting for a man named Godot to arrive—but he never does.) At least one suggested interpretation is that the drama portrays, in no uncertain terms, the absurdity of expecting God to show up or Jesus to return. And, as a young believer, I remember feeling very uncomfortable as other students in the class mocked such a belief.

           But, this is nothing new. The Apostle Peter was forced to contend with those who mocked the idea of Christ’s return. Listen to his words:

They [the scoffers] will say, “Where is the promise of his [Christ’s] coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation…. [And, here’s what Peter says in response] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…(2 Peter 3:4, 10).

           Jesus and Peter sing in harmony. They both teach that there will be a delay, that Jesus must go away in order to come back as king. So, we mustn’t be surprised that Christ hasn’t returned to usher in his full kingdom yet. We shouldn’t despair when people deride our belief and hope in the coming of God’s kingdom. In fact, this is precisely what the Bible tells us to expect.

           But, how should we deal with it? How should we deal with the kind of world that might marginalize and mock us for loving and trusting the Lord? Well, earlier, in this very book of the Bible, Jesus tells us how:

…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:27-31).

           This is the Christian ethic. This is how we move forward until Christ returns. But, we don’t live this way simply or primarily because our Lord says we should; we live like this because this is how our Lord has treated us. And, to me, this is one of the most radically different things about Christianity—we don’t just serve a god, we serve the God who first served us. There is no other religion or system of belief like this in all the world. The gospel of God is unique.

           Well, thankfully the nobleman doesn’t just go away. He returns as the king.

2. The king comes back (vv. 15-27).

Now, for some, this is very good news. But, for others, this is a catastrophe. And, what makes the difference between the two is their relationship to this king. If they’ve chosen to serve him, they are blessed. If they’ve chosen to oppose him, they are cursed. So, you have the two servants, that were faithful with their minas, who now receive the honor of managing cities (vv. 16-19). Yet, on the other hand, you have those “citizens” who opposed this nobleman becoming king at all (v. 14). Their opposition against the king brings a sentence of death (v. 27).

What, however, do we make of the outlier in all this? How do we understand what happens to the “servant” who hides his mina away (vv. 20-24)?

Let’s focus on his predicament when the king returns. Let’s look once again at how the king deals with this faithless servant. Here’s what Jesus says:

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…’ (vv. 20-24).

What’s going on here? Well, there isn’t a consensus on how to handle him—on what to make of the “wicked servant” in these verses.[3] Some say he’s a believer who didn’t use his gifts well and is saved “as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). Others think he’s meant to represent Jewish leadership and their faux discipleship. But, I think Jesus is using the “wicked servant” to make another point altogether—a bigger point about the coming of his kingdom.

Notice that what the servant thinks of the king—that he’s a “severe man”—is in conflict with how he handles the mina—hiding it away. This begs a question: Does the “wicked servant” really know the master? It would seem that he doesn’t. After all, the king appears to be very gracious and generous with his other servants. He lavishes way more on them than they deserve when they prove to be faithful with little—a mina was a fairly decent amount of money but nothing in comparison to handling many cities. For this reason, I think the “wicked servant” is an example of a phony or counterfeit believer—somebody who outwardly looks like a believer but inwardly isn’t. His lack of fruit (of works) shows that he isn’t really a follower of the king (cf. James 2:14-16). And, so even what he has is finally taken from him and given to another. He has no place in the kingdom.

This is a lesson Jesus taught throughout his earthly ministry. That some—who appear to follow him—will on the day of judgment when Christ comes again be revealed as fakes (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). This, I think, is the bigger point Jesus is making about the coming of his kingdom…a surprising point.

Think back to last week’s sermon because it provides the setting or context into which Jesus tells this parable. Jesus and his disciples are feasting at the home of a tax-collector named Zacchaeus. And, tax-collectors were the Benedict Arnolds of Jesus’ day. They were traitors who cozied up to Rome in order to make a buck. That’s who Zacchaeus was—the poster boy for sin.

But, there was a surprise in that passage as well. Do you recall what it was? In the middle of the meal, Zacchaeus stands up and renounces his love of money, and he promises to payback anybody he’s defrauded fourfold. Zacchaeus repents! He turns away from evil and to God, all because of his new relationship with Jesus. But, that’s not what’s really surprising. The real surprise in last week’s passage is what Jesus says next. Jesus looks directly at Zacchaeus—imagine Christ peering over at him, making sure to lock eyes with him. He does that and, then, announces for everyone to hear:

Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (19:9-10).

           Friends, do you see? The last person anyone thought could possibly be saved is saved—a son of Abraham, a member of God’s family. This is the great surprise. This is the great reversal. What you were sure you knew about the kingdom of God was wrong. The last person who should be on the list is now first. The tax-collector and the prostitute are entering God’s kingdom before all those who seem righteous to you and me (Matthew 21:31). No one ever earns their kingdom membership! It’s always the gift of God through relationship by faith with Christ Jesus.

So let’s put this all together and then close.

           No disciple can know for certain who’s out of the kingdom (e.g. Zacchaeus); and, no disciple can know for sure who’s in the kingdom (e.g. the wicked servant). Moreover, we cannot know precisely when the kingdom will come in its fullness. We only know that it will come with the king. But, and this is very, very practical, we know as believers that we’re in the in between; we know that, when he comes, he’ll ask for an accounting of our service; and we know that those who are faithful will be commended and share in his glorious kingdom.

           In light of this, we know precisely how we must live until Christ returns—until the King’s return. (Join me in prayer.)

 

[1] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke, 274; Darrell Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke 9:51-24:53, 1532.

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 90.

[3] See Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament: Luke 9:51-24:53, 1541-1542.

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