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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Svc, 2017-01-01

Text: Luke 19:11-27

Many have said that 2017 is a year of uncertainty. This is because of the unexpected results of last year’s US presidential elections and UK referendum, the heightened sense of insecurity, and the shifting balance of power from the west to the east. There are probably going to be many challenges ahead that may affect us this year.

But despite all the anxiety that is caused by uncertainty, we should all begin this New Year well by having the right perspective. We must be assured that God is still on the throne. He is in sovereign control of all our circumstances. And therefore we should resolve to keep trusting in Him and to do His will no matter what happens this year. One passage that provides us with the right perspective is the parable that Jesus told in Luke 19:11-27.

This parable was told by our Lord Jesus when He was in the city of Jericho (v.1). He had just saved a tax collector named Zacchaeus there (vv.2-9). And now He was about to begin His final journey to Jerusalem where multitudes of people would welcome Him into the city in His triumphal entry (vv.28-38). The messianic expectations of the Jews had now reached at their highest level, as verse 11 says,  “…they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.” They thought that Jesus was about to lead them with power to overthrow their Roman overlords, inaugurate His kingdom on earth and restore all the lost glory that Israel had once enjoyed.

But Christ’s programme was entirely different from theirs. He was not about to inaugurate a political kingdom on earth, but an era in which His reign would be established in the hearts of men through faith in Him. This means that there would be a long delay before the establishment of His political kingdom on earth.

And so He related a parable to counteract this expectation and to help His disciples to understand that certain events must take place first before His kingdom on earth is established. In this parable, Jesus is portrayed as the  “nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.” (v.12) This kingdom which the nobleman was to receive for himself was not in some distant far off place. It was actually at the very same place where the nobleman lived. But since the central government that controlled it was in that far country, he had to go all the way there to receive his authority to rule.

Then after he left, according to v.14,  “his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.” After receiving his authority to rule the kingdom, the nobleman returned as its king (v.15). The parable ends in v.27 with his command to execute those who had opposed his reign.

This parable was actually based on a historical event which took place some years earlier, an event that was quite well-known to the people of Jericho, where this parable was told. King Herod the Great had died there in 4 BC. His son, Archelaus, was then designated to assume the rulership of Judea. But since Israel was under the Roman Empire, Archelaus first had to travel all the way to Rome to be confirmed by Caesar Augustus as the new king of Judea.

However, a group of 50 Jews also went to Rome and they tried to oppose his claim to the throne. They did not succeed. Archelaus was confirmed as king by Caesar, and when he returned to Judea all those who had opposed him were executed. Now, King Archelaus had three large palaces in Jericho, where this parable was told. And Jesus used this parable to teach the people that unlike Archelaus who had ruled only over Judea…

1. Christ Has the Authority to Rule over All.

This is the first important truth that we can learn from this parable. Jesus wanted everyone to know that His kingdom will be established, but at the same time He did not want them to be mistaken about its present form and the time of its appearing. Our Lord already knew that within a few days after arriving in Jerusalem, He would be betrayed and crucified there. But on the third day He would rise from the dead and receive all authority in heaven and in earth. This was what Jesus said when He commissioned His disciples later on,  “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:18,19)

And then Jesus would ascend up to heaven (which is portrayed in v.12 as ‘a far country’), and there He would wait until the time comes for Him to return to claim His earthly kingdom. But before this happens Satan will attempt to rally the whole world to rebel against the Lord (This corresponds with v.14 of the parable which says that “his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.”). And this end-time rebellion will be terminated when Jesus returns to earth in His second coming. All who oppose Him will be defeated, and Christ will then reign as King over all the earth.

These end-time events are all still future to us, but they are already known to the Lord, and they are revealed to us here in His Word. From next Sunday onwards we will embark on a study of the Book of Daniel for our morning worship services. We will see many detailed prophecies about the end-times. The messages in our church camp in June this year will be based on the theme,  “Behold, I Come Quickly” and they will help us to understand what the Book of Revelation teaches on Christ’s second coming.

  With all these things that are revealed to us in the Scriptures, we can now live with the strongest assurance that our future is secure in God’s hands. He is in sovereign control of all our circumstances. Why should we worry about any uncertainty that this year brings, when we already know what the final outcome will be? The final chapter of history has already been written, and the author who wrote it has given us a sneak preview of it. All the changes that are happening in the world will ultimately lead to the return of Christ and to His reign on earth.

There are already many indications that the time is near, but we do not know precisely when the Lord will return. Please don’t listen to anyone who claims to know the date of His return based on certain calculations. There have been a lot of speculations and failed predictions. Many people have been disappointed and immensely discouraged by such false alarms. Our Lord Himself has said,  “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.” (Acts 1:7) What we really need to know is whether we are truly in His kingdom. This is so much more important than knowing when Jesus will return. Are you fully submitting to Jesus your King? If you have truly received Him as your Saviour and Lord, you would acknowledge His rights to rule and direct your life.

One good example of this is Zacchaeus, the rich tax-collector who was despised by the people of Jericho. The story of Zacchaeus is found in vv.2-10, just before our passage, and it demonstrates what the kingship of Christ is all about. We all know him as the very short man who climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus. His eagerness was greatly rewarded when Jesus said to him,  “Zacchaeus, make haste, come down, for to day I must abide at thy house.” Zacchaeus was so thrilled to have Jesus as his guest that he came down quickly and received Him joyfully into his home.

From what Zacchaeus said after that, it is clear that he no longer lived for himself, but for his King, the Lord Jesus: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” (Luke 19:8) Can you see that Zacchaeus was no longer the greedy and deceitful man that he used to be? He was no longer the chief of publicans who made himself rich by dishonest gain. He had changed radically. And this is the kind of change that is produced in the heart where Jesus reigns as King.

Dearly beloved, as you begin this New Year, it is extremely important for you to be sure that Jesus is the king of your life, and that you are submitting fully to His rule over you. Please ask yourself: Are there any areas of your life that are not fully surrendered to Him yet? – like your personal desires and ambitions, your relationships with people, and your career plans? Is Jesus the king of your life at work, at home and at play? Are you like Zacchaeus who welcomed Jesus into his home as his Lord and King?

Or are you more like the citizens of the noblemen who said,  “We will not have this man to reign over us.” (v.14) If you keep on refusing to have Jesus to reign over you, please be warned from God’s Word that when He comes the consequences will be very awful. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 tells us that the time is coming,  “…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.” So please don’t delay anymore to submit to Jesus and to make Him your Lord and Saviour. And as we submit to the Lord Jesus, let us also remember that as our King...

2. Christ Requires Us to Use His Gift for His Glory.

This is the second important truth that we can learn from this parable. It is found in v.13 – “And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.” Here we see that each of the nobleman’s servants received exactly the same amount of money – one pound, which at that time was about a hundred days’ wages for a labourer (This is roughly about S$2,000). What were the servants supposed to do with this money? They were supposed to use it well to make a profit for their master. That is the meaning of the word ‘occupy’ here. They could do this by trading or by investing in some good business. Their aim of ‘occupying’ was to increase as much as possible all the money that their master had entrusted to them.

Now, what does all this have to do with us? The ten servants in this parable represent all of us. We have received the Gospel of Christ and all the wonderful blessings of salvation from the Lord. These are freely bestowed on us as a gift, not because we deserved it, but because of our Lord’s great mercy and grace toward us. And so we should be most grateful to Him for it.

But what should we be doing now with this gift? Should we just store it away and let it collect dust? No. We are to ‘occupy’ with it, and that means we are to use it well for His glory. Our aim of occupying is to bring as much glory to God as possible by applying His gift well to transform every aspect of our life – our thoughts, our words, our actions, our values, and the stewardship of all our resources. This translates into living a vibrant, fruit-bearing Christian life which the Lord can use to bless the lives of people around us and to bring more souls into His kingdom.

All of us in Life Church who have received God’s gift of salvation ought to be busy ‘occupying’ with it. Therefore we have decided to make this our church theme for this year – “Occupy till Christ Returns.” You will notice that the background of this slide consists of many colourful post-it notes. What are post-it notes often used for? They are used to remind us of things we are supposed to do. Since the day you became a Christian, you have probably learned about many things you are supposed to do. And these are to be done not to earn your salvation but as the outcome of your salvation. They include things like praying and reading the Bible daily, giving thanks, resisting temptations, and showing love to others. These are all very practical ways of ‘occupying’ or using God’s gift well for His glory. I want to urge all of us now to make this theme our personal goal for 2017 – That with God’s help we will occupy till Christ returns!

The most challenging part to fulfill is found in the words “till Christ returns.” We are not only to occupy, we are to keep doing it right until the time when Christ returns. This means that faithfulness is most essential. Nobody knows when Christ will return. It may be this year or next year or ten years from now. It’s just like running a race without knowing where the finish line is. Whatever it is, we just need to press on and on faithfully until He returns. Therefore in order to occupy till Christ returns, we must be faithful. There is no other way to do this than to be faithful to the very end.

Faithfulness was what the nobleman in this parable required from each his ten servants when he said to them, “Occupy till I come.” He gave each of them the same amount of money – one pound. Then he departed on his journey to a faraway country. After some time he returned home, and as v.15 tells us,  “then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.”

The first servant came and produced the pound he had been given plus ten more pounds! His master was very pleased and commended him, “Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” (v.17) The second servant was likewise commended for his faithfulness. Since he had used his pound to earn five more pounds he was given the right to rule over five cities. The lesson we can learn from this part of the parable is that…

3. Christ Will Reward Us if We Are Faithful.

As we all look forward to the second coming of Christ, let us also look forward to the glorious rewards He will give to us when we account for ourselves to Him. Now, there are some who mistakenly believe that they will never have to account for themselves to the Lord. They say, “Since we are already saved and we have a place in heaven, what need would there be to bring up all that we have done in the past? Only the unsaved need to worry about having to stand before God to account and be judged for all that they have done.”

But the scriptures tell us that all who are saved will also go through a judgment, but one that is different from God’s judgment of the unsaved. According to Revelation 20:11-13, all the unsaved will be judged at the Great White Throne of God. And all their sins will be brought up against them. There is therefore only one possible outcome of facing this Great White Throne judgment, and that is eternal death.

But those who are saved will never have to go through this judgment. Instead they will go through one that is called ‘the judgment seat of Christ’. This is mentioned in Romans 14:10 – “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” It is also mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:10– “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

The Greek word for “judgment seat” here is ‘Bema’. This term bema refers to a raised platform mounted by steps. It is not the same as the great white throne, where the term used is thronos not bema. The bema was the place where the judges would sit in the audience of a stadium where athletic events were held. There the victors would receive their prizes from the judges at the end of the sports events.

In those days people took part in big sporting events like the present day Olympic Games. But participants in these events who performed better than all the rest did not receive gold, silver or bronze medals. What they received were circular wreaths woven from leaves, and they wore these on top of their heads. The Bible refers to these as ‘crowns’, like what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:8 – “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” The day that Paul mentioned here refers to the judgment seat of Christ!

The wonderful thing about this judgment is that our sins will not be held against us there, since it is not a trial to decide whether we will go to heaven or to hell. There are some who believe that there may still be some sins brought up by Christ against us at the bema judgment – especially those sins that were never confessed during a believer’s lifetime. But the Lord says in Hebrews 10:17 – “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” And forgiveness of sins here is not conditioned upon the confession of those sins. All our sins have been fully accounted for at the Cross where Jesus died.

There is however, an accounting that every one of us will have to do before the Lord, as illustrated in the parable. Each of the servants had to account for the money that was entrusted to him. The first two servants did well because they were faithful – they were both rewarded with cities to reign over, in their master’s kingdom.

But the third servant received no reward. Listen to what he said in verses 20,21 “Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.” Instead of being rewarded, the third servant was given a severe rebuke and his pound was taken away from him.

Does this mean that he represents someone who was saved but who has lost his salvation? No, it does not. The Bible teaches us that if a person is truly saved, he can never lose his salvation. So this third servant probably represents someone who thought he is saved but is actually not saved. An important clue to this is found in what he said to his master – “…thou art an austere man [a demanding man]: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.”

This shows that this servant was not merely being lazy. It reveals the heart of his problem which is the problem of the heart – a rebellious heart. He did not love his master. He hated the idea that his master could become rich at his expense. This servant had absolutely no interest at all in his master’s prosperity. That shows that he was actually no different from the citizens who hated the master and refused to have him to reign over them.

Hence this parable is not so much a description of what will take place at the bema judgment, but of the faithfulness that is required of God’s people. And those who are not faithful may turn out in the end to be false disciples. They will be shocked to find themselves at the Great White Throne judgment instead of the Bema judgment!

So the Bible is clear that we who are saved will have to account for ourselves before Christ at the bema judgment. Dearly beloved, do you look forward to receiving rewards from the Lord Jesus Christ? I hope you are. And I want to encourage you to be faithful to occupy till He comes. Please do not say, “Why should I bother about receiving any rewards from Christ. Why should I be so faithful and have to do all this work for His kingdom? Just getting a place in heaven is good enough for me.” Here is a gentle warning: Those who live with this kind of thinking may actually have a false profession of faith. James says that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) Every born-again Christian will love the Lord and want to please Him by doing good works, whether He rewards them or not.

But let me assure you that the heavenly rewards are worth striving for. The Scriptures do not provide much details about these rewards, but we are assured in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” From this we know that these rewards will exceed all our expectations! They will definitely be worth striving for. Let us therefore ensure that we will receive them. Let us resolve to live our lives in a way that will enable us to account well for ourselves before the Lord Jesus Christ. And may we all be faithful to occupy till Christ returns!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25