We’ve reached the end of week 43. Only 9 weeks to go! Congratulations for staying with it. It has been rewarding for me, and I pray that it’s rewarding for you as well.
Today Jesus deals with envy. The story of the laborer reminds us that God will bless each of us in the way He chooses. It’s not up to us to want riches, or fame, or … because God is the Master. If we serve Him only for what we get out of the deal (a danger the prosperity and health/wealth ministers don’t address), then we aren’t serving Him wholeheartedly. We are in danger of the warnings in Luke 13:24-28 (http://readthroughthebiblechallenge.blogspot.com/2012/10/week-43-review-tuesday-october-23.html).
Salome, James and John’s mother, like many mothers, desired only the best for her children. She implored Jesus to allow her children to sit in the place of honor in heaven. Gently but firmly, Jesus reminded her that although they could share in His “cup” of divine destiny (Psalm 16:5, 116:13, Jeremiah 25:25, Isaiah 51:17), they could not follow Him to His suffering. He also reminded her that this honor was reserved for the Father only. Jesus has a specific place in the Trinity, and although He will someday rule and reign, God is the ultimate authority. Would Salome have made that request had she known the difficulty of following the path Jesus walked? James was the first disciple to be martyred, and John was imprisoned on Patmos.
We need to remember that the key to greatness isn’t in position or power. It’s in character. Our rewards come from our service to God, not from our lip service. We see this clearly in Philippians.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Phil 2:1-18 (ESV)
Zaccheus means righteous one. In his position as a tax collector, he was anything but righteous. Tax collectors were notorious crooks, charging far more than a person owed so they could bolster their income. He was a Jew who overcharged his own people, and to make matters worse he worked for the Gentiles! He was probably one of the most loathed people in Jericho.
Jesus looked at Zaccheus as a precious sinner, and when Zaccheue went through much trouble to get a glimpse of Jesus (climbing a tree like a child), Jesus responded by inviting Himself into Zaccheus’ home (the only recorded instance of Jesus inviting Himself). We don’t have a recording of the entire conversation, but whatever happened, Zaccheus was repentant. He trusted in Jesus and made his commitment evident by making restitution to everyone he had wronged. Remember, it’s not works that get us to heaven, but our salvation’s fruit is known by our works. Zaccheus showed his commitment by following the terms of the law regarding thievery:
1. The thief had to restore what he took, add a fifth to it, and bring a trespass offering to the Lord (Leviticus 6:1-7).
2. If the thief couldn’t restore the property, he had to repay four times the value (Exodus 22:1).
3. If the thief was caught with the stolen property, he had to repay double (Exodus 22:4).
Zaccheus didn’t try to weasel out of the punishment required by the law. He followed the law because his heart was really changed.
The Passover was coming. It’s always an emotional time because it reminds Jews of God’s deliverance from Egypt. The Jews of Jesus’ time were under bondage to Rome, and they wanted another miracle – a Kingly Messiah who would break Rome’s bonds. Jesus knew that many people wanted to make Him King, but that wasn’t His mission. He spent lots of time explaining to His disciples that He was going to be crucified. Can you imagine the turmoil that must have caused? Even His closest friends probably wanted a kingdom NOW.
Jesus tried to remind His disciples that they needed to wait for the ultimate fulfillment of His kingdom. In the interim, they needed to be obedient with whatever God gave them. He used the parable of the talents as a way to teach the principle of faithful service.
We know that there were ten servants, but we only hear about three. The servants were given the equivalent of about three month’s wages and told to invest it while the master was gone. The first servant doubled the master’s money; the next earned 50% more, and the third managed to lose what the master gave him.
God gives us all different gifts and abilities. He isn’t interested in our excuses. He wants us to be faithful stewards of whatever we’re given. The one who didn’t do anything wasted his opportunity to earn rewards from the master – and we have to wonder whether the master removed him from service.
Why did the third servant do nothing with his talents? Because he saw the master as hard and unfair. Do you see God as an angry entity, just waiting for you to mess up? If so, you’d probably be like the man who did nothing. If, however, you know that God is angry when we sin but loves our wholehearted service, you would be more like the other two. You would try to be faithful stewards of what God gave you, working without the promise of a reward. Remember Jesus’ explanations to the disciples regarding who would be first and last in the kingdom. When you work for God, do it to lay treasures in heaven, not to receive any kind of accolade or reward on this earth!
Do you want God to give you more? Take a look at the little you already have. What are you doing with it? We want to have more responsibility, more leadership, more accolades (in our Christian walk and at our place of employment). When your heavenly (or earthly) “boss” looks at your job performance, what does He see? Are you miserly with the talent you have, doing little or nothing to further the Kingdom of God? Or are you using those talents to the fullest? Trust me, if you use what He’s given you, He will give you more. I’ve found that in my own life.
Jesus will die soon. He knows it. He’s warned His disciples. This must be a harrowing time for our Savior. He knows that once He makes it to Jerusalem, there’s no going back. He was fully man and fully God, and His human nature will clearly be shown in Gethsemane. I wonder how much praying He did for His disciples in this week leading up to Passion Week? What compassion He had for His friends and followers – still healing the blind and giving life lessons. Was His countenance sorrowful as He ate and drank on this penultimate week? Was His step just a little slower – or a little faster – as He walked to His destiny on that cross?
See you next week. I pray that your pastor’s sermon is as good as mine!