How Can We Be Sure He Really Is Who He Says He Is? or: How To Survive the Disappointment if He Isn’t (Luke 19:11-27)

Okay, as we return to Luke’s story of Jesus today, we have to remember that Jesus is still in the city of Jericho, only about 20 kilometers from Jerusalem.

Which is hugely significant for everyone there. The people can tell that Jesus believes he is the Messiah, God’s anointed king, come to conquer the world and make everything right. And they believe, from reading the Old Testament prophets, that when the real Messiah arrives in Jerusalem, Judgement Day will begin. Judgement Day will be the proof that Jesus really is the Messiah he claims to be.

So think about that, friends! Jesus is in Jericho, spending the night at Zacchaeus’ house. In the morning, when he wakes up, he will take the mountain road toward Jerusalem, and it should only take him about eight hours to get there.

By mid-afternoon tomorrow, the Messiah should arrive and Judgement Day begin.

But if Jesus is a false Messiah, the Romans will capture him and crucify him — and his followers with him.

Now, if you were there at Zacchaeus’ house that night, and you were a follower of Jesus, what is your hope? You hope that Jesus is the Messiah, and Judgement Day is tomorrow! If you are wrong, and Jesus turns out to be a false Messiah, captured and crucified — well, can you run fast enough to escape the Romans?

Now that, my friends, is narrative tension!

And we have to feel it, as readers. We have to experience it. Otherwise we will not really understand why the people are thinking what they are thinking, or why Jesus answers as he does.

So, to set the scene properly, we have to remember that we are still at Zacchaeus’ house, in the city of Jericho, and everyone there has two questions on their mind:

If Jesus really is the Messiah, how am I going to survive Judgement Day tomorrow? and:

If Jesus is not really the Messiah, how am I going to survive the Romans?

Those are fantastic questions, and we need to keep them in mind as we go:

How can we be sure Jesus really is who he says he is? and:

How can we survive the disappointment if he is not?

So, Luke picks it up here in verse 11: While they were listening to this — Jesus’ talk about how he has come to seek and save lost blind people — he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.

[12] He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. [13] So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ [14] “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ [15] “He was made king, however, and returned home.”

Now, this is a funny parable because it’s not just a parable: it is actually a current event.

For instance, if I said to you, “Once upon a time there was a politician in Malaysia who was accused of stealing several billion ringgit…” you already know who I’m talking about. Or if I said, “Once upon a time there was a reality TV show host who was elected president…” I don’t have to say any more, do I?

In the same way, as soon as Jesus began this story, his audience knew who he was talking about. See, soon after Jesus was born Herod the Great, King of Judea, died. Herod’s son, Prince Archilaeus, wanted to be king after his father, so he traveled to a distant country called Rome to ask the emperor to let him take over his father’s kingdom.

Archilaeus was hated by the Jews, so they also sent a delegation to Rome begging the emperor not to make him king of Judea. The emperor compromised: Archilaeus got his father’s kingdom, but he was “on probation” and not allowed to call himself king.

Needless to say, when Archilaeus got back home to Judea he was upset. And he made his citizens pay for their attempted rejection.

So that’s the background for Jesus’ parable: a story that was very familiar to his listeners.

But Jesus has added an extra element to the story: before he goes, the nobleman gives ten of his servants money to invest. He gives each one a “mina”, which was about four months’ wages, and he tells them, “Do something with this!”

Now, it’s been noticed that four months’ wages is not a lot of money, especially for a nobleman who could give his servants thousands to invest. Why doesn’t he give his servants more?

Well, because this gift is really a test. If these servants are faithful with this small amount, later on the nobleman will trust them with more. And this whole thing should sound familiar to us. Remember, way back in Chapter 12, when Jesus first told his disciples that he would be making a long trip without them? At that time Jesus told them a parable similar to this one, about a man trusting his manager to take care of the other servants while he is gone. If the manager proved faithful, he would be rewarded with the whole house; if the manager got greedy and abusive, he would be cut into pieces and kicked out. Then, later, in Chapter 16, Jesus said that those who prove trustworthy with very little will later be trusted with a lot.

So what Jesus has done here is work two stories into one. The larger story is about this unpopular politician and how he becomes king. The story within the story is about how this unpopular politician manages his household.

So Jesus goes on: the nobleman becomes a king anyway, he comes home, and he calls his ten servants to find out what they did with the money. [16] “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

This servant has earned 1000% profit! That would be pretty difficult to do in our modern economy, but it was possible in those days.

[17] “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

There’s that principle at work!

[18] “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

And that’s 500% profit! Still very respectable.

[19] “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

So this king is promoting his servants to management positions in his kingdom. Which is a pretty big promotion! A very generous promotion, am I right?

Okay: [20] “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.

This servant kept the money in his underwear drawer. He didn’t do anything with it!

And now he explains why: [21] 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.’

Basically, this servant is accusing the king of corrupt business practices. He is saying, “I was afraid to invest because I know you’re a gangster; you’re a corrupt politician. If I made any profit I knew you’d just take it from me; and if I lost the money I knew you’d take it out of my flesh!

“So here’s you’re money back!”

[22] “His master replied, ‘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? [23] Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

The king’s answer is an interesting one; it’s very well reasoned. He basically says, “Oh, I’m a gangster am I? Well, if you really think that I’m so brutal, why didn’t you work a little bit harder to please me?”

[24] “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

This also seems consistent with what Jesus has said before: “If you have not been trustworthy with someone else’ property, who will give you property of your own?”

And this is where the rest of the servants protest: [25] “ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

“Well, yeah,” the king says, “but I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

This king is acting out Jesus’ principles: if you are trustworthy with a little bit, you will be rewarded with more. If you waste what you’ve been given — well, you’re going to lose everything!

And with that, Jesus has finished the story within a story; now he zooms out to the larger story about how this unpopular politician became king: [27] But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

Which is exactly what Archilaeus son of Herod the Great did to his enemies.

And now, as we do every week, we have ask the question: what did that mean? And what does it mean for me today?

There is one very pressing question that we should ask at this point; and I think if we can understand the answer to that question, we will be able to apply Jesus’ teaching here to our lives.

This is the question: since it seems obvious that the king in the story is meant to represent Jesus, why does Jesus deliberately choose such an unpopular king to represent himself?

It would like me telling a story about Hitler, and then saying, “And my situation is just like that!”

Somehow that just does not seem like the best marketing strategy!

So why did Jesus compare himself to Archilaeus, an unpopular, brutal, and godless local king?

The best way to answer that question is to turn the story around.

What if Jesus had chosen to tell his parable about a popular nobleman? The citizens would have written to him every day, begging for his return, and his servants would have had no problem being faithful with their money. They would have been the very popular servants of a very popular king, and the whole kingdom would have worked together to help them make a profit!

And the whole point of the story would be changed.

See, the central point of the parable is this: Jesus is an unpopular king, rejected by his own people. It is going to be difficult to be his faithful servant while he is gone.

Jesus is saying to his disciples, “Prepare to be disappointed tomorrow when we arrive in Jerusalem. I know you want me to prove that I am the Messiah by kicking off Judgement Day — but I’m not going to do that. So you are going to have to be faithful to me through many long difficult years while I am gone.”

And that is how this parable applies to us. This is Jesus’ warning to us not to expect an easy ride. Following Jesus is not going to solve all our problems tomorrow. In fact, following Jesus will create new problems for us, problems that we would never have if we just walked away.

And that, also, does not seem like the best marketing strategy, does it?

If Jesus wanted people to follow him, he should have said, “Follow me, and I will make your life easy!”

Instead, he is saying, “Follow me, and you might end up crucified by the Romans. And even if they don’t capture you, life as my disciple is going to be tough because nobody is going to like you!

So if that’s it, why should any of us continue to follow Jesus? Where is the benefit if all he promises us is the world’s hate?

Well, that is not all he promises us. He promises that we will have trouble; he also promises us a huge promotion — if we can remain faithful.

So then we are left wondering: how can I remain faithful through all these long difficult years, when the whole world is against us?

We are left wondering: so am I one of the good faithful servants? Or am I the bad unfaithful servant?

Well, let’s look at these men, and see how the first two were able to remain faithful, and why the third was not.

We have to ask this question: what is the difference between the two faithful servants and the one unfaithful servant?

Here is the answer: the good servants saw their king as he truly is. They remembered that he was generous and good when he was with them — and they trusted that he would still be generous and good when he returned. They remained faithful to him because they believed he would be faithful to them.

But the unfaithful servant was blind. He forgot that his was generous and good when he was with them. He believed what the world said about his lord: that his king was false, corrupt, harsh, never coming back. So…he was unfaithful, because he did not believe his king would be faithful to him.

It all comes down to this: what do you see when you look at Jesus? Do you see the kind, generous, forgiving king? Or do you see a harsh, demanding judge?

The people at Zacchaeus’ dinner table that night were asking two questions:

How can we be sure Jesus really is who he says he is? and:

How can we survive the Romans if he is not?

We are still asking those same questions:

How can we know for sure that Jesus really is who he says he is? And:

How can we remain faithful — how can we survive — when the whole world is against us?

This is Jesus’ answer to both questions: “Look at me. What do you see?”

Now, we do live two thousand years after Jesus’ time, so it is fair to ask: so how ah? How can we see Jesus here in this city, in this country?

Well, we see Jesus here, in the written testimony of his disciples. That is why we are reading through the book of Luke together: we want to see Jesus. After we have seen Jesus, then we can make an informed decision. So as we read, we should be reading critically. We should be asking ourselves which testimony is more reasonable: the disciples’ testimony of Jesus’ grace and kindness and self-sacrifice, or the world’s testimony of Jesus’ fraud and self-delusion?

Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus was able to perform the most amazing and undeniable miracles ever recorded anywhere on earth — and then turn out to be a fake? That’s what modern Jews say about him.

Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus could be so honest and honorable and so forgiving — and then use deceit to make sure his own disciple was crucified in his place? That’s what Islam says about him.

Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus could be such a great moral teacher as to win the admiration of scholars from every world religion since — and also be crazy? That’s what secular philosophers say about him.

So: how can we know for sure that Jesus really is who he says he is? Each one of us must look at the evidence and decide: are the disciples lying about what they saw and heard and experienced? Or are they telling the truth?

If you are here today, and you are reading the evidence, and you are not convinced, if you have doubts, if you have questions — that is okay. Come, and see, and ask, and we will try to answer your questions. We cannot force you to convert, we cannot even persuade you. Only God can give you eyes that see. Our job as a church is simply to dig the well, and bring up the living water so you can drink. Just try la! If you find that the water tastes sweet, and cool, and refreshing — then drink some more. Keep asking questions. Keep examining the Word of God to see if it is true. Keep looking at Jesus and see if he is the kind of king you have been longing for all your life.

If, after you have examined the evidence, you are not convinced…well, I can’t say “that’s okay, it doesn’t matter!” because we think it does matter. Jesus is saying here that if you insist on believing the world’s testimony that Jesus is a harsh and demanding Judge, then one day your personal prophecy will come true: you will meet Jesus face to face, and he will be everything that you believe him to be.

We do not want that for you. Even if you begin to hate us, and hate our king, we will pray for you — because our king told us to love our enemies, to love those who hate us. We will pray for you because, ultimately, we know that only Jesus can give you eyes that see.

Now, if you have already looked at the evidence, and Jesus has already given you eyes that see, and you are already convinced that he really is the Messiah, then only the second question remains: how can we remain faithful in a world that hates us? How can we survive the Romans? How can we survive the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Atheists who hate and despise us?

Jesus’ answer is still the same: “Look at me! Keep your eyes fixed on me and you will bear fruit!”

See…this is important. The point of this parable is not to say, “Work hard for Jesus! Make a profit — or else…!” Jesus is not trying to scare us to death. He is not trying to make us wonder whether we are doing enough. We are not supposed to leave here today saying, “Oooo, I hope I can make 1000% profit for Jesus!” Even making one-half of one percent profit for Jesus is enough. We all have have different gifts, different responsibilities. Some will make 1000% profit; some will make 500% profit; others will make .05% profit, and the size of the reward will match the profit made. Here, on this earth, we hear that and we are tempted to say what the other servants said in the parable: “Hey, that’s not fair, I worked just as hard, it’s not my fault the investment failed and I only got .05% return!” But this is the wonderful thing: when Jesus returns to reward each one of us, we will no longer experience the sins of pride and jealousy. The person beside me might get to rule 1000 cities, and I get to rule .05% of a city — but I am going to be perfectly happy with that.

As Christians we do not serve our king because of the promotion he has promised us. Yes, we want to be faithful; yes, we look forward to that promotion, and we work toward it — but we do so because we know and love our king, because he knows and loves us.

So Jesus is not trying to say, “Work harder!” He is saying, “See me. Know me. I guarantee you will make some kind of profit, and you will be rewarded!”

I want to be very clear here: if you are a baptized Christian, do not leave here today wondering if you might be the bad, unfaithful servant! Do not leave here today wondering if you are making enough profit for Jesus! Instead, ask yourself this question: how do I see Jesus’ character? If you see him as generous and kind and always willing to forgive, then don’t worry la! You are doing just what he wants: you are being God’s child.

If sometimes a fear comes upon you that Jesus is actually demanding and angry and ready to judge — then go back and read the disciples’ testimony again. Refresh your memory of who Jesus really is. We all fall into fear sometimes. We all wonder sometimes if maybe our sins are too bad for him to forgive. Go back, and look again, and be encouraged!

This parable is meant to be an encouragement for us, an encouragement in the midst of discouragement and disappointment. Our king has travelled to a distant country where he has been made king. He will return one day to claim his kingdom. In the meantime, the citizens of this world have rejected him. They hate him, and they hate us, his servants. Being the servant of this king, during this time, is a difficult task. That is the discouraging part.

The encouraging part is this: everyone who has seen Jesus cannot fail to bear fruit, even in very difficult times. Each one of us will have something beautiful to present to our king upon his return. Some will be able to give him artworks of incredible value. Most of us, I suspect — especially speaking for myself — will be giving Jesus the equivalent of a clumsy picture drawn with a crayon, just like I used to receive from my children.

Did I love my children any less because their drawings were not as good as Rembrandt’s? Of course not! My children presented me with pictures because they loved me, they wanted to delight me, and they were confident that they would delight me. And that is also my hope: if I was delighted in my children’s drawings, then how much more delighted will my Father be when I finally present to him the clumsy crayon drawing of my life.

I am going to get to say, “Father, this is what I did with what you gave me! Do you like it?”

And my Father is going to say, “Well done, my good servant. Well done, my child!”

That is Jesus’ promise to all of us who call him Lord.

Okay. In conclusion, a brief recap:

A few chapters ago, tensions began to rise because Jesus was getting close to Jerusalem. The Pharisees believed and taught that when the Messiah arrives in Jerusalem, Judgement Day will begin, kicking off the eternal kingdom of God.

So, in Chapter 17 the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When is the kingdom of God going to begin?”

Jesus said, “Uhhh, actually, the kingdom has already begun — but you can’t see it, because you can’t see me!” That is when Luke began to introduce this theme of sight and seeing and blindness.

But the people were still worried about Judgement Day happening soon, so they asked Jesus, “Who will be saved on Judgement Day?”

In Chapter 18 Jesus answered them, “Only the humble will be saved.”

But then we found out pretty quickly that it is impossible for a person to humble themselves without becoming proud of their humility…

So Jesus said, “Okay, nevermind…the truth is: only God can humble you properly.”

And then the question was, “Well, how does that happen? I want to be saved, so I want to be humbled, so: how can I make that happen?”

That is when Luke introduced two blind men to us: the beggar outside Jericho, and the corrupt businessman inside Jericho. Both men wanted to be saved, they wanted to see Jesus — but they were helpless until Jesus saw them. Jesus gave both of them eyes to see him as he really is. And when they saw Jesus, it also transformed their view of God: they realized God is their Father, not their judge — and this humbled them. It changed their lives.

This is what Luke has been teaching us for the last three chapters: if you want to be saved on Judgement Day, you have to be humble. If you want to be humble, you have to see God. If you want to see God, you have to see Jesus. If you want to see Jesus — oh, but no one can see Jesus unless Jesus sees them first! So…if you want Jesus to see you, then ask him to. Scream out to him if necessary. Climb a tree if you must. Ask the Son of David, the king, for mercy — and he will give it to you!

Short version: if you want to be saved on Judgement Day, ask Jesus for mercy. It is as simple as that.

But still, tensions are at an all-time high. Everyone at Zacchaeus’ table is hoping that Judgement Day will happen tomorrow. And we are just like them. We all want to be delivered from suffering. We all want an end to injustice. And above all we want Jesus to prove himself: we want Jesus to open the eyes of the whole world and show them that he is the king and that we are right to serve him!

With this parable, Jesus has told us all that for the most part the world will remain blind. The world expects Jesus to prove himself with a display of destructive power — instead, he is going to prove himself with a display of suffering, rejection, and humiliation. And the world cannot understand that. The world cannot see it for what it is.

Luke has focused on sight for the last three chapters because things are about to get very confusing for everyone. Nothing is going to happen as expected. The disciples are about to be terribly disappointed. The only thing that will keep them faithful during the days to come, is if they keep their eyes fixed upon Jesus, and remember who he really is.

Friends, the confusion that began the day Jesus entered Jerusalem two thousand years ago is still happening now. We live in a world that believes our king is dead. We live in a world that thinks we are fools for believing he is the only eternal king. We live in a world that hates us, that says, “Where is your evidence? Your Messiah was a fake! Get over it!” And honestly, sometimes it is hard to remain faithful in the midst of all this confusion, isn’t it?

Brothers and sisters, just like the disciples, we need to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus. He was kind and generous and forgiving when he was here with us. He will be kind and generous and forgiving when he returns — but only to those who have cried out to him for sight. So let us keep crying out to him.

One day the whole world will receive sight. They will see Jesus as he really is — but only for a moment. After that they will be blinded for all eternity, their eyes destroyed, burned out by the unfiltered vision of God’s glory.

Everyone in Luke’s story is expecting that to happen tomorrow, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem.

Jesus says no.

You will have to come back next week to find out who is right.

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