Winter 2004

Religion and Spirituality

The Gospels for the 21st Century, Part 16

Present and Future Values

David Hulme

Attaining spiritual riches requires that we be wholly invested in something other than the physical.

On His final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus took a circuitous route through northern Samaria into Galilee before turning south into the Jordan Valley and Perea. He did this perhaps to avoid the general public before arriving in the capital.

In one Galilean village along the way, He met 10 men with leprosy who begged Him to heal them. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests, and as they went, they were all miraculously healed. Yet only one of them, a Samaritan, turned back and thanked Him. Jesus asked where the other nine were, remarking that it was a non-Jew who had returned and thanked God (Luke 17:11–19). As was often the case, Jesus was recognized as the Son of God by the most unlikely and marginalized in society.

In the Gospel of Luke we are reminded again that the kingdom of God was among the people at that time, yet it seems that many of the Jews did not have eyes to see. Jesus told His disciples that the time was coming when they would wish to see one of the days when He was on the earth, but it would not be possible.

He also warned them against running after false Messiahs. He said that His subsequent return to the earth would be like lightning flashing and lighting up the sky from one end to the other. But He said that He must first suffer many things and be rejected by His own generation.

Speaking of social conditions just before His second coming, He compared the times to the days of Noah, just before the Flood, and the days of Lot, just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He said, “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (verse 30). In both cases the majority were unprepared for catastrophe. They went on with daily life oblivious to the fact that destruction was looming. Jesus said that when He returns, His followers should be ready to flee and not go back into their homes for anything. He said that whoever tries to keep his life in that circumstance will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

Of Persistence and Pride 

Jesus went on to give a parable to make a different point—the need for persistence in prayer. He told the story of a widow who persisted in asking a judge to help against her adversary. The judge refused for quite a while, but because she did not give up trying, eventually he said, “I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t . . . wear me out with her [persistence]” (Luke 18: 1–5). Jesus observed that if an unjust judge responds because of persistence, how much more will the just  judge—God—respond with justice for His people when they are persistent in their prayers to Him.

Noting the human proclivity to lack such faithful persistence, Jesus posed a rhetorical question in conclusion. He asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (verse 8).

To try to help some around Him who were self-righteous, Jesus told another parable about prayer. He said that two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and proudly prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

Jesus contrasted the disdainful attitude of the Pharisee with that of the tax collector, who wouldn’t even look up to heaven but said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said it was the tax collector who went home cleansed before God. The Pharisee’s self-exaltation had stood in his own way (verses 9–14).

Of Marriage and Children 

When Jesus had finished these parables, He left Galilee and went to the other side of the Jordan. Once again crowds of people came to Him, including some Pharisees.

They tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2). They knew what Jesus taught about God’s original intention for marriage—that it should not be dissolved. They also knew that Moses had permitted divorce under certain circumstances. In raising the subject, perhaps Jesus’ enemies thought that they had caught Him teaching things contrary to Moses.

In reply to their question, Jesus asked them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away” (verses 3–4). Jesus’ reply was that Moses only gave this allowance because of the hardness of their hearts. He explained that from the beginning God intended a man and his wife to be united as one flesh for life. “Therefore,” He said, “what God has joined together, let man not separate” (verse 9).

Later, when they were in a house, the disciples asked Jesus to clarify. So He said to them, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (verses 10–12). The disciples commented that if it is supposed to be that way in marriage, it’s better not to be married. In other words, marriage is a very serious long-term commitment, and too difficult for many. Jesus agreed, saying that those who could accept His teaching should (Matthew 19: 10–12).

At this point young children were brought to Jesus so that He could bless them. But His disciples rebuked the people for doing so. This made Jesus indignant. He said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:13–15, New King James Version).

The disciples still had a lot to learn about their Master and about humility.

The disciples still had a lot to learn about their Master and about humility.

Lessons in Living Forever 

When a ruler came to Jesus and asked Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He reminded him that only God is good and that he must obey the commandments (Luke 18: 18–19; Matthew 19:16–17).

“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus began by listing five of the Ten Commandments. He focused on the ones dealing with loving our neighbor as ourselves. The young man said that he had done such things since he was a child. Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:18–21). This was too much for the young man, because he had great wealth. He had his limits.

Jesus told His disciples that it’s very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, He said, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. This amazed His disciples, and they said, “Who then can be saved?” (verses 23–25).

Obviously they thought that the privileges of the wealthy extend to the kingdom of God. Of course, they do not. But as Christ said, despite this, even a rich man can enter the kingdom of God, because with God all things are possible.

Peter recognized that he and the other disciples had done the right thing. He said, “We have left everything to follow you.” Jesus told them that, as a result, in the kingdom of God they would sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel. Indeed, everyone who has given up possessions or family for Christ’s sake will inherit eternal life and be rewarded. In this way those who are least privileged in this life will have the opportunity to come first, and those who are most privileged may come last.

In teaching the same principle, Jesus told a parable concerning a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He said this was a word picture to teach something about the kingdom of God. The landowner agreed to pay the workers a certain amount for the day. Later in the day he went out and hired more men, saying, “I will pay you whatever is right.” Twice more in the day he did the same thing (Matthew 20:1–5).

Toward the end of the day he hired even more men, and when the evening came he said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first” (verses 6–8).

Those who had worked only about an hour were given the same as the landowner had agreed to pay those hired first. Thinking that they’d somehow been cheated, those hired first began to grumble against the landowner.

The landowner’s reply was, “I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (verses 13–15).

In God’s way of doing things, the last may be first and the first last. It’s not a matter of privilege or status or tenure with God.

This was another way of teaching that in God’s way of doing things, the last may be first and the first last. It’s not a matter of privilege or status or tenure with God. It is a matter of His choosing.

A Lesson in Humility 

As noted earlier, Jesus had begun His final journey to Jerusalem. Apparently this was quite a surprise to His disciples, because they knew that there had been a recent attempt to stone Him in the city. So He took them aside and said, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers [experts] of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (verses 17–19).

Luke’s Gospel tells us that the disciples did not understand any of this. He writes, “Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about” (Luke 18:34).

Obviously the disciples thought that the privileges of the wealthy extend to the kingdom of God. Of course, they do not.

Perhaps this is the reason why they continued to believe that Jesus would be a political Messiah who would soon establish His rule on the earth. It’s clear from what happened next that some of the disciples thought Jesus’ rule was imminent. Certainly James and John and their mother thought that their opportunity for rulership was close at hand. The disciples’ mother asked a favor of Jesus: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:20–21).

Jesus replied that they didn’t know what they were asking. Knowing that rather than being made a king He was about to be killed, He told them that He could not assign positions of rulership that had been prepared by His Father.

When the other disciples heard what James and John and their mother had asked, they were upset. But Jesus called them all together and taught them a very important lesson about position and authority. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (verses 24–28).

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” 

Matthew 20:26

The Present and Future Messiah 

Continuing on His way to Jerusalem from the Jordan Valley, Jesus had to pass by the ancient city of Jericho. The Gospels record three important events that took place while He was in the vicinity of the city.

First He healed two blind men. One of them was named Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46). When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening and was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. His response was to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The fact that he would call Jesus “Son of David” is interesting in itself. It shows that he understood that Jesus is the Messiah. The title “Son of David” is a messianic title.

Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“I want to see,” he said.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” At once both he and his companion were able to see, and they followed Jesus (Luke 18:35–43; Matthew 20:29–34).

Also at Jericho was a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because the crowd was so great and he was a short man, he climbed into a tree to obtain a clear view. As Jesus reached the place, he looked up and said immediately, “Zacchaeus, come down. . . . I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:1–5).

The self-righteous in the crowd muttered, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” The response from Zacchaeus, though, was, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Zacchaeus’s reaction was no doubt an embarrassment to the self-righteous. As Jesus said, “This man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (verses 6–10).

While He had their attention, He went on to explain that the kingdom of God was not going to appear immediately. Though He was on His way to Jerusalem, it did not mean that He was about to establish the kingdom of God.

He told them a parable about a man of noble birth who went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. Knowing that he would be gone for some time, he called 10 of his servants and gave them some money to invest.

The nobleman’s subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, “We don’t want this man to be our king.” But he was made king and returned. He sent for his servants to find out what they had done with the money he’d given them (verses 12–15).

The first two had invested, and the money had multiplied. But one of the servants had simply hidden the money, saying to himself that the master was a hard man and that he was afraid of him. The nobleman replied, “If you thought that I was a hard man, why didn’t you put the money in the bank so that it could gain interest?” (verses 22–23, paraphrased).

The money was taken away and given to the servant who had produced most: “to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away” (verse 26). The nobleman then commanded that those who did not want him to be king were to be killed in front of him.

Jesus told this story to show that His return was not imminent and that much was required of His followers in the meantime.

He then continued on His journey up to Jerusalem for the last Passover.