AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH October 6, 2013
A Presbyterian Church
the Lord without Compromise
and the Bible without Qualification,
WHICH KINGDOM ? WHICH WAY IN ? WHICH WAY ON ?
Luke 16:1-13 with 15:8-32
There is always something fascinating about the parable of the Unjust Steward. Here is a negligent man, slothful, lacking diligence, unreliable, confronted by his boss with an unpleasant fact. He has been found out, for he has been so slack that the fortune of his employer is being laid waste. GIVE AN ACCOUNT! says the one whom he has aggrieved, for your post is gone!
Now that we must all give an account is clear, for our due employer (whether we like it or not, the risen Christ who is the Judge of the whole earth and coming to do it, as in Acts 17:31. Indeed, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (II Cor. 5:10), and this is characterised by the apostle Paul, as "the terror of the Lord." Indeed, see the detail in Matthew 25, so what, you may ask, is the problem here, the enigma ?
It is this. In the parable the
unjust and slack steward, confronted by his boss, too old to dig, unwilling to
beg, faces his own personal ruin, a just reward. His reaction is commended by
his boss, rather amazingly, but so much so, when you see what he did. He went
INDIVIDUALLY to the various people with whom he had done business for his boss,
and gave them a quick, efficient way out. If they were prepared at ONCE pay back what
was owed, he would give them a SUBSTANTIAL discount. They did. Money flowed in,
peril was avoided and this debacle turning merely into some less, his boss was
pleased and congratulated him.
WHERE IS THE PUZZLE ?
Still you ask, where is the puzzle ? It lies here. Jesus then USED this parable as an example of what the people of the Lord should do. But in what way ?
"Make friends for yourself by unrighteous mammon," He said, "that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting homes." He adorns this: "He who is faithful in what is least, is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much." Such an apparently small thing as business dealings, in the normal path of life, is a key to something much larger; and what you do in little things, is a testimony to the greater. There is a cast of thought and a fire that burns in the heart; it is the direction that matters.
It is apparent that Jesus in this parable is dealing with an unexpected area, namely things which are explicitly monetary. Why ? It is an area which arouses many with its sharp practicalities. Thus arresting thought and careful attention, he uses this to make a point in matters of character and responsibility in general, even in what is again explicitly, the very different realm of things, those that are spiritual.
WHY ? It has nestling in it an admonition. It is this. Look at the general run of things at the practical level of simple commerce, normal dealings in general life, with one another; and in particular, consider even what evil people will do for their lives, to survive. If then they can show zest to deliver themselves, how much more should you show zest in the affairs of the kingdom of heaven, to be faithful in what is least, while the larger matters follow, to set direction, while the deeper things glow. USE that passion, that zeal, that brisk, crisp meaningful endeavour as the threatened steward did, but do it for the kingdom of the Lord, for the glory of Christ, in looking after His affairs with the love, reliability and faithfulness that these show, who merely seek for wrong reasons things trivial at last, but indicative of thoroughgoing zest and zeal for all that.
It is not that these things matter so much; but the spirit behind them does. It is not that you earn your spiritual keep by being honest and zealous, but just as that unjust steward (and hence obviously noxious in morals and motives) put his whole heart into remedying the situation, so should you. Just as he considered closely how to do the best for his boss and affairs, so should we seek with acumen and intensity, how to do the best for our Lord and His kingdom.
It is an application from one realm to another which, just because it is so common a thing, makes so uncommon a difference to thought, when applied to the spiritual with different motives in a different kingdom which has different ways; but the parallel lies in this. It needs the zestful, the practical, the thoughtful and perceptive, people who do not mistake religion for romance, or an easy way. "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God," Acts 14:22., so face them, batten down the hatches, trim the sails, arrange your ways, be business-like, but do this in the BUSINESS of the kingdom of heaven
But what of the part in the parable about those who will receive him at the last into an everlasting home ? How does that fit in this evocative parable ? Again, we transform this parable in STYLE to the other domain, as before, and now it is all those whom in SPIRITUAL affairs, we have served for the Lord, who will rejoice at our coming, like reunions of old schoolboys or girls, after so long. Why there is Bill, Bob, Jim! Delightful to see you. There is a companionable camaraderie, a recognition. But it goes further. Remember how there is more joy in heaven, among the angels, over one sinner who repents, than over those already secure (Luke 15:7) ?
Now there is an affinity for what on this earth, was precious, with those to whose presence in the Lord, one now comes after death, in everlasting life. There is an intense SPIRITUAL BOND, even for the thief on the cross, though the matter lasted only minutes perhaps before he died. He entered into this realm, as surely as a car is re-ducoed. It is done or not done, and when it is done, there is a vast difference; though as that is on the surface, this is in the heart.
So the puzzle in the making has turned out to be a case of using the commonplace to point to the profound, even unjust affairs to point to intensity of motive in the other direction. Though it seems to end with mutual recognition, it once more is based on the concept, the underlying reality. There is MUTUAL AFFINITY in heaven for those who have prized and understood, pursued the way of the Lord because of a zeal which Christ has most clearly given; they have seen the realities and pursued them with the whole heart. Heaven is like that. There are no extras in that cast!
COMMUNION AND THE LOST STEWARD, REFOUNDED
We are proceeding shortly to a Communion Service. How does the parable of the unjust steward relate to that ? In Luke's Gospel, the preceding parable is of the LOST SON, for whom the Father in His undying love, awaits, to return from a sort of spiritual solar eclipse, in an extended period of darkness, lust, self-will and wastefulness. The sacrifice ? it is the fatted calf. The point ? What was lost and lost much is received graciously, freely and the special one kept for such rejoicings is now relevant, and is slain. Slain ? a fatted calf ? Yes but this is in the point once more, of the parable. The most precious object for such rejoicing at the PRACTICAL realm, the calf seals the deal, the restoration and makes clear the acceptance.
That is the relevant element. Parables are not normally intended to give an exhibition of a system of theology, but as far as that goes, to reflect it. Here it is the death of the prepared LAMB of God who is the relevant sacrifice, which seals restoration. It goes further. It makes the way for it, pays justice for it, settles accounts for it, sends away not dissatisfied clients in this world, but the just challenge of the devil, the accuser of the brethren. He attack this saved soul ? Then on what grounds, since he or she is now PAID for in the RANSOM of Christ, which He came to pay, and being slain, has paid, and with this let there be REJOICING.
Moreover, before that is the parable of the Lost Coin. This had been a mini-saga of one losing a coin, apparently a small thing but one which causes concern since it is so wasteful and SLACK a thing so to lose. It is found. It becomes a matter for rejoicing after so much searching. So, though the thing seem small, the issues are large, and the relief of heart strong. Thus is it in the kingdom of heaven, for though a person, now among some seven billion, may seem small, readily crushed by a blow, yet the principle is there: God is not slack, but unwilling that any should perish, even to the point that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, and is found, than over the many there. It is like one lost at sea: it is almost inconceivable to have this loved one being slowly eaten by an octopus, savaged by a shark, defenceless in the deep.
When the lost is found, what rejoicing. When, to return to the Unjust Steward parable, the slack, impractical merely nominal steward gets zeal, becomes a person of acumen, LOOKS like a steward, ACTS like one, makes an impact with his whole being, omitting nothing, then you have a picture, though in another region yet one well-known to the listeners. It is of those whose whole heart beats in their occupation till Christ comes (Luke 19:13), for whom it is a matter as of life and death. It is just that it is one of a bursting spiritual life, which WILL not be contained by dissembling or indifference, but like Spring, INSISTS on coming because of the zest within, as in John 7:37-39 and 4:14. There is a spring within which wells up into eternal life, and its flow cannot be restricted; there are streams of living water which flow from the very heart, and and these spill free by the power of the Lord.
Reality is like that; it works. Eternal life is like that. It shows effects. The Bible asks in varying but decisive terms, Give Me your heart! (cf. Proverbs 2:10-11, 4:21, 8:34). It is like that. It is an affair of life, intense, immense, eternal between a person and his God, who being alive and all powerful, send forth refreshings to the flaccid, the tiring the laid-low, and enables the indifferent, brings resurgence to the harassed and a way to those in the bonds of sin.
Communion is in remembrance of the death (and therefore the forthcoming resurrection at that time) of the slain Lamb, slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29), received as with the lost son, by the found; for without coming back, the slain lamb would never have reached his mouth, in the parable; and without returning to the Lord, or relishing anew His grandeur, grace and pardon, the grandeur of His grace is missed. Just as a bullet can narrowly miss one's head, so that one avoids death, so His grace may miss the heart, so that the soul is lost.
Let us then be practical and actually COME to the Lord and RETURN to Him and His slain Lamb, the crucified Saviour, and through this repast, make or rejoin our delight in Him, who did so much that those who come, though relatively few, yet over the ages in their millions, may rejoice in Him, and delight that He has prepared an abode for each one of us, crafted with hands willing to do the work of a carpenter, and rejoicing, despite the agony (Hebrews 5:7, 12:1-2), to do the work of the cross, in its redemption. This is a memorial of what He paid and how He paid it, and of our awaiting, following His resurrection, His coming that each one may rejoin Him in His own glory (I Cor. 11:25-26).
Let us therefore rejoice with Him, grieved at the necessity that sin brought, but relieved to live in the object He had in mind, of restoring what is lost, and bringing zest for the very life of God, to souls astray. There is no terror now, for error; for the Lamb slain has changed the accounts (II Cor. 5:17-21), substituting for the one returning in repentance and faith, HIS credits for the debits of the mismanaged life. What is recognised as sin, repented of and placed on Christ, is dismissed as into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18ff.), and what is so dismissed does not remain whether as error or terror, in the final accounts. Moreover, now that there is ONLY ONE MASTER, there is no more double vision, double crossing, or festering guilt, but a quietus of peace.
So is there justifiable rejoicing, and relish for the righteousness of the Lord (Romans 5:17-19), knowing both the pardon and the new motivation, surging on with joy in the right kingdom, for the right reason, entering freely, with heart travelling light, without heaviness of mind, but with the zest for life, which HIS life brings. Now one last oint for rejoicing: it is not literally into an 'everlasting home' as in one version, it is everlasting homes, dwelling places. It is personal, it is individual, and though there be a fascinating cohesion and community in the kingdom of heaven, each soul as made, remains singular, while the medley of togetherness is like music at dusk after work, a song of rejoicing. It is indeed just as Jesus declared it in John 14. He has gone ahead, to prepare everything, who knows everything, and is mistaken about nobody. Grace misses no one that might be found, and is deceived by no pretenders who are not! as in Matthew 22:11-14).
There are no weeds in heaven, for grace has regenerated the seed! The old is disassembled in death, the new conformed to the contours of Christ (Colossians 3:10). Then is the soul conformed to the image of Him who created him, and what a delight is in that. To this comes the certainty of eternal life as a refreshing breeze in the heat, and garland in the feast as in Psalm 21, that delicious quest for the eternal mercies of the Lord, so securely answered, and with such relish received, the sought found in Him who is the only foundation under heaven provided among mankind (Acts 4:11-12, Matthew 7:24-27).