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Sep 16, 2012

Living the Game

Passage: Luke 19:11-23

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Getting Your Head in the Game

Keywords: serving, stewardship, gospel, evangelism, ministry


This message looks at the importance of every follower of Jesus Christ stewarding well the life and gospel of Christ through serving others.


Living the Game

Part 3—Getting Your Head in the Game

Sept. 16, 2012


Bud Wilkinson, the legendary coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, once defined football as “22 men on the field desperately needing rest, and 50,000 people in the stands desperately needing exercise.” 

A lot of life is like that, isn’t it? 


Over the past couple of weeks as we’re all trying to readjust to fall schedules, we’ve been talking about “Getting your head in the game” spiritually speaking, that is.  As with pretty much any sport, getting to the place where you can really enjoy it and perhaps actually be proficient at it requires regular training, steady practice, coaching, knowing the rules of the game and usually some just plain challenging training. 


When it comes to the spiritual life, there are a lot of similarities.  There are a host of exercises or “spiritual practices” that God has given us which enable us to connect with God better and more frequently.  There is certain “spiritual training” that we can enter into which will enable God to form more and more of the life of Christ in us.    People who don’t engage in these spiritual exercises simply don’t develop certain spiritual muscles and proficiencies.  And I find that, very often, they don’t seem to enjoy the experience of this “team” called God’s family nearly as much as other followers of Jesus do. 

But before we focus on one of the chief ways God calls all his children to develop some “spiritual muscle,” I want to remind you about something I said three weeks ago in the message on the Dark Night of Divine Silences.  We looked briefly at 6 general stages most Christians go through in their spiritual journey in this life. 

There was Stage 1:  Life-Changing Awareness of God—the beginning of our journey with Christ through saving faith in Him.

Stage 2 was  Discipleship—This stage is characterized by learning about God and what it means to be a follower of Christ. Stage 3 is The Active Life—the “doing” stage where we discover the power of serving God, his people and the lost world. 

Stage 4 was The Wall and the Journey Inward—That sort of “dark night of the soul.”  Then there was Stage 5:  The Journey Outward—a stage that looks a lot look the Active Life stage in that we once again move outward to “do” for God.  But we do so in a new humility, calmness and steadiness of soul that really knows and believes that all must be done in the power of Christ, not human effort.  Then the last stage, #6:  Love Transformed Stage  in which God continually sends events, circumstances, and people into our lives that keep us moving forward on our journey of loving God. 


If you notice, stages 3 and 5 both involve the same spiritual work-out machine—serving God by serving people.  The difference is the spirit, the heart and the brokenness with which it is done.  Both are genuine, necessary and real.  And we will never get to the higher stages without this spiritual practice of serving. 


One of the things that concerns me these days with church as we have come to know it in America over the past 100 years is how much our “church” has become a “spectator sport.”  Anyone have a problem with that phrase, “spectator sport”?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  “Sport” inherently requires that you not be just a spectator. 

So does growing in Christ.  So does being the church.  Yet the medium has become the message in “church” today…as long as your definition of and participation in “church” is limited to attending a worship service once a week.  “Church services” tend to look a lot like Bud Wilkinson’s definition of football—a handful of people being very active with most people sitting in the bleachers. 

            Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not being critical of the “fans” in the bleachers.  I’m far more critical of the players on the field.   This sort of co-dependent relationship where of few of us “paid pastor types” get to run around doing a whole lot of the “plays” on the field while the majority of the people in the stands come and watch a few of us play, cheer us on, pay for the lights and stadium, and then go home never having touched the turf or handled the ball—that’s not something that builds the Body of Christ up like God commanded. 

            Ephesians 4:11 says, 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.


Why don’t most churches in America look like that today?  The problem is probably more deeply rooted than a single-solution might suggest.  But I have a hunch that if more people in the stands (pews, chairs) started demanding playing time, turning out for practices and actually running the plays, there would be a revival of truly epic proportions. 


So come with me to Luke 19 for a parable Jesus told while he was enjoying a dinner party at the home of some Wall Street types.  Jesus had been passing through this town called Jericho when he found one of the stuffed shirts from the business district, a fellow named Zacchaeus, and invited himself over for dinner at his house.  Zacchaeus was thrilled!  He had wanted to just catch a glimpse of Jesus and here he was coming over for dinner. 

            Not everybody was happy with Jesus’ decision, however.  Zach and his kind, though wildly wealthy, were considered the spiritual and national low-lifers of Israel. So Jesus reminded everyone during that dinner that he had come “to seek and to save what was lost.”  Hopefully everyone could agree that Zacchaeus and his type were at least “lost.” 

            Starting in vs. 11, we have the backdrop to this very interesting parable Jesus is about to tell.  Apparently most Jews had their eschatology (theology of the end times) all messed up.  They thought that the kingdom of God was going to be established politically any moment.  So Jesus tells them this story that, among other things, makes it clear that something else is going to happen first before God would bring His Kingdom to earth. 


But there was another front-page news backdrop to this parable that most of us probably don’t realize.  You see, the present Palestinian ruler, Archelaus, was the son of Herod the Great.  When Herod died, his will gave Archelaus over half of his kingdom.  But the title of “king” could only be conferred on him by Caesar in Rome.  So Archelaus assembled an entourage and departed for Rome to ask Caesar for the title.  That group included his mother (Malthace), his friends (Poplas, Ptolemy, and Nicholas) and other family members (namely, Solome and her children and various nephews and sons-in-law of the late king Herod.  [See R. Kent Hughes commentary on Luke, Vol. 2, p. 229ff.]

            But to Archelaus’ surprise, in Rome some of his family opposed his getting the title, even accusing him before Caesar.  Then, even more surprising, a delegation of fifty Palestinians (amazingly Jews and Samaritans together) had also traveled to Rome to oppose him before Caesar. 

            When the 50 Palestinians arrived, a huge confrontation took place in the lavish setting of the temple of the Palatine Apollo.  These 50 were joined by 8,000 expatriate Jews living in Rome.  There, before Caesar and the vast throng, the Palestinians related that Archelaus had massacred some 3,000 Jews at Passover, heaping the bodies in the temple, and then tortured others---all to prove he was as powerful as his father.  They further argued that he was inept and corrupt in his leadership. 

            Caesar, after hearing both parties, dismissed the assembly.  A few days later he announced his decision, which satisfied no one.  Josephus records that he gave half the kingdom to Archelaus, with the title ethnarch, promising to make him king, “should he prove his deserts.”  Everyone returned to Palestine unhappy.  And Archelaus never did “[prove his deserts” –he never was called king. 

            So as Jesus began to tell this parable, he was weaving in a sort of contemporary story line of a wanna-be king.  Only his story was about the true King, about Jesus the Messiah King.  Let’s read it.  [Read Luke 19:11-13.]

Notice a few important items in this story.

1.)  Every one of the servants was given the same amount of money, a mina, and told to put the investment to work in the nobleman’s absence.  The amount referred to here, a mina, was equal to about 3-4 month’s wages for a laborer in those days.  So just figure it was 3-4 months of your annual salary today. 

            So what is every one of God’s servants given equally in this life?  I think it is the gospel of Christ.  Paul repeatedly speaks of being “entrusted with the Gospel” (I Thess. 2:4; I Tim. 1:11; 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:2).  We all receive the same investment capital of the Gospel in this life.  You and I have the same Gospel, the same “power of God for the salvation of everyone” as Paul said in Rm. 1:16…the same Gospel as Paul had, as Billy Graham had, as John Calvin and Martin Luther and every non-name follower of Jesus has. 

            And we all have the same command:  “Put this money to work until I come back” (Luke 19:13).  This is not a matter of gifts or abilities as the Parable of the Talents is in Mt. 25.  (We’ll get to that one in a moment.)  Every servant of Christ today has this same mina, the Good News of life eternal and full through faith and submission to Jesus Christ. 


2.)  Vs. 14--But some of his “subjects (notice, not “servants”) hated him (vs. 14) and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’”  This is clearly Jesus building a story around a very current event, the attempt of Archelaus to make himself king. The difference in this story is that the king in this story is the righteous one and the subjects are evil whereas the reverse was true in the contemporary episode. 

            Jesus is clearly speaking of his own kingship.  After the Jew’s infamous rejection of him and his crucifixion, Jesus is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords in Glory (Phil 2:9-11).  And the next line, “[he] returned home” catapults the story into the future where all of Jesus’ servants will be give account of our stewardship of life at the judgment seat of Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:10). 

Vss. 15-19—The first 2 servants multiplied their mina 1,000% and 500% respectively.  They were also humble about their performance, taking no credit for the increased wealth but remembering that that first mina was always the Master’s mina, not theirs. 

            What about their rewards?  In place of the one or 2 years of additional salary equivalent the master’s money had earned under their care, they are now given cities!  Ten and five whole cities are given to them to manage.  Who knows the responsibility and privilege awaiting those of God’s children who don’t burry the Gospel, that spiritual mina, that God has given us? 

            Several commentators believe that it is not so much the privilege of managing cities that is meant to be so attractive here but the privilege of close relationship with Christ that comes with being co-regents with him in some way.  It is the joy of eternal intimacy and partnership with Christ that is the real reward. 


But then the story takes a sad turn.  Read 19:20-23. 

            Notice how this servant’s view of the king is skewed.  How you and I view God makes a difference to how we will respond to him.  That’s why we must always be growing in our understanding of the truth about God.  (Remember the question I gave you last week to ask of any passage of the Bible you read—What does this teach me about God?) 

            But also notice that this servant is judged by his own belief about God.  Even if our view of God is skewed and wrong, the least we should be doing is living up to that! 

            The king has some pretty stern and sobering words to this servant.  His inaction and incompetent stewardship earn him the title of “wicked servant” (vs. 22).   He’s still a “servant” but he is living by some other king’s rules.  He’s “wicked” in his actions.

            The result is that what little he has is taken from him.  It’s as if he never had the privilege of being a steward. 

            The meaning is evident.  We are given certain privileges, certain stewardships in this life that pertain to this life.  But they also have impact somehow on things yet to come.  This is not some “Life” board game we are playing here.  The life and Gospel that our Lord Jesus has committed to us has eternal ramifications. We’re playing for keeps…eternally.  Sitting on the sidelines does not win the praise of our King.  But getting in the game and living it out will bring us more joy and fullness than we can ever imagine.  That’s why action, serving, actually doing the good works God has prepared for us to do is SO important for every one of us. 

            Well, the parable ends with even more sobering words for the “enemies” of the king.  [Read 19:27]

This is the apocalyptic end envisioned by John in Rev. 19:11-16 where John records,

             11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  king of kings and lord of lords.


APP:  Every one of us who knows Jesus Christ as Savior has been entrusted with the Gospel—the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.  It has the capacity to be multiplied over and over and over again. But not if we “bury it” in the ground.  Not if we keep silent.  Not if we don’t make it one of our primary priorities in life to somehow pass it along to others.  Whether that is investing our material resources in people and ministries that spread the Gospel in India or Cambodia or China or some other place where Christ needs to be preached OR whether it is talking with our fellow students or officemates or neighbors, we’ve ALL been given the same power of God that can lead people to salvation. 

            Most of us need to put it to work.  We need to figure out how to multiply it in our day, our city, our world.  The stakes are high on both ends.  Success will bring amazing temporal and eternal benefits.  Failure will be sad and filled with regret. 


That is perhaps the primary way God wants us to be faithful servants:  sharing the Gospel of Christ which has the power to save anyone. 


But Jesus also told the parable of the talents in Mt. 25.  Here a different measure of money is used.  And in this parable, most commentators believe that measure—talents in old coinage—represent abilities and opportunities God gives us in life. 

Both parables address stewardship and service to the Master and King. 


Serving the King of kings is a life-transforming call every one of us has on our lives.  Following Jesus will mean adopting the same self-sacrificing lifestyle he had.  Our Lord did not come “to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28).  We as his followers are not to live life waiting for others to serve and bless us but to live serving and blessing them. 


One of the dangers is to think that occasionally doing this or that act of service for someone else is all the service God really wants from us.  One author puts it this way.  “If we don’t discipline ourselves to serve for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom…, we’ll “serve” only occasionally or when it’s convenient or self-serving.”  We need the regular discipline of serving.  We need to defeat the temptation to serve only when it’s convenient or exciting.


ILL:  I had a conversation with another downtown pastor recently whose church runs a regular feeding program to the homeless and low income.  A few months ago, as he says, “a group of nice church folk from the suburbs came down to ‘help out.’”  They didn’t give any funds for the meal.  They didn’t want to make sandwiches to serve.  They wouldn’t help set up.  When it was over, they didn’t assist in cleaning up.  And while it was going on, they didn’t actually talk to any street people.  They stood around wanting to ‘observe the work being done.’

            At the end of the night they, along with a team of men the UGM had sent gathered in a circle to pray while holding hands.  One of these nice church folk actually prayed, “Thanks for allowing us to serve You tonight by being your hands and feet to the poor and downtrodden.” 

            My pastor friend said to me, “You know, I believe if you’re the hands and feet of Jesus, you MOVE!  You act!  You serve! You touch!  You get dirty doing any job that needs done.  You don’t stand around observing then try to pray some credit onto your poor, shriveled, wormy, anemic, soul at the end.”


But here’s the real kicker.  That same weekend, on Sunday afternoon, a team of unchurched social media experts from Spokane came to cook and serve the meal.  Most of them were a bit frightened to walk into a church to help…especially the gay couple. 

            This pastor said, “They worked like a harmonious team of bees…taking direction from [our staff] while chopping and slicing, cleaning, sweeping, mopping, and standing over hot stoves grilling meat. 

            The gay couple was completely flabbergasted at how our team of leaders treated them—with unexpected love and acceptance as part of the team doing Christian work.  They were overwhelmed to the point of…One of them had never really looked at the face of a homeless person before much less talked to them.  Later that evening, the gay couple asked if it would be OK to attend a church service at this pastor’s church.  You see, one of his parishioners had invited this gay couple to serve that Sunday afternoon with him. 


That whole thing reminds me of Jesus’ short but powerful parable in Matthew 21:28-32 when he says,

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.


This is why we are downtown.  This is why we are continually inviting you to serve, not just at Mosaic but, almost more importantly, in other church and parachurch ministries that feed, clothe, educate, help, evangelize and encourage lost and saved alike to take the next step forward, to keep fighting, to keep getting up when they are knocked down. 


Serving is not always about the people we serve.  Often it is about what happens to us when we serve…and what happens to us when we don’t serve. 

And serving like Jesus did, with Jesus today, in the most needy part of our city IS one of the most attractive ways for us to invite our good, humanistic, secular, non-religious, lost and perishing successful friends to see what following Jesus is really all about.  Maybe they, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, will “…see God in every human being.”  Why shouldn’t they if, as we so loudly proclaim, everyone still bears the marks of being created “in the image of God”?


For we who claim to know Jesus, it can be SO much more.  Mother Teresa went on to say, “When I wash the leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself.  Is [that] not a beautiful experience?”


This week I stumbled across the video once again of someone who was virtually unknown until 3.5 years ago.  She was a plain, middle-aged woman with a dream to be able to use the gift of voice that God had given her.  Like so many Christians sitting in churches today, her gift was unused, her talent unrecognized.  She had never gotten formal musical training, but she loved to sing.  And, as you will see, when she stepped out on the stage of “Britian’s Got Tallent” in 2009, nobody in the audience, including the judges, thought she could deliver much of anything. 

Susan Boyle reminds me of so many people in the church… undiscovered, under-utilized, un-sung.  Enjoy for a moment the mystery of what can happen when someone decides to step forward and serve where they never have before. 


VIDEO of Susan Boyle--http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxPZh4AnWyk&feature=related


Does it seem to you that “everyone is laughing at you”?  Why let that stop you from stepping forward to use your gifts?  I think the crowd of angels in heaven CHEERS…stand to their feet clapping and whistling and hollering…every time one of God’s children steps out beyond their own comfort zone, beyond their own fears, and past their own insecurities to serve God by serving people in and outside God’s family. 


APP:  You ready to do that?  Regularly, not just occasionally?  God has already prepared the “good works” he wants us to do (Eph. 2:10).  It’s up to us to enter into them through personal decisions, personal commitments and personal service. 


NEXT WEEK we’re going to be celebrating our quarterly Love Feast.  At that breakfast, you will be hearing from 8 different ministry leaders in Mosaic.  They will each come and sit at your table for 4 minutes, talk with you face-to-face and tell you why they do what they do in ministry here at Mosaic and downtown.  I hope it is one of the best Sundays of your life because I hope God lights a fire in you to encounter Him through serving in ways you never will be able to simply sitting in the church. 




COMMUNION:  Hebrews 9, speaking about the high priestly ministry Jesus performed in his death , says  11 “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!


We’ve been saved not only to enjoy God forever but to serve the living God NOW!  That’s what we celebrate at this table today.