Promise, Process & Challenge
Jeremiah 31:27-34 Psalms 1221
2Tim 3:14-4:5 Luke 18:11-8
However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8b) It’s a good question, isn’t it? Based on what we know when we look around at the secular world and at the experience of our own doubt-ridden faith, the answer is probably no…or at best a very qualified yes. What I am proposing we look at today are the factors that affect how this question gets answered in our own lives. Our scripture readings today contain promises, instruction…that is a process, and a challenge. I would like to suggest that how we as believers understand and apply the promises of God to our faith journey determines the whole way in which we interact with the world around us, as well as the extent to which we will be found to have the kind of faith that Jesus is speaking about here.
First, however, I want to set the scene for this gospel reading…because the context has a huge effect on how we read and hear what is being said. This teaching and the one immediately preceding it are first and foremost about the kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdom of this world….what it looks like, how it will be made manifest and when, how God will act at the second coming and lastly…what is expected of believers while we wait. So, we are to view this story as preparation for the return of Christ.
Also, this teaching follows immediately after a challenge to Jesus by the Pharisees. They ask him about timing, demanding once again a sign that would authenticate Jesus proclamation of the kingdom as either true or false. This wasn’t an idle question. They were hoping that Jesus would commit to something that would be shown to be false and thereby reveal him as an imposter. His answer is profound. He says, (Luke 17:20b-21 Msg) "The kingdom of God doesn't come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, 'Look here!' or, 'There it is!' And why? Because God's kingdom is already among you." Of course, Jesus is talking about himself, but the Pharisees are too spiritually blind because of their own sin and prejudices to get it. He basically sends them away disappointed and as confused as when they came. Their eyes could be opened. As we will see in a couple of moments, the OT is full of the promises of God. But, these guys can no longer hear them or see them because their hearts are hardened.
However, once the Pharisees are out of the picture, Jesus turns to his disciples and immediately proceeds to tell them about the signs of the coming kingdom, timing, situation and the result. Then, he goes on to tell them this morning’s parable. So we need to be asking ourselves, “In the context of what happened immediately preceding this story, why is it here? Why is Jesus telling this, now?
Before we go there, though, I would like to look at the promises that are contained not only in the Gospel reading, but in the other passages as well. How you and I appropriate and incorporate these promises into our faith journey will determine our readiness for the coming kingdom and the situation and spiritual condition in which Jesus will find us when he does return. First, we go to Jeremiah. This passage is about the new covenant that is being made in and through the work, death and resurrection of Jesus. (Jeremiah 31:31-32a NIV), The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers. Even though this is a part of the scriptural record of the day, the Pharisees haven’t been able to accept the fact that God is doing this new thing among them. And, just before we get too hard on the Pharisees, we need to be asking ourselves… if we believe and are living into this reality in our own time.
Here is the rest of the promise, (Jeremiah 31:33b NIV), I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (34b) …they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. This amazing promise was made 600 years before the birth of Christ. What is the operative word in this reading. “will” God will infuse them with His righteousness. He will be their God….God with them, regardless of who they are and where they fit in society. God will forgive and redeem them. This promise is also for you and me. These things are being done by Christ Jesus for us. God will!
Next we go to the Psalm. Who can tell me what was on the hills around Jerusalem? In those days there were shrines and altars on the hilltops…shrines and altars to pagan and false gods. The people would go to the tent of meeting on Friday (there was no temple yet)…and then some of them would sneak off to the hilltops to worship Ashera and Baal. There was an attitude of dissatisfaction with Yahweh, and the people were hedging their bets, as it were, just in case the other gods were real and Yahweh wasn’t. There is a lot is similarity here between then and the way many believers treat God today. This kind of behaviour displays a profound lack of faith. The Psalmist is writing to counteract that faithlessness.
He says that help in this life doesn’t come from idols or fake gods, but from the One who created everything there is. Here is the first promise.(Psalms 121:3) He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber… That God was asleep and not paying attention or disinterested in people’s lives was a common accusation in those days…just as it is today. Life was a great struggle. They were under constant attack from the Philistines and other tribes who wanted the Hebrews out of Israel. Literally…losing your footing is a trivial thing, but the Psalmist affirms that God is concerned with even that small thing. We could spiritualize the verse and say that it refers to God holding us fast when things mean to trip us up emotionally of spiritually. But however we interpret it, the meaning is the same. God cares, God sees everything and He will protect us.
In fact the Psalmist declares, (Psalms 121:7-8) The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. So, here is a kingdom promise…an everlasting life promise….all harm, and not only for now, but our lives for eternity. How different would our lives be if we were able to live in the context of this promise? Think of the courage we would able display, the things we could do for Jesus if we fully believed that not one hair on our head would ultimately be harmed.
The Gospel story also contains promises. They speak again to a common theme that we have been working with over the summer, which is God’s heart for the poor and broken of society.( Luke 18:7-8a NIV), And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. I like the quickly part. The Greek word interpreted here as “justice” is “dike”…which can also mean vindication. So, you could read this to say that God will bring exoneration or absolution to those who cry out to Him…that is those who truly seek Him. “Cry out” describes the strongest desire possible for the human heart. And, he will do it quickly…without hesitation.
So, that was the promise part. The readings also contain a challenge. We saw that in the verse that I began with. (Luke 18:8b) However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? That is the challenge. What will be the nature of our faith when the Lord comes? How will he assess us? And…we will be judged. Paul was also concerned about this. He said to Timothy, (2Timothy 4:1 NLT) I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom…There will always be this pressure to compromise, to look up to the hilltops, look away from God…to “buy insurance in case God isn’t real. The question is, will we have faith or will we be just playing at it? Will we be found wanting.
So, how do we stay the course? How do we keep focussed on God? Paul tells Timothy that he must remain faithful to the things that he has been taught. (2Timothy 3:14b NLT) You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. That faithfulness takes an intentional decision. We have over 3500 years of good biblical teaching, by literally thousands of committed, faithful and trustworthy prophets, apostles and teachers. We know that the things they have taught us and continue to teach us about God are true. Why then do we continue to look away from the Word and depend on things that are not of God? Paul told Timothy to, (2Timothy 4:2 NIV) Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. Notice he says….”In season or out.” He means whether it is popular or not. Why, because (3-4) For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. In short, they will look up to the hills!
So, we are called to be intentionally faithful to the Word of God that we know to be both righteous and true. Secondly we are to be, as Jesus reminded us in the Gospel, persistent in prayer….consistent and annoyingly tenacious. This kind of deliberate and tireless on God’s word and on prayer will keep our focus on Christ, so that we will be about the things of God when the kingdom is brought to fruition.
Please pray with me….