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Small Beginnings

Luke 13

Lesson audio

Have you ever visited with a relative from whom you have been absent for several years? If they have children, it is a common reaction to say, “My, how they have grown.” It is customary to have a teenager sit through Aunt Margaret’s dialogue on how she remembers them in diapers. My point is neither Aunt Margaret’s surprise nor her nephew’s annoyance; the point is that sometimes we must look back to see how things have grown. That is our starting point today.

Why Me?

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." And He began telling this parable: "A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. "And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' "And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'"

(Luk 13:1-9)

The kingdom of God is a concept not often taught these days, though our ancestors thought it rather important. One reason, perhaps, for its disfavor these days comes from our changed attitude toward suffering. Prior to anesthetics, most people took suffering as a normal part of life, and a necessary portion of those in the kingdom of God. Since then, we feel that if pain can be removed, so should all our other troubles.

The common complaint

Christians today are accustomed to using themselves as the yardstick of “normal.” For example:

  • “Why did God give you so much?” I am an American, which automatically puts me in the top five percent of the wealthy in this world. But my standard for “rich” is typically just a little more than I have. (Of course, this is the sin of envy; my point is that the starting point is always “me.”)
  • “What terrible sin did you commit so that God did that to you?” With me, such suffering would be unjustified by my sin – but you always got what you deserved.

In short, my circumstances are normal. You’re the one who doesn’t fit.

Then it happens to me

Of course, once I’m on the receiving end of such things – particularly suffering – there is only one question: “Why me?”

  • Most of us, in giving it some thought, will conclude that nothing we have done deserves such suffering. There must be some other reason.
  • Christians generally take the line that God must be preparing them for some special task. This is a relatively modern view, but very popular.
  • Most Christians of most times would not attempt to determine why; they would simply react in obedience. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

Why have we shifted view in our time? Perhaps it is this: our ancestors knew that they were sinners, and on that basis any suffering was deserved. We have difficulty with the idea that we are sinners, therefore God must have some other purpose in mind. Would God really cause us to suffer for his purposes?

  • Certainly if we have done something worthy of punishment, we can see the justice in suffering. But we feel that forgiveness from Christ should wipe this out.
  • Sometimes we are indeed suffering as preparation. Most of us could tell of times where our suffering prepared us to deal with a completely unexpected situation.
  • Sometimes our suffering is as an example to others. The universe is a moral place; violate its moral laws and you will suffer. Others might learn by example in that. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to AIDS, ….)

What we’re missing today is simply this: we deserve it. But still we ask, “why me?” God’s way is perfect (even if we can’t see it), so we ask why he would allow such evil to come to us. One reason stands the test of time: out of evil, God will bring a greater good. For example,

Medical regulations

And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your sickness." And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, "There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? "And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?" As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

(Luk 13:10-17)

There is a very critical point in this passage, often missed: the synagogue ruler puts his attack upon this woman – not upon Jesus. It is a typical attack in that sense; the kingdom of God is not what the world thinks it should be.

  • The kingdom of God is composed of sinners forgiven. The world looks for plaster saints rather than penitent sinners. There is the opinion that a person needs to be “good enough” to enter the kingdom. Yet it is not so.
  • The kingdom of God is composed of those who suffer – even those who deserve it. The world thinks that God should relieve all suffering for his children – and they’re mad at him for not doing it. But do you not see that if that were to be, the kingdom would be flooded with more hypocrites looking only for pain relief?
  • Most commonly, the kingdom of God is composed of those who are criticized by those who are not in the kingdom of God. Everyone expects that God is perfect – but by our own standards of perfection. Perhaps he enjoys doing the thinking himself.

This ruler of the synagogue shows us the nature of the kingdom – by contrast.

·         He sees the rules and regulations as all important; God looks at the heart of a man.

·         He sees the formality coming first; God sees it coming later.

·         He sees the Law as the source of righteousness; those in the kingdom get their righteousness from the Passion of Christ.

The Kingdom

So He was saying, "What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and THE BIRDS OF THE AIR NESTED IN ITS BRANCHES." And again He said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. "Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' "Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.' "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. "And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. "And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last."

(Luk 13:18-30)

Growth in the kingdom

Little is much, when God is in it. We need to remember how God makes his kingdom grow:

  • His kingdom starts from small beginnings. In every place where the Gospel is new, the original foothold is very small. It may be simply one missionary, teaching the Good News.
  • Its growth is organic, not extrinsic. It grows from within itself, not by government decree.
  • It takes hindsight to see the growth, for it is day by day, little by little.

A good example might be found in Billy Graham’s crusades. He started out as a modest preacher, shaping his talents in preaching revival meetings. His organization grew slowly – but now we see that the growth it causes within the kingdom grows greater and greater. The growth is organic; it comes from within the church as she reaches out. Graham brings no magicians with him. Looking back, Graham’s record seems impressive – but it was all done little by little.

The narrow door

The “straight and narrow” is a phrase that was created in our language from the King James Version of the Bible:

Mat 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

In the original, the word “strait” really means “narrow,” as in the Straits of Gibraltar. But either way, the meaning is clear. Some of the people who think they are saved will find themselves on the outside. This rejection is both terrible and final – and it will be a great shock to those who are rejected. Others – ones who are regarded as more sinful, less worthy of the kingdom – will replace these people.

The concept is not new with Christ. All through the Old Testament there is a recurring theme of “the remnant.” Most of the people of Israel become disobedient, but there are a few left who hold to God’s ways. These few – the remnant – are the ones who enter the kingdom of God. It’s that way today, too. Many people consider themselves Christian – making no attempt to live as Christ would have them live. They are the sermon applauders – if the sermon condemns something they don’t approve of.

Tell that fox…

Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, "Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You." And He said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.' "Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! "Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'"

(Luk 13:31-35)

Let us make no mistake about it: the kingdom of God rests squarely on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. That sacrifice was no accident of history; it is “Plan A.” In this passage we see the agony of Christ as he contemplates his final days here. He knows who these people are; he knows them from the very first days as a nation – and he knows what they are capable of doing.

Yet he loves them. If they would but repent, he would hug them close. He knows that this nation will reject him – and it pains him deeply.

We started this lesson asking the question, “why would God allow me to suffer?” Jesus could ask the same thing; God would answer, I suspect, with the same answer – so that out of His suffering God the Father would bring a greater good. Out of the rejection of Christ would come the kingdom; out of the rejection of the kingdom by the Jews would come the mission to the Gentiles. Out of these tragic, evil things God created his kingdom on earth.

The passage is a prophecy; some see it fulfilled at the Triumphal Entry. Others see it being fulfilled at the return of Christ, claiming that it will be preceded by the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. Certainly this was Paul’s hope, as he expressed it in the letter to the Romans. Some interpret it one way, others, another. But this I know: the kingdom of God is here; it is within us; it reaches out from us. Out of this God will bring his purposes to fulfillment. If our suffering is needed for his purposes, who are his people to say no?

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