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“Now and Not Yet”

Luke 17:1-35
Bob DeGray
November 24, 2019

Key Sentence

Discipleship pervades daily life and future expectation.


I. Daily Discipleship (Luke 17:1-19)
     a. Sin
     b. Faith
     c. Duty
     d. Thankfulness
II. Future Expectation (Luke l7:20-37)


Gail and I don’t go to many movies, but these days we get senior rates. In Texas City the two of us can go for $6.50. Last week we saw the movie Harriet, the story of Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery, and her underground railroad work to rescue other slaves. The movie shows her faith and leadings from God. As I prepared for this week’s message I noticed that some characteristics of Harriet Tubman’s life were things Jesus teaches us to cultivate in our lives.

We’ve said often that the kingdom of God is both “now” and “not yet.” We live now in the kingdom, in the presence of the king, pursuing obedience, receiving his help. But we still live in a fallen world with temptation and evil. Our lives here are about fear, forgiveness and faith, humility and duty, thankfulness and praise. Still we look forward to a “not yet” kingdom, to a day when Jesus will finally come as judge and vanquish evil. Luke chapter 17 is about this “now,” and about that “not yet.” It helps us to live this day and to expect that day.

Verses 1-19 are about living this day, first with fear, forgiveness, and faith; second with humility and duty; and third, with thankfulness and praise. Luke 17:1-6 He said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

The first thing Jesus says about “this day” is that temptations to sin are sure to come. The Greek word Jesus uses for “temptations,” is skandalon, which means stumbling blocks. The Greeks used this word for the bait stick of a mouse trap. The word also has the idea of a stumbling block, a rock place in your path that you trip over. Jesus himself is called a scandalon, because the unrighteous trip over him and are doomed. But his concern here is to warn those who put stumbling blocks of temptation in the paths of the innocent. He says “woe” to those through whom temptation comes. That’s where I get the word “fear” to characterize this first point. We need to fear being a stumbling block. It would be better, he says, to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea than that to cause one of these little ones to sin.

The little ones here may be young believers, immature in faith, but also children. Jesus wants us to fear the harm we cause by our sin. Our outward expressions of anger, neglect, or, Lord forbid, lust, or addiction, legalism, selfishness or foolishness need to be restrained by the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control. But we also implore the Spirit to cleanse these things within, because even the inward existence of grievous sin has impacts the lives of those around us.

But even as godly fear restrains sin in us, we watch for sins in the lives of others, not in a judgmental way but a protective one. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” We do have responsibility for one another. Jesus says in Matthew if we see a brother or sister caught in sin we go privately and in love address what we think we see. Here I have to again recommend the Peacemaker materials by Ken Sande. They help us make sure our hearts are prepared, logs out of our own eyes, before we got to address sin in others.

But Jesus focuses on forgiving. Our willingness to forgive is crucial to our well-being and the well-being of others. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Forgiveness is hard. It’s hard to accept repentance at face value, especially the third, fourth, or seventh time. We want to say “I’ve heard it all before. I can’t forgive until you change your behavior.” Not true. Forgiveness is the one thing we can give, and it’s good for our own health and the health of the one we’re trying to help. This doesn’t mean we blindly trust the repentant sinner, but forgiveness frees us up to actually help people address the causes of their sin, and makes us their ally in seeking to change and mature. Forgiveness is key.

But forgiveness is hard. The disciples respond by saying, “Lord, increase our faith.” In other words “I can’t do this.” It’s true. We cannot forgive out of our own human nature and ability. We can only trust God, have faith he will strengthen us. Jesus' teaching is encouraging. He tells us the issue is not how much faith we have. It can be small as a mustard seed, and still lead to great things. Here it’s a mulberry tree, uprooted and planted in the sea. On another occasion he talked about moving a mountain. If a little faith is this potent, how much more can faith give us strength to forgive, and do the kingdom work that is our duty?

We’ve seen so far that living this day in the kingdom involves fear that we’ll be a stumbling block, forgiveness toward those who do sin, and faith that God is at work. One of the best parts of Harriet was its portrayal of her faith. The script shows her faith as central, allowing her to carry on in the face of great betrayals and disappointments. God was at work in her to live that faith daily.

But living in the kingdom this day also calls for humility and a sense of duty. Luke 17:7-10 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Our culture is all about expressive individualism. We’ve been taught since childhood to make our own choices. We’ve been taught, rightly, to hate slavery. Yet Jesus tells us to follow him like a slave, one expected to serve. Jesus paints a humorous picture. You have a slave, working in a field all day. When he comes in, will you, his master, sit him down, wave a fan over him, and drop grapes in his mouth? No, that's not the way slavery works. A slave is expected to do his duty, to serve. Jesus hands this image to us. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” This selfless attitude, in humility, does what needs to be done for the master, the king and the kingdom. This is hard because we crave significance. Simply doing our duty, with no recognition and reward seems the worst of life.

There are two things we need to realize. First, God doesn’t owe us anything. Second, he blesses us anyway. God doesn’t owe us a thing. Why? Because (a) we are his creation He has the copyright, the patent on us. He has every right to use us for his purposes. (b) We’re unworthy servants. Don’t miss that. We’ve sinned and rebelled against the one who created us, putting ourselves first; and (c) we are foolish servants. We refuse to recognize that what he demands from us is in our own best interest. Just as a parent has a right to demand that his child not play in the street, or learn to read, or help around the house, so too God has the right to require certain behavior from us for our ultimate good.

But the incredible thing is that despite this, he doesn't treat us as slaves. Jesus tells this parable, but then when it comes to cases, he does the absurd thing pictured in the parable. In the upper room, Jesus takes the role of a servant, and washes our feet. He says “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” He gave his life so that our sins could be forgiven. Now he says “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” We are no longer slaves but sons and daughters. This should make us more humble and willing to do our duty. We are bound to him by his compassion for us. We serve him now out of gratitude and love rather than out of compulsion or for recognition. The free gift of his love rouses all our heart and energy.

This was Harriet Tubman’s attitude. When she wanted to rescue her family, a leader of the anti-slavery society opposed her. “Rescuing slaves requires skill and careful planning. It requires reading, Harriet. Can you read a sign or map? Can you read at all?” “I put my attention on trying to hear God’s voice more clearly.” “You know what would happen if you got caught. They would torture you until you pointed them right to this office. You got lucky, Harriet, and there’s nothing more you can do.” “Don’t you tell me what I can’t do. I made it this far on my own. God was watching, but my feet was my own, running, bleeding, climbing, nearly drowned, nothing to eat for days and days, and I made it.” Like Harriet, we respond to grace with great energy for God.

And this is never divorced from thanksgiving and praise. Verses 11-19. On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”14When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

You serve the Lord out of overwhelmed gratitude for all he has done for you. Jesus travels along and gets to the outskirts of a village. Ten lepers see him at a distance. They had to stay at a distance. They were outcasts. But these lepers had apparently heard about Jesus. They cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Interesting that they use the word master, not the word Lord. This word means specifically a master of slaves, and links us to the previous paragraph. Jesus hears their cry and tells them to go see the priest. In Leviticus God gave very specific rules for dealing with leprosy. One was that when someone thought he was healed, the priest would inspect him declare him either clean or unclean. When Jesus sends the lepers to the priest, he’s saying “Have yourselves inspected and he will find you clean.” And the lepers respond, all ten of them. They set off for the priest, and on the way find themselves healed.

Now comes the crucial point. Nine of the lepers show understandable self-interest. They want to get this inspection done, get their lives back. They keep going. But one, one leper is amazed by the power of God in Jesus, and he returns. He comes, praising God in a loud voice. He throws himself on his face, he falls at Jesus feet, and he gives thanks. Now that’s a picture of thanksgiving you won’t see on your local news. It is a profound response to what Jesus has done.

And Jesus marvels: weren't ten cleansed? Yet only one was filled with this gratitude and praise toward God, and he is Samaritan, a foreigner. Jesus says to him: rise and go, your faith has made you well, or your faith has saved you. All ten of the lepers were cleansed. Only one recognized the source of that healing with faith and gratitude. So Jesus says “rise and go, your faith has saved you.”

We’re like that leper. We owe Jesus a tremendous debt of gratitude and praise, because we have all had a form of leprosy. It’s not a skin disease that rots your outside, but it's a heart disease that rots your inside. It's known as sin: pride, self-interest, rebellion against God’s ways. Only by throwing ourselves at the feet of Jesus, placing our faith and trust in him, can we be saved. He dies of our disease and we receive his healing. Look down at your hands, just as that leper looked at his. I assume yours appear reasonably clean. The leper’s hands did not, prior to Jesus. He could see his disease in the disfigurement of his skin and tissues. But now he looks down in amazement, with thanksgiving and gratitude, for they are clean and whole. We look down and can’t see that change. But by faith in Jesus, it’s a true change, even more remarkable than the leper’s cleansing, more deserving of praise, prostration and thanksgiving.

There are many things to give thanks for this year. Provision, protection, maybe even health and healing. Loved ones, a home to live in, a job to work at. But I encourage you, as I’m encouraging myself this year, to be grateful for your rescue by Jesus. That cleansing, by his sacrifice, is the greatest gift. We could lose all worldly goods, all income, all relationships, all happiness and we would still have this to be grateful for. We’re cleansed, we’re rescued, we’re free. Harriet Tubman, apparently said often “I’m going to be free or die,” and it was for her freedom that she was most grateful, and for the freedom of others that she worked. We’re free, not because of what we have done, but because of what has been done for us. Let us be filled with thanksgiving and praise.

So those are the daily workings of the “now” kingdom in our lives. Fear, forgiveness and faith. Humility and duty. Thanksgiving and praise. That’s this day in the kingdom. But we also live in expectation of that day. Luke 17:20-37 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” 22And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

26Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27They were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32Remember Lot’s wife. 33Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

Verses 20 and 21 are a transition pointing us back to what we’ve just studied. Jesus says clearly that the kingdom is a present kingdom. The Pharisees ask “when is the kingdom of God coming?” They equated the kingdom with what they called "The Age to Come,” a future reality. But Jesus says they are missing a very important aspect of the kingdom if they only wait for some cataclysmic arrival of God's reign. In Jesus the kingdom of God has happened, it is in the midst of you. Jesus brings with him the present kingdom, and not an earthly, tangible kingdom. It is the reign of God in people’s lives through Jesus Christ. My favorite definition of the kingdom is still the one by David Mains “Christ's Kingdom is any situation in which Christ is recognized as King, his will is obeyed and obedient subjects reap the benefits of his reign.” The Pharisees refused to recognize Christ as king, and did not obey his commands, his will. The rule and reign of Jesus is a present reality with present demands.

Yet the kingdom is also a future event. Verse 22 “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” The present reality the disciples enjoyed during the ministry of Jesus will be removed from them. They will long for that concrete reality. Verse 23, don’t be fooled when they say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” The future kingdom will come unmistakably, but, verse 25, “first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” Jesus’ awareness of his passion was part of his understanding of the whole program. He knew he would suffer and die, but also rise, ascend to heaven, and reign over his kingdom from the right hand of the Father. That’s the now kingdom we’re in, but we do long for the “not yet.” The older I get the more I long for that day, the end of these days.

I’ve just finished Andrew Peterson’s new book Adorning the Dark, and he feels it too. “We carry with us in a quiet hollow of our hearts an unrung bell that waits to sound with the final note of the reappearing of the Lamb of God.”

Jesus makes it very clear that this reappearing will be sudden and unexpected. For those who are prepared, it will be a glorious surprise. For the unprepared, it will be a horrible surprise, accompanied by judgment. Being prepared, Jesus says, is being like Noah or Lot. God warned of judgment, and Noah prepared the Ark. Lot got out of the city. Everyone else was eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting, building. They were pre-occupied with daily life when sudden judgment long deserved fell on them. Notice that Noah and Lot were not particularly good men. Both fell into sin after their rescue. But Noah and Lot shared something with all those rescued by God. They believed. They trusted God and God rescued them. Noah and Lot were thus prepared for the judgment to come. Jesus says don't be like those people who get so caught up in daily life, that when the judgement comes they die in disbelief. Expect his return. Be prepared. Put your faith and trust in him now, before judgment.

Verse 31 “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back.” Remember that Palestinian houses are normally flat roofed, with an outside stair to the roof. So come down, but don't go back in the house, or sudden destruction will overtake you. In the same way, out in the field, don't go back to the house. He says: “Remember Lot's wife” who looked back, and destruction seized her. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life,” he says “will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Jesus said this before, in chapter 9. Here I think Jesus says it in context. Go back in the house and you’ll be in trouble. Literal understanding: there comes a moment when the physical catastrophes are so sudden and overwhelming that a delay is the difference between life and death. Spiritual understanding: when the end of all things comes only those who have fled to Jesus will find life.

Verse 34: “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” These are some of the verses that points to the idea of a rapture, a sudden taking away of believers to be with the Lord, as part of the timeline of the last days. But the point here is that your decision needs to be made in advance. If you have not chosen to be a follower of Jesus when this critical time comes, you will be left behind. We prepare for the “not yet” kingdom by having a right relationship with God in the present kingdom, so that when the day of the future kingdom ignites, you’ll be ready.

Some of you reading the King James version may have a verse 36 “Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left” This verse isn’t in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts and is not included in modern translations. It may have been added by scribes who were thinking of Matthew 24:40. But verse 37 is not disputed. “And they said to him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” The disciples ask “where, will this obvious catastrophe strike?” Jesus answers obscurely, probably because his is the wrong question. He just told them not to go running off after people who say "here he is", "there he is" So he says if you want to find a dead body, look under the vultures. In other words the signs you’ll see will be signs of judgment, death and vultures.

Notice, finally, that the “not yet” kingdom itself is not really depicted in these verses. It’s implied. If someone is taken they are taken someplace. Noah and Lot survived the judgments to new beginnings. But these verses are about the catastrophe, the judgment that marks the inauguration of that kingdom.

In the same way the Harriet movie ends with a brief glimpse of the cataclysm that brought an end to formal slavery in America. It turns out that Harriet Tubman, in addition to all her underground railroad risk, became the first, and maybe the only female combat officer in the Union army. She led a raid into South Carolina that freed 800 slaves under gunfire. That cataclysm, that freed the slaves was the beginning of a new life for Harriet. She settled down in Auburn, New York, took care of her aging parents, re-married, and though virtually penniless, cared for countless freed slaves who migrated from the south. She was involved in both the women’s suffrage movement and a movement to provide care for the elderly. She lived out the freedom she had worked so hard to give. In the same way we live out the kingdom now by fear, forgiveness and faith, by humility and service, and by praise and thanksgiving, and thus we are prepared for that day when we will live it fully in the presence of God.