This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
The lessons for our meditation this morning are all the lessons we have read this morning, recorded in Jeremiah’s prophecy, Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, and the gospel of Luke.
Dear brothers and sisters, friends of God, waiting on the Judgment: “I’ll be back” are the now-famous words spoken by our former governor in the movie “The Terminator.” These words take on an ominous tone, when we know that his return will come as he drives a sedan into the front lobby of a police station. Gen. Douglas MacArthur uttered similar words when he was forced to abandon the U.S. position in the Philippines in the face of overwhelming Japanese forces. He said "I shall return," and those who knew him knew he spoke the truth, a truth that filled them with hope, that someday those islands would again be free. Yet, still more famous are the words of Christ, our King, who also said “I’ll be back” or "I shall return." And while his words are ominous for unbelievers, for believers, they are filled with hope. In our gospel for today, the parable of the 10 minas, along with our other lessons, he describes his departure, his return, and the consequences. The King of Heaven will be Back! He will destroy those who hate him; He will take his blessing from those who prove faithless; and He will reward the faithful.
On the day we remember as Ascension Day, Jesus left this world and went into heaven. He has been crowned the king of heaven and earth. As in our parable, the king has gone to a faraway land to be appointed as king. And there are those who hate him, who do not want him to be king over them.
The inspired writer Paul, in his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, tells us of the ultimate destination of those who do not know God and of those who disobey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These two groups are one in the same. “Disobedience” of the gospel is rejection of it – and someone who rejects Jesus and all he did to save mankind does not know God. They will be “punished with everlasting destruction.” This does not mean, as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, that their souls will be destroyed and that’s an end to it. It means that they will be cast into hell and exist in a perpetual state of being destroyed – with no end to it. Elsewhere, Jesus describes it: “their fire does not go out, and their worm does not die.”
Worse still, they will be eternally separated from God, “shut out from his presence and his majesty.” There are times, times of severe trouble and hardship and loss, when we Christians almost give in to despair and wonder where our God is. But we are never separated from him; he is always with us, comforting us with his words of life and his promise that we will have rest, we will be reunited with those we have lost, and we will be with our God forever. But those who reject Christ will never have any of that – no comfort, no rest, no blessed union – only pain.
When the King of Heaven returns on the Last Day, for the Last Judgment, those who hate him, who reject the forgiveness and salvation he won for them, will be destroyed, and will experience pain, loss and loneliness - forever.
That is why our Lord gives us the gospel – the glorious good news that a Savior is coming, has come, and will come again – he gives believers this gospel so that they may share it with others. The king in the parable gave a mina – about 3 months’ wages – to each of ten servants so that they might “put it to work.” Christ our King gave us unworthy servants the good news – and we, too, are expected to “put it to work,” so that those who are enemies, who hate the King, will hear and believe and be counted instead as friends and children of God.
As the world of the Old Testament anticipated the coming Messiah, the Jews were to serve as an inspiration to the unbelievers around them. Their lives of faith, the blessings of God on his people, and their faithful keeping of God’s Law and witness of God’s Word would draw those unbelievers into God’s kingdom. God even made provisions in the Law for the acceptance of all those non-Jews who had been won to faith by God’s promise of a coming Savior. Yet God’s people responded to his faithfulness with disobedience. Instead of converting the heathen nations around them they became just like them.
And so our loving God – who wants all to be saved, not destroyed – warned his people. Our lesson from Jeremiah was one such warning – not the first, and certainly not the last: “obey my laws, and listen to my prophets, or you will be punished.” He told this to people who worshiped in the temple, because he knew their faithless hearts – hypocrites who follow the forms, but have no real faith: their worship is only lip-service, and in their hearts is only evil. The punishment he promised was the same as always, that he would take away all the blessings he had given them and turn them into curses, a warning for anyone else who would disobey.
And Jesus repeats that warning to his New Testament people. Recall, my friends, that each servant in the parable of the 10 minas was given the same amount of money. The faithless servant wrapped his mina in a napkin. The same piece of cloth that could have been used to wipe the sweat off his brow as he worked for the good of the kingdom was instead used to hide the blessing he had been given. And what is the result? The same as that for the faithless Jews – the blessings of the king are taken away.
Friends, each of you has been given the same blessing as each and every Christian: faith in the promises of God, faith produced in you through the preaching of God’s Word. And he has also given each of you the same command: “put it to work.” Yes, it is the Spirit’s work to create faith in the hearts of unbelievers, but he has given Christians the task of telling others the good news, that faith-creating gospel message of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Will you dare to approach him on the Last Day to say, “here, Lord, is the good news you gave me to tell to others; I was afraid to lose it, so I hid it in a napkin”?
What kind of reward should you expect, if that is all you can say? You’ve heard me and others describe the horrors of hell to you, and you have the words that can rescue others from that punishment. If you say you have faith, and yet do not share the words of life to those who are dying, well, what kind of faith is that?
Now, maybe you think I’m being hard on you this morning. You’re right to think that. God wants you to know these things, and to hear his warning against unfaithfulness, or he wouldn’t have inspired Jeremiah, Paul and Luke to write these things down. But besides his warning of punishment for the faithless, he also wants you to know this: he will reward the faithful.
Because the faithful don’t act with a reward in mind, and they don’t accuse the God who blesses them. Look at the unfaithful servant. His actions are those of an unbeliever: he did nothing with his mina because he had no faith in his king: “you take where you did not put in and harvest where you have not sown,” he accuses. He does not see the mina as a blessing and an opportunity to be a blessing, but as just another burden, a task he doesn’t want to do.
You, however, have faith, and because you have faith you know that everything you have is a blessing from a loving God, that is, it is something he “put in.” And the love of your God moves you to acts of love, acts of faithfulness for the sake of your King and his kingdom.
How do you get ten minas out of one? By being faithful with the one you have. Tell the good news of forgiveness of sins to ten people – then ten more – then ten more – until the King returns. Tell them that the Lord forgives them, and you, for every faithless act, for every failure to act, for the sake of his Son. Tell them what Paul wrote, that all who believe this testimony, that Jesus is Lord and King and Savior, will stand and glory and marvel in his presence forever.
The King of Heaven is Coming Back! Not crashing through the front doors or with wave after wave of soldiers at his back, but in his own power, glory and majesty. Christ is coming! What wonderful words for those who have faith. As for the reward: there are many who will speak of degrees of glory for those who are counted as great in God’s heavenly kingdom, and that is not wrong. But I, for one, will be happy to be the last one let in the door, rather than being shut outside forever. For sharing in the glory and wonder and peace of God’s eternal kingdom, united with him and all the faithful, forever, is reward enough for any believer.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. Amen.