People do not change very much over time. Indeed, they are pretty much the same as they were 2000 years ago. The same reaction to Jesus we find back then is what we also find today. It is really just the same old story. Consider just one passage of Scripture about this.
In Luke 19:11-28 Jesus gives a parable about the ten talents. In Matthew 25:14-30 we find a somewhat different version of this parable. The Lucan account adds bits not found in Matthew’s account. With Easter upon us it is worth looking at this parable in more detail, especially as Luke relates it.
The opening verses read as follows: “A prince went to a distant country to be appointed king and then to return. He called ten of his servants and gave them ten coins. He said to them, ‘Invest this money until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation to follow him and to announce, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’ After he was appointed king, the prince came back.”
I want to emphasise what the people said in v.14: “We don’t want this man to rule over us!” Or as we read about what the crowds said in John 19:15: “We have no king but Caesar.” The crowds were clear about their rejection of the real King. It is vital to recall that in the Lucan account this parable is placed immediately before the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Thus Jesus is of course predicting his rejection, and impending crucifixion.
And he had warned his disciples about this earlier. For example in Luke 18:31-33 we read this: “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again’.”
So this parable contains more of this message. While many people then of course did follow Jesus, there were many who did not, including the religious leaders of the day. Their attitude was one which has been found continuously over the past twenty centuries: We don’t want this man to rule over us!
That is the most basic way of deciding who is a true Christian and who is not. When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he had in mind the reign and rule of the King. Jesus is that King and he demands his rightful place in every human heart as King and Lord.
If he is not, then self is. We either let him be the boss of everything, or we make ourselves the boss of everything. It is that simple and that fundamental. Two thousand years ago the masses rejected his rule and reign. Today it is the same story.
Most people reject Jesus for the simple reason that they love worshipping self, they love their sin, and they refuse to bow down to anyone else. They do not want Jesus, because that means saying no to self and yes to him. It is a radical change of allegiance.
The Christian is the one who has renounced all allegiance and fealty to self and sin, and has handed it all over to Jesus Christ. He has made a complete and total change of ownership. He has signed over the title deed to his life and claimed it no longer belongs to him, but to another – King Jesus.
Thus Christian salvation is far more radical and thorough than any mere moral reform. Christianity is not about trying to live a better life. It is not about trying to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps. It is not about trying to just get along with other people.
Consider this: we had in today’s Herald Sun three Victorian religious leaders talking about what Easter means. As has been the case over the years, the Catholic actually came closest to telling us what Easter is really all about. The Anglican came a distant second, while the Uniting Church Moderator was abysmal, as usual.
Thank God the Catholic Archbishop was not ashamed to talk about sin and salvation, the cross and the resurrection. The Anglican Archbishop was happy to ramble on about the Occupy Movement, while the Uniting Church gal went on about asylum seekers and the like.
So only one of the leaders even seemed to understand what the Easter message is all about. It is about a man who died a horrible death for our sins so that we can be made right with God. It is about an invasion of God’s Kingdom into a world ruled by sin, self, and Satan.
It is an insurgency movement in which God is seeking to reclaim planet earth for himself. It is like the Allies landing in Normandy in 1944, seeking to reclaim territory taken by the enemy. It is a fight back, and a most costly fight back at that. It cost Jesus everything, and in a similar fashion, it will cost us everything as well.
As C. S. Lewis rightly put it, “It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.” And as he also wrote, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”
And again, “This universe is at war. It is a civil war, a rebellion, and … we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.”
All this sounds too much for most people. It certainly does not fit in with their life dedicated to self, to pleasure, to ease, and to business as usual. The message of Jesus was an absolutely shocking and revolutionary message in his own day.
Most people were shocked by it, offended by it, and alarmed by it. And it is the same today. We want nothing to do with such radical and bizarre notions of dying to self, changing allegiances, and renouncing all claims to our own life. That is just too much for us.
So we tell Jesus the same thing the multitudes have always been telling him: “We don’t want this man to rule over us!” Well, God is too much of a gentleman to force us to go against our own will. If we refuse to have his reign and rule in our lives, then we will have to live with our own rule – forever.
That is not something we should wish on anyone. At Easter we are again reminded of a King who offers us new life, forgiveness of sins, and relationship with God forever. He gave everything for us so that we might get everything from him.
It is the deal of a lifetime. But it demands that we lay down our arms, put up the white flag of surrender, and bow before him. The King of the Universe does not force us to do that. He simply offers his nail-pierced hands as proof of his tremendous, mind-boggling love for us.
It is fully up to us if we will receive that love, or reject it. My prayer is that we all choose very wisely indeed.