The Future is NOW

Tony Sammut   -  

This past Sunday’s sermon unpacked the way that Jesus thought about and taught about “eternal life”.  Though we often think of those words in terms of a reality that we’ll experience “some day, one day” in the future, Jesus was actually bringing – inaugurating – eternal life into the world here and now – today!  As you read through chapters 18-21 of Luke’s gospel this week, you’ll find that this is a recurring theme in many of the stories.  The future is now!  Eternal life is here!  And Jesus is calling us to live in it, and live it out.

Day 1: Luke 18

The rich ruler was hoping to impress Jesus with his piety; perhaps even get some “celeb status” by being noticed publicly by a “celebrity” rabbi.  Instead he went away disappointed and disillusioned.  Not just because Jesus wasn’t impressed.  Not even because his plan backfired on him.  But because his own definition of eternal life – one that he had based his life upon – had just been torn apart.  Jesus was telling him: “Eternal life isn’t just about the future.  It’s about the present.  It’s about living in and living out the values and the ways of God.  It’s about bringing those values and those ways into life and into the world.”  And the truth was, this man had lived a life that valued himself.  His own security.  His own blessing.  His own reputation.  His own eternal destiny.  And these were the very things that kept him from seeing the value of the Eternal Life that Jesus offers.

Spend some time to reflect and pray about the rich ruler in you.  Consider the questions we were asked in this week’s sermon…

What things of “this world” are you clinging onto too tightly?

What do you have in abundance that you could share or give away to those who don’t?

Day 2: Luke 19:1-27

It’s no accident that Luke placed the story of Zacchaeus almost immediately after the story of the rich ruler in his account.  Though each of these stories told encounters that were significant enough to stand alone, they speak even louder in light of their contrasts.  The rich young ruler was a pious adherent to Judaism.  Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a rebel to his religion and a betrayer of his people.  The rich ruler was trying to get Jesus’ attention and praise.  Zacchaeus was doing all he could just to see Jesus.  The rich ruler (it’s safe to assume) couldn’t bring himself to follow Jesus words and give away his wealth.  Zacchaeus did it that very day.  The rich ruler left the encounter sad and disillusioned.  By the end of Zacchaeus’ encounter, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.”  We will never know the name of the rich ruler.  But Zacchaeus’ name has gone down in history because of his response of faith.  Salvation had come to him – and that did not simply mean something that he would get after he died.  It was his that very day, because his life was demonstrating the same kind of humble, generous, self-giving love that he had received from Jesus.

Spend some time reflecting on the contrast between these two men – the rich ruler and Zacchaeus.  Consider where you might find bits of your own tendencies among these comparisons. 

Ask Jesus: What is it you want me to do today to respond to you and to live out your salvation ways?

Day 3: Luke 19:28-20:8

As this week’s readings continue to unpack what Jesus meant exactly when he spoke about things like, “eternal life”, “kingdom of God/Heaven”, and “salvation,” a few distinctions are becoming clear.  There is a distinction of timing.  Is “eternal life” something that we experience only after our earthly lives, or does it begin now, in the midst of our lives?  There is a distinction of place/proximity.  Is the “Kingdom of God” some place “a-way up there”, or are God and His Kingdom taking root all around us, down here.  But there’s also the distinction of quality.  When we talk about “salvation”, what exactly did Jesus come to save us from?  And what did He come to save us for?  This third distinction is the one Luke addresses in today’s reading.  And he does it through another lesson in contrasts.

Crowds surround Jesus as he approaches the city gates riding on a donkey.  And the crowds begin to shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  You see, in Jesus’ very intentional approach toward the city, he was exciting some very deep-seated expectations in the people about what “salvation” meant.  About who the “Messiah” would be, and what exactly he would come to do.  They called him “King!”, and cried out, “Peace!”.  They assumed that Jesus would come into the city, raise up an army to throw out Rome, and take the throne of Jerusalem to reign over God’s people in political peace and prosperity for the nation.

But even in the midst of their cheering, Jesus begins to weep over the city.  That’s right, weep.  He says, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

The crowds were looking for a peace that was achieved through military might and political power-plays.  They were looking for a peace that came from a violent overthrowing of another power.  They were looking for an external peace (political, economic, etc.) that they assumed would bring them internal peace (freedom from fear, anxiety, uncertainty, etc.).

Jesus was indeed coming, as the Messiah – the promised Saviour – to bring Peace.  And there would be a battle.  There would be a violent act to overthrow an oppressive power.  But none of this would happen through politics or military.  It would happen through the self-sacrificing act of Jesus on a cross.  And the Peace that would come from that was not an external peace that hopefully brought some internal benefits.  It was a Peace that would be birthed deep within us.  A Peace so real that it could not be put to death, no matter the political or economic situation.  No matter any situation or circumstance.  Not even death itself.

Take a moment to reflect: Where do I most often go to or look to to try to find more peace?  Am I trying to change/control/manipulate my external circumstances in any way in the hope that my internal peace levels will change?

Ask Jesus to speak into this matter for you, and to show you in a specific way how He has come to give you a whole new Peace – one that is birthed within you, and remains no matter what circumstances you are in.


Day 4: Luke 20:9-47

Jesus continues to confront and redefine our understanding of the “Kingdom of God” and “eternal life” in the encounters Luke describes in today’s reading.  In one of these encounters, he’s questioned about taxes.  And it’s less than a question really, and more of a trap.  If Jesus says, “No, it’s not right to pay taxes to Caesar,” he exposes himself as a revolutionary and becomes an open enemy of Caesar, worthy of death in Rome’s eye.  But if he says, “Yes, it is right to pay taxes to Caesar,” then he exposes himself as a spineless leader and false Messiah, without the courage to stand up to Rome.  The Pharisees would be happy with either option.  But of course, in Jesus’ brilliant response, he not only avoids this shallow trap, but makes a bold claim about the nature of the Kingdom of God.  Had Jesus said a simple “no” in defiant opposition to Rome, he would have equated the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of Caesar.  That answer may have claimed a different King than Caesar, but it would have played by the same rules as Caesar’s kingdom – exciting violent opposition against a violent oppressor.  However, had Jesus said a simple “yes”, he would have conceded that the Kingdom of God is so purely spiritual, that it has no real earthly impact on our day to day.  And what would be the point of a Kingdom like that?

However, in Jesus’ response, He was describing a Kingdom that did not play by the same rules as Caesar’s Kingdom, but one that is no less real or near.  It is ruled by a King who is so great that He is not threatened by coins with another man’s inscription.  Its currency isn’t money.  It’s worship — a worship that “gives to God what is God’s” in every part of life.

Ask Jesus: “You have given me this day.  So how can I give this day back to you?  What does it look like for me to worship you as Lord today?”

Day 5: Luke 21

When many people read chapter 21 of Luke’s gospel, they read it as a description of events that will take place at the END – the final days before Jesus returns, history as we know it comes to its final conclusion, and the New Heaven and Earth are fully ushered in.  To be sure, Luke (and Jesus!) did believe that that will one day happen (See Acts 1:7-11), but that’s just not the end Jesus is describing in this chapter.  He’s describing the end of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem.  And we know that for several reasons.  For starters, the entire discourse started from a question about the temple (vv. 5-7).  Not only that, but Jesus has been hinting (more than hinting, really) about the impending destruction of Jerusalem many times leading up to this conversation (see 19:41-44, 19:45-48, and 20:9-19).  And if you’re still not convinced, it’s hard to reason your way past Jesus’ own promise that “this generation – i.e. the generation who was alive when he first spoke those words – will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (21:32).

And they did happen within a generation – at around 70 AD, when Rome crushed an attempted uprising in Jerusalem, razing the city and crumbling its glorious temple to dust.

Perhaps it’s more exciting and mysterious to read this chapter as a list of “signs of the Second Coming”, but just because these events have already happened doesn’t make them insignificant for us.  In fact, the reason this event (the destruction of the temple) is so significant, is because it was a final vindication – as if we needed one beyond Jesus rising from the dead! – of all that Jesus did and all that He is for us.  He is the New Temple – the place where we meet God.  He is the One Sacrifice, in whom we find true and full forgiveness.   And He is Lord – the One who remains glorious and powerful, even when the temple was brought to the ground.

The temple had been the primary visible sign of God’s presence and reign among them.  But that sign had been replaced by the crucified and risen Jesus.  And even now, we are meant to look to that same Jesus to be for us God’s presence and power.  Even now, when we struggle to see any other signs of God’s presence or God’s good reign around us – when it feels like those indicators of his goodness are crumbled to pieces – we have a risen and glorious Lord.  One who is both seated on the clouds and at the same time near us and with us, reigning over His Kingdom and working it out among us.  So, we will do well to listen to Jesus words – especially when we’re having a hard time seeing – to “watch and pray”, to loosen our grip on those things that we tend to look to to give us our sense that “all is well”, and keep alert to the ways Jesus is bringing about resurrection life all around us.

Ask Jesus to make you more alert to his presence and voice today.  Ask Him to show you how He wants to bring his resurrection life into the midst of your ordinary life today.