One of the most beloved, yet most controversial, aspects of professional football is what they call the end zone celebration. The NFL has been notorious for having spawned things like the high step, fan jumping, and dunking a football over the goal post.
Football players have been known to do some of the most classic dance moves, ranging from the salsa to riverdance. Of course, many are moved by the moment to imitate the chicken dance or make up their own personal gyration. My personal favorite was the ever so popular “Icky Shuffle.”
The NFL has tried to pooh pooh such celebrations, but to no avail. Most of the viewership loves it. Beyond that, there is no stopping the excessive display of man as he proclaims his own greatness.
What we find on the television though is not just something that exists in the realm of professional football. It is something that lurks in the heart of every human being. Each of us, you might say, loves to proclaim our superiority, especially when it comes to our stance before God.
That is why this passage of Scripture was given. It is here to direct our attention to the peril of personal pride. As Jesus was teaching, he gave us this portion of Scripture to remind us that we ought not to have pride in our personal performance or spiritual achievement. He wants us to understand that entering the kingdom of God requires humility because it is based on God’s grace.
The passage before us divides nicely into three sections. In verse 9 we read about the people Jesus addresses. Then in verses 10-13 we read about the parable Jesus tells. And then it wraps up in verse 14 with the principle that he applies.
And each section reminds us that no one is so morally superior that he can attain eternal life.
Let’s begin by thinking about the people Jesus addresses.
I. The People he addresses 
Verse 9 tells us that Jesus directed this parable to a very specific audience. The people that he is addressing are not just identified as Pharisees. But they are described in two ways. They are described as people who “trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
For the last several weeks my daughters have been out riding their bikes. It doesn’t matter how cold it has been, they are ready for spring. And my 2 year old has been extra excited because she is old enough to ride the “big bike.” She’s trading in her tricycle for a two wheeler this year. And she is loving every minute of it. Of course, she has training wheels on right now. And, since she is still pretty young and new to the whole thing, she needs me to help her. Even though its got training wheels, she could easily pitch it over and fall off.
So I’ve been helping her get started. I hold on to the handle bars and pull her along so she “rides” her big bike. Then, she started to get the hang of the whole pedaling concept. So, she can pedal, and I can hold on to the back of the seat and just keep her steady.
But every once and a while she will say to me, “Daddy, I do it!” What she wants is for me to let go and for her to do it on her own. But she doesn’t have enough balance yet. The moment I let go, she’s going to fall.
You see, she’s trusting in her own ability. She believes that her skill is of this superior caliber that she doesn’t need me or the help I offer.
I want you to understand that is exactly what is being spoken of here in this passage. Jesus is addressing those people who trust in their own ability and think that they don’t need the help of God and his grace. There are people who think that their righteousness is of such a surperior caliber that they can stand on their own before God.
And let’s not be naïve. There are many people who are morally superior. There is nothing wrong with that. Actually, moral purity is a commendable thing! We want that! But the danger is that you trust in that goodness. The pitfall of becoming sanctified is that you loose sight of the fact that “grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Except for the grace of God, there go I!
What’s more, this moral superiority leads to moral snobbery. That’s the second thing that is spoken of here in verse 9.
These people Jesus is addressing were not only trusting in their own righteousness, but they were also treating others with contempt.”
You know that look that stuck up teenage girls give? The one where they lift their eyebrows at you and wrinkle up their nose? They look down on you because you are just so not cool. Or you can take the snobby rich person. They are so high class that they just can’t associate with you.
That’s what is going on here. These people were just so far above everyone else when it came to their ethical purity that they looked down on those who didn’t measure up. “I’m sorry, you only read one chapter of the Bible a day? You mean, you don’t fast or give a full tithe?”
A good illustration of this can be found in the book of Galatians. In the book of Galatians Paul talks about how once Peter drew back and would not associate with the Gentiles. It was a form of moral superiority. It was ethical snobbery. “I’m sorry, you are a Gentile? You mean you’ve never been circumcised? Oh well, you are just not clean enough for the likes of me. Us spiritual people will sit over here at this table because God actually loves us.”
Again, these people were extremely disciplined, and we shouldn’t knock them for it. The problem was that they did not see themselves in the right light.
The Apostle Paul gives us the right perspective. Paul was a super apostle. He wrote most of our New Testament. There can be no doubt that he was well advanced in his spirituality. But how did he act? He did not trust in that righteousness, like the people that are described here. He continued to recognize the extent of his depravity. And we should always say with him, “The good I want to do, this I do not do. But the evil I hate, this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!”
But now that we understand the people Jesus addresses, let’s talk about the parable.
II. The Parable he uses [10-13]
In verses 10-13 Jesus tells a parable and he contrasts a man who is morally superior and one who is a complete moral flunky. Both of these guys went up to the temple to pray.
Now, let’s remember that the Pharisee was the guy who was favored to win. If anyone was going to be accepted with God, the people in Jesus’ day would think that it was the Pharisee. You have to remember that the Pharisees were admired for their scrupulous lives and for their discipline. They wrote the book when it came to holiness. If they had lived in America, people would have made them into action figures and trading cards because they were held in such high regard.
And the Pharisee would be the one you would have wanted in your Sunday School class. Look at what he says, “God I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector.”
Mind you, there is nothing expressly wrong with this statement. We should be thankful that we have been kept from these kinds of lifestyles. What is wrong with this statement is that the Pharisee is taking credit for it, rather than giving the credit to God’s restraining grace.
He goes on to say, “I fast twice a week.” Now, the Israelites were only required to fast once a year. The Pharisees usually fasted only once a week. This guy is going far and above what was required. He says, “I give tithes of all that I get.” Hey, he even tithe’s his income tax return!
This guy is amazing in how meticulous he is in his spirituality. And we should applaud his discipline. But his failure is that he is putting all this forward as that which that should make him acceptable to God. His prayer is nothing but a boast of his moral accomplishments. He’s showing off his spiritual resume, and acting like a showboat. The football player will high step into the endzone to show off how great an athlete he is. This Pharisee is doing essentially the same thing.
The text kind of hints at this when it says, “I thank you that I’m not like this Tax Collector.” Verse 13 says that the tax collector “stood afar off.” The Pharisee might be pointing all the way across the temple and saying, “I’m glad I’m not like him over there!”
Anyway, the Pharisee is a picture of someone who is very right, yet very wrong. He’s one who thinks that his ability will bring God’s favor.
He stands in great contrast to the tax collector who hunkered down in a corner and could not even lift his head towards heaven. The tax collector is one who senses the weight of his sin. He understands that nothing good lies in him. As a matter of fact, verse 13 says that he beat his breast because of his agony. He is in such grief for his failures that he physically berates himself.
Focus in on what he says. The sinner’s prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” If we would translate it literally it would go something like this: God, be propitious to me, the sinner.” The word for merciful is the word that is used for propitiation. That was a word that is used in reference to the sacrificial system. It had to do with the removal of God’s wrath. He was acknowledging that he had offended God and provoked his anger and that there was nothing that he could do to change that. He acknowledged that if he was going to be right with the Lord God had to act on his behalf.
What’s more he called himself not just “a sinner,” but “the sinner.” He recognized himself as the chief of sinners; so engulfed in sin that it was his primary characteristic.
That’s the picture that Jesus paints. And in verse 14 he draws out the principle that he has been driving at and applies it.
III. The Principle he applies 
He says, “I tell you this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other one.” The word Justified is an important one. It is a legal word; drawn from the court system. It means to render or declare righteous.
And this is the real shocker. Because the Pharisee was the one who was more righteous. He was the one who everyone was placing their bets on. But it was this wretch who was proclaimed righteous.
Jesus expands on it by saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In other words, the way you enter God’s kingdom is on your face. The sole basis for life and salvation is the abundant mercy of God, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to gain it except grovel like poor beggars. We have forfeited every right to it and we are completely dependent upon the grace of God.
This is what most people miss. Very few are willing to make this confession. Very few are willing to admit that they are a sinner in need of God’s grace.
While in Israel this past week I had opportunity to witness this first hand. In two ways actually. I had several opportunities to share the gospel with people while over there. I got to put into practice some of the evangelism training that we’ve been receiving in our evangelism class. I would ask people, “Are you a good person?” And they inevitably would say that they were. Then I would take them through a couple of the Ten Commandments. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? They readily admitted to having committed such sins.
But when we got to the next part, the part that involves humility, that’s where people draw the line. If you came before God as Judge, would he find you guilty or innocent? Would he send you to heaven or hell? Everyone knows the right answer to those questions, but they will not answer them. Because to do so requires humility. It means you have to acknowledge that God does not accept you on the basis of your personal goodness.
It takes humility to say, “I am a guilty sinner justly deserving the wrath and curse of God, without hope in this world except through the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
Another thing I saw in Israel was the famous Wailing Wall. The Wailing Wall is that giant wall where all the orthodox Jews go to say their prayers. They line up against that wall and say their prayers while gyrating back and forth. I found out what that wall is so special to them. That wall is the closest that they can get to where the Holy of Holies is supposed to be. That wall is the foundation to the temple mount and it is the point that is nearest to where God was supposed to have dwelt in the temple.
And those Jews are crowding around that wall because they are trying their hardest to get as close as they can to God. Actually, there is a tunnel that you can go through that takes you under the temple mount. And in that tunnel you can have even more proximity to the Holy of Holies. And it is said that there is a long waiting list of Jews who have signed up so that they can get in there. And when I took the tour through that tunnel, sure enough, there were a few Jewish people standing right at that point offering their prayers.
But I thought to myself, they got it all wrong! If they only knew what the Holy of Holies really was, they would not try to get close to it at all! If they really knew God to be holy, they would find a distant place and they would turn their faces away in shame.
In the OT only one person could enter into that place; and that once a year. And the only time he could do so was after he had been purified by means of the blood sacrifice. And he didn’t even go in with all this usual attire. The high priest was normally to be decked out with all kinds of glamorous attire. But when he went into the holy of holies, he was to take off the garments of splendor and color, and he was to go in with only the most bare essentials.
That was to be a picture of his poverty. It was to display that he could only come to God with the pomp of his greatness. He could only approach in the clothing of complete humility.
The lesson we should learn is the one Jesus teaches us right here. If you want to have a place in God’s kingdom—if you want to enjoy eternal life with him—then you must come humbly, acknowledging your need for his grace and forgiveness.
The good news is that he has provided a propitiation for your sins. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his death God’s wrath has been appeased, and through his blood you can draw near to God. The one who is humble enough to confess Him and acknowledge his need for him, will go home justified.
Scientists tell us that there are certain kinds of insects that live under water with what they call an “external lung.” What happens is that these bugs gather a pocket of air under their wings. With this air bubble held in place, some of these insects have been known to descend up to 100 feet into some of the murkiest of waters.
Even though he may be plunged into an environment that might be completely adverse to his state of living, he is able to thrive. And all this is owning to his little supply of oxygen that he keeps with him.
The Rev WT Dorward once expressed that the life of a Christian parallels that little creature. We are people who are typically submerged in an environment that is adverse to our way of living. The world in which we live is such that it would easily snuff out our faith if it were not for the grace of prayer. By means of prayer we have the ability to descend into its putrid depths and remain uncontaminated. We are able to remain immune to the evils around us because we always have by means of prayer a fresh supply of heavenly grace.
This illustration corresponds well to our passage of scripture today. The opening of our passage says that this passage of Scripture is here to help us “always to pray and not lose heart.” In other words, Jesus knows that our prayer bubble can pop.
And I think we will all admit that our prayer life is not what it ought to be. But if you listen to what our passage says, I believe you will be motivated to pray more often. Jesus provides here encouragement for us to persist in prayer.
In order to bolster our prayer life, Jesus first points us to God's goodness. One of the key aspects of a persistent prayer life is understanding that God is good.
I. God’s is good [1-6]
We see this in the first 6 verses, and we see it by way of contrast. Jesus begins by telling us a parable about a woman who gets justice from this unjust judge.
Now, I’m not sure you can familiarize yourself with this completely, but back in those days political figures were not very trustworthy. They were often corrupt. And here was a man who didn’t give a hoot about justice. And this woman, who represents the poor and oppressed, has only one recourse to gain what she wants: Nag!
It may be that her persistence even rose to the point of violence. I actually like the way the ESV translates verse 5. It says, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” Some of the other versions have the unjust judge saying something like, “I will give her justice, lest she wear me out” or “lest she weary me.” But the original language has more brutality contained in it. A literal translation would be “I will give her justice, lest she give me a black eye!”
You can imagine this little old lady coming in to this judge’s presence, each time getting more and more feisty. First she approaches calmly. Then the next day she falls on her face and enters her lament through tears. The next day she increases her volume. She begins to become angered and she starts to pull on his jacket as she pleads with him. The next day she pokes him in the chest. Then the next day she’s so earnest that she’s beating him with her purse!
I think the text indicates that Grandma got a little riled with this man and made him feel threatened!
Jesus brings out the contrast in verses 6 and 7. He says, “Here what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”
In other words, Jesus says, “Look. God isn’t like this judge. God isn’t corrupt. He loves justice. He is good and it is in keeping with his character to do that which is right. How do you think He will react to your prayers?”
If this is the case, then what stops us from going to the Lord in prayer? We do not have to beat him with our purses or upbraid him for not acting. God is willing to act. He is zealous for righteousness. He is swift to do good. So what keeps us from praying?
I might even say that God is so good that he almost begs us to pray. Jesus is telling us in this passage that you cannot exhaust God. He’s basically saying, “Keep on asking God.” And, you know, there are other places in Scripture that tell us the same thing. There is the passage in 1 Thessalonians 5 that says, “Pray without ceasing.”
Then there is that passage in Matthew that says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” That passage should actually be translated, “keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.”
And Jesus also says in the book of John, “Anything you ask in my name, I will give to you.” I think that’s his way of saying, “Go ahead, bring it on. Give it a try. See if I won’t answer your prayer.”
I believe Jesus is saying that God is so good that he wants us to bombard him with our prayers over and over. God doesn’t mind being nagged in prayer. He is good and he wants us to seek him for that which is good.
I might say that it is almost an insult to God if we do not pray with such fervor. Perhaps I might even go so far as to say that it is idolatry. Because if we do not pray with constant beckoning, are we not saying that the Lord is not good? How about praying for our president or for the state of our country. If we lag off in our prayers, are we not essentially saying that God is not good and will not do what we ask? And is that not Idolatry? Are we not creating another god—one who is not good? Our laxity in prayer expresses that nature of God has been distorted. Our theology at that point is wrong and we’ve essentially fashioned another god in our minds!
The only way to correct that is to get our practice to line up with our theology. The remedy is to remind ourselves that God is good! Forgive me if I sound like a health and wealth preacher, but we have to remember that God is one who will open up the heavens for us. If we are praying for righteousness, God will hear that prayer.
We must act out our theology. If we believe that God is good and just, then let us make our petitions. And let us make them with constancy. Let’s show the world that we believe in the goodness of God by how many times we pray, “Thy will be done!”
But you’ll notice that this is not the only impetus we have to be praying. We are encouraged to pray, not just because God is good, but because he is loving.
II. God’s election is sure
Look at verse 7 again. Jesus says, “Will not God give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night.”
Now, you have to remember that the Lord’s language is inspired. There is never a throw away word or a random string of idle words thrown together. And since that is true, we need to take note that he uses a specific term in this verse.
He doesn’t just call us his people. He could have easily said “his church.” But he didn’t. He specifically denominates us as “his elect.” Why is this? I believe it is to heighten our inclination to prayer. For if we remember that we are the ones that he has chosen from all eternity—the ones whom he sovereignly selected out of all the peoples of the earth, then we will realize that God has a special place in his heart for us.
This is to take God’s goodness and justice one step farther. It is to realize that his justice and his goodness are expressed towards us in particular. Out of all the people of the earth, there are a select number that have his special attention. And everything he does in this world is done specifically for those people.
Now, those of you who are married, your spouse is you “chosen one,” so to speak, right? She is the one you have chosen for yourself, and she has a special place in your heart, doesn’t she? You regard her with a special attention and you have a zeal for her that extends above and beyond that of other people.
That’s the way it is with the Lord. As a matter of fact, in the OT God’s people are referred to as “the apple of his eye.” They are the ones that he has chosen and, as a result, they are the ones who have his special attention. In other places Scripture reminds us that all that He does is for their good.
You know, we read history all wrong. We do history and we study different places and different kings who ruled here or there. But that’s not the way we should really understand history. History, as you all know, is HIS STORY. And everything that happens in this world is simply setting the scene for what God is doing for his church.
We typically read history from a secular perspective. We read about kings and rulers and all their edicts. We read about their battles and their struggles. But we rarely ever understand that God is ordering and ordaining all these events so that his church might be provided for.
Why is it that the Lord allowed the Roman Empire, that hideously wicked kingdom, to advance across the western world? It was so that everything could be in place for the advancement of the gospel at just the right time. The Apostle Paul was able to travel throughout the known world because the Roman Empire had established a superb transit system and a rather stable environment that allowed for ease of travel.
Why was it that the Lord caused such turmoil during the time of the Reformation? Why did he allow three wars to break out between the King of France and the King of Spain during a 27 year period? Well, I believe it was in answer to the prayers of a certain man named William Ferrell, who lived in Switzerland! The conflict of those two nations diverted the path of a young man who was seeking to go to Strasbourg in order to study and enjoy a quiet life of seclusion for writing and intellectual pursuits.
But his pathway was interrupted by a battle that was raging. So he had to take a detour, which led him right into the city of Geneva. And when Farrell heard that this man had come to his city, he went to meet him. And, the end of the matter is that he persuaded this man to leave off his dreams of Strasbourg and remain in the city to help further the reformation of the town.
If God had not raised up those two kings and allowed them to clash, we probably would have never of heard of John Calvin.
God is acting in this world, and all that he does is on behalf of his elect. He has loved them from the beginning of time, he has ordained the life of his Son for their redemption, and he is orchestrating the events of history specifically for them and their benefit.
And ought that not encourage us to pray? We can bow our heads in confidence to say, “God, you move nations like I move furniture. And knowing how easy it is for you to do such things, I pray that your church would be purged of evil. Lord, I want you to build her up and establish her in purity. Fix that broken marriage, or let that apostate church somehow get a gospel loving preacher installed in the pulpit.
Because we are the apple of his eye, we should be inclined to pray and not give up.
But there’s another reason that is found in our text. The fact that God is good and loving should encourage us to pray. But the fact that God is strong should also be another motivator.
III. God is strong
Look at the last verse that we read. In verse 8 Jesus says, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
What’s Jesus saying here? He’s certainly not saying that there will not be any believers when he comes. We know from the rest of Scripture that there most certainly will be. What he is saying is that it will likely seem like there aren’t any believers left. Unbelieving people are going to abound, and of those who profess faith, many will apostatize.
In other words, God’s people are going to be outnumbered. And, as a result, they are going to face extreme opposition. They are going to be pressured at every point to turn on Christ and capitulate to the broader society.
In other words, given the pressures all around, they are going to need persevering faith. But how does one obtain persevering faith? It is through persevering prayer! Persevering faith will only come about by means of persevering prayer!
Just this week I heard a report from the Washington Times that Kim Jong Ill, that madman they call the leader of North Korea, put 33 Christians to death. He ordered their execution, calling them enemies of the state. These 33 saints were partners with a Christian missionary who was responsible for setting up over 500 churches in North Korea. Imagine that, 500 churches. And this execution was nothing more than a declaration that Kim Jong Ill will not tolerate Christianity permeating his country. He’d like nothing more than to stamp it completely out.
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith in North Korea? I’m sure he will. Because these monstrosities have only driven people to pray all the more for their land.
What was it that gave the church such power in its early days? Well, if you flip through the book of Acts, you will find that it is prayer! In the opening chapter it tells us that the disciples were huddled together in their Jerusalem apartment. What were they doing there? Luke tells us that they were “devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). Then in chapter 2 it tells us that the people were devoted to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (2:42).
Then in chapter 4 there is the great prayer meeting that, when ended, shook the city! They cried out to the Sovereign Lord, who made heaven and earth. They recognized that they were in the very city that killed Christ. And they prayed that the Lord would grant to his servants (in the face of such ominous circumstances) the ability to speak his word with all boldness!
In chapter 13 it says that while the people of God were worshipping—which no doubt would have included a time of prayer-- the Lord told them to set apart Paul and Barnabas for missionary work.
The book of Acts is not just a record of how the gospel went forward in amazing and powerful ways despite the opposition it faced, it is a record of how the people of God persevered in prayer.
Some of you might have heard the story of Charles Spurgeon. There once was a certain person who asked him what it was that made his ministry so successful. He preached to crowds of 5,000 people each week. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people came to Christ as a result of his ministry. Churches were planted, schools were built, orphans were taken care of. It is only natural that one would want to know the secret to his success.
Spurgeon simply turned and led the man down to the church’s fellowship hall. He opened the doors and there sat 300 people praying for the service that was about to begin. Spurgeon turned to the man and said, “This is the secret to our success.”
The church grows and is sustained, not because we have a personal power or aptitude. It is sustained only by the hand of God. Our milk is his grace and we will thrive only when he extends it towards us. That is why we must be in prayer.
The Queen of England once said that she feared the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of Scotland. Scotland was protected, not by swords and shields, but by the sovereign hand of God. The Reformation took root in Scotland—and this despite the vehement attacks of Mary I (otherwise known as Bloody Mary) and Mary Queen of Scots. How did it come about? It much due to the fact that people prayed. God raised up great men who stood boldly against tyrants and profaneness in the church. John Knox himself was known to cry out, “Lord, give me Scotland or I’ll die.”
How is it that that the church has survived all through its history? How is it that the church will survive in our day? Will there be persevering faith in this land? Only if there are people who are persevering prayer!
And what of our church? Will Providence church exist in 20-30 years? Will it fade into oblivion? Or will it go the way of most churches and be eaten up by the world? What’s keeping the elders and I from diving head long in to the vast abyss of liberalism that surrounds us? I dare say that its survival is directly dependent upon how you today are praying to God on her behalf!
If anything, think of your own households! What power do you have to ensure your kids grow to love the Lord and follow him all their days? And how can you be sure that they will continue to walk with Christ and not turn aside with the rest of the legions who are turning their backs on the church? Absolutely none! You can lock them away in a room and play Christian music and Bible verses through speakers all you want, but even that is no guarantee that they will live to fear God. Their weak and tender hearts are in the hand of God and we can only ask the Lord that he would make them to be faithful.
When Christ comes back, will he find faith on earth? Such is a question that should remind us of how weak we are. And it should lead us run to the one who is strong all the more.
The Church of Christ owes much to its patriarchs in the faith. Most especially to Augustine. He was one of the foremost figures in Church history. He defined for us the doctrine of depravity and defended it against the attacks of Pelagius and the Pelagians. His legacy lives on nearly 1500 years after his demise. Yet, let us not forget that this great Saint attributed his walk with Christ to his lowly mother, Monica. Behind this great patriarch was a loving mother who never stopped praying for her son.
We could have easily lost the faith and all become humanists. But there was one lowly woman who remembered that God was good. The salvation of God’s elect was much due to some obscure lady who was not afraid to come to the Lord time and time again.
Let us take this to heart and remember that Christ calls us to do the same. We must pray, and we must not lose heart.
In 1973 a guy by the name Gary Kildall wrote the first popular operating system for personal computers. It was called CP/M. According to writer Phillip Fiorini, IBM approached Kildall in 1980 about developing the operating system for IBM PCs. But Kildall snubbed IBM at a crucial meeting.
The day IBM came calling, Kildall chose to fly his new airplane. The frustrated IBM executives then turned to a guy by the name of Bill Gates, who had founded a small software company called Microsoft. Fourteen years later Bill Gates was worth more than 8 billion dollars.
This story provides for us an illustration for our text today. For it is a parallel to the idea of God’s kingdom. Just like Kidall, many people do not realize how big God’s kingdom will become. For a lot of people, because it seems so completely obscure, involve themselves with other forms of entertainments. They give no thought to being a part of God’s kingdom because it seems so completely irrelevant.
This should not be the case though. The kingdom of God is a reality that deserves our utmost attention. The Scripture certainly makes a big deal of it. For instance, you can find the phase “kingdom of God” used over three hundred times throughout the pages of Scripture. That makes it one of the Bible’s most prominent themes.
For again, it may be something that, like Kidall and the operating system market, we completely miss. For all practical purposes, it doesn’t seem like a reality with which we need to be overly concerned. Because we look around and we don’t see any significant reality of it.
That is why this passage of Scripture exists. Here in this Scripture Luke wants to impress upon us the fact that the kingdom of God has most certainly broken into this realm. Because it has, it is imperative that we enter into this kingdom and seek to remain faithful to it.
In order to help us in this regard, Luke expresses something of the presence of this kingdom in verses 20-21.
I. Its presence [20-21]
In these verses we are told about a time when a Pharisee questioned Jesus about when the kingdom of God would come. Now, I can’t help but think that this would have been a little awkward for Jesus. After all, he had been talking about it for quite some time. The whole of his ministry pointed to the fact that he was ushering in the kingdom. He had been doing miracles and casting out demons. These things were overt expressions that the kingdom of God was in fact breaking into the world.
All these things pointed to the fact that Jesus was the King! They pointed to the fact that the kingdom was indeed right in their very midst!
Of course, there was some obscurity. For the kind of kingdom Jesus was bringing was not your typical kingdom. It wasn’t a kingdom that would come with armies and tanks and chariots and swords. It was a different kind of kingdom. It was a kingdom of humility and grace. It was a kingdom that was essentially spiritual in nature. That’s why he clarifies it by saying, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, “Look, here it is.” For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.
Some translations make this say, “It is within you.” But that’s a little be hard because the Pharisees were not typically people who accepted Christ into their lives. The better reading, I think, is that this kingdom is in their midst.
In other words, Jesus is saying, “I’m standing right in front of you. I’m the King! My kingdom exists wherever I am and wherever I am acknowledged as Lord. And you don’t get it because my kingdom is not about muscle and brute strength. It is about grace & redemption. It is about the reign I have, not so much over a land, but over your heart.”
I think that this can be compared to the story that is told about Albert Einstein. Einstein was once talking with a young lady and enjoying a fine conversation. When they were done, he asked her what her name was. Despite all his great knowledge and great understanding, Einstein was oblivious to the fact that the lady with whom he was talking was his own daughter!
That’s essentially the point that is made in these two verses. Despite all their learning and great knowledge of the Scriptures, these Pharisees were oblivious to the fact that they were staring their King right in the face.
But so many people miss Christ’s kingdom because they don’t realize the significance of Jesus. It certainly had to be the case for Theophilus. Remember that’s who Luke was writing to. If Theophilus was a Roman, what would he be wanting in a ruler. He’d likely want a guy who has some grit. He’d want a true Ceasar. The Roman mindset is one of power & might.
And there isn’t much that’s changed over the years. Who do we want to be our sovereign? It’s not typically the guy who is standing by the punch bowl.
It is true, there’s not much when it comes to Jesus. He doesn’t seem like much. Scripture even says that he had “no beauty that we should behold him.” Jesus doesn’t parade himself around in regal attire. And, to be frank, everything about him seems downright obscure, if not altogether weak.
But what we see about Jesus should not deceive us. The king has arrived. And his kingdom has been inaugurated in him.
The important thing for us is that we must make sure we do not make the same mistake. Jesus isn’t much to behold, at least, not at the moment. His kingdom isn’t armed with warheads and tanks and vastly arrayed armies. But the kingdom of Christ has broken into this world. The presence of his kingdom is real because Christ himself is real. And, if you want to be a part of that kingdom, you need to make sure that you are aligned with the king.
We must not forget, like this Pharisee must have, what is recorded in the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel records a vision of a little rock that crashes into the feet of a gigantic statue. And that little rock begins to grow. And that little pebble eventually turns into a gigantic Mountain.
Right here you have the pebble. Jesus is that tiny, and seemingly insignificant rock. In him we have the initiation of this kingdom, and we ought not to miss it because he doesn’t possess the power and the regality that we would much prefer.
But you will notice that Luke continues to develop this whole understanding of the kingdom for us. After making mention of the presence of his kingdom, he expresses something of its plight.
II. Its plight [22-25]
In verses 22-25 Jesus turns to his disciples, and he explains that this kingdom will not develop very quickly. As a matter of fact, this kingdom will exist, so to speak, under the cross. The kingdom that he is bringing will go through much suffering.
In verse 22 Jesus says, “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.” Now he is talking about the glorious coming of Christ at the end of the ages. The time when he comes in judgment to trounce his enemies. The idea of the “Son of Man” gets at this. Jesus uses that title “Son of Man” 4 times in this passage. And that draws from the book of Daniel. Daniel had a vision of “the Son of Man” coming on the clouds. It was a vision of the might and majesty of the Messiah coming to establish his kingdom in power.
And Jesus says, “The days are coming when you will long for that day. You will long for Jesus to come again. But you won’t see it.”
Why are you going to long for it? It is because you are going to be suffering. You are going to be oppressed. You are going to be persecuted. You are going to want your enemies to be lifted off of you and you are going to want reprieve from their hatred.”
Then, in the next verse he talks about people pointing here and there and going after false messiahs or false appearing. In other words, people are going to be eager for Christ to return. They are going to be anticipating it and desiring it. But, in verse 24, He says don’t believe them because my coming will be obvious to everyone. It will be like lightening streaking across the sky. There is going to be no mistaking it because everyone is going to witness it.
Then in verse 25 he says, before that happens you have to understand that I’m going to die. Jesus says before he can come in that glory, he must “suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
Now, what is he doing here? He is preparing his disciples, isn’t he? He’s just said, “I’m the king!” But he wants them to understand that his kingdom is going to be established in a certain way. It is going to come through the cross. And there is going to be a certain amount of time where this kingdom exists without its king visibly present. And his kingdom will seem like a real loser because it is oppressed.
Let’s go back to that vision in Daniel about the pebble becoming a grand mountain. It seems so regal, doesn’t it? But is that the way Christ’s kingdom is? Is that what it looks like? Not at all. Everywhere we look, it seems like it is being stamped out.
We are experiencing this in our own day. As we see the secularist agenda advancing, it almost seems like secularism is strangling the life out of the kingdom of God. We can look all around the world and what do we see? We see nothing but persecution and attack.
Its true. It almost always seems like evil powers are pounding upon us like were a bunch of ants being squashed. And the question probably arises, “Why should I join this bunch?”
Of course, for Luke’s audience, this would be important. I mean, it would be silly for anyone to think that they should become a Christian if their king were not around. People would be like, “Your kind died? Why do I want to join in with you guys?”
But this is Luke’s way of telling them, “Everything is going according to plan!”
For us today, the same thing is being communicated. Everything is going according to plan. For those of us who are Christians, it is an encouragement to us to not lose heart. We are supposed to be the underdogs in this fight. That’s the way Christ has ordained it.
And for those who are not part of this kingdom, don’t be fooled. Just because we are oppressed, doesn’t mean we won’t win out in the end.
As a matter of fact, that’s what we see in the last portion of our text. After talking about the kingdom’s presence and plight, Jesus goes on to talk about its penetration and perfection.
III. Its penetration & perfection [26-37]
In verses 26-27 Jesus tells us how His rule, which is now spiritual in nature, penetrates into the visible realm in a powerful and visible way. He begins to prophesy about his coming again, expressing that it will be just like the days of Noah and Lot. People will be going about their normal everyday affairs—eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, then right in the middle of it, the Son of Man will appear in Judgement.
It will come upon them suddenly and with great power. It will take them by surprise and overwhelm them.
Now, some people think what Jesus says here applied to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. That’s because it talks about the one being on the housetop and in the field. They are not to dawdle and go back for their things. They need to flee while they have the chance or they will be caught in the Roman invasion.
I will confess that I’m friendly to that idea. There are certainly some things that seem to fit. And there can be no doubt that destruction of Jerusalem was no doubt a definitive act of God where the Rule of Christ was manifested. It was the gavel of God coming down on Apostate Judaism. In this case, the visible reign of Christ was manifested in a stark and penetrating way. It was God’s way of saying, “MY kingdom will not tolerate unbelief, nor will it be limited to a certain nation or region (i.e. the land of Israel).”
But I am also of the opinion that what is said here points to a greater reality. And you cannot read this without being reminded of the great and final Day of the Lord. The destruction of Jerusalem was only a foreshadowing of the ultimate day when the Son of Man would come again on the clouds to perfect his kingdom.
If what is said here does apply to Jerusalem, we must remember that it is only an indication that the Kingdom of God will reach its consummation. Christ’s rule will penetrate visibly into this world when he appears and brings the final judgment.
Now, I should mention this. I understand that there is a stream of interpretation that takes this passage to refer to a rapture of the saints. Some read verses 34 and 35, where it talks about two people grinding grain and one will be taken and the other left. There will be two in bed, one will be taken and the other left. Some read that and think it means that the one who is a believer will be taken up into heaven and the unbeliever will be left here on earth.
I’d like to suggest that this is not the meaning. For one, if you compare it to those in Noah and Lot’s day, you’ll understand that the ones who were left were the ones who received grace! The ones who were taken were the ones who faced judgment. The people of Noah’s day were swept away in the flood and only 8 people were left. Sure, Lot was taken out of the city, but he was left in that Sodom & Gomorrah was completely taken out by the sulfuric rain that came down upon them.
This fits with the last verse we read too. The disciples ask, “Where are they taken?” And Jesus answers by saying, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Now, that doesn’t sound like heaven to me! It sounds more like judgment.
All of this though, is a reminder of how important it is for you to be in this kingdom. Just because it lacks any real luster now, does not mean that it will be that way forever. What is said here is a reminder that Christ will be victorious, and those who are on the wrong side of that kingdom will meet with a terrible end.
If Christ is not now your King, then you must know that his kingdom will eventually prevail. This prophecy is a warning. If you persist, then you will be judged and you will not enjoy being among those who enjoy life and everlasting peace.
These words are, then, not so much indications of judgment, but invitations of grace. You do not have to be one who is swept away because of your unbelief. Rather, you can enter his kingdom. If you will simply acknowledge him as king and submit to him as Lord, you can have a place in it.
As we said at the beginning: Kidall did not know what the operating system market would become. And eventually, he missed out. But not so for Bill Gates. Eventually, he had the opportunity to enjoy the fullness of it.
Let that be a lesson to you. May you be one who does not miss out on the ultimate expression of the kingdom of God because of its present obscurity.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.