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How to live a successful life - Luke 19:11-27

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 7th August 2005.

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Just imagine for a moment that you had been elected onto a very exclusive human committee. This committee spends all of its time analysing the lives of individuals who had just died to see if their life had been a success. Now you get to see everything. Everything they have ever thought and everything they have ever done. You get to read their emails, you get to browse through their diaries. You get a print out of all the places in the world they have ever visited and all the people in the world they have ever had a conversation with. And you even get access to their secret personnel file at work. You even get to see everything. Now how do you decide if someoneís life has been successful? If you were on this committee what criteria would you use to evaluate whether a personís existence had either been a waste of time or had been fundamentally successful?

If you pay a visit to your local WH Smith and pick up a selection of glossy magazines it is not difficult to work out what our culture deems to be successful. If you are a bloke the message is loud and clear. Magazine like Loaded, GQ and FHM all declare the same message. Build up your muscles, improve your sexual technique and drive fast cars. And if you do all these things you may consider your life to be successful. That is the message from the male glossy magazines!

And what about the women? What messages do magazines like Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire repeatedly send out month by month to the women of Britain? Tone up your body, improve your sexual technique and make sure you ultimately marry one of those blokes who drives a fast car (for all the shopping)! And if you do, you may consider your life to be successful.

Every day we are told by our culture what it means to be successful. And every day we are shown examples of people who apparently have walked the path to glory and who have now been honoured with the sacred title Ďsuccessful.í

And yet according to the Bible this whole way of defining success is completely mistaken. And the reason is fundamentally because it fails to take into account one guaranteed future event. What do magazines like Loaded, GQ and Cosmopolitan all have in common? They never discuss the future return of Jesus Christ. And yet blatantly they still offer people guidelines on how to live a successful life.

So hereís my point this evening Ė and I want to show you this from the parable of the ten minas - in order to have an accurate definition of success and so therefore in order to know how to life a successful life now we must consider what will take place when Jesus Christ returns visibly from heaven, which the Bible says is a guaranteed future event.

And letís be honest we all want to be successful donít we? Who would like on their gravestone the immortal words "Martyn Reynolds was a failure?" Or what about if you have an obituary in your local newspaper. Do you seriously want the headline? ĎLee McMunn born 1978, died 2064. His life was a failure.í

No one wants to be a failure. No one sets out at the beginning of their life and writes down a personal mission statement that reads (can you imagine giving it to your mum in the kitchen): "In my life I want to be successful at nothing." There is a desire within all of us to be successful. And I think that is a healthy desire. But in order to achieve our desire we must understand what true success really is.

So if youíve got your bibles open letís examine Luke 19, the parable of the ten minas, and hear how Jesus Christ defines success.



This parable was originally told to a group of people who were expecting the kingdom of God to come at once. You see that in verse 11. Jesus has just entered the town of Jericho, a town that was just 17 miles from Jerusalem Ė which is where Jesus is ultimately heading. He started his journey in 9:51, where he resolutely set out for Jewish capital. And in Luke 19 he reaches Jericho, where he decided to stay at the house of man called Zacchaeus and where he declared those famous words, loved by Christians everywhere, (19:10) For the son of man came to seek and to save what was lost. To a group of people who thought it was scandalous for Jesus to even speak with someone like Zacc let alone go to his house to stay Ė Jesus said my friends thatís the very reason that I came. To seek out and then to rescue those people who have got themselves into trouble.

And itís to this same group of people that Jesus tells the parable of the ten minas. So have a look at verse 11.

A parable is an everyday story using everyday characters to teach a spiritual truth.

Now do you see the reason for THIS parable? Why does Jesus need to tell the parable of the ten minas? Because people thought the kingdom of God was going to come at once. Now there is no doubt that God rules the world. The creator of the universe and the creator of you and me is the one who upholds and rules the world. So in that sense God is unmistakably the king. However, in our current age, as it was in Jesusí day, the vast majority of human beings who live on this planet do not recognize the rule of God as King. Yes some actively rebel. And their wickedness is clear for all to see. And yet most of the population of planet earth rebels in a much more passive way Ė they simply ignore God and get on with ruling their lives in their own particular way. They decide what is right. They decide what works for them and all without reference to the desires of the God who made them.

Now in Jesusí day the people of God were waiting and indeed were longing for a day of revolution. They were waiting for the day when Godís enemies would be dealt with once and for all and when the world would consist solely of those who had submitted their lives to their loving creator. This was called the kingdom of God. A time when Godís people would be in Godís place enjoying the rule of God himself. A time when Godís enemies would be destroyed and when Godís people would be blessed.

Now according to verse 11 many people expected this to happen when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. They had witnessed his life so far. They had listened to his claims. They had been amazed at his miracles and so the expectation levels had risen dramatically. Was Jesus the one they had all been waiting for? And if he was, was this the moment the people of God had been praying for and expecting for so long? If salvation came to the house of Zacc when Jesus stopped off for a quick visit then what would happen when Jesus finally arrived in the city of David? Can you begin to imagine the level of excitement? The rumors, the whispering, the nudges and the winks. Here surely was the greatest time to be alive. And yet weíre told that because the people of Jericho thought the kingdom of God was going to appear at once Jesus told them this parable. He said, verse 12Ö Read vs 12-15.

So thereís the first part of the parable. And itís not that difficult to understand what Jesus is talking about. First of all, who is this man of noble birth? There can be no doubt that this man is Jesus himself. We know from the Bible that Jesus is none other than the eternal Son of God, the divine second person of the trinity. The Bible is clear that Jesus is God. But it is also clear that Jesus is human. And in the early parts of Lukeís gospel and in the opening chapter of Matthewís gospel we discover that as far as Jesusí human ancestry is concerned he is a descent of King David. He was a man of noble birth.

So straight away Jesus introduces himself into his parable.

But what about this journey that we read about in verse 12? What does that mean? Well before we find out let me take a straw pole. Who thinks itís slightly odd for someone to go to a distant country to be made king? Do you think thatís odd? Can you imagine what would happen if Prince Charles announced that not only would he like to be king but that he would like to be enthroned as king in the city of Brussels? There would be outrage. People would be writing to the newspapers, Richard and Judy would have a phone in. The nation would be in uproar. And the reason: because normally you get enthroned in the country that you will rule.

Unless of course the country that you are destined to rule is actually ruled by someone else. Because in that case you would have to travel to the real country of power and receive their permission for you to rule in your native land. Which is exactly what King Herod the Great had to do. Do you remember him? He was the king who tried to murder the baby Jesus. But did you know that in order for him to be recognized as the king of Israel he had to travel to Rome to seek the emperorís permission? And not just him. When he died his three sons had to make the long trip as well. And why? Because Rome, at least in human terms, was the true centre of power. Israel at that time was ruled by the Roman empire. And so therefore Israelite kings had to be granted permission from the Roman emperor.

Now do you see the relevance of this for understanding the journey that we read about in verse 12? It explains where Jesus is going. Contrary to popular expectation Jesus is not going to find a throne in Jerusalem. He will arrive in Jerusalem but his arrival will not begin the visible and final rule of God in the world. Instead his arrival in Jerusalem will begin a series of events that will finish with his bloody departure. He will not be enthroned in Jerusalem. He will die in Jerusalem. But as we know it was through his death, and then his later resurrection and ascension that he arrived at the true centre of power in the universe. Which was not Rome but was at the right hand of his Father in heaven. And thatís where the Bible says Jesus is today. He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Or in the words of verse 15, he has been made king. And so therefore according to the parable of the ten minas what is the next significant event that will take place in human history? What do you think is the next big event that should be highlighted on every kitchen calendar? The return of the king! The personal and visible return of King Jesus to planet earth. An event that will bring the kingdom of God in all its fullness.

So hereís the question we need to know the answer to: What will Jesus do when he returns? Or let me bring the question closer to home, what will Jesus do to ME when he comes back from heaven? He is coming back, that is a certainty, so what will he do to you? Have a look a verse 15. Read vs 15-27. Then he sent for his servantsÖ

So when Jesus returns there will be three categories of people.

Good servants, wicked servants, enemies. So if you want to know what Jesus will do to you when he returns and so therefore if you want to know if your life at the end of history will be marked by the stamp of success or spoiled by the regret of failure then you need to know which category you belong to. So in order for you to work your category letís examine these three groups in more detail.

  1. Who are the good servants?
  2. Weíre told in vs 13 that before the king goes away he leaves 10 servants with 10 minas. One each! Mina is simply a coin and it was worth about 3 months wages - so in present day money its probably worth about £4000. Now do you get the picture? The king leaves and he gives each of his servants the same amount of cash and says get on and put this money to work and when I come back Iíll see how youíve done. Now in the parable the king comes back and the first servant is able to announce the good news that he has earned 10 more minas. Which is an incredible amount. It is an increase of 1000%, which is quite staggering. Can you imagine this man as the treasurer of the Newland Christian Trust? And so the king says to him in verse 17Ö GOOD SERVANT. Come back to this in a moment but before we do letís just notice what happens to the second servant. In verse 18 he is called before the king to have his end of life appraisal and again there is good news. He has managed to make five more (although please notice he does say it was your mina that did this) Ė an increase of 500%. Not explicitly called a good servant but it is a fair conclusion to make since he is given charge of five cities.

    So there we have it Ė two faithful servants who are rewarded at the return of the king with responsibility over a certain number of cities. Now what on earth does all this mean?

    • Jesus has given his followers (his servants and not just his subjects Ė its not his servants who hate him) a job to do before he returns. And one day he promises to give us an end of life appraisal. He does care how we live today.
    • Jesus has also left us with the resources to complete the job. I just love verses 16 and 18. Twice we are told that it is the kingís mina that achieves the results. It is the mina that does it. A person needs to use it but the real treasure is the mina. So what is this mina? We need to be careful not to allegorize parables. Sometimes we can be too eager to say this represents that.
    • But in this case because of Matt 25 I am tempted to ask what does the mina represent? Because in Matt 25, the parable of the talents (1 talent = 60 minas) Different amounts are given to each person. But here everyone is given the same amount. So can we work out what this mina represents? Is it not the gospel? What do all Christians have in common? Not only to we believe the gospel but we are given the gospel to pass on to other people. It is a treasure that needs to be shared. Or as Paul puts it in 2 Tim 1:14 it is a good deposit that has been entrusted to us. A good deposit to be used for kingdom business.
    • But what about the cities given out by the king? One servant gets 10. Another gets five. Does this not stink of salvation by merit? Can we really contemplate rewards in heaven? Let us be clear on this. No one gets into heaven by their good works. Only those who have personally benefited from the death of Jesus Christ will be in heaven.
    • And yet the Bible does talk about responsibilities in the new creation. We have a physical hope to look forward to. As Christians we are promised new resurrection bodies and we are to live in a new physical universe. The physical creation was not a mistake. God did not get it wrong when he created a physical world. You see the problem with our current world is not that it is physical but that it is full of sinful people and suffers from the mess of sin. So the Bible is very excited about a future physical creation. And in this new creation I am persuaded that each Christian will be given various responsibilities. Work is not bad in itself. It is hard now in a sinful world but work in itself is what we were designed for. Just think about it. If Adam and Eve were responsible for the original creation in Genesis 2 then is it too much to imagine that in the New Creation we will be given various jobs to do.
    • And the principle of job allocation seems to be this: show that you have been trustworthy now with the resources Jesus has given you and then when Jesus returns he will assess how responsible you have been previously and so on that basis you will be given various responsibilities in the new creation.

      So let me ask you this: how are you using the great treasure that Jesus has left with you? You get one life and you get one gospel to share with the world. So are you being responsible with the resources Jesus has left you? Now this doesnít mean we all need to be up front evangelists. Wary of imposing my personality type on others. But God has given you a sphere of influence. People to pray for.

      Pray for opportunities Ė Chris and his neighbour. Will you read what you are studying to me. He is as quite as a godly mouse!

      RISK POINT. Bearing in mind the future will you take it? Will you invite people on a course? To an event? To a service? For a chat? No one at the end of life ever says I wish I had spent more time at the office. But many Christians do say I wish I had spent more time witnessing to my friends.

      So will Jesus call you a faithful servant? And what are you doing to make sure you receive this acclamation? What opportunities are you using to share the gospel? You may never see the fruit of your labours in this life but thatís not the point. The point is to pass on the treasure.

      Do you want to live a successful life? There is only one way. Success is when Jesus says well done my good servant. Nothing else matters. Finance, friends, football, fitness and even falling in love. Because there is only one definition of success that really matters. And that is the definition provided by Jesus. Who will be successful in the end? Only those who eventually hear from the lips of Jesus: well done my good servant.

      1. Who are the wicked servants?
      2. We are introduced to one of them in verse 20. Weíre toldÖ(Vs 20-26)

        So who is this wicked servant? He seems to have misunderstood the nature of the king. He thinks the king is a hard man (vs 21), taking out what he didnít put in and reaping what he didnít sow. But we know the king isnít like that. Heís not a hard man! Weíve already seen that in his generosity he had left his servants his own money to get on with the business he wants them to do. Not someone who asks them to re-mortgage their own house to get involved in his business enterprise. No he gives them the cash. And when the first two servants come to him - in his generosity he gives them responsibility over 10 and 5 cities respectively. So it cannot be the case that this king is a hard man. And so therefore it seems that there is a relationship problem between this man and the king. Indeed so serious a problem that, first of all, the master calls him wicked and then, secondly, in verse 24 he takes away all he has.

        So who is this servant? He seems to be associated with Godís true servants but isnít one himself. A bystander. A spectator. The churchgoer who never signs up for anything. The religious person who is never interested in sharing the gospel. The person who demonstrates by their inactivity that they never truly knew the king. So letís be clear about this: no one will get into heaven by doing the business of the king. But then again no one will get into heaven by not being involved in the business of the king.

        So let me ask you this: on that day when Jesus Christ returns from heaven to end the world, will he say to you: you are a wicked servant. Depart from me I never knew you. Or let me put it like this: on that final day will there be any evidence to convict you that you were a follower of Christ? Can I beg you if that is your position at the moment then stop being a spectator, stop being a church goer, personally submit to the King, ask his forgiveness and get on with the wonderful privilege of serving in his business.

      3. Who are the enemies?

      We meet them in verse 27. Where the king saysÖ

      Now the king as weíve discovered is not a hard man but he is a just man and he will not tolerate rebellion against his rule. And so here is the promise from Jesus: one day I will return to this world and when I do all my enemies will be destroyed. All those who in this life have not submitted personally to my loving rule will experience punishment on that future day (second death Ė Revelation20). It is a sobering prospect isnít it? But it is also a loving warning. Because those who know about it now can act upon it before its too late.

      So which category are you in? How will Jesus treat you on that day? Good. Wicked. Regarded as an enemy?

      None of us wants to fail in life. No one starts out that way. But let me make one thing crystal clear: if you donít submit your life to Christ you will be a failure. It will be a waste of time. No matter what you achieve in worldly terms. It will be snuffed out if you donít submit to Christ. So if you want to be a success in life then, first of all, submit to Christ (join his kingdom). There is a delay but also a certain return! And then secondly, out of overwhelming gratitude take the gospel that you have been given and use in the service of Christ.


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