Reflections on Luke 12:32-40
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32 (ESV)
Any Romans listening to Jesus say these words might have thought, “No thanks. We’ve already got one.” And what a kingdom it was. From the British Isles to North Africa to borders of Persia, Rome was an empire with magnificent cities, an amazing network of roads and ships for trade and travel, a sometimes brutally effective government and the most powerful army the world had ever seen. Rome made people rich – a few people, anyway.
The Romans thought their empire was so wonderful that the world should proclaim the good news – the gospel, that is – of Caesar’s birth. Caesar was the savior of the world, and when He conquered a new land, he brought peace. Consequently, the Senate declared Caesar to be the son of a god and a member of the Roman pantheon. “I don’t know what kind of kingdom you’re offering,” the Roman might have said to Jesus, “but we’ve got the biggest and best kingdom the world has ever seen.”
Now the people listening to Jesus by and large were not the cream of the crop of Greco-Roman society. Not many were rich or powerful, but naturally they wanted the same things that most people wanted: to feed their families and to build some sort of security for the future. They wanted to get ahead as best they could, and I’m sure that the Roman way looked pretty good to many. Those at the top of society were those most in bed with Rome. The fate of the poor, faithful people of Israel did not look so appealing by comparison.
Today, if you look for the empire that fancied itself the queen of the world in Jesus’ day, all that you will find are ruins, in Rome itself and throughout the Mediterranean world. There are even ruins as far away as England and Germany. On the old German frontier, all that you will find of Rome’s ancient power is a moss covered stone or two lying in a German forest. Rome is dead. The kingdom of which Jesus spoke is very much alive.
You don’t have to look back 2000 years to discover that humanity’s greatest accomplishments always crumble into dust.
In the 1950s, 4 of 5 cars worldwide were built in Detroit. The city had 296,000 manufacturing jobs in the automotive industry supporting a population of 1.8 million. It had the highest median income and highest home ownership of any major city. Today, the population is down to 710 thousand. There are 70 thousand abandoned buildings. The city is bankrupt and $18 billion in debt. Cutbacks in city services have made the high poverty rate and high crime rate even worse. Right now, the city is in a downward spiral. It’s sad to look at pictures of Detroit’s ruins.
Jesus is right. There is no treasure on earth that moths and rust can’t eat or thieves can’t steal. Nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary. There is no security in any earthly treasure.
In the 1990s, the economy boomed on the backs of the computer revolution. In the 2000s, the markets came crashing down. Does anybody else own a property worth less than when you bought it? Did anyone’s retirement portfolio disappear in the last decade?
Well, at least I have my health. Unfortunately, even the body wears out. I am a part of the aging baby boomer generation and every new ache and pain makes us wonder, is there something wrong that won’t get better? Is that a symptom of something dreadful?
Sometimes you see the moth and the thief coming, and sometimes you don’t. Driving back from Atlanta I got into a little traffic accident. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but the big boom and sudden jolt that resulted when our cars collided emotionally took be back to the land where “sudden death” is not something that happens in a football game.
The people of Jesus’ day did not have nearly so much as we have, but they had many of the same concerns. What will tomorrow bring? How will I survive? Jesus gave them the greatest words of assurance ever. “Fear not, little flock. It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Now the kingdom, our text reminds us, is what Jesus will bring in all its fullness when he comes again. Jesus tells his listeners that the need to remain ever ready for the Son of Man’s return.
Jesus moves from talking about our daily food and drink in Luke 12:22-32 to talking about his return in glory in Luke 12:33-40. This seems like a strange combination. When you start talking about Jesus’ coming again, people tend to become frightened. Here, Jesus is trying to encourage and comfort his followers with the promise of the master’s coming.
Even stranger is the word picture that Jesus uses to describe the master’s return.
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. (Luke 12:35-37)
When the master returns, Jesus says, he will act like a servant and treat his servants like lords and ladies. And he will feed them. This kingdom is nothing like Rome or any kingdom that has ever existed on the face of the earth.
The kingdom Jesus promises fulfills a hope older than Rome itself. The scriptures tell the story of God’s call of Abraham, and God’s promise of the land of blessing. They tell the story of God’s call to Moses and the deliverance of God’s people from slavery. They tell the story of God’s covenants and the hope of living in happiness and peace under God’s law. They tell of God’s mighty power in defeating Israel’s enemies and establishing the throne of David. They recall the words of the prophets who looked for the coming of the day of justice. The kingdom Jesus promised brings this story to completion.
To be a part of this kingdom, you have to want it. Jesus talks about the kingdom being our treasure.
To those who had little, Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In its particulars, Jesus made a radical demand for a radical time. But even though Jesus no longer requires his followers to become penniless, wandering prophets, there are still kingdom principles evident in Jesus’ words.
Jesus still cares about the poor, and they have a special place in the kingdom Jesus promised – especially those who belong to the household of God. If you don’t understand that the poor, the needy and the suffering have a special place in God’s kingdom, you have not understood Jesus’ vision of the kingdom. The world’s kingdoms measure their success by success of the people at the top. In God’s kingdom, the well-being of everyone matters.
And Jesus still wants us to put our hopes and trust in God more than anything else. The love of material possessions will lead you astray. Having enough money to live is good, but money will not even guarantee that you will see tomorrow.
We put our trust in so many things, many of which are good in their own way. Economic vitality provides jobs, which in turn provides homes and food and clothing. Science gives us knowledge. Technology improves the quality of our lives. Medical care alleviates suffering and prolongs life. The arts provide us with beauty and wonder. Government maintains law and order. Armed forces defends the innocent. All of these things are good in their own way, but none of them will give us the kingdom. They will all fail in in one way or another. The goods they create are temporary at best and often accompanied by unintended consequences. They are all the products of fallible, ignorant and sinful human beings. Insofar as we look to them for our salvation, all the things of this world will disappoint us.
Fear not little flock, it is you Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
The Father’s kingdom is more enduring than any kingdom of this world, and certainly more just. It runs under a different set of values, and provides us a different way of looking at life.
The kingdom that never disappoints us is a gift from our heavenly father, not the product of human labor.
It is not something we have to earn; it is the Father’s pleasure to give it to us. It delights him. It makes him happy.
He gladly gives it to his little flock, that collection of faithful people from every corner of society who put their trust in Christ, who desire his kingdom more than anything else and who demonstrate their faith with their lives.
Fear not little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.