During the Roman Empire life expectancy is usually given as 40 years (We Look for a Kingdom, 80). It wasn't till the 1920s that life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere exceeded that of a goldfish. Till then it was goldfish 50.1 and man 48.4 (Toilet Papers, 13). Now we all expect to live to 80, 90, even 100. And so we're unlike Jerome who lived in the Roman Empire. He said, "Whether I am eating or drinking, sleeping or awake or doing something else, the voice always sounds in my ears: Come before the judgment'" (LW 58, 143). This sermon seeks to tie your life expectancy to what you expect out of life.
The Pharisees in our text expected that they could detect the kingdom Jesus proclaimed had arrived by their close observation. Twice before our text we read that the Pharisees were closely watching Jesus. Using the verb form of the noun in our text Luke 6:7 says, "The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal on the Sabbath." Then in Luke 14:1 we read, "One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, He was being carefully watched."
Luke, a 1st century doctor, uses the medical language of his day. "Careful observation" is the word doctors used when looking for the telltale signs of a particular diagnosis or prognosis (Tannehill, 259). This concept has come down to our day. People are kept in the hospital for observation. Doctors closely watch blood sugar, blood pressure, and many other facets of physical life. The Pharisees for years had closely observed what Jesus preached and did, and He failed their test. No kingdom here; no Messiah either.
Don't trip here. Jesus is not saying that the kingdom can't be observed at all. When John is racked by doubt in prison, Jesus sends John's messengers back with the words, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Gospel is preached to the poor" (Matthew 11:4-5). The King can be seen and heard; therefore, His kingdom can be, but not with the kind of observing the Pharisees did.
The Pharisees saw and heard the same things Jesus sent back to John, but still they didn't believe they were seeing the King or kingdom. They were seeing a carpenter's son; they were seeing Mary's son; you know the one she claimed to have by the Holy Spirit, wink, wink. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and life to the dead, and still they asked for signs; unbelief will never be convinced by any amount of evidence. The kingdom of God must first come within a person by the reign and rule of the Holy Spirit working through God's Word and Sacraments, and only then can a person see what has been there all along.
What's your life expectancy? You expect God to show you proof of His kingdom and then you'll be willing to enter it? Then again maybe you're expecting what the disciples in the text were. They expected to be able to see the days of the Son of Man all their days. See what they have in common with the Pharisees? The seeing. Both groups expect to see. The Pharisees expect to see in order to believe; the disciples expect to always see because they believe. Both groups are told they can't see what they want.
Jesus says to His disciples, "The day is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it." The word translated "long" is the same word translated "lust" other places, and I think "lust" is better here because I have known this feeling, and it's lusting not longing.
I've dealt with people disfigured, diseased, and demented, and lusted for the Lord to heal them. I lusted for Him to put forth His hand and heal the disfigured as He did the man with advanced leprosy. I've lusted to see a disease driven from a body as Jesus drove the fever out of Peter's mother-in-law. I've lusted to see the demented released even as Jesus released the demonized. I've stood beside the dead and lusted to see Jesus raise them as He had Lazarus. I lusted to see the resurrections, the healings, the water changed into wine, the bread multiplied, and for faith to give way to sight.
Legitimate desires can be satisfied; a lust never can be. So disciples end up where Pharisees are. No one is going to be able to say to a Pharisee's scientific satisfaction, "Here's the kingdom; there's the kingdom." And no one is going to be able to satisfy a disciple's lust to see just one of the days of the Son of Man visibly doing miracles, by saying, "There He is! Here He is!" The Pentecostal saying Jesus is here in his tongue speaking and He's there in his healing of short-legged people won't do it; the evangelical saying He's here in his upbeat feelings, happy family, or successful life won't do it, and the Catholic saying Jesus is there in the age, pomp, or ceremony of his church won't do it either.
So what's your life expectancy? If it's the expectancy of science or religion you're going to be frustrated by Jesus because He hides Himself till the end of your life or to the end of the world. The rich man looks better off than the poor boil-ravished Lazarus in this world but at death we see who was really blessed. The goats look more righteous than the sheep but at the end of the world we see the sheep really were.
There will come a day, either on your last day or the Last Day when you will see not one of the days of the Son of Man but the Son of Man in His day, and there will be do doubt about what you are seeing. You'll see Jesus and His kingdom as clearly as you see lightening light up the whole sky. As clearly as Noah saw a flooded earth or Lot saw a destroyed Sodom, so clearly will you see the King and His kingdom in His day.
Before that day which is your last day or the Last Day go to the first things Jesus points his lusting disciples too. Before the Son of Man comes for you or for us all, you go to where Jesus points His disciples. Not His glory and power but His suffering and rejection. Jesus says, "For the Son of Man in His day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." Apart from seeing Jesus suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying you'll never ever see the King or kingdom before it's too late.
You ask, "Why didn't and why doesn't Jesus show up as a King showing all His divine power and might?" How could He have lived under the Law as a Man if He used His divine powers to keep the Law? If He did that He wouldn't have been keeping the Law in our place, would He? More than that, how could Jesus suffer the penalties due us law breakers if He had fully used His divine powers as a Man? Water would have gushed from rocks so that He never thirsted as sinners deserve to. Trees would have formed a house for their Creator so that He never lacked a place to lay His head as sinners should. And who could whip, beat, or pound nails into the flesh of God, as the flesh of sinners deserve, unless God let them?
To be King of sinners and provide a kingdom for them, Jesus humbled Himself to live as an ordinary man and die as a damned sinner. He did that and rose triumphantly from the grave on Easter having paid for the sins of all and established a kingdom for sinners to live and die in. He rose promising forgiveness of sins and an eternal kingdom. A promise can only be yours by believing it. If a child is promised that on a birthday they will get a particular present, the only way the child gets any comfort or joy from that promise is if he believes it.
Jesus hid His kingship and kingdom under weakness the first time He came for our salvation. He hides them still today for our conversion. Faith is not a choice, not a decision, but a miracle. It is no miracle if you believe in a mighty kingdom or powerful Jesus that you can see with your eyes. It is no miracle if you believe healthy people are healthy, the not guilty are forgiven, or live people are living. It's a miracle if you believe that in Jesus the sick are healthy, the guilty forgiven, and the dead living. It doesn't take a miracle to hear words or see water, wine, and bread and believe they're nothing more than that. It takes a miracle to hear Words and believe they forgive you, to see Water and believe it gives salvation, to see Bread and Wine and believe it is the Body and Blood of your God.
Isaiah 45:15 says, "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel." The Savior God hides Himself not just under Water, Words, Bread, and Wine, but under the rhythms of ordinary life: eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, so that the majority of people have no expectation that they might stand before Him at anytime or that all of this could end anytime soon. They expect the ordinary rhythms of life to go on for them 80, 90, or even 100 years.
The life expectancy of the vast majority of people everywhere is what was in the days of Noah and Lot: No longer or shorter than God wills it to be. The only warnings the people of Noah's and Lot's day got that there expectations were wrong were sermons, just Words like you're hearing now. In the midst of the buzz, hum, and drone of eating, drinking, marrying, and living, they were told of a Kingdom where eating and drinking do more than nourish the body. They were told of a King who wanted marry them forever. They were pointed to a life saved by Water that could withstand the fire and sulphur of judgment. But that wasn't what they expected. Is it what you do?
What your life expectancy is doesn't matter. Be it days, weeks, months, years, Scripture says, "My times are in your hands O Lord." But what you expect out of life does matter. Expect what God in Christ has promised you and you will never be disappointed..and never die either. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20131110); Luke 17: 20-30