Positive Stories for Christian Pessimists

Luke 13:18-21

This looks like a lost cause! Have you ever made or thought this statement? Maybe it was in the middle of a home project like remodeling or landscaping that wasn’t going well. Perhaps you decided to fix something around the house and now you’re in a fix. O, this looks like a lost cause, we think.

Maybe a project or a situation at work isn’t going well. It’s giving you fits and not coming together. I have that experience now and then in my line of work. Most pastors will tell you they can experience a sermon block – like a writer’s block. It sets in and the sermon just cannot get going or will not come together like you want. You feel like quitting and finding something else to preach. This sermon is a lost cause! Trust me; it happens to most preachers.

Perhaps you are struggling with a difficult relationship. No matter what you try, it is painful and does not work. So you sigh and think to yourself, This looks like a lost cause.

I’m sure you could add a few more ideas to my list, because we’ve all been there. When this happens, it brings on a sinking feeling of discouragement and makes you want to just give up and say, This is a lost cause. I quit! Jesus addresses this kind of thinking in today’s parable. Perhaps His twelve disciples look discouraged about this mission they’re on with Him, feeling it is a lost cause.

They have been on the road with Jesus for some time now and had bought into His message that the kingdom of God – God’s rule and reign over the world – was present and He was the bringer of the kingdom. They had left behind their professions to follow Jesus and were expecting some great things – maybe a political take over or a major movement of some sort, but it’s not happening. As they observe Jesus teaching and healing, the little faith they had in Him gets shaky. The disappointing results were not meeting their expectations, and it was looking more like Jesus’ ministry was a smalltime operation.

There were no fireworks except those from the rejection and hostility of the religious establishment as they criticized Him and His message. They didn’t like Him and even accused Him even of being of the devil when he did a miracle. He was misunderstood and rejected by outsiders like the Samaritans. Politicians were suspicious of Him and didn’t like Him. Threats against Jesus were made. Crowds showed up to listen to Him, but no one dropped everything and followed Him like they had done.

Some small steps were being made in the villages they visited – like healing miracles and casting out evil spirits, which brought a lot of speculation, amazement, and quite a following. But they seemed so insignificant in comparison to what they had in mind when it comes to kingdom building. They must’ve been wondering, What is going on here? What have I got myself into? We’re not doing so hot. This kingdom stuff isn’t happening like I thought it would. It’s not taking off. Very few of our hearers are repenting and few are following us. If God’s kingdom has come, why does it feel like we’re moving two steps forward and three steps back?

And where’s God in all of this? God, don’t you see what’s going on? Have I been on the wrong horse? Maybe I ought to just pack up my stuff, quit following, and go home. These thoughts had to have been running through the minds of the disciples.

If you are a follower of Jesus, maybe you’ve even fallen prey to this kind of thinking yourself. You look around at the condition of the world today, and it looks like things are getting any better. Or you observe the church of Christ – its workings and its failings. The news can sometimes be so dark and frightening that it can cause us, as Christ’s followers, to shrug our shoulders and despairingly say, Christianity appears to be a lost cause. Evil seems to be winning over good. Morality, mercy, and righteousness seem to be ignored or lost these days.

We see bad things happening to innocent people in general. The world looks dark, scary, and out-of-control some days. God’s people are experiencing bombings, cultural hostility, rejection, ridicule, criticism – even persecution – in parts of the world. The Church seems to be ineffective in bringing people into God’s kingdom. Those outside the kingdom seemed disinterested – even hostile – toward it. We hear few conversations about it in our little corner of the world. Some days, it feels like we are losing ground. All of this can cause us deep uncertainty. It can cause a faith crisis and cause us to wonder (along with the first disciples of Jesus) if it is a lost cause. It sure seems like it!

We may be tempted to quit serving Jesus in this world all together or even to change the Gospel message to attract people and keep the ones that we have all.

In response to this kind of wondering and discouragement, Jesus offers a reassuring word in these parables, which we read earlier. It is a pep talk, a positive picture for pessimistic Jesus followers. It’s about the kingdom of God.

We need to remind ourselves that when Jesus talks of the kingdom of God, he’s not talking about a geographic place. He is not talking about going to heaven so much. The kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign in this world, where His will is being done. People’s lives are being changed by the Good News of Jesus, and they’re loving God with their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves. His will is getting done.

Jesus compares the kingdom of God movement to a tiny mustard seed, and a tiny bit of yeast. He makes the comparison to reassure and encourage Jesus followers to trust. He tells us, Look at the mustard seed when you’re thinking about the kingdom of God, because it’s the tiniest of seeds. It looks so insignificant! Yet when it’s planted, it eventually becomes a tree with branches that offers refuge to the birds of the air. This is what I want you to keep in mind! When you are feeling discouraged because things look bad and it seems like we’re stuck and losing, just think of the mustard seed and the tree that eventually happens. God’s kingdom will prevail! This is not a losing cause.

Jesus continues, Keep the big picture in mind as well. The kingdom of God is like a little bit of yeast in a big batch of flour. It soon penetrates the whole batch. So, too, will God’s reign and rule penetrate this whole world. Don’t give up! Don’t quit following and serving. The kingdom project looks small, unpromising, and powerless now, but it is just getting started. God’s rule will come. You are on the winning side!

Recently my favorite baseball team was getting trounced by another team. I turned on the TV to watch and looked at the scoreboard and said, “This looks like a lost cause.” Then I turned the TV off. Sometimes, like those first disciples, we look at the scoreboard of this world with all its problems and darkness, and it looks like evil is winning 12 to 0. All is lost, and like we want to just turn things off.

But Jesus tells us to not let the scoreboard fool us. The game is not over and God will win. Don’t quit. Keep serving Him and witnessing for Him in this world. God is at work. It may not appear so some days, but the kingdom of God is happening and will come in its fullness someday. Then every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, and all who have placed their trust in Him will live forever with Him. Don’t lose your hope and your confidence. This is the point of these parables today.

Even as we speak, friend, God is working in this world through His Holy Spirit, and amazing things are happening. Lives are being changed. This is the message for today, children of God, followers of Jesus. You saints of God who might be getting discouraged, don’t give into despair and pessimism. Take courage. Be confident! God has this! It is not a lost cause that you are a part of. Remember, in the end God wins.

By the way, we have already witnessed the truth Jesus shared with the disciples. It is not pollyannaish thinking about someday. Lest we forget, millions upon millions of people, since the day Jesus told these parables, have entered the kingdom of God by trusting in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Lives are impacted and transformed by a relationship with Jesus. The impact of the Christian faith upon the world is unmeasurable, e.g., educational institutions, hospitals, Christian aid organizations serving in Christ’s name, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, racism in America. The impact goes on and on all around the globe. Thousands of people are entering the kingdom of God right now as the Gospel is proclaimed in parts of the world.

Lest we forget, remember the cross of Jesus Christ. His crucifixion was followed by an empty tomb and a resurrection. Jesus is alive! He has already won the battle. Sin, death, and the devil himself were conquered by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. God has had the last word!

Don’t forget what happened since Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is on the loose with His convicting and converting power all over this planet. He is working in people’s lives even before we have the opportunity to share the Gospel. God’s will, His plan for the sin-sick planet that He loves is still getting done. In the end, it will be done once and for all for eternity. And you are part of it.

I’d like to finish this message off with a word of encouragement today, you saints, you followers of Jesus. Yes, the world is full of problems. Many people need to be brought into the kingdom of God. It looks almost impossible and overwhelming to get the job done. It looks just like madness some days.

Instead of being overwhelmed by all the problems and the needs of others for Christ, why not step up and be a part of the solution in confident faith and hope. Continue to give yourself over to God’s purposes for your life. Let your light keep shining as you serve Jesus so people around you will give God glory and praise.

Or, let me put it another way: Instead of complaining about the darkness, light a candle and get in the game. Don’t quit. Servants of Christ, keep serving Jesus in your corner of the world, and remember: God is in control. History is ‘His story.’ God wins. Remember the end of our Lord’s prayer, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen!”

Pastor Steve Kramer