I remember as a kid growing up that there used to be several shows that would come on Nickelodeon that had obstacle courses. Usually kids were split into teams and competed against each other. One show had families compete against each other and the losing family would get “slimed.” Ah, what wouldn’t entertain a child. Jesus spoke of obstacle courses, also. He condemned any obstacle course that caused “little ones” to sin. He condemned obstacle courses that kept people from coming to him by faith. In Luke 17.1-10, we have Jesus teaching us about deadly obstacle courses and how we can keep ourselves from becoming one ourselves.
Jesus tells us that “stumbling blocks” (Greek) are sure to come. That is, it is impossible to keep some people from putting obstacle courses on the pathway to life. Surely, since the time of Jesus, men have been doing this. Why in the first century the apostles were combating obstacle course artists. That’s why they had the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. That’s why Paul had to write to the Galatians. That’s why Jude wrote his little letter. Jesus tells us the fate of these obstacle course artists: they have been found lacking (“woe”). In fact, it would be better to have a giant “millstone” tied around that persons neck and for them to be hurled into the sea. That’s how grave their offense is. The cause “little ones” to stumble, to sin. Now, who are these “little ones”? Most jump to the conclusion that they are children. While these would be included in this phrase, the words used here points to simply one who is “small.” Thayer’s Lexicon says this is someone who is inferior to other citizens of the kingdom because of their small knowledge about the kingdom. This could be a grown adult kingdom citizen who is put into an obstacle course and stumbles. The person who leading new Christians and young Christians down the obstalce course has a lot to answer for.
So Jesus says “watch yourselves!” To whom is Jesus speaking? Verse 1 says he is speaking to his disciples, i.e. the twelve. He is telling them, “You have been with me this whole time; don’t mess this up!” Don’t veil the entrance to the kingdom so people stumble or sin. Now they know how terrible the fate is for the obstacle course artists – don’t become a stumbling block or put one in the path for kingdom citizens. Hold onto what you know to be true and don’t mingle it with the erroneous! But suppose one of these obstacle course artists gets a hold of your brother and he sins? What then? “Rebuke him,” Jesus says. That is, express strong disapproval of what he has done. Show him his sin that he might repent. What if he repents? “Forgive him,” Jesus says. Here is the hard part: we don’t have any problem telling others their wrong – we struggle with forgiveness. Especially when Jesus portrays the sinner’s inability to stop sinning. He sins and repents. Forgive him. He sins again. Forgive. Surely there must be an end to this forgiving business. Surely eventually, we are permitted to stop forgiving him. Jesus says, “you must forgive him.” Why? Think about it. Our life is liek a vapor. To God, 1000 years is like a day. We come to him several times, hundreds of times in our “day” in this life and ask and beg for forgiveness. Does he forgive us? Absolutely. Totally forgiven with the blood of Christ, even before we ask. Then why in the world would he expect less from us. If your brother repents, forgive him.
What I mean by “unfaithful” is simply that the disciples are not “full of faith.” This is seen in their exclamation, “Increase our faith!” They are admitted to their own weakness, their lack of faith. They admitted they need help on this one. How difficult it is to forgive like God requires of us! So hard, the apostles knew they needed help. Are we any different? Is it not a challenge to forgive everyone who sins, especially if they sin against us? We must cry out with the disciples, “Increase our faith!” We need help, Jesus!
And he does. Jesus helps the disciples put things in pespective. It seems he is saying, “You have all the faith you need with a faith like that of a mustard seed. What you need to focus on is whom your faith is in.” Faith always has an object. You can’t have faith in nothing; you must have faith in something. Most people’s faith is in themselves. Perhaps that is whom the disciple’s faith is in when they say, “Increase our faith!” They are saying by themselves, they cannot do what Jesus asking them to do and Jesus is saying “You’re exactly right! But with faith in me, no matter how small it may be, you can do this.” It is Christ who lives within us, through us. And we need help with forgiving and stumbling blocks. But if we understand we are dead to ourselves but alive to Christ, we can do this “through Christ who gives us strength.” Jesus is calling his disciples to put their faith and trust in him to accomplish this lofty ideal of forgiveness.
Jesus wraps up this teaching with a parable. He gives us the mindset of a true servant of God. Just as a servant does what he is commanded and performs his duties without thanks, so should also the servant’s in the kingdom perform their duties. It is a thankless job to be a Christian. Sure, we have our fellow servants, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who encourage us. But when we boil things down and strip away the layers, at the core, the Christian walk is a thankless duty. And why wouldn’t it be? It is hard work to be a Christian. It requires round-the-clock devotion to the Master. It requires work in the field during the hottest part of the day and labor in house in the evening. It is praiseless, thankless, arduous, dirty work. And I believe too often we are ungrateful for the work God has given us.
We live in an entitlement society which believes everything should be handed to them on a silver platter and they shouldn’t have to work to get it. Our society thinks they deserve special treatment for no reason. And when they get what they don’t deserve, there is no thanksgiving, no gratitude; just more of the same selfish desires. Unfortunately this mentality has spilled over into the church. So many Christians think they are entitled to something from God, as if he owes them something. God doesn’t owe us anything! We are entitled to none of the benefits of heaven and if he left us to wallow in our own sins so that we had to endure eternal punishment for all eternity it would be no less than wee deserved.
God has given us to work to do, a service to render, a ministry to perform. And the unworthy servant says, “I have only done what I must do.” That is the key. We shouldn’t even be servants for the Master, yet he loved us so greatly he gave us what we needed: Jesus. And now we serve him as unworthy servants. How can we not be thankful for the opportunity and ability to serve him? How can we look at our Christian walk as anything less than performing the duty we owe our Master? Our indebtedness to God prompts us to do what we ought.