We are closing off the series The Generous Life today. On the first Sunday, I laid out some general principles around generosity. Last week I talked about how to break the power of mammon over your life through generosity. I would like to finish with a final message about generous discipleship. As we are going to explore some Scriptures today, we will soon discover that the life Jesus is calling us to is a life of sacrifice for the King and for His Kingdom.
Are you familiar with the TV program Shark Tank? It is a program where new entrepreneurs with a great idea for a business pitch their idea to a few very rich and very experienced and successful business men/women – called the sharks. And what you’ll notice in the program is that not every good idea gets a yes. Actually, most get a no. These sharks bombard these entrepreneurs with all kinds of questions – production, plans, patency, strategy, you name it! - to make sure their investment is going to see a good return. Only those with a fantastic idea and a flawless plan get the investment they’re looking for.
So often, this is also how we go about our life. Before we invest it in something, we first want to see all our questions answered. We want to see a clear path laid out, a strategy and guaranteed results.
But we are called to surrender our whole lives to the King and invest everything we have – our time, money, values, habits, future and prayer, without reservations, into His Kingdom. We don’t always get a clear strategy, nor an exact account of the return for investment.
Following Jesus requires faith and it requires complete surrender – freely giving yourself away to the King and His Kingdom.
Here is one of Jesus’ one-sentence parables to describe what the Kingdom of God is like.
Matthew 13:45-46 (NLT)
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!
What Jesus describes here is what it means to be sold out to the Kingdom of God. He says: “give it all you’ve got, holding nothing back, it’s the best thing you could ever do.”
We all understand the principles of investing and sacrificing on order to get something.
If you want to get fit, you eat healthy and go to the gym.
In order to pursue a career, you put in hard work and long hours
People choose to study abroad, away from everything that is familiar, as an investment in their future.
So why would we think of our discipleship as something that wouldn’t require sacrifice? Jesus surely talks about it in these terms.
Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?
Jesus is preaching a message here that goes completely against our current culture where the ultimate goal in life is to flourish, be happy and enjoy life. To listen to the desires of your heart and follow them wherever they lead.
But Jesus says: “If you truly want to live an abundant life and experience the joy and peace that I have for you, if you want to see your family flourish and your life meaning something – you first need to die to self”. Jesus teaches us to think differently, act differently and set different priorities.
Jesus says: surrender your way to my way – and my way is one that includes a cross. It is going to require sacrifice.
So, generosity is important when it comes to our discipleship, because living for the King and His Kingdom is going to require sacrifice.
1. Worshiping the King requires sacrifice
True worship is sacrificial. I’ve been reading through the books of Leviticus and Numbers lately in my Bible in One Year program, and I can tell you that there is a lot of sacrificing happening. Bulls and rams and doves and goats and whatnot gets slaughtered at and burned as an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
Let’s look at two New Testament examples of sacrificial worship.
Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
This passage is both encouraging and challenging. It is encouraging to know that it is not about the amount, but about the heart behind it? Jesus sees it when you offer something up to worship Him. He knows it when what you are giving is sacrificial.
I can just imagine some of these other people would have changed their money into many small coins, carrying a big bag and taking their time to drop it in, making sure it would make a lot of noise. Then the widow comes and drops the two smallest coins of their money system in: cloink-cloink.
It may have felt like nothing. It may have felt like it wasn’t even worthwhile walking all the way to the Temple for. What difference would it make? Yet, God sees the heart of worship behind it. That’s what it really is about!
But also, this passage is challenging. Jesus praises her for her sacrificial giving. She gave up her whole livelihood. What would that look like for me and you? Are we ready to take such a risk?
Romans 12:1 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
The greatest gift we can give is ourselves. The word ‘body’ here, represents the whole life. Jesus put it: love the Lord your God with your all of your heart, soul, strength and mind. Considering how Jesus has given up everything for you, the proper response is to surrender your all to Him.
Let me again just reflect on our Western society. And let me be clear, you don’t have to be from North-America, Europe or Australia to be western, because the post-modern Western mindset is quickly expanding through globalization. With such a big emphasis on the individual, it seems to become harder and harder for Christians to completely surrender to Christ. Even though we profess that we believe in Him, and say He is the Lord of our lives, we find it hard to let go of the things He is urging us to let go of.
It is probably the biggest hurdle we will need to overcome. True life is found when we stop sacrificing to self, but we sacrifice the self to God.
Remember when Jesus talked to the disciples about swearing oaths, He pointed out that some people swear by the altar, but say you cannot swear by the gift on the altar. But Jesus says: Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
It is the altar on which you sacrifice that makes the gift sacred.
Your life gets its value from the altar on which you sacrifice it. If you want your life to mean something, put it on the altar of God.
2. Serving the King requires sacrifice
Next week is Easter Sunday. I want to briefly look at a scene in the passion week that I believe speaks into a place that requires sacrifice.
Matthew 27:57-60 (NLT)
As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left.
Just a couple of things that stand out to me in this passage. Firstly, Joseph is using his position and riches (other Gospels mention that he was an honored member of the high council) to serve Jesus. He is giving what He has to give.
Secondly, Joseph buries Jesus in the tomb he had made for himself. In this time and culture, the place of burial mattered far more than in our times. Not only was this a costly gift, but it also was a way for him to lay down his own honor, to honor Jesus.
Thirdly, I believe this was a prophetic action.
Paul would later describe the church as being the Body of Christ. Joseph takes care of the Body of Christ – which was broken, torn up, dirty and lifeless. Yet, He treats it with the highest respect and honor, because of what it represented. I believe that this is how we should view the church as well. Even when it is broken, torn up, dirty or lifeless, we should treat it with respect and honor because of what it represents.
In your country, the church may be flourishing, it may be drifting, it may be torn apart in disunity, it may suffer from persecution, or it may be absolutely lifeless. Joseph worships God by giving up something costly and honorable to take care of the Body of Christ. He treats the wounds, cleans it up and carefully puts it in the tomb that was meant for himself. In the same way, I believe we honor God by giving what we have to give to the church, which is the Body of Christ.
1 Peter 2:5 (NLT)
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.
One of the main ways we can serve God and worship Him, is by giving ourselves as living stones so that He can build His church. A big part of the generous life that Jesus is calling us to is to give what you have to give so that His church can flourish.
What makes a church a strong church is people serving selflessly and giving sacrificially to advance the work of God through the church.
3. Advancing the Kingdom requires sacrifice
This is a third area of discipleship that requires sacrifice. Following Jesus means that we follow His way and commit to His cause. His cause is to advance the Kingdom of God and bring people back into relationship with God. Jesus first gave up His heavenly position to become a human being, and then He gave His life so that our relationship with God could be restored and we could live the life that He lived.
Reaching others still requires sacrifice. Paul describes how he is following in Jesus’ footsteps by giving up his own rights and preferences in order to reach others.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NLT)
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.
I love the determination in Paul’s words. He is ready to do anything just to make sure that people will hear the Good News. In other passages he discusses the hardships he had to face being on the front end of what God is doing. Advancing the Kingdom of God requires sacrifice.
If we want to see the Kingdom of God advance in the city of Groningen and if we want to see this church grow and reach more people, it will require a sacrifice in time, prayer, finances, talents and we may have to face hardships for it.