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Sermon text Sacrifice Luke 18

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Sermon text Sacrifice Luke 18

Sacrifice - Luke 18:18-30

Have you ever asked yourself – what do I need to do to please God? Or what do I need to do to ensure that I will go to heaven?

These are important questions. But sometimes we are scared to ask the question because we are scared of the answer we might hear from God. What might he ask us to do or stop doing? Are we really ready to do what it takes to follow Christ?

What keeps you from following Jesus Christ fully? What would you find hard to let go of, if God asked you to give it up? Sometimes I think we are like the trapped monkey. PROP – bird cage I’m told that you can trap a monkey by putting a shiny object behind metal bars. The monkey can slip his hand between the metal bars and grab the shiny toy, but then he cannot pull his hand back through the bars with it clenched around the toy. He is trapped. What are you clenched around that you can’t let go of? If God asked you to let you go, would you?

Money is one of humanity’s most common shiny toys. Money can keep us from following Christ fully. Why? Why is money so powerful? What is the danger of money? The more money you have the more difficult it is to let go of it. It begins to possess you. It’s not wrong to have money, but it’s bad for money to have you. Why is wealth such a potential hindrance to following Jesus?

Maybe it tempts us to trust in money rather than God? Maybe we think it will give us security? Maybe we fear that God will ask us to give it away? Maybe we view money as our version of heaven? We have arrived. Maybe money tempts us to self-sufficiency?

Maybe for you money is not a big deal. It might be something else that you have your fingers clenched around. A long time ago, God tested the faith of Abraham. God asked him to unclench his fingers from his one and only son, Isaac. God asked Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. I can hardly imagine what Abraham must have thought as a dad, especially older in life having waited so long and prayed so hard. Isaac is the son God promised him. Abraham must have questioned, now God wants me to sacrifice the son he gave me, the son he promised me?

Sometimes God asks us to unclench our fingers around a prized possession to see what we really believe, to test who we really love the most. I wonder what God might be asking you today. What are you hanging on to, unwilling to sacrifice to God?

In our story today we see a man challenged by Jesus to give up what mattered most to him. It is a tragic story. The responses to the encounter are fascinating and encouraging. Turn in your Bible to Luke chapter 18 and verse 18. This text echoes with contrast: God and money; possible and impossible, wealth on earth and treasure in heaven, an unnamed wealthy man and Peter. Three questions structure our passage: one from an unnamed wealthy man, one from the crowd and an implied question from Peter. Jesus answers each one, but not all in the way we might expect. His first answer is especially shocking. His last answer to Peter is wonderfully encouraging.

Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.

18 Now a certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” 21 The man replied, “I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was extremely wealthy. 24 When Jesus noticed this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God.” 28 And Peter said, “Look, we have left everything we own to follow you!” 29 Then Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of God’s kingdom 30 who will not receive many times more in this age – and in the age to come, eternal life.” Luke 18:18-30 (NET)
The Scripture is telling us: Give up what keeps you from following Jesus and God will give you so much more. Give up what keeps you from following Jesus and God will give you so much more than money.

Who is this man who approaches Jesus? He is probably an influential wealthy man or civic leader who may have been known for his piety.  He was like many people in Collin County, an upstanding citizen with some financial means. His rationalizing question invites Jesus to open up the heart of the matter.

A rationalizing question from a rich man

The call to sacrifice – the heart of the matter

          He calls Jesus, “Good teacher.” We are not sure of his motives in using this title, but Jesus will probe them. He asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do you think his question is sincere? We are not told. Perhaps it was sincere on a surface level, but he was not prepared to do whatever it takes. Perhaps it was a question of interest? A question of what it takes to be well-regarded by Jesus? Perhaps this is another achievement for this man?

          How does Jesus respond? Rather than answering the question, he questions the way the man has addressed him: Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. I imagine Jesus’ response shocked this guy. Why do you think the guy called Jesus, “good teacher?” Maybe he was just trying to be nice? Maybe he was flattering Jesus?

          Jesus drives the issue deeper. He wants the man to reflect on how he really views Jesus. Since only God is really good is the man acknowledging that Jesus is God? If the man really believes Jesus is good, then is he willing to listen to what Jesus has to say? Many people today call Jesus a good man, a good teacher, but then they are not willing to listen to Jesus’ teachings.

          Since we know that in a few minutes the man will walk away, it appears that his address of Jesus as “good teacher” is empty. By raising the issue of goodness, Jesus also anticipates the man’s attempt to validate his own goodness. No human being is good enough to go to heaven. No amount of good works can earn you a ticket to heaven. Only God can grant eternal life. God alone is truly good.

          But Jesus allows the man to display his confidence in his own goodness to the crowd. He says you know the commands and begins to list five of them for the gentleman. The man replies, I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws since I was a child.

          He is convinced that he is a good guy. Here we see noble sincerity but moral blindness. He really thought that he was good enough to have eternal life. He did not see what he had clenched in his fist that was keeping him from really following Jesus. He did not see his own heart. Jesus will help him. Jesus’ question exposes the insufficient goodness of the man. Jesus exposes his unwillingness to let go of what is keeping him from God. He points to what has captured his soul by saying, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

          Sell all you have and give to the poor

          How are we supposed to understand what Jesus is teaching us here?

The ruler’s response is key to the answer. Also the context helps. In the verses right before this encounter, Jesus welcomed the little children saying, whoever does not receive the kingdom like a child will never enter it. The man’s self-confident attitude stands in contrast to the humble faith of a child.

Why did Jesus give this man such a radical command? If someone asked me how to inherit eternal life, I cannot imagine I would say, “sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”

          Is this a direct answer to what anyone must do to inherit eternal life? This cannot be correct because in the next chapter Zacchaeus does not sell everything, but is clearly saved. The same author of this gospel, Luke, also wrote Acts where he wrote, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)?  He did not say to sell anything.

          Instead, Jesus is shining a light on the man’s heart. He is pointing out what the man is holding in his hand that is keeping him trapped. The command to sell everything, on one hand, exposes the man’s failure to be totally good. We cannot inherit eternal life without first realizing our need of salvation. Jesus is helping him see where he falls short. He loved his money more than God.

          On the other hand, he is drawing the man to trust fully in God, to humbly rely on God, rather than trusting in his money. Jesus taught us that we cannot serve God and money. You must choose. Which god will you follow?

          We cannot come to God in pride showing him how good we have been. Rather we must come to him in repentance confessing our failure to be good. To repent is to let go of what we are grasping in our hand like the monkey holding the shiny toy behind the bars. For you it may be money, but it could be something else.

          Jesus discerns that this man has a divided loyalty. He is not really trusting in Jesus as Good. Jesus shows him his own heart. He wants his money on earth more than he wants eternal life. For salvation it is not necessary to sell all you have, but the commitment below that command is essential – to trust in Jesus Christ alone as your Savior. Will you prefer what earth can give you or what heaven offers you? For this man, Jesus’ demand is not a test of works but a probing of his heart, and examination of his fundamental allegiance.  Pp 468 What might Jesus ask you to probe your heart? Jesus invites the man to follow him.

          Follow Jesus

          This is the same invitation Jesus extended to his disciples in the beginning of his ministry: come follow me. Leave your fishing nets, leave your tax collector’s stand and follow me. They did. Jesus is still inviting us to follow him, to leave earthly attachments behind and follow him.

          This is how we express the mission of our church – to follow Christ and help others follow him, helping people follow Christ. Will you follow Christ? How serious are you about that? The man asked what appears to be a sincere question, but his response is told with tragic brevity: “when the man heard this he became very sad, because he was extremely wealthy.” He walks away from Jesus. Faced with choosing God or money, he choose money. Faced with letting go of the shiny toy in his hand, he choose to hold onand stay trapped. The man comes searching spiritually but at the moment of discovery, he turns away. What a sad ending.

          As he walks away, Jesus comments, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

The camel is the largest animal in Palestine, while the eye of a needle is one of the smallest items a person might deal with on a daily basis  Pp 1485. Jesus’ comment shocks the crowd. Someone throws out a difficult question: “Then who can be saved?”

A difficult question from the crowd

The impossibility of sacrifice – heart blockage

          Why would they ask this? They understood wealth as a sign of God’s blessing. Also a rich person could give more money to the temple. If a wealthy person who is obviously blessed by God finds it hard to enter the kingdom of God, what about the rest of us? They had a false notion that many people suffer from today: that having money is an automatic sign of being blessed by God. Jesus says wealth can be a spiritual handicap. We think rich people are privileged. Jesus says they are handicapped. Having wealth creates a danger for your soul. It can create false security and tempt you to think you do not need God. It can be very hard to let go of. Wealth can shrink the door of the kingdom down to an impassable keyhole. from Pp 1486. But Jesus gives hope to all of us. He says, “What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God.

Impossible for humans,

          Humanly it is impossible to save ourselves. No person can break free from the sins that trap us. In suburban American, in Collin County, money keeps many people from following Jesus Christ. We cannot free ourselves from sin. But salvation is possible for God.

but possible for God

God can save wealthy people. Sometimes people look at self-sufficient billionaires and wonder, could they ever be saved? Yes they can. Then we look at people we work with and wonder could they ever follow Jesus? Yes. They can. We worry over people in our families and get discouraged with their persistent rejection of God, with their horrible life choices that have destroyed their lives and we think: could they ever trust in Jesus Christ? Yes they can, because God can save anyone. God can open blind eyes and closed minds. He can soften hard hearts.

          You may be wondering personally, could God save you? Yes he can. Are you asking, what must I do to get eternal life? Are you serious about your question? Jesus is inviting you to follow him. Perhaps there is something you are holding in your hand that you do not want to give up, but you know God is asking you to open up your hand and drop the shiny toy. Do it. Drop the shiny toy and trust in Jesus Christ alone to save you. He alone is good.

In your Program on your Care Card there is box where you can indicate that you want to trust in Jesus Christ. If you have never done so or if you are not sure you were sincere when you did long ago, I invite you today to trust in Jesus Christ. As you look on the Card maybe there is another decision God is calling you to. Perhaps you want to be baptized or recommit your life. Let us know. Perhaps you know what you need to let go of – do so.

Back to our story, Peter speaks up as he often does with a pressing question that he asks Jesus.

A pressing question from Peter

The benefits of sacrifice -  a heart for Jesus

“Look, we have left everything we own to follow you!”

Peter asks what about us? Jesus commends the disciples. He assures them that in contrast to the rich man, they have followed him and will receive rich benefits of their sacrifice. Peter and others have passed the heart test not because they sold everything, but because they have turned from other things to trust in Jesus alone for their lives. They have done with the rich man refused to do.

          Jesus’ response really gives us hope. We too can follow Jesus. He has not set an impossible standard. We can only do it by the power of God, but we can do what the disciples did. Will we? Peter said they had left everything. Are you willing to leave important earthly valuables behind to follow Jesus? The disciples were far from perfect, but they were willing to leave what was necessary behind and trust Jesus enough to follow him.

          What is God asking you to leave behind? Does money hold you back from following Christ fully? If so maybe you do need to sell something. If you are trapped by debt and financial bondage, you need to get free. We are offering help as a church. In a few weeks we are starting [SLIDE] Financial Peace University, Dave Ramsey’s excellent material. All the details are on our web site (www.McKinneyFellowship.org). I strongly encourage you to check it out. You will find practical help for how to get free from financial bondage so you can serve Christ better. We are offering Financial Peace University to our whole community. It is also on Dave Ramsey’s website. You can sign up there as well.

          For you maybe it is not money, maybe something else is competing for your devotion to God. Maybe it is an inappropriate relationship. Maybe it is an addiction to alcohol, drugs or porn. If you are wrestling with an addiction or bad habit, we offer Celebrate Recovery on Friday nights. It may be just what you need. You probably know what it is, deal with it. If you worry you are blind to something, then ask God to show it to you and ask someone close to you what they think is holding you back from fully following God.

          In the last two verses of our text, Jesus answers Peter’s implied question with a wonderful assurance: “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of God’s kingdom 30 who will not receive many times more in this age – and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Jesus contrasts what the disciples have sacrificed with what they receive for their sacrifice.  Pp 1489 God’s reward will more than overcome any sacrifice. The rich man thought he was holding on to the good stuff, but he was wrong, he was losing much more than he was keeping. You can never out-give God. Give up what keeps you from following Jesus and God will give you so much more.

          Jesus mentions leaving your home. You may leave the security of your home to travel for Christ. You may leave a certain size home to downsize so you can free up resources for the kingdom, time or money. Jesus mentions a wife. You may give up getting married to remain single so you can be more single-minded in your devotion to Christ. You be apart from your spouse for periods of time to minister for Christ. Choosing to follow Jesus may cost you closeness to your brothers or your parents, as is the case in many Muslim families. Your family may reject you. But no matter what you give up to follow Christ, you will never regret it. You will receive so much more from God. We are like the dumb monkey holding on to the trinket behind the bars trapped for nothing. God offers us so much more.

Receive much more in this time

In this life we will receive so much more than we ever give up. If we give up family, we will find a new and larger family in the body of Christ. The whole church is our family. God gives us many brothers and sisters who are blood brothers by sharing in the blood of Christ.

          We will find peace, hope and joy, comfort and rest in Christ and the Spirit that will more than counterbalance any sacrifices we make. I encourage you to read the stories of modern day and historical martyrs for Christ. Recently I read [SLIDE] Randy Alcorn’s novel, Safely Home, a fact-based story of persecution in China. One of his main characters is very much like the rich man in the story, climbing a corporate ladder, getting further from God, but then he runs into his old roommate from years ago in college, a brilliant Chinese student who returned to China after finishing his degree in America. The Chinese student trusted in Christ in college. Going back to China as a Christian he must sacrifice hopes, dreams, money, position and more. And yet his inner peace and joy far exceed that of his American roommate who is close to the top of the corporate ladder.

          Thousands of Christians in every century can tell their stories of suffering far overcome by the perfect peace and soul-deep joy given by God. In their darkest hours, they found joy in the incalculable honor of suffering for their Savior, Jesus Christ.

          But that’s not all. Not only will we receive much more in this time, but we will receive eternal life in the time to come. The kingdom of God is both a present reality and a future certainty.

          Receive eternal life in the time to come

          The text ends how it began. The man asked how to inherit eternal life and Jesus assures the disciples they will have eternal life. Eternal life is much more than duration. Life is to be connected to the life giver, to be in the gracious presence of the living God. What the rich man hoped for, but refused to embrace, the disciples are receiving. What a lesson in contrast.

          He thought he was gaining so much by holding on to his earthly riches, when he was actually losing all God offers in this time and in the time to come. He lost so much more than he kept. Conversely the disciples gain far more than they ever gave up.

          We too can gain far more than we could ever give up for Christ. Have you ever given up a sinful habit that had a hold on you? You give up something you rely on to deal with stress and find a deeper peace without it. Maybe you used to deal with stress by smoking a joint or getting drunk. When you gave it up, you realized how much better life is when you trust in God instead of relying on substitutes. Have you ever had money and then lost it? Then you found that your life was more peaceful and joyful without the money than when you had it.

          The principle is this: Give up what keeps you from following Jesus, trusting your life fully to him, because in doing so you will receive so much more than you ever gave up. Give up what keeps you from following Jesus and God will give you so much more. The things of earth grow dim in the bright light of our glorious relationship with the living God.

          Loosen your grip on the things of this life and trust fully in Christ. As the disciples did, leave it all behind to follow Jesus, whatever “it” is for you. For the rich man, the issue was to give up money which was his idol, his shiny toy, keeping him from really trusting in Jesus Christ, as the only Good God.

If you are not a Christian, what is keeping you from trusting in Jesus Christ? Have you got your hand clenched around some shiny toy? Drop it and trust in Jesus Christ alone. You will find so much more in this life and in the next life. Give up what keeps you from following Jesus and God will give you so much more.

          If you are a Christian, as most of us are, what is keeping you from fully following Christ? What shiny toy should you let go of? What is God asking you to sacrifice as he asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? For each person the sacrifice may be different, though no less difficult. No matter how much or how little you have, no matter how difficult the sacrifice may be, are you willing to do whatever it takes obey God in all areas of life? Remember, no matter what you give up, God will give you more. You will never regret what you sacrifice for God.

          This is the heart of the matter. Where is your heart? You cannot love God and money. You cannot love God and anything else at an equal level. We are called to serve one God. He tolerates no rivals. God is to have primacy no matter what the cost.

God is good. He will pour out blessings on us when we sacrifice for him. If you will let go and leave behind anything he asks, he will give you so much more in this time and in the time to come.

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