Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

Easter so clearly proclaims the Christian message – Jesus is raised from the dead and he has provided for us a great hope of resurrection life in the world to come. And this is a time when we gather and sing and celebrate this great truth.

But the question I am asking this morning – Do you really believe in the resurrection? – has to do with whether this belief in our minds makes itself evident in our actions.

Let’s turn to-

1 Corinthians 15

In this passage Paul argues against some Christians who were saying that there is no resurrection.

  • In vs. 1-5 Paul reminds the Corinthians that the gospel he preached and that they believed is based on the resurrection – the resurrection of Jesus.
  • In vs. 12-20 Paul states that if there is no resurrection this means that Christ is not raised, and so our faith is in vain. It also means that we are still in our sins, and so there is no salvation.
  • And then in vs. 30-32 he makes the argument that I want us to look at. Let’s read these verses:

vs. 30-32 – “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” (NRSV)

I want to turn this passage around and make Paul’s point in reverse. Paul’ point is that if the dead are not raised, why would Christians be willing to give up their lives in this world? He references his own experience as he talks about being in constant danger and fighting with wild beasts in Ephesus. If this life is all there is they should all be out living it up, enjoying this life, because it’s all anyone has.

So he argues from their current behavior back to a belief that sustains that behavior. He’s saying, it’s our belief in the resurrection that allows us to give up our lives in this world – because there is another, better world to come.

My point moves from a belief in the resurrection to the kind of life that such a belief should produce in our actions and choices. Since we believe that there is a resurrection, we are free to give up our lives in this world. This life is not all there is and what is to come is better. So we don’t need to cling to our lives in this world.

Our belief in the resurrection and new life in the world to come gives us a whole new outlook on this life, which should reorient our everyday decisions. I call this a resurrection perspective. We are not to live for this life, but for the next.

This resurrection perspective is truly liberating

It sets us free to serve God in bold new ways. For instance, 1. We can give up pursuing our own dreams in this world. We can give up our own ambitions; all the things that we seek to find meaning and worth in life.

Maybe your dream is about having a family and enjoying life with them all your days. Or maybe it’s being with your friends and living life with them. Maybe it’s gaining more and more wealth, or making a name for yourself or finding “fulfillment” in life – making of yourself all that you can.

We can give this all up and follow God wherever that may take us. We can let God’s will for us be our dream, our ambition, our meaning – making everything else secondary or even setting them aside to do God’s will.

Paul says in Philippians 3:8 in the context of the resurrection, “I have suffered the loss of all things.” He gave up everything for Jesus.

Paul was not bound by fear of the loss of his own dreams and ambitions connected to this life, because this world is passing away and another is coming that is better than our best earthly dreams.

Belief in the resurrection set him free so that he could pursue God’s call on his life wherever that took him.

Another example of the liberating power of belief in the resurrection is that 2. We can give up being comfortable, secure, and settled in this world. We can give up having all that we want, just like we want it; living life like we always have, where we want to live.

Rather we can endure hard times and suffering in this world in obedience to God’s will. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 talks about his many “imprisonments . . . countless beatings, and (how he was) often near death.” He says, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”

He was not bound by the fear of loss of earthly comfort, security and settledness, because his true comfort and security is waiting for him in the world to come. As he says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”

Belief in the resurrection set him free to obey God radically, even if it means that suffering for doing Gods’ call, will be a part of this.

3. We can literally give up our lives in this world. We can obey God even when others threaten to take away our lives for doing it.

In 2 Timothy 4:6 he says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” And indeed he was killed for his faith.

He was not bound by the fear of death. Because he has a life in the world to come he doesn’t’ need not cling to his earthly life.

Belief in the resurrection set him free to obey God boldly, even if that means dying for Jesus.

Now, Paul said that “he dies daily” in v. 30. What he means is that he is prepared to lose all these things each day – earthly dreams, comforts and his own life. And he can do this because there is a resurrection.

What about you?

Do you really believe in the resurrection? Does it show up in your everyday life choices?

When others look at your life, do they see you living like this world is all there is? Do they see you chasing after the good things of this life, wanting more and more, and guarding against the loss of what you already have? In other words, living like everyone else?

Or do they see you living for the world to come? Do they see that you are free to serve God boldly and sacrificially, making life decisions based on your faith in the God who raises the dead, and doing things you would never do unless there was a resurrection?

We can all say what we want this morning, as we sing and talk about the resurrection. But if it doesn’t affect how we live, it’s meaningless.

This is the challenge I leave with you – let’s live our lives like we really
do believe in the resurrection.

William Higgins

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From time to time I want to share with you stories about Christians who lived after the time of the Bible who can both teach us and encourage us to live more faithfully ourselves. And in each case I want to show how their lives embody specific aspects of faithfulness from the Scriptures.

The first one I shared with you was the story of the young woman, Perpetua, who lived in Carthage Africa in the early 200’s. Today we jump all the way to the early 1500’s and we are in Switerland. So this was around 500 years ago. This is the story of Felix Mantz (or Manz). We begin with his –

His life in Zurich

Zurich with the Limmat river in the foreground and the Grossmunster in the background

Zurich with the Limmat river in the foreground and the Grossmunster in the background

He was born here in 1498. He was the illegitimate child of a priest at the main church in Zurich, the Grossmunster. It was not uncommon at this time for priests to have concubines.

He was in his early 20’s when the Protestant reformation began to gain a foothold in Zurich. And he became very involved in it, working with the Protestant leaders and attending bible studies.

He had studied at the University of Paris and knew Latin and Greek, and he learned Hebrew at this time. He was on his way to being appointed as a scholar and teacher of Hebrew in what would become the University of Zurich.

A reform of the Protestant reformation?

But he, along with several others, became disillusioned with the Protestant leaders of Zurich. Although they talked about having a church based on the New Testament, they constantly allowed the city council to determine what, if anything, would change in the church of Zurich. The State, even though made up in part of unbelievers, was in charge of the church and its reformation.

The first public break between Mantz and these leaders came in October 1523 when the city council called for a debate about the Lord’s Supper, or when to change from a Catholic service to a Protestant one.

City council building

City council building

City council building in the 1500s

City council building in the 1500s

Mantz argued that when you know what is right based on the Bible, you need to act on it, not wait. The Protestant leaders deferred to the conservative city council and decided to wait to make a change.

Mantz and the others had been meeting together in their own bible study for a while, often in his mother’s home. They went ahead and began to observe a simple Lord’s supper among themselves.

The controversy came to focus next on infant baptism. The radicals asked, where is this in the Bible? The city council called for a debate on this topic which took place on January 10 and 17, 1525. Mantz was a spokesperson for the radical group.

Now, a State church needs infant baptism to bind together everyone in one faith in their territory. Mantz and the radicals were coming to see that the church should only be made up of people who choose the Christian faith for themselves. So these are very different ideas of what the church should be.

Anabaptist and Protestant leaders in the council building

Anabaptist and Protestant leaders in the council building

Street on which the first baptisms took place

Street on which the first baptisms took place

The radicals argued that there is a pattern in Scripture, which is that faith and repentance come before baptism. The disputation, of course, was given to the Protestant leaders by the council since they worked hand in hand. But this wasn’t all.

On January 18th, the council ordered all parents to have their children baptized within a week. (One of their group had just had a daughter four days before). And on January 21st – Mantz and the others were silenced, and their meetings banned.

That very evening the group of radicals gathered at Mantz’s mother’s house and received from each other believer’s baptism, thus starting a new Christian group.

Life as a persecuted evangelist

First Anabaptist church site

First Anabaptist church site

The next day the group fled to the village of Zollikon, just south of Zurich. And they began preaching and baptizing people. Mantz baptized a farmer named George Shad, who himself later went on to baptize 40 more people. Things really took off and people began to respond.

Also in Zollikon, Mantz baptized Hans Bruggbach. An account of this said that after a Bible study, Hans “stood up, wept and wailed what a great sinner he was and asked those present to pray for him.” After he confessed his faith, Mantz baptized him. Right after this another man, Jacob Hottinger stood up and asked to be baptized and Mantz baptized him. This became the first Anabaptist congregation.

An Anabaptist prison break

An Anabaptist prison break

Within a week the authorities cracked down. Mantz was arrested along with many others. He was put in prison on a diet of mush, water and bread until he had a change of heart. But he escaped from prison and went to other areas outside of Zurich to minister. He was arrested again in July and was in jail for 3 months. But then he was released and began to preach and baptize again.

Once again he was arrested and brought to Zurich. As a prisoner at this time he took part in one final debate, November 6-8 in the Grossmunster. Almost a thousand people came.

Debate in the Grossmunster

Debate in the Grossmunster

After this he was sentenced to life in prison, and isolated from outsiders. In the Spring the council decreed the death penalty for anyone who baptized outside of the State church. In March (1526) he escaped through a window that was left open in the prison tower.

For the next nine months he was constantly on the run. He held secret meetings with believers in fields and forests. He taught them the Scriptures, baptized and celebrated a simple Lord’s supper.

His death

His final arrest was in December of 1526. He was sentenced to death by Zurich authorities. He was killed January 5, 1527 in the Limmat river at the age of 29.

Zurich in the 1500s

Zurich in the 1500s

He was taken from the Wellenberg tower situated in the Limmat river (above – the bottom right corner) by boat, to the east bank by the fish market near the city council building. Here his sentence was read. Then he was taken past the council building to the slaughterhouse where he was put into a boat and taken out to a fisherman’s hut (above – the bottom left corner). As he made his way he praised God that he was about to die for the truth. A great crowd watched. And his mother encouraged him to stay true.

The martyrdom of Felix Mantz

The martyrdom of Felix Mantz

They bound his hands over his knees with a rod to keep him immobile. His final words were, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my Spirit.” Then they  pulled him off the platform and he drowned at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Area of the Limmat river where he was drowned

Area of the Limmat river where he was drowned

Finally, here are –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

– that stand out to me in Mantz’s life:

1. He worked to fulfill the great commission. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

He had an exemplary ministry of disciple making, baptizing and teaching throughout the area of Zurich. And this is a challenge to us. He did this when there were great obstacles to fulfilling the great commission of Jesus:

  • at this time everyone thought that everyone in Europe was already Christian.
  • he was being told that he was a heretic for simply following the New Testament.
  • it was against the law of the land.

The challenge is this – in our situation where none of these obstacles exist, why aren’t we more active in fulfilling the great commission?

2. He was not afraid of persecutors. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” And he was fearless. He was constantly breaking the law in order to spread the word. And even when he knew near the end, that if he were caught he would die, he kept going.

This is a challenge to us – he carried out his ministry under constant threat of arrest and death. But the worst we have to fear is that we will be ridiculed and dishonored. Yet we often allow this fear to stop us.

3. He gave up his earthly life. Jesus said in John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

  • He hated his earthly life in comparison to his love for Jesus when he was killed for his faith as a young man. He could have recanted. He could have sought a way out and changed course.
  • And he hated his earthly life in comparison to his love for Jesus when he gave up comfort and status to become an evangelist on the run. He could have taken a wife and had kids and been honored as a professor and outstanding member of the Zurich community. He could have enjoyed all the comforts and privileges that Zurich has to offer in that day.But he lost his life, he gave all this up for faithfulness to God, and for a life in the world to come.

This is a challenge to us. What have we given up for Jesus? Even short of physical death, what have we hated of our life in this world; what have given up to serve Jesus? We should not think that if there were suddenly persecution in our context and our lives were on the line that we would out of the blue give up our physical lives for Jesus if we have not already been giving up our lives in service and sacrifice for Jesus more generally. If we are not taking up our cross and dying every day, we will not be prepared to literally give up our lives.

Mantz had already given everything up. He had sacrificed all for Jesus. That is why he could be joyful even as his physical death approached.

William Higgins

(I am indebted to John Allen Moore’s Anabaptist Portraits)

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 I want to share some words today that I hope will help us to understand and remember how significant it is to receive the Lord’s supper. When we partake, we not only remember Jesus; we not only proclaim his death; we not only give thanks for the salvation he gives  – we are also called to do something. We are called to follow Jesus in his self-sacrifice. And we need to know and remember this as we partake. Our text is –

Luke 9:23-24

 23And Jesus said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”

In this passage Jesus calls us to sacrifice; to give it all up for him. And he describes what this means with three phrases:

1) He said “deny yourself.” That is, say ‘no’ to your own desires, ambitions and plans. Say ‘no’ to what you want to do with your earthly life.

2) He said “take up your cross.” A cross, of course, was an instrument of death, a particularly cruel means to enact capital punishment. To take it up is to carry the cross beam to the execution site where you are to die. This means that you accept that your earthly life is over.

3) And in line with this last thought, he said, “lose your life.” Give up your earthly life.

Now let’s look at our Lord’s example for he lived this out.

Jesus gave it all up for us

1. He gave up his place with the Father. Philippians 2:6-7 says that Jesus, “ . . . though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself . . . being born in the likeness of men.”

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

The gospel of John tells us that Jesus left “the glory that (he) had with (the Father) before the world existed” in order to dwell among us. (John 17:5; 1:14).

He gave up all privilege, power and place. He gave up things beyond what we can even begin to understand, to come to earth.

2. He gave up a normal life. When he grew up he left his family. And he also incurred their disapproval. At one point Mark tells us that his family “went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” – Mark 3:21

He gave up the joy of having a wife and children. As he said in Matthew 19:12, he made himself a eunuch “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

He gave up having a normal home. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” – Matthew 8:20.

He gave up a normal pattern of living – with a normal job, regular friends, and free time for himself. He gave up his earthly life.

3. He served others. He gave all of his time and energy to ministry. He gave his love and concern and compassion. As he said in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”

He made himself available to minister to people’s needs, traveling almost constantly, healing, casting out demons and teaching. And then there was the arguing with the religious leaders who always tried to find ways to discredit him.

And he did all this to the point of exhaustion. Mark 6:30-32 tells the story how Jesus sought to get away for a time of rest with his disciples, but the crowd learned of this and beat him to the place where he was going. But when he saw this, he still had compassion on them and fed the 5,000.

He bore with people’s weaknesses. For instance when the disciples didn’t get what he was teaching them. Mark 8:17-18 says, “And Jesus . . .  said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?’” These were the ones he had invested his time in to train to take over after his death.

He was also frustrated by people’s failures. When his disciples couldn’t cast out a demon, he said, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” – Mark 9:19. And Jesus had to do it. Again, these were the ones he was leaving in charge.

In love, Jesus served others with his life and bore with those he ministered to.

4. He suffered. He suffered rejection from the Pharisees and Sadducees, his opponents. John tells us that, “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:8). He endured the rejection of his own disciples who abandoned him in the end. Even Peter denied him with curses and oaths – Matthew 26:74.

He suffered the loss of honor as he was mercilessly mocked by the Jewish leaders and Romans. He was put to shame.

He suffered physically through extensive torture and crucifixion, being nailed to the cross, and eventually unable to breathe due to exhaustion. Jesus suffered.

5. He died. As Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

This is a five-fold portrait of what it means to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to lose your life. This is what these things mean. Jesus shows us fully and truly.

And if you think that it was easy for Jesus to give it all up because he was the Son of God – you’re mistaken. Just look at him in Gethsemane. Scripture tells us that Jesus “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said . . . ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” – Mark 14:33-34. He struggled in prayer, “Is this the only way, God?”

His giving up everything is portrayed in the Lord’s supper. Here we see represented his broken body and his poured out blood. Here we see that he denied himself, he took up his cross and he lost life. He gave it all up for us.

Jesus call us to give it all up for him

 He is saying, I denied myself for you. I took up the cross for you. I lost everything for you. Now you deny yourself for me. Take up your cross for me. Lose everything for me.

1. We are to give up our privilege, power and place. This is the commitment. It has to all be on the altar. Even if Jesus says to me, like the rich young ruler,  “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor . . . and come, follow me” – Luke 18:22, this is what I will do.

Now God doesn’t call everyone to do this. But whatever God specifically calls me to in my life circumstances, this is what I will do. And God calls us each of us to give up something, as we lower ourselves like Jesus and come to a place where we can be used by God.

2. We are to give up a normal life. He might call you to give it all up like he did with Paul. To leave family behind (Mark 10:28-30), to give up marriage and children (Matthew 19:11-12), a normal home (Matthew 8:19-22), a normal job, regular friends, and free time. Each of us commit to do this. It has to all be on the altar.

But even if we are not called to literally give all this up, we must accept the disruption of normal family ties due to our faith.

  • Even if it seems that we hate them in comparison to our love for Jesus, and they react to it (Luke 14:26).
  • Even if we are married, with children and normal jobs, as Paul says, because of the coming kingdom, “let those who have wives live as though they had none . . . For the present form of this world is passing away.” – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.
  • Even if we have free time, we regularly give it up for God and to do God’s work.
  • Even if we are blessed with resources we don’t hold on to them for ourselves, we use them to further the kingdom.

3. We are to serve others with our time and resources. In love we are to minister to their needs. This will depend on our gifts and callings, but each of us is to serve, whether in this congregation  or beyond it.

So find your place, plug in and get to work. And don’t be surprised if this is hard work bearing with people’s weaknesses and failures. But we continue to serve others in love, as Jesus did.

4. We are to suffer. We must be willing to suffer rejection, from family, friends and coworkers (Luke 14:26). We must be willing to suffer the loss of honor, even if it is only ridicule or slander for our connection to Jesus (Matthew 5:11). We must be willing to suffer physically as well.

5. We are to die. We take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) in all these ways that we have looked at so far -#1-4. But here we are to literally die, if it comes to this; if this is what it means to be faithful to God.

Again we have a five-fold portrait of the cross. And each of us are to live this out in our own situations, according to God’s will and purpose for us. But our commitment is all the same – it has to all be on the altar. For anything that isn’t, family, job, home, will become an idol that will disrupt and destroy our Christian life.

So let’s remember

When we partake of the Lord’s supper – we don’t just see Jesus having given it all up for us in the bread and cup, we renew our commitment to give it all up for him and to live this out in whatever way God calls us to do this.

But let’s also remember the promise. When we do this, we will be blessed. It isn’t all just sacrifice. We give up this life in order to gain the next life – something both better and enduring.

As Jesus said in Luke 9:24, “whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” We will enter into the eternal kingdom. Just as Jesus was raised, honored and blessed, so we will be raised, honored and blessed.

William Higgins 

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