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Apr 09, 2017

Givers or Takers On the Road to the Cross

Givers or Takers On the Road to the Cross

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Holy Week 2017

Category: Easter

Keywords: givers, love of god, people, surprises, takers, road to the cross

Summary:

Jesus interacted with a host of people on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. This message takes a look at some of the givers as well as takers whom he encountered along that road and what they have to teach us about knowing Christ.

Detail:

Givers or Takers?

April 9, 2017

I’ve got a couple of questions I’d like us to think about starting off this morning’s message.  They may seem a bit morbid on the surface.  But, trust me, I think we’d all live…and die…without regrets if we think well about these 2 questions.  So here goes!

1.) If you knew you had one week to live (and would be strong and in good health right up to the day of your death), how would you want to spend that last week of life?

2.)  If you knew someone you loved and cared about had just 1 week to live, what would you want to talk with him or her about? 

That’s precisely the situation both Jesus and his disciples found themselves in on the very Holy Week we are celebrating this week.  Today is the Sunday we commemorate as “Palm Sunday” when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt and the crowds hailed him as God’s deliverer and soon-to-be king…or so they thought!

            So for these two Sundays that book-end Holy Week, we’re going to be looking at what God might want to teach us on two of the most important roads Jesus ever traveled—the road to Jerusalem & the cross…and the Road to Emmaus and the resurrection.  The latter is the road Jesus traveled with two of His own disciples just after His resurrection.  They didn’t even recognize him while spending hours on that road with him.

            But for today, I want us to look at a few “snapshots” of Jesus on “the road to Jerusalem.”  And my prayer as we do that is that God will point out life-giving truths to us about both Jesus and about ourselves. 

PRAY

            For the next few moments, I want us to focus not so much on what Jesus said to his followers as much as on WHO he interacted with that week and HOW they acted towards Jesus.  To do that we’re going to look at snapshots from the Gospels about that week.  Let’s start with Matthew and his account of things that week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.  I want to direct your attention to 4 or 5 “snapshots” of people interacting with Jesus that last week of his earthly life.  And I want you to ask yourself 2 more questions:

1.) Were they “givers” or “takers”?

2.) What were they giving…or taking?

We’ll start in Matthew 20:20-28.

Notice what Jesus told them just prior to this interchange he’s going to have with James and John.  In 20:17-19 Jesus has just told his disciples AGAIN that this time when they go to Jerusalem “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.  They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.  On the third day he will be raised to life!” 

            Could Jesus be clearer?  He’s telling them that this trip to Jerusalem is going to end in his death.  He’s telling them who will do it.  He’s telling them how he will die.  And he’s telling them there will be a resurrection “on the third day.”  What isn’t clear about this? 

            So why is it the disciples almost always ended up arguing among themselves about who was going to “take over” after Jesus was gone? Maybe they think they’ve heard this speech so many times that they need to develop a “succession plan” for the new government they thought Jesus was going to set up?  Whatever the trigger and motivation in them, how would YOU have felt if you just told your family you had a week to live and they started whispering and arguing among themselves about who was going to get the most from your estate? 

            So here it comes.

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

  • Were they givers…or takers? (Takers)
  • WHAT was it they wanted?
    • Preferential treatment
    • An eternal “freebee”
    • Something they didn’t really understand
    • Power, authority, privilege…everything that attracts people to the levers of government.

If “the 10” hadn’t wanted the same things, do you think they would have cared what James and John asked for?  I doubt it. But the fact that they were shows they were all in the same boat…all wanting to have more than what everyone else was getting. 

            Jesus tells them they don’t understand what they are asking.  First, they don’t understand that to share in the “cup” Jesus is going to drink is to share in the same destiny Jesus is headed to, i.e. unjust suffering and death.  They think Jesus’ destiny is the power of the palace, not the shame of the cross.

            But secondly, they are wrong about the “kingdom” Jesus intends to set up.  They think it will run just like this world’s governments have always run—by the top dogs telling the underdogs what to do.  So Jesus has to educate them about his “upside-down kingdom”.  In His kingdom, you must be the biggest giver to be in charge.  You must be the humblest servant…a slave…to be considered for any eternal cabinet position. 

APP:  Ugly selfishness and privilege among God’s people is, unfortunately, anything new.  Don’t we expect better behavior out of people who have hung around Jesus for years?  And these guys were the closest ones to Jesus. Peter, James & John were the “inside circle” of the 12, no?  And here they are being the biggest “takers” of the bunch.  Sadly, the allure of leadership and power doesn’t stop when you start hanging out with Jesus and his people.  Neither does the jealousy of the rest of us. 

To that selfish human longing to somehow be superior to even our best friends and family, Jesus says, “Learn to BE a servant…a slave…of each other.” 

APP:  What might serving…being a slave…look like among God’s people today?  

On to the 2 blind men

29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Givers or takers?

WHAT?  Life-changing physical sight. There is more need for spiritual sight today than physical.  Jesus is always ready to stop and touch people who recognize their need and call out to Him.

Result?  They “followed him.”  They gave their time, attention, lives, etc. to be a follower of Jesus.  Their “taking” turned into “giving.”  

Next we come to the text that inspires today on the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday.  It’s Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Matthew 21--

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Things seem to be looking up a bit, no?  We finally have some people around Jesus who look like GIVERS. 

WHAT are they giving?

  • Cloaks…temporarily.
  • Praise…temporarily.
  • ????

For someone who wanted to start a public uprising or revolution, those things would be extremely valuable and coveted.  But they’ve got the wrong “candidate” for that role.  Jesus had done nothing but shy away from political power.  He had just finished, as we saw, telling his disciples that greatness in His kingdom would be defined by service to others, not public positions of political power.

But it is probably fair to ask, “What might they be ‘getting’ or ‘taking’ from Jesus?” 

  • Hope of freedom from the oppressive Romans?
  • More miracles?
  • ???

So this situation seems a bit mixed at best as to whether people were givers or takers.

The next scene takes us to the Temple in Jerusalem.  We’d hope that at the place known for getting close to the God of the universe, you’d find the people charged with helping others worship being true givers rather than takers.  Listen to what Jesus saw.

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,

“‘From the lips of children and infants
    you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

So we’ve got several folks here.  Start with the money-changers.  These people were basically sold franchises by the chief priests so that they could set up a system whereby visitors to the Temple had to “exchange” their Roman currency for Temple currency.  Then, they had to take that currency and buy “approved” sacrificial animals…all at a hefty mark-up, of course.  And this all happened in “the Court of the Gentiles,” the one place where non-Jews were allowed to worship.  It would be worse then setting up the New York Stock Exchange trading floor in the middle of church.  Needless to say, it wasn’t particularly conducive to worship… though it did make for a great income and retirement for a bunch of religious mucky-mucks. 

So, money-changers and the religious elite:  givers or takers?

WHAT?  Money…and space that should have belonged to God-seekers…and general destruction of Gentile worship and connecting with God. 

APP

  • What we do with this space God has given us matters. This is why it is SO important that we not do anything with it that makes it hard for people to draw near to God. Rather we want it to be space where people encounter God. (YFC, Unite Family Services, Life Services, Changing Lives).
  • Place of PRAYER: The Washing , April 30-Thur., May 4
  • It’s NOT about us! (Speech by Lt. Col. @ Ft. Rucker last week). It’s about people experiencing God’s heart here!  This is a danger for anyone who finds themselves in a place of “serving” in church, whether teaching publically or serving unseen.  We must always remember that as servants it is our job to be inconvenienced or wearied or financially expended for others, NOT their job to fill us up or make us feel blessed.
  • God’s people are sometimes the most difficult people to work with.

Let’s end this flyover shoot of givers and takers in Matthew with Mt. 26:14-16.  This paragraph follows another one of the stories we will

14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Pretty simple:  Giver or taker?

What?  Money, money, money.  Perhaps also influence, sense of power, control, etc. 

APP:  Speaking of control, I’m amazed at how many people in the church are attracted to controlling other people through positions of authority or just plain manipulative/controlling speech (demanding comments, graceless critiques of people, etc.).

So enough of the TAKERS. Let’s fill our hearts and minds with the GIVERS.  For that, let’s go to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 19, vs. 1.  We’re back where we began in Matthew, with Jesus heading to Jerusalem via the city of Jericho. 

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

            Don’t you just love this story!  It is SO refreshing, at least when you focus on Zacchaeus. 

            Let’s start by asking what is WRONG with this man Zacchaeus?

  • He’s in the wrong business: he is employed by the occupying Roman government. Therefore, he’s a traitor to his race and nation.
  • He’s hated by everyone. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”” Think of someone you despise in our culture—a drug dealer, a pimp, a greedy businessperson, etc.  That’s how people felt about Zach.
  • He’s rich, and probably by means of extortion—demanding more tax money than was required and keeping the difference.
  • He’s vertically challenged! J  Why is it that tall people seem to get more automatic respect than short people? 

Was he a giver or taker?  The only thing he seemed to ‘take’ from Jesus was his friendship and attention.  But even his encounter with Jesus was used by people who knew him to criticize and critique him. 

But what did he GIVE?

  • Hospitality: food, fellowship, home, time, etc.
  • Worship: “Lord, Lord!”
  • Wealth: ½ his possessions to the poor.  Do you suppose that changed his lifestyle a bit?  May have required plenty of inconvenience?  But clearly wealth was not his god as with the rich man who couldn’t bring himself to this place.
  • Honesty: publically acknowledged his past sins of cheating and made a commitment to pay restitution to those he had cheated.  Think anyone took advantage of that? 

APP:  it is sometimes the most unlikely people who are the biggest givers. Nobody expected a traitor to the nation to be such an amazing giver to God incarnate on Jesus’ last week of human life on this earth.  Which should give us cause for pause about making judgments as to WHO is really giving the most to God.

  • In our culture, there is a growing bias against people of wealth. That’s as ungodly a perspective as people who disregard and avoid the poor. 
  • All of us can give hospitality, both to Jesus himself (daily meeting time with God?) and other people. It doesn’t always mean you have to have them into your home.  But when we take time to buy a cup of coffee or a Big Mac for a panhandler on the street or a high school kid living downtown, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus.  ILL: former owner of McDonalds who would give a free hamburger to any kid who would memorize a new Bible verse and tell it to him.
  • Gift of worship: Declaring publicly what we believe about Jesus (that he is Lord and Savior), is not only a gift given to God but a gift given to people too.
  • How about the gift of honesty? It’s hard enough to acknowledge our sins to one of two people privately.  But to do that publically takes a real work of God…and opens doors for future ministry and blessing of others.  Please remember that about past sins from which Jesus has rescued you, whether it is pornography or sexual immorality or abortion or greed or lying or addictions…whatever God has saved us from can become a “gift of honesty”/a gift of repentance we offer to others. 

Luke 21:1-4

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Giver or taker?  Here’s another unlikely candidate for remarkable giving in the life of Jesus himself.  Apparently giving was not a private, secret issue in Jesus’ day.  It was something everyone could see…and comment on.  Which is why Jesus in Matt. 6 encourages giving in secret.  That kind of giving is true giving to God on a number of levels:

  • It removes the temptation to give so as to impress others.
  • It removes the temptation to use giving as a means of influence or control. It entrusts the application of those funds to others in the Body of Christ (which also deepens godly submission).
  • It allows the giver to focus on what giving is doing between them and God.
  • It helps giving be a step of active faith—faith that God sees, faith that percentages matter more to God than amounts or sizes of gifts, faith that God will provide especially when our giving is out of need rather than abundance.

Here is Jesus, God incarnate, watching all these people give, being ministered to more by a poor widow woman’s immense faith in action than by 100 well-to-do people whose big gifts called for little or no faith.  I think Jesus gained great strength and courage that week to entrust His very life to the Father by remembering what this unnamed women did.  She didn’t know Jesus was watching. She came to worship that day expecting only God to notice.  And He did. 

APP:  Here’s the deal:

  • What we don’t have doesn’t limit our faith-in-action. It’s more often what we DO possess that hinders and hobbles our faith.  Giving that which grabs God’s attention NEVER depends on our level of finances.  It depends on our level of FAITH.
  • Money is meant to be a blessing to both the giver and receiver. When we try to use money to exert influence or control in other’s lives, we’ve allowed it to corrode our souls. Money is meant to bless others, not batter them.  Money is meant to express love and faith, not lust and power. 
  • How many of us who give regularly have made our giving so mechanical that it’s lost its power to grow our faith in God and our connection with Jesus? Money is meant to connect us with God.  It’s meant to empower us to bless others.  It’s meant to reform our souls to be like our Father in heaven. 
  • Has money become a flash-point, a bone of contention between you and someone you love? How about redeeming it for good purposes again by becoming more generous with it?

For the last snapshot, let’s go back to Mark 14:1-11.

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

            We’ve already looked at “taker” Judas Iscariot. How amazing that the extravagant generosity of a woman would be what drove him to betray Jesus.  For all his supposed concern for the poor, he was willing to kill a poor man named Jesus who didn’t have a house or bed or extra set of clothes to his name. 

            But this woman, this extravagant “giver”, is the one who somehow was sensitive and responsive enough to the Holy Spirit to heed His promptings to “waste” this spice upon the body of Jesus. 

I’m sure she would have been blessed had she sold it for the equivalent year’s wages ($40,000-$100,000).  I’m sure God would have been equally pleased with her had she spent that money helping the poor.  But for some reason she felt compelled to engage in a costly act of faith and adoration for God and God alone. 

And, boy, did she get heat for that!  “They rebuked her harshly” (vs. 5). 

Don’t expect that being a giver rather than a taker will always win you the praise of people.  It won’t.  In fact, you just might get criticized for it.  “No good deed goes unpunished,” right?  In a world where phony philanthropy with other people’s money gets applauded, real generosity directed towards God Himself with one’s own wealth will too often be derided.

APP:  There will be times in our lives when we will have an opportunity to be extravagant with our giving to God.  Don’t let the ever-present need of humanity rob you of something the Holy Spirit is calling you to do.  And don’t let the criticism of people dissuade you from doing what God is nudging you to do. 

So let’s for this week.  We’ve seen two types of people on Jesus’ road to the cross:  one are takers and the other are givers. 

Jesus loved them both.  But it’s probably fair to say not all of them loved him or their neighbors equally.  Takers don’t love others well.  Givers do.  But God keeps loving both equally.  God’s love is not something that is earned; it’s given graciously. 

I think it is fair to say that love involves giving of ourselves. Jesus, on the road to the cross, just kept giving, regardless of whether the people he gave to were givers or takers.  Whether it’s loving God or loving our neighbors, loving will require giving. Selfishness doesn’t involve giving. 

And givers always develop more faith than takers.  Givers always enjoy more close fellowship with Jesus than takers.  Givers end up with more joy and more of Jesus’ generous heart than takers. 

So let’s bring this home. 

Every follower of Jesus is on their own “Road to the Cross.”  We’re called to “die daily” and live constantly being “crucified with Christ.”  Jesus commanded us to “deny [ourselves], take up [our] cross daily, and follow” him (Lk. 9:23).  That heart and mindset of being a constant, daily giver will free us from slavery of expectations to be “getting” daily.  And it will free us to love people constantly whether they are givers or takers.

            So in this week, this Holy Week, when we are remembering the suffering love of Christ, what will we DO that will make each of us givers rather than takers?

When it comes to Jesus himself:

  • What will we give physically to Jesus? What money?  What hospitality (by taking time to spend daily just with Jesus in His word)?  What possible gift of extravagance, something we can never replace but that He more than deserves? 
  • What will we give Him emotionally and spiritually? What giving of public testimony about what Jesus means to us?  What acts of worship?  What time in conversation both listening to Him and sharing our hearts with him…during walks in the park or at prayer gatherings with others (Wed night or Thurs morning)?

And when it comes to other people:

  • What will we give physically: buy someone’s lunch or coffee, pay someone’s parking, do the cooking for Changing Lives or Pioneer’s Monday night dinner, invite someone or some family over for dinner.  How do you like to use money or things to bless other people?
  • What will you give people emotionally and spiritually? Warm greetings?  A friendly hug (Bob!)?  A verbal blessing (Joe—“God bless you.”)?  A few questions that show you care about them?  A quick prayer when they share a personal need? An invitation to Easter…or our Building Dedication and Dessert…or Changing Lives…or church? 

So here is your assignment before you leave here today: GIVE one thing we’ve just mentioned…or something even more meaningful to you…to one person here today before you go.  Don’t let it stop there.  How about making this a true Holy Week by determining, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to give at least one blessing a day which you don’t normally do to someone this week.  Add a new one each day.  Go looking for opportunities to GIVE.  In so doing you will be experiencing the heart of God and become more of a giver than a taker.