True Sacrifice

Scripture: Mark 10:32-52

As we move through this set of passages, I want to turn briefly to a different one that’s been on my heart during the week. It wasn’t listed in your bulletin or anything, but it’s Philippians 2:5-8.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made him nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.

We’re getting near the end of Jesus’ life and ministry. Mark is pretty short that way. He kind of compresses everything. They’re on their way to Jerusalem. It says that the disciples were astonished and those who were following were afraid. There is a good reason for this.

They knew how unpopular he was with the leadership in the Jewish temple and amongst the Pharisees and such. And here they were, going to, basically, headquarters for both. The fact that it was the Passover coming up and every Jewish male was required to be there was really secondary in their minds at the moment.

Jesus probably didn’t make them feel any better when he said, “We’re going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him. Then three days later he will arise.”

In fact, they were made so uncomfortable by it that it seems like they forgot about it. They just refused to hear it. They had in mind their own understanding of what it meant to be Messiah. Jesus was born at a time when the nation of Israel was under the military control of the Roman Empire.

The people of Israel were looking for a powerful Messianic figure who would come onto the scene and deliver them from Roman oppression. When Jesus arrived, he was not recognized as the Messiah by many because he came as a meek and humble servant.

Nevertheless, the thought of the all-powerful deliverer was never far from the minds of the Jewish people, even from James and John, as they asked these questions.

It’s interesting, in the commentaries. Mark, here, says they asked the question. In Matthew, where it comes up again, it says their mom asked the question. Being a good Jewish mom, you know – taking care of her boys.

Regardless, they’re looking at the glory of Christ. They’re looking at the figure of the Messiah that they understand. And they ask him these questions. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” That’s pretty bold, don’t you think? To come to someone you think is going to be a king and say, “We want you to do whatever we ask of you.” Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

They say that if you’re going to ask for a loan from the bank, you go for the big bucks. You don’t ask for twenty-five dollars. They say when you’re negotiating a deal, you always start with something that’s way higher, at least three to five times higher, than you expect to get. Or one-third of what you expect to pay, or something like that. So you can haggle your way to where you really want to be.

I wonder if that was in their minds, or if they were really just so ambitious at the moment. They said, “Here’s what we want. We want to sit at your right hand and your left hand when you’re on your throne.”

In other words, we want to be your principal advisers. We want to be the ones who have power after you. Don’t worry Jesus, you’ll have the power, but we’ll take care of everything. You can just sit up there.

Jesus asks an interesting question. He says, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” He had just told them what was going to happen, right?

Just before then, on the way into Jerusalem there, as they were walking, he had told them that he was going to go to Jerusalem, be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, be condemned to death, the Gentiles will mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.

They understood what flogging meant. We don’t, today, not really. They used to have a flog, also known as a cat-o’-nine-tails. It had bits of metal and bone in it. It was not like your leather bullwhip that Indiana Jones used, snapping guns out of people’s hands and tying to branches and swinging by them and things like that.

This was an instrument of torture and of pain. When it talks about flogging someone to within an inch of their life, it really means it. It doesn’t just mean a severe penalty. It means it’s talking about how deep the cuts are going in your back, as it makes you bleed.

If ever you have the stomach for seeing what really happened, The Passion by Mel Gibson has the most historically accurate presentation of what happened to Jesus, during his trial and his tortures and his execution, that’s out there today. It’s not Disney. I think it’s important for us to understand it, because it’s important for us to understand what he sacrificed for us, how much he loves us, that he would go through this.

“Can you drink of the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” And they answer in ignorance, “Sure! We can.” So he promises them, you will be baptized, although not to the degree I am. But you still don’t get to sit at my right hand or left hand. That’s not for me to say. That’s for the Father.

They don’t understand. The disciples, the other ten, heard about James’ and John’s request, or their mother’s request, depending on what Gospel you read, and they became indignant. Why did the become indignant? They became indignant because they thought that James and John were politically maneuvering to get up on top of them.

They weren’t indignant because James and John had the temerity to ask Jesus the question. They were indignant because James and John had the guts to do it first. We know that, because you see other places where they all don’t understand the concept of servanthood and leadership.

So Jesus calls them all together, to chastise them basically. To talk to them and tell them, “You know those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be slave of all.”

(Notice we’ve gone from “servant” down to “slave.”) “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” So here he is, he’s bringing it right back to his death.

During Lent, we like to talk about sacrifice. During Lent, we like to talk about repentance. During Lent, we even like to give up things. And I recommend doing something as a spiritual discipline, I really do. Fasting from something, in much the same way as we have other disciplines, whether it be reading the Scriptures daily, spending time in prayer. Fasting, of a sort, can be a discipline.

Even then, when we have our giving up something for Lent, it’s supposed to be something that is near and dear to us. I know the favorite thing to give up is chocolate. But really, is that a sacrifice?

You’ve already eaten it for Valentine’s Day. Easter doesn’t come until after Lent. So unless you’re a true chocoholic that eats chocolate every single day, at every single meal, is it really giving up anything to say, I’m giving up chocolate for Lent?

The Catholics like to give up red meat, then they have fish on Friday, and that’s a release from that. And that’s another practice, because, again, in the early days, centuries ago, meat was hard to come by. It was a treat. It was something they didn’t see enough of.

They got most of their protein through other sources – nuts, and stuff like that. The peasants did, anyways. So it really was a sacrifice for them to give up anything at all, in terms of that sort of food source.

But for us, who have three meals a day, most of us – some of us graze all through the day – and we can have meat whenever we want, is it that much of a sacrifice? I guess it is if you insist on eating meat at every meal. But I would ask you to consider, what is a true sacrifice?

What is something that you devote your time, your energies, your money to (other than church), that would be worth giving up for Lent? Because it’s not just a matter of giving it up. That’s the other thing. You spend that time, you spend that money, you spend that effort, in service to God.

The whole point of it is, you sacrifice in order to relate to God. And we do this with a good heart, not as a grudging duty, and we do it with a good heart, an open heart, because we understand, hopefully, what true sacrifice is. Because even those things are but a shadow of what Christ sacrificed for us.

Let me go back to Philippians. “Who being the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” He is God. He was in glory. He had the authority. He had the power. He was there in heaven. He had the angels singing at him all the time, “Holy, holy, holy, praise God, praise God, praise God.”

But he made himself nothing. He came down to earth, incarnate, became a human being. Yes, he was still fully God, but he was fully experiencing what it meant to be human, being made in human likeness, taking the very nature of a servant.

And then, then becoming obedient, even unto death on a cross. There is true sacrifice. Giving up everything that he had, everything that was associated with who he was as God, to become somebody unknown, misunderstood, despised, and eventually killed. And he did it because he loves us. He sacrificed everything for us.

The fact that he was glorified later is a testament to God’s goodness, because it holds the same promise to us. And we need to be willing to sacrifice to Him, if we love Him. And I’m not talking about Lenten sacrifices, about giving things up, as good a spiritual discipline as that is.

I’m talking about that part in verse 7 where it says he was obedient, even to death on a cross. It’s very clear that Jesus understood everything that was going to be required of him. He told the disciples – not once, not twice, but at least three times. He knew exactly what was going to happen.

He walked knowingly into his death. Not because he had some suicidal impulse. But because he cared. He cared enough to say it was worth it. You’re worth it. I’m worth it

Is Jesus worth enough to you, for you to be obedient to him? Because that’s the real crux of the matter here. What are you willing to sacrifice? Not in terms of chocolate, not in terms of meat, not in terms of facebook. What are you willing to sacrifice in terms of your obedience and your understanding and your heart?

True sacrifice comes in placing yourself under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, willingly. Sometimes it means doing things that we’re profoundly uncomfortable with. I really appreciated the liturgist at Morning Sun this morning. It was the first time he was up there, reading alone in front of everyone. He was being obedient to the call of Christ in his life.

The same thing can be done for you. It will probably be in a different area, though I’d be glad to see more liturgists. But where can you show your willingness to follow Christ, and how much of yourself are you willing to give up, to be filled with Christ instead, and his Spirit?

It takes a constant effort, and it takes a sure knowledge and understanding. It comes from the will as well as the heart. This is not an emotional thing, in the way that love can be, and passion can be, and being on a mountaintop, and being in a conference with praise and worship and all that sort of stuff, or seeing the way some of these concerts go, with Christian artists and things like that.

This is a long-term commitment, even unto death, the death of self. I doubt any of us will be called to physically die for Christ. To be frank and honest with you, I pray that that doesn’t happen. I admire those in the Middle East and other places like that, who are willing to go into places like that, knowing very well that they could physically die.

But there are other kinds of death, that you can still experience, even in a place like America. It may mean sometimes giving up some of those who you have called friends, in order to be faithful to Christ. It may mean giving up certain habits or practices.

I can’t answer what it is for you. Only you can. But you need to ask yourself, what is true sacrifice, and are you willing to give it? How much do you love Jesus? I know how much he loves you. If you love him, as he loved you, then he promises an eternal future and glory in heaven, with him. That’s an ambition that I think anyone should be willing to strive for.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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