Last week's sermon literally was one of the toughest sermons to hear and embrace. It was so important, and so different from our current way of thinking as Christians, that it requires a continuation to be sure that we hear and apply everything that was said because there is no doubt in my mind that after such a powerful message from the mouth of Jesus Himself, many of us left feeling hopeless, overwhelmed or depressed—feeling that we could never measure up, never do or be all that Jesus required of His true followers. Luke 14:25-27, 33. If Jesus truly meant, "Give up all that we have, forsake everything and everyone, and throw away our lives...", how do we meet that kind of request? And where should we even begin? What does it mean to me, if I even try to give Jesus the devotion that He asks? And how does this kind of talk even begin to match up to other things Jesus said, such as: Matthew 11:28-30.
First, God never meant that every follower needs to instantly forsake all that he has and begin to follow Him on a path of poverty and loneliness. What He did mean was that we have such a real love and passion for Him that in our hearts we see nothing we have as worth holding onto if it means we can't have Him. And that if asked, we will be willing to part with anything (gladly) to show our love, and please the One who gave all for me first. We all need to realize that 100% of His disciples will be asked to give or do sacrificially in some unique way in their lives that is a calling for them alone. And that each of us needs to walk daily, in sacrificial love, that places Him and others above our plans, our pleasures, our ego.
Palm Sunday is a perfect place to begin our study. In the previous weeks and months leading up to Palm Sunday, Jesus had shown an incredible, intimately personal love and care for: women, hated races, very sinful and selfish people, contagiously sick and hurting people, and even literal enemies of the Jews (Roman soldiers). He had individually loved on, healed, and cared for these people with a passion, and now, as He rides towards Jerusalem on a colt, the crowds show an amazing worship and excitement for Him: Luke 19:35-38. But their excitement wore off very quickly, and within a week, they wanted Him gone because they were not in love with Him, but what He offered. None of them knew Him intimately, nor did they want to. They were excited about their salvation, their security, their misunderstood promises, their benefits from the relationship, so, when they realized this New Leader wanted them to join in servitude and love for others, rather than prosperity their commitment was paper-thin. A number of you may have walked away last week wondering how you could do enough, or what you were supposed to give up in your life to please Him. Jesus does not want or need for you to focus for one second on what you can do, should do, or didn't do. He simply wants the opposite of what He got on that Palm Sunday, some two-thousand years ago: He wants you to crave Him—get to know Him intimately. He doesn't want you to spend any time thinking about how to do more—your sole focus should be to strive to be near Him. As you do—as you spend time with Him, and in His Word—the rest will come naturally, unmistakably, in His time. When you do hear Him at that moment, it will simply be because He is ready to use your sacrifice, or your circumstances, to draw you even closer to Him. If you are simply following Him in abandonment and love, any sacrificial giving or living will be natural and apparent when the time comes. The literal conversation that Jesus had with a group of people dining at a Pharisee's house, which led into His statement about giving up all to follow Him, tells us the context in which Jesus said such a thing. Listen to what Jesus describes as His heart's desire, before He tells of the need to sacrifice all: Luke 14:16-24. What was the desire of the Man in the parable? To invite those He cared for to simply sit and share a great feast He had prepared for them—which in that culture, was the greatest show of desire for close fellowship—and the Man had gone to great lengths, simply to serve and share. But each man gave trivial, and unreasonable excuses for not wanting to come and share their time with a Him, none of which would have stopped them if they had truly wanted the fellowship with Him in any way. They were simply too involved in their own desires and wants, to spend intimate time with Him. [Sound familiar?] This was the context in which Jesus then said, "If you don't want fellowship with Me more than anything else in life... you don't want Me at all!" Jesus is not first interested in you doing more and giving more; He is interested in you pursuing Him, and in that pursuit, being ready to do anything asked.
There is a beautiful picture of how God would like for us to desire and come to His Son in the Book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite woman (hated foreigner), with no husband, no land, no future, and no one to help her. (Not even food on her table.) Her mother-in-law, Naomi, gave her instructions on how to show her passionate desire to belong to a very well-to-do Kinsman Redeemer, who was not the very next in line, so He had no pressure to help her. Listen to Naomi's instructions:
Ruth 3:3-5. Wash—she didn't want to be smelly and dirty when she was coming to steal the heart of her Redeemer. (Confess and repent of known sin) Anoint—we can only see and worship our God through His Spirit after we are cleansed of our sins. We should give ourselves expectantly to the Spirit, asking for help to see and worship Him ad He is. Put on your cloak—(Put on nice garments) Through our acts and thoughts of righteousness. Listen: Revelation 19:7-8. Uncover His feet and lie down—how precious and sweet! This act of lying at his feet was, in that culture, an act of total humbleness and submission (As that of a servant) [so far from our concept of humbleness and servitude today]. She was symbolically giving herself completely to Him, under His authority: "My life is not my own." "And He will tell you what to do”—she was willing and ready to be completely at His command. This could be dangerous if she did not trust Him. Everything she did was to impress her Redeemer, to win His love, to let Him see that she longed to do His will—to serve Him. Just as in the parable of the Wedding feast, He simply desires that we want Him, as much as He wants us.
Growing in intimacy means growing in faith. Here is the key we have been working towards: as we desire to get close to Him, and show our love for Him, it will be a natural thing for us to see clearer, what His Word wants of us that we are not doing. We won't have to look for it or worry if we've done enough; we will simply want to follow what He says because we love Him. The two are interlinked. As we grow more intimate by spending time with Him and saying yes to what we read about His known will, He will begin to speak to our hearts ever clearer, of ways that we can show His love through acts around us. Usually in smaller ways at first, as a major tool that He uses to teach us intimacy and trust. Each time we simply say yes, we get a deeper understanding of Him, His faithfulness, His love and desires in this life, His amazingly complex and awesome way of working. And we get a deeper understanding of ourselves—of how He can do amazing things through you, if you just say yes; of how He can give you faith and peace and love through crazy times, when you just say yes; this is how you can have a light burden and an easy yoke, even though the cost seems high to the world, because your focus is on Him, not the task, or the cost. You don't go looking for sacrifice or worrying if you've done enough. You just say yes, when He speaks, with no thought of what is to come afterwards. Our focus, and our happiness become so linked to doing His will, that our walk becomes light even when that brings trials: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. When you do say yes, to whatever He calls you to do, this is the greatest way to find His blessings in your life; in seeing the supernatural ways He will work (which are more exciting than what is done sometimes); in seeing that He truly walks with you. It will always result in someone around you receiving help, healing or love that is amazing, and, it will always result in more joy in your life (even if it brings hurt, struggle, loss, or trials along the way). It can and will completely alter the direction and worth of your life and the lives of those around you.
Here is God's Awesome Plan: Critical Mass – “the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture.” True intimacy produces willing acts of sacrifice. Willing acts of sacrifice produce increased faith and trust. Increased faith and trust produces greater intimacy. What was Peter's first, simple act of faith?: Luke 5:4-5. Simply, “Let down your nets!” Not so trying if earth-shattering, yet, even that was done somewhat reluctantly, and with little faith, but he was obedient, nonetheless. And that was the start of a journey that continued to build trust and faith, through failures and triumphs until later in their journey, this was the new Peter: Matthew 14:28-29. When Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus—not only willing, but eager to see how Jesus would work, if he would show trust. Why? Because Peter had grown close to Jesus. He wanted to please Him and learned to trust Him.
When we do as Peter did, everybody wins. Just seek HIM above all else. Let that be your sole desire—sole objective—and He will reveal what incredible adventures He wants to take you on, in time. Just be willing to say yes, and figure the rest out later. That is how we are to live a life of sacrifice and giving. On this Palm Sunday, let’s show Him all the excitement and worship from our hearts that the crowds selfishly faked that day because we just want Him; wherever that takes us.
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