His Sacrifice and Ours - easter 2019
If you’re here for the first time, we’re thrilled to have you with us. Our church is unapologetic about what we do here week after week: we celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us.
In this church we preach through books of the Bible. We start at the beginning of a book, at chapter 1, verse 1, and make our way through to the end of the book.
We do this for a couple of reasons—first of all, we always want you to know why we’re saying what we’re saying up here. I want you to be able to see for yourself, in black and white and with your own eyes, where I’m getting these things.
Secondly, there are some aspects of the Bible that are, if we’re honest, a little difficult to swallow. And we don’t want to avoid difficult passages simply because they make us uncomfortable. If we truly believe that all the Bible is God’s Word (and we do), then we want to preach all of God’s Word.
That’s what we’ve been doing for the last year and a half or so (with a couple of breaks here and there), in the gospel of Luke.
So today we’re going to do something a little atypical for an Easter service—a couple of things, actually.
First of all, we’re not going to take a break from our current series (as most churches do at Easter); last week we saw the first half of Luke chapter 18, and today we’re going to see most of the second half. And we’re doing that because in today’s text Jesus directly addresses the precise reason why we celebrate Easter: this is very much “an Easter text”.
Secondly, because this text is about a little more than just Easter, we’re not just going to talk about salvation—about what Jesus did so that we could go to heaven. Often at Easter we focus on that, so that new people who don’t usually go to church can hear a kind of really basic introduction to the gospel.
But as any Christian can tell you, there is more to it than that. The gospel is about much more than salvation. So we’re going to start at what Jesus did to save us, but we’re not going to end there.
The last unusual thing is that we’re going to read today’s text backwards. Today we’ll be in Luke 18.18-34. We’re going to read verses 31 to 34 first, and then we’ll backtrack to verses 18 to 30. And the reason is simple: if you’ve already read the first seventeen chapters of this book, then you know more or less what Jesus came to do. But if you haven’t read it yet, and you’re joining us today for the first time, then you might be a little confused as to why he says what he says in v. 18-30.
In v. 31-34, Jesus actually reminds us of what he came to do, which will be very helpful when reading v. 18-30. So that’s where we’ll start this morning: v. 31.
Jesus's Sacrifice (v. 31-34)
Just to give you a bit of context: at this point in the story, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples. And along the way, all kinds of people are coming to him, wanting to hear him speak, so he’s making the most of those opportunities to talk to them on the way. Chapter 18 takes place during one of these roadside conversations.
In v. 31, we see him speaking directly to the twelve disciples he’s chosen to follow him.
31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”
So the first thing we see is that Jesus is going with his disciples to Jerusalem—the central hub of Judaism—for a reason.
First of all, the Passover was coming up soon. Passover is one of the biggest feasts in Judaism to this day; it’s a feast to commemorate God’s saving the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt during the last of the plagues. On this day people who lived nearby often made pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. And that’s exactly what Jesus will do: he’s going to celebrate the Passover with his twelve disciples. But that’s not the only reason he’s going to Jerusalem.
He is going, he says, so that everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.
The prophets had long since prophesied that one day, God would send “one like a Son of Man,” a Messiah: a heroic Savior. The Jews believed that this Messiah would be a political, militaristic figure: someone who would come in and shake up the established political order and save them from oppression.
But there is one thing they missed.
In Isaiah 53—a chapter in the Jewish Bible, or the Christian Old Testament—the prophet Isaiah foretells not a political or revolutionary Messiah, but rather a suffering Messiah, someone who would come in and, to rescue the people, would take their place and endure their pain.
Isaiah says (Isaiah 53.4-6):
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
So Jesus is essentially saying, “I am that man. I am that suffering servant. I am this Messiah Isaiah spoke of. Everything the prophets spoke of will come to pass in me.”
And next, he tells his disciples exactly how that would happen: he tells them exactly how he would “bear their griefs and carry their sorrows,” how he would be “pierced for their transgressions,” and “crushed for their iniquities.”
32 “For he [the Son of Man, Jesus] will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
In a nutshell, here we have the entire message of Easter, which is simply this: Jesus sacrificed everything, to take our place.
Isaiah spoke of a Messiah who would bear the burden of God’s people. The burden we bear is the burden of our sin—or as Isaiah put it, our “transgressions,” our “iniquities.”
I know that “sin” is an unpopular notion today, but it is absolutely fundamental if you want to understand what Easter is all about. And no matter how difficult it may be to accept, the idea of sin is easy to understand.
Take the Ten Commandments, for example. Most of the Ten Commandments are principles that, for the most part, people in the West agree about. We shouldn’t lie—we should be honest people. We shouldn’t steal. We shouldn’t kill. We shouldn’t cheat on our spouses. We should honor our parents. Most people would agree these are good rules by which to live our lives.
But every one of us has broken at least one of these. We’ve all lied. Most of us have stolen something in our lives. Most of us have dishonored our parents.
None of us has obeyed the commandments perfectly.
And that’s the problem. God says that he is an absolutely holy God—the Ten Commandments give a very condensed description of who God is and what he is like. He is perfectly holy, perfectly just, perfectly good.
And he created us in his image, to live as miniature versions of him, to glorify him by living like him.
But no one has done that. No one has lived up to God’s standard of holiness. Sin, literally put, means missing the goal—the goal is holiness, and we have all missed it.
And the smallest deviation from that goal of being holy like God separates us from him. Because God is an infinitely holy God, infinitely worthy of our devotion, the smallest deviation is deserving of infinite wrath against us, eternal separation from him.
In other words, because God is holy, he is angry at our sin.
Because God is just, he absolutely must punish all sin.
But the Bible also tells us that God is love—he is merciful and gracious. He must punish all sin, but he doesn’t want to punish his people for that sin.
And so he found a way to punish our sin…without punishing us.
He sent Jesus, to be punished in our place.
Jesus—the Son of God himself—became a man, to act as a representative for his people. He lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, in our place. He took on himself the punishment we deserve for our sin. He was wrongly accused; he was tortured; he was nailed to a cross; and he died an agonizing death, separated from God the Father.
He got what we deserve.
And three days later, he was raised from the dead. He defeated death; he defeated sin. And he applied that work of substitution to his children: our sins are declared punished, because he was punished for them; and we are declared righteous, because Jesus gave us his righteous life.
[He] was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement [i.e. punishment] that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
He took our sin on himself, as if he was the one who had rebelled against God, and he was punished for that sin. And he gave us his perfect life, as if we were the ones who had always kept every one of God’s commandments. So when God looks at us, he sees Jesus’s perfect life, and he declares us perfect.
Jesus got what we deserve…and he gave us what he deserves.
Jesus sacrificed everything, so that we could live.
That truth isn’t just appropriate to talk about at Easter; that truth IS the message of Easter. That is the central truth of the Christian faith.
That is wonderful news—and here’s why we can’t stop there. If everything I’ve just said about Jesus is true—if what the prophets and the apostles and Jesus himself said is true—it changes everything.
Our Sacrifice (v. 18-30)
So all that being said, let’s backtrack to v. 18. Jesus is going to answer a question from a man who meets him on the road; and at least initially, his question is right on topic—he asks how he can be saved, how he can have eternal life.
But Jesus’s answer goes way beyond simply “What we have to do to get into heaven.” Jesus doesn’t just talk about how to have eternal life. He’s saying that if we know we are saved, and will live forever with him, that simple fact changes everything.
18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And 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 bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”
We don’t know a lot about this ruler who comes to Jesus, except that he was extremely rich. But we can tell that at least in one way, he’s a lot like most everyone who has ever lived: he wants to know how to defeat death.
And before Jesus answers his question, he says something very interesting: he asks another question. The man calls him, “Good Teacher,” and Jesus says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Now, of course Jesus isn’t saying he’s not good—but this man doesn’t yet know that Jesus is God. So he wants to draw the ruler’s attention away from himself, and toward God. God is the only true source of goodness.
And what did God say?
Jesus gives him a selection of the Ten Commandments, the ones we saw before—don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your parents. These commandments are a kind of summary of the Law that God gave to his people when they were wandering with Moses in the desert—it was the code of conduct by which the Jews had to live their lives.
So this ruler, who is apparently a solidly religious man, thinks, Jackpot!
He says, “All these I have kept from my youth.”
And that’s where he runs into a problem, the same problem all the Jews before Jesus had run into.
The Law that God had given to his people was never meant to be an end in itself: the Law, and all the commandments, were pointing to something higher. They weren’t there merely to order Jewish society and Jewish worship. They were pointing to who God is. God gave his commandments so that his people might know who he is and what he is like.
And for all their knowledge of the commandments, the one fundamental thing everyone had missed was what comes next. The commandments exist to point us to God; and once we see God, what happens next?
When we see God, we realize that he does not exist for us, but rather, we exist for him. We exist for his glory; his kingdom; his reign.
God created the world and chose his people and promised his Savior in order to display his glory to the world he created, forever. And God’s people were always meant to have that end result in the forefront of their minds—the things that preoccupy us day after day are not the reason for which we live (we saw this a couple weeks ago in Luke 17). We live for God’s kingdom, where we will see his glory, forever.
You see, eternal life, in the Bible, is not simply “the thing that happens after we die”; eternal life is the reason we exist in the first place.
And once we realize that, the things that preoccupy us here in our day-to-day lives—eating and drinking and working and playing—all take on new significance. We learn to love what God loves, and consider important the things that God considers important. Everything we do is informed by that future destination; every decision we make is influenced by that moment when death is no longer a threat; everything we desire is colored by these greater desires for God’s kingdom.
That is why Jesus says what he says in v. 22.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
In other words, you have kept all these commandments since your youth—and that’s good.
But it’s not enough.
Morality is not enough. Conformity to a pattern of behavior is not enough. “Being a good person” is not enough.
Those who live the “eternal life” of which the Bible speaks love what God loves; they agree with God on what is truly important; they understand what real treasure is—not in material possessions or in worldly comfort, but in the kingdom of God.
Again, when we meet Jesus, everything changes. When we know what he has done for us—how he lived our life and died our death and was raised to declare us righteous—then everything takes on new significance. The things we used to think were important…just aren’t that important anymore.
For example, look at what Jesus demanded of his twelve disciples. In every case, they were men who had occupations and lives and people and things that they loved; but in every case, Jesus demanded them to leave all of that, to follow him. Imagine that: Jesus asked these people to give up their lives to become homeless, to follow him from city to city and village to village, learning about the kingdom of God.
And the amazing thing is, that’s exactly what Jesus asks of this ruler. If he had said yes, this ruler would have been the thirteenth disciple.
But he doesn’t say yes. He leaves that conversation saddened, because he is very rich.
24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For 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.”
It’s a basic truism: generally speaking, the more we have, the more we want. The more attached we are to the things of earth (as the song goes), the harder it is to give those things up.
And in truth, following Christ may well mean giving these things up.
He may not ask us to literally leave our homes and give away everything we have…but then again, he might. We have a large number of missionaries in our church, most of whom are here to learn French on their way to somewhere else. These men and women have left their families and homes and comfort to move to a foreign country, to move to a new culture, to tell others about Jesus.
And what about the rest of us, who aren’t missionaries?
Well, Jesus may ask us to give up other things. He may expect us to put our relationships in jeopardy, because we have friends or family who wholly reject the gospel, who hate religion, and who can’t abide the idea of being in a relationship with a Christian. (This is unfortunately the case for many people in this church.)
He may ask us to give up our jobs, if we work in a profession that requires us to go against the way God calls us to live.
He may ask us to give up our dreams, because ultimately his kingdom is more important than our dreams.
The simple reality is that when we meet Christ, all of our priorities change. If God’s kingdom and his glory really are the most important thing for us, then there will necessarily be things in our lives—things that most everyone considers important—that will go way down to the bottom of our list of priorities.
And the bigger those priorities are, and the harder we cling to them, the harder it will be to let them go.
Now, if you’ve been in this church for a while, none of this is new to you—we talk about it all the time.
But it’s really easy to see how someone could hear all that and think that it’s really bad news. I don’t want to give up everything! I don’t want to lose my job or my home or my dreams! No one does.
The people listening to Jesus were evidently thinking along those same lines—we see their response in v. 26:
26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”
In other words, if all this seems hard to accept, it is…and God knows it. He doesn’t expect us to drum up the ability to see life like this all on our own—in fact, it’s impossible. Left to ourselves, it is impossible for us to love God’s kingdom more than our own lives. It is impossible for us to see Jesus’s sacrifice as more important than our goals and dreams.
And that’s why God steps in and does the work for us. V. 27:
27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
By his Spirit, God takes our hearts, which are obsessively preoccupied with life on this earth, and he changes them. He redirects our hearts, to love him, more than ourselves. This is a supernatural thing that he does—the Bible calls it conversion, or being born again.
Being born again, in the Bible, is not “making a decision for Christ,” or praying a prayer—if we’re “dead in our sins”, as the apostle Paul says, we have to be born again, because dead people don’t make decisions for Christ (Ephesians 2.1-10). It’s not something we do, but something God does. He opens our eyes to see the beauty of his glory, he opens our hearts to desire that glory, and only because of this miracle he performs in us are we finally able to choose to follow him, finally able to mean what we say when we pray that “sinner’s prayer” (Ezekiel 36.25-27).
When that happens, living for him is no longer a burden, but a delight.
Imagine wanting one thing more than anything else in the world, and then finally receiving the very thing you want more than anything else. That is the Christian life as the Bible describes it. He helps our hearts desire what we should desire…and then gives us the desire of our heart.
You see, from beginning to end, everything in the Christian life is grace.
By ourselves, we can’t make up for our rebellion against him—so God sends Jesus to do it for us.
By ourselves, we don’t want to follow Jesus—so God changes our hearts, to desire that.
By ourselves, we don’t love God’s kingdom more than anything—so he changes our hearts, to love his kingdom.
From beginning to end, everything in the Christian life is grace.
But there is something in us that always tends to forget that fact. There is something in us that always wants to see what we do as incredibly noble and difficult—and here’s where we see the part of this passage that we always tend to forget.
Look at Peter’s response to what Jesus says, in v. 28:
28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”
So you have this ruler, who is sad because Jesus is asking him to reorient his entire life to come and follow him. He goes away sad, because although he kind of wants to follow Christ, he doesn’t want it more than he wants to keep his stuff.
The disciples see this, and there’s a little voice in their minds that says, That’s a shame—good thing YOU didn’t respond like that! YOU did the right thing! You did the hard thing! You gave up everything to follow Christ.
And that's true. These disciples did leave everything to follow Jesus. They did leave their families and their homes and their occupations to follow him.
But look at what Jesus says—v. 29:
29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
In other words: It’s true that you’ve left everything to follow me.
And none of it was a sacrifice.
You left your loved ones for a short while…but in return you gained something so much greater—a global family, made up of men and women from all countries, tribes, languages and ages; brothers and sisters spread across millenia, with whom you will celebrate the goodness of Christ forever (Revelation 7.9).
You left a home for a short while…but you gained an eternal dwelling with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth, where there will be no more mourning, no more sickness, no more pain; where there will be no need for a sun because the glory of the Lord will be your light (Revelation 21.23-24).
You left your cities for a short while…but you gained a kingdom—the kingdom of heaven, which is like that proverbial treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13.44), whose King is Christ, whose reach is universal and whose reign is eternal.
And not only that, you will keep on receiving grace upon grace, treasure upon treasure, forever (Ephesians 2.7)!
Jim Elliot was a missionary to the Waodani Indian tribe of Ecuador, and was speared to death along with four other missionaries on January 8, 1956. They had only days earlier arrived in the region, and had only shared the gospel with a single woman.
Two years later, Elliot’s wife and the sister of one of the slain missionaries went back to the same place, to live among these same Indians who had killed their loved ones.
Nearly all of them came to know Christ in the following years.
Among Elliot’s personal effects recovered was a journal, in which he had written a line that has now become famous, a short time before his death:
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
That is Jesus’s point here. Peter says they have left everything to follow him, and Jesus responds, “Peter, please. If you’ve left all this for the sake of the kingdom of God, you’ll receive a hundred times more than that, and eternal life on top of it all! Stop talking about everything you’ve lost to follow me—look at the treasure you received!”
The marvelous truth of this text should hit us with the force of a hurricane this morning.
For all we give up to follow Christ, we sacrifice NOTHING. For all that we give up, we receive infinitely more.
To make it possible for us to follow him, Jesus sacrificed EVERYTHING.
He sacrificed his comfort and happiness in heaven to become Isaiah’s man of sorrows, to become acquainted with grief. He was falsely accused, tortured, and murdered. He came to be pierced for our transgressions, to be crushed for our iniquities, to suffer the chastisement that brought us peace. He bore our wounds, so that we might be healed.
He sacrificed everything for us.
And three days after his immeasurable sacrifice, he was raised, and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses, who told Luke about what they saw. His resurrection gave us definitive proof that when he took our sins upon himself, it worked—God's wrath was satisfied; he no longer has anything against us, because we carry on ourselves Jesus’s perfect life, given to us.
Postscript: No Longer Hidden (v. 34)
As we’ve seen, Jesus told his disciples that this would happen. But take a look at the last verse in our passage, v. 34:
34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
For everything they had understood, when Jesus talked about his death and resurrection, the disciples didn’t understand him. Why? Because it hadn’t happened yet.
But soon, they would come to Jerusalem, and see it all played out before their eyes. They don’t understand yet, but they will.
And it is on that wonderful fact that we’re going to close and take Communion this morning: these things were hidden from the disciples for a time…but they are not hidden any more. We know what Jesus did, and we know why.
And as a result, we know how to respond.
We place our faith in Christ, who lived, died and was raised for us. We repent of our sins, because those sins no longer hold us prisoner: we confess them and ask for forgiveness, and commit to put that sin to death, by his Spirit.
It’s as simple as that, and God calls all people to respond in that way.
If you’re here this morning, and you don’t yet know Christ, God calls you to place your faith in him—to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he paid the penalty for your sins, and that he has given you his perfect life.
And if you do know Christ, he calls you to remember everything you gained when God saved you, and to come to the table knowing full well that for all you may have given up, you’ve sacrificed nothing. He sacrificed everything, to save us.
At the Passover meal with his disciples—the meal toward which Jesus was headed in this morning’s text—Jesus said (1 Corinthians 11.23-26):
23 [The] Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
If you have faith in Christ, and have repented of your sins, you are invited to eat this bread and drink this juice, as a sign that you belong to his people.