Lessons in Growth Meditations: 17. Resurrection Sacrifice
Rom 12:1 I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Our Goals Restated: I think more than any other series I have ever embarked on, in this one I (we) need to restate our purpose again and again if we are to get to the heart of the scriptures, and as we consider how we can grow in Christ. Our present goal is to examine the Christian life, considering it as a resurrected life, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit and raised to life after we have previously, pre-Christ, been spiritually dead. We are thus considering various facets of the Christian life observed as expressions of the Spirit reflecting the resurrected life of Jesus – mainly the factor of the Spirit empowered life that overcame death.
We have considered various aspects of this and there will almost certainly be overlaps in those considerations and now I wish to consider a facet of that life I have never considered before in respect of Jesus after he was raised from the dead – the fact that this was a strictly limited period of his overall life plan, if I may put it like that, and he is clearly still working out the will of the Father.
Jesus’ Role Limited: If Jesus had just been doing his own thing, he could easily have thought that having passed through the crucifixion experience, seen to have died and now raised from the dead, he was in an admirable position to draw followers even more than before, but he didn’t. Instead he concentrated on the core of his followers and seems to have focused his teaching on them in an out of the way place in Galilee in the north. The plan was for them to be his witnesses after they had been filled with the Spirit after their return to Jerusalem. He, himself, would ascend back to heaven and leave them to be empowered and carry on his work, as he directed it at the right hand of his Father in heaven.
Yet again, I suggest, we see Jesus sacrificing his will to the plan of the Godhead and it is that aspect we turn to now. Now of course (the overlaps I mentioned), we have considered submitting to the sovereign will of God when we came to Christ and although it might be thought this is more appropriately something considered in the first Part about ‘dying to self’, we bring it right into centre place when it comes to the resurrection life. We could get carried away with the idea of being raised to a new life, a life of freedom, talking about possibilities as we just did in the previous study, but here we need to bring the balancing teaching with the reminder that those possibilities are ‘in Christ’ or ‘in God’; they are possibilities inspired and empowered and directed by him,
Balance: So, with all this talk about a resurrected, empowered life, it is appropriate as we seek to bring balance, that we pick up on a little of Paul’s teaching to the Romans: “I urge you, brothers and sisters …. to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” or as the Message version expands it, “here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” Whatever else this verse means, it can perhaps be summarised as, ‘Give God everything about you, for Him to do with it as He wills, to change it or dispose of it even.’
Struggle: Now in the interests of strict honesty, I have to confess that I have struggled with this concept. As I prayed beforehand, it seemed right and yet as I wrote, I felt hypocritical as I felt I didn’t do it, and I felt ignorant in that I am sure I don’t know what it really means, and so I put aside this study and felt uncomfortable. And then a verse came to mind and it all made sense: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10;38,39) The same thing is said almost word for word a little later: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:24,25)
Death Guaranteed: Look at the elements of those verses: you want “to be my disciple”? This isn’t for everyone; this is for those who will be Christians, who will agree to follow Jesus (like we saw in the case of Levi). Such people “must deny themselves”, i.e. must die to self as we saw in the first Part. Such people must take up that sign of death, the Cross, and follow the walk of Jesus. If again we take that imaginary conversation between Jesus and Levi, it might now go as follows:
“What are we going to do?
“You’ll find out as you follow me.”
“Where will it end?”
“Do you really want to know? (Silence) My death on a cross, and you too will die, not physically but in every other way. (Silence) At that point you will run away but I will come after you and we will talk again and again I will ask you to follow me. At that time, you will see in my resurrection, a new possibility, but it will always be under the shadow of death, for they will come hunting you and many of you will literally give up your physical lives as you remain loyal to me. Come follow me.”
That is what it meant for the earliest disciples. For some Christians around the world today it will mean exactly the same. For us? We won’t know until our lives come to a literal end on this planet. In the meantime, although we live with his power within us, what I have termed ‘resurrection lives’, we are called to live that life as if we may have no tomorrow. Part of giving our bodies, as Paul put it, means making ourselves available to Jesus for whatever he wants to do with us,
The Reality of ‘Being Sent’: It’s that same old ‘sovereignty thing’ we considered before, and for some of us it seems really scary but that is only because we imagine God sending us to places (it used to be ‘darkest Africa’ or smuggling Bibles into Russia) that scare the life out of us – but if the life has already gone and we are now running on his life, his power, we don’t have a life to defend, just a new one to live on turbo-charge. The thing is that God knows what is best for each of us and so, yes, there will be some who get a call to Outer Mongolia (I’ve met some of them, they are incredible) but most of us will simply get a call to our neighbours or our unsaved family where we may find rejection but, on the other hand, we may find a prepared ground and we’re just going in to harvest.
Thinking Aright: Part of this ‘finding our life’ when we give it up, is finding a new way of thinking, but we’ll keep that until tomorrow. When we get our thinking right, it is easier to do the things the New Testament says about us. An example? Well the fact that God totally loves us. He is not going to get you to do something or go somewhere that is completely beyond you – well yes it may be, but a) He will always be with you in it and b) He will always enable you to handle it. That’s the joy of this resurrection, empowered life, and so talk of giving up your life is no longer so scary because i) you’ve already done it once when you came to Christ and ii) the power will always be there. Again and again we ‘die’ and say, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you. I will do what you say,” and then to our surprise, it suddenly seems easy! Amazing! Well, of course, it’s His power you are experiencing.