Monday, July 14, 2014

SELF-PRESERVATION vs. SELF-SACRIFICE

Samuel Butler said, "Self-preservation is the first law of nature." I add, it is a personal mechanism used to protect one's chances of advancing in life. Society calls it survival-of-the-fittest. This mentality and strategy places the burden squarely on the one seeking the preservation and leaves no room for God and His self-sacrificing strategy of life.

There are times in the life of Jesus that He taught about self-sacrifice. Then Jesus went on to be the perfect example of what He taught. Meanwhile, He saw self-preservation reveal itself many times until His last breath. For example...

A teacher of the Law and a disciple approached Jesus on the cost of following Him (Matthew 8:18-22). To the both of these men Jesus explained in other words that they were waiting for what seemed to be that just right moment to follow Him. What was needed was a self-sacrificial decision to follow Jesus no matter the family situation, travel accommodations, or housing arrangements. Then with their heart and attitude in the right place He could help them better with all of their burdens. Self-sacrifice is best served right now. I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. - 2 Corinthians 6:2

A rich, young man learned the cost of eternal life and was not willing to sacrifice his self-preservation (Matthew 19:16-22). The rich young man had no issue with the commandments Jesus listed (v.18-19) The rich, young man probably did not have a problem with following Jesus. What he did have issue with was the first part of Jesus' equation for his situation - sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven. Even with the reward of treasure in heaven, the cost of eternal life was not worth his self-sacrifice, especially not worth sacrificing his wealth. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.(v.22) Let us decide to make financial self-sacrifices where appropriate while following the Lord and store up treasure in heaven, then we will be "perfect"(v.21) or complete according to the original Greek.

I know if my focus gets off of my Savior and into the self-preservation mode of things I start to worry. And I know I am not the only one because the Lord taught about the cost of worrying in Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus raises one question in particular that is enough to calm me down - Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? The Lord's ways to a healthy appreciation for things is to first - do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' (v.31). Instead, sacrifice worry and - seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (v.33) There is such a thing as a healthy concern for something. However, the Lord's instruction is to stop being overly concerned, anxious, or worried about self-preservation and develop an attitude of self-sacrifice to Jehovah Jireh, The Lord Our Provider by seeking Him first.

Talk about a bold individual, talk about family and self-preservation and we are taking about - the mother of the Zebedee sons. She requested of Jesus - "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." (Matthew 20:21) Among about four responses Christ gives, Jesus says, "You don't know what you are asking" (v.22) and "These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." (v.23). Plus this upsets the other ten disciples greatly. I don't know much, but humility and/or self-sacrificing of one's goals and dreams to God is what the Holy Spirit taught me through her story.

The leaders of Judaism in this day had long-been in the condition of self-preservation. They used Yahweh as a "cover" for their social, political, and religious position in the community for the sake of honor, prestige, and pride. A real big indicator that God's Priesthood, Temple included, had become a Social Club was when "the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue." (John 9:22) Individuals were disassociated from an association (the synagogue) because of an association (with Jesus). They corrupted their wisdom due to the reasoning of their splendor. Sound familiar? Somebody else had that problem too - Lucifer. Noted in Ezekiel 28:17, God explains the details of Lucifer's mistake to the fallen angel - Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. 

In the end, self-preservation personified (Caiaphas) met self-sacrifice personified (Jesus Christ of Nazareth) in a secret Sanhedrin trial. Caiaphas asked Jesus one important question - "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" (Mark 14:61) Jesus replied, "I am" and then elaborated, "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."  Caiaphas tore his robe, labeled Jesus a blasphemer, and called for Jesus' death after receiving his "I am" answer from Jesus. Why this adamant about Jesus? Reportedly, there were many prior to Jesus of Nazareth who called themselves the Christ, the Messiah, Savior of Israel, but their actions did not amount to anything Jesus had accomplished. Little would Caiaphas know that he could not stop this Jesus of Nazareth from fulfilling every letter of prophecy about the Christ, especially His resurrection. However, up to this point the last three and a half years, Caiaphas has heard nothing but wonderful things from God pouring from Jesus to the local community. And Caiaphas and his buddies wanted to kill this Goodness? Self-preservation in full motion.

As the saying goes - "Misery loves company." - and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law were certainly miserable concerning Jesus. So, they shared their misery with Governor Pilate. At this time in Jewish history, Jewish law forbade the people from executing anyone (John 18:31). So, they used the political side of things to activate Pilate's self-preservation mode of operation. ...Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar. (John 19:12) Ah, politics, one of the many tentacles of self-preservation.

Even before Jesus stood before Caiaphas and answered The Big Question, Jesus had responded to the inquiry earlier (John 10:24-26; John 10:38; John 14:11). But it was not time to sacrifice Himself yet and the Pharisees were scared of the people's response. True, the Pharisees were not Jesus' "sheep". Because they loved their own positions and traditions they viewed Jesus' power and popularity as a threat. Interesting that of all people, the "priests" were not ready for God to be in their lives - literally or spiritually. Not a good combination for self-sacrifice, but excellent ingredients for self-preservation. Read as Jesus explained to the Pharisees and teachers of the law their problem.
  • "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." (Mark 7:8-13)
Switching gears...there were a few examples of self-sacrifice that Jesus witnessed. The scene involving the woman with the alabaster jar in Mark 14:3-9 shows Jesus a little upset at His disciples as He says - "Leave her alone....She did what she could." Self-sacrifice gets honored with Christ's protection and approval of her personal expression.

Mary and Martha. Here is my take - it is not that Martha did not like, possibly love, listening to Jesus, even spending most of her time just hanging out in His presence. However, Jesus was visiting her house and the the Scripture says - Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.(v.40)  Martha, herself, confessed - my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Evidently Martha was so distraught that Jesus had to call her name twice and then explained what was wrong with her, what the answer was, that Mary had chosen correctly in this instance and it will not be taken away from her
  • "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Sometimes our definition of self-sacrifice does not line-up with what God has in mind at the time. Sometimes what to sacrifice is a learning process (Martha) other times we will know (Mary).

John the Baptist with his life of serving as "a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' " (Mark 1:3) paints an awesome picture of self-sacrifice. Here is a life dedicated to God's kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. A special child since before conception, God had his hand on this life in order to usher in or properly introduce the life of His only Son - Jesus. Even though John's self-sacrificing service cost him his head, Jesus said about His cousin - I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11) Wow! Do you want your praise to come from God? A self-sacrificing lifestyle is in order.

The widow's offering in Mark 12:31-44 is another great example of self-sacrifice. a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins [into the temple treasury], worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others [the contributing crowd, especially the contributing rich]. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on. Jesus is watching. I could just end it there, but He is watching what we sacrifice and how we sacrifice - everything about our self-sacrifice - and He understands.

Saving the best for last - The Word of God as Jesus, the ultimate self-sacrifice! The Word of God, the creative agent of the Trinity has always been a part of God. God's Word became Jesus when He put on flesh. I struggle grasping the full measure of Christ's sacrifice. An eternal God placing His Word in the form of something He created. But the Scriptures grant me a peek at the top of the iceberg called Christ's Self-Sacrifice.

Philippians 2:6-8
being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself 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!

Hebrews 2:9
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Isaiah 53 (look it up and read the whole chapter)

Michael English wrote an appropriate song for this message - "There's Not A Crown Without A Cross". Jesus promised that if you choose the benefits that come with following Him, there will be a cross for you to bear first (Matthew 10:38). Self-sacrifice means entrusting your life and self-preservation to God. Jesus said it like this - whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39) Humans are not self-sacrificial by nature, we look out for number one - ourselves - self-preservation. So, in this battle of self-preservation verses self-sacrifice, I encourage you to place self on the shelf daily and God will see and honor that decision.