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Outside The Gates

The Sacrificial Life

Jonah 1 -- 4

Lesson audio

It is rare to hear a lesson on the sacrificial life these days. The subject has fallen out of favor – but it is no less present in Scripture and in God’s esteem that it was before.

The sacrificial life – defined

Definition

The word sacrificial comes from a pair of Latin words:

1. Sacer - which means set aside, or holy.

2. Facere – which means “to make”.

In short, a sacrifice is something which is set aside (holy) for God, which we have made ourselves.;

Noah Webster defined the concept in a simple phrase: “to devote with loss.” So a sacrificial life would be one which is devoted to God, and loses made things to be set aside for God.

A really good example of this is found in 2nd Samuel 24. King David has a plague on his hands, and is instructed to offer a sacrifice at a particular spot: the threshing floor of a Jebusite named Araunah. The man offers to give David the threshing floor, oxen for the sacrifice and wood to burn it on. David’s reply goes to the heart of the sacrificial life:

2Sa 24:24 NIV But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels [3] of silver for them.

New Testament version

In the New Testament this example is extended to its logical conclusion. The sacrifice required is that of your life, in service to Christ. May we point out Christ’s call to this life?

  • “Take up your cross.”[1] It sounds rather dismal, but it is clear: Christ is calling each of us to bear a burden for him – if you will, to sacrifice to Him those things we hold dear. At the least this keeps us away from worldly affections and their ruin. In the long run, those who suffer with Christ will reign with Christ.
  • Lose your life to save it.[2] It is the ultimate paradox; but the wisdom of man is no match for the foolishness of God. This world is a test; be a fool for Christ, humble and meek, and you will know how great this is.
  • His yoke is easy, his burden is light.[3] It is another expression of the paradox. Take his yoke; it is easy – even the greatest of sacrifices become easy when you have accepted the burden.[4]
The Imitation of Christ

The modern phrase for this life is WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? Older writers would have recognized the phrase, “The Imitation of Christ.”

  • Either way, the life of Jesus is our example. We are to follow; he leads by example.[5]
  • That example is a life of sacrifice – before the cross as well as at the cross. The life of itinerant preacher doesn’t exactly lead to the accumulation of wealth and luxury.
  • That life produced the Name above all names – God the Father honors the son for that sacrifice.

The sacrificial life is laid out for us in Christ. But sometimes it’s easier to see this by looking at a bad example, and learning. Hence, Jonah.

Nothing is ever a total loss

It can always be used as a bad example. Like Jonah. The story should be familiar to you. Let us see what we can learn from it.

Did God ask Jonah to do the impossible – or even the extraordinary?

I submit that it might have appeared that way to Jonah at the time. But what God was doing was asking Jonah to step “outside the gates.” Jonah is an established prophet in Israel – and his view of the Ninevites might have something to do with his actions.

  • First, the Israelites had suffered under the Assyrians (Ninevites) before. They were cruel masters. At the time of Jonah, however, Israel had the upper hand – which didn’t seem to have altered their perceptions, though.
  • There was also the possible danger into which Jonah was going. Who knew what the Ninevites might have done in response to being told that they had 40 days to clean up their act?
  • Jonah may also have reasoned that it would have been better for Israel if God were to wipe those people out. (Policy advice to God seldom, if ever, works.)
Simple obedience and trust

It is clear from the Scripture that simple obedience to God and trust are the root of a good relationship with him. Jonah didn’t see it that way; may we learn from his errors?

  • Perhaps Jonah was concerned about his reputation. After all, he’s a prophet from Israel. What will people think if he preaches in Assyria? If you’re more concerned about your reputation than the glory of God, you are concerned for this world only.
  • He attempts to oblige God to get someone else. If he runs away from the task, surely God will need to pick somebody else, right? Wrong. If God picks you, take up the cross and follow.
  • Finally, he sulks. God uses him to bring repentance to the Ninevites, and his reaction shows his distaste for the results. Sometimes God does that; following him means results you don’t like. But you are not responsible for the results, only the work he calls you too. His foolishness is greater than your wisdom.
God’s call

We may also note how Jonah was called. Some people are unclear on this, but we may observe the following:

  • The call was clear. Jonah knew what he was supposed to do; it’s just that he didn’t like it. Be honest with yourself; has God called you, only to pretend that you didn’t get the message?
  • The call was personal.
  • The call was for God’s purposes, not man’s purposes. Often enough we will be called to something we don’t understand or don’t like. No matter; it is the call that matters.

Take up the cross

What does it mean when Christ tells us to take up the cross? Christ gives us three steps:

Deny yourself

You actually do know what this phrase means. It means to deliberately deprive yourself of something. Like:

  • Physical items – such as food in fasting, or material possessions sacrificed so that others might receive what we give.
  • Mental thoughts – to set your mind on things above, denying yourself thoughts of evil (e.g., pornography) but embracing thoughts in prayer and meditation. Ask for the truth; the Truth will give it to you.
  • Spiritual needs – accept the comfort of Christ in times of trouble, denying yourself such worldly remedies as alcohol.
  • Emotional needs – so many of us are ruled by our emotions that we can’t see the needs of others. Set your emotions aside and care for others; then you may accept his care for your problems.
Take up your cross daily

There is a subtle variation in Luke’s account:

Luk 9:23 NIV Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

The emphasis is added. It is a daily thing.

  • You need to decide to do this each day. It’s not something you set and forget, but something you face each day.
  • You carry that cross each day – no vacations. It may indeed be lifelong.
  • But you don’t worry about tomorrow’s burdens – “take no thought for the morrow.”[6]
Follow Him

It is that simple. Do as He did, follow his example. Go where He leads you; learn what He teaches you; suffer as He provides for.

  • Please note – the verb is “follow,” not “admire from afar.”
  • Remember, He is leading from the front, not cheerleading from the rear.

I can think of no better words to end this lesson than those of Thomas à Kempis:

JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands.

If a man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is little; if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and especially, the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing, let him make little of what may be considered great; let him in all honesty call himself an unprofitable servant. For truth itself has said: “When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: ‘we are unprofitable servants.’”18

Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: “I am alone and poor.” 19 No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.


[1] Matthew 16:24

[2] Matthew 16:25

[3] Matthew 11:28-30

[4] Remember Ivan, Igor and the forklift?

[5] This explains why the sinless Christ was baptized by John.

[6] Matthew 6:34, King James phrasing (still the most eloquent).

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