Allen Jackson - The Benefits of Serving Jesus
We're beginning a new study this weekend. Two or three weeks, depends a little bit on how many Sunday nights we get to include, talking about the benefits of serving Jesus, and this really emerged from a personal study I've been doing for a while and a verse of scripture that the Lord really illuminated for me, that came alive to me, but the thesis is really simple. I believe there's a reward for honoring the Lord with your life, that there is a reward for honoring the Lord.
And I want to work hard today to repurpose a little bit your imagination of what it means to be a Christ-follower. I don't want you to think of your faith in terms of simply as a ticket into heaven or a ticket out of someplace else, but I want you to imagine your life as a Christ-follower in a broader perspective with greater opportunities than just an eternal destination. And we'll start in Mark chapter 1 with this idea that following Jesus is an investment. Following Jesus in your life is an investment.
May I ask you a question? How many of you are aggravated that you've saved too much money? Does it just annoy you? "Ah, I shouldn't have done that. I should have spent more. I've saved too much". No, I've never had that feeling either. And I don't believe you'll ever be disappointed in an investment you make in the kingdom of God, and I don't mean primarily your money, but your life. Following Jesus is an investment of your life. Look in Mark's Gospel, chapter 1, verse 17. Jesus is speaking. He's recruiting his first disciples. He said, "Come, follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men".
Now, I want to ask you a question. What's the promise attached to the invitation to follow Jesus? "Come, follow me". And what will happen? It's not a trick question. He said, "I'll make you fishers of men. Come, follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men". Well, many of you, I suspect, have made a profession of faith in Jesus; you've said the sinner's prayer, you've acknowledged Jesus is Lord, whatever language you use to describe that point of the new birth where you gained entry into the kingdom of God.
Now, I want to ask you one more question. When you were invited to make that prayer, to make that dedication of your life to serve Jesus as Lord, what was the promise attached to that prayer? What did they say the outcome would be? If you'd acknowledge Jesus as Lord, what would happen to you, what would be the benefit for your life? It's not a trick question. Go to heaven. Avoid hell. I bet it had something to do with that collection of things. How many of you said the sinner's prayer because somebody said you could become fishers of men? I didn't think so. When Jesus invited the disciples to follow him, he didn't invite them to follow him with an explanation of the eternal benefit. He said, "I'm going to reorient your life in time". They were already fishermen. Not recreational fishermen, they fished for a living. They have businesses. It establishes that's how they care for their families.
It establishes how they relate with the community. And Jesus is inviting them away from that and inviting them to a whole different imagination for their life. "Come, follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men". I want to suggest to you that when you make the decision to be a Christ-follower and accept Jesus as Lord of your life, he's inviting you towards a whole new kind of a life, a whole new set of experiences, a whole new orientation in the world. It's not just about you've got a new eternal destiny locked down, but he's inviting you to see your life in an entirely new way.
Following Jesus is an investment of your days in life. Mark chapter 10 gives us another recruitment story. Jesus is still looking for disciples. Says, "Jesus started on his way, and a man ran up to him and fell at his knees before him and said, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'" And Jesus answered him, "'Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone. You know the commandments: "don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't give false testimony, don't defraud, honor your father and mother".' 'Well, teacher, I've kept all of these since I was a boy.'"
Now, Jesus, in an expression of grace, didn't laugh at him. Many of you were here a couple of weeks ago when Kirk Cameron was here, remember that? And he walked us through three of the commandments and reminded us of how sloppily we engage them. Did you feel as guilty as I did that day? I thought, "Lord, I hope he stops at three commandments. This is going to get really awkward in a minute". Well, this young man is before Jesus, and Jesus said, "You know the commandments". And he said, "I've kept them all of my life". And Jesus doesn't laugh at him or point out the discrepancies, but he gives him an invitation. He said, "There's one thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you'll have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me".
It's the same invitation he gave to Peter and James and Andrew; "Come, follow me". "And the man's face fell and he went away sad because he had great wealth". The Creator of all things just extended to this man an invitation to come, follow him. And it says that when he heard the invitation and the context in which it was delivered, he hung his head and said, "No, I don't think so". Now, we have the benefit of hindsight, but we know at that moment he said, "No, I don't want to sit in the boat and watch you walk on the lake. I don't want to go to the cemetery and watch you call Lazarus out of the tomb. I don't want to walk through the streets of Jerusalem and watch you open blind eyes. My investment portfolio is too strong. I can't afford to follow you". No. He took a pass. He took on a pass that would have changed his life.
Forget for a moment in eternity, it would have changed his life in time completely. And what I want to, I'm going to repeatedly suggest to you is that following Jesus brings with it tremendous rewards in both time and eternity. And I think we have wrongfully imagined that being a Christ-follower only has a benefit when your clock on your days under the sun has finally run out. I think the days under the sun are intended to be an investment in all eternity. And you and I have that privilege. I don't think we've talked about it a great deal. In fact, I'm going to suggest to you that as a Christ-follower, you get a new life. To be a Christ-follower is an invitation to a whole new kind of life. You're going to get new priorities, you're going to get new objectives, you're going to get new outcomes, you're going to get new rewards; things that aren't available to you apart from your relationship with Jesus. In fact, I would have asked you to begin to think of your life in terms of having more than one life. You have a life in time, but you also have a life in eternity.
Now, they're not separate, but they are unique in their characteristics. The things that are limits to you in your life in time will not be limits to you in your life in eternity. Some of the things that provide boundaries for you in time will not be boundaries for you in eternity. So you have lives with two very different characteristics, a life in time and a life in eternity. I know there's a television show, a soap opera, says we've got one life to live. And there is some truth to that statement, but the one life we have to live in time has a tremendous impact on the life that is ahead of us. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and verse 19, says, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men". If our faith only has impact for this life, it says we're in a pitiful place. There's a hope for our faith in time and for eternity.
1 Timothy chapter 4, "Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come". See, I think way too much energy in our faith is invested in trying to get God to do what we want him to do in this present life and precious little thought and effort and attention is given to the life to come. Now, I'm not recruiting today for anything new. I'm not asking you to sign up for something else. There's no pledge cards taped underneath your chairs. We're not sending you something in the mail. So this isn't connected to a project or an idea or specific need. I just want to suggest that how you spend your days can be attached to an incredible investment in heaven.
Look in Hebrews chapter 5 and verse 7. Says, "During the days of Jesus's life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission". Now, before you turn the page, I want you to look at that phrase with me just a moment. It says during the days of Jesus's life on earth. It's very clear that the author of Hebrews imagined that Jesus had a life beyond his days on earth. Now, you know that to be true. Those of you that are familiar with your Bible, Jesus was an active part of creation in the first chapters of Genesis. There are multiple places in the Old Testament long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem where he stepped into human history to make a difference. And we know that Jesus left the earth.
In the book Acts chapter 1, we know he ascended back to heaven, but he didn't cease to exist. But the author of Hebrews is calling our attention to a very unique portion of Jesus's life. It says during the days of Jesus's life on earth. And then he tells us something he did. It said he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard. Now, we're going to look at two or three passages here that deal with Jesus, the days of Jesus's life on earth, because what I'm going to suggest to you is that Jesus benefited for all eternity from what he did with his days on earth, and so can you. Look in Hebrews chapter 12. I'll wait. It's just one page. Says, "Let us fix our eyes," let's fix our attention, "on Jesus. He's the author and the perfecter of our faith..."
That's speaking about his place in eternity. He's the one that initiated our faith and he's the one that will complete it. "Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God". In this one verse, we get a perspective of Jesus's life both in time and in eternity. And we tend to think of them as two separate things that are very loosely connected. In fact, they are in reality very much interrelated. And I'm asking you to think about your life in time and eternity as very much an integrated whole. Says Jesus is the author and the perfecter of our faith; we should consider him, who for the joy set before him endured the cross. The cross took place in time.
On a hill just outside the city of Jerusalem, Jesus was crucified, nailed to a Roman cross, a Roman form of capital punishment; brutal way to die. He suffocated to death, hungry, thirsty, naked, in one of all things publicly humiliated, the death of a criminal. And it says Jesus endured that because of the joy that was set before him. The joy wasn't in time because Jesus was never vindicated before his enemies. As far as Pilate's concerned, he was crucified. Caiaphas the high priest thinks he won a victory over Jesus, but Jesus endured. The reason this matters so much, if you believe that God will reward your yielding to him, your service to him in time, in eternity, you'll be able to persevere when a difficult season comes.
If you don't believe there's a reward, you'll fold like a cheap tent when persecution comes, and so will I. God will reward your service to him in time for you in eternity. That's a bargain. That's a bargain. Let's push on a little bit. Philippians chapter 2, it's speaking of Jesus. It says he made himself nothing. It's describing the incarnation when he came to earth, when he got an earth suit to become one of us, and the description here is that he made himself nothing. There's a little humility for you and me in that, isn't it? What was the heavenly perspective when Jesus came to be one of us? Well, he made himself nothing. He got a dust suit. We're made out of the dust of the ground.
"He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant and 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. Therefore," therefore is a summary word. It means because of everything that's said before, in summation. "Therefore God exalted him". Why did God exalt him? Because he made himself nothing, and he took the nature of a servant and became a human being, and he humbled himself and became obedient even to death on a cross. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that's above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father".
Jesus's role in time defined his role for all eternity. He laid aside the glory and the power and the prestige of heaven to become one of us, to identify for all eternity with humanity. Seated at the right hand of God the Father today is the man Jesus Christ. And in that expression of humility and obedience, enabled God to reward him for all eternity. There's a benefit to honoring the Lord with your life. Think of the difference of that young man we just read about. He came to Jesus. Jesus loved him. He invited him to be a part of the inner circle. "Come, follow me". And the young man said, "Ah, that's too disruptive of an invitation. There's too much involved. I can't do that". He went away sad. It caused the disciples, I didn't give you the expanded passage.
In the larger context, the disciples questioned the Lord, "Lord, who can be saved? If that young man... we know him. He's the best of the best, the cream of the crop. If he's not going to join us, what are we going to do"? Do you realize we can forfeit? You can take our days under the sun and use them selfishly. I can spend them on my own self-gratification. I can spend them on chasing down what I want and what I think and what I feel, or I can yield them to the Lord. I'm not inviting you towards full-time ministry, but in the context of wherever God has placed you with and in whatever circumstance he puts you, we serve the Lord, or we can forfeit those opportunities.
See, I think we have wrongly cast our faith in terms of only a ticket to get into heaven, and then the rest of our lives is really our business, and we just invite God to help us power through the problems. Now, I believe God will help you through the challenges of life, but I believe the great joy of life is in yielding your life to the purposes of Almighty God. I think we play pretty sloppily with the idea of repentance. I think we've kind of imagined that we can do whatever we want to do, we can live any way we want to live, we can make whatever choice we want to make, and then we can come to God and rather glibly say, "Oh, I'm sorry". Now, I believe repentance is a very powerful spiritual tool.
Look in 1 Peter chapter 1. "In his great mercy he's given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade kept in heaven for you". What a remarkable verse. It says that the new birth, that profession of faith that we've made in Jesus, choosing him as Lord of our lives, turning away from our own way and accepting God's way, brings with it an inheritance, an inheritance in eternity that can never be diminished. Isn't that good news? You don't earn it. You don't join the right church. You don't read the right translation of the Bible. You can't keep enough rules. It's a gift, and it comes by faith in Jesus Christ. Isn't that wonderful, wonderful news?
Now, we've done a pretty good job, I think, in American evangelicalism, of pitching that idea, but unfortunately I think we tend to stop the narrative there or we stop listening at that point. And that is really just the beginning point. That inheritance qualifies you to lay up treasure in heaven. And I think that's the point perhaps where we have been a bit distracted. Look in Matthew 16. "The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and he will reward each person according to what he has done". Again, if we put it in parallel with Jesus's First Coming, he came the first time to take away the sin of the world. He's coming back the second time with all of the angels and all of his glory to reward those who have served him. I want to be included in that crew. Don't you?
Look at Hebrews 11. It says, "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter". Remember the story of Moses? His parents put him in a basket and released him in the Nile River, and the basket was found by Pharaoh's daughter, and the infant was reared in Pharaoh's palace as if he was the son of Pharaoh's daughter. And it says Moses refused when he was an adult to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose something. Verse 25, "He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time".
There's an expression of opposites in that sentence. Pleasure is the word we use to describe the satisfaction of our physical self. Physical satisfaction is called pleasure. The opposite of that would be to be mistreated. And it says that Moses chose mistreatment instead of pleasure. Now, we read it in our Bible and we act like that's normal, but I'm going to suggest to you that's a very unusual choice. Moses chose mistreatment instead of pleasure. The question that begs an answer is why. Why would he do that? Well, it's in the very next verse. It says, "He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward".
Now, look at that sentence with me. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ. Christ is the Greek word, Christ is the English word that's the equivalent of the Greek word christós, the equivalent of the Hebrew word mashiach, Messiah. He regarded disgrace for the sake of the Messiah as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt. He was looking for a reward. Now, I'll close with the verse you have there, Revelation 4, and this is what started this whole study for me. The book of Revelation is a series of scenes. Some of the scenes are in heaven and some of the scenes are on earth. And you need to pay attention when you're reading Revelation 'cause if you don't you'll get confused. You don't know whether you're on heaven or on earth.
Well, in chapter 4 we're in heaven, and it says, "The twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne and will worship Him who lives forever and ever and will cast their crowns before the throne". It's a scene of eternity. It's the life to come. It's outside of time. And there are 24 people there who have lived life really, really well because they've been rewarded with a throne in eternity. You with me so far? And it says when they're seated on their thrones, an expression of a kingdom, an expression of power and authority, they see the one who is alive forever and ever. They see the Lord. And it says they get off of the throne, they get down on their faces before him, and they take their crown off and throw it on the floor before him. Everything in time that brought to them authority or power or wealth, they consider it nothing compared to the privilege of serving the one who lives forever and ever.
Now, I would submit to you that attitude resulted for them in a throne and a crown, and they hold it very loosely compared to the privilege of serving the Lord. "Follow me. I'll make you fishers of men. You only lack one thing. Turn loose of your stuff and come follow me". The invitation is still being extended. And if you understand your faith only in terms of a ticket to heaven, you are forfeiting so much of the privilege of serving the Lord. God will reward you for honoring him in time. Being a Christ-follower is not a diminishment of your life. It's not a diminishment of your opportunities. The greatest opportunities of being a human don't come apart from God, they come in serving him. Amen? Now, with God's help, we're going to explore this more fully tonight and in the weeks ahead, okay? Amen. I brought you a prayer.
I want you to pray with me. I want you stand. It's at the end of your outline. This is really a proclamation for you to make over your own life. Our words have spiritual authority. And increasingly, we want to learn to be a people who pray, that use our words to bring God's intent to bear on our lives. That's a principle. God created the world and everything that's in it with the authority of his Word. And you're created in his image. Your words carry with them spiritual authority. Now, I know that idea can be abused, but that doesn't diminish the truth of it. Food can be abused. You can kill yourself with a fork, but it doesn't diminish the truth that food is necessary for nourishment. So don't step away from the truth because you've seen it misused. Your words in your life carry significant spiritual authority. Let's make this prayer over ourselves:
Heavenly Father, teach me to order my days that I may be pleasing in your sight. Give me wisdom to recognize the opportunities which you place before me. Holy Spirit, guide me in paths of righteousness and deliver me from evil. May my life be an expression of worship to the one who created me. I choose to yield my days under the sun for the glory of the King. In Jesus's name, amen.