The Radical Simplicity and Generosity of Jesus and His People

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

One of the most notable things about Jesus was His radical relationship with wealth and possessions. Jesus lived simply and had no tangible possessions that we know of. He relied on the generosity of others but also lived radically generous with what He had and who He was. Jesus’ life abounded with simplicity and generosity.

It is because of this that the early church had a marked freedom in relation to wealth and physical possessions. The early church was a community of simplicity and generosity, living unchained to wealth and possessions. As we read in Acts: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2:44)

Throughout Paul’s letters we see a radical simplicity and generosity in relation to wealth and possessions. When writing to Timothy, Paul describes how believers can live simply, not holding onto possessions because we know we only need a few things: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:7-8).

We also read, both in Paul and in Luke’s account of Jesus, warnings about the power of possessions. Paul tells us that a dedication to wealth can destroy us: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). And when Jesus warns the rich young ruler, He does so knowing how wealth can take the place of God: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy” (Luke 18:22-23).

Jesus and the early church lived with radical simplicity.

But that simplicity overflowed with generosity.

The radical generosity of the church is so clear in Acts 2-6, where the life of the church was marked by an open-handedness with what they owned: “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:45). Whereas many of us may be tempted to turn a blind eye to the needs in our midst, the early believers faced into those needs, not only becoming aware of them but helping to meet those needs. In Acts 4, finances were shared directly with the needy: “It was distributed to anyone who had need” (4:35). And when the Greek widows were facing inequity in the generous distribution, deacons were appointed specifically to address that situation (6:1-7).

The early church’s generosity was marked by sacrificial living. We are told in Acts 2 that early believers were so moved by the compassion of Christ that they “sold property and possessions” (2:45). And later in the account, we hear that “from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them” (4:34). This was then brought to the apostles for distribution to those in need.

There was a radical generosity and simplicity that marked the life of the early church. Where did this come from? It came from an overflow of the grace of the Lord Jesus, who gave everything for them. But it also came from a life oriented around life in God’s kingdom as seen in the simplicity and generosity of life that Jesus modeled on earth.

The Urgent Need for a Baptismal Spirituality

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” (Matthew 3:16-17)

The theological insights we gain from Jesus’ baptism are not random, entertaining theological facts. Instead our theology of Jesus’ baptism should lead us into the development of a baptismal spirituality. The great Reformer Martin Luther spoke to the spiritual significance of baptism in his Large Catechism. He wrote:

In baptism…every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.…Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and [we can] say: ‘But I am baptized!’[1]

Following Luther’s advice to study and practice our baptism, let me suggest three ways Jesus’ baptism should shape our spiritual life with God.

The pattern of dying and rising in baptism and the spiritual life (Romans 6:1-14)

First, we remember that our spiritual life is shaped around the pattern of dying and rising. The Apostle Paul writes about this in Romans 6:1-14, a Scripture passage that I read every time we celebrate baptisms at Eastbrook. Here are verses 3 and 4:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

Because of Jesus’ baptism, because of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from death as the representative Messiah, we are invited into a spiritual life where we die to ourselves and live to God, we die to sin and we live to holiness, we die to what is not life and we rise into what is life.

Each day, we echo our baptism by surrendering ourselves to God in death to self and rising up in obedience to God by the Holy Spirit’s power. We say, echoing Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done.”

Sometimes life has to go down before it can go up.

Our spiritual life must be shaped by the call to dying and rising seen in baptism.

The call to suffering in baptism and the spiritual life (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38-40)

Second, Jesus’ baptism reminds us that our spiritual life is a call to suffering. John’s baptism was a call to die to sin, to name it, to turn from it, and to enter into life. It was a call to spiritual renunciation of the self in order to follow God.

Jesus’ baptism was that, but it was also something more. His baptism in history prefigured a baptism of suffering that He would have to endure. Later in the gospel accounts, Jesus said:

I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! (Luke 12:50)

Jesus here refers to His upcoming suffering on the Cross. We do not recreate what Jesus suffered, but our spiritual life is an invitation into a cross-shaped existence. Jesus’ invites human beings trapped in an upside-down world to turn to God through death to self. This involves suffering. If our Christianity does not involve some level of suffering, we are probably not Christians or have misunderstood the calling of Christ. Not only that, but we are also called as believers to enter into the suffering of others. By choosing to enter into the suffering of others—the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the dying, the imprisoned, the spiritually empty—we shine the light of Christ into dark places, bringing hope, joy, and peace where darkness seems to reign.

Sometimes life has to go down before it can go up.

Our spiritual life must be shaped by the call to suffering seen in baptism.

The joy of God’s delight in baptism and the spiritual life (Matthew 3:17; Acts 2:38)

Third, lest we think that developing a baptismal spirituality is all pain and suffering, Jesus’ baptism also helps us remember that our spiritual life is centered around the joy of God’s delight in us. Jesus is the unique Son of God who fully reveals the Triune nature of God and manifests God’s kingdom and salvation into our midst. When Jesus rose from baptism, He heard the words of the Father over Him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus has come to make that a reality for us as well. As the Messiah, Jesus brings good news to us that we are not trapped by the power of sin, but that we can turn from sin’s power through repentance to God for life and new beginnings as His children. Peter preached about this at the very beginning of the church when he said:

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Baptism speaks of forgiveness. It is a sign of the old being washed away and the new coming again. We can begin again.  The Holy Spirit speaks of adoption. We can become God’s children. We begin again in God’s delight and love for us. Even as Jesus heard those words, “This is my Son, whom I love,” so, too, we, in baptism, experience the very great reality that we are children of God whom God loves more than we can comprehend. When we remember our baptism, we likewise remember we are loved by God. That reality should center us in God’s love for us every day and motivate us to live with love for others every day.

Our spiritual life must be shaped by the joy of God’s delight in us as seen in baptism.


[1] Martin Luther, as quoted in Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000); referenced here: https://www.livinglutheran.org/2015/02/mythbusting/.

Jesus the Messiah: Our Promised Priestly King

 

Rembrandt - Emmaus Road Jesus with Disciples.jpg
Rembrandt van Rijn, Pilgrims at Emmaus; Oil on mahogany; 1648.

In Advent we enter into the longing of Israel for a Messiah; the longing for the promises of the prophets to be fulfilled. We sing songs with words like, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear.” We sing these words to remind us of the longing of God’s people for the appearance of a figure who would bring about the restoration of God’s people in a new way as a priestly king.

The early Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this promised priestly king. His teaching was unlike any other because it had such power. His sacrificial crucifixion and His resurrection from death spoke of Him as Messiah. As they reflected on Jesus’ life and ministry, again and again they returned to Psalm 110, finding in this psalm a picture of Jesus as the promised Messiah, who would be a priestly king forever.

Thus, Peter, at the first sermon of the newly founded church on Pentecost day in Acts 1 and 2, weaves Psalm 110 into his message, saying this:

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

(Acts 2:32-35)

Peter understands that Jesus is the eternal priestly king, not just for Israel, but for humanity. On that Pentecost day, Peter knew that as the priestly king, Jesus brought salvation and also the great gift of God’s presence – His Holy Spirit – to empower His people to live out their calling.

We need a priestly king who can fill us with God’s life – the Holy Spirit – so that we can live as God has called us to live upon earth, and Jesus is the priestly king who pours out the Holy Spirit of God upon all who reach out to Him in faith.

And Paul, writing to the early church in Corinth about the meaning of Christ’s resurrection for believers, weaves in Psalm 110, writing:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
(1 Corinthians 15:22-25)

Paul saw that Jesus, in His death and resurrection, had put won victory in battle over the principalities and powers of evil, as well as against the ultimate enemy of humankind: death. In the face of human sin and failure, Jesus is the priestly king who deals with all of our greatest opponents, putting them all under His feet.

We need a king who can destroy death and bring life, and Jesus is the priestly king who destroys death and brings life forever.

The unknown writer of Hebrews, in his extended “letter,” which is more of a sermon, writes about Jesus as both High Priest and High Sacrifice:

15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:

“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
(Hebrews 7:15-17)

The writer sees Jesus, in light of Psalm 110, as the fulfillment of the deepest longings of God’s people for a king who can bring true worship of God from the heart of humanity. We know that, as Isaiah the prophet reminds us, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We need a new High Priest who can deal with that forever.

We need a priestly king who can stand before God on our behalf as the perfect human being living perfectly righteous. And we also need a kingly priest who can stand before us as the very face of God Himself, bringing forgiveness of sin. The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus is the priestly king who stands uniquely forever representing humanity before God and God before humanity with an indestructible life.

So join me this Advent in praising God that our Advent hope is not an empty hope but a pregnant hope, giving birth to righteousness, peace, and love through Christ.

Worship in the Beauty of Holiness

 

This past weekend at at Eastbrook Church I concluded our series, “Roots,” on certain non-negotiable characteristics of the church, and Eastbrook Church in particular as we celebrate 40 years. This final weekend took us into an exploration of worship based in Psalm 96:9. I admit that I still love the way that the King James Version states it:

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Rooted in this idea, I explored how worship is both a gathering and a lifestyle, how worship is rooted in the Triune God, and leads us into the extravagance of eternity around God’s throne. Some folks know that started out in ministry through music and worship ministry, so this is admittedly close to my areas of greatest passion and concern for the contemporary church.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

Read More »

Sacrificial Generosity

Continuing our “Roots” series this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I took us into an exploration of “Sacrificial Generosity.” No one can read the description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 without being deeply moved and challenged. What was it in this early church experiment in Jerusalem that we can learn from as we grapple with wealth and possessions? While also drawing upon Paul’s words to the young pastor in 1 Timothy 6:6-10, the entire message was rooted in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

Read More »