Investments – 03.21.2021

[Luke 19]

In the Chronicles of Narnia, from C.S. Lewis, there’s a book called the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. An in that book there’s a character called Eustace. Now Narnia is a world of magic and talking animals, but C.S. Lewis was a devout Christian, and so there are major themes of the Christian story. For example, there’s a character called Aslan, who is a lion, but Aslan is very clearly a representation of Jesus. It’s this amazing metaphor of the life and person of Jesus. So in the fourth book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we follow the adventures of the crew of a boat called the Dawn Treader, and on this voyage we meet this kid Eustace. And you need to understand Eustace is horrible. I think the best description might be “snot nosed brat.” He’s one of those characters who is simultaneously extremely prideful and puffed up, and yet constantly terrified and whining about things he is scared of. So the crew stops on an island to explore, and Eustace finds a dragon’s lair full of gold. Rather than share it or tell the others, he finds a beautiful gold bracelet and he puts it on his arm. And then he takes a nap. When he wakes up, he finds that the bracelet has transformed him into a dragon. C.S. Lewis writes, “sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Now at first it might be fun to be a dragon, but after a while a boy wants to be a boy, and he had no sense of how to change back.

Enter Aslan, the great Lion, who tells Eustace to become a boy again you have to peel away the skin, and take a bath in this pool of water. So Eustace uses his dragon claws and peels off a layer of skin. It came off really easy and felt quite lovely, but as he went to get into the water he saw that the skin grew back. So he tries again several times, but realizes he can’t peel the dragon skin off of himself. He needs Aslan’s help. This is a quote from the book, where Eustace describes Aslan scraping off his dragon skin, “the very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made my able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it IS such fun to see it coming away… Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath nwo that I’d no skin on – and he threw me into he water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm, and then I saw why, I’d turned into a boy again.” And from that moment on, you need to understand that Eustace went from an irritation of a character to a hero in the story. When the ugliest part of his character encountered Aslan, there was a baptism of sorts – and Eustace was transformed.

Today we are continuing our Journey with Jesus through the book of Luke. We’ve been reading through it, one chapter a week and we are all the way up to Chapter 19. Last week we talked about how to talk to God, and how much God wants to hear from us – and how proud God is of us when we take our first steps as children of God. Today we’re going to see how those small steps are the beginning of a journey that is designed to transform who you are. From an ugly scaly dragon, into a beautiful child of God – today we are going to start a conversation about reclaiming transformational holiness.

So we dive right into the text, and we basically have two stories in our chapter today. At the end of the chapter there’s a whole thing about a donkey entering Jerusalem with some palm branches, but we’ll save that for next week. We start with Zacchaeus, [read v.1-4]. Now this is a classic story that many Christians are familiar with, there’s even a kid’s song. But in case you’ve never heard it – a quick overview. There’s this guy Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector, and of course – nobody likes tax collectors. For thousands of years, ever since they came up with the idea of taxes, nobody likes that guy. After the IRS started spitting out checks last week, #stimmy, I think we can all agree, we don’t mind “tax returners.” I don’t mind it when the tax guy is sending me checks, but the collector – not my favorite character. So he’s a tax collector, and then it tells us he was rich. So not only is he the guy taking your money and giving it to the Roman oppressors, but he’s getting rich doing it – which really just twists the knife, right? Just… ugh. Also, there is a subtext, sort of like an implied accusation that he’s probably getting rich by cheating people. There’s no trust for the government tax guy, and if that’s not the most relatable thing I say all morning. Now by chapter 19, Jesus is super famous. Very well known as a healer, miracle performer, teacher – he’s a big deal. So when Jesus walks by, who by the way is very short. #weelittleman. He climbs up a tree to get a look at this famous guy Jesus.

[read v.5-7]. Now I don’t know if Zacchaeus was being obvious up in the tree, or if it was some divine intuition that made Jesus look up, but he calls him by name and says I’m coming to your house. And then the people start grumbling. Ugh, he’s hanging out with sinners. Last week, we talked about what it means to come to Jesus as children – I used the metaphor of a child, learning to walk. And I said, as a parent I am excited when my child learns to walk, even if he falls and in the same way God is excited when we are learning to walk, not just focusing on the falls. It was a very grace focused sermon. And afterwards, there were a couple of people who were wondering about the message. I got a few comments, “so, does it matter if we fall? Is God okay with it when we fall?” And that’s a really good question, and I’m glad I have a chance this morning to clarify. In his life, in his ministry, Jesus engaged with sinners. He entered into their lives. He walked beside them. He ate with. Jesus comes to us as we are. But what I didn’t highlight last week is that Jesus is a transforming presence. He comes to us while we are sinners, but he does not let us stay that way.  Jesus welcomes us and loves us and eats with us, but he does not welcome our sin, he does not love our sin, he does not eat with our sin. You can love and engage and fellowship with sinners, that does not mean you love their sin. You can cheer when they take a step, but that doesn’t mean it’s no big deal when they fall. Watch the end of the story.

[read v.8-10]. Jesus transformed Zacchaeus. After Jesus comes into his life, Zacchaeus has taken his first step towards holiness. One of the biggest things I want you to grab onto this morning is that holiness is what Jesus has called us to. We were made to be holy, and we can’t keep that up ourselves. Jesus transforms our lives. Jesus comes to us as we are. He steps into our world, while we were sinners. Jesus loves us unconditionally, we didn’t earn it. He loves us before we started following him. People love to say, “come just as you are” or they’ll say, “Jesus loves you just as you are.” And that’s beautiful, and it’s very true…but that’s not like, the end of the story. Jesus didn’t walk into Zacchaeus’ house and look at all the decadent spread and greed and dishonesty, he didn’t walk into Zacchaeus’ life and say, “I love it just the way it is. Don’t change a thing.” No, Jesus comes to Zacchaeus, a sinner, and says I love you, while you are still a sinner, I will show you love. And that investment of love from Jesus transforms his life. It starts that man on a journey towards holiness.

Verse 10 said, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” And I want you to see both parts of that sentence. Jesus came to seek out the lost. He hung out with sinners. He ate with them, travelled with them, touched them when other people wouldn’t dare (right? Some of these people were like, “don’t even touch them, they are unclean” but Jesus never let that keep him away) While he was on this earth, he went seeking the lost. He went looking for the sinners wherever they were. But don’t forget the second part of that sentence. The son of man came to seek out AND TO SAVE the lost. When you start following Jesus, when you encounter Jesus and give your life to him – if your life basically looks the same the next day, you might not actually be following Jesus. When we come into contact with the son of God, that starts us on a journey towards holiness. That starts us on a journey towards perfection. Jesus came to seek out and to save the lost.

[read v.11] – so they’re getting close to Jerusalem, and Jesus realized that some of his followers assumed that the kingdom of God was just going to appear right away. But Jesus knows it’s going to be a while, so he tells them a story – to inspire them to get to work. [read v.12-13]. There’s a man, a nobleman, and he’s going away for a while, so he gathers his servants and gives them each a pound (I looked it up, apparently a pound is roughly 3 months wages), and then he gives them instructions, “do business with these until I come back.” Now in the intro they told us this is a parable. Parables are stories where all the pieces represent stuff. So the nobleman is Jesus, and apparently he’s going away for a while. The servants are us, or the disciples. The pound that the nobleman gives to his servants – what is that? Three months wages that the nobleman gives and says, “do business with this until I get back.” The pound is the blessings in your life. All the stuff God has given you to live this life – your money, your relationships, your personality, your skills. Simply put, the pound is your life. You have been given this life, and all the pieces of it, and we are told – do business with this until I get back.

Then the nobleman gets back in verse 15, [read v.15-23]. Three slaves, three examples. The first slave must have been a brilliant investor, because he comes back with ten times as much as he started with. I started with one pound and now I have ten pounds – which is funny [pat belly] during COVID I kinda did something just like that too. But really, that’s significant growth. The second slave has five times as much – which is still really impressive. Then the third slave says “I wrapped it in a piece of cloth. I kept it safe for you.” And the nobleman calls him a wicked slave. Now remember the nobleman is Jesus, we are the slaves, and the pound is your life. So let me ask: is the point of your life to grow, or to keep it safe? With the investment God has given you, with the life you have been given – are you seeking to grow God’s kingdom, or did you put it in the freezer? Just trying to preserve it as long as possible. Because I look around at the American church and I can’t help but wonder how many congregations out there have freezer burn? How many lives are paralyzed, frozen in place because their goal is to keep it safe instead of use it to grow God’s kingdom. Our mission statement at this church is not “create disciples of Jesus Christ to stick the freezer so they will last as long as possible.” Our mission statement is to create disciples of Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world.

Jesus says, if you’re just going to live your life to keep it, wrap it in cloth and do nothing, then I can’t trust you with it. [read v.24-26]. The bystanders are baffled – that’s not fair! That guy’s already got ten pounds, the other guy only has one. Jesus says that doesn’t matter. It’s not about how much or little you have – it’s about how you use it. The gifts of this life are not decorative. Let me say that again, the gifts of this life are not decorative. You don’t hang them on the wall to make your life look pretty. They are weapons in the armory, tools in the toolbelt that we use to build the kingdom of God. I know it’s cliché, but Jesus is basically saying, “if you’re not going to use it, you will lose it.”

The good news that’s coming out of this text for us this morning is that God invests in us. The almighty God up in heaven invests in us. Literally, we say with what Jesus did on the cross he paid the price. Jesus has put the down payment down for your life, he has bought you with his blood. And I know that sounds a little icky, but what it means is that he gave up his life for you. God invests in you. Now there are two beautiful truths hidden in that statement. First, you are worth investing in. I hope you understand the value that gives you. Because the world out there has all these standards by which they measure your value. Are you skinny enough, are you rich enough, are you sexy enough, do you have enough followers. It’s horrible because they give you the standard and then they tell you – “not good enough.” They tell you, this is what skinny looks like – you don’t match it. This is what happy looks like – you don’t match it. This is what popular or talented looks like – you don’t match it. We are bombarded with these standards that destroy our value. But when I say that God invests in you, what I mean by that is that the creator God, who made you, looks you in the eye and says, “I made you, and you are so valuable to me, that will come and experience pain and torture and death and I will do all of that voluntarily because you are worth it. You are worth dying for. Because I love you.” God invests in you and that means you are worth investing in.

The second truth hidden in that statement is that God believes you are capable of incredible things, and he’s going to stick with you to make that happen. If God is going to invest in you, that means he expects a return on his investment. You don’t plant the seeds and then walk away. You plant seeds in someone’s life, and then take care of it – water, sunlight, dirt – you tend to it until there’s some growth. God invests in you and that means God believes you can grow. There is a journey prepared for every single Christian, a path towards holiness. It’s a life long process of growing closer to Jesus, stepping a little closer to perfection. Some of you have been on that journey for a while – praise God you are not where you used to be. But all of us have more work to do. God invests in you, and that means that you are valuable and you are capable of incredible growth.

Last week I went easy on you with the challenge, with the application. The challenge last week was “pray.” This week the challenge I’ve got for you is this: Transform the world. That’s all. That’s what I want you to do this week. Transform the world. (you’re all sitting there, like – oh is that all?) I want you to start looking at your faith as a gift designed to be invested in the world. There’s two parts to this. First – transform your world. When Jesus comes into your life, your life looks different. Maybe you’ve never given your life to Jesus – I want to encourage you to take that step of faith. Give everything to him, and watch what he can do with your life. Maybe you used to be really tight with Jesus, but some of us have slipped away over the last year, over the last couple years. We took the gift of life that God gives us and we stopped using it. We wrapped it in cloth, we decided to keep it safe. But God’s gifts are not decorative. We don’t take God’s forgiveness and mount it on the wall like a wooden plaque with a cute bible verse. It’s not decorative. Take God’s forgiveness, his love, his investment and let it transform your life. If there is sin, let God’s forgiveness wash that away. If there’s some substance abuse – medication or drugs or alcohol, or maybe your struggling with lust or sexual immorality, maybe your sin is more about gossip or pride, the way we treat each other, maybe you are not the husband or mother or friend that God has taught you to be. I’m here to tell you that God has invested in you, and I want you to let that investment transform your life. Invite the Holy Spirit to start working on your heart, and abandon your sin, like Zacchaeus abandoned his. Transform the world, and the first step is to transform your world.

The second part, the next step, is to transform the world around you. God has invested in you, and first we need to let that investment change your personal life. Then, we can take that investment, that blessing, that gift and use it to invest in the people around you. First transform YOUR world, then transform the world around you. Take this one wild and precious life you have, and use it to invest in the people around you. You have been given God’s love and blessing in your life – so take that and spread it to all those around you.

CS Lewis wrote a book about a little boy named Eustace who turned into a dragon. When he didn’t want to be a dragon anymore, he tried to change his own life. Didn’t really work, he needed Aslan, the Jesus character, to scrape away all that sin, all that beastly top layer of his life. It was hard and painful, but he came out the other side transformed. Same thing happened with the real Jesus shows up in Zacchaeus’ life. Today we have seen that God invests in your life – and that means that you have incredible value and you have the potential for incredible growth. And so I’ll leave you with this. My prayer for every one of you today is that you will encounter Jesus Christ in your life, and I pray your life is never the same. I want your life to be transformed by Jesus. May you begin the journey towards holiness. Believe in your value, begin your growth. May you transform your world, and in that way may you transform the entire world around you. Amen.

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