Key Words: New Year’s Day or the first Sunday of the New Year
Well today is the first Sunday of the New Year. Traditionally the beginning of a new year is when people tend to make New Year’s Resolutions. So if you Google Top 10 New Years Resolutions, you’ll find the following list:
Read more books
Spend less time on the internet
Do something for charity
Quit smoking and/or drinking
Socialize more in real-life not social networking
Throw away unwanted stuff in the clothes closet
Learn a new hobby
That’s a great list. But what is interesting is that if you Google the Top 10 broken New Years Resolutions, this is what you will find:
Get a better education
Get a better job
Get fit/lose weight
Take a vacation
Now if you compare the two lists, it’s pretty obvious that there is quite a bit of overlap. Which means that somewhere there is a break down between the people we want to be and the people we are.
And breakdown is most likely around this one word: SACRIFICE.
Neal Plantinga defines sacrifice as “Giving up something of value in order to gain something of a greater value.”
So, for example, when it comes to our New Year’s resolutions, if the greater value that I’m shooting for is to be a slimmer, more physically fit version of myself, then it means I need to sacrifice certain kinds of food, as well as time on the couch, and I need to eat healthy food, as well as go jogging or swimming, etc.
Or if my greater value is to have a financial situation where I have no debt, it is going to mean I need to sacrifice certain bad money management habits and then learn how to budget my finances, etc.
That’s how it works. But that is not how we want it to work. We would much rather get to where we want to be without the sacrifice.
So what happens is we start with good intentions, but then the sacrifices start to hurt and we don’t like it. And before you know it we’re starting to cut corners, and eventually we’re right back where we started.
In other words, when we renege on a resolution what we’re saying is, “I think that there is a better version of me out there, and I know that I can live a life of greater value than I’m living now, but getting there is too much like work, so I’m going to just stay in the life I’m living now. I’ll settle for what I have.”
Now the unfortunate thing is that sometimes this attitude creeps into the church as well in that Jesus comes to us and promises us life and not only that—but life to the full. But in order to get there it involves sacrifice. It involves taking up our cross, denying ourselves and then following him.
And the truth is, this gets really hard for people, and the sad reality is that far too many people who call themselves Christians, end up settling for something less than what Jesus promised.
Now when you look at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, if there is one thing you can learn about this remarkable woman is that she was a woman who was willing to make sacrifices.
In other words she was a woman who was willing to give up something of value, in order to gain something of a greater value.
So to illustrate the point, let’s look together at John 19:25-27. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
So here’s the scene. Mary is gathered with a very small group of friends. And hanging on the cross is Mary’s son, Jesus.
And this scene would be excruciating for any parent, except Mary wasn’t just any parent. She happened to be the mother of the son of God.
Let’s just briefly go back over Mary’s story.
Just over 33 years prior, Mary had an encounter with an angel. And the angel told her that she was going to be having a baby and that this baby was going to be the Son of God.
Now as wonderful as this news sounded, it didn’t come without sacrifice. Because in order to be the mother of the Messiah, Mary had go give up something of value, namely her honour and dignity, because it meant going through life as the unwed mother of Jesus.
Then shortly after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem for the rituals of purification, circumcision and dedication.
And while they were there they meet up with an old man named Simeon. And Simeon celebrates the fact that the Messiah has arrived. But then his celebration turns somber as he says these words: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This is what we read in Luke 2:34–35.
So what Simeon was saying is that when Jesus grows up he’s not going to be the Messiah that everyone is expecting. As a matter of fact, following Jesus is going to require sacrifice because it’s going to go against the popular view of what most people think a Messiah should do.
Because most people think that the Messiah came to save them from their circumstances. But this Messiah came to save people from their sins. And then he adds, “And Mary, you’re going to have to decide as well which one he is.”
And Mary did struggle. As a matter of fact there is this scene where Jesus is in a house and the crowds are pressing in on Jesus. And while they are pressing in, on the inside, we are told that outside of the house “when his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Mark 3:21.
And things get intense, and we read, “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’”Mark 3:31–32
And Jesus responds. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Now we don’t know exactly how Mary got to this point of thinking that Jesus was out of his mind and we don't know what kind of struggle she went through. What we do know is that somewhere in the journey, Mary decided to follow Jesus on his terms and that she needed him for her life.
So when everyone else decided to bail on Jesus, Mary stayed close by and followed him to the cross along with a few close friends.
And I’m sure that as she stood there and watched him die, that sword that Simeon spoke about 33 years prior must have pierced her soul like nothing else. And I’m sure that this must have been the worst kind of sacrifice for a parent to endure. I mean how can you possibility imagine giving up anything of greater value than a child?
And so Mary stood at the foot of the cross, (with a couple of close friends) and watched her tortured son slowly die an excruciating death.
And John tells us in chapter 19:25 and following that “when Jesus saw his mother there (And remember what Jesus said earlier about who his mother is, but the person who does the will of his Father) and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
Now there is so much going on here. But one of the things we need to understand is that when Jesus addresses his mother as “Woman”, he is in no way speaking disrespectfully of her.
You see the Greek word that we read as “Woman” is the word Goo-nay. And it literally means the Bride, the Becoming one, the lovely one, the darling one, Beautiful one. In other words it is a word of honour.
And I’m sure Jesus uses this word for Mary intentionally because as a woman who carried this stigma of a dishonorable woman, Jesus needed to remind her of who she really was in the eyes of God.
So Jesus says, “Beautiful one” and then he presents his mother to the person known as the disciple whom he loved.
Now scholars are in agreement that the disciple whom Jesus loved was John the apostle. John’s brother James who was also a disciple were the sons of Zebedee. Zebedee had a wife named Salome who happened to be Mary’s sister, who was also standing at the cross with Mary and John.
So not only is the disciple whom Jesus loved one of the disciples, he was also Jesus’ cousin.
Now the reason why Jesus was setting up this Mother-Son relationship between John and Mary is because God’s law was very clear that widows needed to be looked after.
You see, in those days there was no welfare system. There were no food banks or social housing. And so widows and orphans, and crippled people, and foreigners often were left to beg in some form or another just to make money.
And if widows were overlooked in that society, then widows with a reputation were even worse off. And Mary had a reputation. She would have been known as the mother of an illegitimate son named Jesus.
And so Mary would have been treated in a very similar way that prostitutes would have been treated. Which is why Jesus, in his love for Mary, makes sure she is looked after, before he dies.
Now of course the question arises that if Jesus had brothers and sisters, then why wouldn’t they be looking after their mother? Why does Jesus entrust his mother to his cousin?
Which is a great question. And the answer to that question comes when you look at who followed Jesus to the cross, or rather, when you look at who did not follow Jesus to the cross. And the ones who did not follow Jesus to the cross were his brothers and sisters.
And do you remember what Jesus said about who his true mother and brothers were? “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)
You see what Jesus is doing here. Even as he is dying on the cross, he is redefining family. In other words, he is giving us a picture of what a covenant community ought to look like.
And a covenant community who identify themselves as followers of Jesus are people who are willing to make sacrifices for others as he sacrificed for us. That is a covenant community of people who would be willing to give up something of value in order to gain something of a greater value.
And the greater value is seeing people treated with dignity, and honour and respect. It is ensuring that others are provided for, that they have justice, and know that they are loved, not just by us, but by a God who was willing to give his life for us.
Which is what John does for Mary. And so the Bible tells us that “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
Now again, think of what this must have meant for John to willingly take Mary into his home especially given her reputation. It would have meant that he would be throwing his own reputation under the bus.
In other words, it meant that he would have to sacrifice his own honour to make sure that a woman, who wasn’t even his own mother, would be cared for and looked after.
And this is exactly what he did. Because somehow John believed that sacrificing his reputation was nothing compared to knowing that the honour and provision and dignity of Mary was protected and looked after.
Now you have to wonder, if John had any idea that when he took Mary into his home in order to care for her as if she was his own mom, if he had any clue that this act of obedience to Jesus would start a movement that would transform the world.
Here’s what I mean. If you follow the story, you’ll know that three days after Jesus died and was laid in a tomb, the earth shook and the temple shroud was torn in two and Jesus walked out of the grave alive. And this single event would signify that everything was about to change; that a new day was dawning, something new was happening.
And then 50 days after that, 10 days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out, and God’s love filled people like it had never filled them before.
And people were so committed to each other in this new community of love that they were willing to make sacrifices for one another in order that everyone felt included, and everyone was cared for, and everyone had what they needed, and everyone felt loved and honored.
And the Bible describes that scene like this: “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” That’s what Acts 2:45–47 says.
Now this is all radical stuff. And if you look closely through the New Testament you’ll find that the reason why they did this is because this is what the family of God does. This is what it means to be a covenant community. Paul said it like this in 1Timothy 5:2, “Treat older women as if they were your mothers. Treat younger women as if they were your sisters. Be completely pure in the way you treat them.” (1 Tim 5:2 NIRV)
John said it like this in John 3: 16, “We know what love is because Jesus Christ gave his life for us. So we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters.
In other words, we sacrifice for others because Jesus sacrificed for us.
You see, Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice something of value, his life, in order to gain something of a greater value, a relationship with you and me.
In other words, Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to die for us rather than live without us.
Which brings us to today.
This is the first Sunday of a new year. As we look forward into this New Year, the question we as a church community need to ask ourselves is: What kind of community do we want to be?
As people who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, are we willing to sacrifice for others as he sacrificed for us?
Can we welcome others into our homes as Jesus does for us, and as John did for Mary?
Do we want our homes to be places where relationships with others can grow and flourish, and where people can feel welcome and that they belong?
Do we see ourselves as a collection of families or do we see ourselves as one?
If we see ourselves as one family, then what sacrifices are we willing to make to make this happen?
Mary sacrificed her dignity and honour for Jesus and Jesus promised her a special place in the family of God.
John followed Jesus and sacrificed his reputation in order that Mary could be treated with honour and Jesus gave him a special place in the family of God.
Later the disciples followed Jesus and they sacrificed money and time and their homes so that others would feel loved and accepted and provided for. And they gained special places in the family of God.
So as we begin a new year, what do you hear God saying to you? What sacrifices is he calling you to make?
As we think about this, the thing to keep in mind is that this one thing is certain: If we want to realize who we really are in Christ, and if we truly want to become the family of God, then we’ve got to be willing to sacrifice.
Prayer of Response
Let us pray: Spirit of God, work in us so that we might be willing to sacrifice for the sake of the family of God. Amen.
Order of Service
WE ENTER HIS PRESENCE
Call to Worship: Psalm 84:1-4
Silent Prayer: Concluded with “He Is Lord” PsH#633
Prayer for God’s Greeting: “We thank you God that you welcome us into your presence. We thank you that you are God above Us, God beside Us, and God within us. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
Opening Song: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” PsH#253
GOD’S WILL FOR OUR LIVES
Confession of Sin: Romans 3:9-12; Romans 7:14-20;
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 7:24-25; Romans 8:1
Hymn of Faith: “And Can It Be” PsH#267
WE HEAR THE WORD
Hymn of Preparation: “My Jesus I Love Thee” PsH#557
Prayer of Illumination
Scripture Reading: John 19:25-27
Message: “Family Matters”
Hymn of Application: “When Peace Like A River” PsH#489
WE DEPART WITH HIS BLESSING
Prayer for God’s Parting Blessing: Great and Awesome God, May we be kept and upheld in your Faithfulness each day this week. May we know your authority, Heavenly Father. May we be kept in your love, Lord Jesus. And may we be comforted by your power, Holy Spirit. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Doxology: “Father We Love You” PsH#634