It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is already behind us and that we are now “full-go” into the holiday run here in 2020.  I know in some ways 2020 can’t go away soon enough but in other ways, we blinked and it’s time to start thinking Christmas again!  This also means that today we conclude a series that has meant a lot to us here at MRC called Redeemed & Forgiven.  I will tell you that I am sad to see this one go!  It just felt like we were having the right conversations at the right times all through this fall season!  Remember I have told you every week that this series builds on itself.  We have talked about grace, and surrender.  We have walked through the thing that everyone needs which is life change.  We have talked about the most challenging thing for us to do which is to actually live out our faith and we have looked at what it could look like to live out a selfless and humble life.  Which is really challenging in a very self-focused world.  Now today we have reached the epic conclusion of this series, which has to mean that I have some ground-breaking truth to share with you, that will give you the key to life!  The key to finding your true self!  And guess what?  I do!  Today I’m ending this series by giving you the key to finding your true selves, the key to walking in that abundant life that Jesus told you that He came to provide for you…the key to everything really!  So, I bet you are excited that you decided to be here instead of sleeping in or hunting on this Sunday morning!  But before I reveal this most monumental key to life, I want to warn you, and maybe prepare my heart a bit for this too…because this isn’t the first time we have talked about this with people.  It isn’t the first time we have revealed this epic truth at church, or when we share with people out in the community, and as excited as I am to share it…is as disappointed as most people are to hear it, which can leave me confused and a little bummed.  So, with that disclaimer in place, I want to give you the key to life as we know it, and life as we want it to be…are you ready for this?  Here’s the key…

It’s just not about you.

Do you see it?  Does it excite you?  Do you understand the significance of this statement?  Does it disappoint you to hear that the key isn’t somehow all about you?  Do you know that you are engaging a church that is centering around this idea?  Which may lead you to another question, which is how can a church exist with this as a motto?  Well for 20 years people have questioned that about us here at MRC and here we stand.  Maybe a better question is, where does this huge key to life come from?  Is it something the Pastor’s at MRC made up to get people to serve?  No, it actually comes right out of Jesus’ teachings for our lives…Jesus talks about this shift in focus a lot, and because of that we like to bring it up a lot too!

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. MSG

As we spend time with God, as we grow in our relationship with Him there is a shift in focus, the focus shifts off of us and onto God…that is when we sense his grace, do you see it?  It’s just not about you.

Jesus tells us that if we want to find ourselves, we need to stop focusing on ourselves and focus on Him, do you remember that?  I love this verse in Matthew and know how challenging it can be to receive.

Matthew 10:39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. MSG

Do you see it?  If you want to find your true self, you need to understand that key I spoke of earlier!  It’s just not about you.

You know it’s really interesting because this goes on and on all through Jesus’ teaching like here in Luke 9 where he explains that His disciples should follow Him into a life of self-sacrifice, not self-help which is interesting because our world says the opposite!  If you don’t believe me, just go to a bookstore and look at how many self-help books are out there today!

Luke 9:23 Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat — I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. 24 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.  MSG

Once again if you want to find your true self, let Jesus lead, and live a sacrificial life…It’s just not about you.  

Ok, I could do this all day, but let’s do just one more just for fun…a lot of people want to be leaders, well Jesus explains the way to lead and once again continues this theme of how His disciples should live.

Mark 10:43-45 …Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” NLT

You want to be a leader?  You want to be great?  Then serve.  It’s just not about you.

So, time and time again Jesus does this with His disciples.  He teaches them about God’s love.  He explains to them the key, that in the end it isn’t about them, it’s about serving, and engaging others with this same pure, unconditional love that God pours into them…but here is what is really interesting.  No matter how often He challenges them with this teaching, no matter how much He talked to them about love, and selflessness…they seemed to continue to struggle with it!  I mean time and time again Jesus would be there teaching them about God’s love and how to live out this life which isn’t about them, while they were all wondering where their spot was on the team!  Amazing isn’t it?

We will get into this in greater detail in a little bit, but imagine being Jesus, constantly explaining to them that it’s not about them, when moments like this come up…a lot.

Luke 9:46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. NLT

I mean the Zebedee brothers, actually had their mommy come to Jesus trying to make sure her boys had the best seats in the Kingdom…and she does this right after Jesus explains (yet again) that He will be laying down his life and killed to save the world…he talks about self-lessness and they just sit there and blink, at him wondering what is in it for them.  Amazing that Jesus has to deal with this in that moment…it’s pretty incredible isn’t it?

Matthew 20:20 Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.  She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” NLT

Which is amazing, but also infuriates the other disciples…and leads Jesus to come back once again to teaching on selflessness…

Matthew 20:24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” NLT

Once again, Jesus reminds them of the key.  It’s not about you. 

Can’t you almost see Jesus rolling his eyes, and slapping his forehead in these moments?  He must be wondering what else He needs to do to help them get it right? We can wonder that too, as we read about the disciples, can’t we?  But what’s interesting is that we do this too.  We hear the words it’s not about you and we go to a church that continues to push in on serving and the idea of living a life of love and humble servanthood…we may even like telling people we go to a church that focuses on others, and helping people find Christ who don’t yet know Him…while all the while just like Jesus’ disciples we are completely focused on ourselves.  We wonder where our spot is…we wonder who is ranked where among us.  We tell people it’s not about us, while constantly thinking about what is in it for us.  This happens a lot around church.  We tell people the greatest form of discipleship is to serve, and people struggle to see it…because discipleship is supposed to be about me…not others.  We tell people the greatest community you will ever find is in serving the mission of Christ with others…and we can’t see it because community is supposed to be fun events that serve me…not me out there serving others.  We hear about a church that focuses on the lost and we question that church because, well you just can’t do that…at some level it has to be about me!  Which is interesting and ignores everything that Jesus told us would lead us to that abundant life we are all searching for.  It’s funny how this works right?  I mean it’s one thing to see the disciples and think, Jesus is so clear with them, why didn’t they understand that isn’t about their own interests…while we keep the focus on ourselves and wonder why it isn’t more about us, and also seem to continue to wonder why this Christian life is so hard.  It’s so hard because we are focused on ourselves.

The key is to get to a place where you understand that it’s just not about you.

Now if you are thinking, “Ugh, Sam could you back off some…this is so me.”  There are a couple things you need to understand.  First, I want you to give yourselves some grace here because this is part of the growing up process for all of us in our faith.  As we grow up, we tend to understand that there is a greater world unfolding all around us that doesn’t necessarily revolve around us don’t we?  I mean think about it, when you are a child into those teenage years everything in your world is about you and as your grow up, get married, have children, you realize there are others around you and your life isn’t just about you…and everything from your decisions to how you spend your time, hopefully changes as you come to this realization…well, it’s the same spiritually, we all start as children in Christ and as we grow that shift in focus takes place where God becomes the focal point…if you are growing and engaging Him!  We all have growing up to do, just like Jesus’ disciples did back in the day.

The second thing is that if you are struggling with this, it is about your growth into a mature life, but also because it doesn’t come easy to us people.  I want you to realize that this doesn’t happen without God’s help.  Listen, living a selfless life doesn’t come naturally.  It actually comes supernaturally.  Living this way comes from experiencing God’s love in such a real way that it comes out in our lives, moving us to love others the same way we are being loved by God.  This selfless life of love is how people will know you God’s in you!  I mean Jesus says, it literally shows people you are His disciple.

John 13:35 This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.” MSG

So before we jump into a study of Matthew 18 I just want to get you thinking.  Think about your faith, and really some important things that Jesus seems to always do.

First, I want you to be thinking about where you are at today.  Right now, with your faith.  What is your focus?  Is it on you or is it on God?  As you walk through life do you serve, or do you want to be served?  When you come to church what is your focus?  Is it getting fed or centering on and engaging God’s love in worship?  When you think about discipleship or community could you ever get behind the idea that serving is where it’s found?

Second, and this is a thought that I would like you to stop and reflect on.  Why would Jesus constantly be asking His disciples to serve?  Why do we see Him time and time again sending them out?  It’s a pattern isn’t it?  Come close to Jesus, find transformation, then restoration, then go out and help make disciples!  Have you ever stopped to think about why this is so important to Jesus that His disciples serve His greater mission?

One last question to ponder today…How is life going for you?  Is it really difficult?  Do you realize that while life is hard, we make it so much harder because we make it all about us?  It’s amazing but the more focused you are on you, the harder and more stressful life becomes and the opposite is true too…the more focused you are on God, life is just different with a level of peace that you can’t find any other way.

So that was just a few things to think about as we step into today’s study on the first 14 verses of Matthew 18…it was a place I really wanted to hang out in to close down this series…because I think Jesus unwraps a lot for us here and what’s hilarious is how this chapter starts…once again, with the disciples ignoring everything Jesus is saying, teaching, and modeling for them and them once again trying to figure out who is most important and ranked the highest among them!

Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” NIV

So once again, Jesus teaches on love, serving, laying your life down to engage others.  He has modeled it for them, and continues to try to get them to think and see past themselves…and what do the disciples seem to hear?  “Blah, Blah, Blah…where’s my spot?  Blah, Blah, Blah Jesus, Where am I ranked?  Who is the best?”  So, Jesus does something different this time…check out how He responds…

Matthew 18:2 Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. 3 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. 5 “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” NLT

We need to stop and talk here for a moment.  Jesus says that only the person who turns from sin and has the humility of a child gets into heaven.  So, they asked who would be the greatest in heaven, and I think we need to understand Jesus doesn’t talk about rankings back!  No, Jesus talks about how to get into heaven, or not!  Jesus says turn from sin and live a humble life like that of a child or you will never get in…why?  Because of what is going on in your hearts!  Wow, right back to that inner world stuff again!  Jesus is saying, once again, that a disciple of His is one who forgets themselves and lives in devotion to God and serves!  So, he is saying be like a child but this isn’t a question of maturity which earlier we said we need so that we can grow and mature to a level where our focus shifts outward.  This is all about heart condition and motives and that inner world…again!  Let’s think about it, once again the disciples are searching for the ranking sheet, and this time Jesus points to a child and says live this way…so let’s think a bit about a child vs an adult.

There are so many cool and pure characteristics in a child.  Think about it for a moment, they have these wide-open minds.  There is such a pureness in that.  Children have an amazing power to forgive and to forget, there is so much joy without so much strife in a child’s life…and we can argue as to why that is but there is something pure and innocent that I think Jesus was trying to show them here. I was thinking that a child has three great qualities that I think Jesus is trying to show them here, and especially because if you remember this started with them once again ranking things out in their minds.

Humility – Kids just aren’t worried about spots and rankings, do they?  Nope they just go about their day doing their thing.  They make friends with everyone, and aren’t looking at who is wearing what, saying what, driving what…they are just being kids…they just aren’t pushing for a spot!  Then they grow up and can lose that innocence in the competitive world that we live in where we struggle and scramble for titles, possessions, and for first place, but not children.  Jesus flat out said it, be as humble as a child…

Dependence – Children never think they can face life by themselves!  They are perfectly content in their dependence on those who love and care for them!  I can almost picture Jesus so peacefully looking at these children playing while the disciples bicker over who matters most, and just wishing they could accept the fact that they need God in their lives the way these children depend on their parents!  Just picturing the peace that would enter their lives if they could grasp these simple concepts.

Trust – Children just trust with such a pure heart.  I can remember how my children would just launch off of a slide or a playground into the air, perfectly secure in the fact that I would catch them!  Children trust that their parents will take care of them. Children can’t buy their own food, or clothing, or maintain their homes but they know they are good to go!  No fear, no stress, no worries…just good to go.  Why?  Because they know they are taken care of…as we should as children of our Heavenly Father!

I think as Jesus tries so hard to get his followers to focus on God and not themselves He may be highlighting these three characteristics that we see in a child, humility, dependence, and trust…all of which would lead us to a much more peaceful existence!  Then he warns them about leading someone towards sin…and to stay away from sin!

Matthew 18:6 But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. 8 So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. 10 “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” NLT

So we see a push towards holiness, and a real warning to not lead people towards or sin here…and then Jesus really passionately tells us to turn from sin and temptation!  Wow!  Cut your hand off or your foot off if it’s leading you down that road!  Yikes!  Once again think about what He is doing…He is showing them the way into heaven.  He is saying live humble and holy lives.  And then He gets into the parable of the lost sheep.  Which I really wanted you to see…

Matthew 18:12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” NIV

I really want you to see this…Jesus is constantly trying to help us understand that the key to walking in life and life to the full that He came to provide for us is found in understanding that it’s just not about you!  Time after time, story after story he teaches this message of serving and focusing on those who need God’s love as we all do.  Time and time again He models it for us in His own life, and sends out those who follow Him to serve the God Mission.  Helping them and all of us understand the key to life is that it is just not about you! 

So let’s talk about Jesus’ parable.  I think there is a question that we need to ask here, and that question is, Why?  Why is there more celebrating over the one lost sheep than the 99 who never ran away in the first place?  Isn’t that the question?  Do the 99 not matter?  Do they not have value?  I mean the 99 are doing the right thing…so why is there such a jubilant celebration over the one that didn’t?  Well I want you to think about this.  Could it be that when one lost soul enters the kingdom of God it means that someone, somewhere reached out and showed God’s love to someone who needed it?  Someone actually lived out their faith!  Maybe the celebration is because for someone it became real!  Someone broke out of their own self-focus and engaged the mission of Christ. Someone somewhere loved someone enough to take the risk, step out of the safety and comfort of the pasture and went out to love on someone else…do you see it?  Jesus invites us into His mission of reaching the lost because a true disciple who has been transformed by His enormous love can’t help but have that love come out of their hearts and life and into other people’s.  Jesus continues sending us (His followers out) to break us out of our self-focus and to serve those who need Him the same way we all did and do need Him in our lives!  The celebration in Heaven is absolutely over that one lost soul now having a different eternal destiny as they have been pulled out of hell, but I believe the party is so big and God is so happy because something miraculous has taken place…someone, somewhere got past themselves, and engaged someone else…this isn’t natural, that is supernatural…and leads us all to the life and life to the full if we can simply grasp this one simple truth!  It’s just not about you.

So, to close I would like to ask you a few questions today.

  • When you hear that the key to life and finding that abundant life that Jesus said He came to give you is found in understanding that it is not about you, how does that make you feel?
  • When you hear Jesus say that the way to find yourself is to lose yourself and find Him, how does that register with your heart?
  • When you hear me say the greatest form of discipleship is serving how do you receive that?
  • When you hear me say the greatest community you can ever find is found in those you serve with how do you receive that?
  • Are you spending the time with God needed to experience this supernatural shift in focus (off of you and onto God) so you can experience His grace?
  • Have you ever stopped and thought about why Jesus is always inviting His followers to join His mission?  Did it ever cross your mind that it may help you as much as it helps the Kingdom and those who don’t yet know God’s love the way that you do?
  • When you think about the story of the lost sheep how does it make you feel to know the celebration is so big over the one?  Does it bug you for the 99 who were doing the right thing?  Do you grasp why this is such a big deal to God?  Are you seeing a bigger picture today?

You know, I told you from the beginning that this Redeemed & Forgiven life is attainable for us all…we can live redeemed and forgiven lives but it’s a process…and all through Scripture we see this pattern unfolding for those of us who find Jesus.  We find God’s love and grace and it leads to transformation and restoration…and to be frank, many people’s spiritual growth kind of stops right there and all of their faith turns inward…but to grow into a true disciple of Christ means the growth doesn’t end there.  We go from transformation, to restoration, then to engaging and serving the God mission.  It’s something we do our best to lead you into here at MRC…and some are very disappointed to hear that in the end it’s just not about you.  Because in their minds church, their faith, this Jesus stuff is all about them, which contradicts everything Jesus taught and stunts their growth never allowing them to find their true lives in Christ or their God designed purpose…which is sad to watch unfold.  It’s been frustrating at times to talk to people who ask what our church is about, and we tell them…that we are focused on the lost, and they respond with concerns, or confusion and ask about the balance we need, or ask questions about discipleship or community…it’s like the mission of Christ is just not enough!  You know, it’s like the parable of the lost sheep to me…basically they are saying, that’s nice that you are focusing on the lost and helping pull people out of hell…but what else you got?  You know, what’s in it for the 99?  Why are you focused on the one when the 99-need fed too?  You can’t build a church that’s focused on the lost!  You need programs, and discipleship, and community events, it can be deflating to hear, because we are trying to get people to understand the key…the very thing that Jesus taught over and over and over again…the very thing that could lead to peace, joy, purpose in your life… and energy.  The very thing that could you know lead to that life and life to the full that Jesus said He came to give you…it can be found, it is achievable, when you finally grasp the true key to life…that in the end it’s just not about you. 

So, time and time again we point to Jesus’ words like these…

Matthew 10:39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. MSG

Knowing full well, it’s a hard but essential message to receive…and while we struggle to make sense of it in our human brains it’s the key to all of all of this, and the more time you spend with God the more clearly you will see, that in the end…it’s just not about you.