17 From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus calling for the church’s elders to meet him. 18 When they arrived, he said to them, “You know how I lived among you the whole time I was with you, beginning with the first day I arrived in the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears in the midst of trials that came upon me because of the Jews’ schemes. 20 You know I held back nothing that would be helpful so that I could proclaim to you and teach you both publicly and privately in your homes. 21 You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. 23 What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me. 24 But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.
25 “I know that none of you will see me again—you among whom I traveled and proclaimed the kingdom. 26 Therefore, today I testify to you that I’m not responsible for anyone’s fate. 27 I haven’t avoided proclaiming the entire plan of God to you. 28 Watch yourselves and the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as supervisors, to shepherd God’s church, which he obtained with the death of his own Son. 29 I know that, after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you and won’t spare the flock. 30 Some of your own people will distort the word in order to lure followers after them. 31 Stay alert! Remember that for three years I constantly and tearfully warned each one of you. I never stopped warning you! 32 Now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all whom God has made holy. 33 I haven’t craved anyone’s silver, gold, or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that I have provided for my own needs and for those of my companions with my own hands. 35 In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
NOTE: Yesterday we invited all of those worshiping in person at any Resurrection location to turn in their financial commitment cards for 2023. If you were not in worship in person, you can click here to fill out your commitment card.
Today’s passage ends with the only direct quote from Jesus not in the four gospels. It capped Paul’s witness about the principles he lived by. Paul and his associates were going to Jerusalem with an offering from Christians in Greece for Christians who faced hardships. He said he was sure arrest and prison awaited him in Jerusalem. Yet he showed how Jesus’ words shaped his sense of “success” by saying, “Nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission” (verse 24).
Lord Jesus, like you, Paul said “nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission.” Give me that kind of clarity and passion as I become more like you. Amen.
* From Eugene H. Peterson, The Message. NavPress, 1993-2002.
When I was a teacher, the holidays frequently included gifts from students and their families. The amount of baked goods, chocolates, ornaments, and gift cards could feel a bit overwhelming. I was always very grateful for the gifts given to me, but some gifts definitely held special meaning.
One year a very excited student gave me a miniature Jesus figurine along with figurines from several Bible stories. This student was so excited and kept saying, “Ms. LaHood, I gave you baby Jesus!” (We did have to discuss how she actually gave me adult Jesus in miniature form and not a figurine of baby Jesus.) This student’s excitement in giving me this gift meant more to me than the gift itself. And I will never forget the joy on her face when she set it on my desk.
Another year, a student gave me a t-shirt that said, “Y’all Need Jesus” along with a sticky note that said, “Kenna Loves Ms. LaHood.” The t-shirt was meant to make me laugh because I frequently used “Y’all” in my classroom, but it was the sticky note I ended up keeping long after I had gotten rid of the t-shirt.
One year stands out more than any of the other 26 years of teaching. It was my first year teaching in Peoria, IL and I was teaching English and Literature at a rough inner-city school. Not a whole lot of actual teaching took place that year. There were loads of discipline issues…fights, threats, weapons, etc. In the year 2000, we had two full time armed and uniformed police officers who roamed the halls of our building. Not one parent from my students showed up to Parent-Teacher conference nights. Every day was hard for teachers, students, and administrators. Instead of being a teacher that year, I was a parent, a counselor, a nurse, and a disciplinarian. But, by Christmastime, there was sort of this awkward, strange family bond among staff and students. What I learned was that each of those students just needed someone who cared about them…who wanted what was best for them…who sometimes fed and clothed them, and who they could count on.
Just before Christmas break, I was packing up my things to leave when a student came into my classroom and placed a gift, wrapped in birthday paper, on my desk. She asked me to open it. Inside was a t-shirt with some sort of faded writing and picture on the front of it. It was worn and had holes around the collar. This student, with tears in her eyes, looked at me and said, “I wanted you to have my favorite t-shirt for Christmas.” Immediately, I realized the significance and importance of this gift. She had given me all that she had of any value to give. It was a sacrifice for her to give me this gift; and yet, the joy she had in giving me this gift was so profound. The meaning behind this gift felt heavy to me. I tried really hard to give it back to her because that heaviness felt so uncomfortable to carry. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the gift… I just knew that her sacrifice had a meaning that went far beyond just an old t-shirt. In the end, I kept that old t-shirt because she was happy to be able to give it to me…it blessed her to be able to give something so meaningful.
I still have that old t-shirt, and that was over 22 years ago! It reminds me that true gifts don’t always come in bright and shiny packages with big price-tags. True gifts are gifts of sacrifice and love. Is it more blessed to give than to receive? I think so. When we offer ourselves…all that we have…and our gifts are a sacrifice of love, we will be blessed and so will the receiver of our gifts.