Two amazing models of generosity found in the Resurrection story
As Christians, when we seek a model for generosity, we need look no further than the Resurrection story. At the highest level, it’s a story of a Father giving His Son, the Son giving everything He has, and the Father and the Son giving the Spirit (John 15:26 ESV). The Spirit allows us to be abundantly generous and view the world from the perspective that God owns everything and we are stewards. Without God’s help through the Spirit, we imperfect humans simply wouldn’t be generous. What a gift!
As I reread the story during Resurrection week through the lens of generosity, some other people stood out. In the unknown hours after Jesus’ death and prior to the Resurrection, there are sweet, tender moments of human generosity that set the stage for the early church as a result of the miracle of the Resurrection.
What we give, we gain
After Jesus was crucified, “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:43, 46 ESV).
To fully understand the significance and depth of Joseph of Arimathea’s generosity, we need to break down what really happened here. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, but – secretly a follower of Christ – he had not consented to having Jesus condemned to death. In a bold act of faith, he risked everything by asking Pilate for the body of Jesus. He purchased a linen shroud to honor Jesus by wrapping his body, quickly yet tenderly, before the Sabbath began.
Next, Joseph used his family tomb as a place for Jesus’ body. The common practice was to keep a family tomb only to members of that family. By allowing the body of Jesus to be buried in his tomb, Joseph was forfeiting his right, or the right of his family members, to use that tomb forever. Little did he know that when he and the women returned the next day to rub the body with oil and spices, the tomb would be empty and the world would be changed forever. At the heart of every decision Joseph made was his deep and personal love for Jesus. It was that love that motivated Joseph to act with courage, generosity and compassion.
Like the Mark passage above says, Joseph’s eyes were on the Kingdom. He was putting into practice Jesus’ words in Luke 9:24, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (ESV) Joseph was willing to give up his wealth, his reputation, his tomb, maybe even his life, to honor Jesus in his death. What an incredible model of human generosity!
Generosity as a witness for the Kingdom of God
Over His lifetime, Jesus shared many parables about how we are to be stewards. Acts 4:32-36 tells us that after the Resurrection, the church started living in a new Kingdom reality and modeling radical generosity. Aware of and meeting needs, the church shared possessions for the benefit of others, leaving no needy among them. Barnabas – in what I like to think of as the first example of a complex gift in scripture – sold his field and laid the proceeds at the apostle’s feet. The church heard and understood Jesus’ teachings of stewardship, “and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own … “ Acts 4:32 (ESV)
In many ways, the picture we see in Acts 4 is the Kingdom–God’s rule and reign in our midst. It’s generosity for the benefit of others, right? Generosity is a witness for the Kingdom of God. It points to places where the Kingdom is at work and serves as one of the most prominent ways to display what the Kingdom of God looks like. It’s sacrificial, sometimes radical, and always out of love. It’s generosity that draws people in and prompts them to ask, “Why?”
God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that he would be blessed abundantly. He told Abraham that the purpose of that blessing was not for Abraham to hoard or keep for himself, but that he will be blessed to be a blessing. God designed Abraham to be a conduit to pass blessing through to others. The acts of Joseph of Arimathea and Barnabas are shining examples of this shared blessing on the heels of the unbelievable story of Christ’s Resurrection.
How will you be a blessing to others by faithfully and generously stewarding all God has given you?