How easy it is to be manipulated by emotions. Political candidates use catch words like children, or the elderly. Higher taxes, and the rich are also good for a vote or two. TV commercials guarantee to make us thinner or more beautiful, declaring that “we’re worth it”. Emotions are fine. God gave them to us, and they have their place, but they are not to direct the course of life. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”(2:3-4) Emotional responses are concerned with what is good for me, and for my group. It narrows our focus to what we think is good, but denies the possibility of making hard choices that may require suffering, but in the long run bring real good for all. Read the rest of the Philippian passage, vss.5-8, and consider where we would be if Jesus had acted on emotion rather than the truth of God’s purpose for mankind. “Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”(I Peter 4:7)
This is Memorial Day in America remembering those who have died in serving our country. Over the centuries of our countries history there have been so many stories of man and women who have been willing to give their lives for something they felt was of greater worth. The Bible speaks of love for one’s self, and no one really wants to die, but there are ones we love, and values we hold, that are even greater than love for self. Be it a compatriot in arms, a spouse, child, family member or friend, or a truth one hold dear, there are some things of more value than one’s own life. From soldiers dying in battle to Christians being martyred for their faith, these loves are greater than life itself. It is finding and understanding this love which give our days value for living.
We are in the Lenten season, a time of reflection on the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not that this should ever be limited to one season of the year, but we do think more specifically about the path that led Jesus to Calvary. That path must focus on our need. For if mankind had not been in need of salvation, the cross would not have been necessary. We begin each of our worship services with a time of confession, acknowledging our sinful nature. It is sin, our sin, that separates us from God. It is our sin that made the atoning sacrifice necessary. But it is in this act of Jesus, observed again throughout Lent, that we see the greatest act of love that can possibly be imagined. Jesus loves you so much that He died in your place (and mine), taking our punishment, and letting us stand in righteousness before God. Lent is not just about giving up something as a act of devotion, but remembering the life that was given up for us.
Events in the news are volatile. One group persecutes and tries to destroy another. People protest and are willing to die for their cause. I am saddened by such violence, but it confronts me with a question. For what am I willing to put my life in jeopardy? If my family were threatened I would do it. But how about my faith? Christians throughout history, and especially today, are choosing death rather than deny their faith. We have seen Muslims sacrifice themselves for what we believe is an evil motive. Nonetheless, they gave their lives for what they believed. Are we willing to do so for Jesus? We may never be confronted with this choice, but the events we see around us in this fallen and evil world lay this question before us. What is worth the sacrifice of life? When we answer that, then we have a clear direction for how we live all of our life.
One would think that a person going into a town where He knew He would be killed would turn and go the other way. This was not the case with Jesus. He had a task to accomplish which could only come about by his sacrificial death. Oh, it is not something He wanted. He was fully human, fully a man. He didn’t want to go through the suffering and pain He knew was ahead. He didn’t want to die. But there was something greater here than His wants. There was a purpose to be accomplished for the good of others. He looked beyond Himself, His needs, His immediate desire, His comforts, to what was to be gained for people He loved. We really do know what this means even if we don’t practice it as much as we should. Mothers sacrifice for infants. Parents for children. Spouses for each other. People for community, and other examples around us. Each of us, young and old, have had people sacrifice themselves for us to be where we are, and have what we have. And even if we are so callous as to think this is not true, we look at the Lord Jesus who, out of love for each of us personally, was willing to give His life that we might have a new life in Him.
The debate has gone on for centuries about who is responsible for killing Jesus. Was it the Jews? Was it the Romans? Was it all of our own sins? The answer is – none of the above! The one responsible for the death of Jesus was Almighty God, Himself. Certainly, all of our sins are the reason He had to die, but the atoning sacrifice of Christ was part of God’s plan before time began. It was first announced in the Garden that an offspring of the woman would come to crush the head of the Serpent. God’s love for mankind is great. He has an eternal purpose for all of us, and He did what only God could do. He determined a way to complete His purpose for our creation in spite of our rebellion. Not by ignoring it, or pretending it is not so bad, but by offering up the sacrifice of His only begotten Son in our place. God, Himself, took in His own being, the punishment that we justly deserve. It was God, the Father, who sent Jesus to the cross and the grave. Can you imagine a love that great? And He did it for you.
Sacrifice, a word not held in high favor today, but one very necessary to consider. We certainly know the value of sacrifice in Scripture. Old Testament sacrifices, while seeming to be a bloody mess, were an act of obedience and faith for the people. They were an important lesson pointing forward to the New Testament ultimate sacrifice in Jesus Christ. That act showed the depth of love God has for mankind. The sacrifice that Christ made is the source of life for us all. Now the life of that great sacrificial love becomes our model. It is not that we make atonement for anyone, but in His sacrifice we understand what true love is. We sacrifice when we willingly put another’s interest ahead of our own, when we hold our tongue instead of biting back, when we suffer some injustice instead of demanding our rights. Good relationships are built on sacrificial love. The central question is what I can give, not what I can get. Maybe, if we were willing to think about this further in the context of our society, we might sacrifice some portion of our government entitlements, or set aside political considerations in favor of the common good, we could find a better life together. We have been given the greatest life possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Young and old alike need to seriously think of what sacrificial love means for daily life. It is only through sacrifice that we find life.
The world is not perfect. How’s that for a news flash restating the obvious. There is nothing in a world filled with imperfect people that can be called perfect. But it was into this imperfect world that our Lord came. It is He that, on a fearful and foreboding Thursday evening, knelt before a half believing, half doubting group of followers, and washed their dirty, smelly feet. Jesus knew the crud that exists in this world, and that which was still in the men before Him. He knew the crud (otherwise called sin) that each of them would face in the coming years all ending with martyrdom. And yet He said to them, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”(John 13:13-15) The world is imperfect. The people in the world are imperfect, but we are called to meet those people, and that world with the grace and sacrificial love our Lord has shown us. We cannot change the situations of life in which we find ourselves, but perhaps the love of Christ through us can, just as it did eleven of the twelve men in that Jerusalem dining room 20 centuries ago.
Yesterday’s Good Morning was about the need to learn sacrifice. I had one reader respond saying that this takes place by growing in the nature of Jesus Christ. That is quite correct. Some people have argued that the world would be much better off if we did away with all religions. They claim that it is the world’s religions that have caused hatred, sectarian violence, wars, crusades, inquisitions, and terrorists acts. Of course, there is some truth in this, including within the Christian Church. But such acts are a complete distortion of the truth of Christ. Getting rid of all religions may curb some violence, but it doesn’t change the source of violence within the nature of man. That is the thing people fail to recognize, or strongly deny. Man’s nature is corrupt. Without the influence of God, the Holy Spirit, man’s nature does not lead to altruism. Where there is selfless action God is still working. Unless the Lord withdraws His hand from us completely His Spirit is still working in the world in ways we are not even aware. But the only true change in man’s corrupt nature can come through a relationship with Christ. Whether the world likes it or not we are totally dependent upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Sacrifice, a word not held in high favor today, but one very necessary to consider. We certainly know the value of sacrifice in the Scriptures. Old Testament sacrifices, while seeming to be a bloody mess, were an act of obedience and faith for the people, and an important lesson pointing forward to the New Testament ultimate sacrifice in Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Christ is the means of life for us all. We share in that sacrificial death and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead through our baptism.(Romans 6) Now the life of that great sacrificial love becomes our model. We sacrifice when we willingly put another’s interest ahead of our own, when we hold our tongue instead of biting back, when we suffer some injustice instead of demanding our rights. Good relationships are built on sacrifice. The central question is what I can give, not what I can get. Maybe, if we are willing to think further in the contest of our society, we sacrifice some portion of our government entitlements, or set aside political considerations in favor of the common good, we will find a better life together. We have been given the greatest life possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Young and old alike need to seriously think what sacrifice means for daily life. It is only through sacrifice that we find life.