The Supreme Sacrifice

Romans 5:6-11

Sacrifice. What is so important in life to you that you would die to protect it or obtain it? Who is so precious to you that you would sacrifice everything to rescue them from danger?

Love involves sacrifice. There are many examples of sacrifice. We think of an athlete who disciplines their body in the rhythms of life to maximize their ability in the designated sport. We think of a parent who sacrifices greatly to protect or improve the quality of life for their child. Or missionaries who leave their homeland, family, and comfort share the life-changing message of Jesus’ love with another culture. On this particular weekend we think of soldiers who put their lives on the line to gain or protect our freedom. They might have even paid the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy our freedom.

Today I want to talk with you about God’s supreme sacrifice in offering Jesus to us, and Jesus’ supreme sacrifice in going to the cross so we might be forgiven, reconciled to God, and live with Him by faith in a relationship of love.

We know the verse, John 3:16 and 17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life, for the Father did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In 1967, a man named Dennis Hensley wrote a fictional short story, which has been read and retold countless times. It is called, “The Railway Switchman and His Child.”

“There was once a swing bridge that spanned a large river. During most of the day, the bridge sat with its length running up and down the river parallel with the banks allowing ships to pass freely on both sides of the bridge. But at certain times each day, a train would come along and the bridge would be turned sideways across the river allowing the train to cross it. A switchman sat in a shack on one side of the river where he operated the control to turn the bridge and lock it into place as the train crossed.

“One evening as the switchman was waiting for the last train of the day to come, he looked off into the distance through dimming twilight and caught sight of the train lights approaching. He stepped onto the control bridge and waited until the train was within a prescribed distance, then he turned the bridge into position. However, to his horror, he found the locking control did not work. If the bridge was not securely in position, it would cause the train to jump the track and crash into the river. This last train of the day would be a passenger train with many people aboard.

He left the bridge and hurried across to the other side of the river where there was another lever switch he could hold to operate the lock manually. He would have to hold the lever back firmly as the train crossed.

“He could hear the rumble of the train approaching now. He took hold of the lever and leaned backward to apply his weight locking the bridge. He kept applying the pressure to keep the mechanism locked. Many lives depended on this man’s strength.

“Then, coming across the bridge from the direction of the control shack, he heard a sound that made his blood run cold. ‘Daddy? Where are you?’ His four-year-old son was crossing the bridge looking for him. His first impulse was to cry out to the child, ‘Run! Run boy!’ But the train was too close. He knew his tiny legs would never make it across the bridge in time. The man almost left the lever to snatch up his son and carry him to safety, but he realized he will not get back to the lever in time if he saved his son. Either many people on the train would die, or his own son must die.

“He took but a moment to make his decision. The train sped safely and swiftly on its way, and no one on board the train was even aware of the tiny, broken body thrown mercilessly into the river by the onrushing train. Nor were they aware of the pitiful figure of the sobbing father still clinging to the locking lever long after the train had passed the bridge. They didn’t see the man walking home slowly to tell his wife that their son had died.”

If you feel the emotions surging through the father’s heart in this tragic story, then you begin to understand the feelings of our heavenly Father when He sacrificed Jesus, His Son, to bridge the gap between us and God. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world . . .” No wonder the day Jesus was crucified creation turned dark and the earth shook, for the Lord of creation, the Lord of life, the Son of God, was being sacrificed. Why? There’s only one answer. The love of the Father God for all people in the world. The sacrificial love of God for you.

But it wasn’t just the Father who made a great sacrifice. Jesus himself also made a supreme sacrifice, and Jesus’ sacrifice was more than the moments on the cross of Calvary. In Philippians 2 it said that when Jesus came to earth, He emptied Himself of all His power and glory. Like the gospel song, “He left the splendor of heaven knowing His destiny was the lonely hill of Golgotha, there to lay down His life for me. If that isn’t love, then heaven is a myth. If that isn’t love . . .”

Jesus became a man and experienced the limits of our humanness. He knew what it was like to feel nauseated or vomit. He knew what it was like to spit and cough. Yes, He required human elimination. He experienced fatigue, pain, hunger, the perpetration of injustice. He knew every human emotion. It wasn’t just the agony of Passion week on the cross when Jesus was beaten, whipped, and pierced with spikes through His wrists and His feet to attach Him to a wooden cross and hang suspended between heaven and earth.

It also is true, as it says in Romans five, that Jesus died for the helpless. Jesus died for the ungodly. Jesus died for sinners like me. Sinners not only by my immorality or failures, but also by our defiant rebellion. He bridged the gap. Isaiah 53 sheds more light on it. It says Jesus carried every form of curse, rebellion, and brokenness in His body. It says “He took our infirmities and sicknesses onto Himself. He bore our sorrows and carried our grief. He lifted our guilt and took our shame.” The full fury of evil’s worst was vented on Jesus, the Son of God, so you and I, in faith today, can say we are more than conquerors because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love.

It was a battle between God and Satan. God sacrificially loved us in a way to give us victory. Jesus knew no sin but became sin that through Him we might become the righteousness of God. The perfect Son of God, the perfect Son of Man bore the guilt of all of humanity – not only so we’re not condemned, but also that we might be reconciled into the family of God.

How can we respond to such a great sacrifice? Paul says we do it by offering our lives as a living sacrifice back to God. In Romans 12, Paul writes, “I appeal to you by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, which is your spiritual expression of worship.”

He wrote also in II Corinthians 5, “. . . so we might no longer live for ourselves but for Jesus who died and rose for us.”

Recently I read the bio story of a man named Dr. Mark Jacobson and his wife Linda. Mark was a brilliant man. He graduated the valedictorian at Harvard University and went on to the University of Minnesota medical school where he again was top student in his class and gave the valedictorian address at the graduation. An incredibly brilliant man, he felt the Spirit of God calling him to another culture, to Arusha Tanzania, a place of the world with great health care needs and great human suffering. Each year the hospital in Arusha, Tanzania takes care of 35,000 patients. Each patient pays one dollar so the total income of the hospital in Arusha is $35,000 paid by the patients and their families for their medical care. The patients feel good and self-respecting about paying those medical bills.

Dr. Jacobson could have used his intelligence and education for a lucrative medical practice in the United States. However, he heard the Spirit call him to follow Jesus and offer his life as a living sacrifice to make a difference in the lives of the men and women, boys and girls of Tanzania. A living sacrifice.

We can learn a lesson from a story in history. “During his reign, King Frederick William III of Prussia found himself in trouble. Wars had been costly, and in trying to build the nation, he was seriously short of finances. He couldn’t disappoint his people, and to capitulate to the enemy was unthinkable. After careful reflection, he decided to ask the women of Prussia to bring their jewelry of gold and silver to be melted down for their country. For each ornament received, he determined to exchange a decoration of iron as a symbol of his gratitude. On each decoration would be inscribed, ‘I Gave Gold for Iron, 18l3.’

“The response was overwhelming. Even more important, these women prized their gifts from the king more highly than their former jewelry. The reason, of course, is clear. The decorations were proof they had sacrificed for their king. Indeed, it became unfashionable to wear jewelry. Thus, was established the Order of the Iron Cross. Members wore no ornaments except a cross of iron for all to see.” (Taken from “I Gave Gold for Iron” by Dr. Paul Chappell).

So also for us who belong to King Jesus. We exchange the trinkets of our former life for the way of the cross. Some people call it the cruciform life, the way of living sacrifice for Jesus Christ.

Preacher and teacher Fred Craddock says, “To give my life for Christ appears glorious. To pour myself up for others, to pay the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom. I’ll do it! I’m ready, Lord, ready to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill, laying it on the table, and saying, Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving you my all. But the reality for most of us is, the Lord sends us to the bank and asks us to cash in a thousand-dollar bill for a pile of quarters. And we go through life giving out $.25 here and $.50 there. We listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of telling him to get lost. We serve on a volunteer committee for the sake of an organization. We give a cup of cold water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Helpless little mundane acts of service expressing love, the same love King Jesus has poured into our hearts.

Usually giving our lives to Jesus Christ isn’t glorious. It is done in little acts of love $.25 at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s much harder to live the Christian life little by little, a day at a time over the long haul.

“God so loved the world he gave Jesus to us that we who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God’s love for us is so great that He sacrificed Jesus, and Jesus laid down His life in love.

What should we do in response? Confess our sin and ask Jesus’ forgiveness. Confess your faith in Jesus as your Savior and Lord and God. Thank Jesus for His supreme sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Invite Jesus’ Spirit to live within you. Thank Him for indwelling your life, and rise each day to offer your life as a living sacrifice to build the kingdom of God. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg