Sacrificial Love

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The true measure of how much someone loves us is the extent to which they will embrace genuine sacrifice for us. We know that intuitively. We know that someone loves us if and when that person will sacrifice of their time, their resources, their attention, and their agenda for us. But us is the wrong pronoun here. We want that personally. You want that personally. I want that personally. You want someone who will voluntarily embrace sacrifice for just you, yourself. At a deep, deep level that is precisely what each one of us wants. We each want to be loved individually by someone who considers just me and me alone worthy of sacrifice. 

At the same time, many of us doubt our worth, because we know too much about ourselves. I know myself. I know my faults and my failures, my tendencies and my desires. I also have an idea of how I am regarded by others. And you know yourself. You know your faults and failures, your tendencies and your desires. You also have an idea of how you are regarded by others. Since we know what we know about ourselves, we sometimes doubt whether we actually are worthy of sacrificial love. We hope we are. We would like to think that we might be, maybe. But we doubt it, at times.

At the heart of the Christian message is the Cross of Christ. The message is that Jesus Christ was willing to sacrifice himself because he considered us worthy of the cost. He was willing to endure the extreme agony of the brutal, awful cross because he wanted to make reconciliation possible. He loved us. He considered us worth it.

But this only makes sense if Jesus Christ was more than a mere human being. If Jesus was just a historical figure who was executed by the Romans years ago, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that he did what he did because he loves us. It only makes sense if Jesus was somehow more than a mere human. It only makes sense if he was divine, the Son of God. Jesus died for us because he knows us, and knows us in some capacity as God. As part of the eternal Godhead, Jesus loved us and loves us still. And as part of the eternal Godhead, he was was willing to embrace unimaginable sacrifice for us.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus, speaking of himself in Mark 10:45

Are you worthy of that kind of love? Well, yes and no. Or more accurately, no and yes.

We certainly do not deserve that kind of love. We really are flawed. We really are tainted. We really are guilty. God knows us better than we know ourselves. And that should not necessarily encourage us. God actually knows how vile we can be. God actually knows how crumby our thoughts and intentions are. God knows our worst faults and failures, our ugliest tendencies and our basest desires. He does not sugarcoat or excuse the wrong we have done. He recognizes that we deserve judgment and punishment. God is offended at our failures, even highly offended. Our sin defiles us before God.

But nonetheless, God does not want to punish us. He would rather withhold punishment. Our failures and wrongs put God in a bind. On one hand, we ought to be judged. On the other hand, He wants to show mercy. He wants to show you mercy because He considers you worth the sacrifice. Otherwise, He would not have bothered stooping so low.

Since God loves us, and since His mercy triumphs over judgment, God made a way for us out of our predicament. He shared in our humanity so as to take our punishment. He became a man for our sake. He became mortal and sacrificed himself. God the Father and God the Son agreed to the horror and agony of the Cross. Jesus Christ would sacrifice himself on our behalf, because the justice of God required it, and because God loves us that much.

He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.

The Apostle Paul, regarding Jesus, in Titus 2:14.

But there is a catch, a requirement. The catch is that you have to accept Christ’s self-sacrifice as a gift, and give your allegiance to him. He did not die simply because he wants to show you how nice he is. He wants you in return. He wants your love and allegiance in return for the love He showed you. And that is an entirely reasonable expectation and offer. Indeed, that is the best offer you will ever get, bar none.

… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood … to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

From the introductory benediction in the Book of Revelation 1:5-6

Deviant Preachers

Thursday, June 10th, 2020

Deviant Preachers, Audio Version

In the event of an emergency, preachers may deviate from a previously intended message. Sometimes they set aside whatever they had originally planned to say, and instead will speak to their audience about the event or occasion that preoccupies everyone. To make such an adjustment in subject is usually a prudent move, if done well. That is because an emergency can prove to be a gift in disguise. An emergency gives a preacher a unique opportunity to really, truly be heard. In such moments, the preacher can say something particularly poignant, forever memorable, and especially impactful. The preacher’s message might even challenge a listener’s perspective or long-held position. People are particularly open and unusually attentive during and immediately after an emergency. They are looking for meaning, guidance, and hope. Thus the preacher’s words pack more punch during an emergency. 

At the very least, then, an emergency holds redemptive potential. Timely words can turn a seemingly-bleak situation into something transformative. Minds and lives can be dramatically altered, perhaps even permanently. Souls may even be saved. And that is probably the best possible outcome. We do well to pray that salvation emerges out of emergencies. 

At their worst, emergencies merely wreck havoc. There is no upside, no silver lining. They bring destruction, devastation, death, and nothing else. Some emergencies are wholly destructive. If a what-might-have-been moment does come, it comes ever-so briefly, is overlooked or even scorned, and then slips into oblivion. Instead of any change for the better, the emergency just brings devastation. Towers topple. Things disintegrate into ash. Children are orphaned.   

No, I am not merely thinking about our current national crisis. Of course, I do mean that; but I have other historical emergencies in mind, as well. I am also referring to a couple of biblical emergencies, one in Ancient Egypt, the other in first century Judea.   

The last two weekends have given our preachers an opportunity. Since the arrest and slow, open-air strangling of George Floyd, the country has been on edge. Many people are angry, frustrated. Street protests are frequent. Cities brace for yet more disturbances, riots, and vandalism. Our preachers witness all the unrest and recognize the need for wise and timely words. Something needs to be said. People are looking for meaning, guidance, and hope. 

But what exactly should the preacher say? What does the occasion call for? What does God want people to hear in the midst of the tumult today? The audience awaits. What will the message be? What is the Spirit saying to the churches?

What are you saying, Lord? 

Like everyone else who aspires to preach and proclaim the word of the Lord, I have been asking that question. I hope to faithfully discern and convey what the Spirit is saying to us.

Coincidence always intrigues me. On the assumption that God is truly sovereign over historical events, including exactly when they occur, I will not immediately dismiss a clear coincidence as insignificant or irrelevant. Therefore, I wonder if and suggest that we should take a cue from the Church calendar. A clear calendar coincidence occurred. All the recent civil unrest first erupted on Pentecost eve. The pandemonium amidst a pandemic coincided with Pentecost. We might ask what that may portend or mean. Does the coincidence have any significance?

The original Pentecost Sunday morning sermon was also a fiery occasion. At least, it followed immediately on the heels of a fiery supernatural display. The Spirit descended and dispersed as fire. In Scripture, fire often symbolizes the fearsome holiness of God. God’s Spirit is holy.

Under the inspiration of the fiery Holy Spirit, Peter, the former coward, stood up in front of a potentially hostile crowd and preached an accusatory, “turn-or-burn” sermon. Weeks before Peter had cravenly denied any association with Jesus. But everything changed that morning. The fiery Promised Holy Spirit descended, entered, and emboldened Peter. Now the former coward fearlessly proclaimed the name of Jesus to the very people who had crucified Jesus only fifty two days earlier. The fiery Promised Holy Spirit came and changed everything.

“Therefore, let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” That is Acts 2:36, and the climatic conclusion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. His message shook and scared the crowd. Many of them repented.

Here is my paraphrase of the conclusion to Peter’s sermon: Therefore, know exactly who it is whom you just crucified. Yes, you all messed up badly. Yes, you do find yourselves in a very precarious position. Yes, you better admit your personal guilt. It is indeed your only hope. 

The point of Pentecost and a primary purpose of the Promised Spirit is proclamation. The Holy Spirit was given then and is given now to make ready preachers out of each and any of us. Like the disciples back then, we are supposed to seek the Spirit’s empowerment, guidance, and inspiration so that we can boldly proclaim the name of Jesus to those in need. And among the needy are those who have an urgent need to face the guilt of their sin and submit to Jesus as Lord. In fact, the greatest need anyone has is the need for salvation through Christ Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

So what is the Spirit saying to you today? To whom should you preach?

In our next episode of the Dekrakenator Daily, I will take you back to Egypt at the time of the Exodus, because somehow all this has something to do with the Book of Revelation. Please stay tuned.