Would you dare to die for the enemy John 12 20-33
Let me tell you a story…
As the freezing Canadian winter was giving way to spring, a father and his teenage son, along with 2 of the father’s friends, were flying to a remote part of the coast for a few days fishing and hunting. However, the plane ran into trouble and they ended up ditching in the mouth of a river – quite some distance from land. All four got out of the plane, and started swimming for the shore line. The two adult friends eventually made it. But with hyperthermia and the pull of the current, the son wasn’t strong enough to swim the distance. Instead he drifted out to sea. While the father could have made it to shore, instead he chose to drift out to sea with his son, where both died in each other’s arms.
I wonder how long the dad struggled with the decision to save his own life for the sake of the rest of his family; or to give it up for the sake of his son?
I don’t know about you, but this story wrenches at something within me. From the safety of distance, I’d like to think that if the situation demanded it, I would have the love and courage to do the same… but when the hour came, would I? Would you?
It is easy for us to say ‘yes I would’, and most likely, out of love for our son or daughter, not wanting them to die alone, we would drift out to die with them. But would we do the same for someone who hated us? Someone who, to their dying breath, wouldn’t give us the time of day? To do that would be truly sacrificial love; an unconditional love that none of us would dare to even consider whether we would do it or not, knowing we would most likely let them die in order to save our own life.
How do we know this? In the simple decisions we make in everyday life. How do we react to those we don’t like? Do we put our wellbeing before others? Do we put our life, our expectations and rights ahead of those of our enemies?
You know what I am taking about, I am sure there are a myriad of examples you can think of. It is easy to justify our failure to let go of our life and float out to sea to help an enemy: ‘They don’t deserve it; she said something horrible to me; he wouldn’t even say thanks or they wouldn’t appreciate me helping anyway!’ Good excuses, but what if Jesus said the same about us?
This realization of our selfishness puts Jesus ‘selfless’ death on the cross for us into perspective. Jesus didn’t die for us because we loved him. He didn’t leave the safety of heaven and drift into the depths of hell for us, so that we wouldn’t face dying alone, because we loved him first.
No, listen to Saint Paul ‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.’ Yet again ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ And again ‘when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.’ We most clearly hear the true sacrificial love of Jesus from the cross ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’
Our sin and rebellion, our failure to love one another, not our love for God, was the impetus for Jesus determination and mission to die on the cross. Right from his first cry outside Mary’s womb, through to his last cry on the cross ‘It is finished’, Jesus goal was to die for his enemies; you and me, so that we would not face death alone; drowning in a sea of sin.
He chose to drift out to us, grab our hand and die with us and for us, to bring us to life. As it says in Romans ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life.’ This is the gospel, the good news.
Some say the crucifixion was easy for Jesus, he was God. Rubbish, God yes, but also truly human, struggling to come to terms with his mission. This was no simple choice for Jesus; a non-emotional event, void of any human struggle of choice.
Realising the hour is now at hand, Jesus wrestles with his decision for what’s ahead: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour…’ (Jn 12:27a NIV) The nicety of our translation has lost the horror of Jesus anguish. The word for troubled really means revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation. Understanding this word gives us an insight into the human emotions Jesus was experiencing. What’s ahead fills him with terror. He wants his Father to rescue him from it. If there’s another way, he’s open to it.
But then he recalls his destiny… No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (Jn 12:27b NIV). There’s a greater purpose than Jesus’ own comfort. Recalling this is how Jesus galvanizes himself emotionally for the torture he is about to endure.
“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (Jn 12:32-33 NIV) Jesus will be literally lifted up above the earth … after spikes have been hammered through his wrists and ankles into a cross beam!
Like the father chose to lose his life together with his son, Jesus chooses to lose his life, like a seed in the ground, so many may live.
He chooses to give up his life -FOR US; chooses the nails in obedience to the Father’s will; chooses the nails out of love for humanity (including the Greeks who’d come to see him!); Chooses to die with us, for us… to bring us the forgiveness of sins. And it is by faith that we receive this gift of forgiveness, trusting in the work and obedience of Christ, with full assurance that it is by grace alone we are saved.
Knowing this, would you now dare to love the unlovable? Dare, by the power of the Spirit to forgo your life for the sake of an enemy? This is true sacrificial love and it can mean tragedy for our life and ambitions.
Yet there is triumph in the tragedy. In the outworking of Jesus’ choice is the glory of God’s unselfish and sacrificial love. Once we know who goes to the cross and why he is there, it’s hard to remain unmoved. It’s through the cross that Jesus draws people to himself. It’s how he has drawn us. Just as the boy would have been drawn to the arms of his father, so he didn’t have to die alone, so we also, out of shear anguish of death, are drawn into the arms of our saviour. Trusting in his mercy, trusting that he has made things right.
There will always be people who despise the cross as foolishness. But we know that it’s through the cross – where the King gave up his life for us – we too have come to share in life with God. And so we say with Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. (Rom 1:16 NIV) Amen.