No Greater Love
This morning I begin by sharing a newspaper column written by Chuck Simmons entitled “No Greater Love” from the Birmingham Examiner:
On Dec. 4, 2006, Ross McGinnis…was manning the machine gun on a Humvee while his unit was on a mission in Baghdad. A grenade was thrown from a rooftop and went into the hatch alongside him and into the vehicle. McGinnis called out a warning, but he was the only soldier to see where the explosive had landed. He had time to jump off the Humvee, but instead dropped down into the hatch. Pressing his back against the equipment where the grenade was lodged, he absorbed the entire blast and died instantly. His fellow soldiers, four in total, escaped. His superiors were quick to recognize the special nature of McGinnis’ actions. Soon the president of the United States will present the military’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, to the parents and family of Spc. Ross McGinnis. It will be covered by a few media outlets…but the men he saved, his unit, thel\ First Infantry Division…will remember McGinnis far longer. Someday, somewhere, a little boy or girl will be told the tale of Ross McGinnis by his or her father, and the child will marvel at this hero, as we all should. [i]
Tomorrow our nation sets aside a day known as Memorial Day, a holiday to remember all the heroes in our nation’s armed services, both past and present. Not all of them receive medals from the President, but all of them deserve the honor of being remembered for their service to their country. They deserve to be honored because they lived out the words of Jesus Christ that are found in John 15:13. This morning I want us to look a little closer at what these words say, what they mean, and how they can be lived out in our own lives.
Clarity is absolutely essential to communication.
During their golden anniversary party the husband wanted to tell his wife just how he felt about her. She was very hard of hearing, however, and often misunderstood what he had to say. With many family members and friends gathered around, he toasted her: "My dear wife, after fifty years I’ve found you tried and true!" Everyone smiled approval, but his wife said, "Eh?" He repeated in a louder voice, "AFTER FIFTY YEARS I'VE FOUND YOU TRIED AND TRUE!" Her face formed a big frown as she shot back, "Well, let me tell you something-after fifty years I'm pretty tired of you, too!"[ii]
Clarity is absolutely essential to communication—especially when you’re talking about love or when you’re talking about the Bible. We need to take time to think through what Jesus says about love in this verse.
Let’s begin with the context. Jesus is speaking to His nearest friends and followers on the night He is betrayed, shortly before He is crucified.
John 13-17 record one last conversation Jesus has with them in which He tries to explain what is about to happen, and why it will happen. I say He’s trying to explain because they’re just not getting it. They’re confused, and scared, and He tries to comfort and encourage them. When you read Jesus’ words, you get the picture of a parent, trying to calm down their fretful, frightened children. It is in this context Jesus says the words of John 15:13.
Notice first how Jesus speaks about love in the highest degree. We use the word love to talk about all kinds of things: I love pizza, I love my cat, I love my wife, I love the Lord. Obviously I don’t mean the same thing every time I use the word love. Love can take many different forms.
But love also has varying degrees, from highest to lowest. Jesus focuses on the highest love one person can have for another. What makes this love the greatest?
It is love that makes a choice. This love is more than just emotional, it is volitional, more than just what you feel, it’s what you choose. This love involves feelings, but it also involves your will. You can lose your life by accident, but you can only lay down your life by choice.
It is love in action. This world is littered with letters, cards, songs, and lips that all profess the greatest love, but the real test is not in what is said, but what is done. Laying down your life is not just a feeling you have inside, but is something you do.
It is love that costs. On Valentine’s Day some people give expensive gifts as an expression of love: gold, diamond rings, dozens of roses, boxed candy. But this kind of love offers the one it loves what is supremely valuable. What is worth more to us than our lives? This kind of love is the greatest because it costs the most.
The other forms and degrees of love have their place. It’s OK to say you love your pet, or you love football. But Jesus tells us the highest love is expressed when a person chooses to offer the costliest sacrifice of all—your life.
In his book Written in Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needs a blood transfusion. The doctor explains that she has the same disease the boy recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance for recovery is a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease.
"Would you give your blood to Mary?" the doctor asks.
Johnny hesitates. His lower lip starts to tremble. Then he smiles and says, "Sure, for my sister." The two children are wheeled into the hospital room--Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither speaks, but when their eyes meet, Johnny grins.
As the nurse inserts the needle into his arm, Johnny's smile fades. He watches the blood flow through the tube.
With the ordeal almost over, his voice slightly shaky, Johnny finally breaks the silence. "Doctor, when do I die?" Only then does the doctor realize that Johnny believes giving his blood to his sister means giving up his life.[iii]
This is the kind of love Jesus is talking about: not just warm fuzzy feelings, but a choice to willingly lay down your life for the sake of somebody else. But Jesus didn’t just talk about this kind of love—He shows us what this kind of love looks like in action.
He shows this love to His disciples. They will all walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He will pray, and a mob will come out to arrest Him. As He and His followers are surrounded by guards Jesus will say in
Jn 18:7-9 7 …“Whom are you seeking?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.”
Luke 22: 50-51 records how Peter draws a sword and cuts off a man’s ear—an offense which would surely get him arrested. But Jesus heals the man’s ear, and Peter escapes with the rest while they carry Jesus off to die. Jesus lays down His own life for His friends.
In a much bigger way, Jesus laid down His life not just for those 11 men, but for all of us whom He wants to call His friends. The prophet Isaiah paints a vivid picture of how and why He did this in
Is 53:4-6 4Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Jesus Christ came to earth to lay down His life for you and I, to suffer the punishment we deserved, so that, according to John 3:16 …whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. This is prompted the amazed apostle Paul to write in
Ro 5:7-8 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
"Jesus' message is not to be good boys and girls so that when you die you can go to heaven. The message of Jesus is 'I love you. I love you so deeply it kills me.'"-Rich Mullins[iv]
The greatest love the world has ever seen was publicly displayed on the Cross of Jesus Christ, where He laid down His life for you and I and all who believe in Him.
It was during the Civil War when a farmer named Blake was drafted as a soldier. He was very worried about leaving his family, because his wife had died and there was no one left to care for his children.
The day before he was to report for duty, his neighbor Charlie Durham came by to visit. "Blake," he said, "I've been thinking. You're needed here at home, so I've decided to go in your place." The farmer was so overwhelmed for a few moments he was speechless. Finally he grasps the hand of the young man and praises God for this one who was willing to go in his place.
Charlie went to the front-lines and performed his duties nobly. But one day word got back to Mr. Blake Charlie was shot and killed in battle. The farmer immediately saddled his horse and rode out to the battlefield where, after searching for some time, he found the body of his friend. He had him buried in the churchyard near the spot where they had often stopped to talk after the worship services. On a piece of marble he carved an inscription with his own hands. With every blow of the hammer on the chisel tears fell from his eyes as he carved out 4 simple words: HE DIED FOR ME.
Every time you look at a Cross, you need to remember these same 4 simple words: HE DIED FOR ME. Jesus showed us the greatest love by His death. But don’t go looking for His grave to put a tombstone on, because He’s not there. He rose again, and ascended back to heaven.
But this farmer had the right idea: such love demands some kind of response. So how can you respond to the Lord Who laid down His life? Lay down your life.
"Stand up if you want to go to heaven!" the preacher exhorted his
congregation. The worshipers rose as one, with exception of a man in the front pew. "Are you telling me you do not want to go to heaven?" thundered the preacher. "When I die, yes," the man responded. "But I thought you were getting up a load right now."[v]
I am not telling you Jesus wants to get a load right now to lay down their life by being physically crucified. I am telling you that there are other ways Jesus calls us to lay our lives down.
The place to begin is to lay your life down before God. Jesus put it this way to His disciples:
Mt 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
He’s not calling for you to get nailed to a Cross of wood. He’s using the symbol of His own death to describe your absolute surrender to God. In other words, to believe in Jesus means to turn away from your sins and your self and turn to Christ as your Master. You entrust yourself to Him to save you from your sins, and commit yourself to serve Him. This is how you lay down your life before God.
But you and I also need to understand the importance of laying down our lives for one another. On Memorial Day, we remember those who literally laid their lives down for their country. But there is another everyday way we lay down our lives for one another.
Married couples understand what this means—at least happily married couples do. Life as a bachelor or bachelorette is very different from married life. To a certain degree, you willingly lay down your life for your spouse, choosing to forsake some freedom for the sake of love.
Parents understand what this means---at least good parents do. A child limits your life. Dads and moms lay aside many of their rights---the right to peace and quiet, the right to a full night’s sleep, among others. To a certain degree, you willingly lay down your life for that child.
You lay down your life every time you put somebody else’s needs ahead of your own. It’s part of what it means to truly love one another.
1 Jn 3:16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
In the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Tom Hanks portrays an Army captain whose unit is assigned to find a private named Ryan in the dangerous aftermath of the D-Day Invasion. Ryan's brothers have both been killed in combat and he is his mother's only surviving son. Private Ryan is located and his life is saved by his captain who dies in the process. As Private Ryan attends to his mortally wounded rescuer, the captain speaks his last words in a hoarse whisper - “Earn this.” The camera merges from the young private's face to the face of an old man, standing by a white cross in the cemetery at Normandy. It is Ryan many years later, near the end of his life. He kneels by his captain's grave and says: “Every day of my life, I've thought about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I've done my best. I hope at least in your eyes that I've lived up to all you gave for me.”
Like Private Ryan, somebody else has to rescue us from sin and death, and that Somebody was Jesus. Neither you nor I or any of us can earn the grace of God. But we can and should respond His grace by laying down our lives for the Lord, and laying down our lives for others.
Col 1:10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
The heroes we remember on Memorial Day remind us of the greatest love one Person can have for another person—the love Jesus Christ demonstrated for us when He laid down His life for us. He calls us to respond to His love by laying down our lives for Him, and laying down our lives for one another.
How will you respond to this greatest love? I believe the Holy Spirit is dealing with some of us right now, calling for you to lay down your life for Christ, and for your neighbor. I believe there are some here this morning who need to take that step of faith, come forward to this altar, and lay down your life for God. Why don’t you come this morning and do this right now?
I believe there may be some here who need to ask Jesus to help them lay down their lives for others—for your family, for your friends, for others who need you to set aside your own rights out of love for them. Will you come and commit yourself to following Jesus’ example of laying down His life for His friends?
Jn 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
[ii] 1001 Humorous Illustrations
[iii] Thomas Lindberg, Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 1.
[iv] Les Sussman, Praise Him!
[v] The Rotarian