By Sigrid Fowler
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
When I left off writing last week, I was at a loss for words to describe those willing to die rather than deny Jesus Christ. Admittedly, no words of acknowledgment, wonder, and praise will be adequate, but we shouldn’t say nothing. The Lord himself acknowledges these heroes, and it’s right for us to add our accolades. Jesus connected love with persecution and death for another’s sake: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13 NKJV and all below).
A few reminders here about love, Jesus’ standard of measure. Love is a word beyond superlative status. “God is love,” John writes (I John 4: 7-8). Love is the very character, nature, and personhood of God. Jesus couldn’t have made a more profound, striking, or clarifying statement about those who choose to die for another. In fact, Jesus was describing himself here. He would die to make a way for you and me to be free of the sin that made fellowship with God impossible. Someone had to die.
Theologians say that Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of substitutionary atonement—two big words for someone who takes the punishment earned by another and makes reconciliation possible. That someone is a substitute, however great or small the punishment may be. Paul explains our predicament: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3: 23 emphasis added); death is the sentence: “The soul that sins shall die” (Ez 18: 20a). To Moses, God declared the only way a sinner can escape the punishment of death: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev 17: 11). The sacrifice system laid out in Scripture was God’s provision for sinners, humans he loved. All these sacrifices point forward to the cross. Jesus gave up the only perfect, sinless life ever lived so that those who trust his mighty act could escape the punishment we all deserve.
When Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,” he was describing the love of God. The holy God would not give up sinful humanity, but, on the other hand, he was equally unwilling to allow sinners into his presence. The cross resolved the divine dilemma, and we are the beneficiaries of the cross, where God the Son, the perfect Son of Man died.
But what about human heroes who are willing to lay down their lives for others? Such a thing has happened down through history. If you can endure the writer’s occasional and unnecessary lapse into bad language, you will find his piece “6 Unassuming people Who Casually Saved Hundreds of Lives,” full of examples—from one World Trade Center guard and hero of 9/11 to a whole group of engineers who kept the electricity on as the Titanic sank (https://www.cracked.com/article_20680_6-unassuming-people-who-casually-saved-hundreds-lives.html). We rightfully call these brave souls heroes, and Jesus’ words clarify. In most cases, those who acted heroically for the benefit of others didn’t actually know them. It wasn’t a matter of self-sacrifice for the sake of a loved person but for the sake of a stranger. We have to say there was a love of humanity along with the courage and fortitude fueling these heroic hearts. There’s no other explanation unless we consider a love of God to be in the mix, as well. For a person to give up his life for another—a stranger, most of the time—he or she would have to see human beings as God sees them—i.e., infinitely valuable. Such a driving motive has to be, in itself, godly. There’s no other way to look at it. Yes, these heroes must have known and loved God.
But to circle back ro what Jesus said about those who are persecuted for his sake. It is clarifying and encouraging: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father with the angels, and then he will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16: 27). Again: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you” (Matt 5: 10-12). Finally, Jesus declared: “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life” ( Mark 10: 29-31).
Earthly loss for Jesus’ sake—whatever the loss may be—has a rich reward. It is his promise.