Luke 19:35-38 & Isaiah 50:4-9
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
Palm/Passion Sunday

It took courage and sacrifice for Jesus, who had known the adoration of angels, to become someone who looked no different than a drive-through clerk at MacDonald’s and often was subjected to the same dismissive disdain.

It took courage and sacrifice for the One who had been given the tongue of a teacher and used it to sustain the weary with a word, who had always listened to God and never turned back from fulfilling God’s will, to expose Himself to the sadistic wickedness of creatures who save their worst for the best among them – and who insulted Him, spat on Him, pulled out His beard, struck His back with whips, and nailed His hands and feet to a cross.

It took courage and sacrifice to forsake the adulation He enjoyed on Palm Sunday in order to submit to the brutalization He endured five days later. It took courage and sacrifice to abandon Himself into the dirty, dark, cold hands of Satan and be dragged into hell.

There had to be great love behind such courage and sacrifice. What else could explain how Jesus gave up everything to give us everything?

In his profound book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller reflects on the courageous sacrifice that took place when Jesus substituted Himself for us at Calvary. Keller points out that, while the courage and sacrifice Jesus showed there were extraordinary, the need for substitutional sacrifice is always involved in loving people in need. All life-improving love, Keller observes, requires the lover to participate in the plight of the beloved and in a real sense to take their place. Keller illustrates this with two examples.

Imagine your coming into contact with an innocent and good man who is being hunted down by evil people intent on murdering him. He reaches out to you for help. If you refuse to come to his aid, he will die; but if you choose to assist him, you – who had been perfectly safe and secure before – will be in mortal danger. “This is the stuff that movie plots are made of.” Keller writes. “It’s him or you. He will experience increased safety and security through your involvement, but only because you are willing to enter into his insecurity and vulnerability.

“Consider parenting. Children come into the world in a condition of complete dependence. They cannot operate as self-sufficient, independent agents unless their parents give up much of their own independence and freedom for years. If you don’t allow your children to hinder your freedom in work and play, and if you only get to your children when it doesn’t inconvenience you, your children grow up physically only. In all sorts of other ways, they remain emotionally needy, troubled, and over-dependent. The choice is clear. You either sacrifice your freedom or theirs. It’s them or you. To love your child well, you must decrease that they may increase. You must be willing to enter into the dependency they have, so eventually they can experience the freedom and independence you have.”

Keller closes with this thought: “All life-changing love for people with serious need is a substitutional sacrifice. If you become personally involved with them …their weaknesses flow toward you as your strengths flow toward them….

“How can God be a God of love if he does not become personally involved in suffering the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness, pain that we experience? The answer to that question is twofold: First, God can’t. Second, only one major religion even claims that God does.”

To see what Jesus was up to in offering Himself up on that cross is to be bowled over by His courage and sacrifice. To be awed by that undeserved gift of love is to be moved with gratitude to be as courageous and sacrificial in love as He – as the good people of the Whittier Community Church were a few Christmases ago.

They had grown aware of the desperate need for health care for the children of Malawi, Africa. Grateful for how Christ had courageously sacrificed Himself to save them from death, a compulsion to help came upon them – and they committed to raise $160,000 to build a fully equipped pediatric clinic in Malawi, despite that being far beyond anything they’d ever done before. Nevertheless, they challenged themselves to love like Jesus and to take a special Christmas Eve offering to raise the money.

Church members say that that December 24th was electric with joy like no other the church had ever experienced. As people brought up their gifts and placed them in woven African baskets, men stood tall with eyes blazing, women cried with joy, and children ran up with smiles and happy shouts. Everyone seemed delighted to make gifts of love that cost them something.

The pastor had asked people to write on their envelopes how they had come up with the money for the “second mile” offering. When the church leaders later read the messages, it sent a shiver up their backs. The young had sold their toys, saved allowance money, or even told their parents to skip buying them Christmas presents to give them money for the Malawi offering. Adults had sacrificed optional physical therapy, foregone Christmas gift exchanges, sold stocks, donated savings, and gave up vacations. One couple had even donated the money they would have used for fertility drugs – in hopes that, though they might not have a baby, they could at least save the life of someone else’s baby. Everyone had dug down deep and made a courageous sacrifice to take care of strangers they felt called by God to love. And when it had all been collected and counted, the congregation had raised over a half a million dollars to save people most of them would never meet this side of heaven.

We love because God first loved us. We show courage and sacrifice for the sake of others because Christ first showed courage and sacrifice for us – and we appreciate how greatly blessed we are from it.

There is no obligation here, just gratitude – and the hope of experiencing the joy set before us, the joy that was once set before Jesus, the joy of drawing close to God and other people in His love – and of knowing God’s pleasure and the pleasure of being a part of God’s forever family. Let us pray.

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