Tuesday, April 8, 2014

True Sacrifice

We are in the season of Lent. It is the time of year in the church when we take the walk once again with Jesus as He prepares to go to the cross. Many folks participate in the Lenten season by "giving up" something that they typically deem as an unnecessary excess. People have given up such things as coffee, chocolate, or watching a certain T.V. show. I tend to fast from my Wednesday evening meal. I have heard comments to the effect that whatever an individual chooses to give up, they will often refer to it as a "sacrifice." I began to wonder about that kind of thinking. Is it a sacrifice realistically or a mild discomfort? It is challenging to watch others eat food on Wednesday evenings when I am fasting. However, I know that on Thursday morning I can eat breakfast. How many people in the world go days without a meal? Webster's dictionary defines the word "sacrifice" as "an offering, to deprive oneself of (something valued) for the sake of another person, purpose, or ideal." It seems to me that true sacrifice is a very painful experience. It is an experience that has profound and lasting implications. Many are aware of the recent deaths of two Boston firefighters a few weeks ago. The loss of their lives was truly a painful experience not only in the manner in which they died but the repercussions for their families, friends, and fellow firefighters. The pain of their deaths will be felt for years to come. So it is with Jesus and the sacrifice He made for our sins. Jesus made a choice to give up His life. He became a sin offering for the sake of others. Jesus' sacrifice was a truly painful experience physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Crucifixion was a torturous and brutal way to die. The person literally suffocated to death as they could not hold their body weight up on the cross to avoid their lungs filling with fluid. That was the physical pain Jesus experienced in addition to the severe beatings He had already received at the hands of the Roman authorities. Emotionally, He agonized in the Garden of Gesthsemane feeling alone and abandoned as His disciples slept nearby. (Matthew 26:36-46) As Jesus was taking His last few breaths of life, He experienced a spiritual emptiness unique to the Godhead when the Father did not intervene and remove Him from the cross. (Matthew 27:45-50) His sacrifice indeed had significant and eternal consequences that have carried forward throughout history. Moreover, His resurrection made His sacrifice all the more powerful. Why did those firefighters go into that burning building? Some would say out of a sense of duty and an oath to protect and serve others. How many would say they did it for love? Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) This is the true definition of sacrifice. This is the love of God the Father extended to all those who would choose to believe in Jesus. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." This is the heart and soul of Easter. So, the challenge for us all is what are we truly willing to sacrifice for the Lord? Are we willing to humble ourselves and acknowledge that we need Him? Are we willing to lay aside those things that the world defines as success? (money, fame, power, beauty, etc.) Are we open to having God guide our steps and giving Him gratitude for all the good and gracious gifts that He provides daily? Or do we only offer God token "sacrifices" that don't hurt too much and help us feel better about ourselves? I believe that many times the intent behind giving up something for Lent is a good and positive one. However, God desires us to go deeper and really understand the heart of sacrifice as witnessed in the very dying form of the One who suffered on Calvary's cross. Are we brave and honest enough to pray the prayer of the psalmist? "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24) May we seek to allow God to see the integrity of our devotion and keep us true to Him.
Easter Blessings,
Pastor Sheree