Bible Study, Faith, life, relationships, Uncategorized
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The Utmost Degree {A Lesson in Really Loving}

We recently commemorated Memorial Day as a nation.

To some, this was a day of deep mourning and celebration of lives given in service through the United States Armed Forces. To others, this was a free, paid vacation day. Many of us barbecued and relaxed, reveling in the freedom we’ve received through the investment of our military personnel.

Memorial day is the day we remember those who gave to the utmost degree that ultimate sacrifice of loyalty — up to the very end.

But honestly, it means the most to those who lived life with these people: family, friends, soldiers in arms, children and spouses. To them, Memorial Day is like a shining gem resting in the palm of everyday workaday life.

The very crux of Christianity is Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for the punishment of our sins. The most significant human act of Jesus Christ, scripture tells us, is his sacrificial death on the cross. The most significant, supernatural and deific act was his resurrection from the dead. Death, we understand. Resurrection confounds us – we must take this by faith – for no human, no prophet, no leader has lain dead three days in a hole in the mountainside or a stone crypt and emerged whole and living. Except Jesus.

So we focus on the death, on the sacrifice of innocence. We see Jesus’ willingness to step into a corrupt human system of justice that punishes the innocent for the sake of mob control and to enable power-hungry leaders to maintain their stay in office.

The most memorable moments of every life are those first and last hours. We gasp in gentle awe of the newborn whose life is fresh, whose delivery is a miracle. Even after billions of births on this planet, we coo and cajole the little beans and count perfect, tiny toes and fingers. Neonatal units work tirelessly to sustain the fragile breaths of premature babies and those wonderful souls born with malformed organs – such is our surging celebratory love for the beginning of life.

by tamakisono, via flickr.com

In corollary, we strive for the dignified passing of human lives. We honor their existence, forgive their social debts, implore upon them how valuable they are while we have a chance to speak loving words. Every society has applied ceremony and honor to the dying.

Much of Jesus’ life was lived privately. We know much about his birth and his death, but other than his ministry years, we are left to guess as to what his life on earth looked and felt like for 33 years. But as every one of us knows, much can be learned about a person from the circumstances of his birth and his death.

Jesus’ final hours were recorded in detail in the book of John. John wrote from the perspective of a loving friend, loyal disciple and transformed heart. He alone appeared with the women at Calgary to honor his Messiah’s death on the cross.

Chapter 13 of the book of John opens onto this scene: a private room, a simply prepared Passover meal, a gathering of a new kind of family. Close followers of Jesus joined as a family to celebrate the old, Hebrew tradition of memorializing God’s deliverance of his chosen people from their captors in Egypt.

John opens with these lines:

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (vs 1,NIV)

Any student of the New Testament knows that Jesus taught through parables, signs and miracles, through question and answer sessions and by example. During these last moments, every word and action was especially intentional.

When I nearly died in the summer of 2011, I hadn’t the time to impress upon my family and friends the truths I so wanted them to know. I had no foreknowledge of the accident. I didn’t know that our assailant had just left a bar inebriated and impaired. I didn’t even know we were in danger.

All I could do in those few minutes with my children in the van while we awaited rescue was try to lead, to breathe even, by example. I couldn’t panic, for this would translate into fear and bely my faith in a sovereign God. I could barely speak, but I asked the kids to pray, told Bella to call my sister, while my husband and I led them in waiting. I would be lying if I wrote here that I wasn’t afraid, that I wasn’t physically in shock, every cell of my body affected by the trauma. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel totally helpless.

Later, after I’d been promoted from intensive care to the trauma ward, I pondered on those final moments (as I have many times since) up to when I blacked out in the helicopter. Near-death experiences tend to make one extremely aware of her own mortality. I felt certain that most of my loved ones knew just how much I cared for them. I had made difficult choices and learned a lot about forgiveness in order to ascertain better relationships with my siblings. I had written letters of appreciation to my parents and my husband. My kids, in spite of all my mom errors, knew for certain how I loved them.

There were only two people that I could think of that I hadn’t had the opportunity to reconcile with before that August night. It bothered me, I admit, to have those broken friendships dangling at the end of my lifeline. I took the opportunity, as soon as it arose, to clear the air or show kindness.

When I read John 13-17, I see Jesus as a deliberate, loving friend who desired to be as honest, as loving, as exemplary as possible before a very difficult end that involved betrayal, arrest, isolation, beating and being nailed to a cross.

How did he do this? How did he maintain even a modicum of grace or strength while facing this end? How did Jesus extend mercy to Judas, knowing full well about the betrayal in his heart? How did he keep leading and loving in the dark eve of his capture?

1. He was prepared by the knowledge of his coming death.

Many of us think we want to know the future, thinking it would be easier to face armed with foreknowledge. However, when we look back on trials we’ve survived, I believe we would be polarized by our fear of what lay before us. In Psalm 119 we are reminded that God’s word is a light for our footpath and a lamp to light our steps, to reassure us that not knowing is actually better for us (think flashlight). But, God’s word also tells us that every man is appointed unto death (Hebrews 9:27).

We know our inevitable future as humans. This doesn’t have to be the universal downer that it’s become: death is our ticket to life eternal with Christ. Not a bad exchange! But I think the lesson here is this:

be who you need to be,

say what needs to be said,

love who needs loving,

give what is yours to give,

do what is before you to do because you never know when the end is coming.

Don’t let your perceived invincibility keep you from living big, loving lavishly, forgiving gushingly, hugging happily and getting things right with your God and your neighbor!

Philippians 3:13-14 exhorts:

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

If the time was come for you to leave the world, how would you live your last hours? Who would you be with and what would you say? Go do that now!

2. He was prepared by the certainty of his destiny.

We are often lost in the living here on planet earth. So caught up are we in the day to day of work and projects, bill paying, sports events, due dates and car repairs that we lose sight of the reward and the reason for this life.

We are destined for eternity — with or without Christ. Metaphysics aside, there is a future and what you believe now directly affects how that future plays out.

Jesus’ strength was rooted in the relationship he had with the Father. Sure, his was unique as he was the “only begotten Son” (John 3:16), but Christian, yours is unique, too. Take responsibility to seek out the truth of why you are here and where you are going. Jesus later told the disciples that they were one with him and the Father (John 14:20): “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” In his gracious prayer for us future believers in John 17:20-21, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Do you question your destiny because of the quality of your here and now? Are you uncertain? Listen to what John says about us in 1 John 3:1, 2b: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!… When he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

3. He was motivated by love to give love to the utmost degree.

“Having loved his own, he now showed them the full extent of his love”, says John 13:1 in the New International Version. Other versions say he loved them to the very end. This denotes, Vines Expository Dictionary says, that he loved to the utmost degree.

He gave it all. He never let up, even in those difficult final hours. He gave and gave and gave of himself to his friends, his family until that moment when he cried out, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” (Luke 23:46), until the moment there wasn’t anything left of him to give.

There are lots of motivators out there, like loyalty or power or compassion, but nothing motivates loving like love. Agape love, the Greek word for God’s love, isn’t just perfect and unconditional, but active. God’s agape is always moving towards us and before us and around us. It’s his active love that impels us to love like Jesus. If we actively love each other well, then everyone will know we belong to Jesus!

This is love, to give to the utmost degree.

As we consider our mortality and our eternality, we can look to Jesus’ example. His intentional words and actions during his final hours hold rich, transformative lessons in loving. When we know to whom we belong and we know we can love like he did: extravagant, active, love up to the very end.

“I press on toward the goal to twin the prize for which God has call me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” {Philippians 3:14, 16}

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2 Comments

  1. Danelle says

    Why do I sometimes forget my mortality? It really does change everything to remember that our lives are but a vapor. Such truth in remembering Whose we are and to love with all we have to give. The greatest commandment of all.

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