Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In Part 2, we were talking about the question, What is sacrifice? I spoke about the terrible event that happened 13 Jan 1982. The Air Florida Flight 90 was taking off from Washington DC. It was snowing and this plane crashed into the Potomac River and only six of the 79 people onboard survived the initial crash.
But there was one hero, one amazing man—Arland Williams, a 46-year-old bank executive from Atlanta.
He was given the opportunity to save himself when a rescue helicopter arrived. But Arland Williams gave his rescue ring away to the other survivors on that terrible day of 1982, when he knew it was his last chance to live. He must have known, because when the chopper thundered back seconds later, he was gone. The man in the water had vanished beneath the ice. That hero was Arland Williams.
Who was he? But far more perplexing: Why did he do it? Why would anyone put the lives of strangers ahead of his own? He couldn’t even see the faces of the people he was saving, because they were on the opposite side of the wreckage. This is sacrifice at its best—it’s as Jesus said, “The greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 – TLB). Arland Williams was a true hero.
Another man—A supreme sacrifice
Another man centuries ago gave up his life so that others would live but he wasn’t praised and applauded for his courage—he felt the sting of jeers and insults. It was the public execution of a man who had been sentenced to a torturous, humiliating death. His death was no accident—his own Father was well aware of the plan, but he did nothing to stop it.
What kind of father would allow the execution of his son? I’m referring to Jesus Christ who died on a rough cross in AD 33 on a hill called Calvary.
The best explanation for this man’s sacrifice is John 3:16-17 (NIV): “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”.
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This was a matter of survival, because we are all going to die—we are going to perish. But God has a rescue plan for us, made possible by Jesus Christ, his Son. That’s why Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in, even if he dies, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
Jesus was the only one who could pay the penalty for sin for all time. Why? Because his divine life is worth more than the lives of all humanity before or since. Only by the sacrifice of a life of enormous worth could the enormous penalty for all sin be paid. It was the greatest act of heroic love the world has ever seen—for God loved the world. Jesus agreed to suffer the agony of a crucifixion execution. It was not an easy choice. Jesus died because He chose to die. His death was not just a matter of giving up a life. He chose to step aside from being God, to die, so we humans can live forever.
Jesus died even for his enemies
How often have you seen references to his crucifixion as the epitome of all sacrifices? For this is why Jesus said he had come to earth! He told his disciples: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many!” (Mark 10:45) Clearly, Jesus came to sacrifice his life on our behalf! And yet, having said that, the full story of Jesus’ sacrifice really only begins here, in this human notion of sacrifice. You see, unlike all other sacrifices that we, human beings, may make, Jesus’ sacrifice stands out.
When Jesus gave up his life for us, he was not doing this as a mere man—he was God in human flesh! That means that Jesus gave his life for all people, even for those who stood opposed to his ways of love and grace. It wasn’t mere heroics or a selfless act of kindness—it was a divine movement, from heaven to earth. It was God who was giving up his divine life for us!
Philippians 2:6-8 says:
[Jesus] had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (The Message)
Why is this idea so important? Think about it: Whenever we, human beings, sacrifice ourselves for others, it’s only for our friends, our family, or for our own country. Never do we sacrifice for our enemies—and by inference, we are saying that they are not worthy of our sacrifice. But the funny thing about Jesus is that, when he sacrificed his life, he did it even for his enemies! He gave his life for those who hated him—for those who nailed him to the cross.
That’s why his sacrifice is so unique! In it, we find a divine pity for all people. God gives his life for the entire human race because he thinks we are worthy of it.