Every once in a while we will hear amazing tales about sacrificial love. These moving episodes can often involve a person making the ultimate sacrifice for a loved one, family member, or relative. We are all moved by these acts of great love on behalf of another.
In Melbourne we just had a clear example of this. A brother died in a valiant attempt to save his sister. The story – which has gained widespread media attention – is reported in one newspaper as follows:
“A university student has been hailed as a hero for shielding his sister from the freak city wall collapse in a final act of devotion. Melbourne University architecture student Alex Jones, 19, was walking sister Bridget, 18, along Swanston St to her 3pm class when a powerful wind gust brought a brick wall crashing down on top of them.
“Rescuers on the scene immediately afterwards said Mr Jones’s body was found on top of his injured sister, partially shielding her from the crushing impact. Bridget remained fighting for life at the Royal Melbourne Hospital after emergency surgery.
“Her brother, and an unidentified woman in her 30s, died instantly. Grieving friends paid tribute to Alex. Jorja Shae Carter-Smith posted on Facebook: ‘Zander, a true hero. I know you would have done this to protect your much loved sister, being the gorgeous soul that you were.’
“Another friend, Bethan Wainman, spoke through tears as she lamented the loss of a ‘Mr Nice Guy’, known as ‘Zander’ to his mates. ‘They were very close and loved each other very much,’ Ms Wainman told the Herald Sun. ‘He was an amazing guy and no one had anything bad to say about him’.”
What a tragic loss of such a young life. And of course many young lives are lost when self-sacrifice is required in times of war, and so on. So often we see sterling examples of those willing to give their lives so that others might live.
The Christian story, as expressed in the Easter event, is the supreme example of this self-sacrificing love. But unlike so many human stories along these lines, God in Christ does not just die for the lovely or the loveable. He actually dies for us, who have in fact been in rebellion against him, and have been his enemies.
Some people will willingly die for a family member or a close loved one, but hardly anyone would even think of dying sacrificially for an enemy. Yet that is exactly what Christ has done for us. As Paul says in Romans 5:6-8:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Christianity is unique amongst all the world religions in having God take upon himself a human form, live among us, and then die for us. No other world religion offers a God who loves us so much that he actually offers his own son to become our substitute.
Our sin brings with it the penalty of death – both physical and spiritual. But Christ died so that we might live. That is the uniqueness of the gospel, and that is the wonder of the Easter message. Spiritually speaking, a wall of bricks is crashing around all of us, and no one can survive such destruction and death on their own.
But Christ throws himself over us to protect us and rescue us. Those who avail themselves of this great act of love through faith and repentance can be spared the just punishment they deserve, and find a restored relationship to God through Christ.
As the Romans 5 passage goes on to say: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (vv. 9-11).
No greater gift has ever been made available, and no greater sacrifice has ever been made. The cross is the ultimate expression of sacrificial love. Paul’s thumbnail summary of the gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 is what we all need to know as to what Easter is all about:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” That is indeed the greatest story ever told, and it is why we celebrate Easter. As one gospel song puts it:
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?