The Sacrifice

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Luke 9:23-26

There is a scene in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indiana Jones tries to save Elsa from falling to her death in a large crevice. In order to save her, she must quit her attempt at recovering the Holy Grail from a ledge in the crevice and give her other hand to Indiana. She chooses to continue her attempt and falls. Then Indiana is faced with the same dilemma and his dad, who is trying to save him, tells him to let the grail go and give his dad the other hand. Indiana listens to his dad and is pulled to safety but the Holy Grail is lost. A tough decision faced both characters. Do they do whatever it takes to retrieve the grail and the fame and riches which will accompany it, or save their life by letting the grail go?

Jesus places a choice before the people of his time and us. Jesus says that to be his disciple one must deny self, take up the cross, and follow. Only by being willing to lose one’s life can one be saved. The life which Jesus offers requires sacrificing self interest for the interest of others as Jesus does.  A disciple follows in the footsteps of the one they follow and proudly proclaims that in their lives.

Jesus’s choices are a bit reversed from the scene in the movie but the underlying condition is the same. We are faced with a choice. Do we cling to the lives we have constructed or are we willing to sacrifice those lives for the one Jesus offers? Our lives often are based on achieving goals which benefits us. These benefits may include financial excess, notoriety, or status. The focus in this situation is ourselves and our desires. Jesus indicates we must be willing to give these up if necessary, acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives, and follow his example of making choices which are not self-centered but focused on the benefit of others. Will we be willing to place our self desires on the cross to follow him?

The Test

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspringall nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Genesis 22:1-19 (NIV)

This time of year can be dangerous for anyone choosing to venture out on a frozen body of water. As the weather warms up, melting and freezing takes place. This causes the ice to become thin and brittle. It can be difficult as we transition from winter to spring to know with any certainty how thick the ice is. This is why it is extremely important to test the ice before venturing out on it, or just stay completely off of it.

In the passage assigned for today, we discover a much different type of testing. This is a familiar story which can be very troubling to many. The request which God appears to make of Abraham seems extreme and does not fit our image of a loving God. There is clearly more to unpack here than this devotional can cover. Remember that we must read this passage through the contextual aspects in which it was written. The struggle for Abraham here is a question of being willing to give up the most precious item in his life to communicate his faith in God and be obedient. See this story is much more about Abraham than it is about God. God provides a substitute for Isaac. Here God is communicating that child sacrifice is not what is required. Abraham had faith that God would provide a solution to a difficult situation and God did.

There are times when life can really test us. During those times, we discover a lot about ourselves. Who is it that we turn to or rely on when we are tested? When what we are experiencing does not make sense, do we turn to the Lord? We may want to give up, and may even be justified in wanting to give up, but our faith tells us that God will provide a way. Trusting in the Lord to provide the right people, resources, or solutions demonstrates what we believe. As long as we are open to the possibilities which God creates, we can face the test no longer how short or long it exists.

Act of Love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

Today is Veteran’s Day in our country. This is a day which calls us to reflect on the service of men and women who have given to our nation through military duty. The date for this remembrance was set on November 11 because it coincided with the signing of the armistice which ended the first World War. We remember all who fought to preserve the freedoms and ideals of our democracy. We remember those who fought to protect those freedoms and ideals in other lands. We honor those who died in pursuit of those goals. For all who have served, even to the point of death, we humbly offer our gratitude and respect.

The passage chosen for today speaks of a call to love and demonstrate love through a willingness to sacrifice. Jesus is directing his followers to love one another. He reminds them that they are friends, friends with Jesus and one another. He tells them that the greatest act a person can do for a friend is to give her/his life for the friend. A foreshadowing of Jesus’s act of love for his friends, and enemies, is found in his words. Jesus reminds them, and us, that we are to love one another.

Being willing to give your life for another person seems pretty intense, especially if you do not know that individual. Yet, those who have stepped up to enter the United States military commit to do that if necessary. Over hundreds of years, through multiple wars and conflicts, both in our nation and abroad, women and men have paid the ultimate price for friends, neighbors and strangers. Those who have not lost their lives during service, have still sacrificed to defend and protect freedom and the rights of all humans. They have given their time, their ability to be with loved ones, and some even their mental and/or physical well-being as acts of love and service. Each of these men and women, and those who they left behind, have lived out Jesus’s words to love one another even to the point of laying down one’s life if necessary.

If you are a veteran, as was my dad, you have my heartfelt thanks. If you are the member of a family with a veteran, you have my gratitude for you have sacrificed as well. If you are currently serving in the military at any level, I pray for your safety. I call all of you friends and I commit to love as you have acted in love.

Let us love one another!