Lent is here, and I have been thinking not just about that principal moment when Jesus died on the cross—but also on the days of his life before that very tangible moment of sacrifice.
Love is not simply a floating, fluffy idea. It is not an intense feeling. It is not even solely an intellectual choice, though our minds may participate in loving kindnesses. By this we know love—that Jesus laid down his life for us. Love is an act of surrender, a place where we lay our life down for another, where we give what we have away, where we take our heart of adoration and act. Love is not selfish.
Jesus had every reason to be full of pride, to care about himself above others. Mark 1 introduces him as the Son of God. Capital “S”, capital “G.” No savior needed. No assistance necessary. He simply was, and is, the Son of God. He is the Messiah. The Son of God, Savior of the World, Prince of Peace, King of Kings had every right to behave as though he was a big deal. But he didn’t.
This God-man who could have overtaken any civilization, claimed any title, and done anything he wanted with his power, chose to lay it down and submit every decision to the will of God. He deflected any glory put upon his person and lifted it to God the Father. Indeed, in the end, he very literally laid down his life for ours when he died on the cross. The only man who could have ever been justly proud was thoroughly selfless.
But while the cross was immensely significant in our salvation, and Jesus is worthy of all worship because of that singular act of dying on the cross, Jesus’ death on the cross alone was not enough to save us from death and the grave. He had to be perfectly innocent of all sin before they hung him on the cross and while he was dying.
I often take Jesus’ perfect behavior all the days of his life for granted, when nothing about it could have been easy. When Jesus began his formal ministry, John baptized him and a voice from heaven declared
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:11-13)
Jesus began his ministry by being tempted by the craftiest master of lies and deceit who had great experience in encouraging sinful human desires, conjuring rationalizations, and twisting the words of God. Satan challenged Jesus’ identity and tempted him with power.
Jesus encountered one of the most trying moments of ministry in the very first moments of it. He had spent his life fulfilling the Old Covenant and never sinning, not once. And then he had to face the master of lies and deceit in his first moments of formal ministry and not slip up even one time. One slip up, one sin, and his sacrifice on the cross would have been insufficient to save our souls.
I often take Jesus’ perfect behavior all the days of his life for granted, when nothing about it could have been easy.
If I am going to celebrate Jesus for dying on the cross, I need also to celebrate every day he lived before that where he laid down his life for mine. Jesus Christ had to deny every fleshly desire that was not of God—He had to avoid lust, greed, lies of every size and shade, hate, impatience, sinful anger; He had to avoid participating in or believing any injustice, any ranking of one human or one race over another; He had to avoid jealousy, any secret glory seeking, succumbing to any flattery, walking out of step with God in His heart, soul, mind or body even one, tiny time.
Jesus had to respond rightly to every temptation, every day, every minute, or my salvation would not be possible now. No one’s salvation would be possible.
Jesus lived a life of surrender from the moment he was born. Jesus Christ loved us so much that he gave away every single day of his life so that we could be saved. And then, on the other side of the cross, he defeated death and conquered the grave and rose again to show us what we could have, too, if only we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who gave His life for ours. Jesus loves us enough to grant us His righteousness so that we can be part of the family of God, heirs together with Him.
This is love. He laid down his life for us. His entire life.
Thank you, Lord, for living every day of your life the way you did, for love of God, and for love of me, for love of your church. Teach me your ways, Lord, and lead me in the way everlasting. Help me love like you.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:16-18)