The revelation of the sacrificial love of God began in Gethsemane and finished on the cross. We follow the same route through surrender if we follow Christ.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
There seems little point in joining the endless debates on when exactly Jesus was crucified. We can confuse ourselves with all kinds of arguments and comparisons of various calendars and the reasons why things were changed. The real issue is not when we celebrate but what we celebrate. As Christians we are not bound the Talmudic law and the various Jewish festivals—Passover, which applies now, being the most obvious. I honestly don’t think that God or His Son object to the date. What’s of critical importance is that we celebrate the ultimate example of sacrificial love the world has ever seen. We celebrate that God Himself loved the world with a measure beyond our comprehension. His is a perfect love, one willing to give up all for those who could and would never deserve it.
The sacrificial love of God is two-dimensional.
First, it encompasses the whole world. It is for whoever—anyone, everyone, all. In this sense it’s ‘universal,’ a truth we often forget. It does not discriminate at all, but is for every race, creed, colour, gender, age, social class, intellect, education, physical condition, or existing belief system. This includes prostitutes, homosexuals, members of cults and false religions, agnostics, atheists, and any other fringe or non-Christian group. The world means the whole of the world. All of it and everyone in it. God loves everyone so much that He gave Himself for everyone, whether they believe or not. This is often a difficult one for believers to accept, but it’s the truth. God loving us is not conditional on whether we believe in Him or not. God loves us so that we can be saved if we believe in Him. Belief affects salvation, not God’s sacrificial love.
Secondly, God’s love is intimate and personal. It’s not a vague, generic love—a kind of universal warm and fuzzy feeling for homogenous mankind. We are all included in ‘everyone’ and God does not love in the abstract. He loves us because He knows each one of us. We were created by Him, and He knows every single choice or decision we will take. He knows the days of our lives, the number of hairs on our head, and whether or not we will choose to believe in Him or not. God doesn’t suddenly get to know us at salvation. He knows us and loves us intimately before salvation. Believing in Him is our personal response to His sacrificial love. We loved Him because He first loved us, even while we were still sinners. God still loves even those who reject Him.
The everyday nature of God’s sacrificial love.
By this I do not mean that it’s something we should forget or take for granted. What I mean is that His love—like the nature of God—is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His sacrificial love is constant for every single moment of every single day. The reality is that we don’t need to have Good Friday or Easter Monday to celebrate it. Sometimes, these can become man-made rituals to replace real worship and thanksgiving. There is a danger that if we only celebrate the cross on certain days, we begin to imagine this is sufficient. While I’m all for the body of Christ coming together to give thanks for the greatest gift ever given, we must not limit it to that.
The sad reality is that there are many within the Church who need to be reminded of the cross. For these, having prescribed days may be of benefit, though I doubt it. If they aren’t living in the everyday celebration of God’s sacrificial love, it’s unlikely that they will enter into these ‘holy days’ with any real worship. I don’t suggest that we do away with Easter. I’m all for it. I believe that believers coming together in humility and worship in the context of the cross can be an incredibly powerful testimony to non-believers. It’s a reminder to the world of God’s love. But believers should be immersed in the everyday nature of God’s love every day. We must live in the truth of the cross. To do this, we must live the nature of sacrificial love in our day to day lives.
Sacrificial love starts with surrender.
As believers, we often lose sight of Gethsemane. Yet this is an integral part of the power of the cross. In our ‘Easter calendar,’ today would be the day of the last supper and Christ’s agony in the garden. He would be arrested during the night and tried into the early hours of the morning (Friday, being the day of preparation for the Sabbath which is Saturday). In terms of sacrificial love, what is significant about Gethsemane? It was here that the sacrifice was first made. The cross is the physical and spiritual fulfilment of surrender to God’s will. Without Gethsemane, the cross might not have happened. But from this point on, Jesus faces His accusers calmly and in the peace which passes all understanding. His sacrificial love was freely given in the garden and followed through to the cross.
For those who follow Jesus, this is a powerful reminder that we are to follow Him to the cross. That journey takes us through Gethsemane. It takes us through that place of agonised choice. While none of us are called to carry the anguish of the world or to shed blood in our struggle, we still must choose. If we assume His name we must assume His character which is defined by sacrificial love—to so love the world. His love is for us as individuals, but also for the world. Are we willing to live as He did so that whosoever believes in Him might be saved.
Lord, reveal Your love to us anew. Lead us into the garden and our place of choice. Grant us the courage to live and die to self as Jesus did so all may see Your sacrificial love.