When we discuss the necessity of virtues, we often, almost invariably, really, talk about the rewards of those virtues. Remember the story in which an emperor handed out seeds which had secretly been cooked? The one child who was honest and brought no plant was made the emperor's heir.
You all know the way the stories go. In one, an act of kindness to a stranger pays off when the stranger turns out to be a prince. In another, a princess learns to love a monster who is actually a handsome prince under a spell. Always there is a payoff. And there is a reason for that. To put it simply, we mortals are selfish.
Now it's not like we can't choose to do what is right. Many of us do. Why doesn't Father Joe the priest knock over a liquor store? Because it's wrong. Why doesn't Joe Shmoe the ragman knock over the liquor store? He doesn't care about what's right. He wants to stay out of jail.
And most of us do think like that. It's normal. Even God knows it and expects it. He constantly uses the threat of punishment and promise of reward to encourage right behavior and discourage wrong. From the very beginning, this has been true. He gave dam and Eve one rule and laid out the consequence of breaking it.
I'm pretty certain that every person here has had their spirit shaped by rewards and punishments. I know I have. Probably more punishment than reward in my case. Even if you didn't get it as a child, you were shaped by it later on. You learned to do what was right and avoid wrong because you wanted nice treatment and you were afraid of punishment.
So if it is normal to think like this, what about the mother antelope? There was absolutely no benefit to her in rescuing her child. Nobody was impressed. Nobody would reward her. she wouldn't even be able to see her son again. What she received for her actions was pain, dismemberment, and death. so why did she do it?
We all know why. There are some things more important than gratifying oneself.
How many of you watch CSI? There was an episode recently aired in which a baby had been smothered and killed by his 3-year old brother. The parents and oldest brother staged a fake kidnapping, knowing that the evidence would point back to them as the killers. Each of them were prepared to go to prison to protect the little boy from growing up with the stigma of being the boy who killed his baby brother.
Why would anyone do that? It makes no worldly sense. It violates even our instincts. There is absolutely no reason for someone to sacrifice himself like that.
Or is there?
Brothers and sisters, what we are talking about here is true love. True love is not a magical kiss that turns a toad into a prince. It is not that magical moment when a prince and princess begin their happily-ever-after. True love is when you are able to do the best for someone else without regard for yourself, even if it means pain, torment, or even death.
Christmas is coming soon. It is a time for commemorating the birth of the savior. Jesus is our example of true love. He did not have to give up anything. He could have left us to our justly deserved fate and created some other type of being to keep Him company. But He didn't. He chose of his own free will to lay aside His godhood and be transformed into a baby, being born into relative poverty. The crown prince of all creation, only natural son of the emperor of everything, gave up his throne to live as a carpenter. And keep in mind that the purpose of being born on that first Christmas was to make it to the first easter. With nothing to gain for Himself, Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to save us. He was beaten. He was whipped. He was cursed, slandered, spat upon, mocked, poisoned with thorns, forced to carry His own cross. Then he was nailed to the cross. He was dehydrated and suffocating as he hung their naked for the world to see. Then finally, He met death headon.
What did Jesus have to gain by any of this? He didn't need His father's approval. He had that. He received no special reward. What can you give the heir of the universe that He isn't already getting? Power? He had that. Praise? He had the angels for that. Knowledge? Glory? Thanks? Honor? Wisdom? Land? Money? No. There was nothing that wasn't already His. He did what He did because He loves us. Because you and I are more important to Him than His own blood?
And how precious is Jesus' blood? C.S. Lewis once wrote of his Christ-character Aslan that his tears were each more precious than the entire earth, were the earth made of a single diamond. How much more precious the blood of a God? In fact, there is nothing more precious in the entirety of everything. Yet Jesus gave that blood willingly, thinking it a fair exchange for the souls of the shamed, disgraced sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.
Jesus is God. God is love. It is the nature of Jesus to do His best for others without thought for reward nor fear of punishment. And if we call ourselves Christians, meaning "Little Christs", how can we help but do likewise as we grow into His image?
I used to think that the idea of throwing treasure at Jesus' feet was daft. I had in mind that when I got to Heaven and received my reward, I would KEEP mine. To just throw it away seemed just plain dumb. That was when I was a child and thought as a child. Now I understand the reason. Gold is nice to have. Gems are very pretty and even useful. I could benefit myself by keeping them. But I am not the most important thing in the universe. Just as a child is more important to a parent than his or her own life, so Jesus is more important to me than mine.
My challenge to you this week is to look inside yourself and ask yourself if this is true for you. Same goes for the nonchristians. Are you holding back from accepting Christ because of self-interest? I challenge you to respond to the ultimate act of selfless love with an act of selfless love and ask Jesus into your life today.
Pastor Oren Otter
November 18, 2006
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.