No Greater Love ~ No video

No Greater Love ~ No video

What do George Fox, Alexander Goode, John Washington, Clark Poling, Steve Perez, and Mychal Judge have in common?

Jesus’ words that we just read in John 15:13 –

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Fox was a Methodist minister. Goode was a Jewish rabbi.  Washington was a Roman Catholic priest.  Poling was a Dutch Reformed pastor.  All four were Army chaplains during World War II – and when the Army Transport “Dorchester” was sunk by a German submarine in February of 1943, they took charge of passing out life vests to panicking soldiers.  When the last vest was gone, they gave their own to other soldiers – then linked arms and prayed together as the ship went down.

Perez was the Houston police officer who insisted on reporting to work as Hurricane Harvey was flooding the city.  He drowned when his cruiser got caught in the floodwaters.

Judge was a chaplain for the Fire Department of New York – who rushed with the other first responders into the North Tower of the World Trade Center 16 years ago tomorrow.  He was killed when the South Tower collapsed, sending debris flying into the lobby of the North Tower.  He became a symbol for the 411 other first responders who died that day – and the countless others who have died since then from health issues caused by the attacks.

What prompted those firefighters, paramedics, and police to rush into two towering infernos – or Sergeant Perez to go to work that day – or the four chaplains to take off their life vests?   Was it just adrenaline?  Was it a sense of duty?  Was it a mindless, conditioned response based on years of training? Or was it something more?  Far more?

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

But almost none of these heroes knew any of the people they comforted, saved, or died trying to save.  Can it be said that they laid down their lives for their friends?

In Mark 12, Jesus sums up all of the Hebrew Bible Law and Prophets in two commandments: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

And when those who heard Jesus say that asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.  The point of the story is that everyone is your neighbor – and everyone should be your dearly-loved friend.

The word Jesus uses here that all the major versions translate as friend is fi,lwn.  It is one of the three Greek words used for love in the New Testament.  The word is part of the name of the city of Philadelphia – “The City of Brotherly Love.”

In John 3, John the Baptist uses it to explain the relationship between him and his cousin, Jesus: as that of the Best Man to the Bridegroom.

So Jesus is not talking about a run-of-the-mill acquaintance – like the ones you wave to at Riesbeck’s or Kroger.  These are friends you love as much as you would a brother or a sister – those you would ask to be your Best Man or Maid/Matron of Honor.

Strange, isn’t it, that Jesus describes us with that same word: fi,lwn?  We certainly don’t think of ourselves as Jesus’ best friends, do we?  But we should.  Paul wrote in Chapter 1 of his letter to the Colossian Christians:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.

So before coming to faith in Jesus, we were not God’s enemies – we just acted like it because we thought we were.  But because God had chosen us to be His children before He created us or the rest of the world, Jesus willingly gave His life for his dearly-loved friends.

So we certainly are not the most reliable friends that Jesus has – but that’s not the point.  We are the dearly-loved friends – and Jesus is our best friend.  After all, He did lay down His life for us.

And while we can never be as good a friend a Jesus is, His love compels us to love others in the same way.  Maybe even to the point of laying down our lives for others.

Ed Stetzer wrote in his book – aptly titled Compelled:

Through His sacrificial love, God brings us into an intimate relationship with Him through salvation. He then compels us to love others as Christ loved us first. Sacrifice on behalf of others is not for the weak and not likely seen apart from love. The love Paul speaks of is born of a strength and resilience that challenges us to live for others, even for those too weak and feeble to give anything back to us.

So we see in many – if not most – of the heroes of 9-11 a love birthed by the sacrificial love of Jesus for those of us who could not save ourselves.  And we have nothing to offer Him in return except our love – and the love we show others.

Stetzer went on to write:

Most of all, it is a courageous love that storms the gates of hell and persists beyond the grave. The power of a love that extends even beyond death is a central theme to a particularly clever movie, The Princess Bride. After a long period of thinking that pirates had killed her true love, Westley, the innocent and lovely Buttercup discovers he’s not dead. Yet in the intervening time, the evil Prince Humperdinck has forced her into an engagement.

Upon the bid to rescue her, Westley asks Buttercup why she didn’t wait for him to return, and she replies that she thought he was gone forever or, even worse, dead. His reply is classic: “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” God’s love cannot be stopped by death; in fact, it is in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we see the power of His love.

And so we see in the sacrifice of so many on 9-11 – and their successors who put their lives on the line daily and sometimes have to lay those lives down for others – a love that is stronger than death.  It is the love of God – shown to people like us who don’t deserve God’s love.

And our Savior – who laid down His life for us and took it back up again – has promised to raise His dearly-loved friends at the end of time.  And His never-ending, never-dying love for us will continue for all eternity.

Amen.