The Supreme Sacrifice 

By Guy N. Woods 

"For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die" (Rom. 5:7). 

We are often deeply moved and our faith in the nobility of human nature greatly renewed by stories of heroism and selflessness which appear now and then in news stories of the day. Some years ago, in the state of Virginia, a brakeman was standing on the rear platform of the caboose of a freight train loaded with fifty cars of coal. A switch engine was backing the heavy train. As the long line of freight cars clanked around a curve, the brakeman saw a little sixteen-months-old child playing on the tracks. The horrified mother discovered the peril of her child at the same time the brakeman did. Heedlessly she ran forward to grab the child; but it was obvious that she could not reach it in time. Stopping the heavily loaded train was impossible. The brakeman leaped from the train, sprinted down the track faster than the train was moving, grabbed the child with one hand, pushed the frantic mother aside with the other, and leaped to safety as the train moved by. 

"Never saw such a pretty baby," said the brakeman, as he handed the child to its mother. "Just couldn't stand to see it killed." 

A few years ago, a news story appeared on page 1 of prominent morning papers, the opening sentence of which read, "Fate last night gave John Smith thirty seconds to choose between death with his wife and life without her. He chose death." 

"John Smith" (this was not his real name) and his wife were walking along railroad tracks. As she stepped on the glistening surface of the polished steel rail, she slipped and fell, and her foot wedged tightly between the rails and a switch. The roar of a speeding express train filled the air.
"John Smith" desperately struggled to free her foot. People standing nearby and watching the tragic drama were helpless. When the train was fifty yards away, "John Smith" started to drop his wife, looked at her again. Raising her to her feet he put his one arm around and turned her so that both faced the oncoming train. As he held her closely to him, he raised his free arm to heaven-and both of them met death. 

Such incidents are fairly common, and each stands as a worthy example of Paul's "peradventure." In the annals of love and friendship they rise above the commonplace in life, deserve and receive their need of commendation. But after all has been said and written in their honor, it still remains the sacrifice involved was made in behalf of those regarded as worthy. 

The vastness and incomparable nature of God's love are exhibited in the fact that the sacrifice he made in giving his Son to die on behalf of those not good, not righteous, but sinners: "But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Love of this kind is really beyond comprehension. It is not difficult to see why God loves Christ, whose pleasure is ever to do his will, or sinless angels who live to do his bidding. Nor is it difficult to comprehend why he might have loved man, his creature, made in his image and after his likeness; but when we recall that man raised the banner of rebellion against him, trampled contemptuously under foot his precepts, and defied his authority, that God still loved him and gave his Son to die for him, surpasses human understanding. 

Man does for those who are worthy; God does for those who merit condemnation and death. 

The love of God for man is seen in the cross in characters more vivid than in all the superscriptions man might have placed thereon. It has been said that "every thorn was a pencil to represent, and every groan a trumpet to proclaim, how great a love he was showing for mankind." 

Nor may we rank the death of Christ with that of the martyrs who gloriously died for the faith. To the Philippians Paul wrote, "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all" (Phil. 2:17). But was Paul crucified for us, and did he suffer the pangs of death, in forgiveness of the sins of men? No. The death of Christ is peculiarly preeminent in that it alone could effect man's redemption. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received reconciliation" (Rom. 5:6-11). 

His death is, therefore, unique; it can never be imitated, duplicated, or repeated. In it he confirmed the truth of his doctrine and sealed his testimony with his blood. More than this, he redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). His death was vicarious and substitutionary. "Surely he hath bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (Isa. 53:4). He was set forth as a propitiation in which "through faith in his blood" his righteousness is declared for the remission of sins that are past (Rom. 3:25). 

Love was the great motive which prompted God to make this incomparable sacrifice. Inasmuch as God has given us such a wondrous exhibition of his love for us, will he be pleased if we do not give him some evidence of ours? 

As a matter of faith our love for God is as essential to our salvation as is God's love for us, and as certainly as we would have been eternally lost but for his love for us, so will we be without love for him. 

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments (I John 5:3). Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you (John 15:14). He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4). 

Published October 1992