By Ward Shope
For four years, I was starry-eyed for Lois Leaman. I don’t think I ever spoke a word to her as we shared the same classrooms during first through fourth grade. She was shy, and I respected that. And then suddenly, she changed schools and was gone. Valentine’s Days came and went. Finally it was too late.
I’ve been with the love of my life for over 31 years. I’ve actually known her 42 years and have spoken to her most of those years – including all of the married ones. The kind of love I have with her is harder, deeply consuming, more painful, creates all kinds of challenges, and is far more satisfying and fulfilling than any human relationship in my life. Truthfully, I let Lois go and have never looked back.
Love costs. We all know that if love is real, it drives us to give. Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (wife, children, parents or fill in the blank).” (John 15:13) At times, it is the joy and pleasure of our hearts to give whatever we can to another. No one keeps score and our only aim is the benefit of the beloved. But there are those times when love drags us kicking and screaming to the aid of even our dearest relationship. Mutuality feels distant; self-desire is strong; and the language of sacrifice emerges.
Sacrifice gives for a greater goal. Not that the goal is always altruistic. Literal ritualistic sacrifice – animal or vegetable – in most religions, ancient and current, seek to bring about the circumstances we want. There were and are sacrifices for battles, sacrifices for fertility, sacrifices to appease evil spirits. And even our non-literal “sacrifices” today are often manipulative by nature. If we do something, we hope or expect something in return. It doesn’t mean they aren’t costly. We’re just looking for the payoff.
But Jesus does something unique. He combines love with sacrifice. It’s love that drives his sacrifice, and sacrifice is all for the benefit his beloved ones. His benefit is nowhere to be seen. Rather “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2) so that a bunch of broken, self-serving manipulators might be brought into fellowship with him and with his Father.
With Jesus’ sacrifice and the spread of the gospel in the western world, literal sacrifice has largely disappeared. While I am no historian, I have reason to believe the writer to Hebrews was correct: “But as it is, [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). It was love that drove him to this. “ 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 8:7-8)
Our “sacrifices” are at best an imitation of his love. His sacrifice-ending cross makes love real.