In John 15:13,14, Jesus said, _ “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I have commanded you.”
Then in John 10:11, He tells us just what this meant for Him – “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep.”
In these passages lie the greatest love sacrifice this world has ever known. Jesus, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His friends – for His disciples and all who would become His friends throughout the ages since.
2000 years ago this act of love and sacrifice brought new life to all who would repent of their sins and believe in Him.
The laying down of one’s life is a principle that Jesus taught His disciples. In John 12:24 He tells His disciples this truth when referring to His death. “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” And He goes on to say – “He who loves his life (in this world) will lose it, but he who hates his life (in this world) will keep it for eternal life.” (v25)
After His resurrection, Jesus gave His disciples this last command – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
And so began the ministry of those who would “fall into the ground and die” and throughout all the years since would produce much fruit.
We know the stories of many Christians over time who have laid down their lives for the sake of the Gospel but there are also many whose stories are known only to God.
Let me tell you about a few of those stories that are known.
William Tyndale – 1494-1536
This man could speak seven languages and was proficient in ancient Greek and Hebrew. He had one great passion and that was to teach English men and women the wonderful truth of justification by faith. To set about doing this he put the first English version of the New Testament into their hands.
It would be a passion for which he would pay dearly – with his life. He was tried for heresy and condemned to death. Before he died he prayed – “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” God answered his prayer which resulted in the King James Bible being available to all in 1611.
David Livingstone – 1813 – 1873 Doctor and Missionary to Africa.
This man opened the way for the gospel of Jesus Christ to come to Africa, which at that time was known as the “dark continent”.
Hudson Taylor – 1832-1905 – Missionary to China
For 51 years this man lived in China bringing the gospel to many thousands.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer – 1906-1945 -Christian Theologian
This man with many others was part of the Confessing Movement in the Church in Germany. He stood against the Third Reich and its leader, Adolph Hitler, and its satanic ideology. He paid for this stand with his life just before the end of the war.
Five Missionaries to Ecuador
In the 1950s five young American missionaries attempted to bring the gospel to an isolated tribe who martyred each of them on the beach where they landed. This tribe later was transformed by the gospel.
These stories are all well worth reading in detail and can be found on the internet.
The truth about the grain of wheat falling into the ground, dying and bringing forth grain, is brought to life through all these stories and continues to this day with modern-day Christian martyrs. In many countries, Christians are being told to deny Christ. If they refuse, they are killed.
Jesus continues to call Christians to die to self and live for Him.
What does this mean for those of us who have not yet been called to die physically for the sake of the Gospel?
It means that when we are misunderstood, maligned, persecuted, or spoken evil of, falsely, we are not to take offense but to pray for the perpetrators and bless them. Luke 6:27,28 – “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”
Often, we are misunderstood, even by our friends and that can cause offense and all our human emotions come to the surface and color our reactions. When we deny ourselves in these situations instead of being offended, the Holy Spirit is able to guard our reactions.
Jesus did this all of His earthly life and we are called to follow in His steps. As Christians, we yet have much to learn.
Jesus, our Saviour is our example. When facing His accusers, He did not defend Himself but kept silent. (Matthew 26:62,63). Instead, He laid down His life for His friends and prayed for His enemies – “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.
Jesus’ call to us today is still clear – we are to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Him.