I trust that you are familiar with the sacrifice Abraham made of his son Isaac – in Genesis 22. God chose to test the faith and devotion of the that man, by asking him to make him a special burnt offering. And I hope you realize that event so many hundreds of years ago, is a type of God’s sacrifice of His Son. God said, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest….” Christ is described in the New Testament as God’s “only begotten son.” And God the Father described him as His “beloved son.” It must be remembered that when Abraham took is beloved son toward Moriah, Isaac was no small child. He was strong enough to carry a bundle of wood sufficient enough to burn a large offering. And the last leg of that journey was up a significant hill – described in the Bible as a “mountain.” Furthermore, his mind was sharp enough analyze the situation – He said, father, “behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” I believe that at some point, after leaving the servants and the ass, and before reaching the top of Moriah, Isaac came to realize that HE was to be the sacrifice. “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood” – Genesis 22:10. I cannot conceive of this man, over 120 years old, overcoming an unwilling 20 year old, chasing him down, tying him up and lifting him onto the top of the make-shift altar. I am convinced that at some point that day, Isaac settled in his heart to become the sacrifice his father needed.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I am sure that Isaac was a saint of God, and today he is enjoying the blessings of His Saviour. But I am not sure whether he became that willing sacrifice out of love for Jehovah or love for his Father. Maybe it was a combination of the two.
We looked at the context of this verse last Sunday with our message on “Love, Perseverance and Joy.” Between that text and this morning’s text, the Lord Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” One of Jesus’ great quotes about His love comes in the context of an exhortation to us – “love one another, as I have loved you.” Verse 13 then describes the KIND of love we are supposed to have for one another. I concede that it is higher than any of us can reach, but we are supposed to reach for Heaven in many ways. We are to love as Christ loved, and He loved as His Father loved. This is our standard. Let’s spend a few minutes examining that standard this morning.
Consider the GREAT LOVE which is described in this great verse.
First, it needs to be understood that Christ is referring to HIMSELF – “as I have loved you,” so are you to love. And “greater love hath no MAN than this.” I have to acknowledge that Jesus indirectly refers to Himself as “a man” in this case. One reason He does this is that He doesn’t want us to separate this verse too far from it’s context – His exhortation to us. But of course, Christ was unique in that He was the Son of God AND the Son of Man at the same time. “God became flesh and dwelt among us.” The eternal deity became perfect humanity. And then He died. He who is eternal life felt pain equivalent to eternal death. But – when it came to that death, Deity did not die. Christ died in His representative humanity.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” When it comes to the children of Adam, whether we are talking Sydney Carton in “Tale of Two Cities,” Isaac son of Abraham, or anyone else, Jesus’ statement is true. There is no greater gift than the gift of death – or maybe I should say the gift of life out of death. There is no diamond big enough to match the love expressed in a martyr’s death. There is no sizable bequest larger than the sacrificial death of a loved one. But in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, that statement is infinitely more true than in any other, because He was no ordinary lover – no ordinary dier – we are talking about the Son of God.
How can we measure this “greater love?” We might try to use the yard stick of the Divine Lover himself, but I’m not sure that we can. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul voices an extremely high and holy prayer. That you “May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” – Ephesians 3:18-19. There is a sense in which it is senseless for me to try to make this a point in my message, because the love of Christ surpasses human understanding. Try as I might, I’m not going to explain or express it. We are talking about the love of infinite deity, which must be infinite love. It is beyond our ability to reach to the breadth, length, depth and height of the love of God. It is beyond our ability to even imagine. We might reach for the hem of this garment, but I’m not sure we can grasp it. Greater love does not exist than Christ’s love for His elect. It is incomparable with any other; it is incompatible with any other.
Perhaps we should say that there is no love – there is nothing – which is STRONGER than Christ’s love. There is nothing that can break the love-bond which He has with His people. Your sin can not break that bond. Your enemy, the Devil, cannot break that bond. There is no love which is as INTENSE as Christ’s love for us. We aren’t talking just about its strength but also about its life and vigor. As I say, I’m not sure there are words which can describe or explain that divine love.
If we can’t look up to see Christ’s great love, because of its brilliance and radiance, perhaps if we look down to see the shadow it creates – that might make sense. Who was it that Christ and the Father has loved with this great love? You and me. We were totally bankrupt when Christ began to love us, if we can use the word “began,” because there is a sense in which never began but has always been. We were traitors, rebels, sinners when He first loved us. We had defaced the image of God which He created into us. We were so corrupt that the spiritual flesh was rotting off our spiritual bones. And yet He choose to look on us as lovely in His sight. We were covered in blood; our vocabulary was vile; destruction and misery were in all our ways. There was absolutely nothing in us worthy of love, and yet He did. And perhaps in that, we might begin to see His “greater love.”
Because of Christ’s greater love we can be blessed through the GREATEST OF ALL SACRIFICES.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Paul once spoke of the love which the Galatian saints previously had for him. If you’ll remember, Paul’s gospel was under attack among the Galatians by people who limited Christ’s great love and all sufficient sacrifice. Paul said in Galatians 4 – “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you…. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus…. For I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” After life and the gift of death, what would be the highest of all human sacrifices? The first thing which came to the Apostle’s mind, possibly because his eyesight was so bad, was sight. Today, we sometime hear someone flippantly say, he’d give his right arm, or first his first born son, for something, but it’s usually in the context of getting something for himself, rather than for someone else. “I’d give my right eye in order to have this or that.”
But Christ gave not His eyes or His right arm, but the totality of Himself for His friends. In this verse He says, “lay down his life,” but in other scriptures supply more detail. John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his LIFE for the sheep.” Ephesians 5:2 – “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given HIMSELF for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” I Peter 2:21 – “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
These and other scriptures tell us that Christ VOLUNTARILY laid down His life as a sacrifice to save us. I know there is a fine line here, but He didn’t SURRENDER His life, but deliberately LAID IT DOWN. As perhaps Isaac did for his father, he climbed up onto that altar and let his hands be bound. Unlike any other man, Christ’s life was His to dispose. He was not a slave to sin, giving that horrible tyrant power over his body. His body didn’t possess the curse that Adam’s sin brought upon us, so it was not that curse which snatched away His life. You and I have no control over life and death, any more than we have over a drunk driver or a killer virus. That mask or vaccination is not going to keep you alive unless it is the will of God. We are all in the hands of God, whether we love and worship Him or not. The Jewish Sanhedrin thought they could take Jesus’ life, but they didn’t want to foul their hands, so they pushed the Romans to take it. And as the Romans had with thousands of others, they believed they controlled life and death. But the life of Christ couldn’t be taken by any man or nation of men. Satan couldn’t take His life; the Devil didn’t have that authority.
Remember the scene there at Golgotha – three crosses, the heat, the curses, the flies, then the darkness. The evening was rushing on, and with it came more of the Passover festivities. It was important that these executions be concluded before the evening sacrifice, so the Romans took steps to quicken the process. But Jesus had already said with a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” When the Roman soldiers came up to inflict the coup de grâce the Spirit of Christ had already departed. He laid down his life and gave up his Spirit.
Christ’s life was His alone – to keep or to sacrifice. And He chose to lay it down, and He did lay it down. Philippians 2 – Christ Jesus, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Notice the word “for” in “lay down his life FOR his friends.” It is the word “huper” and it often has depth of meaning beyond its few little letters. It means that Christ laid down His life on behalf of his friends – for their benefit and in their place. The theological word is “vicarious.” Christ died on the cross as a vicarious or substitutionary sacrifice. “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd giveth His life FOR the sheep.” “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died FOR the ungodly.” Romans 5:7 – “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died FOR us.” “He gave himself FOR us that he might redeem us from all iniquity.” “Christ offered his own blood, through the eternal Spirit without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” – Hebrews 9:14. Just as Jesus said, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom FOR many,” Paul later declared “He gave himself a ransom” – I Timothy 2:6. That means that Christ paid the ultimate price to buy our souls from the slavery market of death. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Now think about that word “friends.” What a GREAT FRIENDSHIP the Lord has created.
In our love, and out of our gratitude, we might put our highest emphasis on that word. I suppose the Lord will forgive us for that error. But in the Greek the emphasis is on “laying down his life.” I found one paraphrase of this verse saying, “One can show no greater regard for those dear to him than to give his life for them, and this is the love ye shall find in Me.”
Despite the lack of emphasis, the Saviour, in speaking to His disciples, does use the word “friends.” It leads to some interesting theology and questions. For example, when did Matthew, the Tax collector, or Saul, the murdering persecutor of the saints, become the friends of Christ?
What should we do with all those scriptures which describe us as something other than friends? Romans 5:8 – “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” “When we were without strength” or beauty; “while we were yet sinners,” “when we were enemies, Christ died for us.” Ephesians 2 – “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Do I see a Biblical contradiction in all of this? Jesus suggests that He gave His life a ransom “for His friends.” But Paul says the Christ died for His enemies, “children of disobedience” and “children of wrath.” There is no contradiction, but there is a difference in perspective.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:3 – “We were by nature children of wrath.” Adam chose to rebel against the Lord in one prohibition – “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Adam ate, and his spirit died within him, creating a man who was by nature, a child of disobedience and a child of wrath. When he became a father, each of his children were born sinners just like their father, and those children produced children of disobedience and wrath all the way down to Paul’s day and the people of Ephesus. And things have not changed in the 2,000 years since Paul. We are still God’s enemies, “children of disobedience” and “children of wrath.”
But then the Triune God, “who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins,” chose to call a few of those children of wrath “friends.” He made that choice, placing that love and setting that title on thousands of people from every walk of life, every nation, tongue and kindred, and from throughout time. Christ died for His friends, those whom he chose to love, despite the fact they would love Him in return only later. Christ died for those enemies He had chosen to befriend. And only as Christ’s redemption was revealed to each of them in time, they began to reciprocate that love. They began to rejoice that they were the friends of Christ. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
But there is a very sad reverse side to this verse. Christ did NOT die for those who were NOT His friends. Christ did not die for the world in order that those who hate Christ, reject Christ, spit on His word, and hate the sovereignty of God the Father – would be saved. Christ died for those He had already befriended before the foundation of the world and who eventually would rejoice to be one of His friends.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” How can someone know whether or not Christ laid down his life to save him? There are a variety of tests we might apply.
But one arising from this verse would be – “Are you a friend of Christ?” Do you love the things that Christ loves? Do you love His Word? Do you love His church? Do you love Christ Himself?
You might say that you aren’t sure exactly how to measure or understand your love. To you I suggest that this verse tells you exactly how to measure it. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Would you be willing to lay down your life for the Friend who is above all other friends? If He asked it of you, are you ready to worship, serve, and die for your Saviour? No? You are not ready to make the sacrifice Isaac was willing to make? Then you do not the same heart as Christ. And without the heart of Christ, you are not a Christian. You must be born again.