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 DO WE LAY DOWN OUR LIVES FOR OUR FRIENDS?

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

30 OCTOBER 1994

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

1 Samuel 15:22
Jeremiah 7:21-26
Ezekiel 33:23-26
Hosea 6:4-7
Mark 12:28-34
John 15:12-14

When we talk about laying down our life, we usually assume it means to die a physical death.

But this isn't necessarily so in all cases.

For we can put our life on the line by standing up for what we know is right, and in many cases this might seem harder than dying. It takes real courage to take a stand that is unpopular.

We, in effect, also put our lives on the line when we live our lives as examples of Jesus Christ, in order that others would come to believe and not die.

This is laying down our lives for our friends.

The case in point for us today is: Are we willing to die to sin, for the sake of our friends?

In our Scripture reading for this morning, Mark 12:28-34, we hear of a conversation that took place between Jesus and a scribe.

Let's take another look at these verses.

28. And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He [Jesus] had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?"

29. Jesus answered, "The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;

30. and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

31. "The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

32. And the scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that He is One; and there is no one else besides Him;

33. and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

34. And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

Now, we have done a lot of talking about these two greatest commandments and the fact that they fulfill all of the other commandments, if we follow them.

But today, we are going to focus on the explanation given by this scribe, for it addresses a key point in our walk with God, which many people forget about.

To paraphrase, he said that to love God and your neighbor is worth more than all the sacrifices and burnt offerings.

In other words, to love is better than having to say we're sorry.

To love is better that having to repent for doing something wrong.

To truly love is better better than any offering or sacrifice, for it does away with the need to have them, which proves it was never a requirement of God, but only a concession because of the hardness of people's hearts.

And animal sacrifices became too easy, for it was much easier to lay down the life of another being than it is to lay down one's own life and sinful nature.

But if we die to sin, we can live to love.

And that's what we are told in John 15:12-14.

12. "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.

13. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

14. "You are My friends, if you do what I command you.

So, if we're Jesus' friends, we will lay down our lives and give up our worldly ways, and do as He commands us.

We will lay down our lives before Him, and truly love as he tells us to love: unconditionally.

Remember that this isn't some New Testament concept, for the scribe and Jesus were talking about verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

And remember that the concept of obedience being better than sacrifice is also from the Old Testament.

When King Saul decided to follow his own will, and not that of the Lord, Samuel reminded him of this fact (1 Samuel 15:22).

22. And Samuel said,

"Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

As in obeying the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

And to heed than the fat of rams.

Saul loved his position as king more than he loved God and his people.

While Saul did partially lay down his life by going into battle, he didn't lay it down completely enough to overcome his pride and to do as the Lord required of him.

As acts like these occurred more frequently, the Israelites drifted further and further away from God.

The kingdom became divided, and the prophets continued to bring forth this message of love.

The prophet Hosea said (Hosea 6:4-7),

4. What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

For your loyalty is like a morning cloud,

And like the dew which goes away early.

5. Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets;

I have slain them by the words of My mouth;

And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth.

6. For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,

And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

7. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;

There they have dealt treacherously against Me.

Is our society’s problem like that of Israel?

Do we love God so little, that the Word of God means so little to us, that we make ourselves deaf and blind to it?

Do we fail to understand that in our acts of disobedience to God we also express our lack of love, and our acts are really considered as being treacherous?

After the fall of the northern tribes, Jeremiah kept trying to make the people of Judah listen and change their hearts.

Listen to what he says: (Jeremiah 7:21-26)

21. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, "Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh.

22. "For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.

23. "But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.'

This is a love relationship, and not a law relationship.

This is living in the grace of God.

24. "Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward.

25. "Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them.

26. "Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did evil more than their fathers.

Do we realize that when we do evil things, or go against the will of God, that we have set aside our love for Him?

And if we have come to realize this, do we love God and our friends enough to listen to God, and un-stiffen our necks?

Do we love enough to lay down our lives, as an example for our friends?

The people of Judah didn't listen any more than most of the people in our community, and thus they were also led away into captivity.

And even during the captivity, Ezekiel continued to lay down his life for his friends, hoping that they would hear and respond to the words of God in a loving and positive manner.

Listen to what the Lord told him to say to the people (Ezekiel 33:23-26):

23. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying,

24. “Son of man, they who live in these waste places in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one, yet he possessed the land; so to us who are many the land has been given as a possession.’

25. “Therefore, say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “You eat meat with the blood in it, lift up your eyes to your idols as you shed blood. Should you then possess the land?

26. “You rely on your sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor's wife. Should you then possess the land?”’

Part of our loving God is loving the whole of His creation, which includes the animals, and all of the Bible verses we've been reading have been chastising the people for their wanton killing of the animals.

And, we believe that the one of the meaning of eating the meat with it's blood is saying that the people were killing the animals for their lust of flesh rather than for being repentant, and even being sorry for having to kill an animal for food when there was nothing else to eat.

Think of the way we live today; is it much different than it was then?

Our society wantonly tortures and kills billions of animals every year for food we do not need, and for which we show little or no remorse.

Our constant acts of war, terrorism,  killing, and mayhem, are further proof that we don't fully love the Lord our God or our neighbors.

Yet each and every one of us believes that we have a friend in Jesus.

Do we live like we do, every moment of every day?

If we really do love Him, shouldn't we try a little harder?

Shouldn't we be doing more to end the pain, suffering, and death in the world, or at least in our communities?

And each and every one of us has friends or family members who express little or no love for God.

Do we love them enough to live the life of love that God has given us, in order that they, too, might see the light?

Do we love enough to lay down our lives for our friends?

I pray so!

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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