The Power of Loving Sacrifice

It’s a day I will never forget. It was a special pilgrimage, a long time in the making. It had started more than three decades earlier when each Anzac Day at my grandparents’ home I would look through special memorabilia kept in an old Roses chocolate tin.

This was a treasured tin. It contained letters, a diary, medals, a wallet and other personal tokens of war. A small train ticket, still in one piece, always grabbed my attention. All these years later, it still does.

The one-way ticket took my great grandfather Harold Stanley Butler from Newcastle to the tragedy and horror of the Western Front in WWI. It was a small, paper ticket and yet it had made its way back to Australia in his small leather wallet, all in one piece.

Sadly, my great grandfather never made it home. He never made it back to Newcastle to his wife and baby boy – my grandfather – a very special man in my life. Harold was killed in May 1917 in a Belgium trench nicknamed by the soldiers as “The Only Way”. In a letter written to Harold’s wife Edith a few months after his death, a member of his company wrote from the field: “It may soften your grief a little to know that he died as he lived, a brave soldier.”

From an early age as I ruffled through the old Roses’ tin I would tell my grandfather, Tom, that one day I would go to Belgium, to Ploegstreet Wood, to where his Dad was buried. It took a lot longer than I expected, but some 91 years after his death I made it to the Strand Cemetery. It’s a day etched in my memory.

So many emotions filled my heart and soul. Here I was thanking a man I never knew. Here I was celebrating family legacy. Here I was sharing with Harold what a wonderful son he had left the world.

With symbols and signs of sacrifice all around me one couldn’t help but consider the potency and impact of sacrifice in our lives. Suddenly the Apostle John’s words were echoing in my mind, with a new sense of meaning and appreciation.

“No greater love has any man than to lay down his life for his friends” – John 15:13

As I sat at my great grandfather’s grave, the sun reflected on a large cross in the centre of the grass cemetery. With John’s words on my mind I was struck again by the amazing love and grace of our Creator, Father God and his personal experience of enduring the pain and horror of seeing his one and only Son executed as a sacrifice for a broken, sinful humanity.

That is what today – Good Friday as we call it – is all about. It’s a day that champions love, sacrifice, courage and commitment.

It’s a day that so powerfully reminds us of God’s immense, unconditional love. It’s a day that declares we matter so much to our Father God. He would give his absolute best – his own Son for us, so that the price of sin could be paid and that we might know grace, forgiveness, love and freedom in our lives.

And in Jesus we see absolute resolve to stay true to his Father’s will, despite what it would cost him.

My great grandfather died in a place called “The Only Way”. Jesus humbly allowed himself to be nailed to a Roman cross on a hill known as “The Place of the Skull” and he did so because he knew this was the only way for his Father to redeem and restore broken humanity. That is love. That is laying down your life for your friends!

Yes, today we celebrate the power of loving sacrifice. We are reminded that we are not alone. We look again at the Cross of Christ and we are reminded that God is for us. And more we are reminded and challenged anew of the difference sacrificial others-centred living makes in a world where the default is “me-first”, selfish living.

I am sure that my great grandfather had no idea what he was getting himself into when he travelled to the other side of the world. But he went with a resolve to serve and he paid the ultimate price.

Today I am struck again by the authenticity of God’s love. It’s not feel-good love. It’s not a shallow promise. It was demonstrated for all time in an historical event when his brave and courageous Son was executed for me and you. The Roman elite and the Jewish leaders thought finally they had dealt with this rebel who threatened the establishment. Little did they know, Sunday was coming! As it is for us this weekend.

But today – here on Friday – let us take the time to reflect again on what matters most in life. Be reminded of how much you matter to your Creator God. Remind yourself of what Jesus was willing to embrace for all of us in our brokenness. Remind yourself today that loving sacrifice still changes lives, families and communities today.

At the heart of Christ-like living is others! Loving others, serving others, sacrificing for others. And here’s the amazing result. As we do just that – embrace others-centred living – we open the door in our own lives to purpose, meaning and hope. As we seek to live a life that more and more reflects Jesus we shape a legacy that will last!

Scott Pilgrim