“The way of the cross is paved with self-giving love.”
IMAGINE YOU ARE WALKING along a busy road crowded with people and vehicles. en you notice to your horror that while a man is crossing the road a speeding heavy truck is heading his way. e man seems oblivious of the impending fatal accident. Your throat dries up as you try to shout a warning. en everything freezes! – the vehicles and the people all stop suddenly in their tracks, as if someone had pressed the pause button. Even the gentle breeze dies suddenly.
You are the only one not aﬀected by the great pause, and you hear a voice speaking to you. “Do you see what is going to happen? e man is going to die in that accident, and nothing can be done about it.” As you stop to think of the impending horror, the voice interrupts your thoughts. “But there is one thing you can do.” You perk up, willing to try anything to save the man.
“You can exchange places with the man.”
You can hardly believe your ears. As you converse with the voice, it becomes clear that you are given a strange and unbelievable choice. You can take the place of the man, and save the man by dying in his place. e places would be exchanged and the scene will continue, except the man would be on the sidewalk and you would be in the middle of the road. e choice grips the depths of your soul, challenging all that you are and believe. Would you do it? Would you lay down your life for that man?
Imagine another scene that took place in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Crosses were being prepared for the criminals. Two were for thieves, one was for a bandit named Barabbas. Let’s focus on the third cross. Soon it will be another morning and Barabbas would be walking the streets of Jerusalem in a sorry state – beaten to a pulp, bleeding all the way, and publicly humiliated. He would be crucified on the cross to die an utterly shameful, lonely and painful death.
Jesus prays in the Garden, struggling with the question: “Will you take his place?” Beyond the thoughts of ending one’s earthly life in the gory death of the cross and breathing one’s last breaths in the background noise of a mocking and cruel crowd, the real struggles of Jesus had to do with unseen realities. He would be carrying the sin of the world and be separated from His Father by that sin – an experience He had never had, for as long as eternity stretched backwards.
If we return to the earlier thought experiment, we can imagine that if the person about to meet with an accident was our family member, perhaps we would more readily exchange places. What if it was a friend? Perhaps – for Jesus did say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”
(Jn 15:13). What if it was a stranger? Or a casual acquaintance, someone we meet from time to time – like the postman, barber or petrol station attendant? Most people would probably not be willing to exchange places. What if the man was an enemy? Who would lay down his life for his enemy? Probably never; one may in fact secretly rejoice that one’s enemy was going to get his just reward. Or at best just mutter “tough luck” and remain indiﬀerent.
How about Jesus? Scripture tells us that it is rare that anyone would die for a good and righteous man. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8). “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6) – for Barabbas, whose name means “son of a father”, a generic name that can be applied to every one of us. We all have sinned and have become ungodly. Jesus did more than die for family or friends. He died for the ungodly, for His enemies; and Scripture says that human beings have a mind that makes them enemies of God (Col 1:21). Jesus did not merely die for one enemy named Barabbas, but for the whole Barabbas race. For He exchanged His place for all our fatal places.
THAT CROSS was not just for Barabbas but it was every man’s cross. It was your cross and mine. Jesus took your place and mine. We should forever be thankful to the One who laid down His life for each of us. Life should be lived with that worshipful gratitude to the Lamb of God who, on His own accord, took our place.
Often we tend to overestimate our love for Jesus. Jesus told His disciples
“You are my friends” (Jn 15:14), just after declaring that a true friend would lay down his life for his friends. Jesus demonstrated His friendship by dying not just for His friends, but also His worst enemies. He now asks us, “Are you my friend? … Will you lay down your life for me?” Peter thought it was easy and declared he would do so. Jesus, knowing Peter’s impulsive ways and weaknesses, asked him “Will you really lay down your life for me?” (Jn 13:37-38). Subsequent failure helped Peter to mature and be restored to a new level of discipleship (Jn 21).
Will we lay down our lives for Jesus? e early martyrs said “yes” with their lives. Later, the desert monks said “yes” when they gave up everything to follow Jesus. Later still, missionaries said “yes” when they left security and home to sail to distant lands to preach the Gospel. Today we face the same challenge in our daily situations – in our homes, workplaces, churches and neighbourhoods. It calls for the death of self and the display of love that is willing to lay down life (making costly and painful sacrifices) for family, friends, strangers and even enemies.
Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Mt 5:44) and His follower Paul was willing to exchange (if it was possible) his blessings for the curses on his fellow Jews who were his enemies (Rom 9:3). e way of the cross is indeed paved with such self-giving love – found in Christ who wants to live in us.