The Freedom of Calvary
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
This day we’ve been asked by President Reagan to remember the men that died in the incident in the Middle East. This being Memorial Day weekend we normally also think of them in connection with a verse that we often quote. In a way we are satisfied to quote it and in some ways we’re uncomfortable quoting it. It’s for that reason that I think it’s good to look at it in connection with the men who died during the past week or so.
It’s John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. ” In one sense it’s right to quote it in regard to the men that died but really it’s taken out of context. It’s just a statement to the effect that you can’t show greater love for anybody than laying your life down for them. In fairness to those men, they certainly laid down their life.
Now it is a little difficult in that one of the chaplains had said, “they had their lives stolen from them.” And so, in many ways they did not choose to lay down their life the way Jesus said, “I lay down my life of my own accord. No one takes it from me”. In a sense, their life was taken from them and perhaps if they had had their choice, they would have preferred not to give it.
So, there is a sense in which it differs there. Nevertheless loved ones, they have given their lives and they are now dead. They did die in service of their country. Undoubtedly all of us here realize that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. All that is required for the progress of evil is that good men do nothing. If we did not have our ships there and our men there, undoubtedly it would be a tinderbox that would blow us all sky high.
So there is a real sense in which those men died for us and have given their lives so that we could do what we want these days. Many of us who are from Europe realize in America, we have great luxury. We are separated from everybody by two oceans. It is hard for them to get at us. It’s a little easier now with the large missiles, but it’s still difficult for them to get at us. Often we owe our safety, our protection and the relative paradise in which we live here in this country, to men like those who are guarding us at the very edges and fringes of our borders.
So it is important to think of those men and to thank God for them and to respect them for what they did. In some real sense, they have shown love to us even though they don’t know us. It’s interesting too to think of how things are with them now. None of us know exactly where they all are because we don’t know where they are spiritually in their own lives. But you can certainly see that their lives are just cut — like that. And suddenly you go from being in the position where you’re writing to your wife about the house and about painting it this spring or about putting in a new furnace in the winter — suddenly that doesn’t exist for you anymore. There’s no more house, there’s no more furnace, there’s no more need to paint the siding this spring.
Of course, all the thoughts that they had the week before about sending money home to make sure it goes into this insurance program and that insurance program, suddenly you’re gone. Your life is gone. There’s no point in putting more money in the insurance program. Or if you were going to send something home to put in the mutual fund – the mutual fund doesn’t exist for you anymore; you’re not concerned about it. Two weeks ago you can imagine them thinking about the car and writing home to
tell the wife or the son what they should do about the automobile — whether they should trade it in or whether they should repair and paint it. Suddenly, all that is gone.
If they were thinking two weeks ago about what they were going to do when they got out of the Navy and what they were going to do after they’re retired – suddenly it’s all blown away. All the things that concerned them about the stuff they owned or the stuff they were going to try to own, all the plans for whether they were going to sell real estate after they retired from the Navy or what they were going to do in order to make a little more money, suddenly it’s just all cut off.
Wherever they are, their mind is certainly freed from all of that. It’s as if the world of things just doesn’t exist. No worries about the house, no concern about getting another car, no concern about what they’re going to do after they retire. If they were young men, they were probably like the rest of us men and women.
Two weeks ago, they were all concerned about things like promotion and where they were on the ladder. Or they were concerned about what the other guys in the bunk opposite thought of them. They were concerned about how they appeared to the others and what kind of reputation they had and whether they were friends or whether they were popular or whether they were unpopular. You can imagine some of them even before the missile actually hit the ship having some thoughts of, “What does so and so think of me? Oh I wish I were like them”. And suddenly it’s all gone — like that.
No relationships to bother about, no concern about whether this person thinks well of you or doesn’t think well of you, no concern about where you stand on the little ladder. There’s no concern about whether somebody is better thought of than you. There’s no trouble about what somebody is saying about you behind your back. Suddenly it’s all gone. It’s strange. Whatever they were hoping to do that weekend; whether to get drunk and blot it all out or to play tennis or whether they were hoping to go swimming or do something for a little bit of a lift and happiness — all that’s gone too.
Whatever things they were hoping to experience the next week to make a little happiness for themselves, that’s all gone. In a strange way, they’re free, aren’t they? I know you’re thinking, “Yes, but where are they?” If they didn’t know God then I agree with you that’s not a happy thought. But in some ways, they’re strangely free, aren’t they? They are free from a lot of the things that bother a lot of us because those are the things that we so often fill our lives with. Think of what you’re thinking of today. So often it is, “Well, what am I going to do about the house?” or “What am I going to do about the money I need next week?” or “What am I going to do about the car?”
So often it is “What does so and so think of me?” Or “Where do I fit in the scale of important people?” So often it is, whatever we think we can do tomorrow to make a little happiness for ourselves. Suddenly, death just takes care of all that. If you can put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it’s like, it’s an interesting kind of vacuum they must be in, isn’t it?
In some ways, it’s free. In some ways, it’s freer. You can step back and start taking initiatives that you want to take. Suddenly you are not reacting to this and reacting to that. You are not responding to this need and responding to that need. You are not squeezed by this necessity and by that necessity. Suddenly you’re free. You can step back from life. You can look at it and you can start doing FREE — in a vacuum — what you really think you ought to do.
I don’t know how many of you are in a situation that many of us are in. After you pass through a few years in life, it seems that you get so many entanglements so that in a strange way, you’re not
free. Some of us have said, “Everything you own, owns you.” Everything you own seems to occupy more of your time to look after. It’s interesting isn’t it that life seems to go like that.
You brought nothing into the world and as a little child you were strangely free. You didn’t have an insurance policy to bother you. You didn’t have a car to look after. Then you get up to that point when you have cars and yards and lawn mowers and plumbing to go wrong and all the other things. Then as you get old you have to sell the big house. You get back down and gradually you take nothing out of this world.
It’s interesting that at those two extremes you are in a sense freer. In this little bit, we’re like so many caretakers. I used to joke with my wife when we lived in a certain house. I would drive out in the morning and see the happy old dogs all sitting at their doors. I would say to her, “You know the dogs are the only ones that enjoy this real estate. All the rest of us just pay for it. But they seem to sit there and enjoy it.” For so many of us, we’re driven and pressed by the things that surround us and by their attachments.
You may smile and say, “Well, I’d rather have those attachments and be breathing than none of the attachments and not be breathing.” It would be great to be free of the attachments and be breathing, wouldn’t it? That would be great. If you could be free of the attachments and still be breathing. That’s why that verse has so much meaning.
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That’s what Jesus achieved for you. It may be unbelievable to you but He separated the strong possessive tendencies of your personality that attach you to your possessions. He separated that from the possessions. He separated those strong urges that at times tie knots in your stomach and make you concerned with what people are thinking of you and with your reputation — whether they approve of you or criticize you. He took those tendencies inside you — those strong urges to want people to think well of you and He separated them from the people that you know.
Then He took from you that entire attitude inside you that tries to make itself happy by having things turn out right. He took all those things and those attitudes into Himself and He destroyed them in Himself for you. So that He actually died for you. He actually did for you what the Navy men had to do themselves last week. He actually died for you. He did that dying for you so that you are miraculously free from all the things that normally concern you in this life. He died so that actually you could live free from worrying about your possessions.
You could, if you wanted to — you could. He has died for you to them (your possessions). He has taken all those urgings and possessiveness that you have and destroyed them in Himself. You could actually live free from those if you decided today to do it. There’s something inside you that says, “No, no. If I don’t look after that house, if I don’t look after those mutual funds (multiply them, take care of them, look after them and think about them all day and everyday), I’ll be lost when it comes to retirement.” He took all that. He destroyed it in Himself and if you chose not to do that, He would provide for you.
In other words, Jesus died for you. He took you into Himself and He destroyed all those things in you that you’re normally preoccupied with. It’s possible for you to live free as those Navy men now live. It’s possible for you to live free, by faith from this day forward. Jesus has died for you in regard to those things. He has taken all the things inside you that make your life slavery and He has destroyed them in Himself. You are able to live free from them now.
So in an amazing way, each one of us is able to live as free from our possessions, from our reputations, from even the circumstances that we depend on for our happiness. Each one of us is able to live as free from those things as those dear guys are now and you can do it today. Normally most of us respond, “Yes, they’re free but I wouldn’t like that kind of freedom. Yet I would like to be free from all the preoccupation I have with these things.”
“I recognize what you say — probably 85 percent of my time is taken up in looking after my possessions and getting more possessions. Then 10 percent of it is taken up with what everybody thinks of me and how I can get them to think better of me. Another 5 percent is taken up with how I arrange my life this next week so that I’ll be happy. I must admit it would be nice to be free. I am almost so enslaved that I don’t know what I’d do with my time if I hadn’t all those things to look after. But I think it would be nice to be as free as those men are now.” Loved ones, that’s the meaning of Calvary.
Jesus has taken you with all your attitudes that are dependent on this world into Himself and has crucified them in Himself on Calvary. It’s possible for you to live as if you’re dead. If you say, “Yes, but looking after those things, that’s the only way I am able to stay alive.” N0 — God will take care of those things. God will provide for you. Your security does not depend on the things that you have, on the money and the job and the house and the stocks and shares.
Your security depends on your dear Father who is now looking after those Navy men. Who do you think is watching over them now? Wherever they are, who do you think is watching over them without the aid of yards and lawn mowers and houses? There’s a conscious life beyond houses, beyond stocks and shares, beyond money and bank accounts. It’s a life that is governed by a Father that loves His people.
There is a security in your reputation and in your sense of worth and value that is beyond what the rest of us think of you. Those dear men still have value. Even though their friends, and wives and children are nowhere near them to make them think they’re great fathers, they still have value. That’s because there’s a Creator in this universe who is the one that finally settles the value of each man and woman. That dear Creator has set your value. Your sense of worth and value comes from His opinion of you.
So it’s possible to live in the strange world of freedom that comes from death. It’s possible to live in it in this present life. Because Jesus has died for you — He has died the death for you. If you believe that you have died with Him then you begin to enter into a life that is free from those concerns. So as we remember the men that died, would you remember that this dear book says, “You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” You enter into real life when you live like that. Let us pray.
Dear Father, we thank You for the dear men that died and Lord we thank You solemnly for all men and women that have died so that our liberty would be preserved and so that we’re able to be here today. Then Lord God we thank you that death is not the end. There is a life beyond death. We thank You that that is a life that is free from all the burdensome preoccupations that we have with our possessions, with our reputations and even with our own happiness.
We thank You Lord that there is a life there that is freed from those things and that lives above them. Father we bow before you and thank You that the only way into that liberty is death. In Jesus
we experienced that death. We thank You Father that in Jesus, You have separated us from these things. You, our dear Father, are able to sustain our lives independent of our possessions, independent of our circumstances and independent of our reputations.
Father, we would step into death this day. We thank you that Jesus has died to this world on our behalf and that we have died with Him to this world. Father, we now affirm what you did for us and to us in Jesus. We step into death today into the same freedom that our dear friends have entered except that we have this tremendous privilege of continuing alive here on this earth to live in liberty and in freedom from it. We will live in trust and dependence on you only.
We commit ourselves Father to living in the full liberty that Your Son Jesus has died to make available to us. We do this in His name and for His glory. Amen.