If you've spent any time studying the sacrifice of Jesus, you've no doubt run across the verse in Romans 5 that reads, Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (7-8)
The verse is meant to show God's inexplicable love, that He would come in perfect flesh and sacrifice something purely righteous for a lesser man. But if you're anything like me, you have too long read this verse and used it to consider a very important question in your own life:
Would I be willing to die for a good man? I mean, if he was especially good.
It's easy to come off sounding righteous in your head. Like yeah, if there were a really good man somewhere and it's me or him, of course I'm going to go. Of course I'd be willing to die to give a greater man a chance. Sounds noble, right? Not quite. Because logic like this makes you think you are the lesser man. It's not a sacrifice as much as a suicide. It's not giving yourself up for his sake; it's giving up on yourself because you sense in your heart that you have fallen short. You start to twist in your mind these images of all these people who are better than you, magnify your own depravity, and come to the conclusion that a good man deserves another chance and maybe...probably...you don't.
Do you get how defeating that is? And how contrary it is to God's love?
When Jesus laid down His life, it was not because He considered Himself a lesser man. It was not because you or I were particularly deserving, more deserving, of another chance than the Messiah. It was not because we were about to do something He knew He could not do. It was because He had the one thing that so many of us lack, and His death was mercy to give us a chance at finding it.
What is that thing? Absolute faith.
Total confidence. Unshakable assurance. Complete contentment. He lived His life in His Father's hands, and He knew where He was going when His flesh was broken. He knew what was coming after this. He knew Who was coming after Him. He looked around at the eyes in the crowd, and He understood that not one other man in the crowd could say that. Not one other man knew what laid on the other side of the Cross. Not one other man was in a position to die.
(And if you think you're so righteous thinking you might die for a better man, consider this: the Bible gives us no stories of men or women who offered to take Christ's place. No one fought to the hill of Golgotha. No one stepped in the way. No one sacrificed himself to save the Lord. The closest we come is Peter, who was willing to kill for a good man but was not willing to die in His place. If ever there was a better man....)
Christ was unafraid. He was rock solid. He didn't think less of Himself; He thought of Himself less than He thought of the questioning eyes that stood before Him. In faith, He died and left a witness to the world. Not only showing how to live, not only showing how to die, but showing how to trust. That's the part of Jesus we struggle so often to define or describe - His absolute trust in His Father - but this is that moment. This is trust. I'm not sure there's another way to teach that.
Imagine this: Imagine a man taking God's place. Imagine a man shouting from the crowd, "I surrender myself...if only you will let Him live." Imagine Bill carrying the Cross. Imagine blood pouring from Bill's hands. Imagine Bill's naked body hanging on a tree. And tell me you're not thankful to Bill for putting himself in that place and allowing Jesus to live longer with you.
But what is Jesus going to teach you with another few days, another few months, another few years? What is He going to tell you that He hasn't already said? What isn't covered in His absolute love? The answer is the demonstration of His faith. Because we all know people who can talk a good game, but unless you can do it, your words are hollow. Jesus hallowed His words by dying. He willingly gave Himself up, the better man, for you, the lesser man, because it was the only way you would see faith. And He could see in your eyes you didn't know it.
That's what I try to think of when I wonder whether I would die for a good man. I don't know that I would. It sounds unholy, maybe, but it's never that the better man should live and the lesser man should die. What I'm looking at is your eyes. And if you still have the question that I know the answer to, then I surrender myself in the hopes that you will find the answer. That's really what it is, I think.
Because I'm no better man. I just have faith. And I love you.