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John 11: 47-52
In 1867 some sensitive women of Columbus, Mississippi, decorated not only the graves of their own dead who had given
their lives in the great Civil War, which it just ended, but also the graves of Northern soldiers who were buried there.
This noble deed inspired others to do the same, and the annual custom eventually became our nationwide Memorial Day.
The Natural Experience of Man
- It has become a beautiful day of tribute, celebrated with music, praise, speeches, and the decorating of the graves
of those who have died in the wars of our nation.
- It has become an effective way of helping us remember those who have made it possible for us to be where we are
and have what we have today -- those who have paid the supreme sacrifice -- those who were expendable.
Humanity can almost be said to be divided into two classes: those who live the full, rich life,
and those who die to make the full life possible for others.
It remains to this day one of our most tragic facts of reality that some of us must be sacrificed for the rest of us.
Memorial Day vividly reminds us of this historic principle.
None of us doubts for a moment that we are citizens of the greatest republic in the history of man
because so many gave their lives to make it possible.
Hundreds of thousands of America's young men have died during America's wars.
In Saratoga and Yorktown, in Flanders Field and Gettysburg, in Normandy and Pearl Harbor, in Korea and Vietnam,
are buried in Arlington Cemetery and similar gardens around the world, the silent graves of more than a half-million Americans
are eloquent testimony that everything costs and freedom costs most of all.
Others beside the military have given their lives for our land, our liberty, and our health.
Every age and every area of life has had its "expendables;" people who had to lose that others may gain.
- Pioneers sacrificed the security of homeland to carve an empire out of the vast wilderness of America.
We must never forget that first group of patriots, who poorly clothed and half starved, untrained and badly equipped,
faced death in order to secure for us a nation.
- The scientists and inventors who braved the odds of nature and forged a giant industrial revolution had their share
of martyrs and heroes who gave themselves that others may have a better life.
- Medical progress has produced some of the world's noblest "expendables."
Consider the multitudes, who have suffered and died in the agony of disease and afflictions.
These suffering souls provided the incentive and the human laboratory for lifesaving experiments and discoveries.
- In the fields of education, business, politics, philosophy, art, religion, etc.., there have been the crusaders
who laid down their lives that others might continue theirs.
For some, the sacrifice of pleasure, freedom, position, or wealth was itself a type of dying for the sake of a principle
or the good of humanity.
The Supreme Example Is Jesus
- But, are they so expendable?
- Could we have done without them?
- Wasn't their very act of sacrifice more successful and more essential than all our little acts of selfish achievement?
In our text Jesus was being discussed by the chief priests and Pharisees who were almost panicky
because Jesus just kept on working miracles. (Verse 47)
They were afraid that the Jewish people were going to turn en masse to Jesus as Messiah and King.
They knew that this would appear as a political revolution to Rome and cause the destruction of Israel. (Verse 48)
Caiaphas, the high priest, rebuked them for their ignorance in practical affairs such as this. (Verse 49)
He declared blatantly and callously "that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people,
and that the whole nation perish not." (Verse 50)
Caiaphas was speaking consciously of the political problem Jesus presented.
Yet the words which he spoke were strangely not just related to his conscious purpose, nor did they even come from him
in the first place ("And this he spake not of himself.").
Even though Caiaphas was a disreputable and weak puppet priest, he still was Israel's spiritual leader,
and God's spirit was prophesying through his lips the glorious fact of Christ's vicarious death on the cross
for the sins of the world. (Vs. 51-52)
Jesus is history's supreme example of an "expendable."
Jesus became the expendable one.
- He died in order that we could live.
- He proved that a perfect life could be lived in an imperfect world.
- He revealed how far God would go to redeem lost humanity.
- He showed that God would forgive the darkest sins of men.
It has always seemed so.
- Think how Jesus loved life, how every blade of grass and every rose petal vibrated with life when He touched them.
- Think of His marvelous power over the universe He had created, and His pleasure at His control of it.
- Think of His compassionate love for people and His involvement in their every problem.
- Think of a great life He had to offer a sick world, a hungry world... and we stand amazed
at His willingness to be expendable.
Those who have the most to live for are often the quickest to give up their lives.
The most alert, sensitive, talented, and promising are usually the first to volunteer for front line duty.
John Wesley, a classical scholar and gifted with a virile mind, gave himself fully to God and consecrated
all his powers to God's service.
Possessed of a scholar's love for books, yet he spent most of his life in the saddle and in the active duties
of a most strenuous life.
With a passionate love for art, especially for music and architecture, he turned away from their charms
to blow the Gospel trumpet with all his might.
With a more than an ordinary longing for the sweets and comforts of human love, he rose above disappointments,
which would have crushed most men, forgot his "only-bleeding heart " (his own expression),
and gave himself unreservedly to the work of binding up the brokenhearted.
Visiting the beautiful grounds of an English nobleman, he said, "I, too, have a desire for these things;
but there is another world."
The High Calling of Christianity
The Christian message and meaning has been pitifully watered down.
The call of Christianity means no more to many than a call to a higher system of ethics, a call to higher morality,
or a call to organized religious activity.
Jesus never issued such calls.
The call of the Master was clearly a call from and to Calvary:
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt. 16:24)
Those early disciples knew that when a man decided to "take up his cross,"
he was not simply bearing a burden, he was dying for a cause.
All of the apostles were insulted by the enemies of their Master.
They were called to seal their doctrines with their blood and nobly did they bear the trial.
For almost the first 300 years, Christianity was forbidden.
- Matthew suffered martyrdom by being slain with a sword at a distant city of Ethiopia.
- Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in the classic land of Greece.
- John was put in a cauldron of boiling oil, but escaped death in a miraculous manner,
and was afterward branded at Patmos.
- Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward.
- James, the Greater, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
- James, the Less, was thrown from a lofty pinnacle of the temple, and then beaten to death with a fuller's club.
- Bartholomew was flayed alive.
- Andrew was bound to a cross, whence he preached to his persecutors until he died.
- Thomas was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel in the East Indies.
- Jude was shot to death with arrows.
- Matthias was first, stoned and then, beheaded.
- Barnabas of the Gentiles was stoned to death at Salonica.
- Paul, after various tortures and persecutions, was beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero.
Its adherents were publicly whipped, dragged by their heels through the streets until their brains ran out.
Their limbs were torn off, their ears and noses were cut off, and their eyes were dug out with sharp sticks
or burned out with hot irons.
Sharp knives were run under their fingernails.
Melted lead was poured over their bodies.
They were drowned, beheaded, crucified, ground between stones, torn by wild beasts, smothered in lime kilns,
scrapped to death by sharp shells, and killed almost daily.
So, do not be indifferent to this thing called Christianity.
It was created for us by the blood of Christ and preserved for us by the blood of martyrs.
A redeeming Christ has given us a future filled with hope.
So do not take lightly our Christianity, which cost the Son of God His life, and millions of His followers their lives.
All of us are not called upon to die heroically or sacrificially.
- While some are frantically grabbing for the last straw, others are giving up their life rafts.
- While some are demanding their rights and destroying those who endanger their position or pleasure,
others are magnanimously forfeiting all the rights and privileges that keep someone else from being happy.
We should never be ashamed that we are alive unless it has needlessly cost the life of another.
We ought to dedicate our lives to the highest and noblest dreams, and determine to live every second to the fullest.
After all, that is what they -- all of them, from the soldiers to the Saviour -- would want us to do with the life
and freedom that they have given us.
Some of us may be called on to sacrifice our pride, our pleasure, our position, our prosperity, perhaps even our lives.
If we are so called, let us consider ourselves especially blessed that God has seen something in us worthy of being used
as His expendables.
Some years ago, when the ship, the Empress of Ireland, went down with 130 Salvation Army officers on board,
109 officers were drowned, and not one body that was picked up had on a life preserver.
The few survivors told how the Salvation Army officers, realizing that there were not enough life preservers for all,
took off their lifejackets and strapped them on everyone, even upon strongmen, saying,
"I can die better then you can"; and from the deck of that sinking ship flung their battle cry around the world
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
Email Dr. White at firstname.lastname@example.org