Are you willing to die for Jesus?

John 3:16

For the last 10 days, we all have watched with great horror and trepidation the terrifying events in Japan.

A 9.0 earthquake, 100 times worse than the earthquake in Haiti.

A tsunami that breached every wall built to defend against it.

Entire small towns literally erased from the face of the earth.

Up to 17,000 people believed dead, some washed out to sea, never to be found.

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced, without sufficient food, water, medicine, or shelter.

And, of course, the nuclear power plants that are melting down, or in the process of melting down.

Fukushim Daiichi nuclear power plants

The rods that cannot be cooled.

The breaches in the containment walls for spent fuel.

The rising radiation readings.

Not only the Japanese but the entire world lives in fear of the latter. Scientists around the world are warning that the radiation will spread, not just across the Pacific to the United States, but from the United States over the Atlantic to Europe.

And yet … there are stories of redemption and hope coming out of Japan as well. Stories of babies being rescued days after the quake, of families being reunited, of those thought lost at sea forever found. And today comes news of a 16-year-old boy and his 80-year-old grandmother being rescued after being trapped in the ruins for nine days.

But the most powerful story of all is that of the nuclear power plant workers, engineers and others, who have volunteered – volunteered – to go back to work, to step into the infernos of radiation hell, risking their lives so that others might live.

Just last Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported a Twitter message “by a woman who Tweeted with pride – and anguish – that her father, just six months from retirement, had decided to offer his help.”

““I fought back tears when I heard father, who is to retire in a half a year, volunteered to go,” the message read.

““He said, ‘The future of nuclear power generation depends on how we’ll cope with this. I’ll go with a sense of mission’ … I’ve never been more proud of him,” she added.”[1]

Her father, 59 years old, who worked for the nuclear industry for four decades, is willing to go back into the inferno, where the radiations readings are rising and a total meltdown is feared, so that others might live.

Risking your life to give life to others is the focus not only of this morning’s passage from John’s Gospel, it is the focus of our lives.

We hear of the brave nuclear power plant workers and we are in awe – Oh, my, we think. How brave they are. They are sacrificing for us!

But do we think the same when we hear this morning’s Gospel? Are we in awe when we hear of the sacrifice God made for us? The sacrifice where God sent himself as a sacrifice for us?

Go anywhere in the world where the Gospel is known, and this is the passage you will hear preached, over and over again.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

It is the best known, most-quoted verse in the entire Bible.

But are we in awe of that verse and what it means to us? Is the news of God’s willingness to sacrifice for us as awe-inspiring as the news of Japanese nuclear power plant workers’ willingness to sacrifice their lives for us? Does it make us fall to our knees in gratitude, or jump with joy for the good news that it bears?

There’s no doubt about it, my friends: We are hearing good news this morning!

And anywhere you go in the world, you will hear people proclaiming it to us.

Because it speaks truth.

Because it gives hope.

Because it has power.

Notice, if you please, that never once does God ask us if we want God to give us this incredible gift.[2]

Just as God never asked Abram if he wanted to go on a journey to a strange place (with no directions, no end point, just “the land that I will show you,” and no, you can’t have a GPS to guide you, because it hasn’t been invented yet!), God never asks whether we wish to be saved, whether we wish to have life eternal.

God simply acts.

God sends his Son, his only-begotten Son, to be born as one of us, to live as one of us with us, to suffer as we suffer, to rejoice as we rejoice, and to die as we die … and not as we die, because Jesus died for us.

It is an incredible sacrifice that God makes …

… because God loves us.

Each of us and all of us.

From before time began to the ages of ages.

God … loves … us.

Now, we could, if you wanted, spend some time discussing Nicodemus, the Pharisee and leader of the Jews who came in fear and trembling to meet with Jesus in the dark of the night, wondering whether this rabbi was the one for whom the Jews waited.

Or we could, if you wanted, spend more time debating how to translate gennethé anáothen, which could mean “born again,” “born anew” or “born from above.” (Trust me, this is a matter of great debate to some Christians. There are thousands of Christians out there who will tell you that if you are not “born again” according to their definition, you are not a Christian, and you are going to hell!)

Or we could, if you wanted, spend even more time talking about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness and how the Son of Man has to be lifted up as well, and debate whether that is allegorical or metaphorical (I am well aware that I am on a university campus, and these kinds of discussions take place all the time).

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to this passage, this story of Nicodemus’ fearful visit to Jesus in the middle of the night.

But those, my friends, are nothing but side paths to take if we wish to avoid the main point of this passage, which is this:

God loves us so much God that God sacrificed his Son –God sacrificed himself! – for … us!

When we focus on this – on God’s willingness to sacrifice for us – when we go down this path – we end up in a very hard place.

Because then we have to ask ourselves several questions, questions that are hard, questions that make us uncomfortable, but ones that we need to address if we indeed want to be true disciples of Jesus.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is this:

Do we believe that God loves us?

Do we?


If we answer yes to that, we have to ask ourselves a second one:

Do we believe that Jesus died for us?

Do we?

Do we really believe that Jesus died for each of us, personally?

These are important questions, because if we answer “Yes” to those questions, then we have to confront the big question, the question of our lives:

Are we willing to die for Jesus?

Are … we … willing … to … die … for … Jesus?

Because, my friends, that is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. That is what it means when we say we want to follow Jesus.

God loves us so much that without asking us, without so much as a by-your-leave, God sent his Son, his only Son, to die for us.

And God wants to know:

Are we willing to die for Jesus?

Are we willing to set aside those things that get in our way of loving God with all our heart and soul and strength so that we can really love God?

Are we willing to set aside those things that get in our way of loving our neighbors, not just as ourselves – because trust me, there are days when I do not love myself, and those are the days when it’s easy for me not to love my neighbor either – but as Jesus loves us?

… If we are willing to do those things – to set aside our pride, our envy, our anger, our greed, our need to be right all the time, our feelings of superiority …

… If we are willing to put those down and walk in love as Christ loved us, to respect the dignity of every human being, to love our enemies, to care for the weak, cure the sick, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute, to make the lame leap for joy, to set the prisoners free, to proclaim the year of the Lord not every 50 years but every year …

… If we are willing to do all those things, to, in essence die to our old ways, die to the ways of a society that does not care about the weak, that offers them up as sacrifices so that it can have more, more, more!

… If we are willing to do all this and more, all for the love of God, then … then! … we can answer: Yes.

Yes, I am willing to die for Jesus.

Because Jesus died for me.

Make no mistake.

God is not asking us whether we want to be loved.

God is not asking us whether we deserve to be loved.

God simply … wildly … radically … inexplicably … inexhaustibly … love us.

So much that God sacrificed his beloved son for us.

Are we willing to do the same?

Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves – for each other and for God?

Those nuclear power plant workers who are walking into the hell of failing nuclear reactors right now? They are doing this, they are sacrificing themselves, so that we might live.

Would we be willing to do the same, to sacrifice ourselves for others?

God sacrificed God’s self for us so that we might have life eternal.

Are we willing to sacrifice … for God?


A sermon preached on the Second Sunday in Lent, 20 March 2011 Year A, at R.E. Lee Memorial Parish, Lexington, Va.

[1] Entire story found at by Agence France-Presse, 17 March 2011.


[2] From Like It or Not!, Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, on,, posted 13 March 2011.



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