A few weeks ago I watched an incredible war film called ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ which was based on the actual construction of the original bridge on the River Kwai during WWII, by British prisoners who were taken captive at a Japanese prison camp in Burma. Ernest Gordon, a soldier who helped build this bridge and who survived the war, tells a story that relates to his experiences in this prison camp in his book ‘Miracle on the River Kwai’. Under the strain of captivity the soldiers had degenerated to barbarous behaviour, but one afternoon something happened.
“A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot . . . It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point. The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! . . . The incident had a profound effect. . . The men began to treat each other like brothers.”
I have often wondered what motivates people to perform such heroic and selfless acts for the good of others. I’m sure that you would agree that without love such sacrifice would be impossible. Where does this built-in principle of love come from? 1 John 3:16 speaks directly about the foundation of this principle when it says “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” The Bible tells us that the reason people have the capacity to sacrifice their lives for others in the name of love is because of the ultimate example of love found in Jesus Christ. His sacrifice of love set the precedent for how we ought to love each other. Now we would be prepared to die for someone who we love right? But what if we were called upon to die for someone who we knew was not worthy of our sacrifice. Would we still be willing to make that choice? Most, if not all, would be opposed to the very idea. And yet this is what sets the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross apart from all other earthly ones. Listen to what Romans 5:6-8 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die. 8But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Read verses 6-7 again. Does it say that Jesus died for only good and innocent people? No! We might be prepared to die for a good person, but Jesus died for the worst of the worse. He died for the weak (helpless), the ungodly and sinners. In v10 of the same chapter Paul goes so far as to say that Jesus died for His enemies! Friends these characteristics describe each one of us. Romans 3:10-12 pronounces us all guilty and condemned before God. The salvation that God offers us is not based on who we are and what we have done but is based on His love for us. In other words, we cannot do anything ourselves to appease our death sentence before God. Therefore He needed to do something for us. Why would Jesus then sacrifice Himself for people who He knew were His enemies? Firstly because God is love (1 John 4:8). Secondly because sinners are at war with God (Romans 5:10). They needed a peace treaty so that they could be reconciled to God. Reconciliation has the idea that the barrier (sin) between sinners and God has been removed.
Jesus, being the qualified second patient zero or better God-man King, reconciled us to God by sacrificing His life for ours. In doing so, God was able to remove the obstacle of sin that separated us from Him and changed our relationship from one of war to one of peace (Romans 5:9-11). Jesus became our substitute on the cross. We deserved to die for our sins but He died in our place. He shed His blood as the ultimate payment for our wrongdoings so that we could go free (John 8:36). The Bible calls this new freedom ‘justified’. It means that God no longer sees us as guilty enemies because of our sins but as righteous friends that are no longer at war with Him.
Will you remain at war with Him or choose to accept His peace treaty in Jesus Christ? The war has already been won, but you need to hold up your white flag of surrender by acknowledging your sin and accepting His death and resurrection on your behalf (Romans 5:1,9; Romans 10:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5).