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Thursday, May 28, 2009

“No One Has Love Greater Than This”

“LOOK! The man!” With those words, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate presents Jesus Christ to the angry mob gathered outside the governor’s palace at dawn on Passover of 33 C.E. (John 19:5) Just a few days earlier, Jesus was hailed by the crowds when he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the divinely appointed King. On this night, however, the hostile crowd has a very different view of him. Jesus is decked with a purple robe like that worn by royalty, and he has a crown upon his head. But the robe, covering the ribbons of bleeding flesh on his scourged back, and the crown, braided of thorns and pressed into his now-bloodied scalp, are in mockery of his royal status. The people, incited by the chief priests, reject the battered man standing before them. The priests shout: “Impale him! Impale him!” With murder in their hearts, the people cry out: “He ought to die.”—John 19:1-7. With dignity and courage, Jesus endures the humiliation and suffering uncomplainingly. He is fully prepared to die. Later that Passover Day, he willingly submits to a painful death on a torture stake.—John 19:17, 18, 30. By surrendering his life, Jesus proved himself a real friend to his followers. “No one has love greater than this,” he said, “that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) That raises some important questions. Was it really necessary for Jesus to go through all that suffering and then to die? Why was he willing to do so? As “his friends” and followers, how can we imitate his example?

Why Was It Necessary for Jesus to Suffer and Die?

As the promised Messiah, Jesus knew what to expect. He was aware of the many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that foretold in detail the Messiah’s suffering and death. (Isaiah 53:3-7, 12; Daniel 9:26) More than once, he prepared his disciples for the trials that awaited him. (Mark 8:31; 9:31) On the way to Jerusalem for his final Passover, he specifically told his apostles: “The Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him to men of the nations, and they will make fun of him and will spit upon him and scourge him and kill him.” (Mark 10:33, 34) These were no empty words. As we have seen, Jesus was indeed made fun of, spit upon, scourged, and killed. Why, though, was it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die? For several profoundly significant reasons. First, by keeping loyal, Jesus would prove his integrity and uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty. Recall that Satan falsely claimed that humans serve God only out of selfish interest. (Job 2:1-5) By remaining faithful “as far as death . . . on a torture stake,” Jesus gave the most conclusive answer possible to Satan’s baseless charge. (Philippians 2:8; Proverbs 27:11) Second, the Messiah’s suffering and death would provide atonement for the sins of others. (Isaiah 53:5, 10; Daniel 9:24) Jesus gave “his soul a ransom in exchange for many,” opening the way for us to have an approved relationship with God. (Matthew 20:28) Third, by enduring all manner of hardships and suffering, Jesus was “tested in all respects like ourselves.” He is thus a compassionate High Priest, one who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses.”—Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:15.

Why Was Jesus Willing to Give His Life?

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To put into perspective what Jesus was willing to do, think about this: What man would leave his family and home and move to a foreign land if he knew that most of its inhabitants would reject him, that he would be subjected to humiliation and suffering, and that he would finally be murdered? Consider now what Jesus did. Before coming to earth, he had a favored position in the heavens alongside his Father. Yet, Jesus willingly left his heavenly home and came to earth as a human. He made this move, knowing that he would be rejected by the majority and that he would be subjected to cruel humiliation, intense suffering, and a painful death. (Philippians 2:5-7) What motivated Jesus to make such a sacrifice? Above all, Jesus was impelled by deep love for his Father. Jesus’ endurance was evidence of his love for Jehovah. That love caused Jesus to be concerned about his Father’s name and reputation. (Matthew 6:9; John 17:1-6, 26) More than anything, Jesus wanted to see his Father’s name cleared of the reproach that had been heaped upon it. Jesus thus counted it the highest honor and privilege to suffer for righteousness’ sake, for he knew that his integrity would play a part in sanctifying his Father’s good and beautiful name.—1 Chronicles 29:13. Jesus had another motive for laying down his life—love for humankind. This is a love that goes back to the very beginning of human history. Long before Jesus came to earth, the Bible reveals that he felt this way: “The things I was fond of were with the sons of men.” (Proverbs 8:30, 31) His love was clearly evident when he was on earth. As we saw in the preceding three chapters of this book, in many ways Jesus showed his love for humans in general and for his followers in particular. But on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., he willingly gave his soul in our behalf. (John 10:11) Truly, there was no greater way for him to demonstrate his love for us. Are we to imitate him in this regard? Yes. In fact, we are commanded to do so.

“Love One Another . . . as I Have Loved You”

The night before he died, Jesus told his closest disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) “Love one another”—why is that “a new commandment”? The Mosaic Law had already commanded: “You must love your fellow [or, neighbor] as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) But the new commandment calls for a greater love, a love that would move us to give our own life in behalf of others. Jesus himself made this clear when he said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:12, 13) The new commandment, in effect, says: “Love others, not as yourself, but more than yourself.” By his life and death, Jesus certainly exemplified such love. - Published by the WTB&TS

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