Someone Worth Dying For
I read to you from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s a passage which is poetic in nature, as Paul rises to the heights in his description of the one we call Jesus. “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, and being of full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit. But in humility, count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him that name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and even under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone, be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh God, our rock and our Redeemer, amen.
Here is my thesis for today’s sermon. We all tend to be like those whom we follow. We all tend to pattern ourselves after that to which we owe our ultimate allegiance. You know how it is, the dynamic president of a large company places the impress of his personality upon the company as a whole, even in many cases, upon the lives of the employees. A charismatic leader like Mao Tse-Tung can permanently change the face of a land as immense as that of China. Parents become the image after which their children model themselves. A good teacher is going to be mirrored in generation after generation of students. It’s true, we do all tend to become like those we follow.
And because that’s true, there are many people who would suggest to you today that the greatest problem in our world today is that there are so many people who have not yet decided whom they will follow. There are so many people in our world today who are looking for some great ideal, some noble cause, some consuming purpose to which they can ultimately commit themselves.
You know, I’m not sure that anyone could say it any better than one of our very own college students who just a few months back now, in a conversation we were having together, said to me, “I suppose,” he said, “that it would be relatively easy for me to jot down on a list some things that are worth living for. But what I really want to know is if there is anything or anyone worth dying for.” Whoo, that’s a heavy question. Anyone worth dying for?
Well, his comment to me has moved me to talk with you about our search for leadership in life. And the fact of the matter is that when you get right down to it, there are only three alternatives. There are only three leaders whom you can choose to follow in your life, just three, that’s all, just three.
The first leader you can choose to follow is yourself.
That’s right. You can build your life only upon and in and around yourself. You can make your own life your own ultimate concern. You can determine that you will be – well, how is it that some people call it? – like a rugged individualist.
You can have the same attitude that led William Ernest Henley to write his poem “Invictus,” “Out of the night that covers me black as a pit from pole to pole. I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Oh, you know when you hear that, it sounds so brave, so courageous, so noble, so admirable now, doesn’t it? But if we think seriously about it for a moment, if we are really honest with ourselves, we are soon going to realize that that kind of attitude is absolutely foolish. Because you see, the person who builds his life about himself, the person who makes his ultimate concern in life his own life, that person builds his life in a room with 1,000 mirrors. Oh, everywhere he goes, there are 2,000 hands there to greet him, there are 1,000 smiles to reflect his happiness, and there are 2,000 eyes to weep when he’s sad, but the tragedy is that every one of those hands is his hand, every one of those smiles is his smile, every one of those tears, his tears. And the fact of the matter is that life becomes nothing more than simply a reflection of yourself. My, that’s very sad.
Mark this down, the seas of life are too broad for anyone to sail them all alone. The oceans of our dealings with one another are entirely too rough for anyone to stay at his own helm all of the time. For sooner or later that person will be sunk by loneliness or sucked under by wasted opportunity or smashed to pieces on the rocks of someone else’s attempt at rugged individualism.
Take the case of Absalom, for example. You can read his story in the second book of Samuel, the 18th chapter. Absalom was the son of a king, King David. He had a great mind. He was perhaps even more brilliant than his father. And he knew how to use that mind for his own purposes. He also had a marvelously winsome personality, and he attracted other people to him by the droves, and he enjoyed manipulating those other people. He was devilishly handsome, and he was inordinately proud of that fact. He was in the driver’s seat in life, or so it seemed, looking in from the outside. But at that point, Absalom made a fatal mistake. He decided that he alone would control his life. And so he turned away from God. And he turned away from his father. And he proceeded to organize a revolt designed to drive his father David off the throne of Israel, that he might have it for himself, that he then might not rule just his own life but the lives of everyone else as well. And in the ensuing battle where the tide turned against Absalom really for the first time in his life, his response was to wheel his horse around and begin to run away in fear for his life. Now, as he fled, going wide open on horseback, his long flowing hair which he so dearly loved, his long flowing hair got all tangled up in the branches of a tree and the horse simply ran out from under him and left him dangling there in midair, flashing and flailing all about, flashing and flailing, that is, until one of David’s soldiers plunged three quick darts into his heart. Absalom lived only for himself. He ruled a very small kingdom, his own life. And he brought that kingdom to terrible destruction.
Or, take the case of Thomas Hobbes, you may know that name, he’s a famous philosopher, a political theorist, some people call him the father of modern psychology. He was a man who lived only for himself. And you know what he said right before he died, just minutes now before he died? Listen to his final words. He said, “I am looking for a hole to crawl out of the world into.” You tell me, is that the cry of victory or the whimper of defeat? Is that an affirmation of triumph or the sob of the conquered? “I am the master of my fate. I, yes, am the captain of my soul.” You can say that if you like. You can choose to make yourself your ultimate concern in life. You can spend all of your days looking after number one. But the testimony of Scripture and the lesson of history is simply this: God help you if you do.
Now, there is a second leader you can choose to follow in life. It is the leadership of the crowd.
Oh, in the society of which we are a part, there is a terrible pressure exerted upon us to conform, to be like everyone else. And because we want to be accepted, we want to be loved, we want to be a part of what’s going on because that’s the way we are, so many times we surrender to the pressure of the crowd. I like the way one modern writer tried to express it. He said, “I wear the right suit, I drive the right car, I work for the right company, I attend the right church, I belong to the right club, I read the right magazines, I ride the right airlines, I even use the right deodorant, and you know what’s happened to me?” he says, “I have ceased to be me and have instead become an it.” That’s what happens to one who is the slave of the crowd. That person ceases to be a full functioning feeling human being and instead that person over a period of time becomes nothing more than just an it.
Take the case of Zedekiah for example, you can read about him in the thirty-fourth chapter of Jeremiah, and in portions of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Zedekiah was the king of Judah. Now, at that time, Judah was under threat by the armies of Babylon led by King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah, at that point – it was a crisis point and he knew it – at that point, he didn’t know what to do. So he turned to the crowd, he turned to the people who were around him, and he sought their advice. And their advice was, well, it was unanimous, “Fight.” That’s what every last one of them said, “Fight.” Now at that point, Jeremiah the prophet came to Zedekiah. And Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord commands you to surrender.” Zedekiah had a spine like a wet noodle. And he wavered back and forth and back and forth, and as you read through, you can’t help but cry out, “For heaven’s sake, decide.” And finally, he just couldn’t bring himself to go against the counsel of the crowd. So he fought. He was severely defeated. He and two of his sons were captured. He was made to watch while his two sons were executed. And then two of the king’s men, Nebuchadnezzar’s men, took Zedekiah, held him by his arms, and a third soldier took a hot iron and blinded him. And Nebuchadnezzar said to him at that point, and I want you to listen to what he said, Nebuchadnezzar said to him, “Zedekiah, when you could see, you wouldn’t see. Now, when you want to see, you will not see.”
I’m talking especially right now to those of you who are young people. Oh, not to you alone, no, I’m talking to everybody, but I’m talking especially to you who are young. Look at the price the mob slave pays. Look at the cost of following the crowd. It has destroyed more than one life. But you can still make that choice. You can choose to follow the counsel of the crowd regardless. If you do, I would say to you very simply, remember Zedekiah. When he could see, he wouldn’t see. So that when he wanted to see, he couldn’t see.
There is a third leader you can follow in your life. Do you know what His name is? Jesus.
He’s the most exciting, the most thrilling, the most dynamic, the most fulfilling leader the world has ever known. My friends, here is someone worth living for? Oh, yes, but more than that, here is someone worth dying for. Do you want a leader who has a great mind and who knows how to use it? Jesus had the greatest mind the world has ever known. Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves which you receive from Jesus Christ.” Jesus had a great mind, and He used that mind to subdue the greatest minds the world knew at that time. And in all the centuries since. Paul, perhaps the most brilliant man of his day, and what does Paul say, “For to me, to live is Christ.”
Michelangelo, brilliant beyond our imagining, and what did he do with all of that immense talent that was his? He spent his life trying to portray this Jesus. Johann Sebastian Bach, brilliant, talented, and what did he do? He spent all of his life trying to copy down the melodies which Jesus hummed. Christopher Wren, a brilliant architect, and what did he do? He raised cathedrals to the honor and the glory of this Jesus. Leonardo da Vinci poured his paints at Jesus’ feet as an act of self-offering. Albert Schweitzer, a genius three times over, followed Jesus out into the darkest jungles of Africa. Madame Curie and Blaise Pascal, brilliant scholars, and yet they clutch the cross of Jesus Christ to their hearts until their lives were gone. Jesus has subdued the greatest minds the world has ever known.
Do you want a leader who has courage and who gives it? Look at Jesus. Paul says, “He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” His was a courage that could be beaten and lashed and imprisoned and crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross and skewered with a spear and still, He could say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And that courage, that awesome courage in the face of death, that courage has been passed on to all who follow after Him, in great or in small, so that there are men who have lived for Him, who have died for Him, without crying, and there are women who have lived for Him, who have died for Him, without weeping. You want a leader who has courage? Look at Jesus.
Do you want a leader who has love and who shares it? Look at Jesus. He comes into a life, embracing that life, wrapping His great loving arms about that life, and He begins to fill that life with a sense of power and discipline and direction. He begins to do for that life what he – well, He begins to do for that life what he did for Stan. Stan was a young, up-and-coming businessman. And he worked for a company that entertained a lot, and they served a lot of drinks there. And Stan began to take those drinks, and he began to take more of those drinks, and more and more of those drinks, and then he got to where he couldn’t stop taking those drinks. He had a wonderful wife, and he had two wonderful little girls, and he began to think to himself, “I’ve got to stop this for the sake of my wife and my girls,” but he couldn’t stop. One night, he was at home. He had a glass in his hand. And he said to himself, “I’ve got to put this glass down for the sake of my family,” and, you know, he couldn’t put it down. He plunged into despair. After everyone else had gone to sleep, he got up, and he took his pistol, and he went down into the basement of his house, and there, he put the gun to his head, and he couldn’t pull the trigger. Overcome by the fact that he couldn’t stop drinking, and then not only that, but he couldn’t even end the life that was going to destroy the people he most loved in life, overcome by that, he threw himself on the floor and he cried out, “Jesus kill me. Jesus, destroy me. For the love of God, Jesus, take my life.” And in that moment, that’s what Jesus did. He said, “Jesus take my life.” And Jesus did just that. Oh, not the way he expected. No, no, Jesus lifted him up off that floor. And from that moment, Jesus began to help Stan master what he himself couldn’t master alone. And Stan went on from that night to grow in Christ and to become a winning disciple. I know that because he was a member of my congregation.
You see, there’s a throne in your heart, every one of you. And only you can determine who’s going to sit on that throne. Give the scepter to yourself, and your heart’s going to be broken. Give the scepter to the crowd, and your heart’s going to be crushed. But give that scepter to Jesus Christ, and your heart’s going to be filled with power and with discipline and with direction in your living. That’s what Jesus does for our life. And that’s why He’s followed. Musicians follow Him, like Cliburn and Heinz; scientists follow Him, like Fleming and Jastrow; athletes follow Him, like Staubach and Irving; statesmen follow Him, like Laird and Hughes; businessmen follow Him, like Stone and Weyerhaeuser; deans and doctors and nurses and nightwatchmen and millionaires and ghetto children and teachers and students and fathers and mothers and children, millions upon millions follow Him, more people are following Jesus than any other person in all of history. Why? Because He’s Jesus.
That’s all I have to do, just mention His name, Jesus. That name. That name which is above every name, that name at which every knee shall bow, that name which every tongue shall confess, that name, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
When I say it, doesn’t your heart kind of jump just a little bit down inside of you? Jesus. When I say His name, isn’t there something down inside you that’s crying out, “I want to know Him”? Jesus. Isn’t there something that responds in you when I quote His words? How He said, “You call Me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am”? Jesus, Jesus. Isn’t there something in you saying, “Yes, Jesus, take my life, be my leader, be mine forever”?
Take this home with you. Two men grew up together in Devonshire, England. They knew each other when they were young. But when they became adults, they went their separate ways. One of them stayed on land. He became very rich. He was sleek and prosperous, a successful businessman. The other went to the sea, became a sailor, and he sailed under the great explorer, Sir Francis Drake. It was years later that the two men met once again. This rich businessman said to the poor sailor, “You really haven’t done very much with your life, have you?” And the sailor replied, “What? I suppose you could say that. I’ve been afraid, and I’ve been cold, and I’ve been lonely, and I’ve been hungry, and I don’t have much of this world’s goods, but I want to tell you something. I wouldn’t swap all of that for all of the money in the world because you see, my friend, I have sailed the seas with the greatest captain who ever crossed the seas.”
Some time before you go to bed tonight, sometime, will you stop and whisper, “I am sailing with the greatest Captain whoever crossed the seas of life, for Jesus is the master of my fate, Jesus is the captain of my soul”?
Please, pray with me. Oh, Lord God, lead us in the way of Jesus Christ, that we indeed each day more and more shall become like Him. Amen.