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He Could Do No Less
October 2, 1994

HEBREWS 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Why did Jesus have to die? What did he do that was so terrible? Why did he have to suffer and die on a cross like a common criminal? There's something in all of us that wants to deny death, including the death of Jesus. A rabbi once spoke to our congregation in Palo Alto. He was asked, as Jews are often asked, "Why do you not accept Jesus as the Messiah?" The rabbi answered simply, "Because he died." The Messiah was not supposed to die. The Messiah was supposed to bring in the kingdom. In Jesus' day, the Messiah was supposed to lead the army of the righteous and defeat the hated Romans, but Jesus didn't lead any army. Jesus was not the conquering hero. Jesus did not live up to the expectations the Jews had of their Messiah. Jesus died.

Why did Jesus die? Why did he suffer? Because, he could do no less. God came to the earth in the person of Jesus to show humankind how to live. God gave us a living example of what living is all about. God came in person to show us the way. God had previously sent prophets to tell the people, but they wouldn't listen. So God came in person. What happened? They killed him. It's difficult to change people's thinking. It's difficult to change attitudes, perspectives, and motivations. It's difficult to change people's minds. I saw a bumper sticker the other day: If you can't change your mind, maybe you don't have any. When Jesus came to the earth in person, he ran firmly up against entrenched minds, narrow minds, minds unwilling to change, minds unwilling to be open to anything new or challenging. Jesus ran up against a stone wall, and they killed him. He died. He could do no less.

Martin Luther King, Jr., is a twentieth century saint who tried to change minds, change structures, and reverse years of slavery and discrimination. He was martyred. He was shot. That's what we do with saints. Jesus could do no less.

In our day, we are living in an anti-hero age. We have no heroes left. Those who are elected to lead, and those who attempt to lead, those who attempt to change things, are shot down, either literally or by reputation. Someone will dig far enough to find some weakness, some mistake, and blow it all out of proportion. If they can't find something legitimate, they make it up. Even the heroes of the past are maligned now. Their dark side, their inadequacies, their indiscretions (which we all have) are trumpeted. Rather than celebrate what they were able to accomplish in spite of their weaknesses, our society tries to discredit their accomplishments and destroy yet another hero. Small minds don't like big minds. They don't want leaders. They don't want action. They don't want heroes. Do you think I'm being too cynical? I've seen it happen too many times. In the church, in the community, in the nation, and world, I've seen heroes destroyed, maligned, attacked, betrayed. Jesus could do no less. They called him names, they spread tales, they attacked him, they connived behind his back. He was betrayed, held up to ridicule. They put a crown of thorns on his head, and sneered, "King of the Jews." Jesus was killed by small people with small minds. Jesus died, he could do no less.

Sacrifice is not a popular word. Sacrificing animals on an altar to appease a god, to atone for sin makes little sense to us anymore. Certainly sacrificing humans is repugnant to us, but we do it. We sacrifice young people on the altars of war. We sacrifice children on the altars of success. Some mothers sacrifice their careers for their children. Some children become caregivers for their parents and sacrifice for their parents. Sacrifice is a part of life. Jesus sacrificed his life. He could no less.

Why did Jesus do it? Why did he put up with people? Why did he patiently, willingly subject himself to the pain, humiliation, and suffering of a painful death? Because he loves us. He could no less. Our lesson this morning reads, Hebrews 2:9, We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Because of the suffering of death, Jesus tasted our deaths, Jesus died our deaths. Because of the suffering of Jesus, the heart of God is revealed to us. We see in God's heart a wellspring of love. We see a God willing to take our places. We see a Christ--a Messiah--willing to die our deaths, willing to shed our tears, willing to pay the price for our sins, willing to do whatever needs to be done to bring us to God, to reconcile us with God.

How Jesus loves us! He could no less.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris