14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. … 17 Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.
36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” 38 Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.
12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
Laying down one’s life. What does that mean?
The word for “lay down” means to bow, to commit, to conceive (as in giving birth), to ordain: to place in a passive, horizontal posture. In other words, “to lay something on the ground and walk away from it, in order to obtain something of greater worth.”
Each one of us does this practically every day without even realizing it. There is not sufficient room in our lives for everything we need and want to do, so we must make choices. Our choices are the evidence of our priorities – the ordered ranking of those people, things, and ideas that are most important in our lives.
We each have two methods to establish our priorities:
(1) we can pray about them, asking God to show us how to properly arrange them; or
(2) we can go through our lives making decisions and choices based on what feels best at the time, and those choices will end up sorting out our priorities for us. Unfortunately, the two methods never lead to the same result.
If we approach each day without a pre-defined set of priorities, we are forced to make decisions in “the heat of the moment” – without thinking through the meaning and consequences of our decision, and sometimes led by whatever emotions we are feeling. This can be dangerous, because in that moment we are feeling pressure from many directions: from our surroundings (such as the expectations of people around us) and from within (the overwhelming desire to do what is least painful, least difficult, least embarrassing, or least likely to fail). Without established priorities it is much harder to make a decision that is right when we are in the middle of a challenging situation.
This was Peter’s problem. Not long after Jesus said,
Peter made a similar promise to Jesus; “I will lay down my life for Your sake”. Peter had every intention of keeping his promise; his priorities were right … and yet when the heat of the moment came he denied even knowing his Saviour. But before we judge Peter too harshly, we need to remember that all the other disciples (except John), who had not declared their priorities verbally, were too scared to even follow Jesus into Pilate’s courtyard.
Jesus calls us to love as He has loved, and that means to lay down our lives as He laid down His life. We accomplish this through the decisions we make every moment of our waking lives. Many have no bearing at all on our walk with the Lord, but some do … and we don’t always realize it at the time. “Shall I go to church today?” “Shall I serve in that ministry?” “Shall I meet to pray with the prayer team, or shall I attend this social function?” “Shall I share the Gospel with my close friend, or keep quiet because he/she might object?” “Shall I tithe, or shall I buy that new iPhone which was released today?”
It’s much harder to make the “right” decision as Jesus defines it if we don’t know who and what is most important to us, and if those priorities aren’t led by the Holy Spirit.
But I am certain that the last thing we would ever want to do, rather than laying down our life for the sake of Jesus Christ, is to lay down Jesus Christ for the sake of pursuing the pleasures, the power, or the possessions of this life.
Word of God: speak! Non nobis Domine+
by Fr. Dana Jackson