"FOR WHAT SHOULD A MAN GIVE HIS LIFE?"

Acts 20.24

 

EXPOSITION:

1. On September 11, 2001 a great tragedy struck the United States of America. What the state of Israel has been experiencing since 1947, when the modern state of Israel began, finally came home to our country and to our people in an undeniable way.

2. Weíve been struck by terrorism before. Airline hijackings, the bombing of Pan Am flight #103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, the occasional kidnapping and ransom demands of United States citizens in foreign countries, and the embassy hostages in Tehran.

3. But this was the first time in United States history, or at least since Pancho Villa, that there has been a direct strike against the United States on the United States mainland. And as if the crashing of the airliners into the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers wasnít enough carnage, the deaths of all those fire fighters and police officers who rushed into the buildings to save lives intensified our national sense of loss.

4. It is now one day short of 5 months since 9/11. Over the course of the last 5 months I have been to any number of seminars, conferences, graduations and ceremonies. And without fail, at each of these gatherings and events, in addition to the thankfulness and the gratitude that has been expressed for our country, the sorrow that is felt for one and all who were in the airplanes that were hijacked and the buildings that were struck, there is universal praise and commendation for the fire fighters and police officers who rushed into the buildings, only to be killed in the collapse of the towers.

5. The praise and commendation for the men who rushed into the buildings (I donít think Iíve heard of any women in uniform rushing into the buildings) has provoked me to think about all this. Iíve reflected a great deal on the collective heroism of men in uniform; the firemen, the policemen, the men in the military. Iíve considered bravery, courage and heroism in light of Bible truth. And from that contemplation comes this message.

6. Though there are certainly the most astonishing acts of bravery performed by women in the history books and the newspapers, bravery and courage are most usually thought to be masculine virtues. So that, while women certainly are and can be brave and courageous and heroic, no woman is thought to be less a woman for being too afraid to act. Men, on the other hand, are considered less than men when they fail to demonstrate courage, heroism and bravery. It seems that men can be called cowardly, though I have never heard of a women being called cowardly.

7. When you examine the newspapers and the history books you see a variety of motives that lay back of menís heroism. But so that we can examine the events of 9/11 and the performance of our men in uniform since then, letís limit our consideration to the ultimate sacrifice, the willingness of a man to risk his life. For what will a man risk his life? More importantly, for what will a man give his life?

8. It seems to me that there are four general motives for which a man will give his life. Some men will give their lives for their kin, which is to say a fellow will give up his life to save the life, or in an attempt to save the life, of his wife, of his child, of his brother or sister, or of his mom or dad. Kin folks seem worth dying for.

9. Next, there are men who will sacrifice their lives for their kind. That is, a man may give his life for another human being. There need be no blood kinship or common language, no personal benefit or common cause for this man to risk his life, for this man to give his life. And such are the personnel who man the fire trucks, who are uniformed law enforcement people, but not usually uniformed military personnel.

10. Not military people? No. Studies have shown that in combat most soldiers are not fighting for their country or their flag, not fighting for a cause or a concept, but are simply trying to keep their buddies alive. And they do this, strangely, by killing those other guys who are trying to keep their buddies alive. So, soldiers think of their comrades in arms more like family than anything else, and will give their lives for them.

11. A third motivation for sacrificing oneís life is to give your life for your country. Most men who die in combat do not give their lives willingly. But those who do give their lives willingly do so for their buddies, not usually for their country. Though there are not many who will die for their country, there are some. Who was it who said, just before his execution by the British during the Revolutionary War, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country"? It was Nathan Hale, who then suffered death by hanging. Henryís words speak of that rare individual who sacrifices his life for his country.

12. The final motivation that men will die for, that they will give their lives for, is for a cause, an ideal. What cause? The causes vary. But those who are my age will remember communism, a cause for which multiplied millions did die, and a cause for which some few men actually died by choice. I remember also a Buddhist monk in Saigon, during the Vietnam War, who poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire. Certainly not a communist, and opposed also to the Roman Catholic regime that ruled South Vietnam, that Buddhist monk gave his life for the cause of peace. Iím not saying he was right in what he did, only that he indicated that what he did he did for the cause of peace.

13. Turn in your Bible to Romans 5.7: "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die." In this verse the apostle Paul is not evaluating the merit of human tendencies. He is not passing judgment on the rightness or the wrongness of a manís willingness to sacrifice himself for another, only the likelihood of doing such a thing.

14. In Paulís day but few men would have willingly sacrificed themselves for the best of individuals. So, throughout history, and in the Bible, that man who willingly sacrifices himself for another, be it kin, be it human kind, be it country, or be it cause, is very rare, indeed. And rightly so.

15. Listen carefully, my friends. What I tell you now I tell you after careful consideration, cautious reflection, contemplation of Scripture. Those men who ran into the twin towers, the fire fighters and the police officers who gave their lives in a gallant attempt to save the lives of others . . . were wrong. They are not to be congratulated for what they did, they are to be rebuked. Little boys are not to grow up wanting to be like them, but should be taught how very selfish and shortsighted a man is who behaves in that way.

16. In Matthew 16.26 the Lord Jesus Christ asked the question, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Of what benefit is it to a man to achieve and to accomplish if, in exchange for success, he loses his own soul? What is worth losing your eternal and undying soul for, my friend?

17. That will be the consideration of this morningís sermon after brother Isenberger comes to lead us in a song. Please stand as brother Isenberger comes.

INTRODUCTION:

1. So that you will see the proper context into which this sermon is set, let me tell you a bit about myself. I was 7 years old, I think, when our family passed through the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on vacation one summer. From that moment onward I had but a single goal in life, to be a combat fighter pilot.

2. Everything I did from age 7 onward, whether it be sports or class work, involvement in extracurricular activities or summer Red Cross programs, was seen by me as a stepping stone toward appointment to the United States Air Force Academy and a career as a combat pilot.

3. When I went to the school library the books I read were about the military, about fighter planes, about rockets and missiles. And to this day I have retained an interest in military history, being a subscriber from day one of the Military History Quarterly.

4. It was during high school graduation exercise practice that I got called to the phone to get an emergency call from my mom. The message? Word had just come in that I had received my appointment to the Air Force Academy. I was on my way. If my "luck" held out I would be able to graduate from the Academy and finish flight school in time to see combat in Vietnam. Those were my thoughts as a high school senior.

5. And while in the Air Force Academy my heart was continually stirred by the Saturday morning parades when pilots were honored with silver stars, with bronze stars, with purple hearts, and with other medals that acknowledged their heroism and their bravery in combat. Such experiences caused me to see myself as one member of an elite corps of uniformed men who lived and who sometimes died by the warriorís creed.

6. These were the men who fought the battles others would not fight, who did what others were afraid to do. These were the men in uniform who willingly laid down their lives when necessity demanded it. And I was preparing to join them the great conflict.

7. Why am I telling you this? So that you will know that I am no pacifist. So that you will know that I am not one of them, and have never been one of them, who stood against our military, who has a hatred of men in uniform. During the formative years of my life I envisioned nothing else for myself than to be counted among such men. When an injury denied me that opportunity I had no idea what then to do with myself.

8. As I look back on that time in my life from more than 30 years distance I look back with a different set of values than I had then, with a different set of needs than I had then, with different hopes and aspirations than I had then. I know things now that I did not know then. I now know that for men in uniform to perform acts of heroism, for men in uniform to become willing to sacrifice themselves for others, you have to lie to them.

9. Thatís right. To make a police officer willing to die to save someoneís life you have to lie to him. To make a fireman willing to die to save someoneís life you have to lie to him. To make a soldier or a sailor or a Marine willingly give his live in combat you have to lie to him.

10. These young men are not lied to when they are told of the dangers they face. They are not so stupid as to deny dangerous circumstances. They know that the things they do can cost them their lives. Firemen know they can die in a burning building. Police officers know they can die if they are shot trying to save a hostage. Soldiers know they can get killed in a fire fight. Thatís not the lie. The lie is very subtle, so subtle that itís never actually stated. But itís a necessary lie, you have to understand.

11. Without such a lie no country could defend itself against attack. Without such a lie no nationís men in various uniforms would do hazardous duty, would risk their lives. Without such a lie young men will find something else to do for a living. Politicians and the leaders of these uniformed organizations know the lie is necessary in order for their agencies to perform their tasks, in order to get the job assignment done.

12. So, whatís the lie? The lie is that itís a good thing for this man to die for his kin. The lie is that itís a good thing for this man to die for his kind. The lie is that itís a good thing for this man to die for his country. The lie is that itís a good thing for this man to die for his cause. And what reinforces the lie? Medals. Parades. Memorials. Tributes. Speeches. Banners. Black arm bands. Bag pipes.

13. To be sure, children will cry because they miss their dads, and young women will shed many tears over the loss of their brave and courageous husbands. But no one will ever accuse that dead soldier, that dead police officer, that dead fireman, of foolishness, or of abandoning his family, or of betraying his wife and kids. And to make sure no one ever even thinks of such a thing as questioning the wisdom of dying the way he did or for the reason he did, the fallen comrade will be decorated, will be buried with honors, will be greatly honored. And it will all be done to make sure tough questions are never asked.

14. A great show will be put on to reinforce the lie that while it was bad for him to die it was good for him to die as he did. Our nation is better for what he did. Our culture is better for what he did. Society is improved by his sacrifice and by his example. Thatís what everybody says. Thatís what everybody assumes. Thatís what they want you to believe, so you wonít ask hard questions, so you wonít have any doubts, so you will be willing to give your life up at the right time.

15. "Excuse me, but if daddy dying in the twin towers is such a good thing, why am I left without a dad?" Isnít that a legitimate question for a little boy or girl to ask? How is our country bettered by this young mother at Fort Lewis and her children suddenly being without a husband and father?

16. But even those kinds of questions donít get to the heart of this matter. Not even a suddenly fatherless little boy or girl, or a 22 year old girl suddenly a widow, gets to the heart of this matter of how it can be a good thing for a man to courageously die for others. In order to find the right answers you have to ask the right questions. And the right question that needs to be asked to this young man who is thinking about putting himself in a situation where he someday may run into a building that others are running out of is this: Is your life really worth less than the life you seek to save?

17. My friend, those firemen and police officers were wrong for running into the twin towers. They were wrong for forfeiting their lives for others. Those men were lost. They were unconverted. They were without Christ. And the moment they died for others they, themselves, went to a devilís Hell.

18. Set aside any consideration of the wives left behind, the children abandoned, the parents grieving over lost sons. Whether they be police officers, firemen, soldiers/sailors/Marines, are people worth going to Hell for? Is a country worth going to Hell for? Is there anything so important that the life of one man is worth forfeiting for it, and that man immediately entering eternity and an unending existence of ceaseless torment?

19. Think about the fact that when a soldier dies he goes to Hell. Think about the fact that when a fireman dies he goes to Hell. Think about the fact that when a policeman dies he goes to Hell. Now, I know that not all soldiers/firemen/policemen are unsaved, but I am speaking generally. And since most men are lost in their sins, most uniformed men, those men who are most likely to willingly lay down their lives to save otherís lives, are also lost in their sins.

20. "But pastor, if men in uniform arenít willing to give their lives for others, what kind of a country would we have?" Thatís not my problem. I am not a citizen of this country in that sense. I am a stranger and a pilgrim who is just passing through. My citizenship is in heaven. And my observation of those who live here is that it is a very bad deal to perpetrate a lie that will only hasten the deaths of young men and usher them into an eternity they are not prepared to face.

21. I want you to consider some things related to the lie these young men are told. And in order for these young men to believe the lie, in order to persuade some of them to give up their lives in the line of duty, there are three things they must not think about. Three things that you want them to joke about if the subjects ever come up, but you do not want them to think about in a sober and mature way:

1A. First, ETERNITY IS AN AWFULLY LONG TIME

1B. The fact of the matter is that eternity has nothing to do with time. But we are currently creatures of time, therefore we do not possess the capacity of comprehending existence outside the realm of time. So God has accommodated our inability by using the Greek word "aiwnios." This word means perpetual, and is the closest approximation language is capable of to communicating the idea and the concept of forever.

2B. But that is the realm a man passes through to when he dies to save someoneís life. That is the realm the passengers on the hijacked planes passed to. Thatís where the guy who said "Letís roll" went. Thatís where the terrorists themselves went. My friend, when a man dies, even a man in uniform, he passes from time to eternity. But so many in uniform leave this life differently than do others. So many soldiers and sailors and Marines and firemen and police officers actually pass from this life by choice to enter the realm from which return is not possible, the realm of eternity.

3B. How long is eternity? Use a teaspoon to remove water from the oceans of the world, and when youíve finished there has been but one tick off the clock that measures measureless eternity.

4B. How long is eternity? When a fly walks the circumference of a steel globe the size of the earth at the equator, and that fly has walked enough times around the circumference of the steel globe to begin to wear a noticeable path, only a tick of eternityís clock has elapsed.

5B. My friend, eternity is forever and ever and ever. By our limited human means of comprehending thatís a long, long time. Itís actually incomprehensible. But that is how long the hero will be in eternity, that is how long the man in uniform will be gone from his family, that is how long the person who sacrificed his life willingly in an attempt to save the life of others will be where he will always be.

6B. No one wants a young man thinking about military service to consider the eternity after he dies. No one wants that sworn officer, that fireman, who may someday find himself in a place where he will, in a brief moment, decide to sacrifice his life in the hopes that he might be able to save anotherís life, to hesitate, to weigh the realities, to decide that trading his life away is not wise, is not proper, is not good. So, they will continue to tell the lie, and hope no one thinks about how awfully long eternity is.

2A. As Well, GODíS WRATH IS AWFULLY SEVERE

1B. Most men are unconverted. Therefore, most men in uniform are unconverted. That means, most men in uniform who die and enter eternity will suffer Godís wrath. But those who perpetrate the lie donít want young men to question their bravery, to think about the real wisdom of their courage, to hesitate when it comes time to give up their lives for the kin, for the kind, for the country, for the cause.

2B. As if it isnít bad enough that when a man dies he leaves this life never to return, what about the young man who leaves this life only to go to Hell? What about the young hero who expects to be born on angels wings to Valhalla or Mount Olympus as reward for his act of heroism, but who finds instead that he is cast into Hell, with his act of heroism seen by God as a betrayal of his wife and children, and as the foolish throwing away of a last opportunity to respond to the Gospel?

3B. They donít want these young men to think about sins, do they? They donít want them to think about alienation from God, do they? They donít want these young men they are subtly encouraging to be heroes to think about their duty to God being more important than their duty to a country or a duty to a stranger. Such thinking would complicate matters for those who tell the lie.

4B. Those who perpetrate the lie would shudder at the thought of telling these young men that God is angry with them. They would be opposed to telling the young men that foolishly throwing your life away was not heroic, but stupid, would they not? They certainly do not want brave young men who wear uniforms to think about the fearfulness of falling into the hands of the living God.

5B. But thatís exactly what happens when you die. When you die you pass from time to eternity. And when you pass from time to eternity you fall into the hands of the living God. And if when you pass from time to eternity and fall into the hands of the living God as a lost man you are consigned to Hell, where you begin your eternal torment of suffering the wrath of God.

6B. Why would a young man, full of life and in love with his wife, and cherished by his children, choose to throw his life away in the hopes that he might rescue from harm another person he doesnít know? Heís been taught (lied to is a better word) that itís a good thing to do that. Heís convinced that itís heroic, that itís brave, that it requires courage.

7B. But is it courage that prompts a lost man to jump from this life into the hands of an angry God? Is it bravery that lunges from life to eternal torment in a spasm self-sacrifice? Is it heroism to forsake your last opportunities to be reconciled to God so that you might save the life of another man who himself will someday die and go to Hell?

8B. I donít think so. Your family doesnít think so. And you wouldnít think so, if you thought about it. Thatís why the tellers of the lie donít want you to think about such things. Instead, they want you to think about bravery, heroism, courage, sacrifice, medals, bag pipes, that things of that sort.

9B. You may think, "Pastor, you just want people to be selfish and self-serving. You donít think anything is worth dying for." Not true. But,

3A. GIVING YOUR LIFE FOR ANYTHING LESS THAN THE CAUSE OF CHRIST IS FOOLISH

1B. Give your life for your kin. Give your life for your kind. Give your life for your country. Give your life for your cause. What have you then accomplished? Youíve left your wife and kids, and youíve prolonged the life of a man or a woman who will likely die and go to Hell himself.

2B. And when you prepare men in uniform to die in the line of duty, or to go above and beyond the call of duty to die, you have to lie to them. You have to tell them that they arenít throwing their life away by volunteering to die. You have to tell them that itís better to leave your wife and kids than to not leave them by staying alive. You have to tell those brave young men that the world is somehow better off after their death than it was while they were alive. But those are all lies, people! None of it is true!

3B. My text for this morning is Acts 20.24, which I have saved for now because it expresses perfectly the sentiments of the man who knows what one thing is worth losing a manís life for, the cause of Christ. Warned that he might very well lose his life for the cause of Jesus Christ should he return to Jerusalem, Paul declared, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God."

4B. It is so very foolish to lay down your life for a man, or a relative, or a country, or even a cause if the cause is not the cause of Christ. Why so? Because by sacrificing yourself for such things you actually accomplish nothing, it ends up meaning nothing, and you have only robbed a woman of her husband and children of their father.

5B. But when a man lays his life down for the cause of Jesus Christ, not in a futile act of suicide, but as a martyr dying for his Savior, then he has accomplished something. Souls will come to Christ as a result of what he has done, eternal destinies will be changed by means of what he has done, the Gospelís credibility has been certified by what he has done, God has been pleased by what heís done, and Christ will certainly crown him with a martyrís crown for what heís done.

CONCLUSION:

1. Young men and women are idealists. They want their lives to count for something. They want to make a difference. And such impulses are wonderful, because they can and should make a difference. But they need proper guidance.

2. In this wicked world in which we live there are men who make use of manipulative techniques to lead idealistic young men and women astray, and to persuade them to do things which are not profitable, which are not beneficial, and which are actually far below the level of importance that should be attached to young lives. Not that such men are insincere. They are just wrong.

3. Why should a young man die for lies when he should be persuaded that there is truth to die for? Why should a man give up his life when it will alter the eternal destiny of no one? Why should a man give up his life when in so doing he abandons his wife and his children?

4. There is something more noble to live for. There is One more worthy to die for, if it should come to that. That One is Jesus Christ. He is the only Person Who has any right to call upon you to give up your life, because He gave up His life for you first.

5. So you see, I am not saying you should not be willing to lay down your life. I am only saying that your life is far too important to lay down for anyone but Jesus Christ.

6. Jesus suffered and bled and died an atonement for your sins. And He rose in a great victory three days later. If you will come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and cleansing and life He will fit you to a much higher calling than anything this world has to offer.

7. And whatís better than heroism? Whatís better than bravery? Whatís better than courage? Whatís better than an impulse to do something foolish, a temptation to waste a life? Christianity.

8. "Pastor, I question your patriotism." Go ahead and question anything you like. But before you question my patriotism (and I think the best patriots are those men who are true to Godís Word) you need to ask yourself some serious questions.

9. Is a man really worth more to his wife, to his kids, to his country dead than he is alive?

10. Would any man in his right mind give his life if he knew that giving his live meant he was going to Hell?

11. Is anyone who is not converted really prepared to step into eternity . . . for any reason?

12. Finally, what about the state of your own eternal and undying soul? Are you really ready to meet your Maker, to fall into the hands of the living God, to go to your eternal destiny?

13. After you ask those questions then you can ask me all the questions you want about my patriotism, about my personal courage, about anything you want to ask.

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