Last week, the world watched in shock as a gunman took hostages in a French supermarket. There was a tense siege, and then in a remarkable act of courage, policeman Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame offered to step in and trade places with one of the hostages. As we now know, sadly Arnaud Beltrame was later shot by the gunman and died from his injuries.
Arnaud was willing to walk to his death by offering to swap places with a hostage victim who was being held by a man we now know was a terrorist declaring his allegiance to Islamic State. What an extraordinary act of courage! I would like to express our thoughts and prayers to Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame’s family and all those who have lost a love one in this tragedy.
This very sad story (although amazing in itself) reminds me of another even more extraordinary story that we find in the scriptures. It’s the story of a man called Jesus who was willing to leave all glory behind and come down here to earth to trade his life for the life of mankind.
In other words, he willingly swopped his life for ours to give us the opportunity to be freed from the enemy who was holding us hostage to sin.
John 15:13 tells us: ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ We can say that Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame demonstrated an amazing sacrifice by being willing to give his life for hostages that were strangers to him. How amazing is that? And it is right that he is honoured.
But how much should we honour Jesus Christ? He not only became our ultimate sacrifice, but he actually chose and willingly gave himself up; yes even to the horrible death of the cross! Nothing that happened in his life was ever forced on him or came to him by surprise or even by accident, but it was all something Jesus consciously and willingly gave himself over to do. Jesus says very clearly in John 10: ‘No one takes My life from me… but I lay it down of myself.’ Isn’t it amazing that he would become our substitute so that you and I would live not just for the now, but for eternity?
Lt Col Arnaud’s incredible act of courage is almost hard for us to believe or understand, and although it can’t compare to the Gospel story, it paints a vivid picture to us and helps us to understand (in human terms) the extraordinary sacrifice Jesus made.
Jesus planned, pursued us, and in fact willingly gave himself in every detail, from his incarnation to his last breath on the cross. Jesus as the Good Shepherd came to give life and life abundantly, even as he voluntarily gave himself over to death so that sinners like me and you could be redeemed. I believe that is a good reason to trust him and to live also in humble gratitude, giving endless thanks to God the father who gave us His only son! Just the thought that God would spare His son to save someone like me makes me want to shout ‘Hallelujah! What a Saviour!’ I trust that you know that feeling too!
And so on Good Friday, as we mark the day that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice, let us never forget the message of Easter: that Jesus not only took our place in dying for us, but he rose up triumphantly that you and I may not only have life but life to the full.