Earlier this year in my men’s group at church, we read James Bryan Smith’s excellent book, “The Good and Beautiful God.” It was a very fascinating study and it expanded my understanding of God. Although it occasionally made me uncomfortable, it also reassured me God is both good and beautiful. I knew I would use one of his stories during the Easter season because it makes an immensely powerful point.
Smith wrote about an extremely personal experience author Brennan Manning once shared. Growing up, Brennan’s best friend was Ray. The two boys did everything together. They played together, got in trouble together, as teenagers bought a car together and went on double dates together. The two eventually enlisted in the army together, went to boot camp together and served alongside each other at a battlefront.
One night while the two friends were sitting in a foxhole, Brennan spoke about the good old days they shared in Brooklyn as Ray ate a chocolate bar. At that moment a live grenade was lobbed into their foxhole. Ray reacted first. He dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself onto the grenade saving his good friend’s life. Brennan was overwhelmed by Ray’s sacrifice and struggled for years to put it in the proper perspective.
Brennan eventually became a Catholic priest and was told he could take on the name of a saint. At that moment he thought of his good friend Ray, and decided to take his last name, “Brennan.” Years later he returned to Brooklyn for a visit with Ray’s mother. One night the two sat up late drinking tea and talking. He asked, “Do you think Ray loved me?” His friend’s mother jumped off the couch, shook her finger in the priest’s face and shouted, “Jesus Christ – what more could he have done for you?”
What more indeed? Jesus made the same point when he taught his followers, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NLT) Saying you love someone is one thing, but dying for them is the ultimate gift of love.
The most moving part of the Easter story is when Jesus willingly went to the cross knowing he would die a painful death. But he did so that we could be forgiven. The most famous verse of the Bible makes a similar point saying, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT)
You may have failed so badly it seems impossible God could still love you, however, when it comes to understanding Jesus’ love for us, as Ray’s mother asked, “…what more could he have done for you?” God’s answer is both simple and impossibly profound… nothing!