“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13, NIV)
On February 2, 1943, the Dorchester, a luxury liner renovated for the purpose of transporting troops made its way through the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. The ship was transporting 902 troops from Newfoundland to Greenland when it was attacked by a Nazi U-boat. The U-boat scored a direct hit on the Dorchester, dooming the ship and its passengers. As the ship began to sink, four men sprang into action as they began to place the lives of others above their own. In an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the four men refused to abandon ship. Instead, they gave up their own lifejackets, took care of who had been wounded by the torpedo’s explosion, and offered spiritual counsel to those who were unable to get off the ship to safety. As the Dorchester vanished below the waves, survivors of the attack told of seeing these four men standing with arms linked, praying out loud together to the very end.
Those four men, a Methodist minister named George L. Fox, a Jewish rabbi named Alexander D. Goode, a Reformed Church reverend named Clark V. Poling, and a Catholic priest named John P. Washington, became known as the “Four Chaplains.” On that February night in 1943, these four men made the ultimate sacrifice. One of the dictionary definitions of the word “sacrifice” states that it is the act of giving up something of value for the sake of something else that is regarded as more important. As the Dorchester sank and the Four Chaplains stayed on board tending to others, they were giving up their own lives, which were of value for the sake of something more important, the lives and souls of the other men on that ship. They embodied the words spoken by Jesus in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.“
There is no doubt that the life of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was of great value. Yet, God valued each and every person who has or will ever walk the face of this earth, so much so that He was willing to exchange the life of Jesus, His Son, of whom He had said, “I am well pleased,” for what He regarded of even greater value, your eternal soul, my eternal soul, and the eternal souls of every man, woman, and child, regardless of who we are, the color of our skin, or what we have done. Jesus confirmed this when He said in John 3:16 (NIV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That was the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus came to earth and gave His life so that, if we believe in Him, we will enjoy eternal life in the presence of the God who created us.
Jesus calls us all to love others. He calls us all to be willing to sacrifice our own lives for others. There are times when that sacrifice means giving up your physical life, as the Four Chaplains did in February 1943. But sacrifice can also mean giving up our own time to spend it with others who are in need of comfort, who are in need of encouragement, or who simply need a friend to walk with them through life’s difficulties. It means looking at others, all others, and seeing in them something that is of greater value than ourselves. Jesus calls us, not just to simply love others, but also to love them as He has loved us. And by giving His life for us, he showed us that the love He gives us is a love that says, “I value you more than my own life.”