Christmas by definition: “Laying down One’s life for His friends”

In December of 2002, when my daughter Bailey was 4 years old, she was sick with a stomach bug. Although she didn’t feel well, I assumed she felt that getting away from our nightly routine would only make her feel worse, leading her to ask for a bedtime story. I happily obliged, and as The Lord would have it, I had a fitting analogy from a Christmas sermon I’d been preparing earlier in the day. The text for Sunday’s message came from 1st John 3:16-19: 

“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” 

Kneeling beside her bed, I began in a soft voice: 

A little boy had a very rare blood disorder, and the only way he could survive would be to find another person with his exact blood type who would be willing to undergo a blood transfusion. (Of course, I brought this down to a level a child could relate to, and as you’ll see shortly Bailey’s childlike understanding entailed far greater faith than my own). After an extensive search, the doctors weren’t able to identify the right candidate and time was quickly running out. As a last result, one of the physicians made the uncomfortable suggestion they test the boy’s younger sister to see if she might qualify as a donor. The procedure would be risky and endanger her life, but there were simply no remaining options. After running a series of tests, it was determined she was in fact a perfect match. Unsure how to proceed, the parents decided to share all the details with their daughter and allow her to make the final decision. As it turned out, she agreed. 

The following day they went through with the transfusion, and happy to say it was a complete success. When the head physician went back to recovery to check on the girl and congratulate her for saving her brother’s life, he was taken aback to find her crying. When asked why, her only reply was, “when do I die?” her lip quivering. Unsure what she meant, the doctor repeated his question, “Why are you so upset?” Her reply was the same, and that’s when the realization sunk in: All along she thought that giving her blood to let her brother live meant that she had to die. And yet she did it anyway. 

I went on to tie that little girl’s brave deed of sacrificial love back into what Jesus did on the cross, explaining how we were sick and how He had to take our sickness so that we could be healed. I related how the Christmas story is ultimately about the world’s Savior being born to die.

That’s when the top Daddy-Daughter connection took place between the two of us over the course of our 21-year relationship, which I can only describe like this: We were locked in—locked into the moment, locked into each other, the Holy Spirit; we simply were and it was no less real than the densest matter. I was overly emotional, why, exactly, I still don’t know—perhaps I had overly complicated the sheer simplicity of the Gospel Message for far too long, shame on me for placing theological astuteness above childlike wonderment. Whatever the reason, what I do know is: I can still see her pursed lips, her slight grin, her whole-hearted belief in what I said next: “Bailey, do you know I love you so much I would be willing to die for you? Do you believe that?” 

Unquestionably she did, her eyes said as much. “Yes Daddy.” 

“Bailey, do you know Jesus loved you so much He did die for you? Do you believe that?” 

Her reply was the same, and I promise she 100% meant it—I’m certain of it because her eyes said as much. I led us in a short prayer and must confess I didn’t expect The Great Physician to answer it. “Dear Lord, if it be Your will, please let me be sick instead of Bailey so she could feel better. Amen.” Later, I didn’t recall much about that mini-sermon preached at my daughter’s bedside; evidently, she did. 

A few months later, I became ill with the flu and was quarantined to my bedroom, a necessary precaution taken in the days preceding Tamiflu’s release. Bailey kept insisting to her mother she had to thank me for something; it would make me feel better, she promised. Jill eventually relented, as did I, a gesture more for Bailey’s sake than mine considering how horrible I felt. We allowed her to stand just inside the door of our bedroom but no closer. “Daddy, Jesus answered your prayers, so thank you.” The furthest thing on my mind was gratefulness or answered prayers, or anything else for that matter except for survival . . . but it did make me curious. 

“Okay, Bailey, that is so sweet of you to say, but thank you for what?” 

Hardly able to contain her excitement, she continued, “Jesus answered your prayers, and that’s why you’re sick, not me. Thank you, Daddy.” 

A father’s bedside prayer to drive home a theological truth to his little girl is one thing. A little girl’s sincere willingness to die so that her brother might live is wholly another. The Lamb of God who entered this world “that we might have life, and have it abundantly,” well that’s entirely another, and the most Divine act of all. “Greater love has no one than this, that One lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

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God the Father calls His people to not only follow His Son Jesus, but to go and invite others to “come and see for yourself.” (John 1:46) Christianity’s vitality and endurance relies on us sharing our faith with others, both in the here and now and with future generations.

If you and your family member’s greatest joy is found in Christ, wouldn’t it be wrong to keep that joy all to yourself? If you feel this is the time to make a bold switch and are prepared to make the transition, The Relay by author/pastor George Shamblin will coach you and others through the process. It will give you food for thought and fuel for action. The Relay will inspire you and your family members to become bolder in telling your story so you can best minister to others. Each day can start on a new footing: “I will share Christ with one person before the sun goes down.”

BIRMINGHAM cHRISTIAN | Give the gift of evangelism: relay for life