Giving Up Heaven


Giving Up Heaven

John 8:13-30

Main Idea: Jesus gave up heaven to give us heaven.

  1. Jesus Came from Heaven.
  2. Jesus Promises Entrance to Heaven.

Arland Williams and five others knew their situation was hopeless. Floating in the icy Potomac River, the six survivors of Air Florida Flight 90 knew there was no way to reach the shore just forty yards away. They could hear the rescuers trying to reach them, but each attempt to cross the icy waters failed. Just as they were giving up hope, they heard the sound of an approaching helicopter. A life ring fell into the hands of one of the survivors, and he was pulled to safety. Next it fell in Arland’s hands. He could be saved. But before the helicopter could pull him up, he handed the life ring to someone else. The chopper could only hold two, so it turned toward the shore and sped away. Just a few minutes later it returned. Again the life ring fell into Arland’s hands, and again he handed it to someone else. The third time he did the same. There would be no fourth opportunity. By the time the helicopter had returned, Arland had disappeared below the surface.

In 2007 an article was written about Arland Williams’s sacrifice and appeared in Men’s Health magazine. After recounting Williams’s story, the author of the article asks,

Why would anyone put the lives of strangers ahead of his own? He couldn’t even see the faces of the people he was saving, because they were on the opposite side of the wreckage, yet he made a sacrifice for them that their best friends might have refused. (McDougall, “The Hidden Cost of Heroism”)

The concepts of heroism and self-sacrifice puzzle the writer. Why would someone die for someone he didn’t know? He tries to analyze it scientifically and concludes,

Extreme heroism springs from something that no scientific theory can fully explain; it’s an illogical impulse that flies in the face of biology, psychology, actuarial statistics, and basic common sense. (Ibid.)

He even quotes Charles Darwin, who “couldn’t figure out how to crowbar heroism into his survival-of-the-fittest theory” (ibid.). Darwin said,

He who was ready to sacrifice his life, as many a savage has been, rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature. (Ibid.)

After examining the story and different theories, the writer concludes that though the act was heroic, there would be no one to pass down the family name.

How can a purely humanistic understanding of life explain self-sacrifice? If man is simply a highly evolved animal and we got this way through natural selection, then self-sacrifice can only make sense in specific situations. It might make sense to protect one’s family, ensuring your genes are passed on to the next generation. It might make sense to defend the leadership of a colony or country. But sacrificing one’s life for strangers is not survival of the fittest; it’s survival of the weakest, survival of the least fit. Humanism doesn’t have an answer for why Arland Williams’s decision to give up the life ring is noble. His heroism doesn’t make sense within a humanistic framework. But his act makes perfect sense within a Christian understanding of the world. In a Christian understanding of the world, we see his act through the lens of the words of Jesus Christ, who said, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (15:13).

A Christian worldview doesn’t see self-sacrifice as a foolish choice that goes against biological instinct and may possibly corrupt the gene pool. A Christian worldview sees self-sacrifice as the highest act of love. We arrive at this view of the world not only by listening to Jesus’s words but also by seeing Jesus’s example. In spite of many conversations with Jesus, the religious leaders don’t understand him. Jesus makes it simple. He summarizes what he’s doing and why he came. Jesus gave up heaven to give us heaven. That’s why he’s there. It’s what he came to do.

Jesus Came from Heaven

Before this conversation Jesus stood up during one of the Jewish festivals and invited those who were dying to come to him for life. Then the religious leaders brought a woman to him to be put to death for adultery, and Jesus responded by forgiving her and giving her life, after which he called himself the light of the world and called all of them to follow him. Following him was the only way to find life, but the religious leaders, the Pharisees, would not listen or believe (8:13). How does Jesus answer this charge of dishonesty and deal with their unbelief? Seven times in this conversation he tells them that he came from heaven (vv. 14, 16, 18, 23, 26, 29).

The lifeblood of Christianity is self-sacrifice. In a society where power, wealth, and authority are the great goals, Jesus shows us a different way. He shows us a path stained with blood and says, “Follow me.” He tells us to give up our rights for the good of someone else. He tells us the way to be great is to serve. Jesus shows us a radical way of living, the way of self-sacrifice. He made a sacrifice that is far greater than any sacrifice you or I could make: he gave up heaven.

Jesus Promises Entrance to Heaven

Jesus gave up heaven to give us heaven. He tells these leaders, in no uncertain terms, they cannot get to heaven. The way to heaven has been barred by their sin (v. 21). Here’s the human dilemma. We were made to know God, enjoy God, live with and for God, but we rebelled. Our rebellion has made it impossible to know, enjoy, and live with God. Human religion is an attempt to get back to God. It’s our effort to regain what was lost by our rebellion. But here is Jesus essentially saying to the most religious men around, “You can’t do it. You can’t get to God. You can’t get to heaven. Your sin will always bar the way.”

Attempting to get to God apart from Jesus Christ is like being in a futile religious maze. You turn this corner labeled “good works” and find a barricade. This corner is marked “sincerity,” but there’s no way through. Each turn is a dead end. There’s no relief. But Jesus came to make a way. He came to knock over sin’s barricade. He gave up heaven to give us heaven. How?

First, he lived a perfect life. In verse 29 he says he always does the things that are pleasing in God’s sight. No one other than Jesus can say that. Only Jesus is without sin. Second, he died for sinners. In verse 28 he talks about how he will be lifted up. He’s referring to his death on the cross. He will take the penalty we deserve in order to give us what he deserves. He will take our death and give us his life.

Jesus lived perfectly and died in our place in order to give us heaven, but something is required from us. Not work, effort, or religious ritual, but faith. The word unless is a beautiful word. “You will die in your sins unless . . .” (v. 24 RSV; emphasis added). Unless you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he gave up heaven, that he took your sin, and that he can give you life and hope and joy and heaven. It really is that simple. All it takes is faith. All that’s required is to believe. The difference between heaven and hell is faith in Jesus Christ.

However, faith isn’t simple. Jesus points this out to the Pharisees. He says in verse 15, “You judge by human standards.” He’s pointing out their limitations. We need to do what the Pharisees were unwilling to do. We need to wrestle with the limitations of our own understanding. We are in the flesh. We are in one place at one time. Our understanding will always be affected by our limitations. We have to decide what we will identify as the ultimate authority in life. The Pharisees would have said, “Our ultimate authority is God.” But Jesus tells them, “No. You are your ultimate authority. You judge according to what you think. You judge according to how you feel. You judge according to the flesh” (v. 15; my paraphrase).

All the time we each decide whom to trust. When we pick up medicine from the pharmacy, we trust our doctor who prescribed it and our pharmacist who prepared it. We also trust the company that developed it and the government that approved it, plus the people who trained the doctor and pharmacist and the many hands at the drug company who prepared and packaged it. When it comes to physical life, we trust our care to a lot of people. When it comes to your spiritual life, whom do you trust? Your authority is either yourself—what you think, how you feel, what you have experienced—or it’s God and what he says. Do you really want to trust yourself with your eternal future? You are flesh. You didn’t exist until thirty or fifty or eighty years ago. You can’t keep yourself from getting sick or hurt. You cannot guarantee you will be alive tomorrow. Do you really think you’re the best choice to be the ultimate authority in your life?

There are many reasons Jesus is trustworthy—he’s God, he never lies, he never sins, he’s loving, and the list goes on—but here’s one key reason to trust him: he gave up heaven to give us heaven. If you can find someone who sacrificed more for you than Jesus did, trust him, but if you can’t, then Jesus has earned your trust.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Can a purely humanistic understanding of life explain self-sacrifice? Why or why not?
  2. Would others say your life is marked by self-sacrifice?
  3. How does the Christian worldview differ from the world’s in its understanding of self-sacrifice?
  4. What does Jesus benefit from his sacrifice on the cross?
  5. Why does Jesus sacrifice on our behalf?
  6. What does Jesus do after forgiving the woman’s sins?
  7. What is the human dilemma?
  8. According to Jesus, all men will die in their sins unless what happens?
  9. Who is the ultimate authority in your life? If it’s not Jesus, what is keeping you from submission to him?
  10. List all the reasons you can believe Jesus is trustworthy.