Two words no one likes to hear, especially if you are on the losing end of a battle. Unconditional surrender means you don’t get to set terms. You don’t get to ask for anything. You are completely at the mercy of whoever you’re surrendering to. And that can be scary. So scary in fact that sometimes people would rather fight to the death than succumb to the mercy of another. That’s what happened at the Battle of the Alamo. General Santa Anna asked for the unconditional surrender of the forces defending the Alamo, but instead, Jim Bowie and William Travis fired a cannon in reply, knowing that it would mean they would be assaulted by an overwhelming force. Indeed, the battle ended tragically for the men defending the mission. Only seven survived to surrender before Santa Anna and Santa Anna, having given the order there would be no survivors, ordered the seven to be executed immediately. Unconditional surrender. It means putting yourself at the mercy of someone else. And for human beings who seem to fear relinquishing control of anything, that seems nearly impossible for us to do. But the thing is God wants us to surrender to him unconditionally. God wants us to surrender to him unconditionally.
So often we don’t do it even for God.
We call upon God when WE want to. We pray when it’s convenient for us. We worship when it fits into our schedule. We put Christ on call as if Jesus has a pager. There was a short-lived show called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and in the first episode two of the characters, Jeannie and Harriet, are talking to each other about the new direction their lives are about to take and Jeannie asks Harriet, “Do we just let Jesus be our co-pilot?” And Jeannie replies, “No. My mom used to say if Jesus is your co-pilot, you should trade seats.” Great line and yet how true is that? How often do we put Jesus in the co-pilot seat when he should be flying the plane? Even when it comes to the savior of the universe, we still can’t let go of the steering wheel. We want Jesus to be where we want, when we want, and how we want him to be. And when he’s not we conveniently tune him out. Even in church.
A friend of mine was criticized for preaching the Gospel.
It was when we were both starting out in ministry and she was the associate pastor at a fairly big church. It was big enough that they had two pastors who preached completely different services. My friend was preaching in the contemporary service while the senior pastor was preaching in the traditional service. One of my friend’s parishioners who attended the contemporary service came in to complain about her preaching one day. The senior pastor sat the woman down and asked what seemed to be the problem. Was it that my friend wasn’t preaching from the Bible? No, that wasn’t it. Was it that she was preaching something not in line with the Gospel? No, that wasn’t it either. What she told the senior pastor, and I’ll never forget this, what she told him was wrong was that she wasn’t hearing what she wanted to hear. She said to him, “She’s always challenging us to improve and be better than we are. How about once in a while we hear sermons about how Jesus is like a fluffy bunny? You know? I’d like for once to hear about how following Jesus is like a beach ball floating in the wind. Just floating up in the air. How come it always has to be so serious?” When she told me this story, I was speechless. Jesus is like a fluffy bunny? Is that in Ecclesiastes somewhere? There are just some things you cannot prepare yourselves for and that was one of them for me. Jesus is like a fluffy bunny. While you might think that example seems extreme, believe me it is less uncommon than you think. People want to hear about the Jesus that makes them comfortable. They don’t often want the Jesus who challenges them to grow and become deeper in their faith. Instead they treat Jesus like a stuffed animal. You curl up with him when you’re feeling sad or angry, but leave him on the bed when you are doing alright. But that’s not what our relationship with Jesus is supposed to look like.
Paul reminds us that our relationship with Jesus is one of mutual submission.
Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be one of mutual submission. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 2, beginning with verse 19. Galatians 2:19. The Bible is big on this concept of submission. Jesus comes to serve all of humanity. Jesus surrenders his life for ours on the cross. Jesus humbles himself by washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus modeled for us the kind of servant’s heart he wants to see in us all. The Bible tells us we are supposed to submit to one another also. Husbands should submit to their wives as wives should submit to their husbands. Parents should honor their children as their children should honor them. Every relationship in the Bible is about mutual submission. It’s the only way it works right. And in our passage this morning, Paul talks about his own submission to Christ.
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
In this passage, Paul isn’t telling us what to do.
He’s telling us about his own experience with Christ and how it changed his life. Paul was probably thought of by many people to be a zealot and maybe in some ways he was, but if so it was only because he was zealous for the kind of life we could all lead under Christ. Some of what he says might seem confusing because he uses a lot of contradictory statements. He says he died to the law so he might live in Christ. He says he no longer lives but Christ lives in him. But all he means is he finally surrendered to the fact that he would never fulfill the law and so he devoted his life to the only one who could fulfill it – Jesus. And by so doing he gave up his own way of life to become an ambassador for Christ. And then he closes with this powerful statement, “I do not set aside the grace of God…” meaning he doesn’t ignore, he doesn’t belittle, he doesn’t discount God’s grace in all of this, “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” If all we had to do was follow some rules to have our sins wiped away, if all we had to do was fulfill a certain number of requirements to get into Heaven, then Jesus’ sacrifice was pointless. We wouldn’t need his sacrifice. We could do it ourselves. But we can’t. As good as we can be, we cannot be perfect. We cannot be sinless. It’s not a matter of willpower. It’s not a matter of not being strong enough to stick to it. We just can’t do it. The only way to overcome this mountain is to submit to it, to admit it cannot be overcome. Only then can we change for the better.
Rick Warren wrote a devotional around this concept.
He wrote, “Surrendering your life means: Following God’s lead without knowing where he’s sending you. Waiting for God’s timing without knowing when it will come. Expecting a miracle without knowing how God will provide. And trusting God’s purpose without understanding the circumstances.” Following God’s lead. Waiting for God’s timing. Expecting a miracle. Trusting God’s purpose. These words hit home for me. These words defined for me what Paul was talking about when he said he died to the law so Christ could live in him. These words defined for me what it meant to unconditionally surrender.
Have you truly surrendered to God?
That doesn’t mean you won’t relapse or fall off the wagon, because you will. But have you made that commitment to God to fully surrender yourself to Him? Or are you still putting Jesus as your co-pilot? You are the pilot of your own life. You are the captain of your own football team. You are the chef of your own kitchen. But you are not the best one there. You are not the most well equipped person to be leading your own life. Are you too proud to admit that? Or are you willing to step aside and let God lead and guide you? When I worked at Disneyland, I was the captain our volleyball team – meaning I was the one who signed people up, gathered the money, and turned in the paperwork. As the captain, I was responsible for making the assignments of who would play where. My favorite position is at the net. That’s where all the action is. Heroes are made at the net. But look at me. Even then I was 5’ 10” at best. My jumping ability was about the same as that of a turtle. But I was really good at digging for the ball. I did a great job of saving the point. And I was very accurate at serving. I had to admit that I wasn’t the best person for the front line so I put myself in the back row. And even though I had the right to do it, I chose to do what was best. That’s all God wants for our lives. He wants us to choose what’s best. That’s why he doesn’t force us because then not only do we not learn, but the decision is never really ours to begin with. We have to choose to surrender to God.
On this Easter Sunday, let us recommit our lives to Christ.
Let us remind ourselves that when we chose to be Christian, we chose to surrender our lives to Christ. We didn’t choose to surrender our lives on condition. We didn’t surrender our lives when it was convenient even though we act like that at times. We chose to surrender unconditionally to God. Let us join together in prayer.
I surrender my control to you. I surrender my control to you. I surrender my control to you. I am not the best guide of my own life. You are. You are the best guide of my life. And when I surrender myself to you, my life becomes a whole lot better. But it is hard for me to do. The truth is I cannot do it alone. I cannot earn my way to Heaven. I cannot forgive my own sins. So I put myself at your mercy. And surrender to your grace. On this Easter Sunday, I give myself to you unconditionally. And my life is the better for it. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.