TONY ELDER: Jesus suffered, died on the cross out of love for us

Some stories always touch our hearts no matter how often we hear them. For example, can anybody watch the movie "Old Yeller" without being moved by it? I remember as a child having tears in my eyes as I left the theater after my first encounter with that Disney film.

I confess that it still gets to me. That's why I've intentionally avoided that movie over the past year and a half, ever since our beloved basset hound died. I'm afraid it would affect me even more in light of that event.

Why does it get to us? It's because it's primarily a story about love -- the love between a boy and his dog. It's heart-wrenching to see that youngster have to make the tough, adult decision to shoot his pet after it comes down with rabies.

But do you remember how Old Yeller contracted that disease in the first place? He got it from defending his family from an infected wolf. It was the dog's love for his family that caused him to suffer and die the way that he did.

While the account of Jesus and His crucifixion is on a whole different level than that of "Old Yeller," there is a similarity. Jesus was motivated by love as well. He suffered and died out of love for us.

Jesus described Himself as the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep (John 10:11). Out of love, He was protecting us from the rabid wolves of Satan and sin.

Another time Jesus proclaimed in reference to His upcoming actions at the cross, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). That's what Jesus' death was all about. He loved us and laid down His life for us.

It's important to remember that Jesus wasn't just fulfilling a duty by dying for our sins. He wasn't simply doing a job that His Heavenly Father had given Him to do in redeeming us and saving us. Neither was He acting from any other lesser motivation.

Jesus was willing to endure the cross out of love for you and me.

No doubt many of us will be coming into contact once again with the familiar account of Jesus' crucifixion over the next week or so as we approach Easter. Maybe you'll hear a sermon on the subject, read the story in the Bible, or watch the event portrayed in a movie or in a passion play.

For some of us, it may be a story we've heard countless times since we were children. But it should still touch our hearts today. If it doesn't, then maybe we're not focusing enough on what's happening and why.

We shouldn't just read the account of Jesus' suffering and death as history. We shouldn't simply view it as a noble story, an inspiring story, or a sad story.

We should keep in mind that above all the account of Jesus at the cross is a love story -- a love story that involves you personally. It's all about Jesus' love for you.

So as you hear the story again or watch the portrayals of Jesus being mocked, beaten, and dying, remember why He did it. Force yourself to think about the truth that He did it all out of love for you, as painful as it may be to contemplate that fact.

If "Old Yeller" can still bring a tear to our eyes, then surely that precious old story about what Jesus did for us at the cross should touch us even more.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.