Father’s Day – A Son’s Sacrifice

Illustration for Christian speaker.

Here’s an illustration about the cross that might work especially well around Father’s Day.
It’s a story about Rudyard Kipling the father, and his son’s sacrifice.

The Father Behind the Cross
Steven Mosley

Rudyard Kipling liked to take his children for picnics in the hills of Sussex Downs. He played games for hours with them, and he told them stories.
This great British author had fascinated countless readers with tales of life in far-away India, where he grew up. He would become world-famous with the publication of “The Jungle Book,” and “Just So Stories.”
But nothing gave him greater satisfaction than telling his children stories, like the story of how the leopard got his spots and the zebra his stripes. They wanted to hear that over and over again.
Kipling adored his two daughters, Josephine and Elsie. And when his wife Carrie bore him a third child, he was overjoyed when the doctor called out, “You have a son.”
Now the family was complete. Kipling was determined to give his children a happy childhood, one very unlike his own.
Rudyard had to be separated from his parents at the tender age of six. He and his sister said farewell in Bombay and were shipped off to England, where they could attend “proper schools.” The woman paid to board them had a mean streak. She would beat and taunt Rudyard, who was small and frail for his age. Sometimes he was locked in a cold, damp cellar for hours.
Years later, Kipling determined that his kids were going to have plenty of sunshine. And he enjoyed watching them grow up, playing on the grassy hills of
Kipling took special pride in his son, John. He’d always been a bright, cheerful, uncomplaining child. And he developed into a tall, handsome boy, who
loved to play rugby.
One winter day in 1910 Kipling began to pen some thoughts for his twelve-year-old son. He wanted to express certain ideals to live by. The result was a poem called “If” which would inspire millions. It ended with these words:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Your is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–what is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

John Kipling did grow up to be a man. And in 1915, with a war raging in Europe, he decided to do his part. His father managed to get him a commission as a second lieutenant with the Irish Guards.
But then came news of the heavy casualties in the trenches. Wave after wave of recruits were sailing across the channel to France.
John might be called to go over any time now. He was eager to serve, but he was only 17. He required parental consent to go to the front.
Rudyard Kipling faced a difficult choice.
He’d visited the front; he’d written about the fighting; he didn’t want his son to have to go into that carnage. And yet everything he’d taught the boy about duty and never shirking responsibility was moving John in that direction.
Rudyard Kipling had been warning about German aggression for years. Now his son wanted to back up his father’s words with action.
So Kipling gave his consent. On August 15 John waved good-by from the railing of a ship, with a tip of his officer’s cap. His mother thought he looked “very smart and straight and brave.”
It was the last time his family would ever see him.
Six weeks later a telegram from the War Office reported–John Kipling, Missing in Action. Last seen during a battle in Loos, France.
Rudyard Kipling was heartbroken. He tried desperately to learn something, anything, about his son’s fate. Traveling over to France, he trudged from one muddy outpost hospital to another. He searched among the wounded. He hunted down men from John’s battalion.
But he never found his son. He’d been lost in the Great War.
Later Rudyard Kipling would try to deal with his grief by working with the Imperial War Graves Commission. He proposed that a Stone of Sacrifice be erected at each cemetery honoring the war dead. It would represent soldiers whose bodies were never identified. It would be inscribed with these words: “Known But Unto God.”
Known But Unto God. That memorial was a father’s anguished hope that God did know about that lost son, that God did understand.
I would like to suggest that God does know, far more than we can imagine. Because he too watched a Beloved Son grow intto maturity. He too endured tragedy. He too has a story to tell, and a memorial to erect. It’s a memorial for each one of us.
When Jesus of Nazareth began to increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with everyone, as Luke tells us, Joseph was proud of his fine son. But he wasn’t the only one. There was another Father, hidden in the shadows, watching over this boy. There was a Heavenly Father who treasured every step his divine Son took toward becoming a Man.
And one day this Father’s just couldn’t contain his pride. It burst out at the Jordan River, at the moment when John the Baptist lifted Jesus out of the water of baptism. Matthew 3:17 tells us:

And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

God the Father was well pleased with his beloved Son–and he had to tell people about it. Jesus was beginning his ministry. He was responding to the call of duty. He would teach the multitudes and heal the sick and comfort the afflicted throughout Judea and Galilee. He would live out the principles of grace and love and truth that his Father in Heaven had instilled in him. He would mirror God’s character so well that he could say, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.”
Yes this was a son to be proud of.
But one day, three years later, the Heavenly Father had to face a terrible choice. Jesus was agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was facing a terrible ordeal ahead. He had to make a great sacrifice in the war between good and evil. He had to take on the sins of the world in his own body. It was the only way to make people free.
The Father had watched him walk steadily toward his rendezvous with destiny in Jerusalem. He would not shirk his responsibility. But now, in that garden, the Son of God crumbled to the ground. The weight of sin seemed overwhelming. Sweating great drops of blood he cried out:

Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done. Luke 22:42

In those moments Jesus couldn’t see beyond that cup of divine wrath against sin. He only felt a terrible separation from his beloved Father. He wondered if there was some other way out.
And the Heavenly Father had to make a terrible choice. He didn’t want to see his boy suffer. He didn’t want to see him beaten and mocked and spit on. He didn’t want to see him tortured at Golgotha. He would have done anything to spare this Beloved Son from that agony.
And yet, and yet, everything that this Father and Son believed, everything they stood for, everything they cherished, was moving them toward the cross.
They had made a pact with each other long before; they had resolved to do whatever it took to rescue human beings from sin and death. And it was going to take this. It was going to take the cross.
That’s the terrible choice this Father had to make.
Most of us are familiar with images of Christ’s sufferings on the cross, nailed between two thieves. Many have painted vivid pictures of what he must have gone through, rejected by man, abandoned by heaven.
But there was another one who suffered too, hidden in the shadows. There was a Father who gave up his Son into our calloused hands. There was a Father ho had to watch silently as his boy was brutalized.
He was wounded too, deeply wounded. His son was lost, terribly lost. Hell had closed in around him like some great war that swallows up the noblest and the bravest.
Rudyard Kipling knew a little bit about that kind of sorrow. He knew about it as he wandered from one muddy hospital to another in France, looking for some word of John, his one and only son. He felt that wound when he realized the boy had disappeared without a trace.
The Heavenly Father had to watch his Son be consumed by sin, torn apart by transgression. He had to turn away when his boy cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
A Father doesn’t forget a cry like that. Those words are seared into his memory.
Yes there was a Father behind the cross, there was another who suffered in the shadows.
And do you realize that it’s God the Father who turned the cross into a monument? Yes he had to have a monument for his son’s sacrifice, like Rudyard ipling did.
My son gave up his life for you. That’s the inscription on the cross. All the sacrifice that cross represents is “Known But Unto God.” But God wants us to know about that monument. He wants us to know what it means, why it was necessary, what it can do for us.
During the dark days of World War I, Rudyard Kipling had a hard time coming to terms with his loss. He began to wonder if the death of his son had any meaning. Had it made any difference? The fighting dragged on and on.
One day he received a rumpled, brown-paper package in the mail. It was addressed simply to Monsieur Kipling. The painstaking scrawl indicated it had been sent from the front.
Kipling opened the package and found a red box inside. It contained a French translation of his novel Kim. And the book had been pierced by a bullet hole–that stopped at the last 20 pages. A string had been tied through the hole, and dangling from it was the Maltese Cross, France’s medal for bravery in war.
It belonged to a young French soldier named Maurice. He explained in a letter that Kipling’s book had saved his life. Had it not been in his pocket when he went into battle, the bullet would have pierced his heart. Maurice asked Kipling to accept the book and the medal as tokens of his gratitude.
Rudyard Kipling had received many honors as a celebrated British author. He’d even won a Nobel Prize for literature. But no honor moved him as much as
this one. God had made him a part of sparing someone’s life. Maybe there was a meaning to it all. Maybe there was a point to all the sacrifice.
And that is the point to the sacrifice Jesus made. That is the meaning that the Heavenly Father sees. Someone’s life can be spared. Your life can be spared. Many lives can be spared.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross meant that, “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death.” (Hebrews 3:14)
Paul tells us that Christ delivered us from this present evil age “according to the will of our God and Father.” (Galatians 1:5)
God the Father and God the Son were together in that sacrifice, in that giving of themselves. That’s why we can be delivered from an evil age into the
Kingdom of Heaven.
Paul the Apostle knew the part the Father played in the drama of redemption. And so he wanted to give God the Father glory. He wanted to turn the monument of the cross into a medal that the Father holds in his hands, a medal that says, “You’ve saved this life; I’m forever grateful.”
Rudyard Kipling and that French soldier Maurice kept up a correspondence over the years. They developed a friendship that helpped Kipling deal with the loss of his own son. And one day Maurice wrote that his wife had given birth to a boy. Would Kipling consent to be the godfather?
Kipling looked out his study window. He remembered that joyful moment when he first held his son in his arms. Now Maurice knew that magical feeling–because his life had been spared. And Kipling realized that no memorial would do more justice to his brave son’s memory than this tiny infant, full of promise.
So he wrote back, saying he would be delighted. Rudyard Kipling became the child’s godfather. Maurice named him, Jean, French for John. And Kipling
presented the infant with a gift, that book with the bullet hole in it and the Maltese cross, Maurice’s medal. He thought it only fitting that this child should have it.
Do you know what gives God the Father his greatest joy? Do you know what he finds most rewarding about the sacrifice he and his Son made? It’s seeing many other children born in faith, born again into the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s what makes it all worth while. The Apostle John says it so eloquently. 1 John 3:1:

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! 1 John 3:1

What manner of love indeed. Because of his sacrifice we can be called children of God, we can be accepted into the divine family, we can grow up secure in his love.
That’s the honor that God gives us. He enables us to clutch that cross in our hands like a medal. He wants us to know that the sacrifice was worth it—because of what it can mean to us. He wants us to know it was worth it–just to see the light come on in his child’s eyes.


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