Sunday, 14 April 2013

I want to know what love is

(The following is adapted from John Stott's 'The Cross of Christ', chapter 8)

In the 1980's a band called Foreigner sang, 'I want to know what love is.'  The Bible makes an amazing claim in this regard.  It says that you don't truly know what love is until you have looked at the cross.  'This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us', writes the apostle John (1 John 3:16).
So what makes the love at the cross so special?

1. God gave his Son

'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son' (John 3:16).  If God had sent an angel, as he sent Gabriel with good news to Mary and then to the shepherds, we would consider it an awesome privilege.  If God sent a prophet, as he did many times, warning people to turn back to Him, we might be thankful.  Yet in either case God was sending a third party, he was sending someone else.  But sending his Son is something altogether different.  God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have blissfully enjoyed one another for all eternity.  For God to send his Son, God is giving himself.  Love is about sacrifice and self-giving and God 'did not spare his own Son, but gave himself up for us all' (Romans 8:32).  God gave himself for us.  The apostle Paul calls Jesus 'an indescribable gift' (2 Corinthians 9:15).

2.  God gave his Son to die

It was amazing that God the Son has become a man and dwelt among us.  Just to watch how God lives in our world: battling temptations and trials, being adored by a fickle crowd and opposed by by jealous enemies, teaching like no-one has ever taught, being moved by a holy compassion, preforming miracles, and being misunderstood by both his family and his closest friends.  We have a God who has rolled us his sleeves and got his hands dirty; a God who knows what it is to be tired and hungry; and a God who wept.

But God taking on flesh is only the beginning of his self-giving.  God sent his Son to die.  He became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8).  Crucifixion was unimaginably painful.  However, it wasn't the physical pain that Jesus dreaded the most as he anticipated the cross.  It wasn't the mocking of the crowds that he feared.  It was the fact that on the cross he would take the punishment for our guilty and sin, experience the full weight of God's holy anger, and be separated from the Father.  In this life we will never fully comprehend the depths of that sacrifice.  John Stott writes, 'for the Sinless One to be made sin, for the Immortal One to die - we have no means of imagining the terror or the pain involved in such an experience.'

Nor should we imagine that it is only the Son who suffers.  The Father and Son suffer together but in different ways.  'The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son.  The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son.  The Fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the Sonlessness of the Father' (Moltmann).
3.  God gave his Son to die for us 

The Book of Romans says that apart from a relationship with Jesus we are sinful, ungodly and actually enemies of God. It also says that
... at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8).
The last wedding I conducted was that of Louise and Elton.  I don’t know how Elton and Louise got together.  I am sure that they told me but I have forgotten. But it probably went something like this: Elton sees Louise and thinks ‘Umm, she’s not so bad looking.’  He get’s to know her and finds that her personality matches her good looks.  He spends time with her and he enjoys her friendship.  So he says, ‘this girl is worth spending the rest of my life with.’ Now they are married.  Elton’s love for Louise may be the real deal but God’s love goes way beyond it.  Let me explain!
God looks at us and sees that we are in rebellion against his rule; he looks at our hearts and sees that we are self-centred and self-obsessed; he looks at our lives and sees all sorts of moral failings. Spiritually speaking it is as if we have the most horrendous breath, a huge bulbous nose, greasy skin and the personality of Gengus-Khan. Yet God declares ‘I love him’ ‘I love her’. Elton loves Louise because she is lovely but God offers to love us despite our many blemishes.  Elton loves Louise because she is lovely but God loves us because he is love.

'I want to know what love is.'  'This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.'  John Stott explains,
... that only one act of pure love, unsullied by any taint of ulterior motive, has ever been preformed in the history of the world, namely the self-giving of God in Christ on the cross for undeserving sinners. That is why, if we are looking for a definition of love, we should look not in a dictionary, but at Calvary.
So don't try to earn God's love, we can't earn it, and we definitely don't deserve it.  Instead, receive that love, delight in that love, be thankful for that love and be transformed by that love.

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