Jesus, The Gift Of LoveErwin W. Lutzer | December 16, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
The love of God can be difficult to discuss, especially when bad things happen in our lives and our world.
The Apostle John says that God is love, and that His love was shown toward us through His Son. Through redemption, God’s love is in us, and it is to be exhibited through us. So may we mimic Christ’s costly, active love in our churches, our relationships, and our world.
What is the most difficult attribute of God to believe in? It’s not hard for us to believe that God is a God of all power. I mean, after all, if you see the stars you know that God must be all-powerful most assuredly. It’s not hard to believe that God is a God of justice. There’s something within us that cries up for justice. And we want justice and that desire is a good biblical desire because we are created after the image of God and we desire justice, and we can somehow grasp God’s holiness. But the attribute of God which is the most difficult to believe is the attribute of love, and the reason that it is so difficult is because we look at the world and the love of God seems to be so contrary to everything we know on earth and everything that we experience.
For example, the love of God is contrary to natural disasters. We know that natural disasters take place in the world - the horrendous hurricanes, such as Sandy, and the devastating hurricanes in Haiti. We could go on and on about the tremendous suffering of the human race, and that seems to be so contrary to love because those are the kinds of things that God could very easily prevent.
And then we have crimes, horrendous crimes, the shooting of children, and even though we say, “God didn’t do that,” human beings did. And yes, though it is true that God didn’t, the fact is it happened on God’s watch. So the question is how do we know that God loves the world? What can we point to that says this is love without ambiguity and without question?
One of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible on the love of God is found actually in the book of 1 John 4. We can see there the love of God, and what we’re going to do is we’re going to find that love, for it is best seen even in the midst of devastation. In the midst of unanswered questions God’s love will be there.
First John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God, and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” And he repeats those words a few verses later.
Now of course that doesn’t say all that God is. God is love, yes. God is just, God is all-powerful, but God is love, and we say to ourselves, “Where then do we see it with clarity?” And John goes on to answer our question.
What I’d like to do for the next few moments, and my remarks will be few, is to look at the love of God from three perspectives.
First of all, God’s love has acted toward us. It has acted for us. Let’s continue reading the text. It says in verse 9, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” God sent His Son. We’re talking Christmas. We’re talking Bethlehem.
Do you realize that Jesus is the only one who was born who, because He was the Son of God, chose where He would be born, what time He would be born, and who His mother would be? Jesus made all those choices along with God the Father because other children are born, but Jesus was sent into the world. What a difference! And the reason that He was sent into the world is very clear. It says in verse 10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” So there you have Christmas – Jesus sent into the world. There you have Easter – Jesus Christ coming to be the propitiation for our sins.
Now that word propitiation means that He is the sacrifice. He is the atoning sacrifice. In Old Testament times the high priest offered sacrifices, and especially on the Day of Atonement there was a sacrifice that was offered and then he went into the Holy of Holies. And you know that whole story, and it is there that the Ark of the Covenant was and blood was put on that ark (Why?) as an atoning sacrifice but it only pictured the coming of Jesus. It couldn’t be the real thing, and so Jesus comes, and by one offering He perfects all those who are sanctified the Bible says. And His one offering takes care of it all. What a marvelous Savior we have, and therein is love.
You know, sometimes the impression is given wrongly that God is a very vengeful and angry God, and then Jesus comes along and Jesus is the benevolent one. He makes a sacrifice for God the Father, but God doesn’t really love us, but thank God for Jesus who does. That’s a wrong way to look at the Trinity.
The Bible says, “For God so loved the world.” You can go on the Internet and you can find out that Christianity is like other religions because there are other religions that have sacrifice, etc. etc. but only in Christianity is it true that God becomes the sacrifice, and that’s the remarkable thing about Christianity, which is opposite to other religions. God loves the world. The decision that Jesus Christ should die was a voluntary decision but it was made by God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And in fact, God created in order that He might redeem because redemption is the sparkling jewel of His glory and of all that He is. And that’s why we love Him because He first loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
The big issue between God and us is sin. And if you don’t acknowledge that in your life you cannot be redeemed because “Jesus came to save His people,” the Bible says, “from their sins.” That’s why He came. And of course the Bible says that He did this even before we loved Him. “Even when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,” the Apostle Paul says.
I think of little Martha coming into a room and saying to her mommy as she had one doll under one arm and another doll under the other arm, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, I love them but they never love me back.” God loves us back, but God loves us even when we didn’t love Him back. Herein is love. God’s love acted for us.
Could I say also that God’s love from another perspective acts in us? You’ll notice that in verse 12 (and following) it says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior or the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Verse 17 says, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we might have confidence for the day of judgment.”
Over and over again John uses the word abide. The love of God abides in all those who know God. And of course that is proof that you are born again. Let me say here today that if you don’t love God at all, if you are indifferent to Him or don’t care about Him, or if you are tempted to say that you don’t owe God anything, that would be proof that you have never been born again. That’s what John says here in the text.
You see, when we are truly born again of the Holy Spirit, God creates within us a love that we do not have naturally. And this love is created within us. You know it says in 1 Peter regarding Jesus, “Whom having not seen ye love.” Now let me ask you a question. Is there someone whom you have never seen or connected with that you love? I don’t think so. You might be kindly disposed to other people. You empathize with their problems, with their sins, with their sorrows, but the fact is that we do not love unless we know people. And when we love someone whom we have never seen (whom having not seen ye love) that is really proof of the work of God in the human heart, creating within us a love that we do not naturally have. And that is proof that we know God.
Do you love God? I’m not saying that we love Him perfectly, but we do love Him because He first loved us, the text of Scripture says. So let’s keep that in mind. God’s love works in us, but God’s love also acts through us, and for this I’m going to go all the way to verse 19.
“We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” Thirty years ago when all of you were a little bit younger I preached a message here from this pulpit entitled Three Big Lies. And they are all really from the Gospel of John. In chapter 1 he says, “If you say that you walk in the light and yet there is darkness in your life, you lie.” In chapter 2 he says, “If you say that you know God and don’t accept the divinity of Jesus, you lie.” John is very upfront, isn’t he? And he’s saying, “If anyone says, ‘Well, I love God, but I hate So-and So (your brother in the church),’ you are a liar because he who does not love his brother whom he has seen (once again arguing it’s easier to love people who we know and see), how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
When you get married, and some of you have learned this possibly too late, you not only get your mate, but you get the family too. (laughter) I don’t know of any instance, though perhaps it has happened, where someone says, “I want to marry you but I don’t want your family. I don’t want your relatives. I just want you alone.”
When you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior the truth is, like it or not, you get all of us. (laughter) You get all of His brothers; you get His sisters. You get everybody who is related to Jesus, and here we are in all of our perfections and imperfections (which should really be highlighted) and here we are in all of these shortcomings, and the Bible says, “I’m putting you together that you might love one another.”
That’s why, you know, there’s emphasis today on the computer and how you can go to church on the computer. And I suppose that all throughout the world there are people listening to this message because we stream live all over the world and have heard from at least 80 different countries. So we’re glad for that and sometimes, if the time zone is right, I listen to church services on the Internet too. But there’s nothing that can really take the place of individually getting to know other believers and showing them love despite the fact that perhaps they hurt us, or they perhaps are so imperfect that we find it very difficult to be around them. And of course they feel the very same way about us.
The Bible says, “Don’t tell me that you love God and you hate your brother, because if you love God and you’ve received His divine forgiveness, and you’ve received His grace, you will be kindly disposed even to those who have done evil against you because the love of God is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given unto us.
I’ve often said it, and I’m saying it again. The world can out-entertain us., the world can out-give us and the world can outnumber us, but let it never be said that the world can out-love us because we have within us the love of God that has been shed abroad in our hearts. And so what John is really saying is that the love of God is lived out in our hearts.
Let me nail this down for all of us by making two concluding statements to help us to understand the implications. First of all, love is very costly. The Bible says that God gave, and I read it too quickly, didn’t I? God gave His one and only Son. This is verse 9. God sent His one and only Son into the world. It cost God.
In Italy there is a church with a painting that I think represents very good theology. The painting is of the crucifixion of Jesus with the nails through his hands and His feet, but there’s also a shadow behind Jesus, and that shadow is God the Father, and it is as if the nails have gone through Him as well. He also suffered.
You know in theology there is a disagreement. There are those who say that God cannot have emotions. The argument is that if you say God has emotions then you are saying that God is changeable, and “I am the Lord and I change not.” I disagree with that theology. I read the Bible and I find that God is a God of deep emotion. That’s why in the Old Testament it talks about God loving, and God being angry and God responding. Let us say it categorically that when Jesus died on the cross, considering the love between the Father and the Son and the relationship of the Trinity, considering all that, it is God who suffered. Now He suffered voluntarily. That’s the thing. Some of us suffer and it isn’t voluntary at all. It’s imposed upon us. But God chose to suffer to redeem us and to show us love, and love is always costly.
Jesus said in Luke 6, “Love your enemies. Be kind to them. Do good to them because then you are like the heavenly Father (our heavenly Father) for He also is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” If you want to be Godlike, love your enemies. Do good to them. Pray for them. “Bless those who curse you,” said Jesus. And you see that love costs us something. It costs us something when we exercise it. It also costs us something when it is withheld from us. You know the price of love. To be in love with someone who then rejects you hurts a lot more. Love has within it a cost, and when we ask ourselves the question, “Where is God?” when we look at natural disasters and when we see evil in the world, what we do is we hurry to the cross. We hurry to Jesus Christ, and there we see love very clearly manifested.
It was a man by the name of Frederick Lehman who wrote the words,
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
I didn’t practice that before I came here so it ended a little roughly, but you do get the point, don’t you?
God loves you and it’s costly to Him but He loves you anyway, and we should love in return.
There’s a second lesson and that is that love actually heals. You’ll notice it says this in the text in verse 17. “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in the world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” What John is saying is that if you are not sure of God’s love toward you, you are going to live in fear of judgment. And of course only those who are born again have that great sense of confidence, another word that John likes to use and uses throughout his book. But what John is saying is that God loves you so much that if you knew as a believer that His love toward you was totally unconditional and that He loves you, and loves you, and loves you anyway, imagine the confidence that you would have in God’s presence. Imagine how that would free you in your life. There would be no need to magnify what you are able to do, no need to try to build up your image, no need to try to be the richest person on the block, no need for that because you are loved by God.
Yesterday those of us who were here at the women’s luncheon heard a marvelous testimony of a young woman who, growing up, knew something was wrong in her family. There was something about her. She knew she was treated differently. At the age of 18 before she went to college she was told that she was adopted, and her aunt actually turned out to be her biological mother, and her biological father was in prison for selling drugs. You can imagine this great sense of identity – this identity crisis – and over and over again this young woman used the word love – how love healed her – God’s love and the love of other people.
Look at what the Bible says in 1 John 3:1. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” And I want to say “Wow!”
I don’t know all the answers to tragedy. I don’t know why God doesn’t prevent tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes. I don’t know all of God’s purposes in allowing an evil man to do so much damage to precious children. It’s beyond my imagination, but I do know that those who express their faith and trust in Jesus are special objects of His love. God loves the world but He loves those who belong to Him in a special sense, and we could show this from John 17. And His eye is upon you as a believer and He loves you, and someday you will be like Him, and reign with Him in heaven forever. And I suppose at that time many of the issues that we struggle about will be clear. Love heals.
There was a man by the name of George Matheson. He was born in 1842, and he was blind. Actually he got two degrees from the University of Glasgow because his sisters helped him. They read to him. He memorized all of the material. He became a preacher. He memorized the Scriptures. He memorized his sermons. It was the only way in which he could do that, but he also went through a time of great doubt, a time of questioning. And the doubts were so persistent and the depression was so heavy that he actually left the ministry for a while and said, “I can’t pastor with authenticity because my own heart just doesn’t have what it takes in the midst of it.” But he bounced back. He began to understand that God loved him despite his limitations. Despite his own doubts God loved him.
Jesus said, “No man born of woman is as great as John the Baptist.” Do you know when Jesus said that? It was when John was in prison full of doubts as to whether Jesus was the Messiah. There’s nothing wrong with honest doubts. Dishonest doubts – now that’s a different story, but George Matheson bounced back and wrote these lovely words.
Oh Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in their ocean depths it’s flow
May richer, fuller be.
Love that will not let me go! When you are looking for reasons to believe that God loves the world, hurry to the cross. And if you are here today and you don’t believe that God loves you, or you feel distant from God because of your sin, you also hurry to the cross. It is there where we are forgiven, we’re received, we’re welcomed, we’re made children of God, we join the family of God’s people and we are guaranteed a place in heaven forever.
Perfect love casts out fear. There’s no longer fear of judgment because we know that we’ve been accepted in the beloved one. It’s a word of hope in a world that desperately needs some.
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, I ask in Jesus’ name that you’ll take these words and bless them. Encourage Your people. For those, Father, who have lost hope I pray that they might come to where God’s love is manifested, where it is revealed. Father, help us to see that Jesus died to be a propitiation for our sins, to wipe the slate clean so that we could belong to God forever. Grant that, oh Lord, we pray.
And for those of you who perhaps are listening to this prayer, and I’m talking to you now, and you’ve never received Christ, even where you are seated or where you are listening to this - by whatever means, why don’t you say, “Lord Jesus, I receive You as my Savior, as my atonement, as the one who came to rescue me from myself and my sin?”
Lord, do Your work in our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.