It's About Love

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 John 3:1-2
1 Corinthians 2:9

Against all the misery of a dysfunctional world, in the face of sin’s ravages upon human nature, in response to all the misery and despair that life can produce, there stands a single word: Love.

When my kids were little, they learned to sing this song in Sunday School:

It’s about love, love, love; that’s what it’s all about.

Because God loves us, we love each other,

Mother, father, sister, brother,

Everybody sing and shout, because that’s what it’s all about.

Not exactly Handel’s Messiah, but there’s no arguing with the main idea. Love is what it’s all about.

The gospel, the Christian faith and life, God’s grace, our response – they all revolve around this one theme of love. Because God loves us, he saves us. Love is the motive behind our salvation. Because God is love, you and I will find that our lives will have happy endings, no matter what may happen along the way – provided we sincerely respond to that love as it is lavished upon us in Jesus Christ.

But love is more than just what motivates God and makes him want to save us. It is also the purpose of our salvation. It’s what he saves us for; it is the end result that God intends us to achieve. Out of love the Lord saves so that we will become lovers ourselves – lovers first of him, and lovers of our fellow creatures as well, even of our enemies! Against all the misery of a dysfunctional world, in the face of sin’s ravages upon human nature, in response to all the misery and despair that life can produce, there stands a single word: Love. The love of God rescues, transforms, heals, makes gloriously whole, and one day will fill the whole world like the very atmosphere we breathe.

THE CHRISTMAS STORY

What else is the Christmas story but a tale of love? It is the climax of the patient and loving purposes of God, traced down the centuries and across the pages of Old Testament patriarchs and judges, prophets, priests and kings. Those purposes led the Lord God eventually to come into our world in person. John 3:16, the most familiar and beloved verse in the Bible, is really an explanation of the reason behind Christmas. “God loved the world so much, that he gave his one and only Son . . .”

One of my favorite Christmas texts isn’t from the gospels or the prophecies. It’s from one of Paul’s letters, Galatians 4, verses 4 and 5: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” The gift was given “in the fullness of time,” says Paul, that wonderful phrase – in other words, when everything was ready for his coming, after so many long years – centuries, millennia – of waiting, at just the right moment. That’s when God came. The promise of a Champion, a Savior, had first been made unimaginably long before. In fact, it was in the Garden of Eden just after Adam and Eve had made a mess of things. But as they stood amidst the wreckage of the goodness and beauty of God’s creation with the dark doom of a life of frustration and pain falling upon them like a shroud, God offered Adam and Eve a word of hope. To the sentences of punishment God added a promise. One day a child of Eve would crush the serpent’s head. Now, in the fullness of time, that day had dawned at last. God sent his Son, Paul says, that is, his Son by very nature, the One who, in the profound mystery of the being of God, was both one with the Father and another, a second Person.

This Son was born of a woman. Now, it is no very remarkable thing to say that a man was born of a woman; after all, how else would a human being come into the world? What is amazing, what should never fail to take our breath away, no matter how many times we hear the story told, is that the Son of God should be born of a woman. God chose to enter the world like any other person. He could have just appeared, or descended to earth in a cosmic spectacle, but instead he came through a birth canal, with labor pains and blood, to show that he was also a real person and to identify with us fully in our human condition.

In the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, above the spot where tradition says Mary received the news of the coming child, there is an inscription which reads “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est.” “Here the Word Truly Was Made Flesh”; and so he was truly.

Finally, Paul says, he was born under the law, which means that he was born not just to humanity in general but to a specific woman, a Jewish woman, in a particular time and place. God wasn’t a generic person; he was the man Jesus of Nazareth. The phrase “born under the law” also means that he submitted himself to all of the law’s obligations. In the words of a communion liturgy, the Son of God “was sent by the Father into the world to fulfill for us all obedience to the divine law, even to the bitter and shameful death of the cross.” “By putting the chains on himself, he takes them off [us]” (John Calvin). So God sent his Son, born of a woman in the fullness of time, born under the law, to redeem those under law. Christ’s obedience, up to and including his death on the cross, cancels and covers our disobedience and rescues us from the guilt and consequences of sin.

It’s about love. It’s all about love.

WHAT WE ARE

The New Testament writers can never get over their sense of wonder at the greatness of this love of God that caused him to invade our world on a cosmic rescue mission. Here’s another example, this time from one of the apostle John’s letters.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. . . . Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

1 John 3:1-2

First John chapter 3 begins with one of the Bible’s great exclamations: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” The greatness of God’s love is measured by what it has accomplished. He undertook history’s biggest salvage operation, a project that involved turning stubborn rebels into beloved children. Like terrorists who are determined to seize power and don’t care what they destroy or whom they hurt in the process, sinful human beings make war on their Creator and his world. But the Lord disarms them with his love. He even allowed them to put him to death, all in order to overcome their hostility and gather them back to himself.

The reality of the love of God is not always easy for us to comprehend or even believe. In Jesus Christ all our sins are forgiven and we are adopted as God’s children, part of his family, Jesus’ little sisters and brothers.

But if you are anything like me, you know you aren’t worthy of such grace. You find it hard to accept the fact that God really does love you. I don’t always feel like a child of God. Often I feel more like his adversary, especially when I look into my own heart and mind. I’m very conscious of the sinful attitudes and twisted thoughts that seem to pervade my psyche. And when I make an honest appraisal of my own actions, I’m often dismayed by what I see – and by what I fail to see. That’s why it’s so important not to focus exclusively on ourselves, but to stake our faith on the promises of God. I am not just the sinner I know myself to be; I am also what God’s word declares me to be: I am his dearly loved child.

When I want to be sure of how God really feels about me, I don’t look in the mirror; I look at Jesus Christ. For I am accepted in the Beloved. If you are a lover and follower of Jesus, no matter how weak or faltering, so are you! “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

WHAT WE SHALL BE

But that isn’t all. We must believe the Bible, not only when it tells us what we are, but when it points toward what we will become. The New Testament describes believers’ present status and position by using the word “in.” We are “in Christ.” If we are joined to him by faith, Christ right now is our “wisdom . . . righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). But much more is in store for us in the future. Someday we will not just be in Christ by faith; we will be with Christ and like Christ in fact, in reality.

What it will be like to actually experience this is literally beyond our imagining. “Beloved, we are God’s children now,” says John; “what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” In a similar tone of wonder the apostle Paul exclaimed,

No eye has seen, no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him.

1 Corinthians 2:9

We really can’t even begin to realize what heaven will be like and what we will be like when we are there. What will it mean to actually be perfect the way Christ is? What will it feel like to finally and forever be delivered from all evil, to at last be rid of the self-centeredness of our nature. Just imagine never having to worry or even think about your self any more. What a relief! Or try to picture standing in the glory of the presence of God and looking upon that face that continually bestows life on its beholders (Bunyan). Indescribable. Unimaginable. But this we do know. As Christians, when the moment comes for us to close our eyes for the last time in this world and open them for the first time in the next, it will be the moment we have been waiting for all our lives. It will mean the true fulfillment of every wish or dream we’ve ever had.

In his Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis re-imagines the Christian story by setting it in the enchanted world of Narnia. The final book in the series, The Last Battle, tells of the destruction of that world. But it wasn’t really the end of the world; it was just the beginning. The closing paragraph of the last story of Narnia goes like this.

The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

OUR LOVE FOR OTHERS

What a wonderful prospect! But meanwhile, here we are. Our future is glorious beyond our most fervent hopes, but we have to live in a present that may leave much to be desired. The apostle John understands this too, which is why he adds one more statement: “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). You see what he is getting at? Our hope of heaven is more than just a glorious expectation for the future. It is also a stimulus for present action. We don’t just sit around and wait for Christ to appear and make us perfect. We begin here and now to live like him. The love of Christ motivates us to purify ourselves as he is pure, to turn from our sins because he is without sin (v. 5). Positively, to live a more Christ-like life means spending a lifetime practicing love (v. 11). That really is what it’s all about!