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TEXT: John 13:1
SUBJECT: The Humanity of Christ #8: Love
For the last couple of months we have been looking at the Humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, first that He is a Man and then (in more detail) what kind of Man He is. I use the word, 'is' instead of 'was' to remind you that, now in heaven, He is still a Man-and the same Man He was when He lived on earth.
What kind of Man was He way back then? If you asked people who hardly knew Him, they say He was a powerful Man-doing the miracles that He did, or a wise Man, preaching brilliant sermons and making monkeys out of the scholars who tried to catch Him in His word. The people were right-He was a wise and powerful Man.
The people who knew Him better would say He was a generous Man, helping them when it would have been easier not to-allowing them to invade His privacy, interrupt His devotions, yank at His clothing, and in general, make a nuisance of themselves! They, too, were right: He was a patient and giving Man.
The people who knew Him best knew all of this, and they knew something more about Him: they knew His love. Our Lord might have done more miracles, preached more sermons, and helped more people than He did. But He could not have loved more than He did. John says-
Jesus.having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end.
'To the end' of what? Not 'to the end' of His life, but 'to the end of His love'. What an astonishing thought! All of His love was spent on His people, and it was all of His love that was spent on them. I have often joked, 'I love you with all of my heart. Unfortunately, my heart is the size of a BB'. If my words make you smile, they also make you nod. Most of the time, we don't love with all our hearts, and when we do the hearts we love with are small and cramped.
Our Lord's love is not this way. His heart is big and open, and over the next few hours, He would empty it-for Peter, James, and John, of course-and for you and me and the world.
To know Christ is to know His love, and until you know His love, you don't know Christ. But you can know His love, for He has not hidden it away in some secret place. He put it on display, in public, for all to see. And not only 'to see', but to feel and to celebrate and to practice.
Thus, today, we will complete our study of the Lord's humanity by looking at His love, which like all His human qualities is fully and only human. But in that human love He points us to a love that is more than human-
As the Father has loved me, even so have I loved you: continue in my love.
What is the love of Christ? No one can say what it is, for Paul writes, the love of Christ passes knowledge. He knew it as few others have, and even he didn't know it. All we can do is find a piece here, a fragment there, and hope what we come up with blesses you.
What is love?
I Corinthians 13 is a good place to start--
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy, does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Here Paul tells us what love does and doesn't do, but he doesn't quite tell us what it is. This is what love looks like, but not what it is.
We turn next to Colossians 3:14-
Put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Here we see what love does: it puts people together, and it keeps them together. Only by loving one another can we enjoy the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is love's fruit, but not love itself.
Philippians 2 come closer to what we're looking for than any other passage I know of. Beginning in v.2, it says-
Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Whatever else we can say about love, at bottom love is a choice. It's a choice of putting another person above yourself-of making his or her welfare more important than your own. But, by 'choice' I don't mean a one-time act-like a marriage vow-but a choice we make many times a day, every day.
The Gospels rarely tell us how our Lord felt or what thoughts went through His mind. They're mostly about the choices He made-to heal or not to heal, to wash feet or not to wash feet, to go to the cross or not to go to the cross. As far as I can tell, His love and the choices He made are one and the same thing.
In his infamous play, No Exit, the 'hero', Garcin, is exposed as a coward and a false friend. He tries to explain away his failures and find comfort in what he wanted to do in his heart. But Inez strips off all the pretense by telling him-
You are your life and nothing else.
The words are scalding. Because they're true. Our love is no better than the choices we make. And, because our choices are so often the wrong ones, we have to conclude our love is wrong too. Weak at its best, and sometimes not even that.
But look at Christ and the choices He made, and you see what love is. Not what the songs say it is, what the movies say it is, what Oprah says it is, but what it really is-
Esteeming others better than yourself.
'Laying down your life for a friend' is an heroic act, which, at times, love demands of us, and which our Lord did when He went to the cross for our salvation. But His love only ended at the cross; it didn't start there.
His love began where all love does: in the little things of life. If you start with John 13 and read through the end of the Gospel, you'll find most of what our Lord did rather humdrum.
For example, He stayed with the disciples in spite of their stupidity and pride. He taught them what they needed to know, even though, for the most part, 'they didn't get it'. He consoled them, knowing what a blow His death would be to them. He prayed for them when they were too sleepy to pray for themselves.
And He washed their feet!
This is only a small part of our Lord's life, only a few hours, in fact. But the hours were not exceptional: He was the same Man at the end of His public career as He was at the start, and every day in-between.
Most of the time, love is not about 'dying for others'; it's about 'living for others'. This is what our Lord did right up to the end. I find three anecdotes rather striking. They all occurred right at the end of His life and illustrated the whole life He had lived.
The first takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that our Lord was arrested, after nearly dying in prayer. It was the most stressful moment of His life (up to that time), but through it all, He kept His wits-and His love.
Peter loved the Lord very dearly, and when the mob moved in on Him, the brave disciple whetted his sword and took a mighty swing at them. Who he was aiming for, we don't know, but he grazed a young man named Malchus, cutting off part of his ear. When the Lord saw what he had done, He commanded Peter to sheathe his weapon, and then, He put the ear back on the wounded man. Malchus surely didn't believe in Christ (at the time) and he couldn't have had the chutzpah to ask for His healing touch, but He healed Him anyway. As though a servant's ear were more important than the King's life!
The next one took place on the cross, where, surrounded by people cursing and mocking Him, we find Him at prayer for them-
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
The last one occurred right at the end, when remembering His mother and the poverty in which He would leave her, He entrusted her care to the most dependable He knew, John-
Behold your mother.and from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
In all these things, see the practicality of His love! Mary didn't need a sermon, she needed a place to stay, and the Lord gave her one. Malchus didn't need a hard lesson, he needed a new ear, and he got one. The disciples didn't need a scolding, they needed encouragement and prayer, and that's what the Lord had for them.
If His love was not always spectacular, it was always what was needed. This is where love is most of the time: not in the big things, but in the small ones, which when put together, are the biggest ones of all.
Adore His everyday love. And imitate it.
NO GREATER LOVE
But we mustn't leave it there, because He also performed an act of love that was out of the ordinary-
No greater love has any man than this: that we lay down His life for his friends.
This is what John is referring to when he says-
Jesus.loved them to the end.
He loved them enough to die for them. If the cross was nothing more than 'death' it would be a brave and sacrificial act, but it wouldn't be unique. Charles Colson tells a story of an American Prisoner of War in Germany. Twenty men were sent out to dig a ditch. When they got back to camp, the guard counted the shovels and found one missing-twenty men, nineteen shovels. He asked who took the shovel and no one confessed. He proceeded to say, 'If the guilty man does not step forward, he would shoot five men in his place'. A nineteen year old boy stepped forward and was shot dead on the spot. The guard then re-counted the shovel, and this time he found.twenty. No shovel had been stolen; the young man chose to die for his friends.
Our Lord's death has some things in common with the young soldier's, but the two are far more different than they are the same. For our Lord did not simply 'go to the cross' for His disciples, He submitted to God's Wrath in their place! For their salvation. And ours!
The true greatness of His love, therefore, is seen in the crucifixion. If you need further proof of His love, He has none for you because there is none! How foolish we are to crave 'feelings' when we have a cross! Feelings change with the weather (and sometimes because of the weather), but the cross does not change-it really happened, and while it can be denied and confused, it cannot be undone!
Your Savior loves you. If you cannot believe His words, believe His wounds. What He said to Thomas He says to every doubter-
Reach your finger here and look at my hands; and reach your hand here and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.
This is the kind of Man our Lord Jesus Christ was and is: a loving Man. Do you know how He got that way? A great deal can be said here, from His virgin birth to His calling as Messiah, from His prayer life to the fillings of the Holy Spirit, and then there's the Word of God He mastered and that mastered Him.
But the primary cause of His love was an example Someone set for Him. Can you guess whom? It was His Father-not Joseph (though he was a fine man), but God. In a verse I never tire of citing, He said-
The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son does also (John 5:29).
Jesus Christ is a loving Man because His Father is a loving God! The love He has is not for the deserving; it's for the undeserving! After commanding us to love our enemies, the Lord tells us why we should do that-
That we may be sons of our Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.
To be 'sons of our Father' means to resemble Him, to be like God, in other words. In loving sinners (both saved and unsaved), Jesus Christ so resembled His Father that He could say-
Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.
We cannot be as loving as He was, and God doesn't expect us to be. He doesn't command us to be the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. But He does command us to resemble Him in some faint way. Paul charges us to-
Imitators of God as dear children.
While this is not limited to loving others, loving others is a very big chunk of it. If God is love, we cannot look like Him in the least unless we love others.
Not nameless, faceless others, but the people who live under the same roof we do; people we work with; people sitting in the next pew. These are the people we're to love-especially if they don't deserve it. Even the crooked publicans are up to loving those who love them. But the publicans are not our role models-Jesus Christ is!
Who deserved His love? No one did. This means the only people He loved were the ones who did not deserve it. If He can lower Himself to love the likes of you and me, we can do the same.
But to do it, we have to love God-
He who says, 'I love God' and hates his brother is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
Let me be candid if not courteous: the main reason professed Christians hate and despise people is because they hate and despise God! They don't need counseling, therefore, they need conversion!
This is not to say that every true Christian's love is what it ought to be-it isn't-far from it! We all need to grow in love, and to do it, I recommend the usual things: read the Bible, pray, go to church, confess your sins, and do all you can trusting Christ to forgive you where you fail and work in you to do what you cannot.
He who says he abides in Him ought himself so to walk even as He walked.
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