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TEXT: Galatians 2:20
SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #7: Christ's Love
For the last couple of months we've been studying The Passion of Jesus Christ, a small devotional book by John Piper, the goal of which is to tell why Christ suffered and died. From one angle, the reason is obvious: Our Lord suffered because men are bad and the devil is worse.
But this is not the angle Piper takes. He looks at the crucifixion from above; he says why God sent our Lord to the cross. His answers are not complete, and how could they be? God's wisdom is unsearchable, and His judgments are past finding out. There is mystery in the cross.
But not only that. God has given us His Word, and it gives a partial answer. It tells us-in part-what God was up to at the cross.
Last week, we learned that the our Lord's crucifixion proved the Father's love for us. It is God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Gave Him up to the torments of men and devils-and His own justice. No believer can look at the cross and wonder if God loves him. What further proof could you ask for? What further proof could He give?
Christians often struggle with assurance. They believe in God's love-but not for them. They want Him to show His love, to prove His love, give to them a sign of some sort that He loves them. If only God would whisper in my ear, 'I love you', then all would be well. But why should He whisper in your ear, when the cross has been shouting at you all your life? Why not believe in the love of God-not because you feel something-but because He did something!
God commended His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
This was our last meditation. Have you been mulling it over? Or have you become a forgetful hearer? It's sad how keen our memories are about some things: the wrongs done to me twenty years ago are evergreen in my mind. Birthdays, anniversaries, baseball stats, pop lyrics--all these we've got down cold and for life. But the love of God? That, we forget. No wonder Peter wrote his Epistle and didn't pass it on by word-of-mouth!
Therefore, I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know them, and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it right that as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease (II Peter 1:12-15).
His friends knew the love of God and were established in the knowledge of it. But every time Peter saw them, he brought it up again, and now that he's about to die, he puts it in writing, so they can hear about it every time the church meets. Copies of the Epistle were made-no doubt-and some must have re-read it every day.
We cannot think too often or too deeply on the love of God seen at cross.
Well, that was last week. For now, we look at the cross from a slightly different perspective. And from here, we see,
Christ suffered and died to show His own love for us.
Before we come to what Piper says about this, I want to put in something he left out. Did Jesus Christ have to die? It all depends on what you mean by 'have to'. If I say, 'We all have to die', that's true for us, but not for the Lord. In this way, He didn't have to die. Why not? Well, for one thing, because He didn't have to join the human race. For another, He could have become a man-and never died-because death is the penalty for sin, and He never sinned. And-more to the point, had He wanted to skip the cross, He could have. More than seven legions of angels were ready to free Him if He wanted them to. But He didn't want them to.
So, in this way, Jesus Christ did not have to die. But if He wanted to save us from our sin and misery, He did have to die. For there is other way to redeem sinners than to take their place. And 'taking the place of sinners' includes dying in their place-dying both a physical death and the Second Death.
What would move Him to die in our place?
John Piper is very brief in stating the topic. It's so clear to him that he doesn't waste time proving it:
The death of Christ is not only the demonstration of God's love (John 3:16), it is also the supreme expression of Christ's own love.
Is he right? Of course he is. The Lord Himself said,
Greater love has no man than this: that he would lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
The reasoning is obvious: Since a man's life means a lot to him, it follows that if he lays it down for you, he must love you a lot. You might tolerate a man enough to give him a few minutes of your time or like him enough to give him some of your money, but to give him your life? Only love will do that!
The Lord often said He loved His people, and everything He did supported His words. But at the cross, He did more than support His words, He proved them!
And Jesus, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end (John 13:1).
If I say 'I love people', it doesn't mean I love you. Maybe I love some people, but not others; maybe I love all others, but not you! Who did the Lord love and for whom did He die?
The matters have been contested for centuries by men far smarter and godlier than anyone in this room. Some of the debate has been edifying, but much of it has been beside-the-point, and sometimes abusive. Whatever we say about the extent of the Atonement, we must always say what Piper does-and say it loud and clear!
I see Christ suffering and dying. For whom? It says, 'The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).
And I ask, Am I be among the many? And I hear the answer, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved' (Acts 16:31). 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved' (Romans 10:13). 'Everyone who believes in Him receives remission of sins through His name' (Acts 10:43). 'To all who did receive Him, He gave the right to become the children of God' (John 1:12). 'He who believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life' (John 3:16).
Jesus Christ died for believers. Not just for people who have already believed in Him, but for those who will yet believe in Him. This means: the only thing excluding you from the love of Christ is unbelief-your unbelief. When you believe in Christ, you'll have His love-all of His love-as much as Moses had or Paul or the Lord's own mother! What was said about John will be no less true of you. You'll be.The disciple whom the Lord loved!
But-someone says-Moses and Paul and Mary were exceptionally fine people. Yes they were. But the Son of Man did not give His life a ransom for the few (like these, Joseph, Daniel, and Barnabas, and others), but for the many-including Lot, Gideon, Samson, Jonah, Peter, James, John, Thomas, Mark, and other misfits.
Add to this Ephesians 5:25,
Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
What kind of people are in the church? Read I Corinthians and you'll find out. The people way back then way over there are in the same mess we're in. And yet, Christ died for them.
The Marines want the Few and the Proud. The Church is satisfied with the Many and the Embarrassed.
In short, the objects of Christ's dying love are sinners who believe and are still sinners.
I like knowing Christ loves the Church or He loves the world or the Elect or sinners, or other groups. But what I like even more is knowing Christ loves me. Piper says,
The early witnesses who suffered most for being Christians were captured by this fact: 'Christ loved me and gave Himself for me'. They took Christ's sacrifice personally. He loved me; He gave Himself for me.
Surely this is the way we should understand the sufferings and death of Christ. They have to do with me. They have to do with Christ's love for me personally. It is my sin that cuts me off from God, not sin in general. It is my hard-heartedness and numbness that make me demean the worth of Christ. I am lost and perishing.
The believer knows Christ loves him because his belief is a gift of that love. Faith is the gift of God, given to everyone He chose and for whom Christ died.
This means-Piper says-
There flows into my heart this great reality-the love of Christ for me.
Did Jesus Christ go to the cross for the world? For the Church? For the Elect? For His People? Yes, to all of the above. But 'world, church, elect, and people' are made up of individuals, each with his own name and voice and history.
The Book of Life is like a phone book. It has all names in it and every name. Every believer is in the Book of Life; the Lord died, not only for us all, but for each one of us in particular!
Old theologians debated the sufferings of Christ and how they related to the number of the Elect. If the number of the Elect were greater than it is, would He have suffered more? If the number were smaller than it is, would He have suffered less? How much suffering would it take to redeem every man and demon? How much would it take to save even one man?
Much of what they said was speculation, but the conclusion was right of and the highest importance: Christ suffered enough to save all, and had He wanted to save only one person, He would have had to suffer every bit as much. This means: all of His suffering was.for me.
Love is never wasted. The wife, sitting alongside her husband's death bed may not heal him with her love, but her love does more for the dying man than all the doctors in the world. Love is precious, all love is!
If other loves confer favor, how much more the love of Christ? What is the Lord's love going to do for us? Piper says,
It gives me the greatest gift possible. And what is that? It is the gift He prayed for at the end of His life: 'Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory' (John 17:24).
Jesus Christ died so that we could see His glory-and enjoy it!
One day, everyone will see the glory of Christ. But not everyone will be glad of it. Some will wish the mountains to fall on them to hide them from His Majesty. But not believers. We'll be happy to see it, drunk with happiness!
Why? Because He loves us. And we know that because Christ suffered and died to show His own love for us.
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