This is Love (March 17, 2019)
This is Love
The easiest way to illustrate what I mean would be to point to a marriage and the vows that husband and wife make. These vows are fashioned after God’s own command “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). And “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). But just because I am using an illustration of husbands and wives, doesn’t mean the rest of you are off the hook. And it doesn’t mean that today’s sermon is just about the love between a husband and wife. In fact, it’s not even the main point. It’s just a very real way to illustrate my point because we can point to the vows that each made to “promise to be faithful, as long as we both shall live.” It’s also seen in the exchange of rings, circular rings, as a “symbol of my love and faithfulness.” The main point is love. We are commanded to love – not just husbands and wives, but all people. “A new command I give you” Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34).
“As I have loved you.” I can’t get past that phrase. Jesus loved me so much. Jesus loved you so much that he willingly went to death for you. And this wasn’t just a decision made in the moment – he was captured and it was his life or yours. No. From day one his whole life was about living for you. Every step he took was one step closer on his journey of dying in your place. He had a plan for your salvation. He stuck to that plan every step of the way.
He even stuck to that plan when others tried to change it. Some Pharisees, of all people, warned Jesus of the death that they saw coming for him. “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you” (Lk 13:31). Now, why would some Pharisees be suddenly so concerned about Jesus? Weren’t these the very people who were trying to make it difficult for Jesus every step of the way? Weren’t these the same people who were plotting against Jesus and trying to take his life? Why the sudden concern?
A few interpretations have been given. Perhaps some Pharisees were truly sympathetic toward Jesus and wanted to spare him from meeting the fate of John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded. However, the far more likely scenario, is that they were trying to speed Jesus on toward Jerusalem where he would be met with death. You see, Jesus was in Perea, which was on the eastern side of the Jordan River – in Herod’s territory. They wanted him to flee across the Jordan right into Jerusalem where they could much more easily rally a mob. In Jerusalem they more sway, than in Perea or Galilee where Jesus was fairly popular with the people. So, it seems they only feigned love, to feed their own appetites of revenge.
Jesus was already on his way to Jerusalem. But despite threats and masked warnings, he would not be deterred from the plan that had been set a long time ago. He would not be swayed from neither the type of death he would face, nor the timing of that death. Se he responded, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’” (Lk 13:32). It’s a somewhat cryptic statement, because there are several layers to it. First, Jesus was saying that he would not be swayed by others from the timeline set by God. He had his plans. He knew the timing. The Pharisees could do nothing to change that no matter how hard they tried. Second, he was hinting at and foreshadowing the timeline of his death and resurrection. He numbers the days figuratively in this context. We know that because he does not leave the region after 3 days. But in doing so, he is also once again alluding to the literal timeline of his death and resurrection, and just what that would mean. “On the third day I will reach my goal” (Lk 13:32). On the third day, my purpose, salvation and life, will be accomplished! My love will reach its fulfillment.
It was love that lead him along every step of that path. It was love that lead him to the cross where he would die. It was love for you that led him, almost stubbornly to do the only one thing that could save you. What was that phrase again? The one that I began with? “As I have love you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34). I’ve already failed. Sure, I’ve vowed to my spouse that I would love her as Christ loved the church from day one… but I haven’t. Sure, I bear the name of Christ, by which I serve as his representative – salt and light – in the world… but every day I fail to love with the stubborn kind of love that Jesus gave to me. And yes, I call it stubborn for a reason. Because if you’ve ever dealt with a stubborn person, you know that they will stick to their decision, their plan, despite all reason and logic against them. It just doesn’t make sense! Well, the same goes for Jesus’ love. He knew his fate, and yet he went. He knew the kind of people he was saving, and yet he went. He knew the multitude of ways he could have gotten out of it, and yet he went – straight on to his death. Unwavering to death
What is most surprising, however, is the people he went for. He went for people like these Pharisees, who rejected him, plotted against him, and made life difficult for him at every turn. Why? It just doesn’t make sense! He went to the cross for the very people who captured him, put him on trial, and nailed him to the cross. Even saying, “Father forgive them” as they did it! Why? It just doesn’t make sense!
It makes about as much sense as defending someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you – yet you do it anyway because you know they will face serious punishment if you do not. It makes about as much sense as caring for and paying medical bills for someone who injured themselves… while trying to vandalize your property and rob you. It makes about as much sense as a husband loving his wife, a wife loving her husband, or you loving your neighbor even when they have been rude or harsh to you. I call it “stubborn love” because God doesn’t say, “love them if they deserve it.” He simply says “Husbands, love your wife…. Wives, submit to your husband” (Eph 5:25). “Love one another. As I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).
That is exactly what Jesus did for each and every one of you. He was unyielding in his “stubborn love.” He loved you even when you did not know him. He loved you even when you held him at arm’s length. He loved you even when you’d rather he wouldn’t because you wanted to do your own thing and set aside God’s commands to indulge yourself. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t have a love like mine – a love which gives up when rejected. A love which yields when it is not received. A love which at times is only a fake love – like the Pharisees feigning love to warn Jesus so that they can get what they really wanted. That’s you, and that’s me.
Thankfully, Jesus is not like me, and is unyielding in his “stubborn love” for me and for you. What he says to Jerusalem, he says to you each and every time you wander off, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Lk 13:34). We kill the prophets when we’d rather not heed God’s Word. And we stone those sent to us when we can’t believe there is forgiveness for sin. But no matter how we feel about it, God’s love remains. It does not change. When it comes to loving you, Jesus is pretty stubborn about it. It was his unwavering love that brought him to the cross to die. And it is his unyielding love for you that means you will never die!