Sunday, December 21, 2014

How Do You Measure Love?

The Measure of Love
Fourth in Advent

Homily Text:  So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Today we lit the Love Candle. Christmas, which is soon upon us, is about joy, peace, and love.

When our kids were little sometimes I’d ask, “How much do you love me?” They’d stretch out their arms and say, “This much.”  Then I’d ask, “And how much do you love your Mom?” and they’d nearly pull their shoulders out of socket stretching their arms out till they couldn’t stretch them any further.

I’d like to ask an even more important question: How do we measure the love of God? To answer that think with me about one one of the most important texts in all the Bible, a text that we hear as one of the comfortable words  when we celebrate Holy Communion. “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

1. We measure the love of God by its object.

What does God love? He loves the world.

When we use the word “world,” we can mean different things. We can this earth and its atmosphere where we live. We can mean the inhabitants of the earth - people. St. John uses the word in these ways, too, but he also has a special way of using the word.

Most often when John uses the word “world” it has a moral or ethical implication. He says in his first letter, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2:15) But why should we not love the world? “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15,16).

The reason for all the sin and wickedness in the world is that the devil is the prince of this world (Jn. 14:30). “The world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19 ESV). When the Son of God came into the world, even though the world was created by him, the world did not recognize him (Jn. 1:10). He came as the Light of the world, but men loved darkness rather than light “because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19). Jesus exposed the wickedness of the world; therefore, the world hated him (Jn. 7:7) And, as the world hated Christ, so it hates those who trust in and follow him, because they no longer belong to the world or share the spirit of the world (Jn. 15:19, 17:14).

The world is the world of human beings rebelling against God because, unless and until they are set free by Christ, they are captives of Satan. This evil world of human beings does not know Christ, and does not receive him when he comes, but hates him and his people.

It is the world of people that God loves. But it is not a world of good, or righteous, or worthy people. The people of this world are part of a system controlled by the devil and in rebellion against its Creator. He sends his Son into world, and the world hates him just because he came from God.

Now, if I treated you well, and you returned my treatment of you with hate, I would struggle to try to love you, because Jesus told us to love our enemies. But if I treated you well, and you hated my son and hurt him, I would find it all but impossible to love you. I would  lack the desire, will, and ability to love you. Yet, when God looked at this world of sinners, he loved this world and wanted to save it. In his first letter John says if we want to see and understand love we cannot begin with our love - not of other people, not even of God - but we must look at God’s love for us (1 Jn. 5:10).

How big is God’s love? How can we measure it? Look at its object. God loves this world of sinners such as you and I.

2. We measure the love of God by its action.

How does God love the world? He gave his only-begotten Son.

The  nature of real love it to give. The problem with so much human love is that it is more interested in getting than in giving. We can sometimes see ourselves in children at Christmastime. Kids generally are focused on presents, and not on giving them but on getting them. While we parents usually get more joy from watching our kids’ excitement in opening their gifts than in anything we may receive, we can be as selfish as they are. We profess love for a person, and maybe even believe we do, when what we seeking  to get something we want. You’re not loving; you’re manipulating. Or, we  profess our love when what we are really doing is negotiating a quid pro quo: “I love you and I’ll give you what you want, but I am expecting you’ll give me what I want.” You’re not loving; you’re making a deal.

But God’s love is pure giving. What do we have that God needs or wants from us? Nothing. There is nothing in us or about us that would attract his love. It is just the opposite. God’s holiness is repulsed by our sin. There is nothing we can do for God or give to God while we are part of the world that is in rebellion against him, and we all are part of that world until he rescues us. So, if God loves us and gives to us, all the loving and giving is on his side.  God takes the initiative and loves the world unilaterally. God loves, and so God gives.

What does God give? He gives his Son, his only-begotten Son. The only-begotten Son is the unique Son and the only Son.

When can get some idea of what it is to be an only-begotten son by looking at Abraham and Isaac. When God tested Abraham, he asked Abraham to take his only-begotten son and offer him as a sacrifice. Now Abraham had other sons. Ishmael, was born to his wife’s servant girl Hagar. He also had other sons born to a secondary wife whose name was Keturah. But Isaac was unique, because he was the only son born as a result of God’s promise and supernatural intervention and the only son who could inherit all the promises made to Abraham - the only son through whom God’s plan of salvation would be carried on. There was no other son like Isaac. And, because there was no other son like Isaac, Isaac was in one sense Abraham’s only son. Not Ishmael or any other son could take Isaac’s place, if Abraham had to sacrifice his son. Isaac was irreplaceable.

Christ, the only-begotten Son, is the unique Son of God and God’s only Son. He is like Isaac, but he is also different from Isaac. Isaac was literally begotten by Abraham, and there was a point in time when he came to exist - when he was conceived in Sara’s womb. He was different from Abraham’s other sons because he was the only son Abraham had with Sara, and because he was the only son God spoke about when he promised to give Abraham a son, the only son who could inherit the promises God made to Abraham.

The Son of God was not literally begotten of the Father, and there was not a time when he came to exist. What John means, when he says that he was the only-begotten Son, is that he is the only Son who has the same nature as the Father - the only Son who like the Father is truly God.  He is the Word who was there already when God created the world through him. In the beginning he was with God and was himself God. He is the eternal, always existing Son. God has many adopted sons, all those whom he rescues from the grip of Satan and sin, but he has only one Son who is God. There is no other son who is a Son as he is. God has no other Son like him, a Son who shares the divine nature.

It is this Son - the Son who is God - who is God’s only Son. He is, as the Father said when Jesus was baptized, the beloved Son with whom the Father is well-pleased. There is a unique love, a perfect love, between God the Father and God the Son. It is a love that surpasses by an infinite magnitude the love of any human parent for any human child.

It is this Son, whom the Father loves more than we can ever know, that God  sent into the world, because he loves the world. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world…” (1 Jn.4:9). The world into which God sent his only-begotten Son is this world of sinners who are hostile against God.

I am blessed to have five sons. If I could send them where I wanted, I would never send, not even the one of them least favorite that day, among enemies who hate me, who would show him the same hostility they would show me, who would mistreat my son just because he is my son. But God gave his only-begotten Son by sending him into this world.

He gave him into this sinful world, and he gave him up unto death for this sinful world in order to pay for our sins.  He did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all (Rom. 8:32). “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8). It was when we were without any strength to do anything to save ourselves, when we were still ungodly, that God sent his Son into the world to die for us, that that we might have our sins forgiven, be accounted righteous in God’s sight, and be reconciled to God. This is love beyond our comprehension. A love we can do nothing to merit. A love at whose mystery we can only marvel. A love for sinners so great that God sent the Son he loves beyond our understanding among us sinners to die for our salvation.
How big is God’s love? How can we measure it? Look at its action. God loved and gave his only begotten Son.

3. We measure the love of God by its purpose.

What is the purpose of God’s love? So that all who believe in the Son should not perish but have everlasting life.

Real love is purposeful. The purpose of God’s love for sinners is that they may avoid the greatest evil and obtain the highest good.  

The evil that God wants sinners to avoid is perishing. for he is not willing that any should perish. Sometimes “to perish” means “to die.” When the disciples and Jesus were crossing the Sea of Galilee, and a storm came up while Jesus was sleeping and kept on sleeping, they finally woke him up and said, “Carest thou not that we perish?”  They were afraid they were about to die by drowning. But here John is talking about a pershing beyond dying -  about dying under God’s condemnation because of sin and then perishing eternally. The Bible teaches this is an active and eternal perishing under judgment. I could wish that perishing meant just dying or dying and annihilation, but the Bible seems to be telling us that this is conscious state of eternal pershing outside the mercy and goodness of God. This surely is the greatest imaginable evil. It is horrific to think that creatures made in God’s image to have fellowship with him forever should exist through eternity under his judgment. The purpose of God’s love, the reasons for his giving his Son, is that we might  avoid this - that we might not perish forever.

God’s love purposes not only that we should avoid the greatest evil but that we should possess the greatest good - everlasting life. Everlasting life is much more than unending life - life that goes on forever. If life as we know it now should should go on forever, there are times when it would be no blessing. Life with pain - whether physical or emotional - if it went on forever, we would find to be misery. Even life without pain, but with boredom and purposelessness, is a life that would be no blessing to us if it went on forever.

That’s not what everlasting life is. Everlasting life is the life of eternity - it is the life God enjoys and shares with those who are in his presence. It is both a quality and a a quantity of life. It is a life of perfect happiness and blessedness. It is the abundant life Jesus said he came to give. It is a life that begins now and which we will enter fully and completely in the world to come. A life of enjoying God. It is not an ethereal and boring life but a life of eternal  joy in his presence. It is not a life subtracted from but a life with every good added. We need not worry that we will long for this present life, for everlasting life is life that will make this life at its best pale by every comparison. C. S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” That longing is for everlasting life and all the meaning, purpose, joy, and love that are part of life everlasting.  Jesus promised, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).

God’s purpose is that all who believe should have this life everlasting. It is not for a favored few, but for many. You don’t need to worry that the circle of God’s love is so restricted that you might be left out.  But it is not for all. God’s love is for for all those who believe in the Son -  but only they.  Everlasting life is yours and mine if we believe in the Son whom God sent to be the Savior of the world. All those who trust in him as Savior and Lord have now and will always have life everlasting.

It is not my desire to disturb anyone who believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God  and Savior of the world. But do you believe? You attend church. You have been baptized and confirmed. You hear sermons and receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion. All these things are good. But do you believe in the Son? Do you hear the Word and receive the Sacrament with faith? I ask simply because I want you, as God wants you, to have everlasting life.

The word people most enter on search engines devoted to the Bible is “love.” There is a human longing for love coupled with a deep sense that we are unworthy of love. You are unworthy of love. I am unworthy of love. I am worse than you think. You may be worse than I think. But “so God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Come to the Table believing in the Son and be assured that God loves you and gives you eternal life.

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