Looking for Love
First after Trinity
Epistle: 1 John 4:7-21
Homily Text: 1 John 4:10- (KJV)
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Where would you look if you wanted to see what love is? If you wanted to understand real love? We probably know enough not to look at teenage love that may burn hot but soon grow cold. But you might think about the love of a wife and husband, each loving the other for better or worse as long as they live. Or, you might think about the love of a parent for a child, a parent sacrificing comfort and convenience for the sake of a child. Or you might think of some great Christian’s love for God, a martyr dying for his Lord, a missionary serving in some place of danger and deprivation.
But St. John tells us we would be wrong to look for love in any of those instances. Where we must look to see love is God’s love. “Herein is love,” or “This is love,” “not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
God loved us.
What do you see when you look in the mirror or at a picture of yourself? Some may not look, because they don’t care how they look or what others see. Others look and think like the girl who looks in the mirror and says to herself, “I’m cute,” and posts lots of pictures of herself on facebook. And others may not want to look, because they don’t like what they see even when they spend a great deal of time trying to make themselves look good.
But what does God see? God sees us as humans he has made in his image to reflect his beauty, but the beauty of his image has been terribly marred by sin. For you and me, it’s usually much easier to love someone who is lovable. It’s another thing when people are not lovable, especially when they say and do hateful things. When God sees us, he sees us as sinners who are capable of doing despicable things toward him, others, and ourselves. There is nothing in us or about us that makes God love us; there is much to repel his love.
But this is the good news: God loves sinners. As Paul puts it, he loves us who are ungodly and helpless. Those who are indifferent about how they look to God need to know that it matters to God. Those who look at themselves and are quite pleased need to know that God does not see them that way. Those who see themselves and are repelled need to know that God has seen the very worst of them. Not seeing ourselves as sinners is a barrier to God’s love, but being sinners is not a barrier, because God loves sinners.
2. God loved us and sent his Son.
True love is not just a feeling or words. Love acts for the good of the one who is loved. God, who loves us a sinners, sent his Son. One of the great themes of the Gospel of John is that the Father sent his Son. Jesus says this about himself 38 times. The verb John uses for the Father’s sending the Son is the word that gives us the noun “apostle.” An apostle is someone sent as an authorized and official representative of another to carry out a mission given to him by the one who sends him. If I were a businessman, who wanted to establish a branch in a new location, I might send my son. I would send him with my authority to act on my behalf. When God the Father sent the Son, the Son came with the Father’s authority to accomplish the work the Father assigned him. Jesus came from God on a mission of salvation.
In 1 John 4:9 John tells us:: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because he sent his only begotten Son into the world...” The Son God sent was his only begotten Son. What John means by “only begotten” is that the Father’s Son is the only Son who has the Father’s nature, the only Son who is just like the Father, the only Son who is himself God. Between the Father and the Son there is perfect love and perfect harmony. It is this unique and irreplaceable only begotten Son, whom the Father loves beyond our understanding, who was sent by the Father.
The Father sent the Son into this world of sinners who are in rebellion against God. The world to which the Son comes is hostile and dangerous territory. Yet God loves the world in such an unfathomable way that he sends into it the Son whom he loves in an immeasurable way. I doubt that any of us would so much as consider sending a child, especially an only child, among people who don’t like us and are sure not to like our child any better than they like us, especially not if we knew those people would like to kill us. But this is how we see what love is - we see God sending his only begotten Son to this world to save us sinners
3. God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our
There is a word here that has all but passed from use in our language but which has no synonyms that can be substituted for it. That’s the word “propitiation.” We find it only 4 times in the New
Testament, once in Romans, once in Hebrews, and twice in 1 John, but it is a very important word for our understanding of the death of Christ.
We may not have the word “propitiation” in vocabularies, but do understand the concept. Suppose one morning at breakfast you say something you shouldn’t say to your wife. Something like, “Is cereal the best you can do with breakfast? My mother always cooked a full breakfast for my dad.” Now what? Well, she’s angry, and you’re in trouble. So you get to work, and think to yourself that you’ve got to do something to fix the mess you’ve made, an so mid-afternoon you call her and say, “I’ve made a reservation at your favorite place for tonight.” On you way home, for good measure, you stop and get some flowers. What are you doing? You are propitiating her. You are presenting an offering to turn away her anger.
What does this have to do with God and us? The first thing we have to remember is who God is. God is love, as St. John tells us, but God is also good, holy, righteous, and just. Sin is in offense to God’s goodness. And sin is not abstract; it’s personal. We are persons who sin unprovoked against God. God is offended by our sin, because he is holy, righteous, and just.
Sin makes God angry, it provokes his wrath. Before you think that you don’t like this about God and that it seems beneath him, think about how you respond when someone abuses a child or robs a widow or murders an innocent person. Doesn’t it make you angry, and don’t you demand justice? Don’t you believe that justice demands that the crime be punished?
So God is angry with sin and those who commit it. He demands justice and will punish the wicked. However, God’s wrath is not like ours which at its best is far from perfect. God is is not petty or vengeful. God does not lose his temper. God’s anger or wrath is his settled opposition to sin, and his determined intention of do justice.
God sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sin. The Son turned God’s wrath away from us. How did he do that? By taking to himself the guilt of our sin, and accepting responsibility for our sin. On the cross by his own death in the place of ours, by bearing God’s wrath and suffering the just penalty of sin, he satisfied God’s justice. This was the mission the Father gave the Son when he sent him into the world, and it is the mission the Son willingly accepted and accomplished despite the cost to himself.
This is the where the we see love most clearly. God’s justice demands that sin be punished. God’s love provides what his justice demands. God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Every time the bread is pressed into our hands and we hear “Remember that Christ died for you” and every time the cup is lifted to our lips and we hear “Remember that Christ’s blood was shed for you” we marvel at love so amazing and so divine. And each time we remember that, “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” As we come to this Holy Table, we assured that God loves us, and we affirm our love for one another.