Thursday, December 21, 2017

What is Love?

According to the artist “Haddaway” love is best known as, “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more.”  Google defines it as “an intense feeling of deep affection.”  A cynic on urban dictionary defines love as “nature’s way of tricking people into reproducing.”  How about the Bible?  Can we get a reliable definition of love from God’s perspective?  Yes, in Jesus.

When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  John 13:1

John prepares us for the picture of love in the life of Christ.  Jesus is the best definition of love - a faithful unbroken love to the end.  Consider five pictures in Jesus’ final hours we get of love:

1.  Jesus serves.  John first portrays Jesus rising from supper, laying aside his cloak and other outer garments, and tying a towel around his waist.  With this new attire, Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel (John 13:4-5).  Though at least Peter objected, Jesus washed each of the disciples’ feet, including the feet of Judas Iscariot who would betray him.  Jesus provides an incredible example of loving, humble service.  He means for us to follow His example: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another,” (John 13:34).  His example is extravagant and striking.  The King of Kings got down on his hands and knees to wipe dirt and filth off of other men’s feet.  Love humbly serves.

2.   Jesus listened.  After Judas left to conspire with the high priest to betray Jesus, Jesus told his disciples that he would leave them.  This sparked a series of anxious questions from his disciples.  To each of these questions, Jesus listened and then responded both graciously and truthfully.  Jesus never sacrificed or sugar-coated truth to cater to the disciples’ feelings.  Jesus also did not dismiss their questions as a nuisance unworthy of his attention.

a.     Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” to which Jesus responded, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward,” (John 13:36).  What truth in grace in this answer.  For Peter would end up giving his life for Jesus, but not that night.  Jesus gives him the truth “You won’t follow me in death tonight” with grace “but you will follow afterward.”  Peter will be united with His Lord forever.

b.    Peter again asked, “Lord, why can I not follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you.”  Peter has picked up that Jesus must be alluding to his impending death, and so pledges his own fealty even to death.  Jesus could have said, “That’s sweet, Peter,” and then decided to shelter him from the truth.  But, Jesus lovingly listened and responded with the wise path: truth, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times,” (John 13:38).

c.     Likely the disciples’ hearts would have sunk hearing that Peter, the Rock would deny Jesus.  So, Jesus listened to their body language and responded with grace, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me,” (John 14:1).  Jesus went on and promised that they would be with Him forever in the Father’s house (that is in heaven).

d.    Next, Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Oh, praise God for this question!  Thomas’ question prompted some of the most precious words recorded in history.  Jesus graciously and truthfully responded to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus said The Way to the Father’s Home is through Himself, that is through faith in Christ.

e.      Now Philip asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  Here was a request to see God.  This was no small request and demonstrated a degree of faith for Philip believed Jesus could reveal God the Father.  Jesus in both grace and truth listened and responded, pointing Philip to the precious revelation of the Gospel of John: Jesus is the Eternal God come in the flesh – “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” John 14:9).

f.       Jesus went on to describe in detail that the Father lives in Him and does His work, and that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to help and guide the disciples in truth.  So, Judas (not Iscariot) next asked, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22).  Jesus had already answered that question when he said, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live,” referring to his impending death and resurrection (John 14:19).  But, Jesus answered his question in a beautiful, soul-satisfying way, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. … the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things” (John 14:23, 26).  Jesus answered Judas with the promise of God dwelling inside His children as the Holy Spirit.

g.    Jesus concluded by answering again their body language, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. … I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father,” (John 14:27, 30). 

Praise God for sending His Son to show love to us with patient listening and gracious and truthful words.  May we understand love from Jesus’s response to the disciples and from his final words.

3.   Jesus loved His Father most.  Jesus had just said, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father,” (John 14:30).  This is a precious truth about love: true love loves God the most.  In fact, the main motivation for Jesus was His love for the Father.  From this, we are invited into the fellowship of Trinitarian love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Abide in my love,” (John 15:9).  The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father and likewise the Son loves us and commands us to love Him.  In order to love in truth, our love must be first for God.  From a right love for God I am able to love others without love eroding into idolatry.  Idolatry is ugly as it places burdens on others that only God can fulfill.

4.   Jesus prayed.  A fourth picture of faithfully loving his followers to the end occurred as Jesus prayed.  John 17 faithfully captures the loving prayers of Jesus shortly before his arrest.  Jesus prays to the Father praising Him for His redemptive plan.  The prayer expands to include even us, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us,” (John 17:20-21).  What gracious love!  The Son asks the Father to use the preached Gospel to bring us into fellowship with God!  Truly, love is portrayed with heartfelt, theological prayer.

5.   Jesus died.  Throughout Jesus’s final talks with his followers, he alluded to his great and ultimate display of love.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one that this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13).  Jesus made this more explicit when He claimed, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father,” (John 16:28).  Finally, Jesus concluded His prayer, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them,” (John 17:26).  After this, Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted, crucified, and buried.  Jesus died, the perfect picture of utmost love.  Paul later reflected on Jesus’s sacrificial love and concluded, “God shows his love for us in that while were we still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).  God loved us in Christ who gave His life as a sacrifice that our sins could be forgiven and we could live in loving fellowship with God.

What is love?  Look to Christ.  Consider his hands holding a towel before they were pierced through.  Consider his back bent down to wash the disciples’ feet before his back bent beneath the load of the cross.  Consider his patient listening and answering before He cried in agony and victory, “It is finished,” (John 19:30).  That’s love.  He is love.  John was right, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” (John 13:1).  May God grace us with the power to truly love one another.

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