+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 13:31-34
Theme: Glorified In Love
Dear Saints of our Risen Lord,
Love is the greatest1, so says the apostle. There could scarcely be a more commonly used term in modern Christianity than love. Love lies at the heart and centre of the Bible and our understanding of God and His will in Christ. Jesus said to His disciples, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”2 God’s love is all-pervading. It is the fabric that makes the existence of life possible. God’s love of the sinner is also unconditional. Without it we would perish eternally.
Yet, the commonplace use of the word love- we employ it with great latitude- leaves it open to misunderstanding. Distinctions are necessary. Context can be the key to those distinctions. Context is often a very reliable tool for discerning the intended meaning of a word or phrase. Contextual interpretation often happens intuitively by the participants in or witnesses to any particular conversation. For example, if at a wedding reception the groom says he loves his wife, and then in the next breath says he loves the genre of music chosen for their celebration, it hardly needs to be explained that His use of the word love is not the same in each circumstance. No one will be confused about whether he loves hip-hop music more than his bride. At least we’d hope, or the marriage is off to a precarious start!
So, what about love in relation to God? Danger ensues when we attempt to impose our understandings, as accepted and common as they may be, over God’s divine truths. If we’re going to operate under our own definitions of love (or of other concepts relating to human behavior and belief) then we’d better be very certain of how those definitions compare with Scripture. Otherwise, whether it’s intentionally, or unwittingly, we will find ourselves in direct conflict with the divine will. And that will always have consequences both in the present life and the life to come. God’s clear decrees and the Bible’s unambiguous truths are not subject to contextual reinterpretation to fit even our well-intentioned motives. Idolatry, for example, isn’t just wrong in certain contexts. It’s always a fundamental transgression of God’s will.
One of the powers and consequences of sin is that over time it impairs our vision and judgment. It’s essential that the Holy Spirit continually, rebuke, reform, and restore us through the word. Otherwise, human opinions inevitably replace divine truths. Then God’s word seems radically out of step. First Century Roman culture was so steeped in a polytheistic mindset they just couldn’t fathom the claim that there was only one true God. They were even prepared to make a place for this Jewish Messiah. But to worship Him alone was unthinkable. So deeply ingrained was their polytheistic thinking that while speaking at the Areopagus Paul makes reference to their altar built to “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.”3
Today our society is becoming indoctrinated with a materialist understanding of reality and with relativistic ideology pertaining to the dynamic of all human relationships. A pure materialist doesn’t believe there is a spiritual realm at all. Existence is made up only of combinations of atoms and their smaller components. Though not everything is currently observable, it is believed to be “scientifically” discoverable and measurable. The actual creation of matter becomes an unanswerable dilemma for the materialist. Relativism is the belief that there are no absolute truths. Everything is subjective and valued only according to context. What one individual or society holds to be valuable has no objective merit to those who hold a different view. It’s not hard to see how love is stretched to its relativistic limits.
Biblically, love embraces both grace and justice. It is broader than those two realities considered separately. To be outside of Christ is to be outside of grace but not outside of justice. To incur God’s wrath through final, willful impenitence (that is, steadfast rejection of God and denial of the guilt of sin until the day of death) does not mean that God is no longer a God of love. God remains who He says He is. We cannot vindicate ourselves by trying to shift the blame to God. Not one person of any time in history, of any circumstance of prosperity or adversity, of any degree of faithfulness or denial, has been or will ever be outside of God’s justice. The Scripture says, “We will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”4
Love requires the demands of the law to be met: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”5 At the same time love meets those demands. But it happens in a very particular way. Christ is the only one that fulfills those requirements. He is Love. But, let us not think these things can be fully understood by human intellect. They are ultimately matters of faith. The sheer immensity of God’s threatening presence in His words of warning (think here of God being referred to as consuming fire6) can only be understood by the unconverted or unrepentant person as a tactic of intimidation. God appears to be a tyrant, unreasonable and unable to be satisfied. What’s the use in trying to please Him?
On the other hand, who could understand that this God who cannot be pacified by humans would sacrifice His own Son! The Holy Spirit is required for us to believe that. The cross wasn’t very glorious from a human perspective. Yet it was God’s definitive revelation of love. The broken, beaten, wounded, dying Jesus fastened to this macabre instrument of death is the very image of God’s heart. Here justice was rendered. Here grace triumphed. Here, and nowhere else, in no other act, in no other way, was the means to balance the divine equation. In financial terms it was the avoidance of bankruptcy with full impunity. The saving love of God simply isn’t available to us apart from the cross. The risen Jesus now lives to serve us.
Baptism is the point the unconditional love of God first becomes accessible to us. In this promise of water and the word the Holy Spirit brings us into true relationship with the crucified and risen Christ through faith. The baptismal font is the point of departure from Satan’s domain and the place entry into the inheritance of the triune God. We leave the chaotic waters of unbelief where we are tossed about by every wave of human opinion and we find safe haven in the ark of salvation. God will see us through to the end. And the “end”, heaven, is really just the beginning.
John describes heaven today by listing key things that have been abolished. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”7 We have no direct frame of reference to understand how fantastic the new creation will be. But we can certainly relate to the experience of suffering in this life. Pain will be annulled. Grief will be eliminated. Death will be undone. Our resurrected existence will be completely freed from any of the consequences of sin.
The Christian pilgrimage is a life-long journey of coming to terms with the parameters of God’s love in Christ. Holy Communion is food for the journey. Paul prays that the Ephesians might be “established in love, [and] may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…”8 The Scripture says, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”9 Amen.
Christ is risen!
He is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fifth Sunday of Easter
24 April, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 See 1 Corinthians 13:13
2 John 13:34
3 Acts 17:23
4 Romans 14:10
5 Romans 13:10
6 See Deuteronomy 4:24
7 Revelation 21:4
8 Ephesians 3:17-19
91 John 4:9-10