The Fifth Sunday after Trinity July 15, 2001
226, 270, 349, 370
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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. So far the holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who said, “As I have loved you, even so should you love one another,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,
A number of years ago there was a top forty hit on the radio, sung by one of the most popular vocal artists of the day. The song was entitled, “The Greatest Love of All.” Some of you probably remember it, but in case you don’t, I’ll quote you a few lines from it:
The greatest love of all is happening to me.
I’ve found the greatest love of all inside of me.
The greatest love of all is easy to achieve;
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.
I think you can tell what this song is about. It’s about self-esteem, having a positive self-image. And as you know, self-esteem is quite a popular concept in our day and age. It’s considered very important to have a positive image of oneself. But is it really the “greatest love of all?” Is it really the height of love to find something noble and good inside ourselves and love that? I think I’d have to disagree with the singer on this point, and so would our Scripture text for this morning. The greatest love of all is not the love we have for ourselves. Furthermore, the greatest love of all is not something that’s “easy to achieve!” In our text for this morning, we’ll find out what it really is, Who achieved it, and for whom. Our theme is, simply—
Think about the things that you love for a moment. What are they? A few examples come quickly to my mind—for instance, I love the members of my family. That’s easy to do, because they love me back. Every time I pull into the driveway, my wife and kids are glad to see me; they do everything they can to please me. How can I help but love them? I love my country, too. The United States has its problems, sure. But there are still so many good and noble things about this land of freedom, things that are worthy of our love and devotion. You see, it’s easy to love the good and the noble, and it’s easy to love people who love you back.
But what about something that is rude, ugly, and offensive? What about someone who not only doesn’t love you, but doesn’t even like you the least little bit? How easy is it to love someone like that?
Suppose you went to work one day and found that you had a new co-worker. What if that new person on the job was constantly rude and insulting to you, and obviously hated you? How easy would it be to love him? I don’t mean just tolerate him—I’m asking: could you really love him? If he got in trouble with the boss, would you go to bat for him? If he lost his home, would you put him up at your place—this man who hates you and insults you? If he needed a kidney transplant and you were the only matching donor, would you risk you own life to save this miserable wretch? Would you go through with it, even if he cursed you all the way to the hospital? Humanly speaking, this kind of love is impossible—unthinkable. Maybe you could tolerate him, but love him? Risk your own life for him? No way. Anybody who could love such a person that way would have to be divine! Let me say that again: anybody who could love such a person that way would have to be divine.
And that’s the point exactly! Only God can love that way. Just consider from our Scripture text this morning how God has loved the whole wicked world, including you and me: 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.
The words in these verses apply to you and me in a very specific way. There are three words here that talk about us and our condition: powerless, ungodly, and sinners. You see, when God created this world, He made it perfect. The first people, Adam and Eve, were perfect, too. But they threw away that perfection by disobeying God, and ever since then people have come into this world as God’s enemies. This is a thought that doesn’t have much appeal for anybody—that there’s nothing in me that God looks at as lovable. We don’t really like to hear that, on our own, we are all powerless, ungodly sinners, but that’s what the Bible tells us. A little earlier in Romans, Paul quotes the psalmist, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Mankind’s natural lovability factor is less than zero as far a God is concerned. And it’s easy to see the evidence of that in the world around us. People have been hoping for a long time that this world would get better and better. But it just isn’t happening. In fact, when you look around you, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that things are getting worse and worse! People have pinned their hopes for a better world on many different things. Some look to the continuing evolution of mankind for improvement. Some put their hope in the spread worldwide democracy to make a difference and provide more love and understanding. There are some in our world who firmly believe (or used to, anyway) that communism is the answer. Recently the dramatic announcement was made of the unraveling of the human genome—and many are convinced that science and technology will someday cure all the world’s problems. But regardless of all these influences, the world seems to be in a hopeless tailspin. None of these plans have worked. The world isn’t very lovable, and it’s getting less so all the time. It would truly take a special kind of love to love this rotten world. Indeed, it would take a divine love!
What about our own personal “lovability factor?” Can God find something about us to love? Well, looking at the evidence, it would certainly seem that God does love us. He created us, after all. He provides us with everything we need—air to breath, food to eat, clothes to wear, and all of our other needs. He has also given us guidelines to live by. The way God wants us to live is summed up briefly in the Ten Commandments. You’d think that out of gratitude for what God has done for us we could at least abide by those guidelines! But no—every day we’re guilty of transgressing against those commandments, and disobeying our God. We insult Him further with every sin we commit. We’re constantly biting the hand which is trying to feed us! That’s why Paul says “There is no one who does good, no not one. There is no one who seeks after God.” And the words in our text? In terms of our flesh, those words certainly do apply to us: powerless, ungodly sinners. It would truly take a special kind of love to love sinners like us. Indeed, it would take a divine love!
This is where the “greatest love of all” comes in. God had before Him a world which rejected Him and hated Him, that didn’t want anything to do with Him—and He loved that godless world. There’s a well-known Bible passage that puts this very beautifully: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”—Jn 3:16. Think about it for a moment: did the Lord wait for people to do something worthy of His love before He gave up His Son? No. Just the opposite, in fact. Paul says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved.”—Eph 2:4-5.
Get the point? The Bible doesn’t tell us that God loved lovable people. It doesn’t say that Jesus died for good people. It certainly doesn’t say that Jesus died in order to show us how to become good and lovable people It says, in the words of our text, that “Christ died for the ungodly…Christ died for us.” God hates all sin, and is justly angered over every one of our transgressions. But instead of taking out His anger on us, the ones who deserve it, He took it out on Jesus who died on the cross. Now that Jesus has done that for us, God is reconciled to us. He callsl us His children, and Jesus calls us his friends. What kind of love is that? What kind of love did it take for Jesus to come to earth as a man and die for a world that hated Him? By now you know the answer—it took a divine love. In fact, it took THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL!
Here at Ascension Lutheran Church there is a lot of friendship, a lot of Christian love among our members. Perhaps even more than most congregations. But it is not a perfect love. There are flaws in our love for each other, and you probably know where a few of those flaws lie. As with our love for God, our love for each other is imperfect. Sad to say, it sometimes has limits. But this congregation is not founded on our love for each other, nor is it even founded on our love for God. It’s founded on God’s love for us—and that love is unlimited. Jesus sees our sinfulness and loves us just the same! That love is perfect. Jesus knows what is best for us, and always gives us just what we need at just the right time. That love is enduring. Though our love for Him waxes and wanes, Jesus’ love for us remains constant, tender and caring—round the clock, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Jesus’ love for us is the self-sacrificing kind, the kind that will go to literally any lengths in order to save us. Even when the dark shadow of the cross fell along His path, Jesus went straight on to Calvary. My friends, he did it with love in His heart for you and me. The Bible says, “When Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”—John 13:1.
Yes Jesus loved—and loves—us to the very end. Often as we have given up on Him, He has never and will never give up on us! This is a perfect, enduring, unlimited love. This is indeed THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL!
The word friend has been defined as “Someone who knows all about you—and loves you just the same.” I think that’s a good definition. And it just goes to show, once again, that Jesus really is our truest and best friend. Who knows us better than He does? He knows everything we’ve ever done or said or felt or thought. And He loves us just the same. Jesus loved us enough to die in our place. That is the kind of love that we will never appreciate fully until we meet Him personally and thank Him in heaven. May God grant that we always place our faith and hope in the love of Jesus for lost sinners, for that love truly is—THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.