The First Sunday in Lent February 14, 2016
42, 145, 399, 49
[Jesus said], “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
On occasion, while visiting a dear old relative of mine who lived in the country, he would load up his old truck and carry garbage to “the dumps.” Whether one calls that place a “dump,” or “the dumps,” it is a depressing place to be! Have you ever noticed that we have the greatest problem loving one another when we ourselves are down in “the dumps”?
It is hard to see the needs of others when we are down in the dumps, feeling sorry for ourselves. When we are “down in the mouth” because of our failures, life’s trials, and our own personal miseries, it is so easy to let our mouths take it out on others. It’s hard to love one another from the dumps! Love prospers in the heights of true joy and happiness. How do we get to these heights and stay there? Our Savior tells us: LOVE LIFTED ME!
About whose love is Jesus talking? Is it my love for me that will lift me out of the dumps to love others? Many psychologists and humanist philosophers tell us that unless we can build up our own self-esteem we will not be able to love others. Many years ago, I read a book by a marriage counselor who gave some bad advice, based on his misunderstanding of Ephesians 5:28. He wrote: “You have to love yourself before you can love your spouse.”
Another way of saying the same thing: “You have to forgive yourself, before you can forgive others.” Young girls in a high school home economics class in St. Louis were told: “You need to face yourself in a mirror every day and say, ‘I love you. I really love you!’” A few years ago a woman made the headlines by announcing her plans to marry herself! Why? “Because,” she said, “I love me!”
Ask the world “Whose love will lift me to love others,” and the world answers: “Your love for yourself!” This is the wrong answer. Our Lord’s answer is in v. 9: “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” No one can truly love others until he has learned what true love is. The love that lifts the Christian spirit to love the brethren and all people comes from God. Jesus says that He loves us with the same love His Father has for Him. What kind of love is that?
God the Father loved His Son from eternity—always! God the Father loved His Son perfectly and unconditionally! Jesus says that He Himself also has this same eternal, perfect, and unconditional love for us. How do we know that for sure? Paul tells us in Romans 5 that Christ suffered Hell and died on the cross for “the ungodly,” when we were still God’s “enemies” (Romans 5:6ff). That ought to tell us something about Christ’s unconditional love for us. Although we still sin daily and there is nothing about us to love, Christ still loves us, and invites us to find forgiveness in His shed blood. It’s this unconditional love of God—the Father and the Son—which ought to lift our spirits each day. For Jesus has surely promised: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
But how long will the love of Christ lift us? Jesus says: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (v. 10). How long? As long as we keep His commandments. This is not the Ten Commandments or the Law of Moses. If Jesus were speaking of the Law of Moses, we would all be cast into the dumps of despair again! Remember the distinction which John makes between Moses and Christ in the first chapter of his Gospel account: “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
The “commandments” of the Son of God are the same as the “words” and “command” of His Father mentioned in John 12. In that chapter Jesus says, “I know that the Father’s command is everlasting life” (John 12:50). Jesus kept His Father’s commands by coming into the world and carrying out His Father’s will all the way to the cross for our sins. Therefore, Jesus remained in His Father’s love.
Jesus now says to His disciples: “You also keep my commands, or my words to you, and you will abide in My love. Treasure and remember My words to you. Study them. Trust what I tell you. Follow my teachings. Let My Word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path” (cf. Psalm 119:105).
Our Lord tell us in John 6 that His “words are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Therefore, it’s the power of His gospel words and commands that keeps us in the true faith and love of Jesus so that our own spirits may be lifted up by His unconditional love. So the Psalmist prays in Psalm 40: “Let Your loving-kindness and Your truth continually preserve me, O Lord” (Psalm 40:11). Our Savior wants to sweeten and preserve us by the uplifting truth of His grace and love. But those who neglect and move away from His words become moody, sad, and sour!
This brings us to one final question answered by Jesus: How far did the Father’s love, lift His beloved Son? All the way to the cross, for sure! But beyond that to complete joy!
Jesus speaks of this joy in v. 11: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full.” Our Savior spoke these words to His disciples on the evening before His terrible sufferings and death on the cross. How could He speak of His “joy” in view of what lay ahead of Him?
Hebrews 12 says that because of the “joy that was set before Him,” Christ “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Yes, the cross was ahead of Jesus, but so was His joy!
Later in the agony of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “…O Father, glorify Me…with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:15). Whatever He must suffer for our sins, even Hell and death for us, nothing could destroy His Father’s perfect love for Him! All would be well in the end—He would see Heaven’s glory again!
In the midst of the worst possible circumstances, Jesus could joyfully love us and give Himself for us because His Father’s undying love lifted Him. By commanding us to love one another and then reminding us of His love for us in detail, our Lord wants to fill up our joy so that we too may be lifted to love one another.
He lifts us from the dumps by calling us “His friends,” for whom He showed the greatest love by laying down His life! Are you not Christ’s friends—each one of you who knows and believes what He has done to save your body and soul forever? Are you not Christ’s friends because through faith He has revealed His Father’s saving Word to you so that you strive to follow it?
But no disciple of Christ ever chose Him. Instead, He has chosen them. He has appointed us to go forward in true faith and bear lasting fruit in our Christian lives! (cf. Rev. 14:13). He has chosen and appointed us so that everything we ask the Father in Jesus’ name—by faith—He will give it to us (v. 16). We ought to be free from every fear that troubles us in this life, because this “perfect love” of Christ for us is meant to “cast out fear” (I John 4:18).
We should have the upbeat attitude of the farmer who had a weather vane on his barn with the words, “God is love,” inscribed on it. One day a famous preacher turned in at the gate and asked the farmer: “What do you mean by that? Do you think God’s love is changeable, the way that arrow up there turns in the wind?” “Oh no,” said the farmer, “I mean that whichever way the wind blows, God is still love.”
This is the wonderful love relationship with our Savior which lifts us to fullness of joy so that we may get up and out of “the dumps” of depression and love one another freely and fully. The more Christ’s love for us is heard, read, remembered, and rehearsed among us, the more our own spirits soar upward in joy! For this reason Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison, saying, “rejoice in the Lord always,” and then quickly added: “Let your gentleness be known to all men” (Philippians 4:4-5).
It is our Lord and Savior who says, “Love lifted Me even from the joyful heights of the cross and to the heights of Heaven which followed the cross.” May we also be lifted up by the joy of His perfect love for us—beyond all petty quarrels and selfish considerations, beyond every personal misery or misunderstanding—so that we may love one another as He has loved us! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.