The Full Extent of His Love

John 13:1 “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”

Jesus’ love was not isolated incidents of love scattered here and there in his life. His entire earthly journey from conception to death was an unbroken stream of love flowing to everyone whose life he touched. In so many ways, the love he displayed was remarkable.

Take his love for his family. How often don’t our families suffer tension when one member tries to insert himself into another member’s business. Parents don’t know when to let their adult children live their own lives. Siblings, always competing to be the leader, can’t stop telling each other what to do. And how do we react when our own life is the one in which they are meddling? Do we “pop off” with choice words? Do we give them 6 months of the silent treatment? Do relationships become less than warm and loving?

At the wedding at Cana, Mary goes to Jesus for miraculous intervention when the wine runs low. She inserts herself into his Messianic business. That is no small place to be meddling! Though Jesus mildly rebukes her for involving him and ignoring his own timing, his love for her is undimmed. He goes ahead and solves the problem with 120 gallons of the finest wine anyone has ever tasted. That same deep regard and unwavering love for her will remain constant through his last hours on the cross, when he gives her the Apostle John to care for her after he is gone.

Consider his love for his enemies. When the Pharisees weren’t publicly accusing him of sin for being kind to people, they were trying to trap him in his words, slandering him behind his back, even plotting his death. Under similar circumstances, would you or I give people treating us like that a chance? Yet Jesus accepts dinner invitations from prominent Pharisee, critics of his who watch and wait for Jesus to slip. When a self-righteous young leader in search of eternal life tells Jesus with a straight face that he has kept all the commandments, Mark tells us, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” before he shows the man that he hasn’t even kept the very first one.

Then there is his love for the sick and the outcast. Look closely at his healing of the leper. See his love reaching out to touch the contagious man. He shows him affection no one dared offer him for years before taking his leprosy away. Look closely at Jesus healing the deaf mute. See his love taking this dazed man away from the crowd, touching his ears and tongue to communicate what he was about to do. He cares for this man as an individual, and gives him his full attention, before performing the miracle that restores his speech and hearing. The miracles of mercy are love in themselves. But on top of this Jesus shows these people a dignity often missing in our treatment of people who are not physically perfect in every way.

“Having loved his own who were in the world…” Jesus already loved them. He already loves us. But he wanted them to have something more. He wanted them to have something more than an example of love to follow– a picture of what love looks like when we are called on to deal with the flawed people around us. He wanted them to have something more than stories that rekindle our faith in human kindness and hold out the hope that someone might care about us as well. Godly examples and warm feelings may make us feel spiritual, but they leave us just as lost as we are without them. He wanted us to have something more than anything that stopped short of full freedom from sin, souls reconciled to God, and certainty of unending life on the other side of death.

Don’t misunderstand. Already this life of love he lived was more. It was all part of the formula of our salvation. It was paying up the debt of love we owed, offering God the life of love his law demands on our behalf.

But now Jesus wanted to show them, and us, the full extent of his love. We find it on a bloody cross, and at an empty tomb. And it began here, in an upper room, where Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate a last Passover, and give them an even greater feast offering the tangible tokens of his love.

Jesus Has Risen Higher

Philippians 2:8-11 “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”

There once was a cynical bumper sticker about the power of Microsoft Corporation, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” Whether or not one agrees, the power of one of the wealthiest companies on the planet is easy for people to see.

After sinking to the depths of crucifixion and death, the power of Jesus is not so clear for people to see. There are preachers who will choose their words very carefully this Sunday, because they don’t believe that Jesus is alive. They believe his rotting bones are still buried somewhere in Israel. There are others, like deceased atheist Madeline Murray-O’Hare, who claim that he never existed at all. (Of course, now she knows better).

While the power of Jesus is not so easy for some to see as the power of our largest corporations, of him it is even more true: “Resistance is futile.” God has exalted him to the highest place. Jesus has come back from the dead. He is not a wispy ghost or vivid memory, but a genuine human body and soul. More than that, God has given him power over all things. The one who once made himself slave of all now has all things as his slaves. He has risen higher than anyone else ever can.

To go along with the greatest promotion ever, God has given him the name that is above every name. This is not a cheesy title like certain arrogant rulers have adopted to make themselves sound more important– “the Great,” “the Magnificent,” “the Terrible.” He is still just “Jesus,” but that name expresses a greatness that far surpasses them all.

Jesus, as may know, means “the Lord saves.” That is the true greatness and glory of our God. It does not lie in how many nations he has conquered, how much wealth he owns, how many people he rules, how large an army he leads, or how many servants attend him (though he takes first place in every one of those categories). His true greatness lies in how much love he has given. Jesus’ greatness is the magnificence of the love that led him to suffer all that we will see him suffer this Holy Week, to set us free from our sins. Jesus’ greatness is the patience of the love that sought unsteady, ungrateful, unattractive, unworthy people like you and me. Jesus’ greatness is the generosity of the love that does this all as a gift. He loved us like this long before our hearts harbored even the faintest beginnings of faltering feelings towards him. It is not just the letters, “J-E-S-U-S,” that give Jesus the name that is above every name. The wonderful story of love attached to his name exalts him as well.

Resistance to that love is futile: “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” One way or another every one of us will bow down and acknowledge that Jesus has risen to a position higher than anyone else ever can. The self-delusion of those who ignore him, or who oppose him, will be stripped away, and they will have no choice but to acknowledge that they were wrong all along. They will bow down in front of Jesus in terror because they scorned his love and despised the gift for which he gave up everything to give them.

But his love has overwhelmed our hearts. It won them to his side, and we will bow down and proclaim him Lord in love and thankfulness. Either way, Jesus is Lord, and we could not find more comfort than knowing that the one who so loved us is the one who now commands the universe.

Jesus Gave Up More

Philippians 2:5-“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

 Jesus was in very nature God. More literally, Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God. In other words, he is emphasizing that Jesus had all the things that make God God. God is almighty. Jesus is almighty. God knows all things. Jesus knows all things. God is present everywhere. Jesus is present everywhere. God is full of divine glory. Jesus is full of divine glory. All the advantages that God enjoys, Jesus enjoyed. It all adds up to Jesus being equal to God. None if this would be possible if Jesus were not God himself.

Think about that for a moment. Many of us dream of reaching the top in our chosen fields or interests. If you enjoy sports, you probably dream of championships. If you are in school, perhaps you set your sights on graduating first in the class. TV shows like American Idol reflect how desperately those who can play or sing covet super stardom. In business, the competition to become president, or board member, or even owner sometimes sinks to the pathetic.

What about being God himself? It’s the oldest temptation there is. “You will be like god,” Satan tempted Eve in the garden of Eden. But that level of power and prestige would certainly come in handy for achieving all our dreams and solving all our problems.

For Jesus, this was not a reach or a position to which he rose. This was where he started. He was in very nature God. He literally had it all, and the whole universe was at his beck and call.

Then what did Jesus do? “He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Some of you may remember the King James Version on this verse, “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” In the Greek, Paul’s words suggest the picture of someone who holds the spoils of war in his hands. Spoils of war are things that soldiers seize and guard closely. Maybe they even show them off as a sort of trophy. I remember my best friend’s father, when I was growing up, showing off some of the spoils he had taken as soldier in World War II. Or picture the way that little children rush in when a piñata is broken, and they clutch the candy in their fists, and then they triumphantly hold their fists up in the air to show what they got.

This was not how Jesus regarded his privileges as God. For him it was not a prize to be closely guarded or put on display. He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus gave up more than anyone else ever has. He didn’t cease to be God. He didn’t lose his powers, as we see them sprinkled so often throughout his miracles of mercy during his earthly ministry. But he no longer used them to his own advantage. He no longer enjoyed the instant recognition that he was God or the unceasing worship due his divinity.

 In its place, Paul says, Jesus took the nature or form of a servant. Now, everything that a servant is, Jesus was. This is not the kind of dignified butler you might think of when you hear the word “servant,” dressed in a starched white shirt and tails, carrying himself like he is more at home in high society than you are. This is a slave, someone who has no will of his own, someone who occupies the next to lowest position on the human social scale. Jesus put himself entirely under the heavenly Father’s will while he was here on earth. Even more amazing, he became a slave to us, entirely giving up his life to the service of you and me.

In that slavery to our needs Jesus sank to the lowest position possible. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” Only the lowest criminals died on crosses. Even ordinary citizens who committed cold-blooded, premeditated murder could not be crucified. This is Jesus at his most un-godlike. The gap between the glory he once enjoyed in heaven and the shame he endured on the cross is the greatest difference, the greatest descent possible for any sentient being. In Jesus’ case it was literally a journey from heaven to hell. This is what Jesus would do to save us: He gave up more than anyone else ever has. Love led him to forsake heaven and endure hell to save us from sin and death.

Getting Judgment Right

Romans 2:1-4 “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

It makes us feel better about ourselves to find someone we think is worse. I once knew a woman who made herself miserable dwelling on two complaints: 1) Everyone is concerned only about themselves and unwilling to help me, and 2) everyone judges me. To her, the whole measure of whether a person was good or bad was based upon what they were willing to do for her. It didn’t matter how much others were inconvenienced or had to sacrifice if she needed the help. It didn’t seem to occur to her that she was just as unwilling to be inconvenienced by or make sacrifices for these same people she asked.

 It’s all around us all the time, one case of the pot calling the kettle black after another. One politician or political party complains about the moral mess created by those in power, only to create their own cesspool of scandal when it is their turn to rule.

We aren’t getting Paul until we see his fingers pointing at us. Survey after survey shows that we Christians are almost indistinguishable from our non-Christian neighbors in behavior and attitudes. We destroy our marriages at the same rate as the world around us. We watch the same trash on television that everyone else does. We abuse alcohol and drugs at about the same rate as the unbelieving world. Research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith suggests that there is little or no difference between the belief system (the belief system!) of a typical American Christian teen and his non-Christian counterpart.

The point is not to let us breathe a little sigh of relief because we aren’t worse than everybody else. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the saying goes. But at least my non-Christian neighbor could plead ignorance in certain cases. I can’t. “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”

God’s judgment forces us to give up this self-delusion about how we compare to others. It forces us to admit that we have no real reason for looking down on others. It’s not that we have failed to identify their real sins. It’s just that, time after time, we have shared in those same sins.

What, then, do we deserve? Modern marketers tell us we deserve all kinds of good things. The maker of one pain reliever claims that you deserve headache relief. You would probably be happy to learn that, according to author Jerry Mundis, you deserve to earn more. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I have even learned that I deserve the highest quality janitorial service available.

Romans 2 convinces us that our sins deserve one thing: God’s judgment. But that’s not the life we have experienced. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” The kindnesses of God in our lives are impossible to enumerate. When I take a breath, it is not the burning, sulfurous atmosphere of hell I inhale. It is air that is pure enough and rich enough to sustain my life a few moments longer. I am surrounded by friends and family who love me. I have lived in a smallish, one-bedroom apartment as well as a 2000 square foot house. Both were pleasant enough places to live. Neither one was the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

For the sake of argument, take all of that away, and still God has been tolerant and patient with me in the extreme. Each new sin is still forgiven. He already accounted for it in the infinite payment for sin Jesus provided by his sacrifice on the cross.

I am a believer by God’s grace, though getting my heart and mind in line with God’s own has come slowly. Improvement is unsteady, and eruptions of anger, pride, lust, doubt, impatience, worry, greed, and envy are far more common than I care to admit.

Still, God forgives. Still, he works with me. Still, he isn’t too disgusted or frustrated to claim me as his own. It seems as though his patience is inexhaustible! I can’t help but share David’s observation in Psalm 103, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”

This is the repentance to which Paul says God’s kindness wants to lead us–not just regret over our sins, but an awareness of the great grace we have been shown and an unshakeable confidence in the God who has shown us such love.

Preaching That Changes Us

1 Corinthians 2: 4-5 “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Preaching that knows nothing except Christ and cross does more than educate. It changes us. It has the power to make us different people. Paul says his preaching was accompanied by “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Isn’t it amazing that the gospel can turn people into followers of Jesus? The Apostle Paul shows up in Corinth from Jerusalem, a distance of about 1250 miles over land. For many of the people there he was from a foreign culture. Maybe he spoke with a funny accent. He tells them about a Jew who had died 20, maybe 25, years ago. He claims that he came back to life three days later, and then disappeared into heaven. These people had never heard of either Paul or Jesus before. They had no way of checking out his story. And yet they trust that this man they never met who died nearly a quarter century earlier in a foreign country is their Savior from sin and way to eternal life. Is that anything less than a miracle? Can you argue, or persuade, or reason a person into believing something like that?

That miracle is repeated all over the world every day. A missionary once told me about how frustrating preaching could be while he was still learning the language of his new country. He had the vocabulary of a three-year old. “Me, American missionary, tell you about Jesus. Come from God. Die on cross. Live again.” Yet it worked! People believed him! It wasn’t “wise and persuasive words,” but “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.”

That’s why we believe. The message of Christ and his cross has had its way with our hearts and minds. And it keeps on working there. Let’s say we want to follow Jesus more closely with our lives, and we hear him say, “Love your enemies.” So you say, “Now how am I going to do that?” We could go and find someone to preach about five easy ways to love your enemies. Except there aren’t five easy ways to love your enemies! There isn’t even one easy way. Loving your enemies is hard, practically impossible, and you know it. My enemies make me mad. I dislike them. I don’t need advice here. I need to become a changed person.

For this, Christ and his cross are just the thing. Paul assures us, “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” Does that convict you? When God had every right to hate us as enemies, he still loved us. More than that, he let his Son die to save us. More than that, he offered, he gave his Son to save us! If God can love a sinner like me, and a whole world filled with such enemies, like that, how can I still hold my grudges against the people who have made me mad?

This isn’t primarily a guilt trip. God isn’t shaming us. He is changing us. His love so melts my heart that I want to love the people around me, even the irritating ones. I do love them for Jesus sake. That’s the way it works.

John says in his first letter. “We love because he first loved us.” And how do know God loves us? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” That’s Christ and his cross! And that produces new hearts and lives, “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

The Kind of Preaching We Need

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 “When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Paul did not preach with notable eloquence. He doesn’t say that eloquence is a bad thing. If a person has a gift for saying things in a beautiful, clever, or profound way, and he humbly offers it to serve God in the preaching of the gospel, that is a fine thing to do. But apparently Paul lost no sleep over trying to craft the most cleverly worded message he could. It was enough to be clear and direct.

What sounds “eloquent” is largely a matter of personal taste anyway. It’s a matter of “style.” On an evangelism visit, a lady once told me she was impressed by the preaching of a pastor who peppered his sermons with quotes from great works of literature. A member of my congregation once complained that my sermons sounded like I took a thesaurus after I finished writing, and exchanged all the clear and simple words for big words nobody knows. Are these two people going to be happy with the same style?

Many people want lots of story-telling in their sermons. You know that Jesus used stories when he preached. Others want carefully arranged, step-by-step logic. Paul often writes that way. Should we listen to one and not the other? I actually heard a person say once, “That’s why I prefer Jesus over Paul.” But didn’t Jesus hand-pick Paul to speak for him?

There is a problem if we elevate style over content. Preaching becomes a form of entertainment. Ever find yourself remembering a story or something funny a pastor said in a sermon, but had no idea what point he was trying to make? What does that say about us? Style or eloquence don’t change hearts and minds. Content does.

But not just any content. Paul also said, “I did not come with…superior wisdom.” God’s word is always superior to any other wisdom, and Paul preached and taught God’s word. Remember that Paul was writing to the Corinthians, and the Corinthians lived in Greece. Greece was the home of all the great philosophers and their teachings. You had Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Paul didn’t let that kind of “superior wisdom” taint his preaching.

 Today the temptation is to turn sermons into a lecture on pop psychology to make you feel better. “Come to church, and we’ll help you heal your wounded inner child.” Or the pastor can turn his sermons into a kind of advice column. Practical tidbits drawn from Scripture, or from his own imagination, help you iron out the wrinkles in your life. It may sound wise, but something far more vital is missing.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Papa John’s uses the slogan, “Better ingredients, better pizza.” Paul could have said, “Better contents, better preaching.” Preaching “Jesus Christ” did not mean Paul limited himself to the events from Jesus’ life in the four gospels. Jesus once told his enemies, “You diligently study the Scriptures, because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” The whole Scriptures testify about Jesus.

Central to understanding Christ is understanding “him crucified.” Look again what God promises at the cross. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the entire world (I John 2). The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1). Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3). When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son (Romans 5). By his death he destroyed him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2). I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2). Every one of those passages I just quoted is about Christ and his cross. They offer grace, forgiveness, life, and freedom. Jesus Christ and him crucified: that’s still the kind of preaching we need.

True Wisdom from the Spirit

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”

So many people want to find God by looking inside themselves. Looking inside yourself is a fine thing to do…if you want to find yourself. No one knows you better than your own spirit inside of you, Paul says. But don’t be surprised if you don’t like what you see. C.S. Lewis wrote at the end of his book Mere Christianity, “Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay.” He might just as well have said, “Look inside yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.” That’s what the natural self looks like. Lusts I can’t get rid of, anger I am not proud of, stinginess, impatience, pride all run around deep down inside there. It’s not a pretty picture.

But I’m not God, and neither are you. If we really want to know God, it’s his Spirit we need. And by calling us to faith, that is what God has given us: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” We may understand what God has freely given us. When Paul says “understand” he does not mean it in the sense that we have God all figured out according to the rules of logic. The Spirit does not give us a new mathematical formula that makes the Trinity make sense. He doesn’t take us through a dissection of communion wafers, like high school students dissecting a frog in biology class, so that we can see how “This is my body” works. He doesn’t give us some new kind of telepathy, so that we can sense exactly what good God has in mind for every cross and every burden he lays on us. He doesn’t give us balance sheets or spread sheets that illustrate how the sacrifice of one person, Jesus Christ, accounts for the uncountable sins of billions of people.

Rather, he makes it possible for us to know all these things, and to believe that they are true, even though we cannot begin to explain them. This wisdom of God, his grace freely given, has been revealed to us by his Spirit.

That Spirit reveals such things to us, not when we are trying to find the Spirit hidden in the deep recesses of our hearts, but in his word, his message, which is the wisdom of God: “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” The word and the Spirit always go together. Jesus taught us, “The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.” Paul urged the Ephesians to take up “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Paul didn’t expect the Corinthians, and he doesn’t expect us, to channel all these truths by channeling the Spirit. He doesn’t expect us to wait until the Spirit directly drops the knowledge into our heads out of heaven. He spoke and wrote words, words taught by the Spirit, words expressing spiritual truths because they are spiritual words. Paul’s message is now our message. But it is really neither his nor ours. It is God’s, God’s own wisdom revealed by his Spirit.

God’s Secret Wisdom

1 Corinthians 2:6-10 “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

The difference between these two kinds of “wisdom” is not a simple matter of alternative paths. When I want to visit my parents, I can either take I-35 north all the way to Minnesota, or I can follow I-44 to U.S. 71 to I-35. They are two different paths, but both will get me to the same place. God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom don’t take you to the same places, either along the way or in the end.

Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life; the narrow door and the narrow path; the only way to the Father; the guaranteed way to the Father is God’s wisdom. The world’s wisdom teaches a general equality of all world religions, or, even worse, a generic, empty “spirituality” preferred by more and more Americans. The world’s paths lead neither to God nor to life. To quote Paul’s words here, “they are coming to nothing.”

But they are packaged and marketed to us in a way that make them hard to resist. Their constant promotion keeps wearing away at our resistance. The positive spin sounds like this: if you adopt the world’s wisdom, you will be more popular, have more fun, be more intelligent, and act more just or fair. The negative spin warns that if you reject the world’s wisdom in favor of God’s, you are an extremist, intolerant, bigoted, and guilty of trampling on other’s rights and freedoms. It’s a great marketing campaign, maybe the best there ever was. You feel its tug. In the next 20 years it is expected to capture 70 percent of the church’s youth, never to return. We need the assurances Paul is giving us today.

“No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” “God’s secret wisdom” is not so much the matter of godly morals. Those should be written in human hearts by nature (though more and more people manage to shut that message off or shout it down).

Paul is talking about the gospel. The Lord of glory was crucified for us. Look at the facts of Jesus’ life. If God didn’t intervene in human history, who would have known about this person who lived and died in the obscurity of Roman occupied Israel? When Jesus was born, who would have known if God hadn’t send angels to tell the shepherds, “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” When Jesus died on the cross, who really believed they were crucifying the “Lord of glory”? His own disciples seemed to have given up on the idea. When Jesus rose again, it took the intervention of angels to convince the women his body was alive, not stolen. Without God’s own intervention, this would have remained God’s little secret.

More than historical facts, God’s secret wisdom includes the meaning of Jesus for us: “As it is written, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” In Jesus, God entered our world as one of us. He paid for all our sins by his own death. He freely forgave every sin and set us free from them. He made life and immortality our own as his gift. Who would have guessed that? The operative word in our relationship with God is not “obedience,” or “purpose,” or “effort,” or “sincerity,” or “passion.” It is grace. Grace makes us confident of his love. It gives us hope that we will live with him. It is this grace, God’s gift love, that has been hidden from the ages, including our own.

As one commentator noted, “No heathen people ever conceived a god who would actually take care of those who placed their reliance on him.” They lived in fear, not faith. They had to work their magic and pay their dues to keep their gods happy and themselves safe.

A God who freely loves us as a Father, and freely forgives? That’s our message, Paul says, and that’s God’s wisdom.

Tears Worth Shedding

Luke 23: 28-31 “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then ‘they will say to the mountains, Fall on us! And to the hills, Cover us!’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

A Jewish court and a Roman court had passed judgment on an innocent Jesus, and he was condemned to die. Jesus warns of a more severe judgment coming for the city of Jerusalem. Some of God’s judgments come after the end of life, or at the end of time, and he has warned us about those judgments to send us running back to God for his grace. Sometimes God’s judgments come in time during our lives, as Jesus is warning here. After he died and rose, God continued to reach out to this city and its people through the preaching of Jesus’ disciples. Only a tiny minority listened and believed. Within 40 years God brought the Roman armies to Jerusalem to destroy the city, its people, and the temple.

No one ever suffered spiritually like Jesus did on the cross. But it is fair to say that the physical suffering of Jerusalem’s citizen’s at the fall of city rivaled Jesus’ physical suffering on this day. The historian Josephus tells us that many in the city suffered starvation during the siege. Those desperate for food tried to break through the Roman lines surrounding the city. Most of them were caught and crucified. At one point, as many as 500 per day were being crucified. In order to relieve their own boredom during the siege, the Romans crucified many of their victims in strange and grotesque positions as a kind of human experiment in execution. These were the conditions that would lead the people of Jerusalem to wish they never had children, and beg the surrounding hills and mountains to fall on them.

It is because of the guilt of their unbelief that Jesus can say, “Weep for yourselves.” Tears for our sins, tears of repentance–those are legitimate reasons to weep. Those tears have some value. After he denied Jesus three times, Peter went out and wept bitterly. Unlike Judas, Peter was forgiven and restored. The sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet wept over them and wiped them with her hair. Unlike self-righteous Simon the Pharisee, Jesus assured her that her many sins were forgiven.

We don’t offer these tears as a payment, a trade for the forgiveness Jesus offers. You remember the line from the hymn “Rock of Ages”?

Not the labors of my hand
Can fulfill thy laws demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and thou alone.

We don’t deserve more of God’s grace by filling more cups with our tears, or spending more hours with them streaking down our faces.

But hearts that see their guilt, and repent of it, whether with tears or solemn apologies, are hearts that seek forgiveness. They are hearts God has prepared for his gift. They are hearts that will receive Jesus as Savior and his sufferings and death as the payment for their sins.

Then we may properly weep at the sight of Jesus’ suffering and dying, because the judgment he suffers is on account of our guilt and sin. Then our tears aren’t merely an emotional response to his pain. They are tears of appreciation for the love that leads him to stand in our place and pay off our debt. They are tears of thanks that he has spared us the judgment we deserved.

Then we can weep tears of joy, for he has given us a place in God’s eternal heart and home we did not deserve.