04 April 2015

A Meditation on Love for Resurrection Day

Paul's definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 takes on a new light when considered during the Passion Week.

Love is patient and kind.

There are perhaps no two words that better describe the Christ.  Even when He spoke hard truths about repentance, He was compassionate.  Even when He rebuked, his sternness came from the kindness that is intended to lead us to repentance (Rom 2.4).  Out of love for His enemies, He came to make Himself available to human souls floundering in the hopeless sea of sin.

That required patience when we were arrogant and unresponsive.

That kind of patience required a divine, purposeful kindness.

Love does not envy or boast. 

Jesus' earthly ministry was fraught with frustrations.  He was rejected in His hometown.  He had no place to lay His head.  The Jewish leaders heckled Him whenever they could find the occasion.  People cared more about the miracles He worked than the words of truth He spoke.  His own hand-picked followers would desert Him in the hour He was forsaken by His own Father.

Instead of wishing for better fortunes, Jesus shouldered the cross.

Jesus' earthly ministry was also marked by incredible success.  Demoniacs were cured.  Men whose hearts had been hard gradually softened to the truth.  Dead were raised and entire families believed.  Eleven men who often seemed so clueless would go on to personally carry Jesus' message and lead thousands of men and women to salvation.  Though He certainly had the right to boast in His accomplishments, Jesus chose instead to direct the glory to His Father in heaven.  Though He never told anyone who worshiped Him not to do so, Jesus was not like the false messiahs and prophets who wanted to make spectacles of themselves and attract large crowds of followers.

Instead of becoming prideful, Jesus deferred to His Father's will.

Love is not arrogant or rude.

Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be silent before His accusers in the same way a "sheep before its shearers is silent," and He would not open His mouth in self-defense (Isa 53.7).  In the greatest display of humility the world has ever seen, Jesus endured the false accusations and the beatings and the shame and the rejection, never once putting His accusers in their places the way He justly could have done.  In the moment that He corrected Pilate, reminding the Roman Governor that he had no authority over Jesus except what had been given him from Heaven, Jesus revealed His meekness.  He had power and authority -- infinite power and authority.  But to accomplish the redemption of humanity, He had laid those things aside and would humble Himself to the point of death on a cross.

Were we in Jesus' place, most of us would have flexed a little muscle.  Jesus' demonstrations of His power weren't intended for that purpose.

Love does not insist on its own way.

In the garden, Jesus revealed His humanity in the struggle to submit to His Father's will.  And yet, despite the natural trepidation, He did not insist on His own way, choosing instead to repeatedly say, "Not my will, but yours."

No matter what adjectives we use to describe love, true love always involves sacrifice.  True love always means putting someone else first.  After all, there can be no greater sacrificial act than to lay down one's own life for someone else (John 15.13).  In Jesus' case, that meant putting all of human history before His own wants and needs -- before His own divine right to honor and glory and well-being.  That kind of love is rooted in the genuine desire to sacrifice for someone, a motivation to meet another's needs at any cost.

In modeling that kind of love, Jesus demonstrated that we shouldn't show love simply because it's the right thing to do.  We should be compassionate and empathetic and sacrificial because we desperately want to.  John captures it best: "By this we know [can understand, experience, and emulate] love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" (1 John 3.16).

Love is not irritable or resentful.

With the betrayer's kiss still warm upon His cheek, Jesus called Judas "friend."  This came after three years of knowing the man's character, knowing that he stole from the poor (John 12.6), knowing that he would ultimately be a dagger in the back.  Any one of us who possessed such condemning knowledge would have stored up three years' worth of bitterness against that person and prepared a delicious, cutting response.  Actually, any one of us would probably have taken the appropriate actions to bring that person to justice long before he or she had the opportunity to do any harm.

Jesus, however, turned the other cheek -- in a sense, literally: he accepted the traitor's kiss on one cheek, and then bared the other for the insults and accusations that were soon to follow.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Matthew 9.36 records that Jesus was deeply moved with compassion for the Jewish people, because "they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  He desperately wanted for the people to know grace and forgiveness.  He wanted to communicate truth and love to them.  This kind of compassion motivated Him at every turn of His three-year ministry.

On two occasions, Jesus overturned the tables and drove the moneychangers out of the temple courtyard in Jerusalem.  Instead of keeping the temple as "a house of prayer for all the nations" (Isa 56.7), the Jews had turned it into a "den of thieves" (Jer 7.11) -- restricting the Gentile worshipers to the outer court, charging exorbitant fees for sacrificial animals, and making interest hand over fist on the exchange of currency.  They knew no love for the expansion of truth -- only the love of profit.

Jesus cared only that His Father's house function as it was intended: a place where sins were confessed, glory was given to God, and people of all nations could worship.  He did not rejoice at the wrong that the Pharisees and religious leaders were doing in the temple, even though there was a constant flow of traffic through the temple mount.  In that regard, I'm reminded of the unfortunate reality that pastors and teachers can fall into the trap of caring only about attendance -- packing pews by any means necessary, caring more about the building's upkeep than the state of its congregants' hearts.  Successful ministry is not based on numbers.  The Pharisees certainly thought in those terms, and in so doing, they trained themselves to rejoice in the wrong they were doing.

By contrast, Jesus proclaimed only truth.  He was truth (John 14.6).  God was willing to forgive any who would come to Him.  For that purpose, He had sent His own Son -- the Lamb of God -- to take away the sins of the world.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Christ's unwavering perseverance, His commitment to the divine mercy mission, would lead Him to endure a shameful, agonizing death on the cross.  Though He feared His Father's wrath -- a wrath perfect in its holiness, a punishment Christ Himself did not deserve -- Jesus believed in the Will of His Father.  For that reason, He went willingly to the cross, "despising the shame" (Heb 12.2), and surrendering His life of His own volition (John 10.18).

In a very real sense, Jesus bore and endured all things on our behalf: the greatest pain and suffering imaginable -- not the cross, but the very weight of every human soul condemned to eternal judgment. He became sin for us and bore an eternity's worth of punishment on our behalf.

We should bear the burdens of others and forgive wrongs done against us because that's exactly what Jesus did on our behalf.

Love never ends.

And this -- this is victory.  His and ours.

Jesus Christ has overcome the grave.  For now and for eternity, the soul and the body are free indeed if they are found in Him.  Lacey Sturm wrote, "Death has died and love has won," and this is the truth believers celebrate year-round, though we especially remember it at Easter: that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to satisfy the wrath of a holy God, that our debt of sin was credited to His account and paid in full, and that there is no longer any condemnation to be found in those who are called His children (Rom 8.1).

In Christ's resurrection, I too am free of death.  The grave will not be my final home.

In Christ's unending love, I am free of sin.  No longer am I separated from my Father.

Praise the Lord for His unmerited favor!  There is nothing more I owe.  And so I give Him everything.

There can be no greater way of celebrating.