We have noted in two of our daily lessons this week that the love of God can be seen in every book of the Bible. However, without a doubt, the culminating act of God's love--which we intend to focus our attention upon today--is the crucifixion of Christ. God's true love is seen in an infinite number of ways, but it is most vividly displayed via Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Before the crucifixion of Christ could ever become a reality, there were several significant events that had to happen first. Perhaps the most notable event that had to take place was our Lord's departure from the heavenly abode. Jesus, the Word of God (John 1:1), had to LEAVE HEAVEN and become flesh before He could ever be crucified.
Have you ever really considered the magnitude of His departure from heaven? Think of it in these terms: What if you were the richest and most powerful being in the Universe? Would you want to set aside your wealth and influence--even for just a few decades--to be thrown into a situation of poverty, intense abuse, and sorrow? Does that sound like something you'd want to do? Admittedly, I would not--unless there was an exceedingly good reason for such.
We need to try to comprehend the sacrifice that our Lord made in coming to this Earth--the sacrifice He made long before the nails were driven into His sinless body. Before He took up residence in this world as a Man, He was better off in heaven than we can even begin to imagine. I'm reminded especially of Philippians 2:7,8 on this point - Jesus "made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself..." Meditate on those last three words in particular! He humbled Himself. The Creator of the Universe humbled Himself! The only Being in existence that one could say is deserving of being full of pride and arrogance is God, but yet we find Him embracing the form of a servant. Remember, He didn't have to do it! But, He came to this Earth as a servant. He declared in Matthew 20:28 - "For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many."
Dear listeners, strive to put this into perspective. If you were an all-powerful, omniscient, eternal Spirit, would you become "flesh" (John 1:14), dwell among your creation, and let them abuse you? Would you humble yourself to come and serve the ones you gave life to and allow them to kill you? If so, why would you do it? Why did Jesus do it? The ultimate reason is because He loves us!
John 3:16 comes to mind - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." You the know the rest! Can you see the great love that was shown when the Son of God left heaven?
Let's now consider the rest of Philippians 2:8, which leads us to our second major point - "...He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Christ was OBEDIENT TO THE FATHER. His obedience was constant throughout His life. We know this to be true because He lived sinlessly. Hebrews 4:15 teaches that Christ was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. We can especially see His obedience to the Father in the last hours of His life on Earth. When He was in the garden of Gethsemane, He isolated Himself from His apostles and prayed to His Father - "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matt. 26:39). He prayed this same agonizing prayer three times! He had stated earlier in John 14:31 that He would suffer because God had commanded Him to do such, and He then declared that He would obey to show the world that He loved the Father.
Did Jesus look forward to suffering on the cross of Calvary? Absolutely not! He was terrified and in much anguish as His hour approached. But, in spite of that, He showed His love to the Father by doing what He knew the Father wanted Him to do. He submitted to His Father's will, even though it wasn't easy. What marvelous love! Can you see the great love that Christ manifested in His careful obedience to His Father?
We can also see the great love of God in a third way--via Jesus' VICARIOUS SACRIFICE. The word vicarious simply means a substitute. Our Lord was a substitute sacrifice. Whom did He substitute for? He died in place of you, me, and the world! It's not a pleasant thought, but the fact of the matter is we all deserve to burn for our sins! Not a single human being deserves a home in heaven. Praise be to God that Jesus was willing to die in our place!
Even in the Old Testament, we can see that the Messiah would be a substitute sacrifice. Let's consider some thoughts from Isaiah 53 for a moment. It was prophesied that the Messiah would die for the sins of others; that is, He would die in their place. Isaiah 53:4-6 reads - "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
Similar thoughts are recorded in the New Testament. For example, I John 3:16 declares - "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us." We can know and understand true love through what Christ did, and John goes on to say that we should imitate that type of love. Other passages on the same theme would include Romans 8:32, Galatians 3:13, and I Peter 2:24. These verses all contain the same basic thought--Jesus died a vicarious death. He gave Himself for us. He died for our sins. He was our substitute! That is some pretty great love, isn't it? To love someone so much that you would not only create them, but then you would be willing to die for them, even if they hate you! Can you see the great love of Jesus in His vicarious sacrifice on the cross?
Let us revisit John 3:16 again briefly to establish our fourth and final point - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." At the end of that verse, we can see the overriding purpose to all of Jesus' suffering. He endured the agony of the cross to make salvation possible for mankind. He died to make ETERNAL LIFE a reality! The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:8,9 - "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath though Him." Christ died for us when we were still His enemies! He didn't die for those who deserved salvation because no one deserves it! We've all sinned and continue to fall short of His glory (Rom. 3:23). The ultimate consequence of our sinning is spiritual death (Rom. 6:23). Praise the Lord for His loving sacrifice through which He offers us the ultimate gift of God, eternal life! Can you see the great love of God in making the gift of everlasting life possible through the cross? He doesn't want any to perish, but all to come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9).
If you are listening to this lesson, you probably have not noticed what those who are reading it have likely observed. The four major points we have considered today constitute an acrostic for the word love (L-O-V-E). To summarize, Jesus loved us enough to Leave the glory of heaven to come down here to this planet and live a sinless life. He lived a life in complete Obedience to the Father--even to the point of death on the cross. His death was not for His sins--He died Vicariously (i.e., as a substitute) for you, me, and everyone else. He suffered for the sins of the world! He endured all of this so that forgiveness of sins would be possible for mankind. He wanted to make Everlasting life available to us. And, there you have it, God's love spelled out for mankind! The cross is the culminating act of God's love. Although Jesus' crucifixion is a terrible shame on several levels, it is simultaneously a thing of beauty and wonder because it testifies to the amazing depth of love of Almighty God!
As we close for today, allow me to share the marvelous third stanza from F. M. Lehman's song entitled: "The Love of God". Please reflect upon the powerful message conveyed in these words:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
We will conclude this study on the subject of true love on Monday by contemplating what the appropriate response is to God's awesome love. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.