We all walk through this fallen world on streets of shattered promises. Believer or unbeliever, wealthy or poor, young or old, few, if any, remain exempt. For some, a father vowed much but was present little. For others, a trusted friend finally retreated from you in the hour of need. For still others, an unfaithful wife deserted, leaving the serrated memory of her empty vow, “’til death do us part.” We know what it is to expose our hearts and feel them bleed.
If our enemies dealt roughly with us, we could bear it (Psalm 55:12). But when the culprit is our familiar friend, the knife goes deeper. In response, some choose to mummify their hearts rather than risk further injury. They know exactly what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote,
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. (The Four Loves, 155–56)
You may have loved and lost and vowed never to love again. You keep outside of rifle range — both of love and of anguish. You will not, cannot, go through that again.
Hearts of Stone
And you have changed. Scales have grown. You forget the sound of your own laugh. You’ve set your affections on small things and sealed your heart in the motionless, airless, safe, dark coffin until only a stone remains. A victim to great loves now dead, what can be said to convince you to live again?
“God’s love does not dismiss but rather overcomes the real pain we feel, the real scars we bear.”
What can be said is that there exists a love so momentous, so steadfast, so piercing that it threatens — even now — to flood your lungs with air, shine light into your hiding place, and invade that selfish vault with a warmth long forgotten: hope. This love threatens to break through the deadbolt to overwhelm with life and to replace the stony heart with a beating one — as it has done for so many before. It threatens to enthrone itself — himself — to capture our being entirely and send us out to live (and be hurt) again with newfound delight.
This love does not dismiss but rather overcomes the real pain we feel, the real scars we bear, the real sins we’ve endured — as well as the real sins we have committed. We needed a Savior, a Redeemer, a Husband to save us and covenant himself to never forsake us because of our sin against him.
And hope against hope, he came. In a world of human loves that fall short, it was written of a man fully God: having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
He Loves to the End
Through painful discovery, many of our loves have been weighed and found wanting. Behold something different.
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
Jesus knew his hour had come. He knew what lay before him. He knew the horror ahead of time. He knew Isaiah 53 well. To date, he had escaped stones flying at him and crowds wanting to throw him off the cliff. But now nails, whips, mockery, shame — and his Father’s wrath — lay before him. His would not prove to be a spontaneous act of love, casting him into an unknown darkness he hadn’t fully considered. The cost of this love was premeditated, foreseen, foretold — even by himself.
And what a description John gives of Jesus’s brutal death — his departing “out of this world to the Father.” As John recalls that night, his pen moves in summary: “Having loved his own . . . he loved them to the end.” He loved them in teaching, revealing, healing, caring, and correcting. He loved them perfectly every second he was with them. And having begun loving them (before the foundation of the world), he would love them to the end — even to such an end.
His Unscarred Heart
He did not love them ninety percent of the way. He did not forsake; he did not falter. His promise of faithfulness to his spouse — then and now — was not to death but through it. His love for his people — a love likened to his Father’s love for him (John 15:9) — did not stop short but propelled him through the darkest day in history. The whips did not touch this love. The nails did not pierce it. His heart toward his people remained the only part of him unscarred.
And this love meets stony, unbreakable, impenetrable hearts today and replaces them. It meets rebellious, wounded, bleeding hearts and remakes them. It takes motionless hearts and makes them pulse with heavenly life.
“Our big God possesses an unimaginably big heart toward sinners.”
Do you know the love of God? Have you repented and believed the good news that Christ died and rose so that the guilty might live forever with him as his beloved? Come thirsty. Come poor. Come in your mess. If we were him, we would not bear the wrath of God for us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).
Easily Moved to Love
Do we tell others of this love of Christ that has so beautifully captured us (2 Corinthians 2:14) and now controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14), gripping us with bonds that neither tribulation nor distress nor nakedness nor famine nor danger nor sword can break (Romans 8:35)?
Those of us who espouse Reformed theology must be especially warm on this point. Charles Spurgeon truly said,
Those who hear the Calvinistic preacher, are very apt to misrepresent God. . . . Many of our hearers, even through our assertions, when most guarded, are apt to get rather a caricature of God, than a true picture of him. They imagine that God is a severe being, angry and fierce, very easily to be moved to wrath, but not so easily to be induced to love.
Easily moved to wrath. Not easily induced to love. Is this the impression we give? Is this the impression we are tempted to believe ourselves?
Our big God possesses an unimaginably big heart toward sinners. He is incomparable in grandeur and incomparable in love. Christ was betrayed but did not betray, was forsaken while refusing to forsake, was abandoned to die, that his people might be where he is, forever. The love of his disciples shrunk and grew cold at the same hour when his blazed the warmest and glowed the fiercest.
His love can be trusted; his love endures till the end.