What would it look like in your life to know that God loves you — I mean to know that he really loves you? Would that love be proven in a new job? Or maybe a better job? Would it be an open door that will allow you greater financial independence? Maybe it would be to find a spouse. Or maybe deliverance from chronic pain that depletes your energy. Or maybe it would look like being delivered from the consuming demands of a special needs child. What would prove God’s love to you? And what if the answer to that question was something altogether different than what we expected? What if, instead of any of these things, God showed his love to you by letting you die in sickness? Crazy, right? Totally counterintuitive. And yet this is exactly what we read about in John 11:1–44. Listen to this extraordinary story, because in it we find a life-changing lesson God wants all of us to grasp. Here’s Pastor John to explain, in one of his sermons from 2001.
This is John 11. I have used this text now in about five settings in the last couple of months because no other text has gripped me like this in driving home this central point.
Love and Glory
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. (John 11:1–2)
This is clearly a picture of sweetness and love. Mary loved Jesus, and Jesus loved Mary. Mark that word love. It will show up several more times.
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:3–4)
So now you have two profound realities on the table: love and glory — the love of Christ and the glory of Christ. My question is, How do they relate to each other? Verse 5:
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
“Until Christ becomes our treasure, we don’t know what it is to be loved by God.”
Notice three things: (1) Jesus chose to let Lazarus die. (2) He was motivated in this by his zeal for the glory of God to be manifest. (3) This motivation is love.
Do you see the word so, or therefore, at the beginning of verse 6? Do you see what it’s preceded by and followed by? It’s preceded by the fact that Jesus loved Martha; Jesus loved Mary; Jesus loved the dying man, Lazarus. Therefore, he did not go heal him but stayed two days longer where he was and saw to it that he died.
Why Do You Want to Be Loved by God?
Now, what on earth could possibly turn that into love? Verse 4: This is not going to end in death. This is all about the glory of God, “that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
So here’s my definition of the love of God based on this text: God’s love is his doing whatever needs to be done, at whatever cost, so that we will see and be satisfied with the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Let me say it again: the love of God is his doing whatever needs to be done, at whatever cost to himself or to us, so that we will see and be satisfied by the love of God in Christ forever and ever.
Let me confirm this with John 17:24. Here’s Jesus praying for us, and he loves us in this prayer — oh how he loves us in this prayer. John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” If Jesus loves you and prays for you, do you know what he finally asks for you? That you may see him. The ultimate answer to the prayer of love is, “Show them my glory, Father. Show them my glory, and they will have arrived at ultimate satisfaction.”
Why do you want to be loved by God? Yes, not to perish. Yes, not to go to hell. Yes, not to have a guilty conscience anymore. Yes, to have the marriage put back together. But if that’s all you want, you don’t know him. You don’t know him. It’s for life. And what is life? It is to know him and his Son. It’s to fellowship with him. It’s to behold him. It’s to be satisfied with him. It’s to enjoy him. Until Christ becomes our treasure, we don’t know what it is to be loved by God.
Why are you thankful for the love of God today? I hope, before we’re done, God will have worked in your heart so that you see enough of God the Father and enough of God the Son, Jesus Christ, so that you will know and feel that it is not finally for the relief of your conscience, it is not finally for escape from hell, it is not finally for health in our bodies, or reconciliation among our family members; it is finally to bring you home to God, where you can see him and enjoy him forever and ever and ever.
Seeing and Savoring Forever
I want to know: Do you want this? Do you want this? Do you want to be loved by God for God? Do you want to be loved by God for God? Or do you only want to be loved by God because it feels good that he seems to make much of you? Have you taken the American definition of love — being made much of — and so twisted God to fit that definition that the only way you would feel loved by God is if he makes much of you, when, in fact, the love of God is working so as to change you so that you enjoy making much of him forever and ever and ever? And that’s the end of your quest. There isn’t anything beyond it.
“You will be satisfied when you forget yourself and are swallowed up in Jesus Christ, and he becomes your treasure.”
I do believe that is in every heart in this room. And we are all fallen, and we are all sinners. I know that every person in this room has a distorted desire for God, and it’s on the way to being purified. And it’s being tricked. You’re being tricked, many of you, into thinking that the satisfying thing in life is to be made much of: “If I could just get some people to clap for me, to like me, to approve of me, to give me a raise, or to give me an advancement. If I could just get someone to pay attention to me, I would be satisfied.” You wouldn’t. I promise you, in the name of Jesus Christ Almighty, you wouldn’t.
You will be satisfied when you forget yourself and are swallowed up in Jesus Christ, and he becomes your treasure, and he becomes your delight, and he becomes what you cherish and what you value, and you spend the rest of your eternity growing in your capacity to see and savor, to know and to delight in him forever and ever — and it will get better and better and better.