And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
If love for one another is going to flourish and grow in our church, we must be rooted more deeply in love. That was the point of last week's message. In other words becoming a loving person means living with the roots of your life sunk deep in the love of Christ for you. Being loved by Christ is the ground of becoming loving. And the root that you send into that ground is the faith that you are loved.
There's a phrase in 1 John 4:16 that describes this root:
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.
We have come to know, and have believed the love which God has for us. The love that God has for us is the ground of our becoming loving people. And the root that we send down into that ground, to be nourished by it, is faith—"we have believed the love that God has for us." Believing the depth of God's love for me is the key to my growing into a loving person.
And the key to believing the love that God has for us is seeing it revealed in the word of Scripture. A few people were allowed to see Jesus in the flesh and touch him and watch him teach and heal and suffer and die and rise. We might feel jealous that our faith in the love of Christ can't be based on that kind of first hand sight and touch. But that was not God's plan. When Jesus prayed for his disciples in John 17:20, he said, "[Father], I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word." It was the plan of God that we come to faith, not by seeing the love of Christ in the flesh, but by seeing the love of Christ in the word of those who knew him.
Focusing on the Depth of Christ's Love for Us
Because of all that, here's the plan for the next four weeks. I hope this will help you prepare yourself in prayer and meditation for what's coming. And I hope it will help you know when God is moving you to invite others to attend with you. My aim in this series is that our love for one another and for those outside would grow and deepen. But this will happen only as we are rooted—that is, as we believe—more and more deeply in the love of Christ for us. And that belief comes by seeing the depth of Christ's love for us revealed in his Word. So for four weeks climaxing on Easter Sunday I want to direct our attention to the depth of Christ's love for us.
As I have pondered the love of Christ for us, and the different ways that the Bible presents it to us, I have seen four ways that the depth of Christ's love is revealed. We will spend a week on each of these.
- First, we know the depth of someone's love for us by what it costs him: if he sacrifices his life for us, it assures us of deeper love than if he only sacrifices a few bruises. So we will see the depth of Christ's love by the greatness of what it cost him.
- Second, we know the depth of someone's love for us by how little we deserve it. If we have treated him well all our life, and have done all that he expects of us, then when he loves us, it will not prove as much love as it would if he loved us when we had offended him, and shunned him, and disdained him. The more undeserving we are, the more amazing and deep is his love for us. So we will see the depth of Christ's love in relation to how undeserving are the objects of his love (Romans 5:5–8).
- Third, we know the depth of someone's love for us by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved. If we are helped to pass an exam, we will feel loved in one way. If we are helped to get a job, we will feel loved another way. If we are helped to escape from an oppressive captivity and given freedom for the rest of our life, we will feel loved another way. And if we are rescued from eternal torment and given a place in the presence of God with fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, we will know a depth of love that surpasses all others (1 John 3:1–3). So we will see the depth of Christ's love by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved by him.
- Fourth, we know the depth of someone's love for us by the freedom with which they love us. If a person does good things for us because someone is making him, when he doesn't really want to, then we don't think the love is very deep. Love is deep in proportion to its liberty. So if an insurance company pays you $40,000 because you lose your spouse, you don't usually marvel at how much this company loves you. There were legal constraints. But if your Sunday School class makes all your meals for a month after your spouse dies, and someone calls you every day, and visits you every week, then you call it love, because they don't have to do this. It is free and willing. So we will see the depth of Christ's love for us in his freedom: "No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18).
That's what I see in the New Testament. There are specific texts that stress each of those four ways of seeing the depth of Christ's love for us. We'll take one a week. And if you pray earnestly, and the Fasting Forty seek the Lord, then perhaps God will answer the prayer of Ephesians 3:17–18, that we would be rooted and grounded in Christ's love and have power to comprehend the height and depth and length and breadth of his love—and so become like him in his love.
The Depth of Christ's Love Revealed in Its Costliness
Today I want us to see the depth of Christ's love revealed in its costliness. Let's look at Ephesians 5:1–2,
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Be sure to see four plain and wonderful things here.
- First, be
sure you see that Paul is showing us the depth of Christ's love for
you. Verse 2: "Christ loved you, and gave himself." The giving of
himself is the demonstration of his love.
- Second, notice
that the cost of his love was himself—his life. It
was not just money or time or energy or inconvenience or even
suffering; it was the full extent of sacrifice. He gave himself.
- Third, notice that this love and this self-giving was for
you. "Christ loved you, and gave himself. Paul is
talking about believers (Ephesians 2:8). He gave himself for
- Finally, notice that God the Father was pleased with this act of self-sacrificing love. Verse 2: "Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." When God bowed down over the love that his Son poured out for us on the cross, it was a fragrant aroma to him. God loves the Son's love of us.
An Illustration of Costly Love
Sometimes we are so familiar with spectacular it doesn't move us as it should. We have to look at something lesser, be amazed, and then look back to really feel the wonder of the original. Chuck Colson told the story of a group of American prisoners of war during the Second World War, who were made to do hard labor in a prison camp. Each had a shovel and would dig all day, then come in and give an account of his tool in the evening. One evening 20 prisoners were lined up by the guard and the shovels were counted. The guard counted nineteen shovels and turned in rage on the 20 prisoners demanding to know which one did not bring his shovel back. No one responded. The guard took out his gun and said that he would shoot five men if the guilty prisoner did not step forward. After a moment of tense silence, a 19-year-old soldier—the age of my Ben—stepped forward with his head bowed down. The guard grabbed him, took him to the side and shot him in the head, and turned to warn the others that they better be more careful than he was. When he left, the men counted the shovels and there were 20. The guard had miscounted. And the boy had given his life for his friends.
Can you imagine the emotions that must have filled their hearts as they knelt down over his body? In the five or ten seconds of silence, the boy had weighed his whole future in the balance—a future wife, an education, a new truck, children, a career, fishing with his dad—and he chose death so that others might live. Jesus said in John 15:13, ""Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." To love is to choose suffering for the sake of another.
An Infinitely More Costly Love
Jesus has loved you this way. Only, O so much more! Consider the life he laid down. One of the reasons that story hits us so hard is because the boy was 19 years old. If he had been 89 years old and the others 19, we might say it was a beautiful act of love, but with a full life behind him it would not feel like the same kind of sacrifice as when your whole life stretches in front of you. So consider the life that Jesus sacrificed for you.
1. Jesus Was Young
First of all, he was young too. He was about 33 years old. His ministry was three years old. He was cut off, as we say, before his prime.
2. He Was the Oldest Son of a Widowed Mother
Second, he was the oldest son of a widowed mother. One of the last acts of his life was to see that she be taken care of.
When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" (John 19:26–27)
The life he was giving up for you was young and, from a human standpoint, it was a life needed by his mother.
3. He Was Sinless and Perfect, the Most Worthy of Living
Third, he was the most kind and caring and wise and courageous man who ever lived. Peter testified, "He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). Even his enemies knew they could find no fault in him (Matthew 22:16) "I find no guilt in him," Pilate said (John 19:6). So the life he gave for us was no ordinary life of human value—which would be great enough. It was a sinless life. A life of perfectly balanced joy and sorrow, tenderness and toughness, justice and mercy, grief and anger, speech and silence, prayer and action. This life, of all the lives that have ever lived, was the most valuable life. The most worthy of living, the least worthy of dying. This is the life he gave for you—that you might live.
4. He Was the Son of God
Fourth, he was the Son of God. Which means he was God as well as man. United to his human nature was a divine nature, in the mysterious unity of one person. The dignity and worth of this life was not just relatively superior to other human lives. This life was of infinite value—not the way other humans are of value, but the way God is of infinite value, namely, as the basis of all human value. Humans have value to the degree that we reflect the image of God. But that means that if the image has so much value because of the original, how much more value must belong to the original? With this life Jesus went to the cross for you. This is how much it cost to cover our sins against the holiness of God. And he paid it willingly so we could live.
5. He Was Supremely Loved by His Father
Fifth, as the Son of God Jesus was supremely loved by his Father in heaven. "This is My loved Son," the Father said, "with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" (Matthew 17:5). Suppose that 19-year-old prisoner of war was the son of the President of the United States—and he knew that there were powers available to him to escape not only the death he died but also the prison camp—and suppose that you find out that his father, the President, not only had a massive love for the boy, but also approved of his dying for you, and wanted to meet those of you for whom he died, and give you some of the boy's inheritance. Would not the worth of that life be so unspeakably precious as to make you feel absolutely overwhelmed with love?
Consider Also What the Sacrifice Involved
And consider now not only the life that Jesus sacrificed for us, but consider also what the sacrifice involved. To get to the point where he could die, Jesus had to plan for it. He left the glory of heaven and took on human nature so that he could hunger and get weary and in the end suffer and die. The incarnation was the preparation of nerve endings for the nails of the cross. Jesus needed a broad human back for a place to be scourged. He needed a brow and skull as a place for the thorns. He needed cheeks for Judas' kiss and soldiers' spit. He needed hands and feet for spikes. He needed a side as a place for the sword to pierce. And he needed a brain and a spinal cord, with no vinegar and no gall, so that he could feel the entire excruciating death—for you.
The 19-year-old boy was a wonderful picture of love. But compared to Jesus he was only a picture. His death was quick and relatively painless. Jesus' death was one of the worst kinds of torture devised for human pain. So when Ephesians 5:2 says, "Christ loved you and gave himself up for us," don't breeze over the words: "gave himself up." His love is great in proportion to the costliness of his sacrifice. And his sacrifice was horrendous.
How Personally Should We Take This Love?
We should ask in closing, how personally should we take this demonstration of love? Should you feel personally loved this way this morning and later on today and tomorrow morning? Or should it remain a kind of general, great, historic wonder that you look at from a distance with admiration—like the depths of the Grand Canyon? The answer is given by the testimony of the same writer, Paul, in Galatians 2:20b,
The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
This is what the apostle and the Lord himself are calling you to this morning. To see the depths of the love of Christ for you. To believe the love that he has for you. And to send the roots of your life down, down, down into this bottomless love. And say with Paul,
The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me [me, personally], and gave himself for me.