Passage 1 John 4: 7-21
Social distancing and isolation is vital in the battle against Coronavirus but it has presented some difficulties, not least the expression of love to those dear to us. At one extreme are the heart-wrenching stories of people dying in isolation in hospital without their loved ones being present. This is sad in the extreme. But there are also the families trapped apart through lockdown. Physical hugs and kisses replaced by video calls and multiple messages through the day. Spare a thought too for the many couples who were eagerly preparing for wedding days soon (including four couples closely linked to ACC) only for these to be cancelled and rescheduled. Also with unseasonably beautiful weather, most of us just long to get outside and meet up with friends and family for walks, games in the park, or trips to the seaside.
What about the Body of Christ? How hard is it for us to demonstrate love toward each other at this time? No hugs, catching up over coffee time, or visits to local garden centres, café’s or pubs. Phone calls, Livestream services, small groups on Zoom, video messaging are all great, but I don’t know about you, but I really miss physically seeing and being with you all. Maybe the Roman poet Sextus Propertius was right, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder!” God willing Coronavirus will strengthen the church!
In this week leading up to Easter, it seems appropriate to focus on the greatest love ever shown. John put’s it like this in his first letter, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (3:16) If we are looking for a definition of love it is not to a dictionary that we turn to, but to Calvary. As one of the Points to Ponder at the end, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve suggested that we all read 1 John 4:7-21. In 15 short verses, John makes 27 references to love. But here I’d like to zoom in on just one verse. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (4:10) This is how God defines and demonstrates love- “This is love”. Let’s look at what He says.
- God is the Initiator- “not that we loved God, but that He loved us”. It’s easy to love people who love us or are like us. It’s a bit of a challenge to love people who are not like us, or who push our buttons, or we think are plain weird. But it’s really hard, dare I say humanly impossible, to love people who actually hate us. But that is exactly what God has done. You see, by nature, we are not God’s friends but his enemies. This is how Paul puts it in Romans- “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of His Son” (5:10) That already puts God’s love in a totally different bracket to our love.
- God gave Himself- “and sent His Son”. The demonstrations of love that we most appreciate are not when someone sends another person in their place or sends a gift or message no matter how lavish or fulsome, but when they come themselves. If God had sent a man to us, as He’d sent the prophets to Israel, we’d have been grateful. If He’d sent an angel, like He did to Mary, we’d have counted it a privilege. But in both cases, God would have sent a third party since men and angels are creatures of his making. But in sending His Son, eternally begotten of the Father, he was giving Himself. As we are frequently reminded: “For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son” (John 3:16) Real love will always mean the giver bears a cost, and this is supremely the case with God’s love for us.
- Jesus bore God’s Wrath- Jesus is “an atoning sacrifice”. God is Holy, and our rebellion against Him arouses His wrath or anger. But unlike our anger, which is often unpredictable and irrational, God’s anger is resolutely set against evil. We wouldn’t want it any other way, would we? Pagan cults and religious rituals place great emphasis upon the worshipper performing certain rites to placate their angry deity, but there is no place for this in Christianity. It is the Lord Jesus, and Him alone, who is the one who bore God’s wrath for us. As one writer sums it up- “Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.” (John Stott- The Cross of Christ)
- Thankful Worship- Jesus died “for our sins.” Jesus was not a martyr who died for a cause whose memory we perpetuate. He is the Saviour who laid down His life for our rebellion against God. Peter puts it like this in his first letter- “He (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (cross), so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wound you have been healed.” (2:24) When we are confronted by our sin and utter helplessness in the face of it and yet the enormity of God’s love for us in Christ, then thankful worship is the only response. ‘Lifted up was He to die; It is finished was His cry; Now in Heaven, exalted high; Hallelujah, what a Saviour!’
Points to Ponder
-Take time this week to read and meditate on 1 John 4:7-21. Let it move you in praise of God’s loving initiative in sending Jesus, in whom we have been healed of our sin.
-The heart of Christianity is not what we do for God, but what He has done for us in Christ. How does this challenge your thinking and actions?
-Most of us are separated from loved ones by the present circumstances and unable to demonstrate our love for them like we’d want. Why not devote time to pray for them, especially those who don’t know Jesus, that they’d discover his love for them.
Dear Lord God. Thank you that you did not leave us to face the consequences of our rebellion against you, but you have come to us in Jesus. Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you took the wrath that should have fallen on us. Thank you for this supreme demonstration of your love and thank you that you have poured your love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom you have given us. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen