“This is Love”

March 16 (Week after Lent 2)

Opening: 451 “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”

Psalm: 25

Office: 423 “Jesus, Refuge of the Weary”

Reading: 1 John 4:7–10

Closing: 453 “Upon the Cross Extended”

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The series of messages for these Wednesday evenings in Lent is entitled “This is Love.” All of the messages come from I John chapters 4 and 5. Last week, John laid a foundation for “love” in that he wrote about truth verses error, or what’s right, verses what’s wrong. The only true love the world will ever know is the love that was made manifest in the person of God’s Son, the Word who was made flesh, Jesus Christ. 

 

In tonight’s reading, John deals a bit more specifically with love, both God’s love for the world, for you and your love for Him and others. “Love (he says) is from God.” And then a bit later, he says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the  propitiation for our sins.” It’s this portion of the reading that we are going to focus on tonight under the theme of “this is love.” 

 

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” When it comes to the things of God, we have tendency to get things backwards. This tendency on our part was really at the heart of the Lutheran Reformation back in the 16th century. As an Augustinian Monk, and before, Luther would read in the Bible about God’s righteousness, or His mercy, or His holiness, and he saw those things as milestones for us to strive to achieve. In one particular passage regarding the “righteousness of God,” Luther said, “The words ‘the righteousness of God’ blocked the way for me to God. For I hated the expression ‘the righteousness of God,’ since I had been instructed by the usage and custom of all teachers to understand it as the active righteousness in which God proves Himself righteous by punishing sinners and the unjust.”

 

Luther had it backwards. Finally, by the grace of God, he came to understand God’s righteousness in a different way. He wrote, “I began to understand that the ‘righteousness of God’ is that through which the righteous lives by the gift of God, that is, through faith, and that the meaning is this; the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God in a passive sense, that righteousness through which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’” If I may paraphrase what he wrote elsewhere. “Whoa (he said), you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?" It's what he called an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It's a righteousness that is extra nos, that is, outside of us. Namely, the righteousness of Christ. 

 

In a similar fashion, when we speak of love, we tend to begin with ourselves, our love for God, as it were. But John says, love doesn’t begin with us. Rather, it begins with God. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us.” I would suggest that if we strive to love by beginning with ourselves, we. will wind up in a place similar to where Luther found himself. At it’s core, your faith begins, not with your love for God, but with His love for you. Again, as John says,“In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us.”

 

John goes on to say how the love of God for the world, for you, is made known. “He loved us (he says) and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The word propitiation might give us a bit of trouble. After all, it isn’t a word we use very often, if at all. It literally means, ‘an atoning sacrifice.’ So, we understand that John is pointing us to one place where we can see and witness the love of the God for the world and for us. That place, of course, is none other than the cross, Jesus’ suffering and death for the sins of the world.

 

As you think about what love is, it’s not unlikely that you will, from time to time, wonder about God’s love for you. The scenario unfolds so many times in our lives. We stop and reflect…I’ve done this or that. The truth is, I’ve not loved God with my whole heart or even my neighbor as myself. I’ve been more interested in myself than in others. How can anyone say then that God loves me!? Or, how can it be said that He loves you!? What is there about me or you for God to love?

 

And right there is where we tend to get things backwards. God’s love for you has never been about you being worthy of His love! It never has been and it never will be! Again, Luther says, “Sinners are lovely because they are loved; they are not loved because they are lovely. That is why the love of man avoids sinners. But Jesus says, ‘I came not to call the righteous but sinners.’ And this is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which betakes itself, not where it may find something good to enjoy but where it may confer good upon the poor and the needy.” “If anyone wanted to draw and picture God in a telling way, he would have to draw a picture that showed nothing but Love, as though the divine Nature were nothing but the intense fire and fervor of a love that has filled heaven and earth.” 

 

Indeed, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +