GOD IS LOVE
EVERY Lent the joy of salvation moves us to better understand the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every year we read the passion story, preach on it’s various aspects and sing the Lenten hymns, but no matter how deeply we probe, the Savior’s dying love remains a foggy mystery.
Words are inadequate. Hymns, though powerful, are only a little more helpful. The dramatic attempts of passion plays may get us emotionally charged, but they are of no lasting value. Over the ages some ascetic Christians have even allowed themselves to be nailed to real crosses on Good Friday in order to plumb the depths of our Lord’s passion, but none of these things help. It’s enough that the Bible proclaims with divine authority that: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that, the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all, and that by God’s grace, Jesus tasted of death for every man. It’s sufficient that what God’s Word teaches, the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to believe and that this faith justifies before God.
Yet there is one verse in Holy Scripture that stands above all others to help us properly praise God for our salvation, the words of 1 John 4:8 where the aged apostle writes to his flock three little words, God is love.
Many would argue that it is not so. Radical Muslims would have us believe that God is a bloody murderer who demands that a man commit unspeakable atrocities against his fellow man in order to merit reward for himself. Fire and brimstone preachers would have us believe that God is a vengeful judge anxiously waiting to get His hands on us. Calvinist preachers tell us that God predestined some people to heaven but others to hell, an atrocious error which flies in the face of Scripture. And probably the greatest number of churches teach what we might call a ‘co-dependant’ gospel, one in which we must try very hard to be good, and if we are good enough, and quiet enough and jump through all the proper pious hoops, then our abusive and un-predictable father just might love us and just might give us His approval, but the authentic Christian religion revels in this glorious truth, that God is love.
Now it is true that in the Bible we find much that would indicate otherwise, that God is a jealous God who punishes sin rather than forgives it, but still St. John confidently asserts that, God is love. Why does He say that? Because in Scripture we have two different revelations of God; two faces if you like; two seemingly contradictory attributes of the one and self-same God, they are Justice and Love. Yet St. John, knowing all this does not conclude in his epistle that God is Justice, but rather that, God is love!
The Bible presents a picture of God’s justice that is seamless and un-wavering, and woe to any man who would violate His holy law. Not just in the larger points, things like idolatry, fornication, intoxication, pornography, theft and physical assaults against our neighbor, but also the finer points, things like verbal assault, contempt for other people, and the hypocrisy of passive-aggressive behavior. But aged St. John, who had lived many years and who had received the most amazing revelations, continues to insist that God is love, and he tells us why in the very next verse. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. 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”
This is the meaning of Good Friday. It is about the Father who loves us, and about Jesus the Son of God, who joyfully gave Himself up for us all; who suffered that we might be at peace; who died that we might live; who became poor that we might become rich; who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, so that sin might be put into remission and monstrous sinners be exalted by God. We are those sinners. The Bible preaches this gospel in many different ways, but St. John says it most eloquently in three memorable words which bring peace to troubled consciences and troubled lives, God is love.
On Calvary the two faces of God met, His wrath against sin and His love for sinners. Calvary was not a charade or a sham. It was known as “the place of the skull.” It was a frightening venue where unspeakable suffering took place, where the wages of sin were extracted in bloody wounds, hideous sights and unforgettable sounds that would haunt a spectator for the rest of his born days. St. John was one of those spectators! A friend constant and true who would not leave his Lord no matter where the road might lead, and it was this same John, who understood what was happening there that day, who was moved to write these three wonderful words, because when Justice and Love met that Good day; when the sky was darkened; and the earth quaked; and the graves of many Old Testament believers were opened, we were not the ones on the cross! We were not crucified for our own sins. We did not bleed or die or suffer abandonment by God. Instead Jesus bore it all for us; Jesus writhed in our place; Jesus died in our place; the Son of God paid our debt and cancelled our curse. That day the unstoppable force of Love met the immovable object of Justice, and Love won the day! so St. John happily proclaims these three enormous words, God is love!
Don’t ever forget these words. Don’t ever stop believing them, or depending on them, for they are the final and prevailing Word of God to all who confess their sins, to all who carry heavy burdens of guilt, to all who chafe under the tyranny of death’s many tentacles and the devil’s despotism. They will free your soul, lift your burden, strengthen your faith and inspire you to new heights of love for others, even as God has loved and forgiven us. God is love. Amen.
Rev. Lloyd E. Gross