Summary: Loving God means accepting His love for us however it may be manifest, whether in temporal blessings or pain. Our Lord suffered in His earthly life, but was exalted to the highest place!
Welcome, brothers and sisters in Christ, to the First Sunday in Lent. We are joining together throughout Lent in a sermon series, “Falling in Love Again.” We are preparing ourselves for the great Paschal feast, the wedding supper of the Lamb.
On Ash Wednesday, we heard God’s word through the prophet Joel, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:12–13). All of us, if by nothing else than the tidal drag of the world, the flesh, and the devil, drift away from God. But God calls us to come back, to come home. In Baptism, He has made us part of His family; and while we can break fellowship with Him, we can never wipe away the mark of Christ from our forehead.
And so today, as we continue “Falling in Love Again,” we are confronted with the stark reality that, while we go on our earthly pilgrimage, it doesn’t always feel like God loves us. Sometimes, I feel like God and I were meant for each other—like ham and rye, or like baseball and summer. I am fulfilled by His call on my life, and He takes delight in my acceptance. It’s wonderful! But all too soon, it seems that the honeymoon is over, and I’m upset with God because it feels like He’s hung me out to dry. Have you been there? Maybe you’re there right now.
Part of truly “Falling in Love Again” is believing in love. Remember what I ask my nephews? “What did you do to make me start loving you?” And they answer, “Nothing.” And the respond, “So there’s nothing you can do to make me stop!” I tell them that regularly, because there will be times that they won’t feel like I love them—especially when they’re teenagers. And they need to learn that I do love them deeply. Just because bad things happen to us does not mean that God doesn’t love us.
When we’ve really fallen in love, we trust our Lover so much that nothing He does is in doubt. Every act is an act of love. The challenge is to believe in that love, even when it seems to have run out.
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like and dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:16–17). God has declared that Jesus is His own Son, and that He loves Him and is pleased with Him. Then what? “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1). What kind of love is that? Send your beloved into the desert…to be tempted…by the devil himself? This love is strange, unlike other loves.
If we’re going to fall in love with God again, we must strive to love as He loves. And His love is shaped differently than the world’s love. The world’s love looks like a circle, or a line. A circle is self-love (either personal or corporate), and it stays in itself. It’s a closed loop, with no opening into or out of it. Or worldly love is a line, beginning in one person and ending in another. But any interruption breaks it. These are both small and limited.
God’s love, which we seek to renew, has the shape of a cross. The vertical bar is the relationship of God and man, extending from eterninty into time. It is the strength and source of the love, supported at the top by God, and held below by us. The horizontal beam is our relationship to our brethren, and it allows our connection with God to bear more fruit. This horizontal beam of brotherly love must be supported by the vertical relationship and fellowship of God and man, if it is to ascend beyond any worldly expression. The weight of mankind is too much to carry on any man’s shoulders; it must be held from above. Men disappoint and fail. Man’s love by itself cannot be believed. But the connection of God and man is ours by grace, and in Him we never hope in vain.
So our Lord Jesus went into the desert because His love was cross-shaped. He is in perfect fellowship with the Father, and He is the righteous high priest that joins to His brothers (cf. Heb. 2:11ff).
Jesus’ first act of love was to face the devil’s lies, and to overcome them. The devil tempted Jesus, saying, “If you are the Son of God…” (Mt. 4:3,6). He tempted Jesus to question what the Father had said, “This is my Son, whom I love” (Mt. 3:17). But Jesus believed in the Father’s love; He knew that God does not lie.