Summary: Has Christ's love changed over the last 2,000 years? The answer might surprise you.
A couple of weeks ago the Journal ran a few pictures of the city of Edmonton from the early 1900’s. As you can imagine, streets that are now paved and clogged with cars were still dirt back then and navigated by horse and carriage and the odd automobile. I enjoy looking at “then and now” pictures. It gives me a better sense for a place by studying how things have changed.
This weekend many women gathered here for their annual Women’s Day conference and the topic discussed was “Christ’s Love.” What would “then and now” pictures of Christ’s love look like? Would there be any difference between the two? Has Christ’s love changed over the last 2,000 years? The answer might surprise you.
Jesus spoke the words of our text right after Judas Iscariot left that upper room on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week to make his final preparations to betray Jesus. Jesus then turned and said to the remaining disciples: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31). That was a strange thing to say, don’t you think? Judas had just left to betray his master and what does Jesus do? He breathes a huge sigh of relief as if he has just caught the last train home from work. Yes, Jesus would soon be going home to his heavenly Father but the cross still lay before the crown. Had Jesus forgotten? No. Jesus would still sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane when he thought about what awaited him, but for now, he could only think of the result of his suffering and death: the sins of the world would be forgiven. This was glorious as far as Jesus was concerned. It was the reason he had come to the world and now finally his mission was going to be accomplished.
So what exactly did Christ’s love look like “then,” 2,000 years ago? It was a humble love. Jesus did not think about himself, he thought of us. It was an undeserving love. Jesus suffered and died for people who should have been punished for their own sins. And it was a willing love. Jesus was not reluctant to give his life for us. He saw it as a glorious task. This picture of Christ’s love becomes all the more stunning when you remember who Jesus is - not some lowly angel the Father forced on this mission like a 12-year-old suicide bomber in the Middle East. Jesus is the King of kings. In the movie The Last Emperor, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a magical life of luxury with a thousand servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” A visitor asks. “When I do wrong, someone else is punished,” the boy emperor replies. To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten. Jesus reversed that ancient pattern: when we, the servants erred, the King was punished. God’s grace to us is free only because the giver himself has borne the cost (Philip Yancey).
But that was Christ’s love “then.” What does Christ’s love look like “now”? Has it changed? It’s true. Jesus loves you today as much as he did yesterday, and you are as much forgiven now as you were last Sunday. But Christ’s love has changed. For example when is the last time Jesus washed your feet? When has he ever put his hands on you and cured you of a fever? And has he ever hand-delivered a lunch to your table like he did when he fed over 5,000 people in Galilee? None of these things has happened to us because Jesus has removed his visible (though not physical) presence from us when he ascended into heaven. That of course doesn’t mean that he has removed his love. It has just taken on a different form. Listen again to Jesus’ words from our text: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:33-35).
Christ’s love is different “now” because it’s worked through us. Jesus may never have washed your feet but how often have your parents done that for you? Jesus may never have laid his hand atop your head to cure a fever but he did work through the loving ministrations of your mother. “Now” we see Jesus’ love when, motivated by Christ’s love, believers show love to others.