Summary: Jesus’ love led him to give his life for others. Those who follow him will do the same.
If you’ve read your bulletin, or if you’ve noticed the table here in front, you’ve probably realized by now that we’re going to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper this morning. The Lord’s Supper, or "Communion" as it’s sometimes called, is a memorial, a remembrance. The reason we participate in this ceremony once every three months is to remind us of the central historical fact of the Christian faith, which is the death of Jesus Christ.
In one sense, this isn’t a very good time to be talking about death. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been bombarded with images and stories about death. You can’t turn on the television, or read the newspaper, without being confronted with death in its various forms: suicide; mass murder; war. We’ve seen what rage, and hatred, and misguided religious fanaticism can produce. And we’re horrified. We’re worried. We’re angry ourselves, at what has been done to us; to our country, to our people.
So I understand that we’re not in the mood to think of death as a good thing. Much less as an expression of love. Yet in the case of Jesus Christ, that’s exactly what it was. In fact, the Bible tells us that his death was the supreme example of love, the greatest act of love in human history.
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us."
-- 1 John 3:16a
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." -- 1 John 4:9-10
If I were to ask everyone in this room to draw a picture of "love," something which represents the essence of love, I imagine I’d get all kinds of things back. A mother nursing a newborn baby. A beautiful wedding. Perhaps Christ the Good Shepherd carrying a lamb. I doubt that I would receive very many pictures of a bloody, half-naked man nailed to a wooden cross. And yet, God says that’s what love is. If you want to know what love looks like, look at the cross.
Of course, that’s wildly out of synch with what our culture tells us. According to movies, and television shows, and romance novels, love is all about feelings. And it’s completely out of your control; it’s just something that happens to you, something you "fall into" and "fall out of". So if you "fall into" love with someone; that is, if you have strong feelings of affection for them, or lust, or something in between, then you get married. And you hope that the feelings will continue. But if the feelings start to diminish, or disappear altogether, then that means you are no longer "in love". You’ve fallen out of love. And that means it’s time to split up. Next stop: divorce court.
But the example of Jesus Christ gives us a different definition of love. The essence of Christian love, true love, is sacrifice. Seeking the good of someone else, even at great cost to yourself. It’s a love that’s focused, not on me and my feelings, but on the other person and how I can best serve them.
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
-- John 10:11
"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:7-8
Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for my sin. He sacrificed his life in order to save mine. And yours, if you belong to him. He didn’t feel like doing it. It didn’t meet his needs. He didn’t do it to please himself. He did it for His Father, and for us. That’s what love is.
The goal of this kind of love isn’t for me to necessarily feel happy or fulfilled. The goal is bless and serve the other person. Does that mean there are no feelings involved? Of course not. Jesus’ love for us is affectionate, and personal, and passionate. He cares about us deeply. But the feelings aren’t the basis; they aren’t the foundation for His love. Commitment and sacrifice are the foundation. And the feelings flow from those.
So if a man comes to see me and says he want to get divorced because he’s not in love with his wife any more, I tell him to start. Start loving her. I don’t mean that he should start trying to have loving feelings. I mean that he should make it his goal to bless her and serve her; that he should start choosing her good over his own; that he should be willing to sacrifice his comforts and desires in order to do what is in her best interests. And then the feelings will follow. Is that easy? No, it’s hard. Because it involves a kind of death. It involves putting to death your "rights" to be served and to have your needs met, in order to meet the needs of someone else.