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GOD’S PROVES HIS LOVE
This Saturday is Valentine’s Day. This is the day when a man is supposed to give his girlfriend or wife a special gift to show that he loves her. Popular gifts include flowers, candy, and jewelry. God gave us a much costlier gift to prove His love for us.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
► The gift of Christ is the PROOF of God’s love.
Why does God love us?
God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
CHRIST DIED FOR US
God’s love is seen in the four words: “Christ died for us.” Let’s take a closer look at each of these words.
1. The person who died
Christ died for us
Some scholars believe the date was April 3, A.D. 33. Pilate, the Roman governor over Judea, was finished questioning Jesus concerning the accusations brought against Him by the leaders of the Jews. He could find no reason to put Him to death. Yet he knew that if he didn’t give the people what they wanted, a riot was likely to break out in Jerusalem. Finally, he addressed the impatient mob waiting outside his palace. “What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” he asked. “Crucify him!” was the reply.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).
The soldiers led Jesus away to be flogged. He was stripped of His clothes, tied to a post, and beaten by several soldiers with a whip. The whip was probably made of leather strips fitted with pieces of bone or lead. The historian Josephus reports that a man named Jesus, son of Ananias, was brought before Albinus and “flayed to the bone with scourges.” Eusebius writes that certain martyrs were “lacerated by scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view.”
After the scourging, the soldiers put a robe on Jesus. It was probably an old garment that had been discarded by one of the soldiers. Matthew says the robe was scarlet, but Mark and John call it “purple”—suggesting that is was badly faded. It was probably the nearest thing to the royal color of purple the soldiers could find. Their aim was to make a complete mockery of His claim to be a king.
Of course, every king needs a crown, so the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on Jesus’ head. These thorns could have been up to several inches long. They would have sunk deep into Jesus’ head, causing blood to gush out and distort His face.
“His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14).
A staff was put in Jesus’ right hand to act as a scepter. Then the soldiers fell on their knees and paid mock homage to Him. They cried, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on Him and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again.
“I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).
In all of this, Jesus remained silent. He was guilty of nothing, yet He never said a word.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Others had declared His innocence, but Jesus never defended Himself. Judas cried, “I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Pilate announced, “I find no fault in him” (John 19:4 KJV). The thief said, “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). The centurion exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54 KJV). But Jesus never said a word. He was beaten, mocked, and spit upon, yet He took it all … silently.
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats” (1 Peter 2:23).
► Christ died WILLINGLY.
“It is appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27 KJV). For us death is an appointment; but for Jesus it was a choice. He said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
2. The death He died
Christ died for us
Jesus “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). He didn’t experience an ordinary death. He suffered the death of the cross.
► Christ died in HUMILIATION and AGONY.
A crucifixion victim was often forced to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Jesus was in no condition to carry a heavy cross. The soldiers grew impatient with Jesus’ agonizing pace, so they grabbed a man named Simon along the way, making him carry the cross of Jesus.
Even with Simon carrying His cross, Jesus apparently was too weak to walk unsupported. Mark writes, “they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha” (15:22), using a Greek expression for “brought” that suggests He was actually borne along to that place—probably walking with much difficulty, needing constant support from the soldiers along the way.
“Golgotha” is an Aramaic word, meaning “a skull.” It is generally assumed that the cross of Jesus stood on a steep, rocky hill that had the appearance of a skull. There is a place just north of Jerusalem’s walls that fits that description, known as Gordon’s Calvary. It still bears an eerie resemblance to a human skull.
We view the cross much differently than people of the first century did. Today we adorn our cemeteries and churches with crosses, and some people wear them around their necks. But in ancient times, crucifixion was synonymous with horror and shame. It was a death inflicted on slaves, bandits, prisoners of war, and revolutionaries.
The cross was so offensive to the Romans that they refused to allow their own citizens to be crucified, no matter what they had done. Cicero (106-43 B.C.), the Roman orator, called crucifixion “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” He said, “It is a crime to put a Roman citizen in chains, it is an enormity to flog one, sheer murder to slay one, what, then, shall I say of crucifixion? It is impossible to find the word for such an abomination.” Cicero also said, “Let the very mention of the cross be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.”
Those crucified were made a public spectacle, often being affixed to crosses in bizarre positions, and their bodies left to be devoured by vultures. For hours (if not days), the person would hang in the heat of the sun, stripped naked and struggling to breathe. In order to avoid asphyxiation, he had to push himself up with his legs and pull with his arms, triggering muscle spasms causing unimaginable pain. The end would come either through heart failure, brain damage caused by reduced oxygen supply, suffocation, or shock. Awful physical agony, length of torment, and public shame combined to make crucifixion a most terrible form of death.
The soldiers laid Jesus on the cross beams and tied Him down. Then they picked up the long iron spikes, raised their hammers, and began to pound. They drove the spikes through Jesus’ wrists, pinning His arms and legs to the cross. The cross was raised. With an awful thud, it settled in the ground. Every inch of Jesus’ body was filled with excruciating pain.
Imagine the Son of God nailed naked to a cross.
3. The way He died
Christ died for us
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
► Christ died in MY PLACE.
During the U.S. Civil War, conscription was not absolute. The drafted man could always hire a substitute if he could afford it. Starting in 1862, the U.S. government allowed this escape from military service on the theory that, so long as each name drawn from the wheel produced a man, it made no difference whether the drafted person or one hired to take his place appeared for service. (Answers.com)
There is a story about a farmer named Blake who was drafted. He was deeply troubled about leaving his family because his wife had died and there would be no one to support and take care of his children in his absence. The day before he was to leave for the army, his neighbor Charlie Durham came to visit him. “Blake,” he said, “I’ve been thinking. You’re needed here at home, so I’ve decided to go in your place.” The farmer was so overwhelmed that for a few moments he was speechless. The offer seemed too good to be true. He grasped the hand of the young man and praised God for this one who was willing to go as his substitute. Sadly, Charlie was shot and killed in his first battle. When the farmer heard the bad news, he immediately rode out to the battlefield. He found the body of his friend and arranged to have it buried in the churchyard near the spot where they had often stopped to talk after the services. On a piece of marble he carved the inscription with his own hands. It was roughly done, but with every blow of the hammer on the chisel, tears fell from his eyes. He placed the marker on the grave of his substitute. The inscription read: He died for me.
Christ died for me, in my place, as my substitute.
4. For whom He died
Christ died for us
Here is how mankind is described in Romans 5:6-8:
• “Powerless” (v. 6)
• “Ungodly” (v. 6)
• “Sinners” (v. 8)
Sometimes it’s said, “God helps those who help themselves.” But Romans 5 teaches us that God helps those who cannot help themselves (“powerless”).
► Christ died for SINNERS.
THE NATURE OF GOD’S LOVE
What does the gift of Christ tell us about God’s love?
• God’s love is UNDESERVED.
While we were still sinners (Romans 5:8)
Someone has said, “In the gospel, we discover we are far worse off that we thought, and far more loved that we ever dreamed.”
• God’s love is UNEQUALLED.
His own love (Romans 5:8)
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The pinnacle of human love is the giving of one’s life for another person. You might be willing to lay down your life for a loved one, but would you die for someone who was not your friend? “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).
• God’s love is UNIVERSAL.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
But God’s love is also personal. Christ “gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Instead of “me,” you could insert your own name. He “gave himself for ________.”
During World War II’s Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force’s courageous defense of the skies over Britain foiled Hitler’s plans for an invasion of the British Isles. Afterward, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in the House of Commons, “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few.” But when we think of the cross of Christ, and the person who died on it, what we say is: Never if the history of the universe has mankind owed so much to One.
MY RESPONSE TO GOD’S LOVE
Have you noticed that the word “love” has many different meanings in the English language? Think about how we use the word “love”:
• “I love chocolate cake.”
• “I love baseball.”
• “I love my wife.”
Obviously the love I have for baseball is much different than the love I have for my wife. I may “love” baseball, but I’m not going to marry it. When God says, “I love you,” what does He mean? He means that He feels so strongly about us that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son so that we would have the opportunity to receive eternal life.
How should I respond to God’s love?
• I should receive God’s GIFT of love.
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
God offers eternal life to whoever will receive it by faith.
• I should love GOD in return.
We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19 KJV).
How do I prove that I love God? By obeying His commands. “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3).
• I should love OTHERS as God loves them.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11).
We should love even those who are unkind to us. Remember what Jesus prayed while on the cross: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion Valentine’s Cards are sent each year worldwide. But God didn’t send a card to express His love; He sent His Son.
Christ died for us.
The gift of Christ is the proof of God’s love.