Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends – John 15:13
Where Do We Start
Actually we are not going to start where you would think. Typically Easter messages pick up from where Good Friday, the death of Jesus left off, and speak of the good news of His resurrection. We are not starting there. We will get there at some point, but where we start is with a post that a friend of mine wrote on Facebook. In the post, she spoke of her current state of being, her anger at life, or at nothing or whatever… In the midst of this state of being, she gets a call from Ethiopia, one of those “I’ve been waiting for these” opportunities. While she was focused inward, focused on whatever was wrong and in a state of anger rather than submission and thankfulness, God shows up… I love her next statement, and this was the starting place on this journey for me: “God’s furious love just makes life unbearable sometimes. And the discrepancy about how we feel about Him and how He loves us can be so irritating.”
We are speaking about a love like no other…
Who Am I? Who Are You?
Jesus spent time with a bunch of guys that saw in him something different, something special, and something that they were willing to follow. It was clear many times however, that although they followed Him, they had no clue who he really was, what his motivation was, or what was to come next.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – John 13:3-6
During the time they followed Jesus, the disciples were trying to figure out the pecking order – who was “next in line”, the most important, the closest to Jesus… so much so that when it came to standard protocol, no one wanted to take on the role of the lowliest. It was the servant’s job to wash the feet of the master and the guests. For the disciples, since there was no servant, they chose to forego this portion of the evening meal. Jesus threw a whole case of monkey wrenches into their thought pattern that night when he got up and did what none of them would do. At the very least they should have offered to wash Jesus’ feet, but they were all looking at their position. Jesus cared more for the disciples than he did about his own position.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. – Philippians 2:5-7
King, servant, God, man… none of that was going to define Jesus, because he was more interested in what God was doing and wanted to do in others. Because of this, Jesus would often turn the tables on the expectation of his followers. He would act and respond in ways that defied logic and protocol, and he would bend, break and obliterate the rules in order to reach the ones he loves.
Logic would have said that my friend should have “surrendered her anger”, and “spent time with the Lord” and all such things before he opened the door to this opportunity. Logic would have said that she didn’t deserve an unqualified outpouring of His blessing in this way, at least not yet. However, here He was… seemingly ignoring her anger and outbursts, and barging into her life with something so fantastic, it could only be God.
Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
Peter had to be appalled at what he was seeing. Jesus was breaking all the rules. If anything, he should have asked (or rather commanded) someone to do this. For Peter, this was embarrassing, and obviously something that he would never do. For Jesus however, there was no reason to be embarrassed. Jesus’ heart of love was reaching out to the disciples, and even to Peter, to bring them closer to himself. Jesus had something to give, something to show, and nothing was going to get in the way of him doing just that.
The Why of the Resurrection
Easter presents us with the perfect opportunity to use language that sounds good but doesn’t really register to us. We celebrate the fact that Jesus “died for our sins”, that he was “our substitution”, that he rose from the dead so we can have life. All of this sounds good… good to our religious brain. What we don’t meditate on is why… Why would he do this in the first place?
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” – John 13:6-8
Peter was sure he knew what was going on. He knew who should be, and should not be doing this task. Peter knew what was important and could recite the reasons for doing this. He could see what Jesus was doing, but his interpretation of what Jesus was doing was off, because he failed to understand why he was doing it. Similarly with us, we get the rules and the mechanics around the death and resurrection of Jesus. We understand that without it we have no place in the kingdom of God that it is through this that our future in God’s eternal kingdom is secured. But is that all there is to it? Do we merely enter into a legal contract with God where we simply accept what He could only do, and thereby live for him in our efforts to stay away from sin, because, of course, “he died for them”? Did Jesus die, get buried, and ultimately raise from the dead, only to satisfy the justice of God, or was something deeper going on?
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 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 5:5-8
For God, what we call Easter was not clinical. It was not simply justice being met. It was not just a means of us escaping hell. For God this entire act was the demonstration of His love – a love that is larger and more powerful than our inability, our weakness, or our ungodliness.
The Depth of His Love
“God’s furious love just makes life unbearable sometimes…
I can guarantee that some people upon hearing this statement want to run away from it, plugging their ears as if they had just been slimed. The combination of the words “God”, “furious” and “unbearable” grates against our religious mind. God can be furious about our sin, and sin can make life unbearable… this makes logical religious sense to us, but God’s furious love?
“You will never wash my feet”
We run from such things because we don’t allow ourselves to fully understand how deep and far reaching His love is.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39
When we use religious terminology we miss the real message that God is trying to demonstrate to us. Paul’s declaration to the Romans shows that there is nothing on this earth that will stop God’s relentless love pursuit of us. Anything that would seem to get in the way or halt God showing us His love doesn’t stand a chance. God’s every response to every situation is “but I love you more”. When you see this, you can understand why Jesus was such a rebel, challenging every stated rule. It was because he loved so deeply.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” – Luke 15:1-7
How often have we read this and thought, “of course, that makes total sense for the shepherd to leave the 99 and go after the one”?
IT MAKES NO SENSE!
The sheep are in the open field. There is no fence, no guard, nothing to protect the sheep. The open field is where the predators live. Without the shepherd, the flock would be as good as gone. The shepherd would be ridiculed for his disregard of the flock. “Dude, this is your livelihood… your job… how you feed your family. Let the one go. There are 99 others.” This shepherd however risked livelihood, reputation, everything on the possibility of finding a lost sheep… there was no guarantee that the lost sheep would be found. But for this shepherd, the love of this one sheep was so deep that it was worth the risk… not only of losing the 99, but also of whatever would come against him. “…in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…” God is willing to risk it all to be reunited with one person… with you.
The sheep was lost. Not just falling behind and the shepherd had to urge it to catch up… the sheep was lost – nowhere to be found. The shepherd had to make the decision to search for the sheep, not based on the sheep’s ability to respond. The shepherd was willing to risk it all, with the possibility of receiving nothing from it. His love was not based on the response of the sheep. Yes, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, but the love that brings the sinner to repentance is not based on the repentance of the sinner.
…when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly
God’s love for us is so deep, life and death are not barriers or boundaries to it. Reputation and protocol cannot dictate it. Time cannot contain it and our response to it cannot make it happen or not happen. God’s love is furious.
Definition of fury from Merriam-Webster: “wild and dangerous force; extreme fierceness or violence”
God’s love simply cannot be stopped. This is the story of Easter… a story of a love for you that superseded even life and death.
Living In the Love of the Resurrection
So how do we respond to this act of love – this ever present, unrelenting, furious love that disregards everything so it can be demonstrated to us?
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. – John 15:12-14
Too often we take scripture apart and read it as separate statements, rather than the discourse that it is. We have looked at Jesus statement about the greater love and thought, “that is logical, for Jesus is saying it, and he laid down his life for us, and since he is God, his love is greater…” We isolate this statement and separate it from what was before it or after. This is all one stream of thought. Jesus commands us to love each other. How? In the same way that he loves us… ferociously, with abandon, without concern for our reputation or protocol, without barriers or boundaries. We are to love not because there is a response, but choose to love whether a response is possible or not. Love whether it is convenient or not. Love people back to life, to the fullness of their purpose, and to relationship with the Father.