"I am Learning to Love God and to Love Others"
Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus, Part 2
March 7, 2010 Lk 13:31-35; Php 3:17-4:1
REJECTING THE REDEEMER
We have dear friends, an aging couple up in northern Ontario, who loved to tease us from time to time. When we'd been visiting for a while and it came time to leave, one of 'Uncle Jim's' expressions he'd say as he helped us fetch our coats was, "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?" It was fun in that context; it hints of a situation in which you can't wait for someone to go, you're politely but a bit too obviously ushering them out the door.
However it was a different situation in Luke 13. The Pharisees weren't in a teasing or loving mood. It had been a tough time for the Saviour. Even far from Jerusalem, probably across the Jordan River to the east in the region of Perea, he was getting the message he was unwelcome - 'persona non grata'. Jesus was unwanted by the religious elite wherever He went. Sadducees, Pharisees, and teachers of the law were becoming increasingly hostile. Back in Luke 11(37ff) He'd been critical of their hypocrisy, pronouncing six 'woes'; they were offended by His neglect of such basic customs as ritual washings before meals, and healing on the Sabbath. 11:53 says both Pharisees and teachers of the law 'began to oppose Him fiercely', waiting to catch Him in something He might say.
Later, in chapter 13, when Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath who'd been crippled for 18 years, His opponents are indignant and critical; Jesus' response delights the onlookers but humiliates His opponents (Lk 13:17). Then in v31 some Pharisees come and tell Him He'd better get away from there if He wanted to live, because Herod Antipas - murderer of John the Baptist, and son of Herod the Great who'd tried unsuccessfully to kill Jesus when He was born - this Herod wanted to kill Him. This may have been a well-meaning warning from some who were sympathetic, but it's more likely a handy way for Jesus' foes to threaten Him into leaving. His response, "Go tell that fox," suggests these Pharisees are in close communication with Herod.
Why would they reject Jesus instead of love Him? His reply argues He's doing nothing that warrants rejection, just good things: "I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow..." Who wouldn't want that kind of person around, on your side? Shouldn't they have been loving Him instead of loathing Him?
But such 'cold pricklies' rather than 'warm fuzzies' are not new to the Lord. Jesus sees yet another rejection as typical of the Jews' overall reaction; vv33-34, Jerusalem is not the city of peace/shalom (as its name would suggest) but the city that "kills the prophets and stones God's messengers". Ironically, it just "wouldn't do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem!" (NLT)
Can you relate to what Jesus might have been feeling at this point - all you do for someone is good, but they turn on you for it? QUESTION (for discussion): Can you think of a time when you experienced rejection? Was there anything about it that made it especially painful?
People's rejection of Jesus - and our overall fallen human tendency to turn away from God, relegate Him to irrelevancy by terms such as 'secularism', 'pluralism', or even 'practicality' - our rejection of God is especially remarkable in view of His lovingkindness and goodness to us. Jesus paints an amazing word-picture of God's root desire - gentle, unthreatening, welcoming. In developing countries chickens tend to be found wandering all over the place, so maybe He pointed at a nearby hen as He said (second half of v34), "how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" That's actually not a new metaphor - it's alluded to in the book of Ruth and in the Psalms: David too prayed about taking refuge in the shelter of God's wings until the danger had passed (Ru 2:12; Ps 17:8 36:7 57:1 91:4). Moses compared the Lord looking after Israel in the wilderness to "an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions." Isn't that a great image? Who wouldn't want to get in under strong, caring, protective wings like that? Why do we resist the covering God longs to provide?
Still, Jesus met with more rejection and resistance than having people open up to receive Him. They stubbornly told the Messiah to 'get lost!' and went their own way. Consequently God abandoned them until they would become receptive. V35, Jesus says, "Look, your house is left to you desolate." The Romans would sack, burn, and level Jerusalem within 40 years (70 AD). Jesus adds with emphasis, "I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" In other words, You won't see Me until you're willing to receive Me - referring to His Second Coming.
What are Jesus' emotions as He says this? Is it anger, or more sadness? In Luke 19(41) He weeps over Jerusalem and the coming destruction as a consequence of them not recognizing the time of God's visitation. Because He cares, He cries.
It was the same for the Apostle Paul. He too dealt with a lot of rejection on account of Christ. But Paul truly felt sorry for His opponents. As he wrote in Philippians 3:18, "For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ."
In particular, culture woos us to become enemies of Christ's call to self-denial for love's sake - to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Paul describes these enemies in 3:19, "their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.Their mind is on earthly things."
In my morning devotions, I've been reading through the book of Ezekiel. There God announces harsh judgment - destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians - on account of the Jewish people's sins of lewdness and idolatry. "So I will put an end to lewdness in the land...You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry.Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD." (Eze 23:48-49; sa 22:7-9; 23:21,29f) In this porn-drenched, PG-13-and-beyond video-soaked spam-assaulted culture today, do we even know what 'lewdness' is any more? Does it not parade down our very streets and get piped into our homes? All it takes is a little push of the finger on the remote, a click of the mouse, and we sink to glorying in our shame.
QUESTION: What constructive measures have you taken to guard against invasion of immorality in your home through the media? (And) What belly-gods tempt you most to be an enemy of Christ's cross?
A commentary notes that by these 'enemies' Paul might mean either Judaizers who denied the value of the cross of Christ (and relied on rituals such as circumcision and dietary laws to be 'right with God') OR Epicurean antinomians - carousers, loose-livers. QUESTION: Which side do I lean towards in danger of negating Christ's cross - legalism, or lax love of pleasure?
1John 2(15) sums up the competition going on that would draw us away from God's love like this: "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." To choose the world is to reject God - and risk woeful results.
LOVE, AS GOD DEFINES IT
Rejection must have been especially painful to Jesus, since God's Word written (the Bible) tells us the essence of God's nature is love, agape, seeking and giving communion with the Trinity and beyond; bonds of relationship are ultra-important to God. Love is the number one thing God seeks from us. In the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20(6) we read that God shows "love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments." The context says God is jealous for our love; we're not to have other gods before Him.
This priority of loving God is brought forward into the New Covenant by Jesus' response to a lawyer's question in Matthew 22(37f), "Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." Hear that? What God most wants / commands from us is love, with our whole being - not just our mind; but our heart and soul as well. Do we get it? Not ritual, not rule-keeping, but sincere love.
What does it mean to love God? Agape-love would certainly be different than eros-love of a human couple, or even phileo-love of brotherly affection. Gary Chapman in the Five Love Languages tells us people don't necessarily feel love unless it comes to them in the mode that suits them best - time, touch, talents, talk, or tokens (gifts). How would God feel 'loved'?
Some of the Scriptural passages commanding love for God have other verbs associated with them that may imply or 'flesh out' to some degree what God means by 'love'. Without giving all the references, here are some of the main ideas. "love the LORD your God...walk in all his ways...obey his commands...hold fast to him...serve him with all your heart and all your soul." There's an element of cleaving, holding fast, and obeying. "...foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant..." Worship and setting time aside for God then are aspects of loving Him. "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome." There's a strong element of obedience to love; Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." And, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." God rewards our love by revealing Himself more to us. Again, Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Obedient love opens the door to intimacy, being 'at home' with God.
The Lord could spot non-love a mile away when He said to Isaiah, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." That's a passage Jesus quoted about the hypocrites in His day.
One more: "Love the LORD, all his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full." Could pride, like hypocrisy, be an opposite of love? Self can certainly get in the way of loving. (Josh 22.5; Is 56.6; 1Jn 5.3; Jn 14.15,21,23; Is 29.13; Mk 7.6; Ps 31.23)
It's important to love God for Himself, not for all the good things He can give us. Francis Chan is a pastor in California who's written a book, Crazy Love. He notes, "If someone asked you what the greatest good on this earth is, what would you say?...Financial security? Health? Meaningful, trusting friendships?...The greatest good on this earth is God.Period.God's one goal for us is Himself.
"The Good News - the best news in the world, in fact - is that you can have God Himself. Do you believe that God is the greatest thing you can experience in the whole world? Do you believe that the Good News is not merely the forgiveness of your sins, the guarantee that you won't go to hell, or the promise of life in heaven? The best things in life are gifts from the One who steadfastly loves us. But an important question to ask ourselves is this: Are we in love with God or just His stuff?
"Imagine how awful it would feel to have your child say to you, 'I don't really want you or want your love, but I would like my allowance, please." Conversely, what a beautiful gift it is to have the one you love look you in the eye and say, 'I love you. Not your beauty, your money, your family, or your car. Just you.' Can you say that to God?"
THE DOOR'S 'OTHER' HINGE
Number 4 in the Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus is, "I am learning to LOVE GOD and to LOVE OTHERS." Jesus didn't stop at 'loving God' in His answer to the lawyer about the greatest command; He went on, "And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Mt 22:39-40) It's the metaphor of a door hanging on 2 hinges, it needs both to work right. So Biblical love can't be directed only toward God: it automatically flows out to other people, too. Jesus said to His disciples, "This is my command: Love each other." (Joh 15:17)
The apostle John maintained we love because He first loved us; "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar...[Jesus] has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1Jn 4:19; 3:17; 4:20-21)
Notice it doesn't specify just how lovable your brother has to be! It doesn't depend on their worthiness or deserving it or how appealing they seem, but it's driven from the other direction - if God loved us while we were still sinners, how can we refuse to love those He commands us to love?
Erwin McManus writes of his friend Mick, who has struggled with alcoholism throughout his life. He says, "There were even times while he was working with our sound team that I knew the smell of alcohol wasn't from the club we met in. There have even been times when Mick has disappeared and we've wondered if we'd lost him for good. It was great talking to him this past weekend. I asked Mick what he thought has kept him in our community over all these years filled with great highs and tremendous lows. He said, "Oh, that's easy. There was always a place for me here.No one ever asked me to leave.No matter what I did, no one ever asked me to leave." McManus concludes, "There may be no greater proof of God than the power of community."
Jesus was probably getting at something similar when He said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jn 13:35) He's saying the very distinguishing mark of Christians - what sets us apart or identifies us - ought to be our love for others. QUESTION: How might we do a better job of ensuring people like Mick feel they are loved by us - feel accepted and appreciated? Let's pray.