Pondering the Great Love with which God Loved Us1
We find ourselves today well into the events of Holy Week. I think it would be of great spiritual benefit to pause and consider something Jesus said as he sat with his disciples in the upper room on that night when Judas would betray him into the hands of his enemies. Continue reading . . .
We find ourselves today well into the events of Holy Week. I think it would be of great spiritual benefit to pause and consider something Jesus said as he sat with his disciples in the upper room on that night when Judas would betray him into the hands of his enemies.
I would be among the first to honestly confess that there are some texts in Scripture that I struggle to believe are true. They are texts that stretch the limits of “believability”. They simply seem too good to be true. I know they are true, because I believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, but I don’t see how. I want to look at one of those texts today. I hope this doesn’t sound irreverent or flippant, but when I hear Jesus say that God the Father loves me just as he loves Jesus, my immediate reaction is: “Oh, come on! Get serious, God! You ask me to believe a lot of remarkable things, Lord, but now you’ve gone too far.” Look closely at John 17:23 and 26,
“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. . . . I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23, 26).
I was raised in a wonderful Christian home in which both my mother and father were Christians. They loved me. I never doubted it for a moment. My sister loves me. I’ve had numerous close friends whose love for me was real and powerful. My two daughters and my grandchildren love me. And come this May I will have been married to Ann for 45 years and, quite to my surprise, she still loves me.
But the love of one human being for another is one thing. To love someone who is like you makes sense. To love someone who shares your nature and experiences is not surprising. Even to say that God, who is unlike me, still loves me, although shocking is still within my capacity to grasp and appreciate. But what I can’t understand, what threatens to push me over the edge into the valley of incredulity and disbelief, is that God loves me in the same way and to the same degree that he loves his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Let me explain this by looking back to something Jesus said in John 5:19-20,
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20a).
When you hear a passage like that your response is probably like mine: “Well, of course the Father loves the Son. The Son only does what the Father does. The Son, Jesus Christ, is perfectly obedient to his Father’s will.” We can even make sense of this on a purely human level. Although my earthly father always loved me I could sense an extraordinary pleasure in his heart toward me when I consistently obeyed him. Thus for Jesus to say that he only does “whatever the Father does” alerts us to the fact that the Father was undoubtedly incredibly pleased with Jesus during the course of his earthly life.
We hear Jesus saying much the same thing a bit later in John 5:30 – “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). And then one more time, in John 8:29 we hear Jesus declare, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
So, it makes perfectly good sense that the Father would love the Son. The Son is perfectly obedient, never rebellious, never defiant or even remotely inclined to act or speak in a way that is contrary to his Father’s will. Who of you today can say that about yourself? I can’t. I have often in the past done things and even in the present continue to do things that are contrary to God’s will and displeasing to him.
Do you see, now, why I struggle to comprehend these statements in John 17? How can it be anything other than ludicrous for Jesus to say that God the Father loved the disciples in the upper room and loves you and me today “even as” he loves Jesus? How can Jesus say in v. 26 that “the love with which” God the Father has “loved” God the Son may be “in” us?
Now, who has been known and loved by God for as long as God has known and loved his own Son? None. God the Father has loved God the Son for all eternity, long before any of us were born! God the Father’s experience with God the Son is infinitely deeper and more intimate than his experience with any of us. But Jesus says that God the Father loves you and me “even as” he loves the Son.
It’s difficult for us to get our minds around the ideas of eternity and infinity. What I mean is that we struggle to understand something as being “eternally” true. We live in a world that is bound and governed by time: by starting dates and expiration dates and celebrations of events on particular days. Certain years are of great importance to us, such as 2017, since it marks the 500th anniversary of the launch of the Protestant Reformation.
But with God there is no beginning and there is no end. There has never been a time when he didn’t exist. Thus there has never been a time when he didn’t love his Son. He never “began” to love his Son and he will never “cease” to love his Son. He has loved his Son from all eternity, and always will. How are we supposed to comprehend that sort of love, an eternal, never-beginning-and-never-ending kind of love?
We struggle even more with the idea of infinity. To say that something is infinite is to say it has no limitations, no boundaries, and that it is impossible to measure or compute or quantify. The Father’s love for his Son is infinitely passionate and infinitely intense. It doesn’t rise or fall, it doesn’t increase or decrease. It is now and has always been and always will be infinite and measureless and unfathomable.
Now, are you beginning to see why I struggle so deeply and painfully to understand and believe what Jesus says here? The love that God the Father has for God the Son in the intimacy and eternality and infinity of the Godhead is here said to be the same love that he has for you and me. If that doesn’t blow your mental and emotional circuits, nothing will.
Let me take you back to the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. As Jesus came up out of the water, having been baptized by John the Baptist, the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove, “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:17). Makes sense, doesn’t it?
But what doesn’t make sense is that this same God, this same infinitely holy, just, pure, and righteous God should look on Peter or James or you or me and say, “This is my beloved hell-deserving child, with whom I am well pleased.” Of course, I’m not saying that God is “pleased” when we disobey him. I’m not suggesting that God ceases to be holy and is only love. Many things we do displease the Lord. But notwithstanding that inescapable truth, Jesus still says in John 17:23 and 26 that the Father loves us with the same love with which he loves his Son.
We find John saying much the same thing in 1 John 4:17 – “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).
I believe that John is saying that the Father’s love for his children reaches its intended goal (is “perfected”) when it produces in us a feeling of security so powerful that we lose all fear of judgment. When our sense of being loved by God becomes so internally intense and undeniable that we can only smile at the prospect of judgment day, his passion has fulfilled its purpose!
Someone might think it presumptuous to have lost all fear of judgment. But John clearly says that our confidence is based on the fact that the believer is “as he [Jesus] is”. What could that possibly mean? In what sense is the Christian “as Jesus is” in the world? John may mean that we are righteous, as Jesus is righteous. By faith in him we are justified, declared righteous in the sight of God and therefore we look forward to judgment day confident that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8:1). That’s possible, but I think the answer lies elsewhere.
John is saying that our confidence is linked with God’s love for us and that in some sense we are as Jesus is. It seems reasonable to me that John is here saying what he heard Jesus pray in John 17:23. When John says that our confidence is based on the fact that we are as Jesus is, he is declaring that we are loved by the Father as Jesus is loved by the Father! No wonder all fear is cast out (v. 18). There is no need to fear him whom you know feels only that kind and depth of love for you.
Again, the "fear" of which John speaks is not godly reverence for Jesus but the dread of the criminal who stands guilty in a court of law awaiting sentence. But we no longer fear the punishment of God as judge because we know and are assured of the pleasure of God as Lord and Lover and Savior of our souls!
So what does it mean to say that God the Father loves us “just as” he loves his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ? It means God cares for you far more than anyone else does. He watches over you. You can know that you are never, ever alone. He will always be present when you hurt. He will never leave you or forsake you. He will never abandon you or leave you all by yourself. When you hurt, he hurts. You matter to him. His love is seen in the incredible sacrifice he endured to reconcile you to himself: namely, the cross of Christ.
Perhaps now you and I can more fully appreciate the remarkable reality of “the great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). Ponder that truth. Pray. Then praise God from whom all blessings flow, especially the blessing of being loved by God “even as” he has loved his Son.