“The Might of Divine Love”
24 October 2004
Texts: John 8:20-30
He is so strong to save
Courageous love as brave unto brave
Fearing nothing, opposing all
That compromised Creation since the Fall
Behold that great, glistening crimson tide
The world awash with His redeeming blood
It covers all times and nations
A purchase and a preserving flood.
To Him nothing is too little, and nothing too great
Nothing comes too early and nothing arrives too late.
He wants for His bride more than she dares to dream
More glory than her crippled expectations. It would seem
That no beauty is too beautiful for us
No intimacy too weak to subdue our paltry lusts.
Oh, this is the love story of all the ages
Sung by the poets and foretold by the sages.
This high adventure, bravely undertaken, cannot be lost
For He is mighty and has assayed the incredible cost
Jesus loves me this I know
But at what price He came to show
He will triumph in the hearts of man
He will find His Beloved once again.
There He is, in the Temple, standing in the might of divine love. The people love Him and the leadership fears Him. And why do they fear Him? They fear Him because His unaccustomed goodness and His love for the lost are alien to them. They have lost touch with the creation desires, and their original design to such a degree that they fear the very One who made them for Himself! How twisted is that?! They have come into a place of safe religion, highly ritualized, programmed under the control of the priests and it’s a lucrative business. Their god is the god of the status quo--and the Enemy of our souls likes it like that. He loves “religion.” Look at all the flavors of religion he accommodates. To cite John Eldridge “Religion. . . knock yourself out.” And that is just what so many of us do. We do religion. We tend towards duty bound religion--we do what is right because we ought to not because it is the outpouring of a purified and loving heart. Jesus’ opponents and His enemies were terrified of His freedom, and they were terrified of the freedom of His gospel of God. God designed us for relationship, for a loving, passionate relationship--not to be in the thrall of rituals, of robotic ceremony, the wooden performance of the Law. The conflict is evident: what is the greatest commandment? Obey the Law, right? Do your duty. Be useful to God! NO. It’s about love. See it is absolutely essential is to have a passionate vision of this God thing. Christianity’s not just about getting saved. . .a little like getting married and everything after the wedding is drudgery duty, obligation and routine. Just doing what has to be done. No wonder so many couples are deciding not to get married. A life of burdening ought-ness, doing what is right, standing by your man not because you love him but because you have no other idea what to do with yourself. Sadly, it’s the quality of marriages that the unmarried see around them that turns them off. It doesn’t have to be that way! That’s not God’s plan for Christian marriage--the biblical picture is completely different. Settling for certainty, predictability instead of a divine romance with the Mighty One of Israel. Jesus, who defies the dragon’s teeth to loose you, to win you, to set your feet to dancing once again has a relationship in mind for you that is wonderful!.
Luke 10:27 And he answered and said, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."
Luke 10:28 And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS, AND YOU WILL LIVE."
Love God, love your neighbor and you shall live. Did you hear that, live! It’s all about life, about living to your design, and about fulfilling the deepest desires of your heart. I say the deepest desires of the heart because here more than anywhere else we fail due to mediocrity, or due to half-heartedness. The problem with being religious is that it is no guarantee that you are alive! Alive to God as in “taken entirely” with Him, in-love with Him, absorbed in the splendor of His being, marveling at the majesty of His might. Too many are willing to let God be God, but they are not allowing Him to be their suitor, their hero.
Having set the Gadarene demoniac free, Jesus, according to Matthew 9:1-12, return to Capernaum, His own city, or place of residence and some believing Jews bring to Him a man so sick of palsy, a form of paralysis, that he could not come under his own power and initiative. On the basis of their faith, Jesus speaks encouraging to the sick man: Cheer up. . .your sins are forgiven. We learn a lot about the kind of relationship God has in mind right here, in this episode. He is the rewarder of faith in Him. He is moved by the miserable captivity of the sick man--indeed, his misery cries out just as loudly as does injustice, or injury. Our God sees, hears and responds to our real need. And what is that real need: it is the sin which lies behind the palsied condition. Certain of the scribes, whose negative presence we learn about now, hearing Jesus’ words “thy sins are forgiven” construe them to be blasphemy. This is nothing more than their predetermined bias showing through. Just because they interpret Jesus’ words to be wicked, or of evil intent does not make them so. Jesus’ motivation, far from being evil, is that of adding to the man’s spiritual renovation (your sins are forgive) physical healing. The critical scribes don’t know Jesus’ heart and they can’t apart from a revelation of God. But their inclination to interpret His words as blasphemous, or evil comes out of their own diseased perceptions. It is because they are still bound in their sins, despite being religious and all, that they cannot imagine Jesus being any more than a man, or intending anything other than presuming upon the prerogatives of God. BUT BEING GOD THERE IS NO SUCH PRESUMPTION--BECAUSE JESUS WAS ACTING UPON HIS COMMISION FROM THE FATHER. Here then is a glimpse of what God wants for us: He wants us to live guilt-free and He wants us to be a blessing to rather than a burden for others. Healing on top of reconciliation with God is mercy indeed.
Jesus confronts the scribes with a hard question, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” Is it because of envy? What other roots of bitterness lie in their diseased hearts? And He proceeds to try and to argue them out of their antagonistic negativity. Why? So that they can be released themselves. If they could see that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, then everything is possible. The bars of guilt and suspicion could come down for them, too!
But God is a soul-rescuing God, a Redeeming, chain-breaking, bondage smashing come-out-of your fleshly captivity Redeemer. That’s what’s up. . .and that’s the only game in town. All other contests are ho-hum compared to this one! We thrill to this adventure. But it’s not as silly as the man gets his woman, or vice versa--that is only a tiny piece of the action. Intimacy with God is broader, deeper than that---human romance, as wonderful as it is, pales in comparison with this suit, this pursuit. We are talking about God here. We are trying to imagine something so powerful, so wonderful that it stretches our imagination. Can our best hopes reach this high? That the Creator of the universe could desire us to be His companions on an eternal journey of beauty and bravery and brotherhood--yes, and sisterhood, too!?
Definitely. That question is answered in Matthew 9:9-13 which concerns the call of Matthew, or Leiv, who is a publican, tax-gatherer. Matthew was probably part of a professional guild of men who staffed the customs-house at the port of Capernaum. But before we journey too far down this road I want to draw our attention to the authority of Jesus expressed in the command “Arise, Take up your bed and walk.” We need to see this command authority as identical to the next command, addressed to Levi: “Follow me.” These commands are of the same order. Matthew ceased to be stuck in his profession, and ceased to be stuck in his spiritual condition at the same instant. The call to Christ is a call to life--out of spiritual deadness, and into a high risky adventure. The name Matthew means “gift of God.” And he, like all true ministers is a gift of God to the church. A saving change came in Matthew’s life as he heard the word of the Lord (“Follow Me.”), the gospel of Jesus Christ was “the power of God unto salvation.” But as merciful as the healing of the paralytic was, and it truly was merciful, this call of Matthew exceeds even it. How so? Well, the man sick of palsy was carried to Jesus by others who believed that Jesus could heal him. But we have no indication that Matthew was even interested in Jesus--so the mercy is that God even finds some among those who seek Him and not and saves them in spite of their initial disinterest. As best we can tell, Matthew conferred with no man, he rose and followed Jesus and in the very next scene we have him seeking to introduce his friends and former colleagues to the Master. He becomes an open door to a despised and hated profession!
Now it’s the Pharisees turn to misread Jesus’ behavior. They accuse Him of consorting with sinners--with guilt by association, I suppose. The Pharisees were conceited they thought themselves more enlightened, more informed, more holy than others; and they were highly critical of others, judging them as being unworthy of association. Once again, the issue is a failure to grasp Jesus’ commission: He was sent to minister grace, truth and mercy to sinners. Of course He had to associate with the wrong sort--we are all the wrong sort. It is astounding how cowardly they were, too--choosing to talk about Jesus, but not to Him. They would talk to His disciples and ask them questions perhaps to cause division, or to undermine their loyalty (v.13). Jesus hearing about it makes a two-fold response: 1. If you are well, you don’t need the doctor, do you? And 2. My ministry is inclusive, it’s all about love and mercy--all the ritual performance, all the religion in the world won’t impress Me at all if you are not merciful to others and loving. The righteous do not need to be called to repentance, but the unrighteous certainly do need to hear that call to repentance. It is our love of God and others that moves us into unity and creates authentic community.
We cannot afford to lose sight of these lessons when we come to John 8 where Jesus, standing in the Temple precinct challenges those who oppose Him to consider well their persistent infidelity. He is speaking spiritual judgments to those who have the ears to hear. When He says, “I go my way,” He is alluding to the departure of divine glory from the Temple--an event that echoes the departure centuries before prior to the capture of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity. The Jews who oppose Him in their unbelief do not recognize the hour of their visitation and miss that window of opportunity forever. This same moment is alluded to in Washington Irving’s eerie tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in which a character named Ichabod, which means “the glory has departed,” loses in his quest for the beauty girl--driven out by fear. This fear is what causes the Jews to drive Jesus out also. With Irving’s Ichabod, it’s the headless horseman who terrorizes Ichabod and this same Ichabod represents learning, culture and refinement lost by a society that is all muscle and no brain. Jesus being the spiritual head of Israel is soon to depart leaving Israel headless because they would not receive their king. “You will seek me” means that the time will come when their will yearn and long for Him but they will not find Him. Other Christs will come, but none of them will be the real thing--so they will futilely seek the Messiah for that day onward. Therefore, “ye shall die in your sins,” the sin of unbelief; there is no remedy for those who refuse the One supplied. The wrath remains on those who believe not: Mark 16:16 "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. The One who could forgive their sins was cast aside and dishonored by them. And, finally, “whither I go, ye cannot come” means that their separation will be final, complete and eternal. When Jesus goes to heaven, He will take the believing penitent with Him. The curse of the Law is rendered void; it is annulled for those who believe.
The Jews’ mocking response follows. In a carnal way, they vainly imagine that Jesus is thinking of committing suicide. The implication here is that they are asserting “we will never commit suicide,” but the grim fact is that some of those who rejected Jesus would eventually take their own lives to escape the fate of falling into Roman hands and being executed. Why do they respond this way? Because they are enmeshed in the things from below, wealth, care for their physical bodies and pleasure, the praise of men, they are possessed of a carnal, worldly spirit. But Jesus declares He is from above, He alludes to the divine Name again (hoti eime) , the great “I Am,” in distinguishing His Spirit from theirs. His Spirit is mighty, divine love is mighty. His Spirit is able to deliver where nothing else can. That power alone is able to turn us from sin and toward God.
When Jesus reiterates that they shall die in their sins, the Jews demand to know who He is. And this is where the allusion to God’s Name takes on significance. He replies that “I am the Beginning,” that is, I am “Creator/God” as I have told you from the beginning. Or, I Am the same since the beginning of time (in the scriptures), that is, I Am “the Promised Seed” of woman, the Mediator of the new, promised Covenant, the faith of the Patriarchs, the Son of God, Living Waters, Bread of Life. Thus I have many things upon which to judge you. The Father will bear Me out when I do but, because you do not receive Me, I am even now speaking past you to the world I was sent to save. I am speaking what I have heard from the Father to them. Jesus willingly suppresses some of their charges, the charge of unbelief being sufficient. For the sake of the listening world, there are some things best left unsaid. But He plainly binds them over to future judgment in this passage.
He then refers the disbelieving Jews to their own conviction: when you lift Me up to crucify Me, then you will know indeed that I Am He.” You will realize then that I do nothing of Myself, that the Father has taught Me everything that I have conveyed to you in My teachings. When He was lifted up, as all true sacrifices to God were to be lifted up, He became as the brazen serpent lifted up by Moses. Those who looked upon Him in belief were saved eternally--and their sins were paid for. Christ crucified is Christ exalted and Christ exalted is Christ glorified. Then, when we read of the signs and wonders that attended His death, when we read of the outpouring of the spirit after His resurrection, when we read of the judgments which fell upon the Jews with the destruction of their city, it all makes sense. Jesus would do all this for His Father, all this for the Father’s love of the world, all this for His blood-purchased Bride. He did all this to purchase us back from our bondage to sin and death, judgment and degradation. So He stood up to the Enemy, and to all those who had exchanged their life for deadness, for ugliness, for stultifying duty and obligation. He died to revive our hope, to quicken again the deepest desires of the heart of mankind, inviting us again into the greatest love adventure of all times as the beloved. What mankind hadn’t felt since Eden was suddenly possible again! Genuine companionship, intimacy, friendship with God was once again possible. The love of Jesus for the lost--the theme of the ages, the very heart of God exposed.
We are to find our unity in this spiritual quest. We are to become community in His cause and love’s adventure. The watching world should exclaim, “See how these Christians love their Jesus!” And how wonderfully do they love one another. When that’s what’s up with you, with us , then everyone who doesn’t know God will want to know our God. Because they see something absolutely winsome in us and about us, they will want to get to know our God and ourselves in Christ. They will see what we are up to and they will want in, too--guaranteed.