Sunday, April 5th, 2015 – Easter Sunday
7:00 AM, First Baptist Church, Gower, MO
10:30 AM, Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9, Acts 10:34-43, I Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18
Hymns: “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”, “Christ Arose!”, “Because He Lives”, “Thine Is the Glory”, “All Who Are Thirsty”, “Joy to the World”, “He Lives!”
Anthems: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”, “The Wonderful Cross”
“Love Alone Is Worth the Fight”
A few nights ago, I was having a craving – a craving for frozen yogurt. It’s good stuff, it really is, and there’s a place in St. Joseph that serves it up in a most tasty fashion. I’m not going to tell you the name, because I’m not about to advertise a frozen yogurt shop from the pulpit, but suffice it to say, Frederick Boulevard, across from the mall.
Anyway, so Caitie and I drove up there to get some dessert. I went with cake batter flavored frozen yogurt with crushed Kit-Kat and hot fudge topping. Caitie had bananas foster flavor with chocolate marshmallows and hot fudge. Both were pretty darn delicious.
Now that I’ve made many of you start salivating, as we sat there, eating our dessert, a group of what appeared to be Missouri Western students walked in, got themselves some frozen yogurt, sat down, and started having Bible study. We didn’t pay them much mind – after all, we both have our own churches to care for, and it’s not like either of us was dressed particularly like a pastor – I was wearing khaki shorts and a Doctor Who t-shirt, for heaven’s sake. But then, one of them said something that kind of caught my ear and got my attention.
“Jesus had to die for God to forgive us.”
Now, don’t worry, I didn’t get up, go over, and proceed to academically correct somebody who’s only a little more than half my age and has probably had less than five percent of the amount of theological study that I have. But it really did get me thinking.
You see, I look at it like this: we’re talking about God. The Almighty, the deity more powerful than any other entity or force in existence, the very Creator of all that is, has been, and shall be. God can do whatever God wishes to do. God doesn’t HAVE to have jack. In fact, I would argue that Jesus in fact did NOT have to die in order to satisfy some anger on God’s part, and that God’s decision to forgive mankind was made before Gabriel ever said a single word to Mary.
Jesus did not have to die because God required it. Jesus had to die because WE required it.
And God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son.
So, I realize that I just pulled the pin out of a grenade and tossed it into the middle of the sanctuary, so let’s back up and talk about this for a minute.
For most of my childhood, I was taught that the reason Jesus had to die on the cross was to fulfill, once and for all, the sacrificial atonement that God required of the Jewish people. Traditionally, they would bring a sacrifice to the temple, it would be offered to God, and the priests would grant them remission from their sins.
But here’s the thing about that: the sacrifice was something that the penitent OWNED, which they were offering up to God. To claim that Jesus served as the sacrifice for all humanity would be to suggest that humanity owned Jesus, when in reality, Jesus was of one person with God, and if He belonged to anybody, belonged TO God, not to us. He was sent to teach us and to die and rise again, yes, but not because God had to sacrifice something to Himself. That just doesn’t make sense.
So what does make sense?
We hear about love again and again throughout Scripture. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. God so loved the world. In fact, I’ve heard the Bible referred to as God’s sixty-six volume love letter to humanity, although if I got a love letter that contained the book of Judges, I might be slightly concerned.
But love is a motivating factor throughout the Bible, for people in all times and places. Why did Rebekah help Jacob deceive Isaac and receive his blessing? Because she loved her son and wanted the best for him. Why did Jacob work a total of fourteen years in Laban’s fields? Because he loved Rachel and truly wanted to marry her. Why did Esau embrace Jacob, forgive him, and provide and protect for him, even though he had been betrayed by him repeatedly? Because this was his brother, and he loved him.
And that’s just one man’s story. Moses’s love for the Hebrew people led him to first commit a crime that led to his fleeing his inheritance in Egypt, and would later lead to him following God’s calling to return and lead the people to the Promised Land. Jonathan’s love for David would lead to him betraying King Saul, his own father, to protect his friend from Saul’s wrath, a love that David would later repay when Jonathan’s only surviving son was brought before him.
Without love, you really have no Scripture. You have no reason for God to care for the people. Without love, God would’ve told Noah and his family to go for a swim, and that would’ve been that for humanity. Indeed, without love, God probably would’ve struck Adam and Eve down where they stood after succumbing to the Deceiver. But instead, God, through love, gave them a second chance.
So when we talk about the love that was shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have to talk about three different types of love – storge, agape, and philia. And for those of you who are saying, “Well, that’s all Greek to me,” the reality is, it’s Greek to me too – those are all Greek words for different types of love.
First, let’s talk about storge. Storge is natural affection, such as that which one feels for one’s children, or vice versa. It’s found not just in humanity, but also throughout the animal kingdom. Most animals, though not sentient in the way humans are, while show love and affection for their children because it is their natural instinct, just as it is for their children to show that love and affection back to them.
And we must believe that God holds such affection for us aside from the divine love of God – which we’ll get to in a minute. After all, God has created, creates now, and will create in years to come every human being who has ever walked the earth, who walks it today, and who will walk it down the road. Each one of us has been crafted in God’s image, and it is only natural that God would feel a sort of parental affection toward that which God has created. And out of this storge, we find reason in love for God’s decision to give us Jesus Christ to be our source of salvation. For those of you who are parents, when your child suffers, you want only to make them feel better. Likewise, when God looks down at the people of this Earth and sees us suffering under the weight of sin, God grants to us grace and mercy, through our faith in Jesus Christ.
And don’t forget, Jesus Himself felt such love for His mother. Remember, as He hung on the cross, He looked down and saw Mary, His mother, and the disciple who He loved, and said, “Mother, here is your son; son, here is your mother.” Even as He prepared to die, He made sure that His mother would be cared for when He was gone.
Now, our faith in Jesus Christ is not something which we came by naturally. We human beings are a messed up, skeptical, disbelieving people. After all, humanity went from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” in five days’ time. No matter what the best of humanity may be, we are a people who under no circumstances would take it on faith if God informed us all was forgiven. Human beings needed to see God’s authority over sin. Human beings needed to see the power of God’s grace and mercy. Human beings needed to see God’s power over death.
It is here that we see God’s agape love shown for us. It literally means, in Greek, “the love of God for man and man for God.” Above and beyond being God’s creation, we are God’s people. Every single human being who has ever lived is part of the people of God. And through love, God desired that each of us should be freed from the bondage of sin and death. Let me reiterate, this did not require the sacrifice of God’s only Son. It was God’s choice to grant us that freedom, and no act of humanity was needed to convince God. What was required, however, was that we actually believe that God had forgiven us. And this is where agape comes in.
We all know the verse, as so poetically given to us in the King James Version of the Bible: “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.” But it’s not just that God gave the Son. You see, if we believe that the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit consists of three beings who are each in and of themselves the same single person of God, then we have to recognize that Jesus Christ wasn’t just the Son. Jesus Christ was in fact God incarnate, walking this earth, teaching God’s own creation a new way, and yes, voluntarily going to the cross. We might in fact re-phrase John 3:16 to say, “For God so loved the world that He gave HIMSELF.”
It is almost more than the mind can process, knowing that God would voluntarily come to the world with the knowledge that there would be a violent and horrifying end to God’s existence as a human being. But the agape love of God for all of us was such that God willingly did exactly that so that we might see God’s authority over sin and power over death, that we might actually have faith in the grace and mercy of God.
Finally, we have philia: brotherly love. It forms the root of the name of the City of Philadelphia, known itself as the City of Brotherly Love. It is the love that we as human beings have for our fellow man, brothers, sisters, friends. And yes, God demonstrated philia love for us as well.
Now, this is not to say that we are on the same level as God in any way. But we must remember that in as much as Jesus Christ was absolutely God, the earthly incarnation of the divine, so too was He absolutely human, a person of flesh borne of a person of flesh. Skin, muscles, bones, internal organs, a brain, just as any other human being on earth.
Jesus had brothers and sisters. Jesus had friends. And even though Jesus, as the Christ, would have known His mission and purpose as God, He still would’ve lived the life of a human being. He naturally would’ve developed a certain affection for those who were close to him – and there we have how the philia of God in the person of Jesus Christ led to the cross.
We know that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph and Mary, did not want to go to the cross. We know that on the night in which He was betrayed, He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to God. He prayed that the cup from which He was about to drink would be taken from Him. The human Jesus was terrified. He prayed, and He cried, and His body was under such enormous stress that capillaries began to burst, blood seeping out of his tear ducts and pores along with his tears and sweat.
But in the end, Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
This human being named Jesus had all of the power of God at His command. By His own admission, He could’ve called down a legion of angels to protect Him from Rome. He could’ve escaped up the Mount of Olives and been out of Jerusalem before Peter, James, and John ever woke up. He could have very easily walked away from the whole thing – He had that power.
But He didn’t. He didn’t, because He knew that this was what would show His friends and family that God had power over all things, even death. He knew that through His death and resurrection, people would see the reality of the grace and mercy of God. They would accept that grace and mercy, they would have faith.
Jesus’ human life didn’t have to end the way it did to satisfy a bloodthirsty God. Jesus’ human life ended the way it did so that we, His fellow human beings, might see and believe. That we might have faith in God’s grace and mercy. For God, in the person of Jesus Christ, loved Peter, and James, and John, and Mary Magdalene, and Salome, and Joanna, and the hemophiliac woman, and Jairus the Roman centurion, and the Samaritan woman at the well, and Lazarus and Mary and Martha, and yes, even Judas Iscariot, just as He loves you and me today – so much so that He was willing to go to a cross that we might witness the Almighty power of grace and mercy. Indeed, even as He hung on that cross, He showed that philia love to the thief who hung next to Him. Chances were that He had never met that man before, but when that man asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus turned and said, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me this day in paradise.”
That’s a promise that goes to each and every one of us. As a human person, Jesus never met a single one of us face to face. And yet, we receive that brotherly love that He offered up to each one of us through His death and resurrection.
God didn’t need a sacrifice. There is nothing that we can give to God that God needs. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ these many centuries ago happened because love was good enough for God. And if love is good enough for God, then, by God, it’s good enough for us too.
We are bought not by blood, not by death, but God gives us life through love. Truly, love alone is worth the fight.