My most difficult sermon
Let me be honest with you, if I may. Some sermons are harder to preach than others. Today is one of these times for me.
This morning we continue our sermon series: WHY I AM A CHRISTIAN. This morning I want to talk about the love of God.
Surely, the love of God has to be at the very top of the list of reasons for why we are Christians. At least, I hope this is the case. It is for me. How about you?
Now, you would think that preaching on the love of God would be an easy thing to do. For many, many pastors, this may be the case. However, it‘s not for me.
There is one overwhelming challenge I face when it comes to talking about the love of God. It’s the danger of not doing justice to such a great doctrine under the time constraints of a sermon these days. To be honest, it's like a swimmer being told to cross the Pacific Ocean in a single day. That’s how I feel trying to capture the enormity of God's love for us in the next twelve minutes.
When it comes to the love of God, it’s best for the preacher to get out of the way. It’s best to simply let the Word of God speak for itself.
Let’s begin with Psalm 63. It's a passage that takes my breath away.
O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You. My body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.... Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
Did you catch it? Did you hear what David prayed? He declared that God's love is better than life!
What led David to make such a stunning remark? In order to understand this, keep in mind that Psalm 63 contains a subscription, a subtitle, which reads: “A Psalm of David. When he was in the desert of Judah.”
As best as scholars can determine, David wrote Psalm 63 during one of the worst times in his life. Although he was king of Israel, David was literally on the run. His own son Absalom was trying to overthrow, and even, kill him. If this wasn’t bad enough, David was largely to blame for the situation. He was suffering the consequences for his sin regarding Uriah and Bathsheba.
David was about to reap what he had sowed.
Facing the worst crisis of his life, David did what he did best. He turned to the Lord. He poured out his heart to God Almighty. He trusted in his Savior.
O God, You are my God; earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You. My body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. BECAUSE YOUR LOVE IS BETTER THAN LIFE, my lips will glorify You.
Isn’t this why we've come here this morning?
Isn’t this why some of you are worshiping with us on-line today?
These days we can feel like David. There seems to be no end in sight to the troubles we face. Just when things seem to be finally be turning the corner, there is more trouble ahead. Like David, we find ourselves living in a dry and weary land. Our souls’ thirst for the living God. We come to worship because this is where God meets us —here in his sanctuary. We come because only the Lord can quench our spiritual thirst.
We come seeking the same thing that David so desperately needed: A LOVE THAT IS BETTER THAN LIFE.
Let’s turn now to our second lesson.
Like David before him, the Apostle Paul never ceased to marvel at the love of God. He wrote about this love time and time again. This morning we’ve heard one classic example:
For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Along with Psalm 63, this passage from Ephesians is one the greatest prayers in the Bible. As Paul’s magnificent prayer shows, human language strains to its limits to describe the astonishing love of God.
Like David before him, Paul experienced the love of God first-hand. As a matter of fact, it literally knocked him off his feet as he made his way to Damascus. Paul had been so sure of himself. He had been certain of his own righteousness before God. But he was dead wrong. He had become God's enemy.
This changed on the way to Damascus when Jesus Christ knocked him on his backside, confronting him. Paul never forgot that day. As a result, he continued to meditate on the unfathomable love of Christ—a love that was as immense and deep as the Pacific Ocean
Paul became an ambassador of God’s love to anyone and everyone who would listen. He was, as he put it, compelled by the love of Christ to do so. A classic example can be seen in his letter to the Romans.
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 person, though for a good person 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.
Before going any further, I need to say something. Down through the ages, the Church has been at her best when it concentrates on two things:
Our utter unworthiness before God. We are morally bankrupt in the eyes of our Maker. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags before him. We cannot hope to stand in the presence of a holy God.
And yet, because of the tremendous love that God has for the ungodly and the wicked; including the likes of you and me, we have been redeemed by the blood shed by his Son. Our slate has been wiped clean. Christ has taken our sins away from us, removing them as far as the east is from the west.
The apostle Paul reminds us that at the heart of the Christian faith there is a great paradox. God loves us at our worst; our absolute worst. Paul wasn’t the only Christian to marvel at this. Consider what the Englishwoman Dorothy Sayers wrote: “None of us feels the true love of God until we realize how wicked we are. But you can’t teach people that – they have to learn by experience.”
Like David and Paul before her, Sayers knew first-hand what she was talking about.
This brilliant Englishwoman, and gifted writer, carried a deep, dark secret hidden from the public and almost all of her friends and family, including her own parents. In 1924, Sayers had a baby out of wedlock. Not a big deal these days, but it was back then.
Dorothy's son was raised by an aunt and cousin; both of whom were sworn to secrecy. The guilt and the shame had to be a terrible burden for Sayers to live with. No wonder she wrote: “None of us feels the true love of God until we realize how wicked we are. But you can’t teach people that – they have to learn by experience.”
There are three questions we need to ask ourselves this morning:
Have I taken the love of God for granted?
Do I realize just how undeserving I truly am of the love of God?
What difference is the love of God making in my life; and in how I treat others?
In closing, let us turn to our Gospel lesson. Like David and Paul, the Apostle John was one who simply couldn’t stop thinking about the love of God. As a matter of fact, John talks more about the love of God than any other writer in the Bible. Let me share with you one classic example.
John, and John alone, tells us what else happened in the Upper Room the night that Jesus was betrayed. While Matthew, Mark and Luke write about the institution of the Lord’s Supper, John focuses on something else that took place that fateful evening, writing:
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love...
John didn’t want the Church to forget that not only did Jesus die for us—he also took time to wash his disciples’ feet. Do we realize just how incredible this is? What kind of love stoops so low as to wash feet? What kind of love then goes on to die on a cross for the likes of you and me?
It is truly a love that is better than life. It is an absolute wonder to behold.
May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.