their sins.” - Matthew 1:21
For the past month we have been learning about and observing the season of Advent. These are the 4 weeks leading up to and including Christmas. With each passing day, our excitement for the coming of the glorious baby Jesus has grown. We have been patiently and prayerfully preparing our hearts for His arrival. This morning, the final Sunday before Christmas, we will continue our special observance Advent.
We began the season by emphasizing the hope that all believers have in Christ. For hundreds of years prior to his birth, God’s people hopefully waited for the coming Messiah. Old Testament prophets spoke of a Saviour who would come to redeem His children in Israel and around the world. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of many ancient promises, and the realization of a long-held hope that lived within the hearts of many saints.
Next we highlighted the peace that Jesus brought when He came. Since his fall in the Garden of Eden, mankind had been at enmity with God. By choosing to sin against Him, man declared open warfare on God. As the battle raged on, Jesus came to bring about an end to the heated conflict. Our Prince of Peace came to secure our forgiveness from sin, and to reconcile us to our Heavenly Father. The tranquil peace that was felt on the silent night centuries ago can be had in our hearts today when we submit them to Jesus Christ.
Last week we featured the joy that comes as a result of knowing Jesus. The angel that appeared to the shepherds told them not to be afraid because he brought a message of great joy for all people. Those of us who have come to know the Lord personally have cause to rejoice and celebrate. Our lives should be characterized happiness and gladness that comes only through salvation in Christ. He is the source of our abundant joy!
Today we will consider the love of Christ. This is the last quality that we will discuss during this year’s advent season, but scripture teaches that it is the greatest virtue of all. So, you might could say that we’ve saved the best until last…
I. LOVE DEFINED
Popular culture tends to define love as an intense feeling or deep affection for someone. This feeling is often based upon an attraction of some kind, such as intense physical or emotional desire. This worldly view of love as an extremely sensual emotion is widely promoted by all forms of media including music, television, movies, and online. This false portrayal has led many people to view love incorrectly.
Conversely, many Christians have adopted the mantra that “love is a choice” or “love is a decision”. They select scriptures that emphasize love’s ability to endure even when feelings of affection are absent. This school of thought tends to dismiss the emotional aspect, stressing instead that love is a voluntary commitment. People who are truly in love will remain mutually devoted regardless of their feelings toward one another at any particular instant. While partially true, this definition of love is also incomplete.
Love involves both feeling and choice. If it is based solely on feeling it is nothing more than infatuation. Such love is fleeting and will surely fail. However if it is based solely on choice it becomes nothing more than duty or allegiance. Such love is dry, cold, and uninspiring. While there are certainly periods within any love relationship that lean more heavily toward one side or the other, a healthy definition of love includes both aspects. Biblical love is an affectionate commitment that involves sacrifice on behalf of another person.
II. LOVE DISPLAYED - Romans 5:8
The main message of the Bible is love. Specifically, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus left his throne in Heaven and came to earth, born as a baby in a manger. He lived a sinless life yet died a sinner’s death. He gave His life as a sacrificial substitute for mankind, paid the ransom for the sins of humanity, and bore the full wrath of God in man’s place. There is no greater act of love than the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The love displayed by God through Jesus on the cross is beyond our comprehension. The Father was under no obligation to send His Son, nor was the Son under any obligation to offer Himself as our Savior. Yet God determined to redeem His creation through Jesus Christ, and chose to love mankind even though they did not deserve it. Jesus voluntarily gave His life even though He probably didn’t feel like doing it. This same love that was displayed on the cross endures eternally for all of those who have placed their faith in Jesus and been forgiven of their sin and guilt.
In light the definition discussed earlier, it is important to note that Jesus’ love for sinners was not without emotion. The Lord displayed His love through acts of compassion toward the sick, broken, and weak. He even wept over the lostness of His people. Jesus felt and still feels an intense affection for humanity. Likewise, God the Father delights in His children and has strong feelings of tenderness, grace, and mercy toward them. His love is on display for all who have eyes to see it.
III. LOVE DEMANDED - 1 John 4:19; Matthew 22:36-40; John 13:34
We are called to love because God first loved us. Our ability to love comes from knowing the Lord personally. He enables us to show the love of Christ. Indwelt with His love, Christians are given two commandments to follow. Jesus gave us these commands as a summation of all of the Old Testament laws and requirements. They are “to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind” and “and to love your neighbor as yourself”. These two statements reveal the imperative nature of love. Apart from love, we cannot be obedient to the will and purposes of God.
There is a cyclical pattern when it comes to the Lord’s commandments and love. As we just discussed, Jesus commanded His disciples first and foremost to love God. He also said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” If you consider both of these statements together, we conclude that true love for God motivates us to keep His commandments which, in turn, command us to love Him truly. Thus, love and obedience are inseparable from one another - they must go together. Attempts to isolate them from each other are unbiblical.
Finally, Jesus further interpreted His second commandment “to love your neighbor as yourself.” According to a literal understanding of this statement, the extent that we should love others would be dependent upon the amount we love ourselves. For some, this would not be a good measure to go by. We must remember that Jesus also taught His followers that they should love one another “as He loved them”. Therefore, we are commanded to love one another with the same degree of sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.
Now that we Advent season is drawing to an end and Christmas day is approaching, let us quickly differentiate the topics we’ve discussed over these past 4 weeks.
Hope is a confident expectation of a certain, though not yet realized outcome.
Peace is the absence of hostility or enmity within a relationship.
Joy is a happiness over an unanticipated or present good.
Love is an affectionate commitment that involves sacrifice for another.
Each of these virtues, though different from one another, all come from the same source - Jesus Christ. He is the reason for our hope, our peace, our joy, and our love. And He is also the reason we observe Advent. As we reflect upon Him, may we prayerfully prepare our hearts for His glorious coming.
May you and your family have a Merry Christmas.