Well, these are special days, and I think just sort of slowing the pace a little bit and cranking back from the level of involvement we have in the world, and sitting back and thinking about those things that are precious to us really are important moments and important hours as we spend them together with our families and those we love. But as we think about Christmas, you hear a lot of talk about the spirit of Christmas and the spirit of love. In fact, somebody said to me just last week after one of the messages I gave, “I’m surprised that you didn’t talk about the fact that we’re to love each other. After all, isn’t that the whole point of Christmas?” And it struck me that for most people that probably is what they think, that the whole point of Christmas is all about people loving people.
Somebody else said to me, “Shouldn’t we be showing love to others? Isn’t that the real meaning of Christmas?” That does express popular sentiment. Popular sentiment is all about loving each other, and being kind to each other, and being good to friends and family, and even good to strangers, and giving gifts, and showing affection. We constantly hear that defined as the spirit of Christmas – somebody does something of some benevolence to someone else and that’s the spirit of Christmas.
And I don’t want to be the grinch that stole Christmas by any means; but that is not the spirit of Christmas, that is not the significance of Christmas at all. Human kindness is a very lovely thing and a very desirable thing, and certainly it’s even commanded in the Bible that we do good unto all men, especially those that are of the household of faith, that we be tenderhearted and forgiving as God is, that we be kind to one another and merciful, and that we love each other as God loved us. I’m not decrying that as a reality; that is a very important commodity. Loving each other and being good to each other, and giving gifts and making sacrifices, and showing mercy and kindness to troubled people in a troubled world is very, very important. But that is not what Christmas is about.
What Christmas is about is not people loving people, what Christmas is about is God loving sinners. Christmas is, of all things, the event that focuses on divine redemption. Christmas is not about people to people, it is about God to people, in fact, God loving sinners who are utterly unlovable and unworthy of the least of His affection.
The birth of Jesus Christ is the testimony to God’s love; that’s what it’s all about: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,” as we’ve been learning in this series we’re in on the love of God. “God commended” – or proved – “His love toward us,” – Romans 5:8 says – “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus came into the world not to be ministered unto but to minister and give His life a ransom for many.
So the birth of Jesus Christ signals God’s love for unworthy sinners. It is not about people loving people, it is about God loving sinners, God loving unworthy sinners, undeserving sinners, and God loving them in such a magnanimous way as to do the noblest act of love, according to the words of Jesus, which is “when a man lays down his life for his friends.”
And we’ve been looking at this whole matter of God’s love. That is the theme of Christmas. We’ve been talking about it now, this will be our third week, and we’ll talk some more about it next week, in examining the kind of love that God has demonstrated.
John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world,” and we’ve looked at how God loved the world. The love of God to the world is manifest in His common grace, as theologians call it, or His general goodness. Skies are blue, and the grass is green, and the flowers grow in the garden of even the unregenerate people, and music comforts our hearts and gives wings to the expressions of our emotions, and we can enjoy a little child, and we can enjoy the fruits of love and labor; and all of that is common grace, common to all people, and is manifestation of God’s love.
And then God manifests His love in an unlimited way to the whole world in terms of His compassion: He pities. And we showed in Scripture how God has compassion even to the point where Jesus wept as He looked at the plight of people. We saw the compassion of God also in the healing ministry of Jesus as He touched them in the time of their great need.
And God’s love to the whole world is seen in warnings. All through the Bible God warns about sin and its effect and its consequence and eternal judgment. We see God’s unlimited love to the world in the gospel as it is to be spread to the whole world and people are to be told that if they’ll come to Christ their sins can be forgiven, and they can have the hope of eternal life in heaven forever. That’s all God’s unlimited love.
And so we said that God’s love is unlimited in its extent. But the second proposition we started last week, and we’ll continue it this morning, is that God’s love is limited in degree. While He loves the whole world He does not love them to the degree that He loves His own. Those who belong to the Lord are the special objects of His love. He had for them a love that is beyond the love that He has for the world.
In fact, we must remind you that the love God has for the world is temporal, that is it exists only in the framework of time. It exists only in this life, it is temporary; and eventually, for those who refuse Jesus Christ, that love turns to hate, that hate results in eternal judgment. God does love the world in a temporal, temporary way, bound by space and time. In the physical realm that love turns to hate and judgment for those who reject Him. And the sad truth is that while God loves the world, extends compassion toward the world, common grace, warnings about judgment and the gospel, Jesus said, “You will not come to Me that you might have life.” Men refuse the gift that God offers, therefore God’s love turns to hate and judgment.
But to those who receive God’s love, to those who come to Christ, to those who accept Christ as Lord and Savior, believing in His death and resurrection and committing their lives to obedience to His will, to those people God brings a love that is beyond the love that He has for an unregenerate mankind. He loves His own with a love that is far beyond anything that we could ever imagine or fathom; and even all eternity will not be able to fully exhaust the demonstration of God’s love toward His own.
He loves His own with a love that reaches to the fullest of His capacity to love, as we saw last time. And no one has expressed that better than the apostle John who said, “Having loved His own who were in the world,” – John 13:1 – “He loved them eis telos.” And that phrase can mean He loves them completely, perfectly, fully. It can mean to the end, to the limit, to the max, to the last. It can mean undying, eternal, ever lasting; and it means all of that, all of that. The Lord loves His own in a way that is going to be demonstrated throughout all eternity; and as I said, even all eternity can’t exhaust the expression of that love.
When John sums it up he does it in these simple words, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us. See how great a love,” and he doesn’t exhaust a half a dozen or a dozen adjectives, because they wouldn’t even come close to saying what needs to be said. He just says, “How great a love, that we should be called children of God,” 1 John 3:1. It is that great love with which He has loved us.
And it is that love that causes us to be called His children. Remember now, He set that love upon us in eternity past before the world began just as He did the nation of Israel, the predetermined, sovereign, uninfluenced desire and will to love us while we were not yet born, and knowing that when we were born we would be unlovable sinners. We have been designated as the beloved of God by His own eternal choice.
John again says it as well as it can be said, 1 John chapter 4, verse 9. You might want to turn to this chapter, I want to comment on a couple of verses, 1 John chapter 4, verse 9, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” God first loves us. Because God loves us He sends His Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Verse 10, “In this is love.” There is love manifest in the gift of Christ, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son for our sins.
Down in verse 16 John says, “We have come to know and believe the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” And then verse 19, “We love, because He first loved us.” Let’s get the sequence right. God determined to love us before the world began, God loved us when we were yet in sin, God loved us when we were not lovable, and it was that predetermination to love us in spite of what we were. That is the essence of God’s great redeeming love.
The message of Christmas then is God loves sinners and sends His Son into the world to redeem them. To those who believe and accept that redemption He pours out a love that knows no limits forever and ever and ever. It is demonstrated, first of all, in that He was willing to die for us, and then spend the rest of eternity pouring out expressions of that love upon us.
It’s mystery. How can we ever expect to understand why He would choose to love us in such a way? Why is it that God at best didn’t just say, “Well, I’m going to concede to you, you’re a bunch of wretched sinners; I’m going to let you into My heaven. You can enjoy a few things, but don’t expect a lot”? And why isn’t it that there’s some minimal expression of God’s love to those of us who have sinned against His holy name? Why doesn’t He express the maximal levels of His love for the holy angels who never fell and who faithfully throughout all of time have been loyal to love the God who made them? He damned the angels who fell with no hope of redemption, why would He redeem man? We don’t know the answer to that except that He predetermined to love us, and by loving us to draw us to Himself.
Daniel Whittle wrote the poem for a song that I’ve sung since I was a small boy. The words express the question that must be on all of our hearts, “I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He hath made known, nor why unworthy Christ in love redeemed me for His own. I don’t know why, but I known whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”
We don’t know why. Maybe in eternity we’ll never know why. Why would God love us? There was nothing in us to love. We’re no different than anybody else. As we saw last week in Ezekiel chapter 16, God said to Israel, “You are worse than Samaria, you are worse than Sodom; Samaria and Sodom perish in judgment, and Israel” – He says – “I will forgive you,” – why? – “because I’ve chosen to love you.” It’s an immense and incomprehensible mystery; but God loves His own, and because of that He sent His Son into the world to die for us, that we might become His children.
Now when we become His children by faith in Jesus Christ, what kind of love do we then enjoy? Let’s not talk about His love that is unlimited in extent to the world, let’s talk about His love that is limited in degree to the world, because the full degree of His love belongs to believers. Let’s talk about the love He has toward us; and that’s really what I want to share with you this morning. Nothing profound, nothing new, but just a reminder of the way in which God loves His own, which is really what Christmas is all about: God manifesting His love toward those who would come to faith in His Son.
Let’s begin by looking at Luke chapter 15. Luke chapter 15, a very familiar chapter in which is included the parable of the prodigal son, as it’s called. It really is the parable of the forgiving father, it is misnamed the prodigal son. It’s really the story of the forgiving father, or the loving father. Let’s look at Luke 15 and verse 11.
“He said, ‘A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country. There he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need. And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.’ – not a proper occupation for a good Jewish boy – ‘He was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I’m dying here with hunger! I’ll get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’” And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him over and over and over.’” Stop at that point.
The father is God, the son is an irreligious, worldly sinner. Every sinner has, in a creative sense, God as a Father. And every sinner has privileges because he is created, created in the image of God. This young man pictures the sinner who squanders those privileges in a dissolute, irreligious life. He took all of the good things that God had given him by virtue of being created in God’s image and he went out and wasted them in loose living, immorality and drunkenness, and all that you could conjecture.
He comes to a point where in the midst of his debauchery he realizes he has hit bottom. He’s serving pig slop and having to eat his own meals from the same, and he realizes that this is not the way to live, and so he decides to come to God. Here is the penitent sinner, and he comes back to God, and he’s coming sorrowful over his wasted life, sorrowful over squandering all of the wonderful gifts that are his by virtue of being created in the image of God. He’s wasted his time and all of his opportunity. But he knows where he is. He understands his iniquity; he understands his wickedness. He wants to go back and make things right with his father, with God, and he heads back.
In verse 20 then you see God’s love demonstrated toward a penitent sinner. “While he’s still a long way off,” – he’s still down the road, he hasn’t even been able to reach the presence of his father – “his father saw him” – because he was looking – “and he felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him over and over,” is the indication of the Greek language. Here you have a picture of the character of God’s love. And the amazing thing about this love is that it’s given toward one who is utterly undeserving, one who has wasted and squandered opportunity and privilege. And yet the father sees him, feels compassion for him, and runs to meet him, and throws his arms around him and repeatedly kisses him.
Here is tender mercy; here is forgiveness; here is compassion. Here is a father treating the son as if there were no past, as if his sins had been buried in the depths of the deepest sin, removed as far as the east is from the west and forgotten. Here is effusive affection. There is not a reluctance that says, “Well, you know, you’ve really lived a wretched life; and I’m going to let you into the kingdom, but I really shouldn’t do that,” attitude.
There is no past. It is gone, it has disappeared, and all that the son experiences is embracing, and repeated kissing and hugging; and the joy of the father is overflowing. And this is emblematic of how God loves the penitent who comes to Him. He loves him lavishly. He loves him grandly, greatly, affectionately.
And the son is so shocked by this, in verse 21, the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” It’s almost like he pushes him away and says, “Wait a minute. Do you understand what I’ve done? Do you understand what I’m like?” It’s almost as if he can’t deal with this. This is perhaps the profoundest humiliation.
Coming to God is a humbling experience, and the first thing that humbles you when you come to God is the awareness of your sin. He was humbled while he was eating the pig slop. He became very much aware of a wasted and squandered life. He knew what was available to him from the father. He went back; he confessed his sin against heaven and in the sight of his father. He is a true penitent. He is turning from his sin, turning from his wasted life, and he comes to God; and he is humbled, first of all, by his sin.
But then, secondly, and perhaps more profoundly, he is humbled by God’s grace. What is more humbling than the awareness of one’s sin is the awareness of God’s grace. That is far more humbling. And he wants to push God away, as it were, and say, “Do you really understand what I’ve done? You’re just pouring out love and affection on me. Do you know who I am?” That is even more humbling. But such is the love of God toward a penitent sinner. It is rich, lavish, effusive, exalting love.
The father doesn’t even respond to his hesitant questions in verse 21. The father just says to the slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry.” There’s not even a regard for the queries of the young man about whether he’s worthy or not, he just says, “Start the party, folks. This son of mine” – verse 24 – “was dead, has come to life again; he was lost, has been found.” And they began to be merry. And that’s the picture of the love of God toward a penitent sinner. It is not minimal, it is maximal, it is lavish.
Turn to Romans chapter 8. And here is another picture of the character of this love, Romans 8, verse 35. This too is an absolutely crucial understanding to give us the greatness of God’s love. Verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” That’s taken from Psalm 44.
Paul says, “What’s going to separate us from the love that God gives us in Christ? I mean, we’re being put to death all day long.” He lived on the brink of death constantly, as we all know. He was always being considered as a sheep to be slaughtered by somebody who wanted him dead; that was his pattern of life. “Is that going to separate us: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword?” Verse 37, “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who” – what? – “loved us.”
You see, this is personal experience. Paul says, “I’ve been through tribulation, God didn’t stop loving me. I’ve been through distress, God didn’t stop loving me. I’ve been through persecution, I’ve been through famine, I’ve been naked, I’ve been in peril, I’ve stood on the edge of the sword, I’ve been through all of that, and I can tell you, in it all the one who loved me never, ever, ever, severed that love. And so I’m convinced” – verse 38 – “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The second thing we learn about God’s love toward His own is that it is unbreakable, inseparable, unconquerable, and everlasting love. It never fades, it never wavers, it never wanes, it never grows cold, and it never changes. God loves us with an everlasting love. And you’re back to the eis telos again, “Jesus having loved His own who were in the world loved them to the eternity.”
It is a love that will never die, never grow cold, never diminish, never fade; a love from which we can never be separated. Nothing can separate us, nothing, not death, life, not anything angelic, not anything in the present, not anything in the future – no thing that’s created. And everything was created except God Himself. Nothing in existence can separate us from that love.
He loves the world with a temporal love. He loves the world with a love of compassion, a love of goodness. He loves them enough to warn them. But that love is bound by time; and when time ends for them, so does that love, and they enter into hell and judgment. But His own who believe in Jesus Christ and have come to Him in repentant faith, He loves them with an everlasting love that cannot ever be broken.
Look at Ephesians chapter 2 and let’s see another passage that defines for us the character of this love. Ephesians chapter 2, some more reminders that I know you’re familiar with, verse 4; and here Paul uses the same term that John does, “His great love with which He loved us.” Everything starts out of God’s love, “this great love with which He loved us.”
And then he goes on to define this love: “He loved us so much, that even when we were dead in our transgressions,” – and there again is that emphasis on having loved us when we were not worthy – “He made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” He loved us, first of all. He loved us in our transgression. Out of that love He sovereignly made us alive together with Christ; that is He placed us in Christ by our faith in Christ, we were placed on the cross spiritually, we died with Christ, we rose to walk in newness of life, so that He literally dealt with our sins, and gave us new life through grace.
Verse 6, “He then raised us up with Him.” We came out of the grave with Christ. “We are now seated with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” What does that mean? That our real home is in heaven, that our real life is in spiritual dimension that is beyond this world. That’s what He did for us. He loved us so much, that even when we were dead in our transgressions, He made us alive with Christ through grace, He raised us up out of the grave to walk in newness of life. He seated us permanently in the heavenlies; that’s now our home, that’s our abode, that’s where our life is.
And why did He do this? Why would He save dead sinners? Why? Verse 7 gives you the reason for all of it: “In order” – and that’s a purpose clause, for the purpose – “that in the ages to come” – that’s through all eternity – “He might show the surpassing riches of His grace” – how’s He going to show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us? – “in kindness.” What? What does that mean? That means God saved us when we were dead in our sins so that He might be able forever to show us His kindness. Astounding.
You say, “We don’t deserve His kindness.” That’s the whole point. That’s why He gets so much glory from showing kindness to us. Forever and ever we’ll not only thank Him for His kindness, but we’ll thank Him for His kindness because we know we never deserved it. But that’s the point: He loved us so much, that He wanted to show kindness to us forever.
You say, “What is heaven?” What is heaven? heaven is where God will show us kindness out of the surpassing riches of His grace forever. You say, “You mean we’re going to go to heaven and God is just going to spend forever being kind to us?” That’s right. Now that is a love that transcends. It is a love that gives life; it is a love that promises eternal glory; it is a love that pledges eternal kindness.
The eternity of heaven is God being kind to us, kind to us forever and ever and ever. And people sometimes think about heaven and they think, “Oh, I don’t know, it might be boring up there.” Now remember this; God has an infinite mind, and God has an infinite number of ways in which He can demonstrate His kindness. And so, eternally we will just have exploding on us one experience of God’s unsurpassed kindness after another, no two of which would ever be the same. That’s how much He loves us, while we were yet sinners.
Look at Ephesians chapter 5 and learn another area of this love, and that is its purifying aspect. First it is a lavish love; secondly, it is an unbreakable love; third, it is a love that shows eternal kindness; and here it is a purifying love. It says in verse 25, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” – why? – “in order that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”
So now we find another purpose. Not only does He want us to experience kindness forever, but He wants us to experience eternal holiness. Christ loved the church enough to die for the church in order to sanctify, that is to separate the church from sin, to cleanse the church by the Word, to bring the church into heaven in all her glory, without spot, without wrinkle, but holy and blameless.
Now the amazing reality of that is there’s only one being in the universe that’s holy and blameless. Who’s that? God. He loved us enough to make us exactly like Him. That’s why John says we’ll be like Him when we see Him as He is.
It’s an incredible thing. God loves us enough to separate us from sin, to cleanse us, to purify us, to bring us into glory, without spot, without wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. I mean, the transformation is incredible, from being dead in trespasses and sins to being alive in holiness and perfection. And all of it due to nothing of our own: no worthiness in ourselves, no desirability in ourselves, no achievement in and of ourselves; nothing but God’s free grace.
What love. No wonder, no wonder John said, “What great love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God.” It is a love that lavishes. It is a love that is unbreakable. It is a love that will demonstrate itself in eternal kindness. It is a love that will demonstrate itself in eternal holiness.
Look at Hebrews chapter 12, Hebrews chapter 12. This too is an important aspect of His love. God always wants the best for His children, and He knows that the path to the best is always the path of obedience. Did you get that? God knows that the path to the best is the path of obedience.
You know, it’s like a parent. A parent says, “Well, I really love my child, I really love my child,” and doesn’t discipline the child. I question the love, because if you don’t discipline your child you’re really programming that child for the worse. Love doesn’t seek the worse, love seeks – what? – the best. And so love learns to discipline because discipline becomes then protection and the guarantee of blessing. And God says, “I love you too much not to discipline.” We’ve said that as parents, haven’t we? “Bend over; this is because I love you,” and you get a quizzical look from the kid who says, “Sure.” But in the end it is, and they learn.
But God loves us enough to discipline us. Why? To push us back into the path of blessing. Chapter 12, verse 6, “For those whom the Lord loves He” – what? – “He chastens, He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons. “For what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline? If you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you’re illegitimate children and not sons.” If you’re not being disciplined by God, you don’t belong to Him, because if you belong to Him He’ll discipline you because He loves you so much.
“We have furthermore,” – verse 9 – “earthly fathers to discipline us, we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? Our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good,” – here it is again – “that we may share His holiness.” Not in eternity, that’s already going to happen, but in time. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
God loves you enough to discipline you. It is a love that corrects. It is a love that rebukes. It is a love that reproves. It is a love that chastens. It is a love that trains. It is a love that disciplines toward righteousness, toward godliness. This is the saving, justifying, sanctifying, glorifying love that God has for His own and only for His own – those who believe in Him. How great a love, great enough, said Paul to the Thessalonians, to give us eternal comfort and good hope.
And, you see, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s all about God demonstrating this immeasurable and immense love toward those who believe in Him through His Son. It’s really impossible to grasp the fullness of it. I’ve made a feeble effort this morning to give you some sense of the greatness of this love. Let me take you to one other passage that may sort of finalize your thinking with regard to the greatness of this love. Ephesians 3, verse 17. And I’ll look at just three verses here with you, Ephesians 3:17 to 19.
Now Paul is praying here for the Ephesians and, of course, for all believers, and he’s praying in verse 17 “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” That is more than a prayer for salvation; obviously, it encompasses that. The word “dwell,” katoikeō is a word that means – it has the word “home” and “to settle down” combined. It means “to settle down and be at home.”
When Christ settles down and is at home in your heart – or to put it another way – when Christ has unrestricted access to every area of your life, when Christ is in control, it’s not just that you’re a believer, it’s that Christ has settled down. He’s not having to be up fixing things, you know. When you’re committed and devoted to Christ and He has unrestricted access to your life, then Paul says you are being rooted and grounded in love.
In other words, you will be solidly, firmly fixed in the love of God when your life is fully yielded to Christ. When every area of your life is yielded to Him and He has that unrestricted access to every part of your life, you will be solidly fixed in the love of God. You will experience that love.
That’s what Paul meant in Romans 5:5 when he said, “The love of Christ is shed abroad in your hearts.” That’s what Jude meant in Jude 21 when he said, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” What did he mean? Stay in the position of devotion, dedication, and obedience, in which you will rooted and grounded in love. If you want to experience the fullness of God’s love, then let Christ have unrestricted access to every area of your life. “Keep yourself in the love of God,” it doesn’t mean keep yourself saved, it means keep yourself obedient and devoted to Christ so that you’re feeling the full benefits of God’s great love.
And when you do that, verse 18 says, “You will be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and you will be able to know the love of Christ which surpasses” – what? – knowledge. The point is the love that we’re talking about here is unknowable. It’s unknowable by human reason. It’s unknowable. The human mind cannot know it, the unregenerate can’t know it, it is incomprehensible. It surpasses knowledge.
But you can know it, he says. You can know the love of Christ which no one else knows, you can comprehend it in its breadth and its length and its height and its depth when you are rooted and grounded in it. And that happens when Christ has unrestricted access to every area of your life. When Christ fills your life – you can go back to John 14 – then the love of God will fill your life. When Christ has every part of your life, then the love of God fills your life, and then you will comprehend it.
The point is, you can only comprehend it when you’ve experienced it. It reminds me of Louis Armstrong the great jazz trumpeter who was once asked to explain jazz, and his classic answer was, “Man, if I’ve got to explain it, you ain’t got it.”
Now we understand that love is a little like that, “If I have to explain it, you ain’t got it.” But the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through Jesus Christ by faith in Him, if I’ve got to explain it to you, then you’re not experiencing it. But if Christ has unrestricted access to every part of your life, you will be rooted and grounded in love, and you will comprehend with the saints, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth; and you’ll know the love of Christ which otherwise is absolutely incomprehensible and unknowable.
Some old saint looked at that verse 18 where you have the love of God cubed. Do you see it there? It’s just the love of God cubed, I mean, just to show the vastness of it. How long is long, how wide is wide, how high is high, and how deep is deep? Well, one old saint took the cross and said, “The cross is the symbol, the upper arm points to the height. The upper arm points to the height, the lower arm points to the depth, and the cross piece to the breadth and length, and they’re endless.”
How broad is God’s love? It’s to all who believe. How long is His love? It’s from eternity past to eternity future. How high is His love? High enough to enthrone us in the heaven of heavens. How deep is His love? Deep enough to reach to the deepest pit of sin and rescue us.
There is the sum of it all. It’s a love that is broad and long and high and deep and we’ve seen something of its character in the other passages. And this is God’s love that leads to verse 20 – and you can’t really look at this section without verse 20. Verse 20 says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
What is that? That is a – what? – a doxology, isn’t it? Well, what is causing Paul to burst into a doxology? What is causing it is because he has just comprehended as much as is humanly possible the love of God in Christ, and he bursts out in praise. That’s Christmas love. That’s Christmas love – God loving sinners so much that He makes them His own, forgives them all their sins, pours out kindness for all eternity, makes them as holy and blameless and perfect as He Himself is by granting to them His own righteousness in Christ. That’s His love.
And my prayer for you, my prayer for anyone this Christmas season, is the prayer of 2 Thessalonians 3:5. Listen to what Paul wrote: “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.”
Have you noticed how love in this world is fickle? People talk about love, but, oh, is it fickle. We’re not talking about that kind of love, questioning whether it even is love.
There’s a lovely hymn written by George Matheson called “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” Sad story behind that hymn. George Matheson the writer was to marry the love of his life. When he announced to her that he felt God’s call to missionary service she said, “I don’t want to be a missionary,” and left him, refusing to marry.
All alone he wrote these words: “O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.” God loves you this much. Can you say with Matheson, “I give Thee back the life I owe to such love, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be”? That’s the question. To understand Christmas is to experience God’s undying, full, rich love in Jesus Christ, and to do what 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him, because He first loved us.”
Father, we thank You for this wonderful time of year and for the reminder again of your love to us. And we’ve just touched so lightly on this great truth, and yet to just touch its surface is so enriching, so thrilling, and we’re so grateful. You love us with a love beyond our comprehension; and it’ll take all eternity, and even that will not exhaust its expression. Thank You that while we were yet sinners You loved us enough to send Your Son to die for us. Father, we express to You our gratitude, for all Your good gifts, only the first few of which we’ve begun to experience. The fullness awaits our future in Your presence.
We pray this morning for those who may not know Christ, those who have no knowledge of this love, who are loved in a temporal and temporary sense, but will feel the wrath of Your judgment some day if they don’t come to Christ. Father, may You draw them to Yourself, may You draw them to Christ. Like the prodigal, may they see their sinful condition and come to You, believing in Jesus Christ as the one who died and rose again for them, that they might have life.
For those of us who are Christians, may we keep ourselves in the love of God, as Jude said. May we be so devoted to Christ that He has complete access to every area of our lives, so that we might comprehend the greatness of this love and bask in its glories. And may we even today, Lord, realize that when we love You as we should, we will love one another. We know that that’s the fruit of this love, that’s the result of this love, because, “God loves us,” – John says – We ought to love one another. But it all starts with You loving us. May this be a day in which we express our gratitude for such love in our Savior’s name. Amen.
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