“Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son.”
This is the great, glorious mystery of Christmas as expressed by Charles Spurgeon.
There’s no one like Jesus. No one taught like he taught. No one has done the things he did. No one has loved like Jesus loved.
There is no way to measure the impact of his life and teaching on the history of the world.
There is no way to describe the impact of his indwelling presence in the life of a believer.
The birth of Jesus is indeed a cause for much celebration and an occasion for much rejoicing.
There aren’t enough trees or lights or trumpets in the world to adequately express the blessed goodness of that happy day.
This morning we are going to spend a few minutes considering the significance of Jesus by hearing from one of his first disciples, John, the one Jesus loved.
The children with the best parents all believe that they are the favorite. I think Jesus disciples might have all experienced a personal touch from him which left them with the sense of being the one Jesus especially loved.
We’re in 1 John 4:7-12.
We get a very clear sense from this passage that there is something that we are supposed to do in this short life of ours. Do you see it?
It’s right there in verse 7 – let us love one another. And you may have noticed that it’s there again in verse 11 – we also ought to love one another.
You can’t spend much time learning about Jesus without picking up on the absolute priority of love. Everything he did was done in love. Every day he lived was marked by acts of love. Everyone he met felt the force of his love.
The celebration of Jesus’ birth is a celebration of love.
How can we best celebrate and honor the birth of Christ in this season? It’s clear isn’t? We should love one another.
We should appreciate one another. We should see the good in one another and believe the best about each other. We should speak words of encouragement and hope to one another. We should bear each other’s burdens. We should serve one another. We should pray for one another. We should forgive each other and show mercy to one another. We should be generous with one another. We should move in and not retreat when we see each other’s sin exposed.
Linguistic scholars tell us that there is a sense to the verb in the Greek that is ongoing. Some translate the phrase as let us keep on loving one another.
Let’s keep it up. Let’s not quit. Let’s keep pressing forward, let’s keep stirring ourselves up to love one another. Let’s keep resisting the temptation to pull back. Let’s keep moving into one another’s lives.
This is the Christian life. You might say this is the way.
Let us love one another.
Did you notice how that sentence started? Beloved. Its there in verse 7 and again in verse 11.
The Greek word is agapetos.
You’ve probably heard that the Greeks had several words which we translate as love. There’s philia love – which can be defined as the affection of friendship. There’s eros love which can be defined as sensual or passionate love. There’s storge love which describes familial affection. Agape came to prominence in the Christian writings as a description for the unconditional, self-initiating love of God.
Agapetos is a noun used to refer to the recipients of agape love. Thayers Greek lexicon defines agapetos as beloved, esteemed, dear, favorite, worthy of love.
The identity of a child of God is defined by the agape love of God.
We are the agapetos. Christian, who are you? When everything is stripped down to the core, what are you? You are agapetos. Your identity has been remade by the unconditional, self-initiating love of God.
Beloved is who we are. Love is what we do.
It’s beautiful to talk about, but it is sometimes easier said than done isn’t it?
In this passage John gives us several principles or truth statements to motivate us to love one another. He is leveraging the truth of the gospel to apply force and lift us up into the realm of love.
We often talk about the distinction between principle and practice in the Scriptures. Both are essential to understanding the Scriptures and to living a righteous life. Faith without action is dead. So is action without gospel truths to apply faith to. Some of us read the Bible to find principles of theology. Some of us read the Bible to find practical application. All of us should learn the habit of looking for both.
We’re going to do that this morning. John teaches us that we should love one another because love comes from God, we should love one another because God is love and we should love one another because God is revealed through our love.
First, we should love one another because love is from God.
John is making a radical statement about love. Love as a whole exists because God exists.
Why does a father’s heart swell up like a great tsunami when he holds his newborn child in his arms? Why does a couple looking into each other’s eyes on their wedding day radiate with affection? Why does a sister carry with her an invisible chain attached to her siblings? Because love has come to us from God.
The woman on the right in this picture is Bernice Stafford Turner. The man next to her is her brother Fred. When he was 3 years old Fred was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Since that day his big sister Bernice has been his constant companion. In college she studied Special Education and devoted herself to the project of teaching Fred to right his name. Then she enrolled in a CNA program to learn the essentials of caregiving for her new roommate. When Fred told Bernice he wanted to be a preacher, she bought him a collared shirt, signed him up for a Bible study program and began to call him Reverend Fred. Fred is now living in a care home, where Bernice visits him several times a week.
Why? Because there is a great, bottomless well of love flowing from the heart of God, spilling everywhere into our world.
Whoever loves God will happily receive and embrace everything that comes down from him.
John elaborates on this in the rest of verse 7 and in verse 8.
He tells us two things about everyone who loves.
First he tells us that the woman who loves has been born of God, literally she has been fathered by God. She resembles God because He is her father.
Secondly, the woman who loves knows God. The active love in her life shows that she knows God.
In verse 8, John gives us the other side of the coin.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
You cannot claim to be a child of God and resist the path of love.
Second, let’s love one another because God is love.
This seems like it’s just another way of saying what we already said. But there’s a reason John adds to what he said, he’s not redundant.
He is saying something which he has not already said. Why is love from God?
Because God is love.
The personhood of God, the character of God can not be separated from the quality of love.
You can’t experience God without experiencing love. Every work of God in this world is a work of love. The creation of the universe was an act of love. The moment by moment active sustaining of the universe is an act of love. The coming judgment of the world will be an act of love.
Everything God does in your life, everything He allows to happen is love. We aren’t able to see that sometimes, but the Scriptures tell us that someday when he wipes every tear from our eyes and we are able to see truly for the first time it will all become clear.
You can’t know God without understanding that He is love.
So we say to John, teach us about this love of God. And he begins to elaborate in verse 9:
In this God’s love was manifest among us (to manifest is to show something for everyone to notice): in this God’s love was shown for everyone to see:
He sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him.
How does the Son allow us to live?
Some translations provide an answer by adding the word eternal – He sent His only Son into the world that we might have eternal life through him.
Because Jesus came to our world and conquered death, he made a way for us to live forever. Death is swallowed up in victory and no longer has the final say. There is a quality, a meaning to our lives that death cannot destroy. The sting of death has been removed and now death is a friend who ushers us into the presence of Christ for eternity.
There is another sense to this life we live through him. Jesus didn’t merely come to help us survive into eternity. He came to give us abundance of life. (John 10:10)
He came to make us truly alive. He came to give us an unbroken source of fulfilment and life.
Christ saves us from the frustrated pursuit of searching for life where it can never be found.
“The man or woman who does not know God demands an infinite satisfaction from other human beings which they cannot give, and in the case of the man, he becomes tyrannical and cruel. It springs from this one thing, the human heart must have satisfaction, but there is only one Being who can satisfy the last abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.”
How did he give us this life?
By becoming a propitiation for our sins. He became the sacrificial lamb to make atonement for our sin, to make us right with God and to make us fit for eternal life.
This is how God’s love can be known. He sent His son to be a propitiation for our sins.
What does this tell us about God’s love?
It tells us that God’s love is prior and self-initiating.
“God loves you because of who He is, not because of who you are.”
This is a beautiful statement, but I don’t know if it is entirely accurate.
God loves us while we are still sinners. And it is the very fact of our great sin that motivates him to demonstrate his love for us.
Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
When it comes to the cross, God loves you in sending his Son because you are a sinner and you need Him.
This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us when we didn’t love Him.
God’s love is incarnational.
It comes to us in our mess. It meets us where we are.
God’s love is unconditional.
He does not provide a list of conditions to meet which can earn us love upon completion. He offers us love which we can never deserve, a gift to be received.
God’s love is sacrificial.
In July, 2019 Fred Pipperman took his wife and four daughters to Florida for a family vacation. On the 14th they went to the beach in Seacrest Florida. Grace, the youngest daughter ran out into the water and was quickly caught in a riptide. Her older sisters Olivia and Kathryn saw her struggling and ran out to help her, but they too were overwhelmed by the force of the riptide. Fred raced out to his girls and one by one pulled them out of the tide until his strength was gone and he lost consciousness. The crowd who had gathered formed a human chain and pulled him to shore to perform CPR but it was too late. Fred’s last words to his daughter Kathryn were “I got you.”
This is love. Love is from God. If God so loved us, we ought to love one another.
And when we do, the world will see the love of God.
No one has ever seen Him, but when we love, He abides in us and his love is perfected in us for the world to see.
It’s not always easy. We will fail. And when you fail, God is there. He says, “I got you” and He sends His son to do what we cannot.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown