Valuing Jesus

19 Dec

I want to value the gift of Jesus Christ this Christmas.

To do that, I know I need to feel deeply my need for Jesus. Unfortunately, there is hardly anything I naturally am less likely to do than really see myself for who I am apart from Jesus. Fortunately, God through His law can strip me of my self-confidence very quickly, bringing to me my knees and to the point where I can value Jesus for who He really is.

Take the command to love my neighbor.

If you really look at this command, it’s going to get you ready to look at Jesus.

God’s made the importance of loving our neighbor very clear.

We know that we are supposed to love others because our own consciences tell us and because God’s Word repeatedly tells us.

He begins telling us way back in the Old Testament.

Leviticus 19:18 says “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

And later on in Leviticus 19, verse 34 the writer says “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

This command to love is frequently repeated and emphasized and explained by Jesus throughout the gospels.

Matthew 5:41, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Matthew 19:19, “‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Matthew 22:29, “A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:31, “Which commandment is the most important of all? Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And

John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

It is not just the Old Testament and Jesus, Paul and the other writers of the New Testament pick up this command and
elevate it to a place of highest importance.

Romans 13:8 and 9, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment are summed up in this word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

1 Corinthians 13:13, “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Galatians 5:14, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’”

Colossians 3:14, “And above all these put on love…”

and

James 2:8, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.’”

As you can see the Bible stresses this very frequently, it emphasizes it so often in fact that there is hardly anyone who has ever heard of the Bible who doesn’t know that it emphasizes the importance of loving the other people around us. If you talk to people who don’t know much about the Bible and ask them what does the Bible say God wants of us, they will probably say something about love.

Because God’s placed this command or demand everywhere in His Word.

And you know what, He’s also written it in our hearts.

That’s important to understand too. We have taken all this time to look at God’s Word but the thing is that even those who don’t know the Bible, know that this command to love is important.

Even people without a Bible know this is important.

In fact this command is so written on people’s hearts that even people who have rejected the Bible and every other command in the Bible often will say that love is important. I know someone who says he has rejected every absolute, except for the command to love.

This is a command we all know.

We know from the Word and from our consciences that God expects of each one of us to love others.

And really, this is a command we would all agree is right.

(It sounds a little silly to say that this is a command that is right because obviously everything God commands of us is right. God is God. He is the King and He is all knowing and He is good and holy and that means everything that He commands is right for us. But there are obviously certain commands that are harder for us to understand than others. And what am saying is that this command isn’t one of those, because pretty much everyone I have ever met knows that loving others is a good command, that this is a right command, that this is something that is good for us.)

You just don’t meet a lot of people who would argue with the command to love.

This is a command that is good for us and it is good for society.

When we obey this command, our lives improve and our world becomes a better place to live, which is why nobody will argue with you when you talk about the importance of love.

And yet here is the amazing thing, what’s so crazy about this command is that while we all know it, and we pretty much all would say that we want to obey it, YET it’s OBVIOUS looking at the way we actually act and the way the world works, that we are fundamentally unable to obey this command that we know and want to put into practice.

We can’t do it.

Classic example.

Take a man and woman who are about to get married.

If you were to sit down with most couples on their wedding day, I would think that most couples would say that they want to have a good marriage and that they want to love the person they are marrying, and they want to have peace in their marriage; but how often, you sit down with the same couple a few years later and those two people that looked so in love on their wedding day with their big smiles and big promises can barely stand now to be in the same room with each other.

They know the command.

They agree with the command.

They can’t obey it.

Or take the church.

How often do you get a group of nice people together who are coming to worship and who want to serve God and who initially sort of like each other and you stick them in a church together and over the course of a few years, those same people suddenly have all sorts of conflicts and fights with one another.

They didn’t want that when they started, I don’t think?

We know this command. We agree with this command, but there’s something that is so messed up in us, there is something so wrong with us that we are fundamentally unable to obey this command and you know what, that becomes especially clear if you look at what the Bible teaches about the extent of this command.

This is a command that goes deep.

Maybe if we just say love and leave it at that, we don’t feel too bad, we are like we are pretty loving, but the Bible goes deeper than that, you need to look at exactly what kind of love God is talking about, what God wants from us when He commands us to love and you can see how impossible this is for us.

For starters, God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

You saw that repeated several times in the verse I quoted, I am sure.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is like a measuring stick or a standard to help us know how much we are to love our neighbor. How should I love them? Love them with the same amount of love that you love yourself.

Which makes it very easy to evaluate how well we are obeying God’s command.

We only need to compare the way we love other people with the way we love ourselves. Do we love other people the way we love ourselves?

If you sit down sometime and just reflected on how often your thoughts revolve around yourself I think you would be amazed. We are constantly thinking about our own interests, what is best for us? Do we think of others like that?

Or how well we think of ourselves, too.

You always give yourself the benefit of the doubt, don’t you. If you do something that could be explained in a bad way or could be explained in a good way, I bet you can find a way to explain your behavior in the best possible way, don’t you? Do we do that with others?

Or our own importance.

We often think of ourselves as so valuable and what we do as so important and when others don’t think that much of what we do or treat us like we are unimportant it is easy for us to be very upset, but how often do we think of what others do as valuable as what we do or get upset when they are slighted? We don’t usually spend much time arguing that the other person does more than us and that the other person is more important than us and that the other person should be more honored than us?

Do we really love our neighbors like we love ourselves in our thoughts?

We hate it when anyone says any gossip about us or says anything negative about us, but do we hate it when we think those same thoughts about others? If someone said to us, what an idiot? We would go off, but how often do we think that about the people around us.

Or take, the way we provide for ourselves, our actions.

In Ephesians, Paul uses a couple of intense words to describe the way we take care of ourselves, he says we nourish and cherish ourselves. Most of us are pretty passionate about making sure that we are fed, about making sure we have a roof over our head, about making sure we have enough money in our bank account, about making sure we look good.

I think of this often when I go to the gym. You have these very tough guys there. These guys have muscles popping out all over. They eat nails for breakfast. And yet, you should just watch the way they look at themselves in the mirror, the way they pamper themselves, the way they treat their bodies like a little baby, the way they pamper themselves.

Or maybe to get an idea of how we nourish and cherish ourselves, just think about the way people sometimes react immediately after a car accident.

You can have this seemingly sweet, mild mannered young lady driving along and she is thinking happy thoughts and singing along with the radio or something like that, when suddenly someone runs through a red traffic light and smashes into her car and what does she do?

She might cry, weep because she is so concerned about her safety or she might go on a rampage, pure anger.

Where does that kind of fury come from? It comes from people really, really loving themselves and being concerned about their own good, which Paul says is actually a picture of the passionate kind of concern we should have for the good of others if we are going to love them the way we love ourselves.

Which is pretty intense, don’t you think? You know that feeling you get inside sometimes when you really want your own way? Have you ever had that feeling for someone else? I look at this command to love others the way I love myself and I begin to feel very convicted because I am not sure that I have ever done this, even with the people I love most.

And you know what’s more, it is that if we look at other passages, this command to love gets even more intense. Because not only are we to love others the way we love ourselves, the Bible tells us we are to love others the way we have been loved by Christ.

God commands us to love others like Christ loved us.

As we study Ephesians we are going to see this coming up repeatedly.

Like, Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Later in Ephesians, Ephesians 5:22ff, he gets more specific, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

We don’t just get to love people any old way that we want to, there’s a very specific standard that we are to measure up to and that is Christ’s sacrificial love for us. How much are we to love others? Just look at Christ dying on the cross.

Listen to 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for others.”

And really we could preach an entire series of messages on the extent of Christ’s love for the church, the level of sacrifice, the constancy, but we need to be careful that we don’t take this command to love and water it down to simply being nice because really what God demands of us is something much, much bigger than that.

We are to love other people with our entire selves. When the Bible talks about loving others, it doesn’t reserve it to just one part of your life, but really it is something that is supposed to show up in the entire way you relate to other people.

You are to love them in the way you speak.

This is what is behind say for example the command to tell the truth. Love for others motivates us to speak the truth to them.

And as we read through the Scriptures we find all sorts of other ways love is supposed to impact the way we speak.
Galatians 5:14 and 15 give us an example, “For the whole law if is fulfilled in one word, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”

Biting and devouring, cursing, belittling, slandering, and attacking with words are all serious sins because they are all opposites of love.

Instead we are to use our words, to speak grace, to encourage, to pray for others, God wants you to love others with the way you speak.

You are to love them in the way you think.

Philippians 2:3 and 4 puts it on the line, “Do nothing from rivalry or empty conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

We are to actually in our minds think about other people as more important than ourselves.

In Matthew 5:21ff Jesus tells us that the law has to do with even our attitudes towards others. God is not only concerned about us having loving actions towards others but also loving attitudes.

“I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council and everybody who says ‘you fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’”

Man, so when the Bible commands us to love it is not talking about this airy fairy thing out there, but something very practical that has to do with the way think about others and the way we speak to others.

It also obviously has to do with the way we act.

You are to love other people in what you do.

1 John clearly condemns a love that is only words. 1 John 3:17, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

Romans 13:10, says “Love does no wrong to a neighbor…”

Love demands that we take certain actions, it forbids certain actions, and you know what, the law of love requires that if you know the right thing to do in a certain situation, you have to do it.

James 4:17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

And guys, here is what takes this whole command to love over the top, when the Bible commands us to love other people, it is not only talking about people we like. Jesus says that we are to especially to love those who don’t deserve it.

We recently read Luke 6:27-36 as a family and were just wrecked by it.

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from those whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.

But love your enemies, and do good, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil.”

Now we were talking about this with my daughters and they are so incredibly cute and kind and about the sweetest little girls ever and they really are good friends, but I will tell you, even these sweet little girls have the hardest time living this out, and not just with their enemies but with their own sisters, who they want to love. When their sisters take their toy, it is so hard for them to want to do their sisters good. When their sisters say something mean to them, it is so hard to want to do what is right back, to bless back and those are their sisters who they love more than anyone else on the planet.

This is a command that we know.

This is a command that is right.

This is a command that is extensive.

This is a command that is important.

In case there is anyone out there who might be thinking that maybe this isn’t that big a deal to God, the Bible reinforces this command with all sorts of explanations as to why we must obey it.

It is a way we prove that we are God’s children.

Matthew 5:45, “Love your enemies…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…For if you love those who love you what reward do you have?”

It is necessary for eternal life.

Matthew 19:17, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

Everything the Old Testament teaches in the Law and the Prophets is built on this commandment and the command to love God.

Matthew 22:40, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Religious activity minus love is pointless.

Mark 12:33, “To love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Break this command and you basically break every command.

Romans 13:9, “For the commandments are summed up in this word, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

It produces what God loves in the church, unity.

Colossians 3:14, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says it is so vital that nothing else we do matters without it.

John tells us a failure to love is a damning sin.

1 John 2:9 we read, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in the darkness.”

And 1 John 4:20, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

When we talk about loving other people, we are talking about a command the KING OF THE UNIVERSE HAS MADE VERY CLEAR HE WANTS OBEYED, He put it in his book repeatedly, He put it in our hearts as well, it is one that we even agree with and see the benefits of in our own lives and in our world, and one that HE SAYS IS VERY, VERY IMPORTANT FOR US TO OBEY, so important that a failure to obey deserves eternal punishment, and yet in spite of all that, we are not, not one of us, is close to obeying this simple command on a daily basis.

If I were to sit down today with the best person in our church and I don’t know who that is, but imagine there was a person we all knew was the best person in the church and if I sat down with him and started working through his thoughts, his words, his actions day by day throughout the last, making a list of ways that he failed to keep this command, that list would be almost unending. We are so used to a lack of love that we maybe treat it like it is not a very big deal, but it is, this failure to obey this command is a serious problem because God, who is the KING OF THE UNIVERSE, demands that we obey it absolutely and declares that those who don’t will be eternally punished.

Which means, you and I have a serious problem.

It is one that we obviously cannot fix ourselves.

I mean, you think you can fix your problems with God, here’s God’s most basic command and you can’t even obey it, you are unable to obey it, you think that somehow after the years and years of disobeying God’s command that was right in front of you, that you can fix that by coming to church a few times, or trying to be a little bit of a nicer guy.

No, man that’s insane.

Imagine a king who says to you this is the command that is so important to me, this is what I want you to do, and he says it over and over again, and he even writes it down and tapes it to your shirt so that you won’t forget it, and then he emphasizes over and over the consequences of disobeying this command and tells you exactly what will happen if you don’t obey this command and then he also explains exactly what he means by the command and he is very patient and tells you exactly what He expects of you in terms of this command and you sit there and you listen to him and you are nodding your head and agreeing with him and then you get up and the very first thing you do when he stops speaking is break that command and then you break that command over and over and over and over again right in front of him and you just can’t stop yourself breaking that command and what do you think is going to fix that, just trying a little harder, no way, that’s crazy talk.

When we look at God’s law, this command to love, we see that we are so messed up, we have a problem that is so big, that we can’t fix it ourselves. If we are going to be right with God, it’s not going to be through us perfectly obeying His law, we can’t even obey this command to love. If we are going to be saved, we need God to provide a solution for us.

Because you know what, we spend our entire lives breaking this command to love our neighbor as ourselves right there in front of God who is continually showing His great love to us. We flagrantly break His most basic commands and in the middle of breaking those commands we are proud of ourselves and think all kinds of great thoughts about ourselves.

Can you imagine a husband who tells his wife he is a loving husband as he is in the middle of committing adultery on her or a thief who tells someone he is an honest person as he is in the middle of stealing from him? And yet, that is what people are doing all the time in their relationship with God. They are spending their lives disobeying His law and then coming to Him trusting in their own ability to obey it.

What?

We are not good people. Our situation as human beings is desperate.

And when you see that, feel that, get that, that kind of desperate feeling in the pit of your stomach where you realize you are at the end of yourself and your problem in your relationship with God is so big that you can’t solve it, He has to; it is right then, right there, when you see yourself for who you are that you are getting ready to see JESUS FOR WHO HE REALLY IS.

If God is going to save us we need someone, a man who can obey God’s law for us and take the punishment we deserve for all of our disobedience, who can act as our substitute. But we need more than that, because there is no mere man who would able to bear the infinite punishment all of our sin deserves. We need a man who is more than a man, if God is going to save us, we need someone who is fully man and fully God at the same time.

Enter Jesus.

God’s greatest gift.

Fully God, fully man. Able to be our substitute. Able to be our savior.

Our condition was so desperate, we need someone, something that was humanly speaking impossible, someone who was fully God and fully man at the same time. After all if Jesus wasn’t man he couldn’t have been our substitute, and if he wasn’t God he couldn’t have been our Savior. But praise God, Jesus Christ is both.

To those who see their need, this is part of what makes Jesus so precious.

As man He is able to take our place, and as God He is able to bear our sin.

To those who have been stripped of their self-confidence by the law of God, there is no single gift in the Universe as precious, as valuable as this Jesus!

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