I was 14 years old in the fall of 1995. My YMCA Basketball team had just blown it in the Mesa City Championship game. Leading up to the fateful game I seethed with anticipation. I had spent the whole day going over the plays in my head. We even showed up early to the Mesa Junior High Gym just so I could stretch and get my head ready for the big game that would ultimately end in loss.
I heaped a lot of expectation on my 14-year-old shoulders. I was born with the build of a linebacker, the height of a Center, but the competitive heart of Mother Teresa. My whole life I had been a geeky, extroverted, people person stuck in the body of a could be professional athlete. Coaches always begged me to play sports, because they coveted a 16 –year old that was 6’4” 230 pounds. Jocks always begged me not to take weight training, because I’d out lift them then head back to the Drama club and brag about it. On that day in ’95 I was determined to be a competitive basketball force. I was determined to be like my hero Kevin Johnson, and dominate them on both sides of the court. However, where I wanted to show up and eclipse the competition like Charles Barkley, I played more like Oliver Miller. (Die hard Suns fans know what I’m talking about) I couldn’t get the crowd, the people, the guys on the other team out of my head. I spent most of my time wondering how they all thought I was performing. I checked over at the sideline after every play to see the expression on my dad’s face. Was he happy? Was he frustrated? Did I do good? I was so focused on playing right, I didn’t play well.
How often in our pursuit of a personal, intimate relationship with Christ are we constantly so focused on everything else but the actual event at hand? It’s common place for most of us to enter into the time we spend with the Lord stressing over what He is thinking about us. Wondering if we are doing ok. Wondering how our friends, family, pastor, co-workers view us. There is so much mental and emotional traffic heading into our times with the Lord that we never actually develop a real and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.
“We love because he first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19) The key to getting our “head in the game” is first to gain a biblical understanding of God’s love for us. Over the next few weeks we will look at three aspects of God’s love: Today, How he has loved us. A look at how God has already expressed His unfailing love for us. Second, How God loves us. A look at how God expresses his love for believers presently. Finally, how God will love us. A look at How God has will express His love toward us in the future, namely at the Second Coming and Judgment day.
How God has expressed his love for us.
There are many, and I mean many expressions of God’s love throughout Scripture; through the Creation of man, to the Covenants made with Israel, to the imparting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Because this is a blog post and not a book, I will define the three of the more distinct ways He has loved us.
Creation. “Let us make man in our image…” Because God is three persons in one deity, He is both internally and externally relational. Before creation the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit shared an intimate relationship with one another. The Father delighting in the Son, The Son in the Spirit and so on. At the apex of creation it pleased them (ps. 145) to create us, humans in His image so we could share in their loving relationship, so we could return that love in worship adoration and glory.
Psalms 8: 4-9 “What is man that you are mindful of Him? Yet you have crowned with glory and honor.”
John 17:24 “Father I desire that they would be with me… that we would be be one even as we are one.”
Revelation 21:3 ” Behold the dwelling place of God is with man, He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
Kant, Moltmann and many other scholars say God is unknowable because we cannot have knowledge apart from experience. However we were created to experience Him, that truth is evident every time we look into a mirror. We bear His image and His likeness. We were created to love, worship and give Him glory. It’s impossible to function in those roles we were created for apart from the experience and encounter of His love. We will never fully know God; never fully grasp the great mystery of who He is. However even as we gaze into a mirror dimly and prophecy in part we do grow in understanding of His heart. That knowledge leads us to worship.
“Make your ear attentive to wisdom, make your heart inclining to understanding,; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” – Proverbs 2. He loved us by creating us. We love him by searching him out, ‘crying aloud for wisdom and understanding.’
Incarnation. (meaning in flesh) Another way he has loved us is through His stepping out of Heaven to accommodate humanity by taking on flesh and full humanity forever. Jesus Immanuel, who was fully God, who spoke the world into existence, created man with His hands, created and formed himself in Mary’s womb, so He could walk among His creation. He encountered what we encountered. He was tempted as we are tempted. He loved as we love, fully knowing his fate was to be despised and rejected by those very ones He so lovingly created in His own image.
Where other human constructed God’s, human rulers and kings, are depicted as unapproachable forces ready to smite anyone that tries to approach them. They give self serving commands; you obey and serve them or are killed. Where our God is to be feared, and He is all powerful- in His love for us he is also humble. Though He had the power to shake the Earth, demand worship, and throw smoldering fire at those who didn’t obey He became like us and served us. Especially to the priests and Pharisees He took the time to reason with them every day in the temple. Breaking down His eternal plan to them as simply as possible knowing they would reject Him.
What God has ever come down from its exalted place and served those it created? He saw it fit to wait until He was of age to minister. He saw it fit to be baptized, to pray, to fast, to party, to enjoy friendships and family. He saw it fit to obey His mother when she asked Him for more wine at a wedding feast, even though it wasn’t time for Him to do miracles according to the plan He had set before the foundation of time. In 10 billion years He will still be in flesh and relate to us in flesh. The Incarnation is one of the most beautiful ways He has loved us. It is another reason He is worthy of our honor and praise.
The Cross. This was, is and will forever be that ultimate expression of God’s love for us. I once was so bold to tell an intern of mine that if the message of the cross didn’t give his heart any sense of gratitude, or joy then I did not think he had really understood it, or was saved. If the Incarnation causes us to worship at His humility and patience with us, the cross should cause us to weep in adoration. Forever and ever the hosts of Heaven worship Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven “because He was slain.”
Ephesians 2:4 “God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Romans 5:8 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ Died for us”
John 3:16 For this is How God loved the world that He sent His only begotten son into the world.
At the fall in the beginning of human history sin was introduced into the world tainting the image of Christ that we were created to bear. Causing us to operate in ways we were not created to. Wickedness, shame, fear, greed, lust, pride, malice, envy, and strife became the daily affliction of mankind. God being a just and righteous God, has to judge wickedness therefore all were destined for eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire; we are all deserving of Hell. Jesus in His mercy came to us His enemies, took upon himself the wrath we deserved and gave us access to the throne and his heart. He is held by no law, held by nothing but His word. He didn’t have to save us, he could have wiped us out and started over again. He in His wisdom thought it better to take on our wrath and die for our sins, instead of losing us to our sins.
The cross is a subject I should take a year to write every day about as it’s beauty, mystery, wisdom, and love is so evident I get tender simply broaching the subject. Suffice to say, getting an understanding of the Cross is the quickest way to Intimacy with Jesus. So much about His nature, His heart, and His humility is said in that one action that we will spend eternity marveling at it’s brilliance.
There are many other ways God has loved us throughout the Biblical history, but I will end there for today. That day in ’95 after the basketball game I was so worried about my Dad, and what He thought about my play. The opposing team celebrated there victory as I hit the court in shame and tears at our horrible loss. I instantly felt the arms of my Dad grabbing me off the ground, giving me a huge hug telling me how proud he was of me. In our search to know Jesus in a close intimate way we must learn to rest in the love he has already expressed toward us. Knowing that there is no shame or fear in His love.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with loving-kindness” Jer. 31:3