"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." John 13:1
How does love of Christ change us?
We hear much about Jesus' love. We talk about it frequently, and we sing about it often. We hear how His love never fails, is unconditional, and touches any who call on His Name. This time of year is filled with discussion about and celebration of Jesus' love. We relish in the fact that even as depraved as we are, God loved us and sent His Son to die in our place. But does anyone else ever feel as if we are top-heavy in our focus on Jesus' love of us, only examining it from the angle of what He offers us? It seems that much of what we hear about Jesus' love focuses on what He did for us without any further exploration. Of course, this is logical in one sense. It is, after all, through His loving pursuit of us that we can know His love at all. Yet we must consider, did God intend for us to only know His love through what He offers?
The essence of Jesus' love is others-focused. John 13:1 (above) poignantly makes this point. The difference between the love of God and the love of sinful humanity is that God's love is unselfish and sacrificial. His heart beats for restoration and grace, for mercy and sacrifice. This is what we find in John 13 and the following chapters. Jesus, knowing that His time had come - His time to die because of our sin condition - loved His own to the end. Immediately following this verse, John explains how well Jesus loved His own. Under the full knowledge of what was to come, Jesus knelt to the ground, humbling Himself to the form of a servant, and He washed His disciples' feet. His love beat in the humility of His posture, head bowed as He wiped the grime from their skin. His grace pulsed through His tender grip as He scrubbed their feet clean. He served them, the Master serving His followers...including the man whom He knew was His betrayer.
Did you catch that? Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, yet He served Him anyway. He treated Judas with the same love and dignity He gave to all His disciples at that time. Judas, His enemy. Judas, the one who would betray Him with a kiss, handing Him over to the most brutal of deaths.
Once the betrayal occured, John describes the greatest demonstration of Jesus' love as He fell beneath the whip and broke amidst the beatings and scourging. Jesus was stripped of His clothes, beaten and humiliated, then He was nailed to a cross until death. Underneath the observable death He suffered, though, Jesus suffered worse, for He had taken on the sins of us all. Jesus felt the full wrath of God for us. For me. For you. He loved us well, and He loved us to the very end of His earthly life, and then beyond, into eternity.
This reality has echoed within my heart as we have stepped closer and closer to Easter weekend. As we are now in the Holy Week, let us consider Jesus' love from a bigger perspective than our own situations. We do a great disservice to Christ's sacrifice when we only relish in what He has done for us, and we stop there. We rob Jesus' love of its changing power when all we say to a lost and dying world is, "Just pray a prayer and you'll go to Heaven!" We lose the mystery of His love when we elevate ourselves as being the sole focus of His salvific work in this world.
The mystery and the power and the wonder of His love are truly found when we take on His love as our own. In other words, Christ's love, which we champion in this world, shouldn't leave us at a place of dwelling on all He has to offer us. Instead, it should drive us to love others as He has loved - loving them well and loving them to the end, just as Christ has done.
I pray we all think on how well we are loving others. With our little ones who tax us in the middle of the night, in the grocery aisle, or at home, how well are we loving them? With our teenagers, our college students, our wayward grown children, does the love of Christ change the way we interact with these? What about with our spouses, our family members, our in-laws? Our coworkers, our bosses, our corporate competitors? Our neighbors, our orphans, our widows? Our prisoners, our homeless, our homebound? How well do we love them all, even the least of these?
To truly know and experience Jesus' love, we must get past ourselves when we consider it. We must clothe ourselves in His love, so that we focus on those around us. There is a place to rejoice in His redeeming love, a time to dwell on the full magnitude of all He has done for us, but let us not ever get stuck there. May the reality of His love change us, that we might become lovers of others, too. May we honor Him in the greatest way by carrying on His mission of godly love in this broken world that would otherwise never know true love.