Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. – 1 John 4:11 ESV
1 John 4:7-21
How did God love us? John makes three very clear statements in answer to that question. The first is in verse 9: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” God’s love of us was made known through His sending His only Son into the world. And John has already made it quite clear earlier in his letter that Jesus becoming human (incarnation) is a non-negotiable aspect of the gospel. In the very next verse, John gives us the reason “we might live through him.” “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus was sent by God to be means for satisfying His own just and righteous judgment against sin. Jesus alone, as God in human flesh, could satisfy (propitiate) the Father’s wrath against sin. This is the part that so many get uncomfortable with the biblical view of God. They can’t accept that God can be loving and wrathful at the same time. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Friar, seems to speak on behalf of those who refuse to accept a God who is loving and yet required to punish sin because of His holiness. “Most people I know would never torture another human being under any conditions. Yet people believe in a god who not only tortures, but tortures for all eternity. That is bitter vengeance by anyone’s definition. Why would anyone want to be alone with such a testy and temperamental god? Why would anyone go on the great mystical journey into divine intimacy with such an unsafe lover? Why would anyone trust such a god to know how to love those who really need it? I personally know many people who are much more generous and imaginative than this god is. We have ended up being ourselves more loving, or at least trying to be, than the god we profess to believe! Such a religion is in deep trouble—at its core (Richard Rohr, My Problem With Religion, www.tikkun.org).” It seems to me that Richard Rohr is attempting to judge God based on human terms. He wants to establish the definition of love and, based on that definition, hold God to his standard. For Richard and others like him, love is the absence of wrath or judgment. But it is interesting that John gives us a different definition of love. In his third statement regarding the love of God, he says: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14 ESV). Out of love, God sent His own Son to give us life, to be the propitiation for our sins, and to be the Savior of the world. As John wrote in his gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).
And what is fascinating is that God’s love required His own Son to die. In order for Jesus to give us life, satisfy His Father’s judgment against sin, and fulfill His role as the Savior of the world, He had to die. He had to bear the sins of man and the judgment of God – in our place. Peter writes, “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24 NLT). Paul tells us the same thing: “Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said” (1 Corinthians 15:3 NLT). Paul had in mind the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah. “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). And all of this was done out of love. “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). God sent His Son to die so that we might be made right with Him. It was the only way. You see, God is love, but God is also holy. His love does not and cannot trump His holiness. His love is a holy love. His judgment as a holy God required that the penalty for man’s rebellion against Him be paid for. His love provided His own Son as the solution. Our problem is that we only want a god who loves. But that would not be the God of the Bible. God did not love man the way that man desired. Even when Jesus came, His entire life’s mission was focused on His coming death. That was why He came. And yet, everyone around Him wanted to Him to do more miracles, heal more people, provide them with more bread, turn water into wine, overturn the Roman government, make their lives better and easier. But Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). This famous statement of Jesus came right after James and John had asked Jesus, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT). They wanted Jesus to show His love for them by making them powerful and prominent. They wanted Jesus to “bless” them on their terms. But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” (Mark 10:38 NLT). Jesus was going to show His love for them by dying for them. He had come to fulfill His Father’s desires, not theirs. But in doing the will of His Father, Jesus was loving them in ways they could never have imagined. He was going to do for them far greater things than they could have ever have desired. He was going to love them to death – His own.