Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jesus Loves You. How Does He Love You?

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2012
If it were enough to say that Jesus loves you every sermon would need only be as long as it takes to state that fact. And maybe some people would be happy about that. It can be tough to listen to sermons week after week as they unpack the message of Jesus’ love for people. If all we needed was to know the fact that God loves us His message to us wouldn’t have needed to be in form of the Bible. A post-it note from heaven or a text message from God would have been sufficient: Dear people whom I have created, I love you.

There’s one problem with this: it’s not true. It’s not actual real true love. If God truly loved us He wouldn’t just tell us that. Love is not simply stated, it is acted upon. It’s not really just showing love either. It’s actually loving the person. You can tell someone you love them. You can even give them signs of your professed love for them. But to actually love them, well, that must come from actually loving them.

The only way that is done is to put yourself in the background and the other person in the foreground. True love sacrifices for the other person. Actual, real love serves the other person when there is absolutely no reason on the part of the person for being loved. If you tell someone you love them but you don’t actually love them you are not actually loving them. You may be able in some way to explain it as something good, but it’s not love.

In the Gospel reading there’s a man who comes up to Jesus and we learn what exactly God means, not what it means when He says He loves us, but what it means that He actually loves us. Jesus was continuing on a journey. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John there are recorded many instances of Jesus teaching and preaching, of healing and helping, of interacting with people, and here is one of those. It seems a bit as if the world has stopped because Jesus is intent on continuing His journey. His journey is a goal that this man and pretty much everyone else is oblivious to. The disciples should know at this point but they are a lot like we are and do not have a clue as to what Jesus is actually up to when He does what He does. Here in today’s Gospel reading when He is continuing on on His journey it’s not that He’s just saying, “Okay, time to go somewhere else and do more ministry.” He’s making His way to the cross. He knows where He’s going and this is the context of His love for this man when it appears that the man is detracting Jesus from His journey to the cross. But no, Jesus loves this man and so He stops just as He’s ready to resume His journey to the cross.

In our English language the word ‘love’ is used in so many ways it may seem a clash of our understanding in how it is that Jesus loved this man when we see how He responded to him. The man runs up to Jesus, kneels before Him, and asks his question. Even in his question we see what would seem to be respect for Jesus, calling Jesus ‘Good teacher’. Jesus seems to take him to task for addressing Him that way: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” But giving no chance to respond to that Jesus then goes into His list of things the man requests: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

It’s not until the man responds to this that Mark tells us that Jesus loved this man. But we don’t need to be told this to know that Jesus loved him. We know this because of what Mark has already told us. Jesus was on His journey to the cross. He was making His way to the place where He would suffer and die for this man’s sin. That’s not how much Jesus loved him it’s simply how He loved him. The man came to Jesus asking Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. The word ‘inherit’ in the original is probably better understood as “How can I come to share in eternal life?” What can I do so that I am in possession of eternal life?

The great irony here that was lost on him but not on Jesus was that there was nothing he could do but he was asking the person who was heading to the place where He Himself would be accomplishing what was needed for this man to be in full possession of eternal life. He was asking this ‘good teacher’ not realizing he was asking the very God of heaven who came to earth so that the man could gain heaven. This is how Jesus loved this man. This shows that Jesus truly loved this man. He was attempting to gain heaven through the Law while Jesus was journeying to the place where He would deliver this man from the Law. He was seeking heaven by what he could do when he was talking to the person who would give him heaven purely by grace, not by anything he would do but rather by what Jesus Himself would do.

But putting the best construction on things, the man was likely sincere in his declaration to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Jesus had just rattled off the entire Second Table of the Law, the Fourth Commandment, the Fifth Commandment, and so on, all the way through the Tenth Commandment. Haven’t murdered anyone. Haven’t been unfaithful to my wife. Haven’t stolen anything. Etc. And this guy probably was a very good guy. He was probably the kind of guy you would want for a neighbor. So in all sincerity he could say to Jesus, “Jesus, I know about the commandments. I’ve been keeping them. There’s got to be more. What am I still missing?”

This is where Mark inserts his comment that Jesus looked at this man and loved him. The question for us today is, how did Jesus love him? Well, Mark answers that: Jesus said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Jesus could have pointed out to the man that he had in fact not kept all those commandments he had been certain he had kept. Jesus could have pointed out to him that there was that whole other table of the Law, the First Table, with essential things such as having no other gods and not misusing the name of the Lord God and remembering the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. But Jesus truly loved this man. He wasn’t going to play games with him. He wasn’t going to get into an argument with him or even a friendly philosophical discussion with him.

He was going to love him. And if you want to know how Jesus loves a person look at what Jesus said to the man: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” How does Jesus love people? How does He love you? It’s easy for us as Christians to go straight to the cross, it’s there where Jesus loves us. It’s there where He shows His love and demonstrates His love. That’s true. There’s no doubt about it, at the cross you see Jesus’ love being carried out. So when we talk about how Jesus loves, yes, we go to the cross.

I guess the question becomes, how do we go about going to the cross? Jesus answers that as well. As we saw, Mark was telling us that Jesus was heading that way. He was on His way to the cross. Along the way He didn’t put blinders on. He didn’t stop people short, “Sorry, no time for teaching or miracles, on My way to the cross where I will accomplish salvation for all of you.” In this particular instance He shows us how all-encompassing His love for us actually is. When the guy says that he has kept all the commandments from His youth, one gets the sense that there must be something more. In his confidence of keeping the commandments he is far from confident that he has done all that is needed. It happens that even what he has claimed isn’t that case. Far from showing us how good of a standing we have with God, the Ten Commandments show us how far we have fallen short of what God wills.

The statement the man makes is true only if it is spoken by the man he is speaking to. This is how God loves us, He in fact has kept all these commandments from His youth. He alone has accomplished all that the Law requires, knowing that we have not. Before bringing us to the cross Jesus must first shatter any illusions we have that we can somehow do something or be a certain way in order to obtain eternal life. If this doesn’t seem like love it’s because to our sinful flesh it’s an assault on us. But that is the very thing that shows us that this is true love from Jesus. He assaults our sinful flesh so that it doesn’t end up winning out over us and we end up in eternal death.

“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” To this man before him, Jesus was showing him that he really had nothing. All his possessions would come to nothing. Treasure in heaven not only surpasses all earthly treasure it lasts forever. Jesus didn’t want this guy’s money. He didn’t even want him not to have it. What Jesus wanted was the man. He loved him so much that He would do whatever was necessary to save the man. The man couldn’t be saved if he got in the way. His basic problem, his sin that got in the way of him being in possession of eternal life, was not money, or even greed, or arrogance. His basic problem was breaking the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. Jesus needed to lead this man to the cross. To do that He had to show him his need for the cross.

You know Jesus loves you. How He loves you is by accomplishing everything needed for you to share in eternal life. You don’t need to wonder if there is ever more to be done or if you have done enough. He has kept every commandment you have failed to and has suffered in your place for those very failings and faults. This is how He loves you. He goes to the cross. He brings you along with Him in Baptism where you are crucified with Him and you are given eternal life. Amen.


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