Pastor Walther / 1 John 5:1-6 / Easter 2 / April 8, 2018 / Within God’s Love
Instead of my mom wrapping all our gifts for Christmas, growing up my older siblings would occasionally wrap their gifts for me. They didn’t care about what the actual gift was, which they usually gave me a lump of coal, but what they cared about was the wrapping. One Christmas, this lump of coal was gifted in a nice box with duct tape. I should rephrase that: the wrapping was duct tape. That took a while to open. Another year, they gave me another lump of coal, but this wrap job consisted of a larger box with wrapping, containing within it a smaller box with wrapping, containing within it a smaller box with wrapping, and on and on until you got to the coal. It was ridiculous. It was essentially a Russian nesting doll situation. Have you ever seen those Russian nesting or stacking dolls? It’s a larger doll with smaller repetitive dolls within it. As I was reading today’s sermon text, it reminded me of this Russian nesting doll and Christmas gift situation. The gospel writer John describes our relationship with God and his love a lot like these stacked containers.
The most important container of all these containers is the largest, because everything has to fit within it. We saw this container displayed last week. It’s God’s love. God’s love is the most important container because everything fits within it. We have to realize that God’s love is bigger than us. It’s bigger than our love. God saw how we continually put ourselves first and our needs, and our desires, and our schedule, and our activities, even our favorite go-to sin. He saw how we put ourselves over and above other people and even worse, over and above God. God in his love saw how truly unlovable and how loveless we really are. God in his love sent his Son, so that he might experience the temptations of putting himself first, of putting his schedule first, of putting his desires first, and yet Jesus didn’t. In his love, he put us first.
Amazingly, God’s love is also bigger than our sin. Jesus took our sin, and our loveless actions and unloveable attitudes and he bore it on the cross. He took it all! In his love, Jesus became unloveable in our place. God, in his love, punished Jesus for our sake. But the goal of saving us was not merely something negative, in other words just to save us from death, and punishment forever in hell. Instead, he saved us so that he could also transform us into something positive, into men and women who think and act like God. You can begin to see this stacking that I was talking about. Within God’s love, there are other smaller displays of love.
Within God’s love and because of God’s love for us, we love God, a smaller sphere within the larger sphere of God’s love. You and I both know that loving God is no easy task. Either we just don’t care about God’s love, or maybe we’ve heard it a couple times and so we claim we’re set for life, or maybe we are just too busy to love him, or maybe we’ve taken our love elsewhere. Every day we are attacked from all sides with pressures and temptations to take our love away from God. But knowing what God has done for us, knowing God’s love compels us to love him more.
Fueled by God’s love, we are compelled learn more about what he has done for us and to see the depth and width of God’s love. I, as a pastor, can only share about God’s love with you for 15-20 minutes in a sermon. Eventually, you need to see for yourself in the Bible the extent of God’s love. Just look at the disciples and Thomas in today’s gospel lesson. The disciples could only tell Thomas so many times about the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead. Eventually, Thomas needed to see for himself.
And we thank God for Thomas. I may be quick to judge Thomas, but I see that I’m a lot like Thomas. I doubt God and his power. I doubt God and his promises. I’d rather go along with my rational thinking and carry on with my life solving all of life’s problems on my own. But I thank God for Thomas! I thank God that the gospel writer John saw how important this account was, because so often that’s me! This same Gospel writer John would later write our sermon text against people who claimed that Jesus really wasn’t God when he died. John reminds us in both the gospel lesson and in our epistle lesson that Jesus truly is God. This text comforts Christians with proof that they are members of God’s family and they have overcome the world through faith in Christ.
That’s why we want to be in God’s Word all the time! We want to squash the doubts that come up so easily in our mind and so that we can easily defend God’s Word against people who claim that Jesus was just an ordinary guy. Because of God’s love and because of what he has done, because of these little reminders that we see in John’s writing, we want to love God more and more.
John continues taking us deeper: deeper within God’s love and then deeper within our love for God. Now that we have victory because of Christ’s death and resurrection, our whole attitude changes towards God’s law and his commandments. Because of God’s love, and because we want to love him, we want to love what he loves. We want to keep his commandments precisely because he has already given us the victory!
Imagine how much better our lives would be if everybody around us kept God’s commandments. Imagine how much more fun life would be and how much safer you would feel if you no longer had to experience disrespect for authority, or violence, adultery, stealing, bad-mouthing, and any other evil desires. The world often claims it doesn’t want these things, but it’s actions prove the opposite. It claims it’s against sex trafficking, and yet pornography’s business continues to boom, which only creates more sex trafficking. The world claims to be for maintaining a healthy body, and yet drug overdoses are on the rise. The world claims to be against bullies, but fails to see the irony in its own bullying.
And yet because of God’s love, God still wants us to follow his commands. That’s a very important thing to remember. God’s love does not mean acceptance of living your life the way that you want to live. That would be counter-productive. Sadly, a lot of people hate Christianity for not “accepting” sinful lifestyles or sinful attitudes. The way I often describe it would be as if I just fell overboard on a sailboat in the middle of storm and you reel me in with a life preserver attached to a rope. Imagine seeing me coughing up all the water in my lungs that was drowning me. Imagine me in the next instant, looking as if I wanted to jump back in the water because it was fun drowning. You would think I was crazy! That’s the same thing with our sin. God didn’t love us so much to save us from sin only for us to love that sin that he saved us from.
Rather out of love for God saving us from the sin that was drowning us, God wants us to live the way he intended. Following God’s commandments may seem burdensome to our sinful nature. For some of our pet sins, we may have life long struggles to turn away from them. For those who struggle with homosexuality, you may have a life long struggle against that particular sin. For those who struggle with pornography, you may have a life long struggle against that particular sin. For those who struggle with impulsive anger, you may have a life long struggle with that sin. For those who struggle with worry, you may have a life long struggle with that sin. For those who struggle with addictions to substances or even technology, you may have a life long struggle with that sin. The list can continue with all our personal struggles. We could read all the self help books, or try all the yoga poses in the world to help us live a better life, or help us conquer sin, but sin will always continually haunt us when we are trying to conquer something that cannot be won on our own. When God’s Word opens our eyes and we realize that our struggles have already been defeated by Christ, then we have the victory!
Yet, you can’t expect to be loving if you aren’t filled up with love. And so, living in love requires continual life-long growth in God’s Word and in God’s love. Only by hearing God’s word, reminded of what happened on Easter and what Jesus did for us, only then can we ever be properly motivated. God’s love compels us to run away from the sin that kills us and to run towards loving and serving God. We look ahead towards Christ and what he has given to us.
These are things that I still struggle with and sins that I need to often repent of. I clearly don’t do a good job of loving God and putting him first. I don’t do a good job of loving God’s commandments, especially the ones that hurt me the most. So often, I put myself first and I break God’s commandments. Breaking God’s commandments is the definition of sin. Sin ruins relationships. Sin ruins our relationship with God, but it also ruins our relationship with other people. That’s why God hates sin so much.
If one of God’s main commands to Christians is to share the gospel to the ends of the world, how can you do that when you have broken a relationship with someone because of sin? For example, imagine that my next door neighbor Bobby is not a Christian. Let’s just say that we assume that he would never be Christian because of the way he looks, by the way he talks, and by the way he acts. How do you think my neighbor Bobby would react if he over heard me talking badly about him to another neighbor? Like saying, “Can you believe Bobby’s political point of view?” I don’t think Bobby would be very happy. And then, How do you think Bobby would react if I went up to him to invite him to Easter services? Do you think Bobby would be willing to listen? Probably not. I ruined his trust. That’s because sin ruins relationships. This can be difficult for us when our families are Christians, and most of our friends are Christian. We sometimes don’t realize how we come across to people who have never stepped foot into a church. They might not even know that Jesus came to die for them.
This is a command of God: to love God’s people, even those who struggle with sins that we might view as sinful and repulsive. I’ll tell you right now, you won’t win someone with the gospel while you preach the law with your face, this face, the judgmental face, the face of knowing their repulsive sin. Ultimately, you want them to know that we all struggle with sin, and that because of God’s love for us, we look to stay away from the sin that brings us down. It’s important to remember that obeying God’s commandments is like a Russian nesting doll within God’s love. In other words, you can’t force someone to obey God’s commandments when they don’t understand the bigger picture of God’s love. You can’t force the bigger nesting doll of God’s love into the smaller doll of obeying his commandments. It’s only when they believe in the larger reality of God’s love, will they every be properly motivated to live a life of love for God.
We often compartmentalize our Christianity. We have our love for God in one box over here. Then we have our love for people over here. Then have our Christian living over here. Then we maybe have our worship service over here. That’s not how God describes it. God displayed his love to us on the cross and in the empty tomb. That love spills into our hearts. If you love God, you will automatically follow his commands and you will automatically love God’s people. It is seamless. Like Russian nesting dolls, or my brother and sister’s style of wrapping gifts within gifts within gifts, our love for God and our love for his commands and our love for his people are all within the greater sphere of God’s love. You can only get to the smaller things through God’s love. This easter season, we are reminded time and time again of the extent of God’s love. Our savior is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.