“NO GREATER LOVE THAN THIS!”
Love is the very nature of God. Love is the most accurate expression of God’s image in man. True love is the fullest expression of God’s presence in man. The utmost need is, for the Spirit of God, to open the human heart to our Heavenly Father’s Love. God did not spare His only Begotten Son. God gave Him up for a ransom those who believe and for those who do His will on earth (John 3:16-18). I love the song, “The Love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell; it goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell.” In particular, the third verse grabs my feeling for the “Love of Christ” I yearn for. “Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”
Frederick Lehman owes his inspiration to a Jewish writer, Meir Ben Isaac Nehora and the lines, of the third verse, to a mental patient. The mental patient penciled the words on the wall of his room, in an insane asylum. The third verse reminds me of Jesus’ Prayer, recorded in Matthew 11:25-30, in the New Living Translation. “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleases you to do it that way! My Father has given me authority over everything. No one really knows the Son except the Father, and no one really knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” To become a recipient of that revelation, I must be willing to accept Jesus’ invitation. Jesus is the only “One” who knows the way to the Father and to His Father’s kingdom.
Jesus’ Prayer has opened my eyes and my heart. I did not see myself, as God sees me. Even when the world saw me as being a good man, I was not happy or burden free with myself. I have not broken any of the big laws, but I have done little foolish things, which nags at my conscience. And whatever nags at my conscience has left some damages behind, which I can no longer repair. I did some apologizing and amending, but not nearly enough to compensate for my mistakes. Some of the things, I still do are inadvertently or unconsciously, which require forgiveness. In order to be forgiven, I need to confess and to repent endlessly. The lesson, Jesus gave to Peter in John 13:1-17, is the lesson I, too, had to learn and I have to practice. Like Peter, I, too, misunderstood “the why” Jesus concentrated on washing the disciples’ feet. It was not about just being humble, but it is about how to love completely. The New International Version has come closest to interpret John 13:1b, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” The Greek “telos” is not a synonym for the “end,” but for “all of me” from my head to my toes. Jesus told Peter that he was clean and that only his feet needed washing. Before that day was over, Peter needed to wash his hands when he grabbed a sword; and then his mouth when he denied His Lord (John 13:31-38; Luke 22:36,49, 54-62).
It is all the things that are not done exactly right, where pure and total love must heal and must mend. That was the kind of love Jesus had. And Peter was lacking that kind of love, and so do I. In his temper, Peter struck the servant of the High Priest and cut off his ear. Peter could ask to be forgiven, but Peter could not replace the damaged ear. The same was and still is true in my life. I yearn for forgiveness and I do forgive, but I cannot repair or restore the damages that I have caused. I need some one who can repair and restore my blundering. I need some one with complete love to clean up after me. And the only One, who can do it is Jesus, with an overabundance of love. God, our Father in heaven, has sent His Son, who has shown us that kind of love that can pay for all my sins; and that can make me acceptable to my Eternal Maker. Jesus gave His Life for me, so that I can go free. Jesus did more than that. Jesus lightened my cross with His “Yoke.” I worked with horses and cows in Europe. With horses we used harnesses and with cows or oxen we used yokes. Both, harnesses and yokes, are fitted against the animals’ body, not the horns, to distribute the load the animal pulls. By itself, the cross leans on the shoulder or the back. And the cross ends up hurting and the cross becomes even unbearable. Hooking the cross to a yoke distributes the load and makes the carrying of the cross much easier and also more enduring. The yoke did not free the animals of the burdens, but the yoke allowed us to have the animal pull the heavier loads with ease.
The yoke that Jesus offered was not burden free, but lighter. Jesus, Himself, collapsed. Jesus, Himself, was crushed by His cross. Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry the cross, the rest of the way to Golgotha (Mark 15:21-22). Actually, Simon became Jesus’ first partner in helping Jesus carry His cross. Jesus’ invitation was an invitation to become fellow cross-bearers. It is what the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). It is the law of love that bridges the gap between man and God. Love creates the partnership between God and us, which also includes our enemies. Jesus gave us this direct order, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). And also, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Love (agape) is the yoke that makes cross-bearing lighter.
Jesus mentioned two characteristics, which will lighten our crosses; namely, “being gentle and being lowly.” We must not equate these two with timidity and humility, but rather with cleverness and harmlessness. In this world, we have to be harmless like doves and cunning like serpents. Jesus told his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent like doves” (Matthew 10:16). I, being a cross-bearer with Christ, live in a hostile world, where love cannot wait for helping when it is needed. This is where I have failed. And I have yet much to learn what it really means to love and to ease the cross for a fellow human being, even a hostile one. Jesus talked about the kind of love, that corrects and that amends mistakes and accidents, before they coerce us to make things right. The responsibility to make things right, Jesus left up to me, and the sooner I make things right, the better it is for me. Jesus says, “And why do you not judge for yourself what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the last copper” (Luke 12:57-59).
I, like most of my fellowmen, want the kind of love that can get me out of trouble, but Jesus wants me to have the kind of love that keeps me from getting into trouble. It is great to be bailed out, but even greater when I do not have to be bailed out. At some point in my life, I have to become the kind of person that does not continue getting into bailout situations. During Ash-Wednesday, a pastor used a group of children to explain repentance. A very young boy was told to walk toward the outside door, then turn around and walk back. The lad did turn around and started to walk back; then, he turned again and walked backward. It was unintentional, but a vivid lesson how many of us repent. We do not let go of the problems, which keep on getting us into trouble. And our attitude, which desires self-justification, is at the root of our unwillingness to make things right. We even bend the law to justify our ways. Divorce, for instance, is an example how we dare to abort God’s Laws. Jesus’ answer was, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).
The writer to the Hebrews made this curious comment, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4). The writer touched upon a subject that, so far in my life, has been foreign to me, and to most of us in the western world, where democracy is being practiced to some degree. Even during World War II, we hid for political and racial reasons, but not for religious reasons. Some of our friends died because they were of a different race from the people in power. No one, in my family, had to put their faith to the test and find out what we were made off. The reason that not more people died was because we peacefully submitted to our enemies. And we did not fuel the fire. My father was a blacksmith. He was very forthcoming with the people who were subjected to the Poles and then to the Nazis. And when I, his son, was drowning, it was a Pole who saved me. Even enemies will reciprocate to gentleness and to meekness.
Love has no limits! Love can take us where nothing else can. Paul called it, “the most excellent way.” And that love is greater than faith and hope (I Corinthians 13:1,13). Love is not just an idea, but love is a way of living the life of the cross. I watched a tiny ant dragging a dead bug several times its size. Several times, the ant got stuck, but the ant kept pulling from different directions until it got where it had to go. Love is very much like that. Love does not give up on its purpose, even when it means to lay down one’s own life for some one else’s redemption. Love is also a Commandment. “My commandment is this,” said Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). God has that kind of love and that is why His Spirit seeks to live in our hearts (John 14:23). We shall, in these studies, look at many of the people who were willing to let God’s love in and restore God’s image in them. God’s love is the forem