Thank you for making the effort to fight the cones, the traffic, the roads being narrowed, and getting here to worship with us. Thank you also for sitting in the sun. I know for some of you this feels like: "Man, it's so hot out here." And that's because it is; it's like 68-degrees right now. But you know we're just so blessed to have this weather; it could be windy and snowing. And the Lord has blessed us once again with just excellent weather.
There's a movie out a few years ago——well, a few years ago—many years ago called Princess Bride. Have you ever heard of that movie? It's like one of the best movies ever made. Not because it has any great theological content, it's just a great movie.
And there's a scene in there that some of you, if you've seen the movie—how many of you have ever seen that show, raise your hand? Okay, good. So there's a scene in the movie where the prince and the princess are going to be married. Now, they come before this preacher, this clergy who has this robe on—remember the scene? —and the tall hat, and he has these dark eyebrows.
And you think this guy's going to have this deep, resounding voice. And he gets up there and he goes, "Mawage," right? "Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today." You remember that? And then he kind of drones on and he says, "Wuv, true wuv, will fowow you wherever you go."
Love, true love. The world has been looking for true love for so long. Last month the world celebrated Valentine's Day; it's the romantic holiday. It's a holiday when chocolate is given, and little red hearts, and candies with little words on them, and bears, and bunnies.
And Valentine's Day has its origin in the earlier part of church history with a clergyman, a pastor named Valentinus—Valentine. Somebody who helped—one of the stories say helped Christians escape from Roman persecution. And according to the stories he was killed, he was martyred, for his faith in Jesus Christ on February 14.Valentine discovered true love, the true love of a Savior who died for him, and that was the message he wanted to bring to the world. It wasn't just romantic love.
Now you have a sheet with songs that are written on it, and at the very top on the front it says, "I Dare You to Love." We're in a series in the book of Daniel, I Dare You, and we decided to follow that theme and use that for Easter and Good Friday. And today's theme is "I Dare You to Love."
And you might say, "Why would anyone ever be needed to dared to love? I mean, love" you would say, "is the most natural thing in the world. As Dean Martin sang, 'Everybody loves somebody sometime.' Why would you ever have to dare someone to love?"
Well, most of you are adults, and you know the answer to that. As you grow in your life experiences, and you give your love to different people, what happens is not what you expect. And often times you get hurt by giving your love to someone. Often times your love gets jilted, and you get jaded, and you want to get very protective and don't want to give your heart away. You don't want to be vulnerable again because, after all, you've loved once or twice and it hasn't worked out for you. And so you, you retreat a little bit. You retreat into a shell and it's hard for people who have been hurt to give love.
One author Judson Swihart writes this: "Some people are like medieval castles. Their high walls keep them safe from being hurt. They protect themselves emotionally by permitting no exchange of feelings with others. No one can enter. They are secure from attack. However, inspection of the occupant finds him or her lonely, rattling around in his or her castle alone. The castle dweller is a self-made prisoner. He or she needs to feel loved by someone, but the walls are so high that it is difficult to reach out or for anyone else to reach in."
Today on Good Friday we are celebrating the greatest demonstration of love—love, true love—in the history of the universe. Jesus Christ left heaven, came to this earth, went to the cross, paid the ultimate penalty, the ultimate sacrifice—death. And then he was buried, and then he rose again from the tomb.
He was vulnerable. He picked guys on his team like Peter who he knew would deny him. He put guys on his team like Judas whom he knew in advance would betray him. But even knowing that they would fail in their love for him, the Bible says "he loved them to the end," to the uttermost. He was vulnerable. He let himself get hurt and he poured out his love anyway.
I want to read to you from the gospel of John, chapter 15, just a few verses before we take the Lord's Supper together. Okay, Romans, Acts, I'm going backward-there it is.
John chapter 15 verse 9, "As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you."
First thing I want to notice and the think about today before we take the Lord's Supper is that sacrificial love is absolutely essential for any relationship to flourish, for any friendship to last or survive there must be sacrificial love. You can't just tell a person that you love them; you have to show a person that you love them. True love is demonstrated.
God didn't just send Jesus to stand on the threshold of heaven, stick his head out, and yell down, "I love you earthlings; have a good life!" That wouldn't do much good now, would it? Because our predicament required a rescue operation, required redemption, and so he came from heaven to the earth.
In First John, chapter 3, in verse 16 it says, "By this we know love that he gave his life or lay down his life for us." Why do we say every year at this time—why do we say—why do we Christians insist that the cross is the greatest demonstration of love?
Here's why: because all Jesus' friends are sinners and all sinners need forgiveness. And because that is our greatest need, that becomes his greatest accomplishment. That's why on the cross, from the cross he said, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."
Back in the year 1855 there was an Irishman named Joseph Scriven who wrote his mother a poem to comfort her because she was ailing and nearing death. The poem became a song; you know it: "What a friend we have a Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer."
Here's the story of that man Joseph Scriven: He was engaged to be married to a beautiful, young Irish gal, but the day before the wedding his fiancée, the girl that he loved, died suddenly in a drowning accident. Shattered his dreams shattered his hopes. To help get over that, he decided he would leave Ireland to forget the past, forget the memories, and he moved, he immigrated to Canada, became on Irish immigrant in Canada.
Eventually, in Canada he fell in love with another beautiful young lady named Eliza Roche. They were engaged to be married, but during their engagement she came down with a lingering disease and she too died before the wedding date. Joseph Scriven never did marry. He decided he would devote his life, after those two experiences, to preaching the gospel and showing compassion to people in need.
Around the same time that Eliza Roche his second fiancée in Canada died, he heard from a letter that his mother in Ireland was on her deathbed. And so he wrote her that song, that poem to bring her comfort and to lift her spirits, that Jesus Christ like none other is the One from whom emanates love, true love. "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear."
So how do we as followers of Christ measure our love? Do we measure it by the words we say to people we love, "I love you"? That's a good start. I think it's good to say that. I think it's good to communicate that. Do we do it by embraces, and hugs, kisses? All of that is good, it's fine; it's an outward demonstration. But much more than that it must be sacrifice, sacrificial love.
Here is the benchmark Jesus said in the twelfth verse of John 15 that I read, "That you love one another as I have loved you"—that's the benchmark. Jesus is saying, in effect, "I dare you, my disciples, to love just like I love, to show sacrifice like I will show sacrifice on the cross. I will lay down my life."
I think it's important that Jesus did qualify the kind of love that we are to give to one another. I mean, if you were to just say, "Just love everybody," but not tell us how to love everybody—if you were to say, "Just have good feelings toward people and go up and just love them." If he didn't qualify that, we wouldn't get a good idea of what true love ought to be like when we give it or when we receive it.
It's like the little five-year-old girl named Nicole who was so mad at her parents because they took away some of her privileges that she went in her room and wrote this note: "Dear Mom and Dad, I hate you. Love, Nicole." She was messed up. Didn't understand the idea of love. We too would be messed up if Jesus didn't qualify and then demonstrate what true love is to be. So the standard, the daunting standard is that you love as Jesus loved.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Imagine how complimented God is when you decide to say, "Father, there's an unlovely person, he or she has been unlovely toward me, but because I want to be so much like you, I'm deciding I'm going to love them and demonstrate love to them." That would blow their mind. Sacrificial love, therefore, is essential.
Something else, sacrificial love is—well, compelling. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, than a man lay down his life for a friend." As if to say, "Hey, you really want to be noticed? You really want to attract people to your message? If you want to be noticed and you want to attract people to your message, there's no greater way than to demonstrate sacrificial love."
Do you know that the best apologetic in the world is love? More so than arguments of philosophy and science and archaeology. In John 13 Jesus said, "By this shall all the world know that you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another." What a statement. In effect, Jesus is giving the world permission to judge us. He's saying, "Hey, world, come here, check these guys out. Check these Christians out. You can look at their lives and you will know what family they belong to because they love each other so much, so well, so sacrificially, like I have loved them." That's sacrificial love; is compelling.
People may know that you go to church or claim to be a Christian because you have a bumper sticker on your car, or you have a T-shirt that reads some clever Bible statement or clever saying that when they see you in the store they go, "Hey that guy must be a Christian." But you want something that's compelling to them. It's this kind of love. It's this kind of love. Nobody cares how much you know, till they know how much you care, and when they know that you care, then they'll listen.
A little ten-year-old boy was standing out in front of a store after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. It was in New York City, and he was peering through the window looking at a bunch of shoes in the window. And a lady came by and noticed that this poor little boy, his shoes were all beat up. And she said, "Why are you looking in the window, young man?" And he said, "I was just asking God for a pair of shoes."
Well, what do you think she did? She brought the little boy into the store, washed his feet, towel dried them. Bought him not one, but two pairs of shoes, and a whole bunch of socks, patted him on the head, and sent him his way. He started walking away, and then he stopped, he turned around and said like a ten-year-old boy would, "Hey, lady, are you God's wife?" [laughter]
You get the picture right? "I see the family resemblance. You must be one of his kids or you must be married to him, because you love like that." Sacrificial love is essential. Sacrificial love is compelling.
Here's the third and final thing I want to share with you before we take communion: sacrificial love is commanded. It's commanded; there's no option here. Verse 12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Verse 14, "You are my friends if you do whatever I command you."
Why would anybody need to be commanded to love? I mean, it almost sounds like it can't be real love if you have to tell somebody, "Hey, you, love!" Why do we need a commandment to love? Here's why: because this kind of love is very, very, very hard to do, and more often than not we're not going to feel like doing it. It's much easier just to walk away and say, "Aw, forget it, I don't want to get involved." It's hard to do and we don't feel like doing it.
In fact, let me take it a step further. He gives the command, but honestly, this is impossible to do without his strength, without his power, without his Holy Spirit. It's impossible to do. "Love just like I have loved"—"I can't do that. You're, you're Jesus; you're God. Next." "No, no, no, love with that standard. It's my commandment." Because he gives us the commandment, know this: he will give you the power to fulfill the commandment. He will never give you an order without giving you the equipment to carry it out, so he gives the command.
It's impossible on our own strength, but here's the best news about this whole little commandment. It's impossible on our own, but do you know that you have a reservoir of God's love? An endless reservoir at your disposal. Romans chapter 5 verse 5 says, "God has poured out his love in our hearts." You have an endless supply of God's love. "Oh, I don't feel like it." Well, just step out and do it and watch how deep—you won't be able to exhaust that reservoir.
God, through his Holy Spirit, has been poured out. The love of God has been poured out into our hearts. So, here's the deal; here's how it works: just as the love of God has flown into your lives demonstrated ultimately by his sacrifice on the cross, as his love has flown into your lives, Jesus is saying, "My love should and can flow out from your lives." That means that the people around you in your life should never, ever, ever be love starved, because you should just tap into that reservoir—the love of God poured out in your hearts.
So today we view the cross. We view the ultimate demonstration of his love for us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." God knows everything about you, and he loves you anyway. Isn't that good news? I mean everything, even that little secret that you're thinking about right now. You're thinking about that secret in your head, that little thing you do, or you think, or you have done, and nobody around you, sitting around you knows it. God's knows it, and he loves you anyway. So we are celebrating that kind of endless love today.
And I've always loved that song The Love of God. I love that stanza that says, "Could we with ink the oceans 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 oceans dry. Nor could that scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky."
Here we are celebrating the love of God for us. But I hope that's not all we're doing. We're here not only to celebrate the love of God, but to be challenged by the love of God. If Jesus is saying, "By my sacrificial love I will make you my friend," he is also saying, "I'm commanding you to let my love flow out of your life into the lives of other people."
So as we take the Lord's Supper, and as we evaluate our lives, and as we render thanks to God for sending his Son, here's what I want you to evaluate: evaluate your life not by how many people love you, but by how many people you love. Because you might be saying, "Oh, a lot of people love me," and you get really conceited like really quick. "I mean, I'm so awesome, who wouldn't love me?" Or you could say, "You know, nobody really loves me," and once again you're self-absorbed and "poor me." No, you evaluate your life by how many people you love.
I found an interesting thing about lobsters. I love lobster. I especially like to eat them. But I was at the aquarium the other day with my son, and my grandson, and my granddaughter, and we're looking at these gnarly looking lobsters walking around on the rocks. And I was looking at them and just watching them walk around, thinking, "Man, I'd love to eat that baby right now."
But, you know, lobsters as they grow they have to get rid of one shell and get into another shell, some of them. Some species actually have to get out of one and then they grow another one. That's part of the growth. So they have to get out to a place where they're very vulnerable, tossed by the currents, the coral can be sharp, other predators can kill it, but if they don't get out of that shell, they won't be able to grow the new one. That's part of growth, is to get out of the shell.
Now I imagine that a lobster—if a lobster could talk English to me, when it got out of that shell and it was about to grow a new one it would say, "You know that old shell looked pretty good. I kind of miss my old shell. I was protected in that baby. I kinda loved that puppy. I don't like this being out in the open and being exposed." But you won't grow unless you are exposed, and vulnerable, and even get hurt from time to time. It's part of growth.
And so what Jesus did on the cross as wonderful as it is, and we celebrate it, it's the focal point of our faith, that and the resurrection; understand that it cannot stop with just marveling and praising and thanking God for his love for us. We have to tap into the reservoir of God's love poured out in our hearts that would help us sacrifice our lives, our love for other people. It's hard. It hurts. You want to stay in your protective shell, but you will never grow to where God wants you to grow until you do that.
So, Jesus according to John, chapter 15, would say, "I dare you to love like I have loved you." Before you say, "Oh, I can't do that." You walk away saying, "I can do that, because he said I can do it with his power and his love poured out as an endless reservoir in my heart."
Father, we thank you for the love we've received, and we thank you how wonderful it feels when we know we're imitating you and pleasing you, when we decide to love other people that have not treated us well or don't really love us or like us, or have said bad things about us or to us. Lord, I pray that we would not grow hardened and so protective in our little castles that we don't share in that emotional vulnerability that causes real spiritual growth.
We thank you today, we're humbled, we're honored that you love us so deeply that not only do you save us, but then you take and pour out your love into us. And then we have the wonderful experience of sharing Christ with an unbelieving world, especially through our love to them and to one another as believers, the most wonderful compelling apologetic on earth, in Jesus' name, amen.