1 John 4:7:21 & John 1:1-14

It’s All About Love

Reading John’s letters always makes me smile, he just can’t stop talking about love. He’s completely obsessed by it. Don’t forget that the first time we met John he was in a fishing boat on the lake of Galilee, probably as quite a young man. Jesus calls him and off he goes, with his brother James, to follow Jesus. These brothers had such a bad temper that they were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus. At one point they ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on a village which didn’t welcome them on their journeyings around the country side. On another occasion they ask Jesus if they can sit on the thrones next to him in heaven. Yet, Jesus stuck with them, and these two and Peter were the three who were taken by Jesus into places and experiences the other disciples didn’t see. And by the end of Jesus’ time on earth John was known as “the disciple Jesus loved”. John had experienced Jesus’ love so profoundly that it is all he wants to talk about. There’s barely a sentence that doesn’t include the word, “love”. For John it is all about love, and love is what it is all about.

For John the supreme expression of God’s love is the sending of Jesus to earth to become a creature and to live with us and among us, the sending and arrival that we celebrate at Christmas. “This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” God loves us so much that God does not want us to die, but wants us to have life in all its fulness.

But hold on a minute, God created us in the first place, why is there death? Why do we need Jesus to come into the world that we might live through him? Well, as we read in the Bible, and can observe in history, and see in our own lives, we have a natural rebellious streak. We want to be in control of our own lives, we don’t appreciate having someone who tells us what we can and can’t do, even when we accept they might have our best interests at heart. We tend to choose the wrong way in lots of different circumstances. When we refuse to live in God’s care and in God’s light, then we cut ourselves off from the source of our life and we end up in darkness, and we die. I’m not talking here about our physical death. That happens to all of us, even Jesus. I’m talking about what happens next.

So, what can be done about these things that separate us from God, that cut us off from the source of our life. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The first thing to notice is that it is God who makes the first move. God who restores the relationship in a way that we are powerless to do. Jesus deals with the things that are between us and God, with the wrong things we have done and said, with our disobedience and unfaithfulness, with our sins. Jesus is the willing sacrifice that restores the relationship. That is what the word atoning means. It makes “at one”. It makes us “at one” with God. On the same page, of the same mind, sharing the same purpose, living in the same love. We are “at one” with God, because Jesus gave up his life on the cross. And so, intimately connected with the source of all life, we can live.

But it’s not just for us. “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.” John claims that Jesus’ mission on earth was not just for the Jewish people, not just for the people of that time, not just for those who met him, heard him, followed him, not even just for people, but to save the whole world – the whole of creation. That’s the physical creation – the plants, the animals, the earth, the sky, the seas. That’s the cultural creation – nations and governments, arts and music, work and leisure. God sent Jesus to save everything and everybody from the destructive and deathly forces of sin that have infected creation. It’s a massive claim, difficult to get our heads round, and difficult to believe. But John offers evidence – he doesn’t just make the claim. He says, “We have seen and testify…” John had seen what Jesus did on earth, he’d seen the difference Jesus had made to his own character, he’d seen Jesus die and he’d seen Jesus raised to life. He’d seen the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost and thousands of people coming to faith and having their lives changed. He’d seen the birth and spread of the church. He’d seen the saving power of Jesus in action in bringing life and he bears witness to it in his writing.

And why did God send his Son to be an atoning sacrifice, that we might live, that the world might be rescued? Why did Jesus leave the glories and majesty of heaven for the humility and vulnerability of being a baby? Why did the creator enter time and creation? Why did the Eternal Light choose to be extinguished by death? It is not because we deserved it, we’d rejected God. It wasn’t because we loved God, we’d been unfaithful. It was because God loves us. God is love and wants us to live in love for ever. God loves each and every one of us so much that Jesus came at Christmas so that we could experience that love.

What is our response to that love? “If I were shepherd I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what I can I give him, give my heart.”

But, how do we give our heart? How do we respond to God’s love? How do we receive the gift that God gives us at Christmas?

In John’s letter we read, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.”

In John’s gospel we read, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

So, how do we give our heart? How do we respond to God’s love? How do we receive the gift that God gives us at Christmas? We acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and we believe in his name. And this acknowledging and believing aren’t just what we say with our mouths, or even what we think in our heads, they have to flow out into our actions and form our characters. How did God show love for us? God did something. How do we show our love for God? We do something.

In some ways John is quite poetic and inspirational in his language and he can get carried away with the rhapsody of God’s love and wonder and glory of it all. But he won’t leave it there – he roots it pretty quickly, he earths it in a practical example. Just as Jesus’ love for us didn’t remain all heavenly and theoretical, but was practically expressed in the every day, earthy and wooden realities of the manger and of the cross, so John expects our love for God to make a difference in our every day lives.

“If we say that we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow-believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen … those who love God must also love one another.”

John links the two great commands of Jesus, love God and love each other, and demonstrates that they are completely bound up in each other. It’s almost as if they are not two commands but one. It is not possible to obey one and disobey the other. How might our love for God be expressed, how might we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God? By being pleasant to each other. By speaking well of each other. By saying encouraging things to each other. By thanking each other. By making generous assumptions about the reasons somebody has said or done something. By resisting being easily offended. By being willing to forgive readily. By choosing to take the first steps to put right what has gone wrong in a relationship. By desiring and working for the good of those we live among. By carrying Jesus’ light and life into situations of darkness and death. By testifying that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, at the first Christmas, at this Christmas, on every single day of the year.

One Comment

  • Love how John is completely transformed from that self-serving, tempestuous young fisherman into the one who would be chosen to write that gospel and other letters on how to love. Hope for all of us 🙂

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