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It’s Valentine season and we think about love. If askedwhat verse from the Bible comes most readily to mind, any Christian might say, “John 3: 16—’For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that anybody who believes in him wouldn’t perish but have everlasting life.’” Looking more closely at the word, asking what it means, we’llfind one implication in the verse. The love we see here is active. It does something for another’s benefit. This love isn’t just a feeling, and it may involve a sacrifice of some sort. If we’re still thinking about love in a biblical context, it certainlywill.
We can see the meaning of love in terms of everyday life, in casual as well as close relationships. We think of kindnessor courtesy even to those we meet in passing or barely know, of going the extra mile, taking care not to damage the property of others, returning their possessions we’ve borrowed, avoiding damaging or untrue words that could harm another’sreputation. We think of punctuality, a cheerful, welcoming and hospitable attitude or doing whatever it takes to improve the life of another. What about giving someone else our attention, being a good listener? We can enhance our social environment in many small or large ways by intentional actions and choices. Society works when people make lifebetter, more bearable, more pleasant for others. The point is so obvious it’s hardly worth making.
However, when Jesus told Nicodemus about the love of God, he was stating something so profound we can spend a whole life mulling over it. No doubt, Nicodemus was thinking decades later about what Jesus said, probably to the end of his life. The love Jesus described suggests some absolutes we can only look at with wonder. Jesus himself, a person of history, is also the Son of God—God the Son, in fact. The Bible declares that he was involved in creation; he is “the express image” of God’s person, the one who “holds all things together by the word of his power” (Heb 1: 3). After he walked out of thetomb, he spoke many times with his disciples then returned to the Father, bringing a reversed human mortality with him and taking his usual place at the Father’s right hand.
We have to stop here and think for a minute—his usual place? The accustomed place, the home, the routine environment of this Person wasn’t that carpenter’s shop. Joseph’s business became Jesus’ hangout as surely as Mary’s dinner table, but God isn’t limited by a single locus, and God the Son knew all about human carpenter shops long before the Son of Man worked in one as an apprentice. And yes, all this has to do with John 3: 16.
The point I’m meandering my way toward is this: When the Father gave us his only begotten Son, the Son left heaven behind. That alone was a sacrifice. This means that Jesus’ whole life was, in some sense spent in a condition of loss. It also means that an environment of human sinfulness with its effects was the new thing God the Son plunged directly into.His constant, unrestricted, unimpeded, and untarnished relationship with the Father would have been for him the engine, as it were, of daily life, more than interactions with sinful people. God knows all about human sin, but to experience it directly must have been grievous. In fact, Isaiah called the Messiah, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53: 3).
But the details of loss in Jesus’ life don’t touch theemptying act he performed on the cross. He willingly endured utter rejection by the religious leaders and people, publichumiliation in a criminal’s death, mockery and spitting, the bitter sorrow of knowing what these things would mean even briefly for his followers, the realization that he was deserted by all those closest to him—all but John, his mother, andsome other women. Abandonment to the cause of human salvation meant all this for Jesus, the Son of Man and God the Son.
To do no more than skim the surface of such self-sacrifice is to be amazed. Death defeated and the scene reversed again? The fulfillment of God’s giving act in Christ is love barely comprehensible but not beyond trust. Layingdown our lives, putting another person before ourselves, is the best demonstration of what love really means, the truest Valentine. Jesus Christ is our model, and with the gift of the Holy Spirit, he made it all possible.