Love is longed for around the globe. Love will lead us to do some crazy things to prove our love for the one who has captured our heart. I remember one time, not too long after Connie and I moved to Oklahoma City, I snuck out of our house in the middle of the night. It was the night before Connie’s 30th birthday. I wanted to do something special for her. I had planned meticulously, bought everything I needed to do the job, and in the middle of the night I spray painted a huge red heart with “Mike + Connie” in the middle of the heart on the old graffiti bridge that use to be just south of the church on Western. I was Banksy before he ever bought his first can of spray paint! I knew I could be arrested. I knew Connie could possibly have opened The Daily Oklahoman on her birthday and read the headline, “Local Pastor Arrested for Defacing Graffiti Bridge!” I knew all of that, but I wanted to do something way off the grid to show her my love for her so I took the chance.
People have done far crazier things to show their love for the one who has captured their heart. Jesus captured Kayla Mueller’s heart at a young age. Kayla never spray painted a bridge, she had much bigger plans to show her love for Jesus. Kayla was busy showing her love for Jesus while she was in high school. She volunteered at the Open Inn for Troubled Youth, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and AmeriCorps all before she graduated in 2007. After she graduated from the University of Northern Arizona she left the comfort of her home and signed-up to work with the African Refugee Development Center in India and Tel Aviv, Israel. She came back home for a year to work with HIV/AIDS patients in Prescott, Arizona. While she was working in Prescott her heart began breaking for the stories she was hearing on television about the Syrian refugees. She began to explore opportunities to get involved. In 2013, Kayla contacted Support to Life, an organization working with the refugees in Turkey. Kayla left the United States and arrived in Antakya, Turkey. Kayla was 24 years old. Support to Life had decided they wanted to open a community center on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay. Kayla was among the first group of people to staff the center. Many have seen the faces of the kids who have lost everything and turn away because they just don’t know what to do or even what to say, but Kayla saw something more in those pain-filled eyes that stared back at her. She wrote,
I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you. “I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering. (Kayla Mueller)
Two Turkish women, a mother and daughter team that worked with Kayla at the community center saw something special in Kayla. The young daughter, Aruba Berakat, who was about the same age as Kayla, said, “To hear that there is an American who has left everything. And she came to just help out refugees, and Syrians in particular, that was inspiring honestly.” Aruba’s mother, Hala, was asked if Kayla was making a difference at the community center. She said, “Oh yes. If you just said Kayla’s name in front of them they would smile.”
Kayla was making a huge difference in the lives of the refugee children at the community center, but then she was captured by Isis where she was held for 18 months. She had her fingernails ripped out, she was raped, but even through it all she was an inspiration to the others held with her.
The ruthless Jihadi John, the man who was seen beheading James Foley and others in the videos that were played on television around the world, oversaw the prisoners. On March 14, 2014, Jihadi John took Kayla to a room where several male hostages were being held. Former hostages who had been released tell the story that Jihadi John paraded Kayla in front of the men on one occasion. Daniel Rye Ottosen, a Danish freelance photographer recited Jihadi John’s words. He said, “Oh, this is Kayla, and she has been held all by herself. And she is much stronger than you guys. And she’s much smarter. She converted to Islam.” Kayla spoke up and said, “No, I didn’t.” After 18 months in captivity, enduring abuse like she could have never imagined, Kayla was killed at the age of 26 on February 6, 2015…faithful to the end.
Some would say, “What a waste! To die so young with so much to offer…what a waste!” Kayla had known for years that the love she had received was the love she was to give and offering His love to those who were suffering provided her the greatest joy of all. John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIVO)
John 13-17 has been called by many Bible teachers the Upper Room discourse. Some have called these five chapters the “holy of holies” of Scripture. They have been given this title because Jesus is well aware that His crucifixion is just hours away and in these chapters He shares His most intimate thoughts and deepest passions with His disciples. As we turn to the next section of John 15 we will find Jesus repeat what He has already shared with them. Let’s read the Scripture and see if you can pick up on what is foremost in His heart.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:9-16 NIVO)
There is so much for us to learn from in this section of Scripture, but for this morning I want to focus on love. In John 15:9-17 we find the word “love” appear, in one form or another, nine times. The focus on these verses is on Jesus’ love for us and not our love for Jesus. This is so important for you and me to recognize. Our failure to recognize the priority of His love for us has gotten us to the place where we are today in failing to really understand what love is and how love behaves. The word that appears over and over again in these verses is one form or another of “?????” (agape). It is love with no strings attached. Love that gives regardless. One of the best definitions I’ve heard of this Greek word for “love” is this: Unconditional love devotes total commitment to seek your highest best no matter how you may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not. That definition of love can’t be used in a secular society like our own where love is absolutely conditional. Our love is “quid pro quo,” something for something, and not love given regardless of the response.
I want us to notice what Jesus said in verse 9 because it sets the standard for you and me. Jesus said,
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9 NIVO)
Jesus tells us that He loves us with the same quality and degree of love that the Father has shown Him. That raises a question doesn’t it? To what degree has the Father loved the Son, Jesus? Well, let’s take a look and find out. Turn with me to John 3:34-35.
34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (John 3:34-35 NIVO)
“The Father…has placed everything in his hands.” What does that mean? I’m so glad you asked. We read in John 5:20-23 that God has shown Jesus everything He does. We also learn that God doesn’t judge anyone, but He has entrusted the judgment of humanity into the hands of Jesus the Son. God has done this so that all people will honor the Son in the same way that they are to honor God the Father. That’s pretty impressive isn’t it? God loves the Son enough to hold no secrets from Him and His love for the Son is so great that He entrusts the vitally important act of judgment solely into the hands of the Son. That’s not the only evidence of the Father’s love for His Son though. Turn with me to Colossians 1:15-20 and let’s read together.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NIVO)
God the Father has made Jesus His Son the Creator and Sustainer of everything that has ever been and everything that presently exists. The fullness of God was present in Jesus and it is through Jesus that God reconciled all that was alienated, estranged, and separated from Himself. God has loved the Son with an everlasting, abounding, limitless love wouldn’t you say?
As awesome as this is to understand, it isn’t nearly as difficult to understand as what Jesus said next. To think that God loves Jesus with this kind of love is easier to grasp than understanding that Jesus says He has loved us with the same kind of love. Jesus was God. He was fully God. He never sinned, not once. He was holy and righteous, perfectly holy and righteous. He is the second member of the Godhead: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It’s not too difficult to understand why the Father might love Jesus with such an indescribable love. But, think about this: The Bible says we are sinners, we have rebelled against God, we are not holy and righteous, and we are described as “alienated from God and enemies in your mind because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21 NIVO) And yet, Jesus loves us with the same love the Father has for Him. And how has He loved us, you might ask? He has loved us by offering Himself in our place. I know that for some of you, maybe many of you that is something you already know, at least you know it like you know 2+2=4 or you know the earth revolves around the sun. You may know it because you learned it in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School as a child, but has that act of love really taken root in your heart and mind?
Contrary to our modern-day belief, the Bible teaches that we are not born good with the potential to even get better. The Bible teaches that we are dead in our sins from birth, we are sinners from birth, we are alienated from God from birth, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to change our status. There is a price to pay for our sin and none of us can write that check. All of the money in the world cannot buy our forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22 teaches us, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” If you’ve ever read the Old Testament then you know that the practice that took place at the Temple was a primer, a foreshadowing of what was to come. The priests would sacrifice animals and the shed blood of the animals was an atonement, an offering, for the sins of the people. Then the day came when Jesus arrived on the scene and John the Baptist cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” And Jesus went to the cross, not for His own sins, but for the sins of those who were alienated from God because of their own sin. That is why Paul wrote,
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (Romans 5:6-9 NIVO)
It is so true, very rarely will someone die for a really good person. It is so rare. Yet, God demonstrated, didn’t talk about it, but demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, alienated from God, enemies of God, Jesus died for you and me. Paul puts it more succinctly in his letter to the church in Corinth when he writes,
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVO)
There are many, many people walking around today, filling pews on Sundays, who know these things that I’ve just shared with you, but the love of Jesus has never really penetrated their hearts. I know this because we lose our minds with excitement about games, hobbies, and pop culture stars and yet yawn when the subject of Jesus comes up. If we truly understand what has taken place it will consume us, empower us, and motivate us to live for Him in all we do. We were sentenced to the electric chair. The verdict was just, yet Jesus willingly took our place. The gallows that were prepared for us found the sinless Savior hanging in our place. The members of the firing squad drew their bead on our hearts, but the merciful Savior stepped in front of the bullet that had our name on it. John wrote,
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16 NIVO)
Jesus laid down His life for us, but that’s not the end of the story. He redeemed us, reclaimed us, and reconciled us so that we might be instruments of reconciliation in this broken and lost world. “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Jesus reminded His disciples of His love for them in the Upper Room then He told them,
10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:10-12 NIVO)
We are to obey Jesus commands and in verse 12 He spells out His command: “Love each other as I have loved you.” This is not the first time Jesus spoke those words to His disciples. Back in John 13:34-35, in the opening chapter of the Upper Room discourse, after Jesus had washed the feet of His disciples, He said,
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIVO)
Love one another. If Jesus would have stopped His thought at that point then we would be right where we are today. Love, even in the church, among the Body of Christ, is weak, conditional, self-serving, and is offered when it is convenient or expedient. Jesus set the standard for us. He said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” We’ve taken a long, hard look at how Jesus has loved us so we should be able to understand what it means for us to love one another. Yet, I hear reports most every week of factions, divisions, animosity, and anger winning out in the Body of Christ and it breaks the heart of God. Jesus didn’t say that the world would know we belong to Him by our ability to quote Scripture, recite the Greek and Hebrew meaning of words, or by the size of our buildings or jewelry we wear. He said, “By this all people will know that you are my followers, if you love one another.”
Ira Gillett was a missionary to East Africa in the early 1900s. Jesus’ love for Ira compelled him to love the people of Mozambique with his whole heart. He bought a 2,000 acre farm where he set up a school and taught young men carpentry skills as well as how to farm. The land was divided up into 20 acre tracts and once a young man completed training his family was given a tract of land to live on and develop. There was also a missionary hospital that served many of the people of the area. Pastor Gillett told a story one time that gripped my heart. He noticed that the people of the area would walk past the government hospitals that were much closer to their homes and travel many extra miles to receive medical treatment at the missionary hospital. The pastor finally asked a group of people whom he knew had made a long journey to the medical clinic why they were willing to walk so far when there were government hospitals much closer. One man said, “The medicines may be the same, but the hands are different.”
I think about that story every time I visit the King’s Klinic. There are no fancy recliners and big screen televisions in the waiting area. You won’t find any crystal chandeliers either. The medicines are the same medicine you’ll find in any doctor’s office, but the hands and the hearts of those who volunteer their time to love and care for those who need their help are so, so different. They are the hands of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, and provide more than remedies for what ails those who come through their doors.
When the followers of Jesus love one another, and all of those the Lord leads across their path, the world will stand up and take notice that we’ve been with Jesus and His love has transformed us. Just last Sunday during Sunday school a Mexican grandma who doesn’t speak a word of English came through our doors. She only lives a couple of blocks from our church. She had a young granddaughter who is a 4th grader at Britton Elementary School with her as she came through the door. Someone found Irvin and he relayed the conversation to me. The little girl’s father had been deported about five years ago. The grandma and her husband paid a “coyote” to get him back across the border. He started using drugs and drinking again and was deported for a second time. At that point the grandma and grandpa couldn’t help. Then, on December 10, 2015 the little girl’s mom died from a drug overdose. She’s been living with her grandparents who in actuality have been taking care of her for most of her life. The grandma told Irvin that the mother of one of our BCC READS kids had told her about us and she wanted her granddaughter to be at the church every day. She stayed for the second service, went to Children’s Church, and then went to tennis with us after church. When we got back to the church after tennis the grandma came up to me and asked me if I can speak Spanish? I told her granddaughter she was going to have to help me out. Grandma just wanted to thank me. I told her granddaughter to please tell her how much we want to thank her for allowing her granddaughter to come and play with us. The little girl is signed-up for GLOW, she’s in our Monday tennis group, our Thursday reading program, and I have no doubt that God is going to use you to make a huge difference in her broken little life as you share the love you have received from Jesus with His child.
The problem we have is we define love by what we feel rather than what He did. Feelings are fleeting. They come and go depending on how good someone treats us. What Jesus did for you and me can transform us to the point where we are willing to love regardless of whether we receive love back or not. John is so right when he writes, “We love each other because he loved us first.” (1 John 4:19 NLT) It is not until we recognize and fully grasp, as much as that is possible, the love Jesus has for us that we can offer that love to others. But if you will come to know His love, it will take you places you never dreamed my friend. If you are here this morning and you have never surrendered your life to Jesus, given Him the reigns of your life, then I want to encourage you to do that now.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 4, 2011