This past week we have had 130 kids learning more and more about the great love of God our Father. It has been a wonderful week for everyone. The kids and their helpers have learned about how much God loves them, how He gave His Son Jesus to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, and how God has a plan for each of our lives.

For the past two weeks I have heard the story of Jesus’ life, His suffering for my sins, and the forgiveness that I can receive if I will accept Him into my life so many times. At Kids Across America, I heard the story in one form or another, every day. This past week at VBS I have heard the story again and again. I have to tell you that the message never grows old. Each time I hear the story of what God has done through His Son Jesus for you and me I am overwhelmed. I simply can’t figure it out. Why would God love me so much? Why would God send His Son to die, the most horrible of deaths, for someone like me? I have been a Christian for more than 20 years now and I wish my life better reflected what the Lord has done for me. I wish people saw more of Jesus and less of Mike in me. I feel like the Lord has done so much and yet so often I take it for granted.

I heard a story that really illustrates what I am talking about. Maybe it will speak to you with the same power that it speaks to me.

There was a man who was employed as the operator of a drawbridge. The man’s job each day, every day, was to keep a watch on the great river so that when a ship was entering the channel he could raise the bridge for the ship. By raising the bridge the man provided a safe passage for the ship and its passengers. When the bridge was lowered the bridge would provide a safe passage for the trains that would pass over on the bridge.

The man had a little boy who was the apple of his daddy’s eye. The boy was not but about five years old and he was full of life. He would ask his dad on a regular basis if he could go along to watch the ships pass through the channel. The man didn’t really feel comfortable taking his son with him because he knew his son would require supervision – supervision that he really couldn’t provide since his job required him to pay close attention to what was going on around him.

One day the little boy caught his dad in a moment of vulnerability and he asked, “Dad, can I go with you to work today? I want to watch the ships daddy.” The man had said “No” so many times in the past that he thought, “What the heck. I’ll take him with me.” The little boy was overjoyed as he watched his mother pack his lunch for his trip to work with his dad.

When they arrived at the drawbridge the man sat his son down and told him, “Son, you’ve got to stay with me today. You can’t wonder off or you might end up getting hurt. I’ve got to stay here in my office so that I can be ready to raise and lower the bridge when it is necessary. Stay close by daddy okay.” The little boy promised his dad that he would stay close, but as time passed the little boy’s circle of activity widened. Pretty soon the little boy had wondered out of the office and was playing just outside the door. Dad didn’t really think anything about it since his son was so close by, so he went on doing paper work.

About an hour later the man heard the loud blast of the ship’s horn and he looked up to see that a ship had just rounded the corner and was headed down the channel. The bridge was already raised so the man went back to his paper work until the ship drew even with his office. The man waved at the captain as he always did when the ships would pass by.

About thirty minutes after the ship had passed, the man heard the blast of the train whistle off in the distance. As he prepared to lower the bridge for the train to pass, he noticed that his son was nowhere to be found. The man called out for his son, but there was no answer. The man hurried out of his office and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Billy, Billy come here.” There was no answer. The man was angry as he thought to himself, “I told him to stay with me. He knows better than to run off.” The man continued his search knowing that he didn’t have much time before he had to start lowering the bridge. As he was searching for his son he noticed that the door to the mechanical room was open. The man ran down the stairs to the mechanical room and peeked inside. He saw his little boy and said, “What are you doing?” The little boy was crying and said, “Daddy, I’m stuck. I can’t get out daddy.” The man went over to his son and noticed that he had gotten caught in the great gears of the drawbridge while he was climbing around. The man tried to get his son out, but he was too deep in the big machinery. The man ran outside and up the stairs to get a glimpse of the train coming. He realized that he had a choice to make: He could work on getting his son out of the gears and free him from the machinery, but if he did hundreds of people on the train would crash into the bridge and die. Or, he could rush back to the control room and lower the bridge to preserve the lives of the passengers on the train, but the giant gears would surely crush his son.

The man began to cry knowing that with either decision people would die. With tears running down his face the man made his way into the control room and pressed the button to begin lowering the bridge. He couldn’t bear to go down to the mechanical room where he knew his son was being crushed, so he sat in his chair and watched as the bridge lowered and the train passed. When the train passed the passengers were busy reading their newspapers, eating breakfast, and laughing with one another. Not one single soul acted like they even cared about the fact that the man had allowed his son to die so that they might live.

The man went down to the mechanical room where he gathered his broken son up in his arms and walked back to the control room with his son in his arms. The man sat and cried as he held his son in his arms, thinking about the happy-go-lucky passengers who were now a mile passed the bridge.

What an excruciatingly painful story. A story that illustrates the pain of a father’s decision to allow his only son to die so that the masses might live. I told this story to a group of kids one time and one little boy raised his hand, noticeably disturbed, and said, “Mike, he should have let his son live because those people didn’t even care.” I told my little friend, “Boy, I know what you mean. I have three kids and I have to tell you that I wouldn’t let any of them die so that others would live. I can’t imagine the kind of love the man must have had to be able to do such a thing. I can’t imagine how the man must have felt when he saw the train pass and everybody acting like nothing had happened.”

I could really relate with the little boy who thought the man should have said, “Forget those folks – that’s my son stuck down there. I’ve got to save his life!” The fact of the story is this: The man sitting at the controls with tears streaming down his face is God. The little boy stuck in the gears, being crushed under the weight of the machinery, is Jesus. The folks on the train having a good time, oblivious to the great price that was being paid – that’s you and me.

Isn’t it almost impossible to understand how the man could press the button that would bring about his son’s death so that those he didn’t even know could live? What kind of love is this that is able to lay aside one’s own self interest so that a higher good can be gained? It is a love that I am ashamed to admit to you that I do not possess. On the other hand, with me being one of the passengers on the train, I am so thankful that God was willing to make such a sacrifice for my sake.

I want us to talk this Father’s Day about this incredible love that flows from the heart of the Father. We can find a short, but powerful lesson on the Father’s love in 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s take a look.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {3} If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. {4} Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. {8} Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. {9} For we know in part and we prophesy in part, {10} but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. {11} When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. {12} Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. {13} And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13 NIV)

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to the Church. There were problems in the 1st Church of Corinth just as there are problems in every church, in every home, in every office, and in every community wherever men and women live. Paul answers the problems faced by folks with a solution – love.

That seems to be a simple solution, some would even say it is a simplistic solution, for those of us who are plagued with problems of every type. Just apply love to the problem. Whatever you face in life the solution is love. I don’t disagree with Paul, but I do want to urge you to start your journey on the right path. Let me clarify what I mean. It seems to me that for us as people we always begin with our problems in mind and then proceed to seek to understand God from that perspective. We say, “With all of the problems in the world how can God be a God of love?” When in actuality we should say, “Knowing that God is love, how do I understand the problems I am facing in light of that fact?” I would submit to you today that you will never understand God from the platform of problems. For us to understand God, and our problems, we must begin with who God is and how He behaves. It is interesting that Paul doesn’t begin 1 Corinthians 13 from the perspective of human problems or predicaments, he begins with the love of the Father.

An interesting exercise that you and I can experience is to reread 1 Corinthians 13 and replace the word, “love” with the word “God.” You will find that every place the word “love” appears can easily be replaced with “God” and still make perfect sense. As a matter of fact, the chapter makes even more sense when we read God into the text. You may ask, “But Mike, why would you even think to substitute ‘God’ for “love?” Good question. You need to know that the Greek word used by Paul that has been translated “love” in our Bible is the word “agape.”

In English we have only one word that we use to describe the human emotion of love. We say that we love our wife, our friend, our dog, our church, or our favorite television program. The Greek language is much more descriptive than our language. When the Greeks talked about loving their friend they would use the word, “phileo.” This is the root of the word that we are so familiar with -Philadelphia – The City of brotherly love. The meaning of the word is, “to have love or affection for someone or something based on association.”

When the Greeks wanted to express love of a sexual nature, the loved shared by a husband and wife, they would use the word, “eros.” It is the word from which we get our English word “erotic.” Neither “phileo” nor “eros” is ever used to describe the love of God. Only the Greek word “agape” is used to try and help us understand just how vast, deep, and wide the love of God is for each and every one of us.

The Greek word “agape” means “to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard.” It can also mean, “to love, to regard with affection, loving concern, love.” The love of God is so amazing that it is impossible, for those of us who live in a world where this love is rarely demonstrated, to understand it apart from God breaking through.

What the kids have been learning during this past week, and what I hope you and I can learn this morning, is how the powerful love of God can change our lives. We could spend a year studying each of the sixteen characteristics of God’s kind of love found in verses 4-8. Let me read that section of God’s Word to us once again so you can drink in the magnitude of this magnificent love that God has made available to you and me.

{4} Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. {8} Love never fails.

Let’s list each of the sixteen characteristics one by one.

1) Love is patient.

2) Love is kind.

3) Love does not envy.

4) Love does not boast.

5) Love is not proud.

6) Love is not rude.

7) Love is not self-seeking.

8) Love is not easily angered.

9) Love keeps no record of wrongs.

10) Love does not delight in evil.

11) Love rejoices with the truth.

12) Love always protects.

13) Love always trusts.

14) Love always hopes.

15) Love always perseveres.

16) Love never fails.

Is it any wonder that the love of God has made such a difference in our world throughout the centuries? God’s love has taken care of those that the rest of society has cast aside. God’s love has healed wounds that nothing else could comfort. God’s love sees beauty and value in the most unlovely and unlikable people on the planet. God’s love has restored hope to those who were hopeless. God’s love has brought sweet relief to those who have been shackled in sin’s snares. God’s love, and God’s love alone has bridged the gap between God and humanity.

Let me ask you a question. “If someone came into your life who demonstrated these characteristics of the “agape” love of God, what difference would it make in your life?” I can’t answer for you, but I can tell you that it has changed my life. God’s love has given me hope, a reason to live, and the promise of a brighter day to come. God’s love has broken through the darkness of my heart and pulled back the veil of cynicism and doubt that shrouded my eyes so that I can now see the beauty of this life and all that God has created.

I have a friend who worked for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for several years. He told me a story many years ago that I will never forget. There was a man who lived in a leper colony in India. He had been there for many years as he had been alienated from his small village because of his leprosy. One summer a group of basketball players from Athletes In Action were traveling around the globe playing ball and sharing the gospel. When they had a day off while playing ball in India, one of the athletes took a trip to the leper colony to visit the residents. While he was visiting, he saw the despair written across the faces of the men and women, boys and girls, who were in the leper colony. There was one man who had leprosy who was different than anyone else. He wore a constant smile and was busy making his rounds helping out those who were in a more advanced stage of their leprosy. The athlete was intrigued as he watched the man and eventually found the courage to make his way to the man and introduce himself. The athlete, after talking to the man for quite some time, asked the man, “Why do you seem so different than the other people here at the leper colony?” The leper’s smile widened and he said, “Oh, there was a time when I was just as hopeless as the others here at the leper colony. I can remember when I came here after being shunned by all of the people in my community. I felt like nobody loved me, that nobody wanted me around, and it left me hopeless. When I arrived here at my new home I was very angry and didn’t want anything to do with anybody.”

The man went on to say, “One day a man came to visit us. He brought some bread and water to hand out to the residents here at the colony. As he was handing out the food and water he told us about the love of Jesus, but I didn’t want to hear it. I can still remember drinking the water the man gave to me and hearing him begin to talk about how much Jesus loved me. I spit the water in his face and walked away. The next day the same man came to our colony again to hand out bread and water. I tried to stay away from him this time, but he found me and tried to put his arms around me. I was shocked at first because nobody had touched me in a long time since they were afraid that they would get leprosy from touching us. I pulled away from the man. The next day he came again and I told him that I hated him and did not want his food or water, but he kept coming back every day with food and water, a smile, and a warm hug for those who would allow him to touch them.”

The athlete said, “Did the man give up?” The leper said, “He kept coming back every day until one day he found me and said, “No matter how many times you shun me or spit in my face – I will continue to come back and see you because I love you. God loves you and He has asked me to never stop telling you how much He loves you.” Tears welled up in the leper’s eyes as he told the story. He said, “When the man reached out his arms to embrace me I began to cry. I tried not to, but I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. After years of people being afraid to touch me it was like God Himself was holding me in His arms and saying, ‘It’s alright. Even though every one else may have shunned you – I will never leave you. You are my child and I love you.'” The leper said, “From that day till this one I have felt loved and embraced by God. I want the others who are like I was to know the love of God.”

My friend, that is the love of God that the children have been learning about this week and that I have been trying to understand for more than twenty years. It is a love that is so hard for me to comprehend, but it is a love that will not let me go. God loves you so much and He has given me the task of telling you over and over again how great His love is for you. He is saying to someone here this morning, “No matter how many times others have shunned – I will never leave you. You are My child and I love so.” I hope this morning you will feel the warm embrace of the Father.

The Father’s Love
1 Corinthians 13