Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Lesson In Love

Recently I asked my wife to give me her understanding of divine love. Now my wife has a way of talking all around a question without ever answering. We call that “beating around the bush.” As she began beating around the bush she said, “well---uh, uhhhh, well uh--God sets the standard for love---uh, uh---so--.” Now she never did get around to answering the question I had asked, but she did make a very truthful statement---God has set the standard for love. A few days later I was teaching a group of men and women at the Ms. State Veterans Home in Collins, Ms. and I ask them to give their understanding of divine love. One gentleman, about 93 years young, spoke up and said, “love gives life to the soul like food gives life to the body.” This was another very good and truthful statement, but was still not an answer for the meaning of divine love to my satisfaction, so we opened our Holy Bibles to the book of John and began to study.

In the book of John, chapter 3, verses 1 through 21, Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus. In this conversation is recorded the heart of the greatest love story every told. We learn here of the “Law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:1) that is brought about through an act of God that is the greatest expression of love ever made toward man (John 3:15-16).

Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees, a division of Judaism. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, a religious council made up of the Pharisees, Sadducees and other sects of that time. He was educated in both the Moral and Ceremonial Law and also, the writings of the Prophets and was steeped in the religious traditions of his forefathers and was also well known as a teacher.

Jesus was a man of low esteem among the religious socialites of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Isaiah prophesied of Him, “For He (Jesus) grew up before Him (God the Father) like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Isa. 53:2-3 NAS).”

Jesus Himself said, --"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20f NAS).”

He went about wearing sandals and a robe, carrying no books and phylacteries, yet teaching with authority and performing miracles of healing with demonstration of great power. His congregation was a people of low social status; such as the poor, the weak, the lame, the blind and the sick. In contrast Nicodemus was wealthy, educated, and as pertaining to politics, a powerful man---according to the flesh a descendant of Abraham---well respected by his people. Yet, this man, “a ruler of the Jews,” came to Jesus by night (John 3:1-2f).

We can only speculate as to why Nicodemus came to Jesus by cover of darkness, but one would think it was probably because he feared a negative reaction from the Pharisees and other members of the Sanhedrin should he happen to be seen with Jesus. This fear could have been motivated by a possible loss of his position as a teacher and his membership in the Sanhedrin or maybe even a loss of his life.

Nicodemus began speaking to Jesus saying, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him (John 3:2ff NAS).”

Nicodemus, being a scholar and teacher of the Law and the writings of the Prophets, should have known Jesus as the Messiah. The Holy Spirit indicates here in this passage that Nicodemus did not have a clue that Jesus was the One spoken of in the Law and the Prophets; he only had a knowledge that came from his intellectual reasoning derived from observing Christ teachings and miracles. The only thing that Nicodemus seem to have going for him was a desire to know more of Jesus. He must have felt that this man Jesus had something more than what he himself had.

Love is the supreme attribute of God and is the very core and nucleus of His glory. Love is also a state of being, a living life form---or as the Bible declares, "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16)-- the personification of perfect love. God is the fountain of love; from this fountain of love flows mercy, and from mercy, grace. His Son, the living Word of God, is the expression or out-flowing of love, mercy and grace from the Fountain (John 1:14).

Love speaks truth with mercy and grace and results in faith, trust and hope. Often we consider it hard to speak the truth to someone. Consider the position that Jesus was in when Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews,” came to Him. Jesus could have taken the human approach and hugged this man of high position and respect; kissed him on the cheek; patted him on the back and said to him, you are doing great; just keep up the good works. But would this have saved his soul? Of course not!! Only truth spoken from a heart of love leads to life for the soul.

True love always speaks the truth, for it is the truth that leads one to salvation and preserves the soul (Rom. 1:16). Jesus, a man of compassion, a man filled with love, mercy and grace, took the Godly approach and said to Nicodemus, I tell you the truth, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3NAS).”

The Greek adverb translated “again” can also mean "from the beginning" (suggesting a new creation) and "from above" (that is, from the Holy Spirit of God). In other words Jesus told Nicodemus that being of the generation of the flesh had him bound; Judaism, circumcision, obedience to the Law, his descent from the line of Abraham or any other religious act would not gain him entrance into the kingdom of God. Only as a person has a spiritual regeneration--a new birth from the Sprit--will he be able to see the kingdom of God. Jesus loved Nicodemus therefore he gave him TRUTH, a gift of saving knowledge.

“Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he {John 3:4NAS}?’”

Nicodemus was trying to reason these things that Jesus spoke by way of his intellect.

Jesus answered him saying, I tell you the truth, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5 NAS).’”

When man is born the first time, he is born of the flesh; or rather he is born into the sinful nature of Adam and knows not the love of God. When man is born a second time he is born of the word and Spirit of God into Christ Jesus; he becomes a “new creature.”

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6 NAS).”

He is now a “new creature,” and a spirit being who has experienced the love of God and he knows love for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

"Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:7-8 NAS)."

Jesus explains that being born of the Holy Spirit is a matter of hearing and believing the word of truth and not a matter of sight or a feeling; it is by faith (Rom. 10:17).

“Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?’”

Again Jesus says to him, I tell you the truth, “we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man (John 3:9-13 NAS).”

First Jesus told Nicodemus that to see the kingdom of heaven he must be born again. Then He introduced Nicodemus to faith. Now He tells him no one else has ascended into heaven to bear witness of the truth, but He Himself, who was in heaven, has bore witness of the truth and has descended from heaven to bring that truth to man.

At this time Jesus points to an event that came upon the children of Israel during their journey in the wilderness that Nicodemus as a teacher and scholar should be familiar with.

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. And the people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live (Num. 21:4-8NAS).’” Now Jesus makes the comparison, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life (John 3:14-15 NAS).”

Jesus is telling Nicodemus that the people are dieing because of sin, but if He is lifted up, that is crucified, as the people looked upon Him and believed, they would be healed of the “sting of death” and granted eternal life. Jesus declares Himself to be the unique Son of God who became the Son of Man so He could die in man’s place and be the sacrificial offering and the satisfaction to the Father that man’s sin debt had been paid. In this we see the “Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten {unique} Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16 NAS).”

Christ Jesus is the one “who, although He existed in the form of God (see John 1:1-2), did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men (see John 1:14f). And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8 NAS).”

While on the cross “He {God the Father} made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21 NAS).”

On the cross Jesus suffered the status of being in the lowest of life forms, He became sin in the flesh. Because of this the curse and the wrath of the Father that was due sinful man was poured out upon Him in man’s stead. Also, because He had became sin, He was totally separated from His Father, thus He suffered death of His body, death of His spirit and death of His soul (see Isa. 53).

Afterwards, God, being satisfied that man’s sin debt had been paid, raised Him up and gave Him victory over death, hell and the grave; and seated Him at His right hand in heaven (see Eph. 1:18-23). And all who believe are made to be in Him the righteousness of God; thus they are seated with Him (see Eph. 2:6). Jesus is more than a hero!! He is our Lord and our Savior; He is the guardian of our souls. Oh what love!! Certainly He is the unique Son of God in the image of God, a personification of love. In this act of priceless and precious redemption we see that love is the ultimate expression of the high value and esteem that God has for the soul of man.

Why does God regard man with such high esteem? When God created man He created him in His own image. He gave of Himself to man and man became a living soul (see Gen. 2:7) as God is a living soul; man comes forth from God as His son, a person of love. He esteemed man as being equal to Himself and gave to man dominion and power (Heb. 2:6-8). He, being the Creator and Father, made a commitment of fellowship and service to His son. Although He is Almighty God He took the position of a Father in order that He might serve the needs of that which was born of Him. He has set the standard for love.

To meet God’s standard for love man must be born again,---born again of the word and the Spirit of love. He must be a “new creature,” a creature of love. He must have the same high esteem, appraisal or assessment of value, and the same willingness to take the position of service to his heavenly Father, and to the others of God’s creation (see Matt. 22:37-39). He must have the same attitude in him that was also in Christ (see Phil. 2:5 NAS). Such love surpasses man’s powers of intellectual understanding (Eph. 3:19) and is revealed and imparted to man only by the Holy Spirit of God (see Rom. 5:5NAS).

Now pertaining to judgment Jesus said, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him (John 3:17NAS).”

Jesus had told Nicodemus of God’s great love for man and what he must do to enter the kingdom of heaven. He has given Him the “Law of the Spirit of life” and all he has to do is believe, repent and obey the truth from a heart of love. He has shown His love toward mankind and extended mercy and grace to him. He has offered the gift of faith, He would even die in mans stead; what more could man ask of Him?

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:18-20NAS).”

Men of sin hate truth because truth exposes and judges them and their deeds as being evil. They are enjoying what they are doing and right or wrong they will continue doing it. They shut their ears and harden their hearts, reject the truth, hate and accuse the messenger that their conscience not be troubled.

“But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God (John 3:21 NAS).

He who hears the truth and obeys comes to Christ because all his deeds have been in obedience to God and his conscience does not condemn him (1 John 3:19-21 NAS).

The Apostle John writes in another passage, “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6 NAS).”

He who knows God knows truth and he loves and listens to the one who speaks the truth. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation {satisfaction} for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11 NAS).”

With the words concerning judgment the conversation with Nicodemus was ended, but we add this interesting observation concerning him. From the Scriptures one can say that Nicodemus was probably converted and became a disciple as a result of his visit with Jesus (John 7:50-51; 19:39).

The following cannot be confirmed by the Holy Scripture but is taken from Nelson’s Bible Dictionary. “Christian tradition has it that Nicodemus was baptized by Peter and John, suffered persecution from hostile Jews, lost his membership in the Sanhedrin, and was forced to leave Jerusalem because of his Christian faith. Further mention is made of him in The Gospel of Nicodemus, an apocryphal narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.” (from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary). (Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

What does love mean to the believer? Love is the out-pouring of truth and mercy and gives grace in the time of need. Love grants repentance and forgiveness and brings faith and hope. From love flows eternal joy, peace and abundant life. He that is a partaker of God’s love is granted to share in Gods glory (John 17:22).

What is love’s attitude and conduct?

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8f NAS);”

A religious life without love is just a noisy ritualistic pagan religion.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3 NAS).”

What did Jesus have that Nicodemus did not have; the love that is from God. How does one gain so great a love?? “YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.”

“Pursue love (1 Cor. 14:1f NAS).”

“And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4:21 NAS).”

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world-- our faith (1 John 5:1-4 NAS).”

Our Lord has poured out upon us an everlasting and enduring love and He has drawn us with mercy, kindness and grace. He has given us victory over sin by faith working through love. He descended into the earth to bring us grace and truth that we may be saved from sin. From a heart of love He went to the cross and gave His life for the cause of truth. He has ascended into heaven to assure our victory over death. He has given us the Spirit of truth and He has built the Church upon the foundation of truth, it is a pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15NAS). Therefore let us esteem, honor and worship Him by speaking the truth in love that we may be pleasing to Him (Eph. 4:15f NAS).

James C Sanford

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