Greater Love


[PDF]Greater Love - Rackcdn.comf9a7b7786f1ce66fc2b9-4da3901bb7dbc049255d550984c2bbc5.r97.cf2.rackcdn.co...

2 downloads 141 Views 160KB Size

Edited September 15, 2009

Greater Love Rich Nathan September 12-13, 2009 Your Gospel is Too Small Series John 15:9-17 I’m going to start a new fall series today from the gospel accounts of Jesus – a series that will focus on the teachings and the actions of Jesus himself as recorded in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Now, the gospel according to the New Testament is the wonderfully good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord of the world. And that his death and resurrection began the transformation of the world; and, that transformation that Jesus began in his life, death, and resurrection can happen to you, if you will trust in and receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. But almost as wonderful as being personally transformed is the gospel message that those of us who believe in and receive Jesus get to partner with God in this great project of world transformation. Christ lived, died, and rose again and gave us his Holy Spirit to transform the world; a process that will not be completed before the Lord returns. Now, we have reduced this world transforming message, this message that says as we look out at the world, “The world is not the way is it supposed to be.” Babies are not supposed to die in infancy. Thousands of children are not supposed to die every single day of hunger and preventable disease. Women should not be abused by their husbands. We were not made for chemotherapy. The world is not as it is supposed to be. But God changed all of that. And he is busy at work transforming the world. We have reduced the world transforming message of the gospel to a few spiritual laws primarily aimed at saving people from hell and getting them ready for heaven. At its worst, some people reduce the gospel to a kind of religious bingo game in which if you pray the right prayer, or sign the right form, you get to yell “bingo! I get to live in heaven forever.” According to this little reduced gospel, it doesn’t matter if you continue to be bitterly unforgiving towards people who hurt you. It doesn’t matter if you cling to your prejudices or racism. It doesn’t matter if you harden your heart towards the poor, the hungry or immigrants or the unborn or their mothers. Go ahead, get an abortion; break your marital vows; get divorced apart from biblical grounds. You can be radically disobedient to Jesus and never allow him to interfere in your career or with your money, or with your sex life, or with your relationships, or with your purchases. Go your own way; never walk in the steps of Jesus. So long as you pray the sinners’ prayer, you can yell “bingo!” Live a hellish life right now and live in heaven forever with Jesus.

© Rich Nathan 2009

Is that really the gospel that Jesus preached? Don’t follow me now, but live with me later. Do your own thing now; wait until later to do my thing. Live like hell now and inherit heaven later. Be absolutely loveless now and be embraced by the love of God later. Is that the gospel of Jesus Christ? The gospel, this world-transforming, life-transforming good news that Jesus died and rose and ascended and gave us his Spirit to transform you and me and amazingly Jesus chooses to partner with you and me to transform the world has been reduced to nothing but a fire insurance policy that we can buy in church or even more conveniently by watching Christian TV. Once the fire insurance policy is in effect, you can go back to whatever you were doing before – self-indulgent shopping, ugly unforgiveness, perverse pornography, horrific hatred – it doesn’t matter, so long as your fire insurance policy is safely in your drawer, especially if you can date it; when you bought it. You’re okay; you are protected if and when your house burns down. Live like hell now and receive heaven later. The problem with this fire insurance, bingo, spiritual law approach is that it is a gross perversion, a disgraceful distortion of the life and message of Jesus because it reduces all that Jesus did and said to something that doesn’t radically and wonderfully change our lives and doesn’t radically and wonderfully transform the world. I am beginning a fall series today that I’ve titled Your Gospel is too Small. I’m going to be exploring with you the enormous dimensions of Jesus’ gospel; a gospel that demands a greater love, a greater trust, a greater obedience, a greater glory, a greater purity, a greater humility, a greater power, a greater sacrifice than the bingo, fire insurance version than many of have inherited from church tradition. To begin this series, I want to make sure that we put first things first. I’ve called today’s talk, Greater Love. Let’s pray. John 15:9-17 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept 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: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their 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 so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

© Rich Nathan 2009

2

In John chapters 13-17 Jesus is speaking to his disciples the night before he was going to be crucified. What does he talk with his disciples about? If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, you knew that, what would you talk with your family about today? If you knew this was the last time that you were going to see your friends, people who mattered to you, what would you talk with them about? Do you think you would talk with them about your upset at being overlooked for a promotion at work? You’ve got 24 hours before you are going to die. Do you talk about your anger at the idiot who scratched your car in a parking lot? The unfair treatment that you received as a child? The sale that is happening at Macy’s? Maybe you talk about the Buckeyes? When Jesus knew that he was going to die the next day, he talked about love 31 times in John 13-17. Jesus talked about love. How much he loved his little band of followers. How much he wants them to love each other. And how much he wants them to extend his love out to the world. He talks about love. The great priority of love Nine times in the nine verses we read in John 15, and 31 times in John 13-17 Jesus speaks about love. And this is entirely as you would expect because love was always in first place for Jesus. Jesus taught in ways that made God and theology and religion accessible to ordinary people. He makes things really simple. Just read the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus puts his cookies on a low shelf so that we can all reach them. On one occasion he made things even easier. The Sadducees came along and asked Jesus a bunch of questions about the law. He answered them. And then another religious group, the Pharisees, came along and they tried to trap Jesus with questions. Here is what we read in Matthew 22:34-36: Matthew 22:34-36 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” What’s in first place, Jesus? What is your great priority? There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. What’s first? And Jesus answers in Matthew 22:37-40: Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

© Rich Nathan 2009

3

He says, “Let me sum up 2000 years of biblical teaching in a way that everyone can understand. Love God and love your neighbor.” Richard Stearns, the head of World Vision, which is the great Christian non-profit organization that helps tens of thousands of people around the world, especially children, who are affected by natural disasters, famine, flood, earthquake. Richard Stearns writes in his recent book, The Hole in our Gospel, which I would give the highest recommendation to any of you who are readers. What a fantastic and motivating book. Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it. That’s the “Bible for Dummies.” And then Jesus adds a third command in Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. So what is he teaching his followers? 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor. 3 Go out and teach other people to love God and to love their neighbors. Love occupies first place for Jesus. Love occupies first place for the apostle Paul. You know the text. It was read at your wedding, or your sister’s wedding. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is not only first place for Jesus and the apostle Paul, love is in first place for us when we think we might die, or when disaster strikes. There is a fascinating new book out titled A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit. I’ve read about a 1/3 of A Paradise Built in Hell the other night when I stopped for coffee at Barnes and Noble. What Rebecca Solnit does is write about some of the great disasters of the last century – the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906, the terrible explosion of weapons that took place in Halifax, Canada during WWI, the bombing of London in WWII, the blackout in New York along the east coast, Hurricane Katrina. She surveyed these different disasters and what she discovered is contrary to movie portrayals of disaster where people are reduced to their basest instincts, a Lord of the Flies, every man for himself, contrary to media portrayal in

© Rich Nathan 2009

4

which we’re told that folks are going to be looting and rioting, contrary to government programs which assume that in disasters people are going to be utterly self-consumed and completely self-interested, what Rebecca Solnit discovered was that in disaster people practice community and acts of altruism and love to a much greater degree than they ordinarily do. When the power goes out, people in neighborhoods come together and share their resources. Men and women take it upon themselves to stand out in the street to direct traffic. A convoy of boats went to New Orleans with no central organization, just on their own initiative. Hundreds and hundreds of people took their boats to New Orleans and rescued people from housetops. The amazingly good news that comes out of disaster and tragedy and often out of impending death is that we finally see in action what Jesus lived and taught, and what the apostles lived and taught, that love really is in first place. In disasters and tragedy and death we finally get it – love is first. Jesus invites us into a great participation of love. The great participation in love John 15:9-10 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. Not only is love in first place, but Jesus says for his followers that we never leave love behind. Love is not in first place in the sense that we first have to go to the kindergarten of love and then graduate and move on to more substantial subjects in higher grades. Love is not in first place as a starting block for sprinters that we leave behind in our race for the tape. Jesus says: I want you to remain in love. You never get beyond this. Love is not an airport that you fly out of in order to get to where you’re really going. Love, for the Christian; love for a human being, is like soil that a tree is planted in without which the tree will die. Love is like water for a fish. Love is like air for our lungs. Love is the rooting, love is the environment, love is the atmosphere, and love is our eternal destiny. What is heaven other than to be embraced by the love of God forever. Jesus says: For me love is in first place. And for you, you need to remain…the word in the King James version was: You need to abide in my love. A wonderful old preacher and Bible scholar from the 19th century, J.C. Ryle, makes this comment about the phrase “abide in me” or “remain in me.”

© Rich Nathan 2009

5

Abide in Me. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live lives of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer and nearer to me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go of your hold on Me for a moment. Be as it were rooted and planted in Me. Do this, and I will never fail you. I will forever abide in you. Stay rooted in Jesus’ love for you. Cling to Jesus’ love for you. Live out of the center of Jesus’ love for you. Never let go of Jesus’ love for you, even for a moment. Plant yourself in the love of Jesus. Stay in his love, remain in his love. How do you do it? Some people throughout Christian history have said: Well, essentially, you need to have a mystical experience, withdraw to a monastery and spend years in divine contemplation and then you will have a mystical experience of God’s love. Other people say: Well, really, if you want to experience the love of Jesus, you need to go through inner healing. You need all the hurts in your background prayed through and healed; all the things your dad did to you, all the things your mom did to you, you have to go through inner healing for all of your hurts and all of your trauma if you want to experience the love of Jesus Christ. For some churches the emphasis is right doctrine. So long as your doctrine is true and clear, then you must be remaining in the love of Christ. Again, let me quote from J.C. Ryle: He that supposes his right in the sight of God, because his doctrinal views are correct, while he is unloving in his temper, and sharp, cross, snappish, and ill-natured in the use of his tongue, exhibits wretched ignorance of the first principles of Christ’s Gospel. The crossness, spitefulness, jealousy, maliciousness, and general disagreeableness of many high professors of “sound doctrine” are a positive scandal to Christianity. Jesus tells us how to remain in his love. It is not mystical experience. It is not inner healing. It is not right doctrine. All of those things have their place. But Jesus makes it all so simple for us in verse 10. John 15:10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. God’s love for you and me is unconditional. Our obedience doesn’t provoke him to love us and our disobedience doesn’t provoke to stop loving us. But if you and I are to live in an experience of God’s love, stay rooted in God’s love, live out of a center in the love of God, then there is a condition. And the condition is that you and I obey Jesus’ commands. Anyone who is in conscious disobedience to the

© Rich Nathan 2009

6

commands of Jesus and thinks that they are experiencing the love of God is just kidding themselves. We can’t live a hellish existence and experience the love of heaven. It is impossible. So, if you are conscious of something that Jesus is telling you to do, and you refuse to do it; or you are conscious of something that Jesus is telling you not to do, and you keep on doing it, you are not going to experience in any ongoing way, in any continual way, in any remaining, abiding way the love of Jesus for you. Why do we want to stay in the love of Jesus? Why do you want to stay rooted in his love, never get beyond his love, never leave his love, drink his love, eat his love, swim in his love? Why do you want the love of Jesus to be the atmosphere for your soul? John 15:11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. Jesus is talking here about the great power of love. The great power of love Love is life transforming. Every single human being wants to be happy. We want to be satisfied; we want to be fulfilled. Whether we know it or not, we want to feel something of the joy of heaven right now. How do you become happy? How do you taste a little bit of heaven right now in your soul? Making more money won’t do it. Shopping online won’t do it. Driving down to Jeffersonville and getting a whole bunch of stuff from the discount outlets won’t do it. There is only one power in the universe that can make you happy. And that is the power of the love of Jesus. Let me tell you a story from Richard Stearns’ book The Hole in Our Gospel. I mentioned before that Richard Stearns is the president of World Vision, the great Christian relief organization. Stearns talks about going to Gulu, Northern Uganda. He said: I don’t think I have ever been to a place as spiritually dark as Gulu. Gulu is the epicenter of more than twenty years of violent atrocities committed by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony, a monster who has declared himself to be the son of God. If Satan is alive

© Rich Nathan 2009

7

and manifesting himself in our world, he is surely present in this cultish and brutal group whose trademark is the kidnapping of children who are subsequently forced at gunpoint to commit murder, rape, and even acts of cannibalism. During his reign of terror, it is believed that Kony has kidnapped more than 38,000 children, killing some and forcing the rest to become killers themselves by conscripting them into the LRA as child soldiers. As part of their brutal indoctrination, the children are often forced to hack their own brothers or sisters to death with a machete – because bullets are too precious to waste – and then to drink the blood of those they have killed. It goes on like that. World Vision started a Children of War Center to rehabilitate and restore the children who are rescued or who manage to escape from the LRA. These children, who have been forced to kill, or who have been gang-raped, have unimaginable spiritual and psychological and emotional wounds. He talks about two children that he saw come to their Center that rehabilitates and brings healing to these Children of War. Their names were Michael and Joseph. Their eyes were hollow and vacant; eyes that had seen unspeakable things. Their souls seemed dead. As they came into the camp, Richard Stearns writes: The forty other “Children of War” – damaged souls all – surrounded Michael and Joseph and began singing and clapping joyfully. These songs of praise to God, anthems of healing and forgiveness, were more beautiful than any choir of angels. Michael and Joseph were dumbstruck at this welcome, so different from what they had expected. They began to see faces they knew, other kids who had escaped – who had, like them, also known the brutal hand of the Lords Resistance Army and had murdered at their command. Some spark of life began to return to their hollow eyes. Hesitant smiles slowly turned up the corners of their mouths, as high-fives and hugs were offered by this one and that one. A spontaneous worship service erupted as the songs of God’s healing forgiveness and power were sung over and over again. Welcome home, welcome home, Michael and Joseph. You are home now. The good news – the glorious, life-transforming gospel – washed over Michael and Joseph, and in that moment the unthinkable possibility of forgiveness broke over them like a new dawn. They could be forgiven, restored, made whole. This was almost impossible to believe, the “glad tidings” so overwhelmingly good. Michael and Joseph. Children who had been unimaginably broken, children who everyone else would give up on, saying that there is no hope for these kids,

© Rich Nathan 2009

8

they’re too damaged and too traumatized; Michael and Joseph were transformed by the power of Jesus’ love. Have you ever been healed by love? Can you look back in your own life and say: I’ve been changed by love? I’m sure you can point to specific times when love healed your heart. I’ve told you this story before, but I grew up in a very unhappy home. My parents constantly fought. There were continual accusations of infidelity. There was a great deal of family violence. Police were called to my home a number of times because of domestic violence. We lost our home in foreclosure. We lost numerous cars. The heat was often turned off. The lights were turned off. The phone was turned off repeatedly. I had one thing going for me. I was good in school. In 3rd grade I had a teacher that I adored. Back in those days, if the teacher got pregnant, even in marriage, they immediately had to leave. They didn’t want kids around pregnant teachers because I guess it was thought that kids might catch it. I remember the day that my 3rd grade teacher was going to be leaving. There was a little party thrown for her. I sat at my desk and I was really sad. I almost began to cry. She was up front. She looked at me and called me forward in front of the whole class. She picked me up and sat me on her lap and whispered in my ear: “Richard, if I ever have a little boy, I want him to grow up to be just like you.” The power of love. Do you think that was healing for a child growing up in my family? The power of the love of Jesus. When I came into a personal relationship with Jesus at age 18, two things happened. First, I was happier than I had ever been in my life; and second, every night for about a month, for just about 30 days straight, I went back to my room at night and sobbed hysterically. Marlene thought that I might be losing my mind. Actually, what was going on was sovereign inner-healing. I encountered the love of Jesus. I met a love that I never found in my whole life. And all the hurt and pain of all the years came to the surface. And Jesus lovingly washed a lot of that junk away. Why keep yourself in the love of Jesus? Because Jesus’ love has the great power to change your life for the better. Jesus in this text lays out the great pattern of love. The great pattern of love John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. How much does Jesus love you? How much does Jesus love me? Look at the standard Jesus says in John 15:9:

© Rich Nathan 2009

9

John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. How much does the Father love Jesus the Son of God? The Father spoke his love for his son at Jesus’ baptism. Matthew 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” He reaffirms his love for the son at Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew 17:5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The Father’s love for the Son goes back into eternity past. John 17:24 Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. And it extends into eternity future. The Father’s love for the Son is beyond anything that you and I can fathom. It is with that great love that Jesus says, “I love you!” The apostle Paul prayed for the church; we could pray for ourselves and the church; Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:17-19: Ephesians 3:17-19 …And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. The infinite dimensions of the love of Jesus. He prays that we would grasp how wide is the love of Christ. It is wide enough to embrace every single person who ever lived. His love is absolutely inclusive – Asian, African, Latino, Caucasian, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sikhs, Hindu, Buddhists, atheists, gays, straights, liberal, conservative, wealthy, middle class, poor, Ph.D., high school dropout – it doesn’t

© Rich Nathan 2009

10

matter who you are; it doesn’t matter what you have; it doesn’t matter what you know. Jesus loves you. You ask how long is the love of Jesus? You can’t outlive the love of Christ. It stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It is like the love of God for Jesus Christ. How high is the love of Christ? His love is so high consider the heights to which the love of Jesus will elevate you – if you surrender your life to him, to be joined to Christ, seated at the right hand of God, giving us titles like “Bride of Christ,” “Son of God,” “Daughter of God.” Our names are written in the Book of Life. How wide, how long, how high, how deep? His love reaching to the very depths, as Corrie ten Boom said: There is no hole so deep that God’s love is not deeper still. It doesn’t matter how we’ve blown ourselves up. God’s love can reach into the deepest, darkest, most despairing place. We see the great pattern of love first demonstrated by the Father’s love for the Son and second: Jesus’ love for us John 15:12-13 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The great demonstration of God’s love is the self-sacrificial death of Jesus for us as sinners. 1 John 4:10-11 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Love is not just words. It is one person choosing to put the needs of another person ahead of their own needs. It is one person choosing to put the preferences of another person in front of their own preferences. It is one person choosing to sacrifice their own dreams, their own goals, their own ambitions – their convenience, their money, their sleep to promote the dreams and goals and ambitions of another person. And supremely, one person laying down their life for another person.

© Rich Nathan 2009

11

A century ago, the New York Times printed a story about a priest and a boy, who drowned after rescuing many people. It took place in 1906 at a college in Chicago named St. Bede College, a Catholic college for boys. The boys went skating one day with a young, handsome, priest. More than twenty of the boys grouped and the photographer was waiting for them to become settled for a picture, when the ice opened under their feet. In an instant the boys were struggling in ten feet of water. The ice was thinner than they had thought, and broke into fragments as the struggling boys grasped it. Father Simon was a short distance away when the ice broke. As quickly as he could he reached the hole, throwing off cassock and coat as he ran. Then, ordering the other boys to keep away from the cracked ice, he plunged into the river. One by one he carried five of the boys to the edge of the ice and held them there until the others pulled them to safety. In all there were twenty boys in the water. Reuter, who was a senior, was one of them, but he could swim. It would have been an easy matter for him to have dragged himself on to the strong ice, but the priest called him to help those who could not swim. Reuter obeyed. Two of the boys who were saved owe their lives to him. When young Reuter had rescued the second boy his strength was exhausted, but he tried to swim out again for another, one of the two who were drowned. The effort was too great, however, and Reuter, together with the boys he would have saved, sank. Meanwhile the priest was in the water dragging the boys to the edge of the ice and calling instructions to those who were pulling them to safety. When he had rescued all but one of the boys then above water Father Simon clung for a moment to the ice. His strength was gone, and his pupils begged him to save himself. But the priest struck out again. At the last he failed. Numbed and exhausted, he was forced to give up, and with a last glance toward the boy for whom he gave up his life he sank. By this time other priests had arrived, and while Father Simon and the boy disappeared, the other priests with crosses raised high in the air, read the services for the dying. John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This immediately moves us to:

© Rich Nathan 2009

12

The great privilege of love John 15:14-15 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. The Bible uses a lot of words to describe the intimate love of Jesus for us. We are called God’s children, God’s sons and daughters; the church is called the Bride of Christ. We are called the apple of God’s eye, the chosen people, the family of God, wife of the Lamb. In John 15, Jesus simply calls us friends. Jesus is giving us a wonderful definition of friendship here in John 15. Jesus becoming a friend with someone is not just a matter of doing stuff with them. • • • • • •

“Well, I play golf with this person, so I guess he is my friend.” “She is a co-worker, so I guess she is a friend of mine.” “We have the same interests…” “We both love to go antiquing…” “We both love shopping at Pottery Barn…” “We both love the same band…”

Jesus gives us a much deeper and richer, a more intimate understanding of friendship than just a person with whom I share similar interests – a person who just circumstantially happens to be in my work or school environment. Jesus says a friend is someone that you trust with your secrets. Let me say that again. Jesus’ definition of a friend is someone whom you trust with your secrets. There was a Swiss psychiatrist, who was a Christian, named Paul Tournier. Tournier wrote a number of wonderful books. Among them was a book he simply titled Secrets. And he said that a child becomes an individual separate from his or her parents when the child recognizes that they have the power to have a secret. You see little children grinning and coming in and saying, “I know something you don’t know. I’m separate from you, mom and dad. We are not just joined at the hip or just part of this big mass of protoplasm. One of the things that give me my separate identity, mom and dad, is I know something you don’t know. I have secrets.” When teenagers begins to forge their own identities, separate from their parents, one of the things that parents begin to notice is that the teenager becomes very secretive. Not all of this is bad. Teenagers become very defensive about their

© Rich Nathan 2009

13

privacy. What they are beginning to discover is that secrets and privacy are part and parcel of becoming an individual. Well, here’s what Jesus is saying about friendship. Friendship is the compliment that one human being pays to another in saying that “I am going to give you this gift. I’m going to let you in on my private thoughts, something that you couldn’t see or know. But as an act of love to you, as an act of respect to you, I am going to share with you this secret.” Friends are people with whom we share our secrets, our confidences. Jesus, in John 15, is saying the most amazing thing. He is saying, “I desire with my followers the intimacy of friendship, and so I am going to prove my friendship to you by sharing with you, and you only, secret things I have heard from God the Father.” You see, the world is clueless regarding so many things about God. The world doesn’t know very much about God’s love. But Jesus shares the secret of God’s love with you who are his friends. The world doesn’t know very much about the way to be healed or restored. But Jesus shares with you, his friends, the way of healing, the way of restoration, the way of salvation. The world doesn’t understand the cross. But Jesus shares with you the meaning of the cross. The world doesn’t know what’s going to happen when we die or a loved one dies, but Jesus shares with you, his friends, that when you or a loved one dies you are going to be embraced by the love of God. The world doesn’t know the future of the planet. But Jesus talks about the New Heaven and the New Earth. The world lacks a sense of purpose. What’s it all about? Is there anything worth living for? But Jesus shares with you, his friends, the ultimate source of meaning and purpose in life – we get to partner together with Christ in transforming the world which leads to my last point. The great productivity of love John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. In verse 16 Jesus tells us that we are to go and bear fruit. The Bible interpreters debate the meaning of “fruit.” Are we talking about the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of character transformation – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…; certainly, it does include that. It includes all kinds of fruit. But I think in this context, he is talking about the fruit of new converts. We’ve been blessed by receiving the love of Jesus and God wants us to give the love of Jesus away so that other people may know it too. There is something remarkably powerful about seeing Christians love each other. Many of us have

© Rich Nathan 2009

14

struggled at some point in our life to believe that God exists and that if he exists, he is actually interested in our personal lives. How do we help people who struggle to believe in the existence of God, or in the personal involvement of God? How do we help people to lay hold of God’s concern? 1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. I didn’t know this verse; I didn’t know the Bible. But when I was an 18 year old Jewish atheist attending Case Western Reserve up in Cleveland, I met a woman named Marlene. We became friends and I watched Marlene and her other Christian friends love each other. It was so remarkable the way these 18-year olds related to each other – the care, the concern. I had never seen it. When they met each other in the lunch room, they would hug. I had never been around that kind of encouragement, that sort of kindness. Love is productive. When people in the world see the love of Christians for each other, their love makes the invisible God visible. The early church father, Tertullian, claimed: It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. “Only look,” they say, “Look how they love one another!” Let me close with this. Francis Schaeffer, who had massive impact on my generation of Christians who came to know Jesus in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, wrote a wonderful essay that you can find online. It was titled The Mark of the Christian. Schaeffer says this: Through the centuries men have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. They have worn marks in the lapels of their coats, hung chains about their necks, and even had special haircuts. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this, if one feels it is his calling. But there is a much better sign – a mark that is often thought of just as a matter of expediency for use on some special occasion, or in some special era. It is the universal mark that is to last through all the ages of the church till Jesus comes back. What is this mark? Schaeffer said that the mark of the Christian, the thing that sets the Christian out as different than the rest of the world, the mark of the Christian is love. Here’s what Schaeffer said:

© Rich Nathan 2009

15

The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture. How, then, is the dying culture going to consider us? Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians. That’s pretty frightening. Jesus turns to the world and says, “I have something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right: you may judge whether an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians.” In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians, because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them. We must be very careful at this point. I may be a true Christian. But if I fail in my love toward Christians, while it does not prove that I am not a Christian, what Jesus is saying, however, is that, if I do not have the love I should have toward all other Christians, the world has a right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian. Greater love! If we claim to believe the world-transforming message of Jesus, we’re going to love. And in the church we’re going to love each other. Let’s pray.

© Rich Nathan 2009

16