Forget bunnies and chocolate and jelly beans and brunch. A prayer by the Apostle Paul sets the table for our Easter celebration:
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. - Ephesians 3:17-19
Through God's Word, our deepest desire is that He would help us understand the depth of Christ's love for us. That is a tall order. But with God, all things are possible.
Here are four keys to understanding the depth of the love of Jesus Christ
1. The Costliness Of His Love.
Ephesians 5:2 says, "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." His love was strong enough that he was willing to give up his life for us. Not just some conveniences, but his life. And not in a quick way. But in the most horrible suffering imaginable…death on the cross.
2. How Little We Deserved This Costly Sacrifice.
Here's how Paul describes the harsh reality of our broken nature:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:7-8
Paul prefaces this with "at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." Don't skim over that crucial word - ungodly. That is us. That is our condition. Romans 1:18 cuts to the heart of our condition:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Listen. I would die for my wife. I would die for my sons. I would die for my granddaughters. But I'm telling you right now, I would not die for you. I'm sorry, but I wouldn't. And I know you wouldn't die for me. And you better not try to one-up me and tell me you would.
I am a sinner. My wife is a sinner. My sons are sinners. My granddaughters are sinners. I would die for them. I could not live with myself if I couldn't.
So, in the light of our ungodliness, Jesus' love for us is deeper than any ordinary human love. We were ungodly…we were sinners…and we were enemies of God. And Jesus Christ loved us and gave himself for us.
3. We See The Depth Of Christ's Love For Us In The Lavish Benefits He Gives To Us.
As we see in 1 John 3:1, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us,
that we should be called children of God; and so we are."
Here's what that means. There is a progression here - trajectory is the word I like to use - God loved us so much He would not settle to merely forgive us. There's a huge difference between saying, "I forgive you," and doing what 1 John 3:1 celebrates. In Christ, God penetrates to the core of our sinful nature and, by His Spirit, causes us to be born again as His own children. Can you imagine? Instead of simply saying, "I forgive you," God gives us something of His own character so that we have a family likeness to His Son. So if we have a family likeness to Jesus, what does that mean? It means we share in his inheritance. As heirs, we get what Jesus has.
Here's a description of the lavish benefits God gives us:
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or
Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future
- all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. - 1 Corinthians 3:21-23
The depth of the love of Christ is seen in the lavish display of his generosity toward us.
The fourth key for understanding the depth of Jesus' love for us is:
4. Jesus Is Not Forced to Love Us, It Is His Joy.
On this beautiful Easter morning, we have seen the depth of Christ's love for us in the pain it costs, and in how little we deserve it, and how lavish are the gifts given to us, and now we see it in how free the love is. In other words, when somebody does something good or kind or nice to you, why they are doing it is just as important as what they are doing.
Do you remember when you were a kid and you were told to apologize to someone? Usually it was a sibling, and you did not want to apologize. You were as stubborn as an ungodly kid could be. But a threat was hanging over your head. So you apologized. From the heart, right?
Here's what this means. When somebody does something good for you, do you feel more loved if they are doing in begrudgingly or gladly? You always feel more loved when it's done from the heart. Anything done under compulsion is far, far, far below loving. The result is that my joy in loving you is an important part of what makes it loving. We take great pleasure when we do something out of love for others. It brings us joy. When my wife makes her delicious chocolate chip cookies, she finds great joy in the fact that they disappear so quickly. It is not a bad thing or a wrong thing to pursue and find your joy in the good you do for others.
The logic is so pure and simple. The more willing and glad and free your love is for others…especially if it's costly…the more amazing it is. And so it was with Jesus. We see the depth of his love for us in the freedom of it; the willingness of it; the eagerness of it; the gladness of it. Jesus was not forced to go to the cross. He willingly suffered on the cross, to the point of feeling forsaken by God.
Jesus Christ loved us with all his heart. There was not some cosmic force pressing Jesus to do something he didn't want to do. And here's the joyful connection with Easter. The same freedom with which Jesus loved us on the cross is the same freedom with which he rose from the dead. John 10:17-18 helps us see that:
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
These are essential truths.
First, the Father loves the Son for loving us. The Father delights in the Son because of his willingness to lay down his life for his people and defeat death on their behalf. There is greatness and beauty and perfection in what the Son did as he willingly went to the cross. And so Jesus rightfully says, "The Father loves me because I lay down my life."
Second, Jesus Christ freely loves us. As he said, I do all this on my own authority. We need to let this sink in. No one takes this from him. That's astounding. Judas didn't take his life. The high priest didn't take his life. The mob didn't take his life. Herod didn't take his life. The crowds who cried, "Crucify him" didn't take his life. Pilate didn't take his life. The soldiers who nailed him to the cross didn't take his life.
What Jesus is saying is he was not forced to go to the cross. He choose the cross. He embraced the cross. The Father and the Son orchestrated the cross, because they love us. The love of Christ is freely given.
Third, Jesus stresses the freedom of his love so we could see the joy in it. How deep would his love be if he didn't die for us willingly? What do we say when it appears someone's heart isn't into something? "You're only doing it because you have to." Jesus dies for us because he loves us. In fact, he rejoiced in doing his redeeming work for us. He was sustained through the pain of the cross by the joy of loving us in such a sacrificial way. Jesus knew that in his death he was bringing together a happy, holy, praising people. I want you to savor that truth. Jesus knew that what he was doing then is why we are worshiping here today.
So, what does all this have to do with Easter? Verse 18 makes the connection:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
What is Jesus saying? He is saying he has authority from inside death, as a dead man, to take life back again. Do you hear it? What is harder to do? To control when you die? Or to give yourself life again once you are dead?
Here's the beautifully simple answer. Of course it's harder for Jesus to take his life back again from the dead. He controlled when he went into the grave, and he controlled when he came out of the grave. Jesus was truly free to lay down his life and take it up again.
So here's the point. The resurrection of Jesus is given to us as the confirmation that he was free in laying down his life. And so the resurrection is Christ's testimony to the freedom of his love.
Here's what Easter means:
I MEANT IT!
Jesus meant what he said. He knew what he was talking about. He freely lays down his life and he freely takes it up again. The resurrection is the exclamation point on the power and authority of Jesus Christ. It is the shout of joy over his love for us. Jesus chose to die for us. Jesus chose to live again. See how much he loves us.
In the end, Easter shows how much Jesus loves us. Nobody forced him to love us. Nobody forced him to die for us. It was all his choice…his joyous choice. And now he is alive to spend eternity loving us forever and ever. Come to Jesus, all you sinners who need a Savior.
Jesus Christ forgives us and accepts us and loves us with all his heart, forevermore. Amen.