16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
This Monday, a surprise came to our home. Elizabeth went out onto the patio to check on her flowers, and a little gray cat ran through the open door. We quickly realized that our new-found feline friend was hungry—so we shredded some leftover turkey slices and watched as the cat eat with the appetite of a horse.
His insatiable appetite for food was matched only by his appetite for attention and affection. As he kept returning, we soon realized he had nowhere else to go. He was starving, sick, and lonely.
The next question was: what to do? All the shelters we called were full. We saw no “lost cat” posters in the neighborhood, and by the looks of the animal, it hadn’t eaten much in a very long time.
The cat stole our heart—and didn’t even flinch about driving him all the way to the Animal Rescue League in Pittsburgh. We just couldn’t help ourselves.
But I soon found myself wondering, would I go to all this trouble for a human?
With people, you have to worry about whether that person is truly in need—or if they’re preying on your good intentions. Love is always the right thing to do—but it’s never easy; never without risk; and never without great cost.
We see Jesus’ love illuminated beautifully in our stained glass window. Jesus is our good shepherd. Picture yourself as one of those little sheep, being held in his arms of love. But the window only begins to tell the whole story.
The life of a shepherd was anything but easy. Shepherds weren’t slaves (in the strictest sense of the word), but you were, in essence, a slave to the sheep and the man who owned them. You basically lived as a sheep: you ate like sheep; you drank like sheep; you slept [outdoors] like sheep—and you probably even looked and smelled like sheep. Life was all about sheep—and nothing else.
This is what makes Jesus the good shepherd: he knows his sheep because he lived in human flesh. He lays down his life to save his sheep from evil and death. He seeks out the lost sheep that belong to him nonetheless.
This is Jesus’ love for us and for the world. It’s not just feelings; it’s not just affection; it’s not even just friendship. In love, Jesus lays down his life for us.
The writer of 1 John teaches us that we know love like this: through Jesus and his self-giving love, and by laying down our lives for one another just the same. We’re literally putting ourselves down and picking up someone else, like Jesus does with the sheep. As beautiful as that love is, it is one of the hardest things we will ever do.
Most of the time, love is not convenient or comfortable. Love often means becoming burdened by someone else’s problems. Secondly, can you always know what’s best for someone else when they’re in need? Thirdly, it’s entirely possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons: because we’d feel guilty for doing nothing. We want to look good and feel good. We want to be loved. Finally, love is risky. The love you give may not be deserved. Scoundrels love to prey on people’s good intentions. Love does not always lead to the desired outcome.
So why do we bother with love at all, especially in these times we’re living in, when we’re already so burdened with problems and responsibilities of our own? Wouldn’t the world a better place if we all tried to be nice, do no harm, and mind our own business?
That’s the easy way—but that’s not God’s way. If that’s how Jesus lived, none of us would be saved.
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Before we loved Christ, he loved us and laid himself down to take us up, with him, into eternal life.
This love is being poured out, right here today. It’s rushing over each of us like a flood. The very power of God that destroys sin and death is making us a new creation, so that Christ may come alive within us. We are commanded to love not in order to be loved, but to know firsthand the love that brings life to the world.
When you lay down your life in love and pour yourself out, the life of Jesus Christ comes rushing in. Everything changes in that moment. God’s faithfulness frees you to serve others. That means: everything that’s truly important, from eternity’s perspective, God’s taking care of it all. Scarcity of time and resources melts away into an abundance of gifts to be shared. Passions and priorities lose their luster as relationships become treasures, as God’s love is given and received. The hungry are fed; the rejected are accepted; the suffering see God. As people like you and I lay down our lives, God turns the tide against evil and death. Broken lives are healed. Communities are reconciled. Faith and hope flourish. The Kingdom of God comes near. We become one people, one flock.
Love is one of the greatest leaps of faith we’ll ever take, because of the risks and because of the costs. But regardless of the outcome, love leads to Jesus. Lay your life down; lose it all—and God brings resurrection. Your time, your selves, your possessions, the outcome of it all—in his hands. Resurrection begins in Jesus—but it continues, in you, in me, in this church—for the sake of all the world.