March 30, 2014

Redefining Greatness - Mar 30, 2014

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


I’d like to begin our sermon time today with a little exercise. I’m going to read off a few names, one by one, and I’d like you to just raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of these people. Okay? Don’t worry, I won’t call on you to tell us anything about them, just raise your hand if you know who they are.

William James Sidis
Terence Tao
Christopher Hirata
Kim Ung-Yong
Garry Kasparov
Marilyn Von Savant
Leonardo da Vinci
Judith Polgar
Albert Einstein
Stephen Hawking

According to one listing, these are ten most intelligent people who have ever lived. Well, at least they had the highest IQ’s ever estimated or recorded. William James Sidis tops the list with an IQ between 250-300. Since the average IQ score falls around 100, that’s pretty amazing. And yet, most of us would say, William James Sidis? Who’s that?

IQ tests attempt to measure a person’s ability to think and reason. And yet, registering a high IQ score doesn’t mean you’re great. It just means you have potential.

Greatness isn’t just having a huge IQ, or superhuman strength, or extensive power and influence. In our sermon reading for today, Jesus teaches that true greatness is found in using what power you have to serve others.

Matthew 20:17-28 (NASB)

  17   As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them,
  18   “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death,
  19   and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”

  20   Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.
  21   And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.”
  22   But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.”
  23   He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
  24   And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.
  25   But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
  26   “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
  27   and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
  28   just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The disciples of Christ were an awkward group of men from many different walks of life. There were blue-collar fishermen, a tax-collector, a former political radical.

As could be expected, these men didn’t always get along. We’re told that on a number of occasions they argued over which of them was the greatest. Fueled by little sinful egos, they were constantly looking sideways at each other, judging and ranking each other according to their own way of seeing things. Judging their own greatness by holding themselves up to the rest.

But if we are to see what true greatness is, we must first look to our Savior. For in Christ Jesus we see what true greatness is.
We can easily see greatness in Jesus. He was, after all, the eternal Son of God, made man. He was absolutely sinless. He could perform astounding miracles with ease. Christ had immense power, but his greatness is revealed in how he used that power.

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he had been staying away from Jerusalem because the Pharisees were out for his blood. But now, Jesus purposefully turned to go to Jerusalem one final time.

As the disciples traveled with him, they were afraid. They knew that they were walking right into the lion’s mouth. The powerful religious leaders of Jerusalem weren’t about to welcome Jesus, or his followers.

On the way, Jesus took his fearful disciples aside and told them once more what was going to happen in Jerusalem. He would be given over into the hands of his enemies. They would condemn him to death. They would hand him over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion. But on the third day, Jesus would be raised from the dead.

Ever since Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus had begun to tell them what was going to happen. He foretold his cross, and his resurrection. And in the final words of our text he states exactly WHY he would willingly go to the cross, and the tomb.

“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NASB).

Greatness is not found in power alone, but in what you do with that power. And this is why Jesus stands as the greatest man who ever lived. He possessed all glory as the eternal Son of God. He possessed all holiness as the sinless God-Man. He possessed all wisdom and power. But instead of serving himself, he used these things to serve sinners. He took our sins on his conscience. He accepted mockery, scourging, and even crucifixion. He suffered the hell our sins had earned, and gave us the gift of eternal forgiveness.

This is true greatness. This is our Savior.

Now, there are plenty of people today who realize that greatness can be found in service. We are encouraged to volunteer, to give to homeless shelters, to fill food banks, to give to charitable organizations, to build homes for the homeless, etc. These are noble pursuits. But Christ’s service exceeds anything charitable service we might provide. For Christ’s service to others doesn’t just get them a place to spend the night, or a meal to fill their stomach. Christ’s service erases the record of their sins, and opens the gate to eternal paradise at God’s side. His “charitable giving” was given for all sinners, and by faith in Christ we receive benefits that extend beyond into eternity.

This is true greatness. This is the Savior of the world.
Though the disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah, they didn’t fully understand what that meant. When they were drawn to Jesus, they saw his greatness, but they couldn’t grasp the fact that in Christ’s life, service would come before glory. Before Christ could appear in glory with all the angels of heaven, he would first have to walk the road of service and self-sacrifice.

And they also didn’t understand that in their lives, service would also come before glory.

Did you notice that Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man” in our sermon reading? That was one of Jesus’ favorite titles for himself. When he calls himself the “Son of Man” Jesus isn’t just calling himself human. He’s referring to a vision from the Old Testament.

About 530 years before Jesus Christ was born, God gave a vision to the prophet Daniel. Daniel wrote…

13 “I saw in the night visions,
       and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
       and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14     And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
       that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
       his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
       and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV).

By calling himself the “Son of Man”, Jesus was saying, “That was ME in Daniel’s vision. I am the King of the eternal Kingdom. I am the Messiah.”

The disciples gladly latched onto this idea! Jesus is the Messiah! Great glory and dominion is coming his way! All people will serve him!

And they wanted in on this greatness.
We’ve already mentioned that the disciples of Jesus weren’t exactly humble men. We know how they argued about greatness. We know how forward Peter was. And James and John were pretty bold also. In our reading they come right up to Jesus, using their mother as a go-between, and they ask Jesus to give them the top two positions of honor and glory in the kingdom to come.

You see, they didn’t understand. When they saw Jesus going into the lion’s den at Jerusalem, they apparently figured that now was the time. Jesus was now going to boldly reveal his glory and seize his glorious and earthly kingdom. What better place than Jerusalem?! Now was the time for them to cement their claim to glory at his side.

Jesus tells them, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 NASB). They didn’t understand that before Christ’s glory would come horrendous suffering. Christ’s day of glory was approaching, but that was FAR off. Now was not the time of celebration. Now was the time of SERVICE.

Fast forward with me for a second here. After Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he appeared to two disciples traveling the road to Emmaus. Jesus made it so they couldn’t tell who he was. And then he asked them what they had been talking about there on the road. They were all confused about what had just happened to Jesus. They said, “Oh, we thought that this man named Jesus was going to be the the Messiah. But then he got seized by he Romans and crucified.” They were confused, disappointed, and sad. In response Jesus told them…

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26 NIV)

Just like James and John, those disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t understand that Christ’s SERVICE had to precede his GLORY.

Before James and John would stand in glory, they too would pass through a life of SERVICE. Their sins would be erased by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but still, their SERVICE would precede their GLORY.

James would be beheaded for his faith in Christ in the year 44 AD. John would live longer, but would also suffer persecution for his faith before being received into glory.

It’s pretty human to look for a short-cut, isn’t it? We want a pill to take away that extra weight, instead of change in our lifestyle. We want a lottery ticket to erase the debt, instead of hard work and careful spending. James and John were the same. Let’s just ASK for glory at the right time, before anyone of the other disciples think to! But before glory, and before greatness, comes diligent service to our Savior.
My college roommate once told me a story about a couple of his friends who lived in Mankato, MN. They noticed a good deal on some office space and decided to rent it for a time. They didn’t have a business to run, they just thought it would be cool to have a place of their own where they could hang out. So, they rented the space, and printed up some business cards. The business cards read, “Mad Skills, Incorporated. Serving Ourselves Since 1998.”

If Jesus’ disciples lived in Mankato, they probably would have hung out there too. They were, after all, pretty interested in serving themselves.

And when the rest of the disciples heard about what James and John had done, they were upset. How dare they try to get the jump on us! And the group that already made a habit of arguing over who was the greatest, was ready to squabble some more.

But Jesus took this opportunity to teach them another way. If they were to be his representatives, the disciples would have redefine their idea of greatness. Look at verse 24 again.

24   And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.
  25   But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
  26   “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
  27   and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
  28   just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:24-28 NASB). 
Lets get one thing straight, the way the sinful world looks at things, is not the way God looks at things.

Historians look at people who amassed great riches, or carved out huge empires as being truly great. But Jesus redefines greatness for his followers. Greatness is not just having power, riches, or influence. Greatness is not just being able to tell people what to do, and have them do it. Greatness, in the kingdom of Christ, is using whatever we have, to serve others. And not just to provide for their physical needs. Greatness is using who we, and what we have, to introduce people to Jesus, our only Savior from sin, and theirs too. Greatness is using our time, our words, our patience, our effort—to build up the faith of our fellow Christians.

I mean, think about it. The only things in this room that have lasting value, are the people. Everything else will perish in flames at the final judgment. But those who are united to Christ, and to the salvation of his cross—they’ll live in glory for all eternity.

This is why God’s Son didn’t come to create an awesome earthly kingdom for his disciples to rule over. This is why God’s Son didn’t come to make us millionaires. He didn’t come to eradicate cancer. He didn’t come to fix the economy, or show us how to be really nice people. He came to save us from hell.
None of us is going to make the list of top ten most intelligent people who ever lived. We probably won’t be recorded in the history books as great men and women. But because of Jesus, we’ve been placed on a better list—the list of the redeemed. The list of those who have a place waiting for them in heaven at God’s side.

God not only redefines our concept of greatness, he redefines US. In Christ, the sinner is declared a saint. In Christ, the humble servant is declared great.

Dear Christians, don’t accept the world’s definition of greatness. Look to Christ to see greatness defined. Serve him with gladness, building up each other’s faith. Let your service to your Savior, be your greatness. Amen.

March 26, 2014

The Cross: A Lesson in Sacrifice - Mar 26, 2014

This sermon is available in audio only. To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.

March 23, 2014

Jesus is God's Light to Us - Mar 23, 2014

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


If you boil down Jesus’ ministry, there are two basic things he came to do. First, He came to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins OF THE WORLD. Second, he came to show individual people that he was THEIR Savior.

To put it in banking terms, first the bank account has to be filled. Then individuals have to be attached to the account so that they can draw from it.

Through Christ’s suffering and death, the account is filled. Forgiveness for every sin is there for the taking, for everyone. In his teaching ministry, Jesus used the  Gospel message to connect individual people to this forgiveness—by faith in him.
In our sermon reading for today, Jesus doesn’t use the analogy of a divine bank account that sinners must be connected to. Instead he uses the idea of darkness and light, blindness and sight.

As sinners, we are born into this world spiritually blind. We are unaware of God’s love for us, and the forgiveness he provides through his Son. Jesus’ greatest desire is to help us acknowledge our spiritual blindness, so he can give us spiritual sight—through faith in him.

We see this desire of Christ in our reading for today.

John 9 (NKJV)

9         Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 Jesus answered,  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 7 And He said to him,  “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.
8 Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?”
9 Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.”
He said, “I am he.
10 Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”
11 He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me,  ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.”
12 Then they said to him, “Where is He?”
He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
16 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.”
Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.
17 They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. 19 And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”
25 He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”
26 Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”
27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”
28 Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.”
30 The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! 31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. 33 If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
34 They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him,  “Do you believe in the Son of God?”
36 He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”
37 And Jesus said to him,  “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”
38 Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.
39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”
40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”
41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.
Jesus often used earthly stories to teach people about spiritual things. Parables. But here Jesus uses an actual miracle to teach about spiritual sight, and how it is obtained.

Human beings have long sensed that there is more to the world than what we can see with our eyes. Through philosophy and science the human race has attempted to discover wisdom and knowledge that goes beyond the surface. But try as we may, philosophy and science can only take us so far. They are tools, but tools which can only do so much to teach us about who we are, where we came from, and what the purpose of life truly is.

By saying, “I am the light of the world,” Jesus claims that he is greater than philosophy and science. He is the light which make ALL THINGS visible, even those things which we cannot see with our eyes. Jesus is the light which reveals the thoughts and purposes of God.
Ironically, to the blind man in this account, everything was quite clear. A man named Jesus had approached him. He had smeared mud on his eyes and had told him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam. Upon doing this, the blind man experienced something he had never known before. Color. Light. People moving around him. The leaves of trees quivering in the breeze. It was astounding.

But greater than physical sight, the blind man also was given the gift of spiritual sight. Everyone around him was puzzled, and confused. How could this be? This man had been blind from birth! How in the world could he now see?! And what did this all mean?

But the blind man wasn’t puzzled. It was obvious to him that this wasn’t the work of some brilliant doctor. This was a gift from God. Who else could have done it? It was unheard of to restore the sight of someone who had been blind from birth! Both then and now this is impossible. But it happened to this man. And so he very logically concluded, “This man is from God.”

When Jesus later approached this man a second time, the man listened CAREFULLY to what Jesus had to say. You’re the Son of God? Well, I believe it! I believe in YOU, Jesus. And he worshipped him.

The man who had been physically and spiritually blind, could now see—both physically and spiritually. He now knew Jesus as his Savior, and was connected to all that Jesus would do for him on the cross.

Mission accomplished. Another sinner connected to grace.
But there is another storyline here that we have to address. And that is the story of the Pharisees. These were men who could see just fine with their eyes, and who also thought they had some pretty clear spiritual sight as well. And that was their problem.

The Pharisees were self-righteous men. They believed that their own personal bank account before God was already full. Their righteous actions made them acceptable to the Almighty. The things they said and did would be enough when they faced God’s judgment in the end.

But they were wrong. In truth, they were spiritually blind. They were unable to see God’s things. Blind to God’s way of saving them.
We can see from this account that the Pharisees had already passed judgment on Jesus. He didn’t obey all the rules and regulations they had placed on the Sabbath day. And when Jesus healed people on the Day of Rest, sent cripples home carrying their mats, or sent blind men to wash their eyes, all the Pharisees could see was a violation of their precious rules. This man wasn’t keeping the Sabbath in their view. So, they reasoned that he must be a sinner with a capital “S”—a man who didn’t listen to God.

In fact, this account informs us that the Pharisees had already decided that if ANYONE ELSE claimed that Jesus was the Christ, that person would be kicked out of the synagogue. The blind man’s parents knew this very well, and so they were careful how they replied when the Pharisees questioned them about their son.
Their blindness to all things spiritual makes the Pharisees look quite foolish in this account. They keep searching for an explanation to Jesus’ miracle. How did he do it? Tell us the secret. Come on, tell us again, we’ll figure it out eventually.

We see this today also. Just turn on the Discovery Channel sometime and watch one of their shows that deals with miracles found in the Bible. They just can’t believe that miracles can happen, that God is active in the world. So, they go to great lengths to find some naturalistic reason for what the Bible says.

A friend of mine once told me about a show that dealt with Moses dividing the Red Sea. The show tried to say that it wasn’t the “Red Sea”, but the “Reed Sea.” Not a deep channel, but a shallow, reed infested section of swampy water. And it wasn’t God who divided the sea so the Israelites could escape the Egyptian army, it was an unusually powerful wind phenomenon which pushed the shallow waters to the side.

That’s the way it is with sinful mankind. We just can’t accept what God says. We have to find some explanation other than simply accepting God’s Word. And this is what God’s own Word tell us to expect from our sinful nature. In First Corinthians 2, it says…

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV).

Only through the Holy Spirit can sinners understand God’s things, including the message of sins forgiven through Christ. In First Corinthians 2, we also find this verse…

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 NKJV).

Only the Holy Spirit can lead us to see that we are born in sin, spiritually blind, and incapable of pleasing God. Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes, through the Gospel of Christ, so we can see that in Jesus all our sins have been washed away.

But the Pharisees thought they knew it all. They thought they had no need of Christ’s teachings, or his salvation. And so they were offended and insulted when the man-born-blind tried to teach them that Jesus was obviously from God, and should be listened to.

Ultimately, the Pharisees ended up excommunicating the man  from the synagogue. But that was alright. He didn’t need their teaching. He had come to know God’s light to the world. He had come to know Jesus his Savior.
Look at the final words of our text once more. Verse 39 and following.

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”
40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”
41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains” (John 9:39-41 NKJV).
Jesus had healed the physical eyes of a blind man, but here he’s not talking about physical sight at all. He came into this world to shine the light of forgiveness on sinners. He came into this world to give spiritual insight to people stumbling around in the darkness of sin and unbelief. But those who insisted they were already learned spiritual teachers, well, they couldn’t receive this light. They felt no need of it, and so they remained in darkness and sin.

Jesus’ wanted those Pharisees to be made blind. That is, he wanted them to realize that they were spiritually blind, and in need of his grace. THEN Jesus could help them. But until they were convinced of their need of salvation, their sin would remain on them.
I imagine that the man-born-blind remembered the day he got excommunicated from the synagogue as the best day of his life. And not just because it was the day that he received his sight for the first time. I imagine this day was his fondest memory because it was on this day that he met his Savior.
This is the same joy we should take away from this account. We too were born blind. Blind to God. Blind to God’s love. Blind to all things truly important. But somewhere along the way we met Jesus. And through him we can now see clearly. We can see our sin. We can see our Savior from sin. We can see the God who created all things, and we see him as a Father who loves us dearly.

As long as Jesus was in the world, he was the light of the world. And now, we are the light of the world. He lives in his followers, and speaks the message of grace and forgiveness through us.

May the Holy Spirit continue to work through the Gospel we hold dear. And may we always enjoy the peace and power of having Christ as our light. The light which illuminates our hearts and minds, and the light which we get to share with those around us.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

March 19, 2014

The Cross: A Lesson in Love - Mar 19, 2014

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


If there is one thing that people need in order to thrive in life, and enjoy life—that thing is love. As children we need to know we are loved by our parents. We need to hear that we are loved, and we need to experience that love in tangible ways. As adults we long for the love of a close friend, or a spouse. Without love, life would be hard to bear.

In the book of First Corinthians, we are given a profound and poetic description of true love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).

As sinful human beings, we find that our ability to love is limited. We may want to love others through what we say, and do, but too often we fail to let true love guide our choices. Too many things to do, too many pressures to bear, and too many people to please—all combine to weight us down. And instead of persisting in love, we stumble in sin. 

While OUR ability to love is limited by our sinful nature, God’s ability to love is boundless and unlimited. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at the foot of the cross. On the cross we find a most profound lesson in love.

John 19:25-27 (NKJV)

25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple,  “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.
This group of people who gathered at the foot of Christ’s cross had all been effected by God’s love, in one way or another.

Jesus’ mother Mary had been chosen by God to bring his divine Son into the human race. Mary heard the angel’s announcement. She conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. She gave birth to the world’s Savior. She raised the Christ-Child, caring for him as only a mother can. Mary knew God’s love for her through the gift of motherhood.

Mary’s sister, whose name was Salome, knew God’s love for her also. She was blessed by God with Mary as her sister. And while sisters can, and do, fight with each other. Their sisterly bond is capable of overcoming the scuffles that go on between siblings. When Mary’s Son was crucified, Salome knew what she had to do. God had given her a sister to love, and so she went with Mary to support her in her time of need.

On the other side of Mary, we find another Mary. The wife of Clopas. It appears that Clopas was Joseph’s brother, making this other Mary the sister-in-law of our Savior’s mother. She too knew God’s love for her. She had been blessed in marriage, and had gained Mary as her sister-in-law. And she too, went with our Savior’s mother to the foot of the cross, to help her in her time of need.  

Among these women at the cross, we find yet another Mary, Mary Magdalene. She knew the God’s love for her. But her connection to Jesus was not through biological, or marriage ties. Mary Magdalene had come to know God’s love for her when Jesus cast seven demons out of her. In response, Mary Magdalene had followed Jesus—both in faith, and physically as well. She followed Jesus of Nazareth during his ministry, and along with others, they cared for the needs of our Savior.

The last character that we find at the cross in this scene, is the writer of this Gospel: the apostle John.

John was one of the closest friends of Jesus. He was a disciple. A follower who trusted that Jesus was the Messiah sent from God. But John was also one of the twelve apostles. And within this circle, he was also one of the three whom Jesus confided in more intimately.

It was Peter, James, and John who found themselves on the mountain, praying with Jesus when he was transfigured before them—showing visibly his glory as the Son of God. It was Peter, James, and John who were permitted to enter that house, and that upper chamber, when Jesus raised the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus from the dead. It was Peter, James, and John who were invited to go a little farther into the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal and arrest.

None of this was because John deserved such honor. Early in life, he and his brother James were somewhat arrogant and boastful men. Their nickname was “the sons of thunder.” And yet, under the teaching influence of Jesus, John had been changed.

When John wrote his account of Jesus’ mission later in life, John took care not even to name himself. In John’s Gospel he’s always referred to as, “another disciple”, or like in our reading for tonight, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Now, at first reading, that title might seem arrogant. As if John were saying that he had somehow earned Jesus’ love more than the others. But the whole Gospel of John shows that wasn’t what he meant. When John searched for something to call himself, something that wouldn’t draw attention to himself, he ended up defining himself as “loved by Jesus.” It was as simple as that. The one thing that John felt defined him, was Christ’s love for him.
It was Christ’s love for John that had moved him to follow after Jesus when he was arrested. Taking great risk, Peter and John trailed the mob which had arrested Jesus, all the way to the high priest’s palace. And when Peter stole away in sorrow after denying that he knew the Lord, John continued on and watched as Pilate pronounced the death sentence on his dear master and friend.

It appears that at this point, John left the scene and hurried into the city to find Jesus’ mother, and the other women that we find gathered at the cross in our reading.

And when the crowd had drawn back, John and these women had moved forward. Five people who had known the love of God, and the love of God’s Son, from experience. People who had seen the power and love that radiated from Jesus in his healings, in his Gospel preaching, and in his unending patience.
And while they didn’t understand it at the time, these five people were witnessing the greatest expression of God’s love for them. In the days and months to come they would learn the full significance of Christ’s crucifixion. They would learn how these events had been foretold from ancient times. That this was the way in which the eternal God would erase the sins of mankind—by letting his Son take the punishment for the sins of the world while he hung on that cross.

And even while Jesus was hanging there, experiencing the horrific agony of crucifixion, his perfect love was still conscious and active. When he saw his own mother standing below, he summoned the strength to speak through his pain. To speak a gentle command to his mother, and to his beloved disciple. He said…

“Woman, behold your son!”

And to John,

“Behold your mother!”

Jesus spoke with great economy of words, for his suffering was heavy. But his intent was clear. A new relationship was created here by our Savior. Mary was to see John as her own son now, and to care for him accordingly. John was to see Mary as his mother, and to care for her likewise.
Mary’s husband, Joseph, was apparently dead by this time. But she did have children who could have cared for her physical needs. But the Scripture says that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him yet. And more than anything Mary would need someone who could support her spiritually in this, oh so painful time.

And John, he would need the same support. At the time, it  appeared that he was losing his greatest friend. John would benefit from comforting Mary, and being comforted by her.

And so, John took action right away. Upon hearing this command of Christ, John led our Savior’s mother away, to his own home. Away from the deep sorrow of seeing her Child crucified.
When we face pressure, great pain, or tragedy in our lives, that’s when we often fail to care for others. That’s when we lash out at the people who love us. People who are just trying to help. That’s when we retreat into ourselves and leave responsibilities unfulfilled. Like I said earlier, as sinners, we know all too well that our ability to love others is, sadly, limited.

But the love of God is unlimited. We see that here, don’t we? Even in the hurricane of agony that Jesus was facing, he still summoned the will to care for his friends. Friends who had sinned against him many times. Even as the punishment for their sins was falling on him, the love of Christ still blazed with intensity.
In this moment, Jesus teaches us how to love. Selflessly. With patience. Seeking to benefit others, not ourselves. Not holding their sins against them, but bearing and enduring all for their benefit.

But in this account the Holy Spirit has given us FAR MORE than an example to follow. In this account the Holy Spirit shows us what a great Savior we have. One who bears our sins against him with patience. One who kindly endures our failures daily. A Savior who looks through all that we are, and loves us to the end.

Satan would have us believe that there is a limit to Christ’s love. That eventually, if we don’t clean up our act and get it right, Jesus will abandon us. But that’s ridiculous. OUR love is limited by our sinfulness. But CHRIST’S love is unlimited—a fact which our Savior's cross teaches quite clearly.
The apostle John learned that lesson at the cross. In later years, after Jesus had been raised from the dead and all the confusion of these days had been explained, John wrote the following words…

10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV).

The cross of Christ does indeed teach us how to love others. But first, and foremost, it teaches us how God loves us. And this is powerful. For above all, we need to be loved. And while parents will fail in their love, and siblings will fail, and spouses will fail, and friends will fail, and we will fail—God has not failed. For in Christ we are loved with the greatest love, and fully redeemed.

10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV).