How would you feel about someone you first met (briefly) on an interstate highway when he dove in front of a speeding semi-trailer truck and pushed you out of its path? No doubt it would take you a minute or so as you lay beside the road to realize what had just happened and push through the shock factor. Then it would hit you: “Omigosh, who was that? What happened to him?” And you would leap to your feet and run up the road to find him.
After frantically sprinting maybe 75 yards, you’d come upon his mangled and lifeless body, and you would probably weep, perhaps as you held him. Would you then start hitchhiking again? Of course not. You would want to know who he was, so you’d grab his wallet and look closely at his identification to make sure you knew exactly who it was that gave his life to save yours. What then? As soon as possible, you would go to his home address to see if he had any family.
Suppose a young wife answered the door with three small children behind her? You would tearfully, and with profuse gratitude for her husband’s heroic act, recount to her what he did to save you. Do you think you would then leave and forget about them? No, you would ask if there is anything you could do for them, given that their provider is gone, and any time they needed your help as long as you live, you would be there to do what you can for them, taking whatever time and making whatever effort it took to bless them.
Why? Because it was their husband/father’s dying in your place that is the only reason you have a life to live. You would forever remember the terrifying sight of the huge truck screaming toward you, its blaring horn, and the horrific sound of it crushing the one who chose to rescue you. The selfless love he showed for you would prompt you to show that same kind of love to those he loved. Of course you’d do the same thing for the man who saved you, but you can’t, because he is dead.
I sure hope that by now you are thinking of Jesus Christ. If not, check this out:
2 Corinthians 5:14 and 15
(14) For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
(15) And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Note the last four words: AND WAS RAISED AGAIN! Relative to the above scenario, that means you can do things not only for those whom Jesus loves but also for him. Jesus is no longer dead, so you can express your gratitude to him, both verbally (1 Tim. 1:12) and by standing in his stead for other people (2 Cor. 5:20). And it is Christ’s love for us that both motivates us and keeps us on track, as the following verses confirm:
1 John 4:9, 10 and 19
(9) This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
(10) This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
(19) We love because he first loved us.
If I am to walk in the fullness of who I am in Christ, I must grasp what it cost God, and Jesus, to save me. The more aware I am of the depths of depravity that dwell in me (my sin nature), the more I will appreciate and reach for the heights of God’s grace given me in the gift of His Son. I cannot have the attitude of: “Thanks for dying for me; I’ll take it from here.” I must daily “take up my cross,” which is to crucify my ungodly fleshly desires, which is to “live not for myself but for him who died for me and was raised again.” I must follow my Lord’s example: “…not my will, but yours be done.” When I do, he is right there to help me, and of course he will do no less for you.
The degree to which I understand God’s magnanimous love toward me in Christ is the degree to which I will love my Father and my Lord. My obedience to God and the Lord is directly proportional to my love for them. The degree to which I experientially understand God’s love for me is the degree to which I will share it with others by laying down my life for them. How can I grow in both love and obedience? The following verse shows us a cycle we should want to get on:
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
Of course, Jesus didn’t mean that he and God love only those who love them. They love everyone but it is only to those who love, and thus obey, them that they can manifest their love, their guidance, and their provision. When we step out in obedience to the Word, the Lord shows up for us however we need him to and that helps us love him more, which prompts us to obey more. Coupled with the prayerful communication such a relationship requires, this is how we build intimacy (koinonia=full sharing, “fellowship” – 1 John 1:3) with our precious Lord Jesus.
Although God sets forth the Apostle Paul as a vivid example of a sinner receiving His grace and mercy, it is interesting that in Acts and the Church Epistles there are only a few specific accounts of his personal interaction with the Lord Jesus, including his initial encounter on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:3–6, 16:7, 18:9 and 10, 22:6–10, 17–21, 23:11, 26:12–18; 2 Cor. 12:8 and 9; Gal. 1:11 and 12). The following verses show how clearly Paul recognized Christ’s boundless love for him and why he was so motivated to do all he could to make known that love to others, no matter the cost.
1 Timothy 1:15 and 16
(15) Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
(16) But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
It is only in the Four Gospels where we can read about how Jesus dealt with a vast spectrum of humanity and thus see the sterling quality of his love for mankind. Given that he interacted with many more people than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record (John 20:30, 21:25), we must ask why God chose to give us the accounts He did. I suggest that it is because there is a piece of me (and, I daresay, you) in each person Jesus encountered, from the worst Pharisee to the best disciple, and that thereby I can know just how he will deal with me relative to whatever attitude I have in the moment. These encounters illustrate Christ’s “unlimited patience,” just as he will show to each of us.
In the Gospels, it is Peter who leaps, with one foot in his mouth, off the pages as the one biblical character with whose raging humanity I can most easily identify. The events in Peter’s relationship with Jesus are humorously yet poignantly chronicled in the very popular teaching titled Jesus Christ and You (available in transcript and audio on our website), so I will now touch upon only a couple of incidents that illustrate how Jesus loved him and worked with him.
In the interest of brevity, let me capsulize Luke 5:1–7, taking a bit of literary license, before quoting verse 8. One day Jesus was teaching people beside the lake known as Gennesaret, or Galilee. As he waxed eloquent, the crowd continued to swell. Recognizing the acoustical challenge, Jesus saw a boat nearby on the shore and asked Peter, who was washing his nets, if he could borrow it as a teaching platform. Peter said OK, rowed him out a ways, and Jesus finished his teaching on the boat, allowing his voice to carry across the water to all the people.
Then, knowing that it would be right to give Peter something for the use of his boat and his time, he told him to row out into the lake and throw out his nets, indicating that he would catch plenty of fish. Peter replied, “You’re a carpenter, aren’t you? That’s what I thought. Well, we’re fishermen and we’ve been out there all night and there ain’t no fish there. But just to humor you, we’ll do it.” When they did, they caught so many fish that they had to call for the other boat and both were filled to overflowing.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Note that Peter did not say that Jesus was the sinful man. No, it was Peter’s realization of his own sinful heart that caused him to tell Jesus to leave him alone. I assert that the same sin nature lives in you and me and that its overwhelming grossness (Rom. 7:15–25) tempts us to self-pity, despair, and isolation. Like Peter, we realize that when we are too close to Jesus, we look bad in comparison, so we want to distance ourselves from him so that we can fool ourselves into thinking we look better. Given how deceptive the sin nature is, we do this almost unconsciously, not recognizing the lies we are believing.
Of course, that is just the opposite of what we should do, for it is only our Lord Jesus who can heal our wounded hearts. In reply to Peter’s despairing request, Jesus graciously said, “…Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:10). The Lord knows our human frailty and he calls to us through the cacophonous din of the sin that dwells within us, relentlessly beckoning us to come close to him, and stay close to him.
(28) “Come [un]to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
(29) Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
(30) For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
If we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are not weary and burdened, that is, if we don’t recognize the weight of sin under which we are staggering through life, we will not consistently come to him and thus not find rest. If we do recognize it, we will cling to him and rest in him. The metaphor Jesus uses in the above verses regards two oxen yoked together, and the custom was to put a young ox beside a mature ox so that he could learn from him. Just as Jesus modeled his constant need for God’s help, part of the humility we are to learn is that, as the hymn says, we need him every hour. When we choose to yoke ourselves beside our Lord and work as a fellow laborer with him, we find rest and are energized (1 Cor. 15:10).
Most everyone is familiar with Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, but it is doubtful that any of us can identify with the piercing agony he felt when his eyes met Jesus’ immediately afterward and he realized the gravity of his sin (Luke 22:54–62). But Jesus looked upon Peter’s heart, and, after his resurrection, honestly and lovingly worked with him to help him become the man Jesus knew he could be. Let me summarize the record in John 21:1–7 because it relates to the above account in Luke that we looked at.
Not yet grasping the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the ministries that lay before them, Peter and his compatriots had gone back to fishing but after being out all night had caught nothing. In the morning, standing on the shore, Jesus called out to them, “Caught anything?” Not recognizing him, they said “No,” so he told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and when they did, Déjà vu! Their nets were swamped with fish. One of the disciples said, “That’s the Lord!” and Peter immediately jumped into the lake to get to Jesus. In contrast to his reaction in Luke 8, he now wanted to be close to Jesus.
When you and I press in toward the Lord with abandon, he will work with us just as he then did with Peter. Understanding Peter’s remorse about denying him and realizing the enormity of what lay ahead for him in initially spearheading the early Church, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to affirm and thus cement his commitment to feed people the bread of life. As he does with you and me, the Lord then gave Peter a good reputation to live up to, encouraged him to deny himself and stand for the Lord, and promised to help him.
You and I can trust Jesus to be and do for us everything that he was and did for Peter and Paul and everyone else with whom he interacted. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and he loves us in spite of ourselves. He takes you personally and loves to hear from you no matter what is on your heart to share with him. He longs for intimacy with you and needs only your commitment to live not for yourself but for him. The more you engage him, the more you will experience his abiding love and the more your love for him will grow. Your personal relationship with the Lord Jesus is what will carry you through everything that lies ahead for you in this life and enable you to earn the rewards he will joyously give you at his appearing. Reach for his heart, for he is reaching for yours (Phil. 3:12).