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The Riches of God’s Love
Good morning! Fancy seeing you here. Today I thought we should discuss a topic that has a deep effect on our perception and understanding of God. God’s character. With specific regard to His love. All too often, people have this image of God in their heads where He’s an angry deity waiting to strike them down at any second for whatever transgressions they may have committed, or that He’s perpetually disappointed in them. Sometimes we feel like God is a harsh master, and even when we look at Him as a father, we see Him as an angry one. This is a spiritually crippling misconception that often leads to mental illness in people and ruins their walk with God. So today, I want to help you truly understand the riches of God’s love toward you, and just what kind of God He really is.
A great place to start is to understand the meaning of a word that describes an essential part of God’s character. It’s a Hebrew word with no direct English translation, and that word is Hesed. It’s actually pronounced with more of a phlegm type thing going on like chesed, or chased, but I’m just going to say hesed. Hesed is often rendered as loving-kindness or steadfast love in English Bibles. Hesed is the love of God that endures. The same love God showed Israel every time he restored them after they turned on him. It is a love that is faithful, and persistent. People often think God was harsh in the Old Testament, but I find myself constantly amazed at His patience and mercy, because no matter how many times Israel left God, He kept coming back to them. His hesed prevailed time after time.
In Isaiah 54:10, God says to Israel, “’For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My favor (or hesed) will not be removed from you, nor will My covenant of peace be shaken,’ says the LORD who has compassion on you.” As Psalm 136 repeats in all 26 verses, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Every one of us who is in Christ has God’s steadfast love, or hesed, upon us.
Speaking of Christ, there really is no better way to understand the character of God than to behold God revealed. As Hebrews 1:3 states, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” So, let’s see what Jesus says about Himself. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus describes Himself as “gentle and humble in heart”. I find this amazing, personally. That the Lord of all things would be “humble in heart.” He doesn’t have to be. He just is. Because that’s his character. Gentle and humble in heart.
How about when Jesus told the rightfully beloved Parable of the Prodigal Son? In this parable, the prodigal son goes out of his father’s house and blows his inheritance on all sorts of unsavory things. But when the son realizes how much of a mess he’s made of his life, and how even the servants in his father’s household have better lives than he does, he decides to come back home. He even rehearses his apology to his father. When he approaches the house, his father runs out to greet him. In Jewish culture it was considered shameful for a man to run, but here comes the father shaming himself to go and restore his child. According to an article titled The Prodigal Son’s Father Shouldn’t Have Run in Biola Magazine, the son was likely about to be cut off from his community for squandering his inheritance among the Gentiles. The idea is that the father wanted to get to him before the community did, and thus shamed himself for the sake of his child (which is a picture of Jesus taking our shame for us on the cross, by the way). When the father reached him, the son began offering his previously rehearsed apology, but before he could finish, the father had the servants prepare to celebrate. Why? Because he was just happy his son was home. As it says in Luke 15:32, “it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Jesus told this parable to show God’s mercy and joy toward us when we turn to Him. The picture of the father in the parable is a wonderful picture of our Father in heaven.
In addition to what Jesus showed us about himself through words, we have what was revealed in His actions. A passage that is particularly precious to me is in Mark 9, where a man brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus. Mark 9:21-25 reads, “Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has this been with him?’ ‘From childhood,’ he said. ‘It often throws him into the fire or into the water, trying to kill him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ ‘If You can?’ echoed Jesus. ‘All things are possible to him who believes!’ Immediately the boy’s father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!’ When Jesus saw that a crowd had come running, He rebuked the unclean spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ He said, ‘I command you to come out and never enter him again.’” The thing that makes this so precious, aside from Jesus casting a demon out of a young boy, is that He did so even though the father’s faith wasn’t all that it could be. With his mustard seed-sized faith He cried, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” and that was enough for Jesus to act. And I point this out because sometimes we feel like we don’t have enough faith, and God’s angry at us for it. We feel guilty like we’re disappointing God and He’s not going to move in our lives because our faith is so small, but He’s not waiting for us to acquire the prerequisite amount of faith necessary for Him to do something. This man had belief mixed with unbelief, and it was enough, because our God is a generous, compassionate, and kind God.
Another thing Jesus did that leaves us with an impression of what He’s like is something incredibly normal. When he heard that Lazarus had died, He wept. John 11:32-35 reads, “When Mary came to Jesus and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you put him?’ He asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they answered. Jesus wept.” That last verse there, “Jesus wept”, is so short, but it says so much. If Jesus is powerful enough to raise Lazarus from the dead, and fully intends on doing so, then what is He weeping about? Some say it’s because He truly felt the grief of those around him and empathized with them. Others say He’s lamenting the tragic circumstances of humanity being enslaved by death. Still others say He’s weeping for their unbelief. The opinion of the Jews around Him was that He was weeping because He loved Lazarus so deeply. Here’s a thought, why not all of those things? Here the Lord of all things is face to face with the curse upon His beloved creation. What is there not for Him to weep about? Our God isn’t distant from us or our problems. Far from being a removed figure somewhere beyond us, scripture tells us in Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” In this instance, His tears reveal His heart toward us.
Now you might be wondering, if God is so full of steadfast love, gentle, humble, generous, compassionate, kind, and sympathetic, then what’s all that judgment stuff about anyway? How do we square God’s wrath with His love? Well, let’s take a look at another time that Jesus wept. Luke 19:41-44 reads, “And when he drew near and saw the city (Jerusalem), he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” This is a passage where we see God’s love and judgment held in balance. Because of the people’s rejection of Him, judgment was coming, and it did in 70 A.D when the Romans attacked the Jews. It was horrific, but we see that God did not want this to happen.
One of the most clear-cut examples of the tension between God’s love and judgment comes in Ezekiel 33:11 which says, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” God takes no pleasure in the judgment he deals out. He is not a sadist, and He doesn’t get His kicks from punishing people. In fact, He’d rather that he didn’t have to punish anyone in the first place.
“But why does He have to?” you ask. The answer is really quite simple. If God were not perfectly just, then he wouldn’t be perfectly loving. Because there’s nothing loving about neglecting justice. And when humans sin, they’re sinning against not only each other but against the very grounding of moral truths Himself. I don’t think there could ever reasonably be a concept of a perfectly loving God, who was not also a perfectly just judge. Which brings us to the Gospel. The ultimate story of God’s love and justice working together. If you want to know God’s character, just look at the story He wrote.
When I was a kid, I always heard people describe the Bible, and consequently the Gospel, as the greatest story ever told. I wasn’t much into stories back then; I watched a lot of Godzilla movies, but only for the giant monster fights rather than the thematic content, you know what I mean? I always agreed that the Bible was the greatest story ever told but my reasoning was that’s pretty much just because it’s true. It wasn’t until I got older that I really dove into storytelling and what makes a story great, and once I turned my attention back to the Bible, I learned real fast why it’s the greatest story ever told. Not just because it’s true, but because, no joke, it really is a literary masterpiece. I like to think I know a good story when I see one, but the Bible trumps them all. No other protagonist of any story I’ve ever come across is quite as remarkable as our God.
Picture this, God, the everlasting being from whom all other things in existence originate, the infinite consciousness who simply IS fundamental reality, the mind so complex that we could never fully comprehend Him, whose power is more vast and more glorious than the absurdly large universe He spoke into existence, created a comparatively minuscule race of beings called humans; designed to have fellowship with Him and reflect His qualities toward each other. Then one day, a pair of humans named Adam and Eve, who knew God face to face, but obviously underestimated the significance of what they had in Him, decided that they should be their own masters, that they should be able to choose what’s right and wrong, that they should be like God. So they betrayed him, and the rest of the human race became just as cursed and prone to wandering as they were. But God, who saw this slight coming from eternity past, already had a plan to save His beloved creations. The being beyond our comprehension, who owes us something no more than a man owes an ant a breadcrumb, loved us humans, because He himself is love, and the very concept of love finds its grounding in Him. So He chose to come down to the level of the humans by living as a man. Sharing in their grief, their suffering, their joy, and even their very flesh. All this culminated in Him bearing their transgressions, which were committed against Him, upon Himself. The King of Kings, humiliated on a tree, for the sake of bandits. By experiencing the curse of death that had ravaged His creation, and rising again out of its clutches, he defeated that curse. And so, the one who was to cast rightful judgment upon all, after ages of forbearance, instead became the Father of many. And the good news is, He’s still adopting to this day. True story!
God is truly the greatest author. Amen? There’s nothing quite like the Gospel that reveals to you the heart of God. What kind of deity would do something like that for a race of rebellious beings? One who simply is love, that’s who. This love that Christ showed us is personal as well. He didn’t just die and rise again for everyone in a general sense. He died for you. Individually. This is what Paul has to say about that in Galatians 2:20: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. Paul took this personally. Jesus died for Paul, just like He died for me, and just like He died for you. We should all follow Paul’s example and be grateful to God in this way; seeing as He loved each of us personally.
In Hebrews 12:2 it says “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross.” And of course, the joy set before Him was the joy of being reunited with the Father in glory, and of being reunited with us. You see, Jesus didn’t die for you grudgingly. Sometimes we think that because Jesus paid such a great price for us, now we really better get to work! You better not mess up now! But we see a different picture in Romans 5:6-10 which reads, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 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. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” We forget that Christ died for us when we were far off from Him. We have peace with God now, so how much more favor does He show us? We’re His children! Which leads me to one of my favorite verses of all time. Romans 8:15, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons and daughters by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”. Don’t you see? We’re God’s kids now! The father we see in the parable of the prodigal son, who was so eager to celebrate his son’s return home, is the same kind of father we have now in God.
In your weakness, He is merciful toward you. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Approach the throne of grace with confidence! Not thinking, “oh man He’s probably going to be really mad with me this time!”. Look, you can’t disappoint God. Disappointment has to do with expectation, and He knows everything before it happens. You can displease Him, but even then, because the blood of Jesus has covered all sin, there’s no reason for us to be wondering if He’s going to get us or not. When you repent, He forgives. He isn’t looking to destroy you; He wants to restore you. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. If you have turned your heart from sin toward God, placing your faith in Jesus and what He did for you, confessing Him as your Lord, then there is no condemnation for you. I repeat NO condemnation for you. As John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name”.
Y’know, the only problem with the phrase, “Jesus loves you”, is that it doesn’t even remotely capture the full depth of it. Even the best relationships here on Earth are but a dim reflection of our relationship with God through Jesus. In Ephesians 3:16-19 Paul writes, “I ask that out of the riches of His glory He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then you, being rooted and grounded in love, will have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” The love of Christ surpasses knowledge, and considering what He was willing to go through for people who wronged Him, I’d say, clearly. It’s a love we can scarcely fathom.
You know what else God has in addition to love? Patience. Well, biblically speaking, patience is a component of love, and of course, when we talked about hesed earlier, that word implies a constant faithful enduring love, but sometimes we think of ourselves as trying God’s patience to its limits. Consider this though, that God has been delaying judgment upon the Earth for thousands of years. When we turn on the news and hear about all the horrible things happening in the world, it really wears us down. No mere human was meant to carry all that weight. Just a single day of tragedies is enough to weaken our spirits, but God has been carrying the burden of witnessing every evil thing that mankind has ever done for as long as humans have existed. And yet, He still waits. He delays His judgment so that the full number of His children may come into the kingdom. Children who were once among those that grieved His heart continually. Now that is a patience, a love, and a strength, that I simply cannot comprehend. Our God is an awesome God, to say the least. Amen?
Now let’s review the characteristics of God we’ve seen here today. He is faithful toward us, His nature is gentle, He gives generously, He sympathizes with us, He doesn’t want any of us to perish, He doesn’t put such a large burden on us, He is merciful toward us, and He is patient with us, all because He has a love for us that goes beyond our comprehension. And that’s just who He is. That’s His character.
He’s more kind to us than we could ever deserve, and if you are in Christ, that kindness is toward you. His wrath and judgment are not directed at you. And if you aren’t in Christ, I would invite you to turn your direction away from sin and put your faith in Jesus to save you because of what He did for you and who He is. Romans 10:9-11 tells us that, “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with your heart, you believe and are justified, and with your mouth, you confess and are saved. It is just as the Scripture says: “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” All of the riches of God’s fatherly character will be toward you if you do. Thank you.