The Unconditional Love of God
Good morning! If you can grab a Bible, I invite you to turn to Romans 5. Today is the second Sunday of Advent. And as I said, last week, if Advent isn’t something you are familiar with, if you didn’t grow up with this particular tradition, Advent is simply the time of year when we focus on the coming of Jesus into the world.
In Advent, we look back in remembrance at the first coming of Jesus as the baby in a manger and we look forward with longing and anticipation for when Jesus will come again as our triumphant King. In Advent, we stand in the middle of this tension between Jesus having already come and Jesus coming again.
And as we look around at the busyness and the commercialization and the materialism that tends to come with Christmas, we quickly realize that it is a tension. It is incredibly difficult to focus on what is truly important when everything around us is trying to disciple us to believe something different. It’s literally everywhere. We can’t get away from it.
And this is not to say that Christmas should be avoided. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give gifts or put up our Christmas trees or decorate our houses with lights and blow-ups. I’m all for the hype around Christmas. I plan on going to West Edmonton Mall in the next couple of weeks to see how they have decorated the mall.
I love this time of year. I love hot chocolate and sleigh rides and looking at Christmas lights and caroling. I’m not saying that we need to give all of that up, in order to have a God-honouring, Christ-exalting Christmas. Instead, what we need is something that is going to daily reorient us to what is truly important, as we take in and enjoy these various holiday activities and traditions.
And this is why it is so important that we celebrate Advent. Advent gets us to take our focus off of what we are being discipled by our culture to believe Christmas is all about, and it gets us to focus on the coming of Jesus into the world and the impact that has on us, today.
Last week, we looked at the Advent theme of hope, and how we often put our hope in people or things that will inevitably disappoint us, but how we have a God who is the source of hope and who supplies it in abundance.
And this morning, on the second Sunday of Advent, we are going to be looking at the Advent theme of love, specifically the love of God. And I say, specifically the love of God, because we’re not just talking about the culture’s view of love.
We’re not talking about a Hallmark Christmas movie kind of love. You know what I’m talking about. The kind of romantic love that sprouts when a woman from the big city comes back to the small town where she grew up and falls in love over the holidays with a nice guy.
And look, I’m not dissing Hallmark Christmas movies. Helena and I have been watching several of them, this month. All I’m saying is that we know exactly what’s going to happen in the end, and yet, we still get sucked into the story.
And it’s not just the Hallmark Christmas movies that have capitalized on the theme of love at Christmas. Whether it’s the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, or Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, each one of these characters experiences love at Christmas.
And we enjoy these stories, because they hit at something innate in each one of us, and that is, our desire to connect with another person. We want to love someone and we want to be loved by someone. We want that connection of love.
But have you ever noticed that no one carries on the story after Christmas? No one gets real, after the holidays, and tells a story about how this couple who fell in love in two weeks suddenly experiences bumps in their relationship. No one mentions the fact that relationships are hard and that they aren’t always going to be hot chocolate and sleigh rides and cookie baking and Christmas concerts.
And the reason why we don’t see this in movies is because it’s not attractive. No one wants to know about the reality of relationships. We want to be swept up in this false reality that love is easy and romantic and requires no effort from me.
That’s the culture’s view of love. And this is why we need to be daily reoriented, during the Christmas season, because we are going to face a plethora of advertisements saying that love means this and this and this, and that if you truly loved him or her, then you would get them this. And all of that is trying to disciple us into believing in a kind of cheap love.
And what we need to be reminded of, this morning, is that there is a love that is more fulfilling and more real than any romantic, Hallmark Christmas movie, a love that is not flippantly sparked by the magic of the Christmas season, and that is the unconditional love of God towards us. That’s what we’re going to be looking at, for our time together, this morning.
So, if you have your Bibles opened to Romans 5, you might remember from last week that we looked for a brief moment at verses 1-5, and we saw that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”
And we looked at how the Apostle Paul is saying here that there is real hope, true hope, a hope “built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness,” that is sourced and supplied by God Himself and that will not disappoint.
But immediately following that, Paul gives us a reason why this is the case. He says that the reason why we can have a hope that does not disappoint is “because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Now, if you’re a follower of Jesus, if you have put your trust and confidence in Christ to save you from the penalty of sin and death, Paul is saying here that the reason you can have hope, the reason you can be confident that good things are waiting for you on the other side, is because God loves you.
Ephesians 1:5 says that “in love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.”
Listen, it pleased God the Father to predestine us for adoption. That should wash over us like a flood. How rich is it to know that God was pleased to choose you to be His son or daughter? But then, do you see the motivation? God does this “in love.” God decided to pour out His love towards us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. It’s “in love” that God does what He does.
And this is made that much more clear in the next few verses of Romans 5. Look at Romans 5:6. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 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. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Alright, so just to put things into perspective: Our natural state, before God loved us, was not pleasant. It’s not like we were doing alright before God intervened. Look at the words that describe us: weak, ungodly, sinners, enemies. These aren’t exactly the positive traits about ourselves that we put on a resumé.
If someone were to ask you to describe yourself, you’re not likely to respond with, “I’m a weak, ungodly sinner, who is an enemy of Almighty God.” Those words probably aren’t coming out of your mouth, and yet, this is the state of the man or woman, outside of Christ.
The reality is that, outside of Christ, we are weak. We are completely helpless in our fallen state to do the good we ought to do. We are completely unable to save ourselves from the penalty of sin and death.
The reality is that, outside of Christ, we are ungodly. We are the ones, in Romans 1:21, who know God, but don’t honour Him as God or give thanks to Him.
The reality is that, outside of Christ, we are enemies of God. There is nothing in us seeking after God. We are living in willful rebellion against Him. We are at odds with Him.
This is the position of the natural man. And our tendency is to say, “Well, I wasn’t that bad. That’s not the way I was. I was a better person than all that.” And here’s the problem: Sin is not what we do; it’s what we are, because of Adam. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners. And you might mask that with religion or with good works, but the result is still the same. Nothing we do will make us right with God.
And so, the question is: How do we get from “weak, ungodly sinner, who is an enemy of Almighty God” to “predestined for adoption as sons and daughters of God”? How does that transformation happen? Simple. The love of God.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The strong for the weak. The godly for the ungodly. The righteous for the unrighteous. God did this for us in love.
Paul says that for a righteous person, one will scarcely die. It might happen. Then, Paul says that for a good person, one would dare even to die. This is not as likely, if ever, to happen. But then, Paul says that God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
And we think, “Why would God do that? It doesn’t make sense for someone to die for a righteous person or a good person, let alone sinners. Why would God demonstrate such profound love?”
You better believe that Hallmark isn’t making a movie with this kind of a plot. There hasn’t been a movie yet, where the woman from the big city comes back to the small town where she grew up and falls in love over the holidays with a jerk who absolutely hates her and wants nothing to do with her. That movie is just not being made.
And yet, that’s the very story of salvation. Turn over to Isaiah 53. God the Father sends His Son, Jesus Christ, to this world, and Isaiah 53:2-3 says that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
We see that God comes down to mankind, in the Person of Jesus Christ, and all we do is hate Him. We want nothing to do with Him. We despise Him. There’s nothing about Him that appeals to us.
But then, look down at verse 7. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
In love, God the Father sent His Son to this world. In love, this Son, Jesus Christ, would suffer oppression and violence under mankind. And in love, He would die for the penalty of our sin on a cruel cross. What an incredible act of love!
And it’s not like we could do anything to earn this love. It’s not like we were on our best behaviour when Christ died for us. It’s not like God looked down upon us and saw the potential of good in us, and so He sent His Son to save us. No, while we were yet sinners, while we were at our worst. while we were shaking our fist at God in rebellion against Him, Christ died for us. This is the love of God. This is the grand story of salvation, and it makes a better story than Hallmark.
But we go back to the same question: Why God would demonstrate such profound love to us? And we see that the answer is rooted in who God is.
Turn over to 1 John 4. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He walked with Jesus while Jesus was on this earth, so John would have heard Jesus talk a lot about love, and thus, John writes a lot about love in this letter.
And in 1 John 4:7-8, John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
In my first year of Bible College, I was on the drama team and we performed a play called The Big Picture, which was a 2-hour overview of the Bible. And one of the phrases that came up frequently, throughout the play, was the phrase, “I cannot help but love you.” And the phrase was used most often by the guy who played God in the play.
And there’s part of us that has some difficulty with God saying, “I cannot help but love you,” because we want to believe that God loves us because He wants to love us and not because He cannot help but love us.
But John actually helps us here by revealing something about the nature and character of God, and that is, that God is love. It’s who God is. God loves us because He is love. He cannot help but love us, because it is in His nature to love. We can be weak, ungodly sinners, who are enemies against Him, and He will still relentlessly pursue us, because He is love.
True love, real love is not found in a Hallmark Christmas movie; it’s found in the unconditional love of God.
1 John 4:9 says that, “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”
The only reason we know what love is, is because God would send His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to this world. And Jesus would die in our place, taking the payment for our sin upon Him, though He had never sinned Himself. And three days later, God would raise Jesus from the dead, demonstrating to the world that the cross was a sufficient payment for sin. And now, all who turn from their sin and put their trust and confidence in Jesus will be reconciled to God, forever.
This is the love of God towards us. We can’t earn it. It doesn’t come with conditions, where we need to hold up our end of the deal before God will love us. No, God made the decision, because of who He is, to pour out His love on us.
And if you are here this morning, and you are not a follower of Jesus, I would just encourage you to embrace the love of God toward you, today. He created you for relationship with Himself. That innate desire in you for that connection of love was put in you by God, because He loves you and wants to pour His love into your heart.
And if you are struggling with God’s love toward you, maybe you feel like God doesn’t love you because of a difficult situation you are facing, or maybe you are struggling to accept the fact that God could ever love someone like you, I hope you see that you are so deeply loved by God.
My prayer for you is the same prayer that Paul prayed, in Ephesians 3, “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.” That’s my prayer for you.
I know that the holiday season can be a difficult time for some people. Loved ones have passed away. Relationships have broken apart. Families aren’t getting together. And what should be a season full of love with family and friends is maybe not the case for some of us. Maybe the Christmas season for you is far from something out of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
But the good news is that there is a more fulfilling and more real and more true love that came down from heaven to earth, two thousand years ago. The baby in a manger would grow up to be our Saviour. And there is coming a day when He will come again to take those, who have put their trust and confidence in Him, to be with Him, forever.
In Romans 8:38-39, Paul writes, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When the Christmas season is not the season of love the culture makes it seem, we can be reminded of the unconditional love of God towards us. May we be a people who eagerly embrace the unconditional love of God. Let’s pray…