Once in a while I read something that makes my heart beat faster and that happened as I read a piece from Alexander Maclaren on the love of Christ. Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) was a Baptist pastor in Manchester, England. His Expositions of Holy Scripture were printed in 32 volumes and...
The whole Bible is a love story. It begins with God, and God is love. Before anything else existed, love flowed between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus says to the Father, “You loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
I still remember when I first heard this truth and the impact it made on me. I was a teenager, 16 years old, and I was in church on an ordinary Sunday morning. Our pastor in the little Baptist church where I grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland pointed to John 17:24. He said, “Before anything else existed, there was love.”
My pastor spoke of one God who exists in three persons: Love flows between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit – it always has and always will. The life of God is filled with perpetual joy because of the constant self-giving and therefore receiving that takes place within His own nature.
I remember thinking as a teenager, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.” I remember thinking, “This is why love is so great!” The truth that love existed before anything else is why the longing to love and to be loved runs so deeply in all our hearts. We are made in the image of God. We are made to give and to receive love just as God does Himself.
This truth is made clear in Mark 12:28-31:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Commanded to Love
Scripture gives us many more than ten commandments. Is one more essential than the others? Jesus answered this question for a scribe – a scholar of Old Testament law. The man had asked Jesus which of God’s commandments is most important. Which commandment is central to everything else? Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is of fundamental importance. This is what we were made for. This is your highest calling! And the second is like it: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
But we have not given this commandment the importance that Jesus tells us it deserves. It has been that way since the beginning, when God created the first lovers and placed them in the Garden of Eden, to walk with Him. So what went wrong?
Listen to this answer from Michael Reeves:
It was not that Adam and Eve stopped loving. They were created as lovers in the image of God, and they could not undo that. Instead, their love turned. When the apostle Paul writes of sinners, he describes them as “lovers of themselves, lovers of money… lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4). Lovers we remain, but twisted, our love misdirected and perverted. Created to love God, we turn to love ourselves and anything but God.
Hiding from Love
The heart of what the Bible calls “sin” is a misdirected love, a disorder in the affections—loving the wrong things. That’s the fundamental human problem. That’s why our first instincts are not to seek God but to hide from Him. When Adam loved God, he walked with Him in the garden. But when Adam’s love turned, he hid from God. When Jesus came into the world and called the first disciples, He unveiled His glory by giving them a miraculous catch of fish. When Simon Peter saw this, he perceived something of the glory of God. He fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Peter was saying, “I don’t belong here with you! You had better find someone else who is more holy than I am. I’m not the kind of person you are looking for” (Luke 5:8).
Here was Peter, like Adam, hiding from God. Isn’t that the saddest and most tragic waste of all, for a human being to be running away from love? To be hiding from the God who loves?
Found by Love
Though Peter was hiding, Christ did not let Peter go. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. Peter brought the boat to land, and then he left everything and followed Jesus.
Years later this same man, Peter, described why Jesus Christ came into the world: “Christ… suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus came so that He might bring us out of hiding and back into relationship with Him. Peter was saying, “He went to that cross so that people like us who love the wrong things and feel that we don’t belong anywhere near God should be brought back to him.”
This kind of love was what Jesus had in mind when He went to the cross. On the night he was betrayed, he prayed to the Father “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them” (John 17:26). This is an amazing prayer! That the love with which the Father has loved the Son – the love that has always flowed in the heart of God – should be in us!
The great purpose for which Jesus suffered was to bring us into His own enjoyment of the Father’s love. His purpose was that we should enter into the shared delight of the Father and the Son, and be caught up in the circle of their love. That is surely why, at the end of the Bible, we find the marriage supper of the Lamb—the shared joy of the Father, and of his Son, and of His bride. The great storyline of the greatest story ever told is the story of love.