How are you going to stand with Jesus when vast numbers of other people are moving away from Him? Pastor Colin talks about what it takes to have a faith that lasts.
“I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:3
I want you to remember today that we are talking about the relationship of Christ and his people. We ended last time by saying that Christ offers himself to every person. A Christian is a person who has responded to that offer by giving himself or herself to Jesus Christ.
A marriage involves a commitment of love and trust from two parties, and a Christian is a person who in good faith has come to know and believe the love of God in Christ and so, in turn, has come to pledge love and loyalty to him.
This means forsaking the idols, “Jesus, in the light of your love for me, I can no longer live for myself. I can no longer live for this world.” That commitment of love and loyalty is beautifully expressed and portrayed in Christian baptism.
If you have never committed yourself in love and trust to the Christ who loves you, then I would invite you to commit yourself to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and then everything that we are saying about the love of Christ will be true for you.
But please understand that the message today is to the people Christ calls his own. The Bible distinguishes very clearly all the way through between people in general and those who are his own, his sheep. “Having loved his own, he showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).
Christian brother and sister, today I want you to see the strength of Christ’s love for you, and I want you to see it in three ways…
- The Strength of Christ’s Love in His Sympathy
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
There’s a double negative here, which is a way of adding force to a statement that is important. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. That means, we do have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.
The big truth in play here is the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh. God became man in Christ Jesus. The fullness of God lives in him (Colossians 2:9). And he experienced life as it is in this fallen, broken, and troubled world.
Think about what your Lord Jesus has experienced.
- Christ knows what it is to grow up without a strong male presence in the home, almost certainly Joseph died when he was very young. He grew up in poverty. When he died, his only possessions were the clothes he wore. If any of this relates to your story, Jesus knows what it is like.
- Christ knows what it is to be tempted. In fact he knows more about it than any of us ever will. Satan threw everything he had at Jesus. None of us have experienced that. We break early. Jesus never broke. He was without sin, but he felt the full force and fury of temptation in its most raging power. So when you experience that, Jesus knows what it is like.
- Christ knows what it is to be exhausted. He knew what it was to work a trade as a carpenter. In his public ministry, he faced the relentless pressure of constant demands on him, people following him, endless questions, and needs everywhere.
Think about him falling asleep in the boat, exhausted. Think about him getting up early in the morning because it was the only time he could be alone. If your schedule is relentless and you are feeling exhausted, your Jesus knows what that is like.
4. Christ knows what it is to be surrounded by great darkness, to feel that God is far away, and to cry out, “My God, my God, Why?” If you come to a place where you feel that you are straying into the darkness and God seems far from you, and you are asking the question “Why?” Christ is able to say to you, “I’ve been there. I know what it’s like, and I will stand in this with you,” and you can say to him, “I know that you know.”
I could give you many more examples. Read through the Gospels and you can expand the list. When you face difficulties in life, ask yourself, “Where did Jesus face something like this?” It will help you.
Now here’s the wonderful truth that is pressed home in Hebrews 4: “We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin.”
He’s been there! He knows what it is like. It’s one thing to feel sorry for a person going through difficulties. It is another when you have walked that same journey yourself.
Earlier in Hebrews there is a remarkable statement, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17). Notice the word “become.” God is merciful, and Christ is God, so already he is merciful by nature.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22). We know this from the Old Testament, but here’s what is added through the humanity of Christ: He knows what life in this world is like from the inside. He can say to you “I’ve been there. I’ll walk with you there.” This makes him the merciful high priest he is.
You might say, “Well, is that really true?” It says that Christ was without sin. How can Christ know what it is to live with guilt or with the shame of your own failure?
Christ knows what it is to bear the guilt and shame of sin, not because of his own sins, because he had none, but because the guilt and shame of all his people’s sins were laid on him.
He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. Our iniquity was laid on him.
Christ has felt the weight of its guilt and its shame. He has tasted this bitter cup because the guilt and shame of our sins were laid on him.
Thomas Goodwin says, “As for the guilt of sin… [Christ] knows more of that than any one of us. He tasted the bitterness of that in the imputation of it, more deeply that we can, and of the cup of his father’s wrath for it, and so is able experientially to pity a heart wounded by it.” 
Then Goodwin says this to believers: “Your sins move him to pity more than to anger”  Why? Because he’s been there. He knows what it’s like. Here’s what that means for you: When you feel completely wretched about yourself, you can come to Christ and he will receive you, not with anger, but with compassion and mercy.
Your merciful high priest knows what it is like to bear the burden of guilt and shame, and he is ready and able to lift that burden from you so that you may be wonderfully restored, and helped, and lifted.
Fix this in your mind: We have a high priest who has been there. He became the savior he is through all that he endured. He has a tender heart. He knows, and you can say to him, “I know that you know what its like.”
- The Strength of Christ’s Love in His Resolve
More and more people in our world are experiencing a love that does not last. If that has been your experience, you will naturally be suspicious if someone should say that they will love you always. But that is the pledge of Christ to every believer, and you can be confident in the strength of his love, “I will love you in life, and in death, and for all eternity.”
I’ve been thinking about what causes relationships of love to end. What causes love to end in a marriage? It’s usually one of three things: Difficulty, deficiency, or disloyalty. The good news is that the love of Christ is stronger than any of these, stronger than all of them put together.
The marriage vow speaks of a commitment to love that is for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness, and in health. That means life may work out in one of two ways.
It’s not hard to love when life is better, when you grow richer, and when God blesses your family with health. But enormous pressures come on a family when life is worse, when you lose your income and become poorer, when someone in your family is afflicted with mental illness or a child with special needs that place enormous demands on everyone else.
Sometimes difficulties overwhelm love. Someone said that they love you, and that they will love you forever, but the difficulties of life placed too much strain on their love and they were gone.
Christ will love his people through all the challenges of life. Listen to how God says this, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you.” Then God says of his own people, “I am the Lord your God your Savior. You are precious in my sight and I love you” (Isaiah 43:2-4).
Think about the difficulties endured by Job, and the pressures that it brought on his relationship with God. His friends were quite sure that God had given up on Job. They assumed that Job had offended God, that he had fallen out of God’s favor and that he was living under the frown of God’s judgment. They could not have been further from the truth.
At the end of the ordeal God, speaking to Eliphaz, strongly affirms Job as his own: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has… Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you… For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-8).
God owns this man! “He is mine! He is my servant, Job, and I will never stop loving him.” The difficulties of Job’s life did not break God’s love for him. And the difficulties of your life will not overwhelm God’s love for you either.
Love sometimes loses strength because of the deficiencies in another person’s behavior or character that become increasingly difficult to live with over time.
I looked on the web this week at some lists of top complaints that wives have against husbands and that husbands have against wives. The lists are not at all surprising. Based on my brief survey, here are the top three:
- He doesn’t communicate
- He’s too demanding
- He’s no help
Here’s my question: How would it be for you, if God’s love ebbed and flowed according to the quality of your prayer life? How would it be for you if God’s love was tied to the contentment of your spirit and the thankfulness of your heart, the absence of complaint? How would it be for you if God’s love increased or diminished according to the degree of your usefulness in serving and in carrying out his mission in the world?
Thomas Pollock wrote these words of confession: “We have not known Thee as we ought, nor learned thy wisdom, grace, and power. The things of earth have filled our thoughts, and trifles of this passing hour. We have not loved Thee as we ought, nor cared that we are loved by Thee, Thy presence we have coldly sought, and feebly longed Thy face to see. We have not served Thee as we ought; alas the duties left undone, the work with little fervor wrought; the battles lost or scarcely won. 
“He doesn’t communicate! He’s too demanding! He’s no help!” Thank God that Christ’s love does not depend on your performance in the Christian life!
Christ loved us while we were still sinners, and he loves us now, in spite of all of our deficiencies. “God knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).
That’s why Christ’s love for Thomas didn’t stop, even when Thomas’ faith was riddled with all kinds of doubts and questions. Aren’t you glad that Christ’s love is stronger that the weakness of our faith, and that is doesn’t rest on our performance in the Christian life?
The whole book of Hosea is dedicated to showing how God’s love is stronger than our disloyalty. There is a marvelous statement of this in the New Testament that I want to draw to your attention: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Notice the power of Paul’s argument: Christ has made himself one with his people. He is the head, we are the body. How are you going to separate them? He is the vine, we are the branches. He is the bridegroom, we are the bride. Christ has made himself one with us in such a way that to disown us would be to disown himself! How can the vine disown the branches? How can that happen?
The great example here is the Apostle Peter. He completely blew his witness to Jesus in a very public way. He ruined his testimony! What use can this man be to Jesus now?
No wonder Peter, full of sorrow, went out and wept bitterly. Peter has been faithless, but Peter is Christ’s own. And Christ was not done with Peter, which is why you have that beautiful scene after the resurrection.
“Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep” (John 21).
A great failure in the life of a Christian believer can be a remarkable turning point. That’s how it was for Peter, “When we are faithless he remains faithful for he cannot disown himself.”
- The Strength of Christ’s Love in Its Anticipation
“I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:3
Where there is love, people want to be together. Going away is always hard and coming back is always joyful.
Since the beginning of this month my wife Karen has been in England, where she is caring for her father who is nearly 90 and in need of help.
Over the years we have had our share of goodbyes at O’Hare Airport, and they are never fun. When she left a few weeks ago, she said what she always says at the security gate: “This is the bit that I hate.” People who love each other hate to be apart.
I’m looking forward to Friday. That’s the day she’s coming back. It will be the 4th of July and I’m going to tell her that the whole city is putting on a party to celebrate her return!
Coming is always better than going for people who are in love. Jesus said,
“I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
This tells us something very important about the Lord Jesus Christ that we need to know. Yes, Christ ascended in glory. Yes, he is at the right hand of the Father. But his people are not yet with him.
There is a joy that Christ has not yet experienced. It is the joy for which he suffered and died, the joy that was set before him, the joy of having his redeemed people with him in glory.
That joy is still to come for Jesus. He shall see of the fruit of the suffering of his soul and be satisfied. That has not happened yet. Christ knows it in anticipation; it will happen as surely as he rose from the dead. But it has not happened yet. And Christ can hardly wait for this joy that is to come.
Thomas Goodwin points to the anticipation of this joy in these words, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37). When God says “the coming one will come,” he uses the same word twice for emphasis: The coming one will come.
Goodwin says, “The doubling of the phrase implies the intensity of [Christ’s] desire to come, and that His mind is always upon it… He can hardly be kept away.” The coming one will come and he will not delay.
Christ will not stay away a minute longer than he needs to!” 
Christ did not come into the world to put up more barriers to keep you out of heaven! He came because he loves you! He came to make you his own!
How to love each other
I want you to feel the strength of Christ’s love for you, the strength of his sympathy, the strength of his resolve, and the strength of his anticipation. But don’t miss this, after he puts his love on display, he says to us, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
The sins of others are to evoke more pity than anger, even through all the deficiencies and disloyalties, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
God’s love towards us anticipates what we one day will be. How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God (1 John 3:1).
 Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, p 17.