An Enduring Love

1 Corinthians 13:7

7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Dear Friends in Christ,

What do you call the kind of love that a fellow by the name of Robertson McQuilken had for his wife?  Obviously before you can answer that question you need to know a little bit about Robertson McQuilken.  So allow me to share that information with you.  As a young man he had high goals and aspirations for himself.  He dreamed of becoming the president of Columbia Bible College in Columbia, SC, the same position that his father had held when Robertson was younger.  And sure enough, his dream came true.  As he assumed his position as president of this Christian college, he sensed in a very strong way that this was God’s calling on his life.  It was what God wanted him to do.  And he did it well for a number of years.

But then the day came when this very special and gifted man realized there was a tragedy developing in his home right before his very eyes.  His beloved wife of many years was beginning to show the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease.  And this was no slow-moving case either.  In a matter of months, she not only lost her memory of their life together as husband and wife, but she even reached the point where she no longer recognized him as her husband.

It was then that Robertson McQuilken made the very difficult decision to resign his presidency from Columbia Bible College so that he could give full-time care to his wife.  Needless to say, there were those who disagreed with him.  There were the realists who told him there was no point to what he was doing because any good old soul could take care of his wife, but not just anyone could be the president of this college.  And besides, his wife didn’t even recognize him anymore.

Then there were the pious critics who felt that he was walking away from a calling that God had given him.  In other words, he was putting his wife ahead of his Lord.

But Robertson McQuilken was a very wise man and he had answers for all his critics.  To the realists, he readily admitted that it was true; his wife didn’t know who he was anymore, but that wasn’t the point, he told them.  The important thing was that he still knew who she was and he still saw in her now-forgetful self the same lovely woman he had married years before.

To his pious critics who felt he was abandoning God’s calling he had an even better answer.  He said, “There is only one thing more important than a calling, and that is a promise.  And I promised to be there for her till death do us part.”

What do you call that kind of love?  I call it enduring love.  That’s going to be the subject of our sermon on this first Sunday of the new year as we spend some time focusing upon the enduring love that Jesus had for us.  For starters, consider the fact that Jesus endured the distance and the difference between us.  You know, he could have quit before he even began, couldn’t he?  One look at the size of Mary’s womb and he could have said, “No way am I going in there.”  After all, he was limitless.  According to the Bible, he fills the heavens and the earth.  Who could blame him if he didn’t want to squeeze his limitless being into that tiny space?  And for 9 months, no less.

But there are other reasons he could have quit before he began.  Prior to coming to earth he had resided in eternity which means he was outside of time, unbounded by minutes, hours, days, and weeks.  And what about that stable?  Do we have anyone here this morning that was born in a stable or a barn?  You mean to tell me that when God entered the world, he entered in a more humble way than any of us?  Stables stink, don’t they?  Stables are dirty and messy.  They have no tile floor or warm, cozy bassinet into which a baby could be placed after it’s born.  So because of the distance he had to travel and the hardships he had to endure, Jesus could have very easily quit before he even began.

But he didn’t.  Instead, John tells us in the 1st chapter of his Gospel, “…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  A few years ago when I was planting my garden, I got to thinking about that verse when I unearthed a sizeable ant colony.  There they were, scurrying all over the place, like they were scared to death.  And maybe they had good reason to be.  After all, this big giant of a human being had just gone through with this noisy machine that churned and tilled up the soil.  Then he had drug this blade-like instrument called a hoe through the freshly turned soil to create a seedbed for what was to be planted there.  As I watched those poor ants running helter skelter, I, being the compassionate fellow I am, felt sorry for them.  And I thought, “What could I possibly do to reach them and help them?”  And the only answer I could come up with was that I’d have to become one of them.  I’d have to go from 5 feet 10 inches to teeny weeny.  From 165 pounds to a fraction of an ounce.  I’d have to swap my big world for their little world.

Now I may be compassionate, but I’m not that compassionate.  I may like ants, but I don’t like them that much.  But you know what?  That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He swapped his big world for our little world.  And he did it not for a bunch of ants, but for a whole planet of human beings who were far from deserving of it.  He didn’t have to, but he did because God is love and since Jesus is God, he is love, and as our text says, love endures all things.  So he endured the distance and the difference between him and us.

Then secondly, he endured the resistance and rejection from us.  In that 1st chapter of John’s Gospel that I quoted from before, the apostle goes on to say that not only did the Word become flesh and make his dwelling among us, but he also adds:  “We beheld his glory.”  What that means is that there were times during his earthly life and ministry that Jesus allowed glimpses of his glory and flashes of his divinity to shine through his humanity.

We might think of it this way.  Many of you know who Kevin Durant is – star basketball player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, former NBA Rookie of the Year, last year’s MVP, NBA all-star, 6 ft., 9 in. tall, 240 pounds, body fat 6-8%.  I have that much in one thigh.  I select him for this illustration because I also know he’s an outstanding Christian man who is not ashamed of his faith and who is a lover of children.

Now I want you to imagine for a moment that Kevin is playing basketball one day when this little 6-year-old girl comes up to him and tugs on his shorts because that’s all the higher she can reach and she says, “Mr. Durant, how about you and me going a little one on one?”  Kevin agrees, so they clear the court and they go at it.  Now, they’re playing on the same court, they’re playing the same game with the same ball, but you and I know what?  That’s not the same Kevin.  That’s not the same Kevin Durant that goes up against Lebron James or Tim Duncan.  This is a mild Kevin, a restrained Kevin, a reserved Kevin.

But suppose some bully comes along and starts making fun of the little girl.  He starts calling her names and bragging about how he can dribble circles around her.  He even comes out of the stands and takes the ball away from her and throws it back to her so hard that it knocks her over.  How long do you think it’s going to be before the restrained Kevin becomes the unrestrained Kevin?  How long before the real Kevin steps forward and says to that bully, “Listen, buddy, if you think you’re so good, how about you and me going a little one on one?”  And it wouldn’t take but a few seconds before the real Kevin would soar over that bully’s head and slam-dunk the ball right through the basket.

Well, that’s the way it was with Jesus.  Much of the time he was on this earth, he was a restrained Jesus.  Though he was true God, he held back his glory.  He didn’t always and fully make use of the power that was available to him.  But every once in a while, he’d pull back the curtain, if you will, and allow his real glory to show through.  He did it on the Mount of Transfiguration; he did it the times he healed the sick and raised the dead; he did it when he still the storm at sea; he did it when he fed the hungry multitudes.  All of these were examples of times when people beheld his glory.

And some of those people, like John, were stunned by that glory.  They were changed by that glory.  But what’s even more remarkable is that others beheld that same glory and were not changed.  Listen to this cluster of passages I pulled out of the Gospels that show how people responded to Jesus while he was on this earth.  Matt. 9:24: “They laughed at him.”  John 10:20:“Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?’”  Mark 15:29:  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads.”  Isaiah had foretold this type of reaction to the Messiah in the 53rd chapter of his book when he wrote: “He was despised and rejected by men.”  Yet Jesus endured that rejection.  He endured that resistance because love, especially the kind of love he has for us, endures all things.

Then the final point I want to make today is that he endured the exchange for us.  Now what do I mean by that?  Well, if you’ve never understood what separates the Christian faith from every other religion in the world, this is it – the mysterious exchange that took place when Christ took our place on the cross.  Nowhere in the Bible is this stated more clearly than in 2 Cor. 5:21 where it says: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Martin Luther is the one who pegged this as “the great reversal.”  Jesus takes our place, we take his place.  He takes on our sin, we take on his righteousness.

Now to help us understand this, I want you to ponder the following question.  If Osama bin Laden were still alive today, would you swap places with him? If by some miracle you could take on his body and his beard and his past and his future, and he could by that same miracle take on your body and your identity and your past and your future, would you do that?  Of course not!  You’d have to be crazy to do that, right?  Because if the authorities saw you and mistook you for Osama bin Laden, then they would want to treat you like they would treat Osama bin Laden.  And that wouldn’t be too kindly, right?

But my friends, what I’ve just described is exactly what Jesus did for you and me and believe it or not, even Osama bin Laden.  When Jesus hung on the cross, he switched places with us.  He in essence told his Father, “However you would treat those sinful human beings, treat me that way.  Whatever you would do to that rapist, do it to me.  Whatever you would do to that terrorist, do it to me.  Whatever you would do to that adulterer, do it to me.  And then do to them what you would do to me.  Treat them like you would treat me, your perfect Son.”  That’s the great reversal, my friends.  That’s the great exchange that Jesus endured because love – his love – endures all things.

Now let me ask you, if God could give you and me that kind of love, can we not find it in our hearts to give that same love to others?  Remember, the past few weeks we’ve been focusing upon some very special gifts that God has given to us and that he now wants us to give to others not just at Christmas time but throughout the year.  We’ve talked about a cloak of love, a ring of belief, an olive leaf of hope, and now today a love that endures symbolized by the manger and the cross.  May that enduring love penetrate our hearts, change our lives, and give us the strength, the desire, and the motivation to love all people endearingly and enduringly, including even those who are difficult to love.