Love Can Only Be Won

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there lived a bright and crafty scientist who loved what he did for a living.  In fact, so much so that he had never allowed himself the opportunity to enjoy a relationship with a member of the opposite sex.  He was just too busy.  But as he got older, he found himself becoming more and more lonely and longing for that kind of love.  So one day he decided to put his scientific knowledge and expertise to work by concocting a special chemical mixture, a love potion that would cause a woman to fall madly and passionately in love with him.  And, as luck would have it, at just that time he met a beautiful, talented, and all-round good woman – the woman of his dreams.  So he asked some of his friends to arrange a time when the 2 of them could meet and on that first date, he poured his little chemical mixture into her drink.  And lo and behold, it worked.  This exquisite creature fell instantly and madly in love with him, and soon they were married.

But was our hero happy?  Not by a long shot!  In short order, he became thin and haggard-looking from not eating.  He began to neglect his work.  He even reached the point where he couldn’t touch his beloved bride.  Why?  Because he spent every waking moment torturing himself with the question: Would she love me if it were not for the chemical concoction I gave her?

That scientist learned an important lesson, didn’t he?  He learned that love cannot be commanded; it cannot be concocted; it cannot be coerced.  It can only be won.  And that’s really what this whole season of Advent and Christmas is all about, isn’t it?  How God set out to win the love of a humanity that had rejected him, rebelled against him, and forsaken him.  And the method that he used to win our love is spelled out so clearly in our text for today where it says: “When the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”  Elsewhere, in the familiar words of John 3:16, we’re told that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  What those passages tell us, my friends, is that God set out to win our love by first of all visiting our planet in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.  Or to put it another way, ours is a God-invaded planet.   

And while you would think that humanity would open its arms wide to receive its Creator, that’s not exactly what happened.  Unfortunately, Jesus did not always find a welcome reception here.  When he was just a young baby, King Herod felt threatened by him and tried to kill him.  When he preached his first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, his friends and neighbors were so appalled at what he said about being the Messiah that they tried to run him out of town and throw him off a cliff.  The prophet Isaiah had actually foretold such rejection in the 53rd chapter of his book when he wrote of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”  In the very first chapter of his gospel, John wrote these words about Jesus: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

How could that be?  How could Jesus’ own people, the ones to whom the Messiah was specifically sent, how could they miss him when he came?  The answer is really pretty simple.  It’s because Jesus didn’t look the part.  They were expecting and hoping that their Messiah would be this mighty and majestic ruler who would come riding into Jerusalem on the back of a white stallion, who would overthrow the powerful Roman Empire, and who would restore Israel to its former glory that it had once enjoyed a thousand years before under King David and King Solomon.

And while it’s very easy for us to stand by and criticize those Jews for misunderstanding and mis-labeling Jesus when he came, are we so sure that we wouldn’t have done the same thing had we been living at that time?  In fact, aren’t we often guilty of doing the very same thing those Jews did, not necessarily with Jesus, but with others?  Aren’t we quick to label other people without really getting to know them?

In one of his books entitled A Gentle Thunder, author Max Lucado shares a personal experience that we can all probably relate to, an experience in which he was guilty of applying a label to certain individuals before he really got to know them.  Here’s what he says… (p.157)

So my friends, be careful whom you label and how you label.  Remember what Jesus says in the great judgment day scene depicted for us in Matt. 25?  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  That’s a powerful reminder that the people we sometimes look down upon, the people that we sometimes prematurely judge, the people that we sometimes label as misfits or good-for-nothings just might be Jesus in human form, waiting for us to put our faith into action and demonstrate the kind of love to them that he so consistently showed to us.

Which leads us to the 2nd point I want to make today.  Another way in which God set out to win our love was by allowing himself to identify with our needs, our weaknesses, our frailties.  No other religion in our world has a god that did that.  Instead, their false gods all have a tendency to separate or distance themselves from humanity.  But not the God of Christianity.  And I’ve got to tell you, this is one aspect of the Christmas story that will never cease to amaze me.  Every time we get to this part of the year, I find myself pondering all that Jesus gave up for a pitiful, sinful, unworthy person like me.  Think about it.  He left behind the glory and perfection of heaven where he was worshiped and adored by countless throngs of angels and where he enjoyed the exalted position as the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, and he came down to this dirty, imperfect, sin-filled world, all so that he could identify with us and understand what it’s like to be human.  Jesus knew what it was like to hunger and thirst, to be tired and stressed and overwhelmed by the demands of the day.  He knew what it was like to face temptation and go toe-to-toe with Satan.  He knew what it was like to feel the stinging loss of a loved one, to not be well-liked by everyone, to be misunderstood, even by members of his own family who on one occasion tried to take him away from the crowds because they thought he was crazy.  He knew what it was like to be betrayed by a friend, to be made fun of, to be forsaken by those who were closest to him.  He knew what it was like to hurt, to bleed, to suffer, to die.

And what a comfort and help that can be to us, my friends, to be able to lean on someone who understands what we’re going through because he’s been through it himself.  I remember when Marilyn’s dad died back in 1995, we so appreciated the cards and personal notes that were sent to us from people who understood and could give us some idea of what to expect.  I remember one note in particular that came from Eileen Wall which simply said, “The first year is the hardest.”  I appreciated that one so much because it was like she was preparing us for what lay ahead of us, that the loss we had experienced was not something that we would get over quickly or easily and that every holiday, every birthday, every family gathering that first year would open up that wound of sorrow again as there would always be that empty spot where my father-in-law had once sat and his familiar voice would be absent from our conversations.  Though I think we knew all of that deep down in our hearts, it was nice to hear it from someone who had already been through it and survived.

Well, that’s the way it is with Jesus.  Heb. 4:15 says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”  Did you catch that last part, my friends?  Jesus, our great high priest, was without sin.  What that means is that he is different from any earthly comforters who might come our way and while we may appreciate them and value their input, he is the perfect Son of God who has all power in heaven and on earth at his disposal and who therefore can do far more for us in our times of need than anyone else.

And that takes us to one more way in which God set out to win our love and that was by providing us with the promise of a brighter and eternal future.  Like the Apostle Paul says in Rom. 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We like that word “gift,” don’t we?  Especially at this time of the year.  I don’t know about you, but when I was a young boy and the Christmas season rolled around, I made it a pretty regular practice of snooping for my presents.  And I can remember one year when I had asked for a weightlifting set, I finally found it in our hall closet.  And when I was sure that I would be getting that gift, I set about dreaming of what it would do for me, how it would transform me from a 98-pound weakling into this muscle-bound hulk of humanity, this prime physical specimen that stands before you today.  My point being, I saw in that weightlifting set a bright future for myself, a foretaste of what I could one day become.

And that’s exactly what God has done for us in the Bible.  He has given us a foretaste of heaven and of what to expect once we get there.  He has given us the assurance of a bright and happy future, of a perfect life that will know no end.  Through the atoning work of Christ, he has taken the fear out of death and the hiss out of that old serpent, the devil.  For the moment we step across the threshold of heaven, all of Satan’s favorite tools that he loves to employ for making life miserable for us will be instantly rendered invalid and will become a distant memory, a thing of the past.  Imagine that – no more sin, no more sickness, no more sorrow, no more suffering, no more sadness, no more separation, no more pain, no more death.  Paul puts it this way in I Cor. 15:56-57: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And that victory belongs to anyone and everyone who claims Christ as Savior.  And you know what’s really neat about all this?  We don’t have to wait to die to enjoy that victory.  Rather, the abundant and eternal life that Christ won for us with its joy and peace, its forgiveness and assurance is ours to savor even now until we taste of its absolute perfection and fullness in heaven.

So I think we would all agree that God has done a pretty good job – in fact, an absolutely masterful and marvelous job – in his attempt to win our love.  The question is, has it worked?  Does he have your love?  Does he occupy in your heart and your life that highest place of honor, that place of preeminence that he desires to have and that rightfully belongs to him?  Oh how I pray that he does because nothing else can make a greater difference in our lives and our eternities than that.  So may our prayer this Advent season be that of Martin Luther’s in his famous Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” where he says in the 13th stanza:

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,

Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,

Within my heart that it may be

A quiet chamber kept for Thee.