Sermo Dei: Good Friday

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Today is a day when we hear about, and remember, the deepest, greatest love there is: The love of God for mankind; the love of the Sinless One for sinners; the love of Jesus for you.

We don’t really know what love is. To us, love is often just a feeling; a warming of our hearts. I love someone because of how they make me feel. You love to do something because it rewards you in some way. At its core, our love is completely self-serving. If someone else benefits, great, so long as I get satisfaction out of it too.

When we direct love towards God, we still get it wrong. For we treat the act of loving God as an expectation, a duty to fulfill. We think that we must come to worship in order to show God that we love Him. But why do we need to do this? Does God need our love? Is it benefiting Him in some way?

Although it’s often deep, deep down – perhaps so hidden that we can’t consciously recognize it – we’re loving God for the same reason that we love others in our lives. Our sinful flesh can’t help but love God in order to get something out of it. Our thinking might be as crass as believing that we cannot be saved unless we do the work of loving Him in worship. For most, it’s the same motivation as loving our neighbor: get a feeling of satisfaction; get recognition from our fellow believers or our pastor; hear how people describe us as a faithful or good Christian.

But that’s not love. That is sin; self-centered, self-focused sin. Love has nothing to do with self-gain; it has everything to do with self-sacrifice. Fully directed to – and for the benefit of – the other, love is perfect

Thus in this perfect love God gives His only-begotten Son as the perfect sacrifice for your sin. In this perfect love our Lord Jesus dies on His cross. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” That is, God gives completely of Himself – killing His “beloved Son” – in order to make the payment on your debt.

The word “love” is used many, many times in the Scriptures. St. John uses it constantly – in fact I’ve only quoted from John’s various books so far tonight. But there are two words which John does not use that encapsulate the totality of love; true love, real love, complete and perfect love. Those words? “For you.”

For you the Son of God is incarnate of the Virgin Mary. For you He grows in wisdom and stature. For you He submits Himself to John’s baptism. For you He is tempted. For you He heals and cleanses and takes on all the disease and unholiness of the sinful world. For you He is scorned by the people.

For you He is betrayed. For you He opens not His mouth, just like the Lamb that He is. For you He bears the brutal lashes of wicked men. For you He feels the nails pierce His hands and feet. For you He is despised and rejected by men. For you He is mocked. For you He bears your griefs and carries your sorrows.

For you He is crushed by the Lord. For you His soul makes an offering for guilt. For you He is stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. For you He is completely and utterly abandoned and forsaken by God. For you He utters His last triumphant cry.

“It is finished.” Love is complete.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

You, dear sinners, are loved. Imperfectly by me, your friends, your family, your spouse. And you love imperfectly. All our love is as filthy rags.

But not His. Not the love of Jesus Christ, the crucified one. “[H]aving loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” That is, He loved you into death and into the grave. The lengths that Jesus went to love you will never be matched. But no match is necessary. For in His death for you, you are made perfect, sinless, forgiven. In this is love, that He does it all “for you.” Jesus Christ is crucified for you. He pays off Sin’s debt for you. He wins forgiveness for you.