读经： 诗107:33-43 加2:11-3:9 赛38:1-40:31
Love Greater Than Life
‘I’ve found a love greater than life itself,’ sings Ben Cantelon in his song, ‘Love Came Down’. To some, this might sound like mere romantic sentiment. In fact, it expresses a great theological truth.
In the beginning, God created life on this earth – not out of need or because he was lonely, but out of love. His love is the power that created life. Parents cannot claim that love itself willed their child into existence – but God’s love for you is the reason there is a ‘you’ to love in the first place!
You are alive because of love. Not only that, but God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that we would not perish but receive eternal life (John 3:16). The love of God truly is greater than life itself.
1. Meditate on how great God’s love is for you
Psalm 107:33-43Having rehearsed all the great things God has done for them, the psalmist concludes: ‘Consider the great love of the Lord’ (v.43). ‘If you are really wise, you’ll think this over – it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love’ (v.43, MSG). God has rescued his people so many times. He has answered their prayers.
God responds to the ‘wickedness’ of the people with discipline. Even here though, God’s love is in the foreground, as he uses that discipline to draw them back to himself. As they return, the hardships turn to blessing. The ‘rivers’ (v.33) begin to return: ‘He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs… he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased’ (vv.35,38).
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit within you would be like these ‘rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). Oswald Chambers writes, ‘The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never focus your eyes on the obstacle or the difficulty. The obstacle will be a matter of total indifference to the river that will flow steadily through you if you will simply remember to stay focussed on the Source.’
Lord, I meditate on your great love for me. I pray that by your Holy Spirit you will turn the desert and dryness of my life into ‘pools of water’ and ‘flowing springs’ (Psalm 107:35).
2. Understand how personal God’s love is for you
Galatians 2:11-3:9St Paul writes, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (2:20).
This is the extent of the greatness of the love of God. The Son of God gave himself for me… and you. It is not just that God loves the whole world. He loves you. He gave himself on the cross for you and me. He died for you. If you had been the only person in the world, Jesus would have died for you. It is as personal as that.
God’s love for you is unconditional. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.
When Paul finally understood this, it radically changed his life. His old life had come to an end. ‘I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central… The life you see me living is not “mine”’ (v.20, MSG). A new life had begun, ‘Christ lives in me’ (v.20). The Spirit of Christ had come to live in him. This new life was a life of ‘faith in the Son of God’ (v.20).
In this verse, Paul sums up the message of the gospel. It is so amazing and yet so simple. By adding to it, we only detract from it.
That is why Paul was so vociferous in his defence of this gospel. That is why he had a ‘face-to-face confrontation’ with Peter (v.11, MSG). Peter himself knew the truth of this message. Yet, because of how ‘fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique [that had] been pushing the old system of circumcision’ (v.12, MSG), he began to follow and promote the old Jewish laws and customs again (vv.12–13).
By doing this, Peter gave the impression that it was not enough to be a Christian – he was saying people must also follow Jewish customs (v.14).
But, as we have seen in the past two days, faith in Jesus Christ is all that is required. ‘We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ’ (v.16, MSG).
God, in his great love, embraces all who put their faith in Christ, without distinction. They are justified by faith. This results in a totally changed life. Christ comes to live within you. You no longer live your old life, but a new one by faith in the Son of God.
You receive his Spirit (3:2). Faith and receiving the Holy Spirit is not only the way to begin the Christian life, it is the way to continue to live it out (v.3).
The Galatians clearly had an experience of the Holy Spirit, to which Paul could point: ‘Did youreceive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?’ (v.2). When you put your faith in Christ, you received the Holy Spirit. ‘Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?’ (v.5).
On Alpha, I have often been asked the question, ‘What about those who lived before Jesus? What happens to them?’ This passage points to the answer.
The cross of Jesus works through all eternity. It works backwards, as well as forwards, in time. It was effective for Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ (v.6). ‘The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham’ (v.8). The cross was the defining event in world history to which the law and the sacrificial system pointed.
Lord, thank you that Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. Thank you that I have been crucified with Christ, and that he now lives within me. Help me trust in your great love for all the challenges I face today.
3. Know how lasting God’s love is for you
Isaiah 38:1-40:31God’s love for you is everlasting. It will not let you go. ‘In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back’ (38:17), wrote Hezekiah. God heard his prayer and saw his tears. He added fifteen years to his life and delivered him from the hand of the king of Assyria (vv.5–6).
Assyria was the world power that dominated chapters 1–39 of Isaiah. The second half of Isaiah is dominated by Israel’s exile in Babylon and the return from exile. Chapters 38 and 39 are a fitting conclusion to the first half of the book, as well as a fitting prologue to the second half. There is a spiritual connection between the two halves.
The second part of Isaiah begins with the words that are quoted later by John the Baptist (40:3). The message of Isaiah 40–55 is this: ‘The exile will be over soon.’ When Jesus came, he was proclaiming the real end of exile. In these chapters, we get a foretaste as Isaiah proclaims the end of the physical exile Israel experienced in the sixth century BC.
Isaiah foresaw a new sense of the presence of God (40:3–5), a new confidence in the word of God (vv.6–8) and a new vision of God (v.9 onwards).
He saw the great love of God, and he wrote, ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young’ (v.11; see also John 10).
No one can compare to God in terms of greatness. He is the Creator of the universe (Isaiah 40:12–14). Compared to him ‘the nations are like a drop in a bucket’ (v.15). It is absurd to compare God to an idol that is made by a craftsman (vv.18–20).
Compared to God, the people of this world, even its great leaders, are ‘like grasshoppers’ (v.22). He is the Creator of the entire universe, including the billions upon billions of stars (v.26). This is the God who loves you personally and carries you close to his heart. God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
God is also a power-sharing God. He ‘energises those who get tired… those who wait upon God get fresh strength’ (vv.29–31, MSG). Quietly waiting on God, study his word, pray, worship and meditate on his love for you. He will restore you, re-energise you and empower you to face everything you need to do.
Lord, I worship you. You are the Creator of this great universe. You are all-powerful. Yet you love me, take me in your arms and hold me close to your heart. Please renew my strength as I wait on you. Thank you for the greatness of your love for me and that your love will never let me go.
‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.’
The same God who created this entire universe cares for us: ‘He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart’ (v.11). Our magnificent, all-powerful God is also a tender God.