I am going to start out my sermon this morning with a bit of a confession. It might be a bit shocking, but it’s true. For the longest time, I’m not sure I knew what it meant to love Jesus. That might be a little weird coming from a pastor, but as I examine the history of my heart, I know what I said to be true. I’m not sure I ever understood what it meant to love Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I mean. I knew Jesus was important. I believed every word of that wonderful children’s song that we all probably know and love, “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.” Yes. I believed that song to my very core. But loving Jesus? That was another matter. That was something I wasn’t quite sure about.
I’m sharing this with you this morning just in case I’m not the only one who struggles with the idea of loving Jesus. I mean, for most of us, we get the notion of love from our relationships with others. We love our spouses. We know what that kind of love is. We love our children. We understand that kind of love tremendously. We love our parents and relatives. We get that. We also love our friends, but not quite in the same way we love our family. But loving Jesus...what is that all about? What does that entail? I’m not sure I ever understood this idea until recently. I will say this, if you have understood it, then perhaps you should have been up here preaching to everyone instead of me.
We are continuing our walk through 1 Peter chapter one, and this morning we are going to focus on verses 6-9, “ 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Focus your attention for a moment on verse 8. We are going to begin right here and then move into the rest of these verses. How does this verse resonate deep within your heart? When you hear Peter say, “Although you haven’t seen Jesus, you love Him; and even though you don’t see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,” does your heart skip a beat? Do you find yourself pondering the deep mystery incased in these words? Do you find yourself stopping and thinking, “Geez, I cannot even begin to grasp what it would be like if Jesus were not a part of my life.”?
If these words do not have this kind of effect on you, I understand. They didn’t have that kind of effect on me for the longest time partially because I heard them as prescriptive instead of descriptive. I heard them as, “This is how you are supposed to feel. Now, make it happen. Love Jesus. Rejoice. Have indescribable and glorious joy.” And I couldn’t make myself do that. I couldn’t force myself to love Jesus. I couldn’t force myself to be joyful. I couldn’t force myself to rejoice. Maybe we can do such things externally and superficially, but not down in the deep recesses of our hearts.
Now, again, I may be completely and totally wrong in how I am handling this. Perhaps this isn’t a struggle for you. Perhaps you have loved Jesus deeply and have never heard such things in this manner. Perhaps you rejoice and have within you a deep and indescribable joy. This is a very good thing, and I rejoice for you in this. However, my experience in the church tells me that more people struggle with this than not. My experience tells me that there are very few people who have this kind of deep down sense of joy and rejoicing. Most folks I run across still are filled with worry, and bitterness, and anger, and concern. Most folks still get caught up in pointing out the faults of others and thinking, “I would never do something like that.” Most of the time we spend in our respective congregations is spent dealing with these kinds of issues–trying to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do–instead of trying to figure out how we can introduce people to Jesus and help them grow in their faith.
And I think, again, I could be wrong, but I think the problem lies in our human condition. What do I mean by that?
Just this: I think one of the reasons I had trouble loving Jesus is that I thought I was a pretty good person. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of living a good and moral and upright life. I mean, I am a pastor who is serving God. I am married and have been faithful to my spouse. I work hard to be a good father and provide for my wife and kids. I try to be kind to others and help out whenever I can. My wife and I give 10% of our income to the church every month. I try to be a good neighbor. Hey, even though I get angry at the bicyclists on the road, I never even give them half a peace sign! Oh sure, I knew I made mistakes. I knew I was sinful, but I basically thought I was pretty good. I basically thought I was doing an okay job of living out a Christian life. I never really was convinced of my brokenness. I knew I committed sins, but I didn’t really think I was all that sinful.
This actually led me to be pretty self-righteous. It led me to become angry when people wouldn’t do what I thought was the right thing. It led me to hold people in contempt, not outwardly, but deep in the recesses of my heart. It led me to think that if folks would just be like me and listen to what I said, then everything would work out right. If everyone just listened to me when I said, “Jesus tells us to do this...” and then did it, well, then everything would work out in the long run. Our church would grow. I’d feel really, really good about myself. The higher ups in the church would notice what we were doing, and they’d ask me how we accomplished it. I would be all to ready to tell them and brag about what I had done–oh, and of course, what you had done. This mentality actually led me to use Jesus as a kind of stepping stone to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. I was using Jesus to accomplish my goals and my ends, and to this extent, I don’t think you can ever love someone you are actually using.
When it was revealed to me that this is what I was doing–it was a long process in which this happened, it cut me to the core. Here I was thinking that I was doing all this great stuff when in actuality I was a self-centered brat. I was consumed with myself, and when you are consumed with yourself, you don’t do a very good job of loving others. And when you are consumed with yourself, you don’t really find a lot of joy and cause for rejoicing. Because we live in this world and are constantly running into others who do not see eye to eye with us, we are constantly trying to get our way and get people to think like we think and do like we do–when we are self-centered, it wears us thin. It makes us very fatigued, and it drains all the joy out of us. This is where I found myself. Weary. Worn. Angry. When things didn’t go my way and I felt like I was suffering, I took it out on others, and I cried out to Jesus, “Why are you doing this to me? Aren’t I following you? Aren’t I preaching and teaching in your Church? Aren’t I doing enough to satisfy you? What did I do to deserve this?”
And then I met Jesus at the foot of the cross. I met Jesus hanging there with blood running down His head. I met Him with nails piercing His feet and hands. I met Him as the skies darkened and He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In not so many words, “What did I do to deserve this?”
And I knew Jesus didn’t do anything to deserve that cross. Jesus lived the perfect life. He lived the kind of life that I should live but was too self-centered to even consider. He was kind and compassionate and brought healing to many. He showed us the nature of God and brought people to God who were once far away. He loved those who were considered unlovable. So why? Why did He hang there on that cross?
And Jesus looked at me and said, “I’m hanging here for you. I’m hanging here because you are self-centered. I am hanging here because you are self-righteous. I’m hanging here because you aren’t loving others like you should. I’m hanging here because you are using others to achieve your goals. I’m hanging here because even if you tried to make everything right, you are doing it again for your own selfish reasons and not purely for doing what is right. I am hanging here because God demands your life for putting yourself at the center of the universe instead of Him. I didn’t want to see you perish. I didn’t want to see you come under His wrath and judgement, so I took your punishment for you. I took your place. And I am doing this because I love you.”
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.
This Jesus; this God made flesh was on that cross dying for my sake, and the knowledge of my sinfulness coupled with the knowledge of what Jesus did cut me deep to the heart. This is what Jesus did for me. This is what Jesus did for you.
“6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
When we realize that the salvation of our souls has come purely by grace; purely by Jesus’ actions for us when we were still sinners, we cannot help but be overcome by overwhelming mystery and indescribable joy. We cannot help but realize that there is nothing on this earth that can move or shake us. We cannot help but realize that any amount of suffering or trials or tribulations are painful, yes, but we know–WE KNOW–they are only a hiccup in the road for we have a God who suffers too. We have a God who died. And we have a God who was raised from the dead. The God who loved us enough to die for us; loves us enough to bring us to new life. He loves us enough to bring good out of evil. He loves us enough to turn our suffering and our mourning into dancing. How can you not love a God like that? How can you not love Jesus? Oh how I love Jesus because He first loved me! Amen.