5th Easter Sunday
April 29, 2018
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
1 John 3:18-24
…Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.
This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commands and do what is pleasing in his sight. Now this is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps his commands remains in him, and he in him. And the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he has given us.
1 John 3:18-24
“Actions Speak Louder than Words”
1) Does Jesus Love Us? Jesus Christ Laid Down His Life For Us!
2) Do We Love Jesus? We Ought to Lay Down Our Life For Our Brothers.
Dear disciples of Jesus, our crucified but risen, life-giving Savior,
‘Actions speak louder than words’ is the mantra as a stereotypical sports agent tells an owner, ‘Show me the money.’ ‘Do not just say you appreciate the player I represent, show me your appreciation by offering a contract with a large salary. Show me the money.’ ‘Actions speak louder than words’ is a message John also delivers as he urges, ‘Dear children of God, let us not love in word or speech, but in action & in truth.’ Love is not simply saying, ‘I love you.’ Love does the dishes; mows the lawn before mom or dad asks for help. Love sits in the bleachers smiling while your child plays, as if you would rather be here than be at home relaxing. Love brings your wife flowers or chocolates even if it is not her birthday or anniversary. Love shares the last piece of pie. Love is an action, not only an attitude.
Realizing actions speak louder than words, we ask, ‘Does Jesus love me?’ John is emphatic, introducing our text, ‘Jesus laid down his life for us!’ Reversing the question, we also ask, ‘Do I love Jesus?’ Do we love Jesus? ‘Of course we love Jesus’ we will quickly answer. Good words! But words are not enough. Not listening to our lips but looking at our life, John encourages, ‘We should also lay down our lives for our brothers & sisters.’
Consider two questions today: Does Jesus love me? Do I love Jesus? The first sets the stage for the second. God leaves no doubt about his love for you & for me. God repeatedly defines love by showing us Jesus’ cross. Our Lord’s apostles always write, ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’ Jesus sacrificing himself on a cross as our Substitute is the first (but not final) picture disciples will see whenever we think of love. Inspired John adds an application — John urges an attitude in believers — which will paint thousands of different lovely pictures as Christ’s redeeming love continually reappears in the actions of our individual lives.
What is love? ‘This is love…Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’ Describing different degrees of love people display in our world, Jesus lifts his disciples’ eyes to the top rung, ‘No one has greater love than this that he lay down his life for his friends.’[JN 15] In practice, in our Christian life, I may offer you food or clothes, offer you the use of my particular skills to complete some project. I may offer you some of my time to listen to your troubles or simply provide a little companionship. I may give you advice, may give you a little money. But the greatest gift anyone can offer a friend is to put myself in a situation where I could lose my life in order to keep you alive. Will a friend donate blood for you as you face an operation? I pray we would without a moment’s hesitation. Will a friend donate a kidney or donate bone marrow for an operation a friend needs? While this involves a little greater risk, I pray we would give this gift of love. If a friend needs a heart transplant, however, can I offer them my heart? Donating my heart (even to save a life) would be a deadly decision I might think I could never approve. Yet we label people heroes when they choose death or the possibility of death for themselves rather than risking death or injury for others: A soldier covers a grenade with his body so shrapnel will not hit & harm others in his platoon. A driver intentionally turns his car down into a ditch rather than hit a child standing in the road. People run into a burning building to carry out a friend or stranger still trapped inside.
‘No one has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,’ Jesus explains, approaching Calvary’s cross where he knows he will be crucified so we can live rather than die as God decides our eternal destination. As Paul puts this picture into its proper perspective I pray we will appreciate Jesus doing more than any man might even attempt, for we were not Jesus’ friends, we were sinners, we were God’s enemies when his Son laid down his life for us: ‘…at just the right time,’ Paul writes, ‘when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’[ROM 5]
Any idea of friendship is absent; any hint of merit on our part is out of the picture. Jesus displays love we could not begin to deserve by volunteering to innocently suffer hell’s terror as our Substitute just so we guilty, but now forgiven, sinners will be able to enjoy heaven’s blessings. ‘Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God,’[1 PT 3] Peter writes, stressing the extent of Jesus’ love as he explains, ‘You know it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that we were redeemed from the empty [sinful] way of life handed down to us from our forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’[1 PT 1]
This is love: Christ laid down his life for us; we lay down our lives for our brothers. ‘To this you were called,’ Peter points out, ‘because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, you should follow in his steps.’ Jesus’ unselfish, sacrificial suffering for sinners is not only the source of our life as he credits us with his righteousness, but is also our pattern for a life of love in which we imitate our Savior’s concern for other souls: ‘He committed no sin, & no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats… He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins & live for righteousness.’[1 PT 2]
Jesus loves us; we love our fellow believers is the same picture John paints. Am I to be crucified for you? No, not on a cross at Calvary – our sin’s penalty is already paid; our salvation is already won by God’s Son! But I am to sacrifice; I am to give up my life for you as Jesus gave up his life for me. How may Jesus’ example apply in my life? John questions, encourages, ‘If anyone has this world’s goods & sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him — how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions & in truth.’
How is Jesus’ example applied in a disciples’ life? Our Lord reports, ‘In Joppa, a disciple named Tabitha (Dorcas) was always doing good & helping the poor, making them robes & other clothing to keep them warm.’[ACTS 9] In Jerusalem, ‘All the early believers are one in heart & mind. No one claims any of his possessions is his own, but they share everything they have…There are no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who own lands or houses sell them, bring the money from the sale, put it at the apostles’ feet & it is distributed to anyone as he has need.’[ACTS 4]
Our Lord’s order to lay down our life for our brother or sister as Christ lovingly laid down his life for us never wavers, ‘Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.’[ROM 12] Our Lord’s order never ends, ‘Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people entertain angels without knowing it.’[HEB 13] Our Lord’s order prioritizes but never limits aid we offer to believers, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’ [ROM 12] ‘As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’[GAL 6]
Critical questions: Does Jesus love me? Do I love Jesus? Our life’s actions answer louder than our words, just as Jesus sacrificing himself for our sins certifies God’s love for sinners Jesus is sent to save more clearly than any sermon he might have shouted on a mountainside or any personal promise of forgiveness he may have whispered in a quiet conversation. Emphasizing how actions speak louder than words, Jesus pictures his return to judge us the last day. While our Savior separates souls into two groups based on faith he sees in our heart – ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, you will be saved’[ACTS 16] – ‘Whoever does not believe in God’s one & only Son will be condemned’[JN 3] – our Judge will certify faith hidden in our heart by pointing to fruits of faith people see in our life. Jesus’ judgment will be beautiful for us, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of this world.’ Evidence Jesus offers will also be beautiful, ‘I was hungry; you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty; you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger; you took me in, I was naked; you clothed me, I was sick; you took care of me, I was in prison; you visited me.’[MT 25]
Believers love our brothers; we lay down our life for our sisters in Christ, not simply professing faith but producing fruits of faith, imitating Jesus’ love in our life. Simple truth: as Christ lives in us, we love — we love God, we love our fellow believers; we love our neighbor, we even love our enemy…in words & in action! Our Lord’s expectations, simple to state, are too often hard to see in my life. John addresses this difficulty, ‘Whenever our hearts condemn us,’ when my conscience correctly accuses me of actions & attitudes that do not perfectly imitate Jesus — whenever I see my sin — John quickly turns me to see my Savior, ‘This is love: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
Two questions: ‘Am I a sinner?’ ‘Am I saved?’ ‘Am I condemned or am I forgiven?’ ‘Whenever our hearts condemn us,” whenever I see my sins, inspired apostle John reiterates, ‘God is greater than our hearts; he knows all things.’ God knows my sins, yes, God sees more evil in my life than I will ever recognize. God also knows, better than I will ever understand, our Lord’s love ‘sent his one & only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: God loved us; God sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ Reassuring our salvation, John again encourages our sanctification, ‘Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”[1 JN 4]