"I Will Love You Forever"

March 2, 2008 1Jn 4:7-19

(adapted from 'He Did This Just for You' Church Outreach Kit by Max Lucado, excerpts from The Great Love of God)

O the Deep, Deep...Ocean

"God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8 NLT) How great is that love? How can we begin to express its awesomeness?

Just 2 weeks ago, Yvonne and I sailed across 300 km of the Atlantic Ocean between Florida and Nassau in the Bahamas. From deck at times all that was visible was sea and sky [PHOTO]. Thankfully I couldn't see UNDER the surface or else I would have felt very vulnerable; north of Nassau the ocean floor plunges to over 6,000 feet deep! You don't like to think about that when you're floating along in a hunk of metal. (Especially on the last day, when there were whitecaps, the boat was rolling, and I was pretty 'green around the gills'!)

The great depths of the sea are a reminder of a pool of LOVE, the pool of God's love--pure, fresh, life-changing and impossible to measure (infinite!). Has anyone ever plumbed the depths of God's love? How wide is it? How long is it? How high and how deep is the love of God?

Some want to put limits on God's love. They warn us not to drink too deeply, lest we exhaust the supply. But the fact is, no one has ever reached the bottom of God's love.

Ask God the question - "How wide and deep is Your love?" - and He takes you to Calvary. The love of God is measured by the Cross of Christ. It is there that God shows the extent of His love. It is there that we find our spiritual thirsts quenched. It is only there that we find refreshment for our parched souls.

Why is the cross, an instrument of execution, the symbol of the Christian faith? Would we put a picture of a firing squad on our business cards? The cross (grisly as it is) is the Christian symbol in order to show the dimension of God's love - its breadth, its length, its depth, and its height.

1.The BREADTH of the cross: wide enough to include you (John 3:16)

How wide is God's love? Wide enough for the whole world. This is the testimony of the most famous verse in the Bible-- John 3:16. It does not say "For God so loved the ...rich / sober / smart / or North Americans", etc. It says, "For God so loved the world..." Are you included in the world? Then you are included in God's love.

We may occasionally be out of God's will, but there is never a second when we are out of God's heart. 1Jn 4:8 says, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." Many exclude, but Christ includes. His posture on the cross shows that He would rather die for you than live in heaven without you.

2.The LENGTH of the cross: long enough to protect you (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Stretching in front of the cross is a shadow. A long shadow. A shadow that stretches not just across the geography of Jerusalem, but across all the ages of human history. A shadow long enough to shield us from the justifiable punishment of God against sin.

The equation of the cross, the essence of Scripture, is captured in three truths:

(1) God punishes sin. Because he is holy. God and sin are like oil and water - they can't mix.

What's the response of a fireman to a blaze out of control? He extinguishes it. What's the reaction of a policeman to crime? He combats it. When a father sees a spider in his child's crib, what will he do? He will throw it out. Once when we were in Congo, Emily and Keith (both under 3 years of age) had been sitting in the living room playing on the concrete floor. I glanced under a bureau in the corner and saw a snake - who knows how long it had been there? I dashed over to the neighbours who would know how to deal with it - I never wanted to get something out of the house so fast in my life!

It's the nature of a fireman to extinguish, a policeman to attack, and a father to protect. And what's the nature of holiness? When a holy God sees sin, how will he respond? Will he not extinguish it? Will he not attack it? Is His first impulse not to throw it out? Can a holy God sit idle in the presence of sin? Not if he is holy. Habakkuk prays to the Lord, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong." (Hab 1.13) God punishes sin.

Yet, (2) God loves sinners. "God so loved the world..." 1Jn 4:16 says "God IS love" - that's the essence of His nature, just as He also is holy. Romans 5:8, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." How can God both love us AND punish sin? How can a holy God love sinners without compromising his holiness? The answer is found in the third truth.

(3) God put our sin on his Son and punished it there. Every one of us committed enough sins just this past week to deserve hell. Our selfishness, rebellion, and bentness are an affront to our holy, glorious Creator.

The problem is not so much the level of our mistakes and how evil they are - but the perfection of heaven. One mistake is enough to separate us from God. Sin is when we say to God, "Move over and I'll take over." We do this with thoughts, actions, and words. Each and every one of us has done this.

God takes all those sins and puts them on Jesus and judges Him in our place. This is how he both satisfies his holiness and demonstrates his love. Paul expresses this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Imagine hiding in the shadow of Christ on the cross when God pours out his full and just punishment on his Son. Hear afresh Jesus' wailing cry: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk 15:34) This is not the cry of a saint, but of a sinner. He receives the full blow of God's wrath. He takes the hit for us. Romans 8:1 says, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." In Christ, we are not condemned. We are safe in the shadow of the cross.

How long is God's love? Long enough to protect you. God has done everything necessary to save you.

3. The DEPTH of the cross: deep enough to change you

The second daughter of Queen Victoria was Princess Alice. Princess Alice had a son, who at the age of four, was infected with the horrible affliction known as black diphtheria. The condition was highly contagious and Alice was cautioned to stay away from her son.

She tried, but she couldn't. One day she overheard him whisper to the nurse, "Why doesn't my mother kiss me anymore?" The words were more than she could bear. Princess Alice ran to her son and smothered him with kisses. The mother contracted the disease and within a few days both died and were buried.

How do we explain such actions? What would drive a mother to do such a thing? Logic? A royal decree? Moral duty? Maternal requirement? No. There is only one explanation - love.

God is not bound by anything. His hand is not forced by any external, universal law. He did what he did because of love.

"Surely there has to be an end to this love." You'd think so, wouldn't you? But David the adulterer never found it. Paul the murderer never found it. Peter the liar never found found it. Peter the liar never found it. When it came to life, they hit bottom. But when it came to God's love, they never did. The love of God goes deep--deep enough to reach the lowest heart. And you know what love does with that heart? Love lifts it high. For the cross is high enough to lift us.

This love will change us. If you drink deeply every day from the ocean of God's perfect love you'll be a different person. By immersing ourselves in the depths of Gods love, we are changed.

4. The HEIGHT of the cross: high enough to lift you

When we were in Orlando last month, we didn't get to Disney World or Sea World or the EPCOT centre. (Maybe next time!) But we did go to a theme park called "The Holy Land Experience". It was very educational about the Bible, complete with a full-scale rendering of Solomon's temple, teaching about the wilderness Tabernacle, and a scale model of Jerusalem. But our day ended with actors portraying a re-enactment of Jesus' crucifixion. The Roman soldiers drove "Jesus" right past us carrying the cross - he collapsed practically at my feet. Another actor, Simon of Cyrene, was recruited from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. True to scripture, the crucifixion took place up on a hill: it was quite a thing to see a live man, with bloody almost-bare body, hanging way up there on a cross. The cross has a height.

A hymn-writer compared the cross to the ladder Jacob saw in his dream: "So seems my Savior's cross to me, a ladder unto heaven." The cross is God's ladder to his home, And--this is important--the ladder is finished. It needs no work, no enhancement, no additional rungs. It needs only a step, our step of faith.

Reach Out and Rely on the Reservoir

1Jn 4(9-10,16) says, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins...And so we know and rely on the love God has for us." The immeasurable love in God's ocean, His limitless reservoir! "God IS love."

The next time you see a cross, ponder the wonder of God's love: high enough to lift you; deep enough to reach you; long enough to protect you; and wide enough to include you.

In The Message translation, Ephesians 3:17-19 says: "...take in with all the Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb its depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives in the fullness of God." Let's pray.