The Cross: Its Lesson of Love
Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
Last week we looked at the cross as a revelation of humanities wickedness. We looked at the forces prevalent in Jesus’ day that placed him there, and we looked at our own involvement in placing Christ on the cross. We looked at our own sinfulness as a factor in the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. But to leave the cross as merely a revelation of humanities sinfulness and wickedness tells only half the story. Remember, I also shared with you the force that held Jesus to the cross. And no, it wasn’t the nails that held Jesus there. Had Jesus wanted to come down from the cross he would have. And if Jesus had come down from the cross that would have been the end for you and me. There would have been no redemption, no forgiveness, no grace, only judgement. No, it wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the cross, rather, it was His love for you and me. It was the great love of God for all humanity that held Jesus on that cross to purchase our freedom from sin and guilt.
Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross made it possible for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus paid the price for our sin so we would not have to. Yes, the cross is a revelation of our sinfulness, but the cross is also a revelation of our worth, and a demonstration of God’s love. The cross holds for us a lesson of love, and that is the second half of the story.
When we hear the words of Paul read from 1 Corinthians 13, we cannot help but wonder if he had his mind on Christ and His cross. Consider some of Paul’s statements: “Love suffers long and is kind…love thinks no evil…bears all things…endures all things…the greatest is love.” Where could Paul have found the inspiration for such words except at the cross? A mother’s love, as great as it can be, may grow cold. A husband’s love, as strong as it can be, may falter. A patriot’s love, as firm as it may be, may taint a person to hate those that are not of the same nationality. But Christ’s love, Christ’s love was pure. Christ’s love was steadfast and strong. Christ’s love was completely unselfish to the very end.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Christ’s behavior on Calvary was His love for those who took part in the cruel and bloody work of crucifying him. Lifting his eyes to heaven, he prayed a prayer that will echo down the corridors of time as the standard for us to emulate. A standard for us to strive for. Consider his love as he spoke, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In the early days of his public ministry, Jesus preached a phenomenal sermon, recorded for us in Mathew chapters 5 – 7, wherein he spoke these words, “You have heard that it was said, “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”, but I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” Jesus demonstrated this through his words from the cross. Christ’s love for enemies went even farther than the prayer of pardon for those who were actually taking his life. His love extended to all His enemies.
On one occasion Jesus asserted, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). Paul told the Philippians that those are enemies of the cross “whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, whose mind is on earthly things.” And who has not been devoted and concerned with their own bodily needs and desires and focused on the things that can be gained on this earth? Who is not guilty of strictly looking out for number one? We are all guilty of sin, of disobedience, and it is in light of this fact that Paul writes, as it is recorded in the book of Romans, “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son…”
This being the case, Christ’s love for enemies passes out of the realm of abstract principle or beautiful sentiment and becomes exceedingly personal and vital. We are the enemies whom He loved. We are the recipients of that pardon which He prayed for His enemies on the cross. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Another aspect of love revealed by Christ on the cross is found in His promise of redemption to the thief who repented. Two thieves were crucified with Jesus. For one of them, Jesus had only silence, because the thief was unwilling to repent. For the other, Jesus had gracious words of hope and promise. Consider the love expressed to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Why the difference? Why did one thief receive silence and the other received words of grace and hope? The answer is found in the fact that one remained rebellious and unbelieving to the end, which was his choice, and the other saw his past in its true light, recognized Christ as the King of Righteousness, and threw himself at his mercy.
There was probably not much difference in the past lives of the two thieves, but at the cross they parted company. One pursued a stubborn, self-centered, “I don’t need anyone to save me” attitude right to hell. The other turned aside by repentance and faith to accept and receive salvation. Jesus exerted no coercion on either of the two men. He simply let His light of love and innocence and submission to His Father’s will shine upon them both.
Our world needs to realize that sin is more than heinous crimes or real big acts of hatred. The world needs to realize that sin is not what is perpetrated by other people. We need to realize that sin is a side of human responsibility. That is, we need to take ownership for our sin. We cannot keep throwing it on to other people by saying, “I’m not a sinner, they are, but not me.” We cannot have the attitude, “Well, I never sinned”, because the Bible says otherwise. Remember, Pastor Garry is not calling anyone a sinner, I’m just reporting what the Bible says we are in our natural state. We cannot ignore sins existence hoping it will go away on its own. We cannot and must not ignore the seriousness of sin or its consequences. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” If we live in sin we are going to die…forever. We will be lost. Knowing this, do we really want to die in sin? I think it is safe to answer on everyone’s behalf, “NO!” Yet, countless people do because they ignore the call of the Spirit of God on their life to come to Jesus for salvation. The good news is that the cross of Christ comforts all sinners with the knowledge that it is never too late to repent. So long as we can draw a breath, it is not too late. We can receive forgiveness just like the thief on the cross who turned to Jesus in faith.
One other aspect of Christ’s love revealed at the cross was His love for His mother, Mary. He forgot the pain in His own body to think of the pain of his mother’s heart. We mustn’t forget what Mary, the mother of Jesus, was going through. In the anguish-torn and despair-ridden figure of Mary was the fulfillment of the prophecy which the aged Simeon had made when he held the infant Jesus in his arms and said to Mary, “A sword shall pierce through your own soul.” Thinking of her remaining days on the earth, Jesus charged John, the disciple whom he loved, to look upon Mary as if she were his own mother.
Mind you, there is a greater lesson of love in those words than that of family responsibility. Think how Christ expanded the human family when He said, “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother!” Through these words we learn our obligation of love and charity is not restricted by ties of flesh and blood and family relationship. Christ’s love on the cross expands the definition of neighbor and expands the definition of family so that we must include even those whom we are uncomfortable with into our fellowship and community of faith. Christ’s love demonstrated on the cross calls us to a greater love for others and a greater love for God.
This threefold expression of Christ’s love, his love for his enemies, his love for the repentant sinner, and His love for his mother, should incite us, should ignite in us, a great love for Him. The response that we have to Christ for the love he has demonstrated to us on and through the cross, should be nothing short of pure, committed, and 100% devoted love to Him.
Jesus’ love is an infinite love, and only infinite love can be redemptive. It’s height and depth and breadth are never seen to such an extent as they are on the cross. His love is high enough to be a perfect revelation of God as love, deep enough to go down to the depths of sin and degradation and rescue victims of a wrong life, and broad enough to reach out to every race in every age.
Strong and pure, steadfast and beautiful, the love that streams down from the cross is God’s full and final word of redemption. The cross of Christ with its lesson of love offers us the opportunity for complete transformation, for a completely new life. Thieves, unbelievers, immoral people, and self-centered individuals are flooded with love at the foot of the cross. The cross: yes, a sign of our wickedness and sin, but also a symbol of our worth, and a demonstration of God’s love for you and me.
Let us pray…
Lord, thank you for the love you’ve shown us at the cross. Thank you for the forgiveness you have offered us, and the power, through your love, to offer forgiveness to others. Thank you for helping us see the breadth of the human family, and the need to care for one another with the same love you have shown to us. We lay claim to the new life you give us, we receive your grace, and the power you give to live a new life in you. Through the power of your name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.