The Advent of Love
In my defense, I was trying to be loving. I want to start with that. So Monday morning around 7 am, we were in the labor and delivery room at Royal Oak Beaumont and Bethany was pushing. I was by her side, helping her in any way that I could. And all of the sudden I started feeling nauseous, and my ears started ringing. The next thing that I remember is that everything went black. All I could hear, faintly, was Bethany’s voice asking me, “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” I don’t know what I looked like, but apparently I looked like something was wrong. The only thing that I could muster myself to say was, “I can’t see anything.” It’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me.
So here’s what happened, the day before, on Sunday, the only thing that I had eaten was some chicken and vegetables here at the church Xmas dinner. My plan, originally, was to go and get us dinner after the Patriots/Steelers game, okay? Priorities. But, I’m not kidding you, when the game ended we left to go to the hospital. Bethany told me, she said, “You need to get some food,” and I said, “No, you can’t eat from here on out until after you deliver the baby, so I’m not going to eat either.” Solidarity, I am going to suffer with you. So we got to the hospital and checked in. We were in and out of sleep most of the night as she was in labor, and then she started pushing around 7 in the morning. So fast forward now to this point when I am blacking out so I am standing there, and the doctor told me to sit down. There was a couch right behind me. So I sit down on the bench and they went and got me some juice, and I drank the juice and I instantly felt better. I could see again. I was like Zachariah or Paul, he went blind and then he could see. I was like Paul, I could see the light like Hank Williams and then continued to help my wife. I tell you this story in shame because that is such a rookie move for a dad to black out during the birth of his kid. I mean, this is number 5 and I blacked out! My attempt to show my wife love was an epic failure.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This morning we’re celebrating the 4th week of Advent together. Over the last month we’ve journeyed together through hope, and peace, and joy. The hope and peace and joy that came in the 1st Advent , of course Advent from the Latin “coming” the coming of the Lord, the first coming. The hope and peace and joy that we expect at his 2nd coming when he raises the dead, judges the world, and makes all things new. Not only that church, but even now when a sinner lays down their arms, repents, and believe the gospel, Jesus comes to them to save them from their sins. This morning – Christmas Eve morning – we will finish the Advent season together by reflecting on the love of God that was revealed in Bethlehem that night.
Our text this morning, you may have noticed, is not what you would call a traditional Christmas passage. We are not looking at the introductory passages of Matthew or Luke this morning. But let’s be clear, even as we have read Roman 5 together this morning there is no clearer tome on God’s love than what we just read. We’re going to focus on verse 8 this morning, but we need to get the context first. We need to understand what is going on in the letter and in the passage because you can pull a verse out of context and make it say whatever you want it to say. We want to be faithful to the Bible. As you know, the Book of Romans is a letter originally written by the Apostle Paul to a local church in Rome. Martin Luther called Romans the most important letter ever written. The 1st 3 chapters of the book of Romans are a dark explanation of the depravity of humanity. Because of our sin, we have been alienated from God. We are rebels, we are enemies of the king of the universe. God has revealed his law to us, to both Jews and Gentiles and all have fallen short of the glory of God. He has given us his law but the law can’t save us. It is by faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ that we are justified – that we are made right with God.
Romans 5:1 because that’s true, Paul says we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have obtained access into God’s grace. We rejoice in the hope and peace that we have obtained in Christ. Did you notice that when we were reading that? How often the words “peace” and “hope” and “rejoice” are sprinkled throughout the beginning of Romans 5. This is an Advent text if we have ever read one. Not only do we rejoice in our hope and our peace in Jesus, but we can also rejoice in suffering because we know that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is all possible because, what does verse 6 say, Christ died for the ungodly. That is a shocking statement. Isn’t it? Christ died for the ungodly. Paul says that someone might scarcely die for a righteous person; some might die for a good person. You know, I hope that if I were ever in a situation where I had to give my life for Bethany or my children that I would be willing and able to do so, even then, I am not going looking for that. I am not actively looking to put my family in situations where I had to sacrificially die for them. You know what I mean? That is not on the checklist for the day. What is some danger we can get into so I have to die today? You know whom I wouldn’t want to die for? A member of ISIS, Kim Jung Un, Adolf Hitler. But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.
Let’s work through this sentence together. Here we are, Romans 5:8. This is your Christmas Eve feast, a feast for your soul this morning. Let’s dissect this sentence together. Verse 8 starts: But God. Maybe the 2 most important words in all of Scripture. There would be no redemptive history if it weren't for these 2 words, but God. Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, but they rebelled against their holy creator by following the voice of the serpent. They ate of the tree of death…but God. But God came to them with the promise of the gospel. The world was covered in wickedness; the world deserved the floodwaters of judgment that would drown the entire creation, but God. But God unconditionally elected Noah and his family to be protected in the ark and God tucked the promise in there with them. Even after the flood, sin spread to every corner of the world. All of humanity gathered at Babel to build a tower in rejection of their creator, but God. But God called Abraham out of the chaos of babel and he sent the promise with him.
Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, was sold into slavery by the rest of the Israelites, but God. But God raised him to the right hand of Pharaoh and saved the world and the promise from a famine. 400 years later Joseph’s kin were enslaved to the Egyptians, but God. But God rescued them from their bondage and brought them into the Promised Land. Brothers, and sisters, that’s just the Pentateuch. That is just Genesis through Dueteronomy. We could spend all day walking through the story of the Bible, how humanity sinfully continues to rebel and wallow, and the only thing that propels the story forward are these two words, but God. We are wicked, we are rebellious, we are deserving of God’s wrath, but God.
But God shows his love. The verb that anchors the statement is the word “shows” in the ESV. The KJV, you may remember, says “commendeth” but God commendeth his love. the NIV says God “demonstrates” his love. The Greek word is συνίστησιν, which means this, “to cause something to be known by action.” But God causes his love to be known by his actions. If you read this sentence in the Greek New Testament, the 1st word of the sentence is the word “shows.” The emphasis of the statement is on God’s action. God is demonstrating his love. God is showing his love. He is commending his love. He is revealing his love.
When people, especially younger people, start dating, they show their love for each other, usually, in the stupidest of ways. Bethany and I were no exception. You know, writing love poems or going to the bridge over 696 and putting a bunch of cups in there to write a message so when they drive by they can see “I love you.” Stupid kids stuff. Well we’ve been married for almost a decade now and our demonstration of our love for each other look a little different. I am sure she would agree that emptying the dishwasher is more appreciated than a love poem. Of course fasting along with her during labor backfired on me, but you know what I mean.
The Bible says that God causes his love to be known by taking this specific action, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. There are the 2 key elements to the gospel this morning in that statement: 1st we are sinners. We are rebels against God. We love our idols and ourselves more than our creator and our sin deserves death, hell, and judgment. This is a non-negotiable aspect of the gospel. You must acknowledge and understand the fact that you are hopelessly dead and enslaved to your sin. The Bible says that we are conceived in sin. That beautiful baby girl who was born Monday morning is a sinner. John Calvin said that infants are as depraved as rats. You know what R.C Sproul said about that? The late great R.C Sproul said, “You know, I wish Calvin hadn’t said that.” He said that, “That statement is just so terribly offensive to rats.” The rat didn’t do anything wrong, he is just crawling around looking for some cheese. We are sinners from the very moment we are conceived. Our sin passed down from our father Adam. This is the state that we’re in when Jesus comes and dies for us. Church, God’s love for his people is most clearly defined, revealed, demonstrated, shown at Calvary – Christ died for us. Jesus lived the sinless life that was commanded of us. He died the substitutionary death required of us. In my place condemned he stood. Jesus was buried bearing death for us. On the 3rd day Jesus resurrected from the dead, securing our resurrection as well. We just watched that. We just watched the gospel of Jesus happen in the sacrament of baptism. These brothers and sisters were buried with Christ, and raised with Christ. When Jesus died, he died for them. He died in their place.
God’s atoning love is no more clearly displayed than in the deathbed conversion of the thief on the cross in his conversation with Jesus. This thief, as he is recognizing Christ believing the gospel, declares, “we are receiving the due reward of our deeds (That is an integral part of the gospel. If you don’t think that death and hell and wrath are due reward for your deeds, then you don’t understand the gospel. This man understood that. I am getting what I desevered); but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23.41-42). Jesus responds to the thief, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.43). The man believed the gospel. As Jesus was dying on the cross, as Jesus was literally paying for this man’s sins, as Jesus was literally bearing God’s wrath for this man’s sins, he confessed repented and believed the gospel. Every bitter thought, every evil deed was crowning Jesus’ bloodstained brow. I love what Mark Dever says about this. He says, “As the thief was confessing faith in Christ on the cross, Jesus was stealing his sin away.” This is the love of God, church.
The love of God is not a generic love. Please hear this this morning. The love of God is uncomfortably specific. God’s love is not unconditional. God’s election is unconditional; his love is not. There is a very specific condition. It’s not a love that overlooks sin and unbelief regardless of your feelings, your words, or yours deeds. God’s love is revealed in the good news of King Jesus and God’s love is received by faith alone. And here is the good news. Here is the good news if you are sitting here this morning and you are not a follower of Christ. The good news is that you can receive; you can experience God’s love this morning. If you’re here and you’re still in your sin, if you are not following Jesus, if you do not love Jesus, if you do not care about Jesus, hear the gospel story this morning: while you’re still a sinner, Christ died for sinners. Repent and believe the good news! See the good news; hear the good news this morning. Turn from the sin that has you enslaved. Cast yourself on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Understand what he did for you, believe what he did for you, love what he did for you. If I want to be clear on anything this morning, it is this. We are celebrating love together as a church, and around Christmas time people talk about love, peace on earth, love for humanity, and all this kind of stuff. That stuff is good, but the love of God is not unconditional. It is not generic; it is not “we are the world.” God’s love for you is found in the gospel of Jesus and it requires you to repent of your sins, to believe the gospel, to take up your cross and to follow Christ. There is no love in leaving you dead in your sin. God’s love is a changing love. It is a transforming love. It is a powerful love. Come to Jesus this morning.
After I had regained my senses in the delivery room, I watched my beautiful wife give birth for the 5th time. Because our baby girl was born during the advent season, she was born a week before we celebrate Christmas, I couldn’t help but think about Joseph and his virgin bride. I couldn’t help but think about the humble arrival of the king of the universe – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that Mary pushed. When King Jesus was born he let out a cry. The book of Revelation says that the dragon was waiting there for him hoping to devour him, but that evil serpent didn’t stand a chance. You know Christmas, you see the nativity scenes and everything is perfect, it is just so cute and seemingly harmless. That baby came to crush that dragon’s skull and he came to make everything sad untrue.
God’s love is revealed to us in seemingly unimpressive items – a baby in the Middle East, words on a page, water, bread, and wine. Church we are going to come in just a few moments to the Lord’s table, to this declaration, to this feast of God’s love. It is a joyous loving celebration if you are a follower of Jesus. If you are not this morning, then this table is not for you because you are not loving God. You are not trusting his son. If you are here and you are not a Christian, then this table is preaching a message to you. You need Jesus. You need Christ. God’s love arrived in Bethlehem that night. God’s love arrived in Bethlehem that night probably weighing less than 10 lbs. Church, God’s love is not abstract; God’s love is a person. His name is Jesus, and he died for sinners. Hope, peace, joy, and love all do exist, but hear me this morning, these do exist exclusively in the gospel of Christ. There is not joy, peace, hope, or love apart from hoping and resting in Christ Jesus. So it is Christmas time and it’s fun to talk about Santa and frosty and all of the cultural holiday stuff, but we have to remember that Christmas isn’t an end in and of itself. Advent and Christmas are glorious because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We have been singing Christmas carols all month, this morning by heart. So, on this 4th Sunday of Advent, I would like to end by butchering a song for you. Pray for me. I think the most appropriate Christmas carol, this morning, is really an Easter song. That may go something like this:
Jesus loves me, so he died
Wrath of God was satisfied
In the tomb they laid him, then
On the third, he rose again
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so