Good morning! For my birthday in September, my wife bought me a small pair of binoculars and an RSPB bird book for my new lockdown hobby: bird-watching! There’s lots of things I could say about bird-watching but there is one important thing to share with you now, it’s this, there’s a difference between identifying a bird and appreciating its beauty.
So if you go to St. Mary’s Lighthouse near Whitley Bay, you will probably be able to see and identify a bird called a Goldcrest. It’s the smallest bird in the UK and weighs only 5.5g. There are lots of these birds there. But there’s a difference between identifying a Goldcrest and appreciating the beauty of the Goldcrest with its remarkable orangey yellow stripe on its head. In the same way, there’s a difference between identifying the main player in the Christmas narrative and appreciating the full wonder of His incarnation. And what we’re doing in this mini-series on the incarnation is to go deeper and reflect more carefully on the incarnation of Jesus.
If you like, we’re going ‘God-watching’ this morning. We’re not simply going to rush over familiar ground. We’re going to pause. Meditate. And appreciate God the Father’s love in sending God the Son to the earth to die for us. Let’s pray for God’s help as we do this:
Father, please help us to savour the wonderful truth of the incarnation of your Son whom you sent to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I have five very short points. My first point is this:
1. The source of love
Look at 1 John 4.7:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us…
Here John is not talking about romantic love, friendship love, or family love. The word John uses is ‘agape’ – the self-giving love which always gives. John is underlining that God is the ultimate source of this ‘agape’ love. 1 John 4.7: Love is from God – love starts in him and flows out from him. If you like, God is the reservoir of love which the rivers flow out from. 1 John 4.8: God is love – along with holiness, wisdom, power, glory, generosity, compassion – love is in God’s character – if you like, it’s ‘in his DNA’ to love. 1 John 4.10: And God defines love– He shows us what true love looks like. So God is the ultimate source of love. And that means that we human beings are not the source of love. We see this in 1 John 4.10:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us
We haven’t loved God. The only initiative we take towards God is in the opposite direction: we don’t love God, we don’t thank Him and honour Him. But amazingly, God, the source of all love, has loved us. The ‘agape’ self-giving love of God flows out to people like you and I who don’t deserve it. So that’s the source of love. Loves comes from God, not from us.
2. The sending of love
Look at 1 John 4:9-10:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, [this is how God showed His love among us] that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
We often express our love to one other by sending things. Over the Christmas period, we sent Christmas greetings, Christmas cards, Christmas texts and Christmas presents to each other. Love is often expressed in sending gifts. And that is what God did for us. 1 John 4.9: he sent his only Son into the world. God sent his Son down to earth as one of us. He sent Him as a zygote – to develop in Mary’s womb for nine months – and then to be born in Bethlehem. And this gift of love from the Father (Jesus) was witnessed by the apostles. As John writes earlier in his letter in 1 John 1:1-2:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us
So later in 1 John 4.9 when John is saying the love of God was made manifest among us, ‘us’ means the apostles those who saw, heard and touched Jesus including the Apostle John. When John writes about Jesus, we should listen, because he knows what he is writing about, because he was with Jesus. That’s the sending of love. God the Father sent his Son to us.
3. The sacrifice of love
Why did Jesus come to earth? To die on the Cross. The purpose of the incarnation was the crucifixion – and more specifically, propitiation. Look at 1 John 4.10:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The word ‘propitiation’ itself means the diversion of God the Father’s wrath against our sin away from us and on to Jesus. Propitiation tells us our sin is serious, that God is rightly angry, and that God alone can deal with the problem, and that God has dealt with the problem. Because, 1 John 4.10, God loved us and sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins.Think of a lightning conductor on a roof which channels a bolt of lightning away from the satellite dish and takes the high-voltage shock upon itself. When Jesus died on the Cross, he was our ‘lightning conductor’, redirecting the anger of His Father against our sin away from us and onto himself to save us. Propitiation is great news for the Christian believer! God the Father is no longer angry with us for our sin. We are no longer condemned. We don’t need to fear his judgement. We won’t go to hell.
If you’re just exploring the Christian faith, take this seriously: God is angry with your sin. And there’s nothing you can do about it. But God has done something about it. He sent Jesus Christ to be a propitiation for your sins. So turn to Him. Make it an absolutely priority in 2021 to get to grips with Jesus.The sacrifice of love. The Son died for our sin to turn away the Father’s anger.
4. The security of love
Look at 1 John 4.9:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
The Father sent the Son into the world to die on the Cross to turn away his wrath against our sin and to give us life. And the ‘life’ that John has in mind here is eternal life. In 1 John 1.2, John writes that:
…life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us
And John writes to reassure believers in Jesus they already have eternal life. In 1 John 5.13 he writes:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
For believers in Jesus, eternal life starts now – it’s not waiting for us after we die or when Jesus comes back. No, the moment we start relating to Jesus as our Lord and God, we have eternal life. We are united to Jesus. We have already begun to live forever with Him. This is what Jesus Himself said in John’s Gospel John 5.24:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.
That’s the security of love. The Son gives eternal life to us.
5. The service of love
Look at 1 John 4.7-8:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Jump to 1 John 4.11:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
It follows that if God is the source of love (the reservoir) – and we are connected to God, then that ‘agape’ love should flow from us out to others. In 1 John, the focus is particularly on loving other Christians. This doesn’t mean that we should just love other Christians. We are called to love all people, even our enemies, but we are to love especially members of the church family. And John insists that our love must be practical. In 1 John 3.16-18, he writes:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
What is the greatest felt need in our church family at the moment? Loneliness? So I think loving each other in 2021 will mean lots of Covid walks and talks with other Christians or Covid phone calls if you or others are staying at home. It will mean working hard to reinvest in relationships and friendships which has cooled during the lockdown restrictions and to forge new ones. Another great felt need for some of us in 2021 will be financial difficulty. As the economic impact of lockdown hits home, more of our church family may lose their jobs, or have to go part-time. If God has given you more than you need, are you willing to help out these brothers and sisters financially? Brothers and sisters, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. And this kind of loving service is not introspective. It can have a dramatic effect on the watching world. Jesus says in John 13.35:
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Think of the Black-Eyed Peas song: ‘Where is the Love?’ I won’t do the rapper voice, but here are the lyrics:
Yo', whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality
Instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity
Then later on that famous refrain:
Where is the love
Where is the love
Where is the love
Where is the love
People around us in our broken society in the UK with cold communities and fractured families are asking “Where is the love?” “Where is the love?” “Where is the love?”
May we love each other so that they point to us and say “There is the love!”
And may we then point them to the Cross of Christ and say “There is the love!” Let’s pray:
Father, please give us power to grasp and know the full extent of your love for us, shown in sending Jesus to die as the propitiation for our sins, to give us eternal life. Please may our love for one another increase and overflow and may this attract the watching world to Jesus Christ. In His name, Amen.