At the heart of the Christian gospel is a love story. It is your typical three-part love story: boy meets girl; girl rejects boy; boy wins back girl. God of course is madly in love with us, but we have spurned his love, and he has sought to woo us back to himself.
Mind you, God had no need to love us, let alone to create us in the first place. Biblical Christianity teaches that there exists an eternal triune God (comprised of Father, Son, and Spirit). In this trinity there has always existed a marvellous love relationship. One God in three persons has always known loving community and relationship. Thus God did not need to create us.
But it is the very heart of love to want to share and pass the love around. We know this quite well. A lover wants to share good things with his beloved. Watching a beautiful sunset alone is not nearly as delightful as to share it with another person – especially the beloved.
The joy of reading a new book or enjoying a culinary delight is always enhanced and multiplied when shared with others. That is the self-giving nature of love. That is why a triune God who was complete in Himself wanted to pass the joy around. Creating us meant that the abounding and extravagant love of God could be further shared.
But that loving relationship did not last long. Our first parents decided that human autonomy and defiance were preferred over loving relationship to the sovereign Father. Wilful independence and rebellion was at the centre of the first sin, and has been the ongoing problem with humankind ever since.
The Fall has destroyed that original love relationship between God and man. God could have justly let things go at that, and allowed us to stumble along in our lost and blind condition. But true love never desires or allows for the detriment or destruction of the beloved. True love will always seek to rescue and redeem the object of love.
Thus God has been on a grand rescue movement to woo us wayward creatures back to Himself. And the sending of God’s son, out of the comfort and wonder of the divine family, to planet earth to live and die on our behalf has been the means by which God seeks to bring us back home.
In our current state of rebellion and sin, we have broken off from the only source of real love and meaning. As I read in Ezekiel 33:10 this morning (the context is about a rebellious Israel): “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then shall we live?”
Fallen man left to himself is unable to get out of the very deep pit he has dug for himself. But God has stepped in and established a daring rescue mission. That is why Christianity differs from every other major religion. In the other religions, mankind seeks to find and please God, and earn his favour. In Christianity, God takes the initiative and does for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The good news of the gospel is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a way has been opened for us to re-enter a love relationship which Father God longs for us to have and enjoy with Him. And it is not as incredible as we think. We often find – on a much smaller scale – examples of sacrificial love, all of which echo and reflect the one great act of sacrificial love.
A Chinese Love Story
Consider a story I read about just this morning in today’s news. The headline instantly caught my attention and interest: “Chinese man killed catching suicidal girlfriend”. Here is how the press account puts it:
“A man has died after catching his girlfriend as she jumped from the seventh floor of an apartment block in China, a newspaper has reported. The young Chinese man, identified only by the surname Wang, held out his arms to break the woman’s fall as she plummeted from their apartment in Quanzhou in south-eastern China. . . . Mr Wang was killed by the impact of his girlfriend landing on top of him, while the woman suffered bone fractures and other serious injuries but was not in critical condition, the newspaper said. The couple had quarrelled shortly before the unnamed woman began threatening to jump from the apartment, it quoted witnesses as saying.”
We see here the elements of the perennial three-part love story. Boy and girl in love; love disrupted; and an attempted recovery of that love. And this attempt to win back the beloved resulted in the death of the suitor. Real love is sacrificial love.
Undoubtedly similar sorts of stories are played out around the world each day, albeit hopefully without such a tragic ending. But this woman should now be clear about the depth of love this man had for her. So we see many parallels between this tragedy and the gospel story.
Of course there are differences. This man sought to win one woman who had been in love with him. But Jesus came to die for every one of us, even those who didn’t want him to. The Bible makes this quite clear: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 1:10).
Or as Paul says in Romans 5:7-8, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This Chinese man reflected in a small way the sacrificial love of God. He could do so even though fallen, because he was made in God’s image, and because of God’s common grace. Such sacrificial love cannot be explained by naturalistic evolutionary theories (although many attempts have been made to do so). They only make sense because of the way the world really is.
There is a God of love who has made us in his own image and likeness. Even though we are now all fallen and alienated from God, this image remains, although severely tarnished. Thus when we see people doing acts of heroism or altruism, it is because they are reflecting the loving God who created them.
These are small human reminders of the greatest love story ever told. It is this grand story of love and sacrifice that we are called to share with people everywhere. Not all will receive it, and we may have to pay the ultimate price in proclaiming and demonstrating this message. But that is what our Lord and Saviour did for us, and we can do no less.