The greatest, and costliest, love:
Yesterday I wrote about how love and suffering of necessity go together. I mentioned that God’s love for us is a suffering love and a costly love. No one has loved more – and suffered more. And he did it for us. While we were still rebels shaking our fists at God, he sent his only son to die a cruel death for us that we might be reconciled to him.
The cross where Christ died (and rose again) demonstrates the overwhelming love of God for sinners, as well as the horrible grief and suffering this entailed. As we read in this ever so familiar passage: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). There we see the love and suffering fully combined.
There are millions of words that have been uttered on all this. Here I simply want to offer thoughts from two famous preachers – one older and one newer. The first is from the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). The sermon is called “God’s Memorial Of His People” and is based on Isaiah 49:16: “Behold I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.” He says in part:
The next word I shall give you after this one of personal is painful. I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.” I may be permitted to illustrate this by our Savior’s hands. What are these wounds in Your hands, these sacred stigmata, these ensigns of suffering? The engraver’s tool was the nail, backed by the hammer. He must be fastened to the Cross, that His people might be truly engraved on the palms of His hands. There is much consolation here. We know that what a man has won with great pain, he will keep with great tenacity. Old Jacob valued much that portion which he took out of the hand of the Amorite with the sword and with the bow, and so truly does Christ value that which He has conquered at great expense! Child of God, you cost Christ too much for Him to forget you! He recollects every pang He suffered in Gethsemane, and every groan that He uttered for you upon the Cross. The engraving upon His hands brings to His recollection the redemption price which He paid down that you might be set free! Oh, what better ground can you have for believing that Christ remembers you than this—that He loved you and gave Himself for you? Treasure up that thought.
The other word is practical. “I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.” As much as if God would say, “I can do nothing without remembering My people.” If He creates the world, it is with the hand that has His people engraved on it. If He puts forth His hand to uphold all things, that upholding hand upholds His saints. With His left hand He smites the wicked. But He cannot smite His people, for He sees them in the palm of that very hand! All that God does has an eye to His people. When He divided the nations, He divided them according to the number of the children of Israel. The world stands for their sake—’tis but a stage for the display of His Grace to them. And when the number of His elect is accomplished, He will take it all down and put it away. O child of God, the Lord has given you the richest consolation when He tells you He can do nothing without remembering you, for on the hand with which He works, He has stamped your name! Note before I leave this, that it does not say, “I have engraved you on the palm of My hand,” but “on the palms of My hands,” as if there was a double memorial before the Lord forever. With His right hand He blesses, and His people have a share in that. With His left hand He deals out vengeance, but He sees His people there, and gives no vengeance to them. “His left hand,” the hand of His angry power, “is under my head,” says the spouse, “and His right hand, the hand of His beneficent love, does embrace me.” A left-handed or a right-handed God, He altogether loves us and remembers us on the right hand and on the left. By both His hands, by all His power, He pledges Himself never to forget one of His saints! Oh, this is a rich text! And we trust we shall so handle it as to bring out the juice from the luscious sentences, throw it in the winepress and tread it again and again with active feet—and it shall always yield fresh sweetness—and give forth yet more and more luscious draughts to slake your thirst, if you know but how to use it. Dear, abiding, precious memorial of our crucified Lord, you do charm away our fears! He never can forget us. And now, briefly, not for lack of matter, but for lack of time. https://ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons61/sermons61.ii.html
My second quote comes from American pastor John Piper (1946-). The sermon is “The Depth of Christ’s Love: Its Cost,” and is based on Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. Here is part of it:
The Depth of Christ’s Love Revealed in Its Costliness
Today I want us to see the depth of Christ’s love revealed in its costliness…. Be sure to see four plain and wonderful things here.
First, be sure you see that Paul is showing us the depth of Christ’s love for you. Verse 2: “Christ loved you, and gave himself.” The giving of himself is the demonstration of his love.
Second, notice that the cost of his love was himself—his life. It was not just money or time or energy or inconvenience or even suffering; it was the full extent of sacrifice. He gave himself.
Third, notice that this love and this self-giving was for you. “Christ loved you, and gave himself. Paul is talking about believers (Ephesians 2:8). He gave himself for you.
Finally, notice that God the Father was pleased with this act of self-sacrificing love. Verse 2: “Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” When God bowed down over the love that his Son poured out for us on the cross, it was a fragrant aroma to him. God loves the Son’s love of us.
An Illustration of Costly Love
Sometimes we are so familiar with spectacular it doesn’t move us as it should. We have to look at something lesser, be amazed, and then look back to really feel the wonder of the original. Chuck Colson told the story of a group of American prisoners of war during the Second World War, who were made to do hard labor in a prison camp. Each had a shovel and would dig all day, then come in and give an account of his tool in the evening. One evening 20 prisoners were lined up by the guard and the shovels were counted. The guard counted nineteen shovels and turned in rage on the 20 prisoners demanding to know which one did not bring his shovel back. No one responded. The guard took out his gun and said that he would shoot five men if the guilty prisoner did not step forward. After a moment of tense silence, a 19-year-old soldier—the age of my Ben—stepped forward with his head bowed down. The guard grabbed him, took him to the side and shot him in the head, and turned to warn the others that they better be more careful than he was. When he left, the men counted the shovels and there were 20. The guard had miscounted. And the boy had given his life for his friends.
Can you imagine the emotions that must have filled their hearts as they knelt down over his body? In the five or ten seconds of silence, the boy had weighed his whole future in the balance—a future wife, an education, a new truck, children, a career, fishing with his dad—and he chose death so that others might live. Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” To love is to choose suffering for the sake of another. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-depth-of-christs-love-its-cost
The love of Christ is a costly love. As I said in my piece yesterday: “He has left us a pattern – a template. The cross fully illustrates this. We are called to follow in that suffering love.… It will hurt. It will cost. Real love is costly love. Christ loved us to the end by suffering for us to the end.”
Let us never forget nor minimise what it cost God to secure our salvation. And let us strive, by God’s grace, to be a living example of that costly love.