Friday, May 30, 2008

The Tenderness of His Love

This week we have the tremendous privilege to study the tenderness of God’s love. Sabbath’s lesson seems to equate compassion with “genuine love,” and while compassion is certainly a part of love, God’s love is far more. Matthew 4:23 tells us that Jesus Christ had a teaching, healing, preaching ministry. If we look at the record in the first three gospels we see that His healing ministry was significant.

The evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke often tell us that many of these healing works resulted from the compassion of Christ. When the leper in Mark chapter 1 came to Jesus for healing and said, “If you are willing,” Jesus was “moved with compassion, put out His hand and touched him ...” Matthew records in Chapter 9:35, 36: “Jesus went about ... healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”

The lesson rightly points out the breadth of His compassion—He welcomed the little children, He wept at Lazarus’s funeral, His heart broke for the woman caught in adultery as well as for her accusers. Some of my personal favorites include His heart breaking for the woman with the flow of blood for 12 years, who was banished from any meaningful physical contact with anyone for as many years. His compassion would not let her go with just a touch of the hem of His garment, for she had been a social, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual outcast too long. He had to speak to her face to face and restore her fully and call her “daughter.” Then there is the story recorded in Luke chapter 13 of the woman who had a “spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could not raise herself up,” so He healed her on the Sabbath day. His compassion sprang from who He is, for God is love. Let us explore briefly a few qualities of agape, God’s love, then we will look at Wednesday’s lesson.

  • Agape is selfless, self-emptying, self-sacrificing, self-renouncing, a love that “seeks not her own.”
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Sounds like new math it is so upside down. But the beauty of agape is that it takes something that ordinarily would be worth nothing and makes it priceless. It creates value in the object of its affection and attention. The parable of the pearl of great price tells us that Jesus Christ the heavenly Merchant came seeking beautiful pearls, “who when He had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that He had and bought it” (Matt. 13:45).
  • Agape is willing to descend. Jesus asked His disciples in Luke 22:27, “who is the greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.” A short time later John describes how Jesus in the upper room for the last supper laid aside His garments, took a towel, and girded Himself, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus, knowing the glory that He had before time began, could have risen up from supper, laid aside His ordinary garments, called for royal robes, and bid His disciples keep their distance and do Him homage. But quite the contrary, agape does not seek it’s own, is not puffed up, and dares to step down lower so Jesus could demonstrate the greatest instance of humility.

The ultimate passage describing Christ’s condescension is Philippians 2:5-8. This passage also details a fourth aspect of agape: it is willing to lose eternal life. As we read Psalm 22 and Matthew 26 along with Ellen White’s comments in The Desire of Ages chapters 74 and 78, this was not an easy task. In the garden of Gethsemane, He requested special prayer from His three closest companions, and His sweat became like great drops of blood. The agony was so intense His face became disfigured such that the disciples hardly knew Him. But Ellen White, says, “He beholds its [the doomed world’s] impending fate, and His decision is made. He will save mankind at any cost to Himself” (ibid., pp. 690, 693).

On page 753 of the same book she says, “ The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror ... He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal.” The wonder of redeeming love! Agape is powerful and it constrains us to live for the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Wednesday’s lesson deals with Christ’s tender love for His enemies. Matthew 5:44. 45 says, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven ...” Jesus Christ our elder brother was spitefully used and persecuted, yet He “went about doing good” including the ultimate good, which was His death on the cross for all mankind. As He hung on the cross His heart toward His enemies cried out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”

Romans 5:6-10 gives us a progression of our condition. Verse 6 says, “When we were still without strength ... Christ died for the ungodly.” Verse 8 says, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and finally, verse 10 says, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son ...” The tender agape of Jesus is so powerful, so compelling that the response of Paul is the only appropriate one, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith [of] the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). It calls forth from us total surrender, and total obedience. The tender love of God—agape—is a love that will not let us go. The Lord will enable us to truly understand, appreciate, and extend that love to everyone.

—Lyndi Schwartz