Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
April 14, 2017
Good Friday / Tenebrae Service
Text: Hebrews 5:8 Seven Last Words of Christ
What exactly is love?
Love has many meanings. There’s brotherly or sisterly love that comes from the Greek word – philos. This love is a caring concern for others – a friendship. We know this love from our sister city – Philadelphia – also known as the City of Brotherly Love. It’s a relationship that’s social, casual, but meaningful for us.
Then, there’s the Greek word eros – from which the word erotic is derived. This form of love is found in the emotional response to beauty that is often described as lust. The Apostle Paul describes this form of love as the passions of the flesh.
Romantic love can be described as partially philos and partially eros. Romantic love intermingles friendship with passion – at times obsessive in its domination of the emotions, and in its need to possess what’s beautiful.
Most love that’s depicted by the entertainment industry is the romantic type of love. In fact, romance dominates our cultural understanding of love. Marriages are held to this standard by wives and husbands as a benchmark for measuring the success of their relationship. When romance slips away, couples come to pastors seeking pastoral support saying, “They’ve fallen out of love.”
Which leads many pastors to ask, were you really ever in love?
The response of ministers to couples upset with the loss of romance in their lives isn’t simply rhetorical. It comes from a pastor’s focus on the greatest form of love – the true form of love that endures all things, hopes all things, believes all things that never ends.
This type of love isn’t found in romance, although over time, romance can grow into this mature form of love. This type of love can be expressed in brotherly love, but is never found in erotic love. This type of love is translated from the Greek word agape in the Bible. It is the love that Christ shows on the Cross for the world.
Love, in its true sense, is sacrificial in nature. From this font of genuine, sincere identification with others, love offers itself for the good of others – like Jesus did on the Cross. Agape is the love that’s selfless, gracious, and complete. It does not vanish or die. It’s the eternal gift of self-sacrifice that keeps on giving.
Agape has qualities that make it especially difficult. As the highest form of love, its self-less sacrifice isn’t made with conditions. Jesus’ offering of Himself on the Cross is unconditional. He offers love without expecting love in return. He offers Himself without expecting appreciation for what He has done.
To love unconditionally, to offer yourself sacrificially for another person without any expectation of a reward in return, is the most difficult type of love to embrace. Humans can offer love sacrificially. It happens every day. A parent makes sacrifices for his or her children for their benefit.
A soldier dies on the field of battle for a nation for the nation’s benefit. But usually people make sacrifices for others from their love with some sense that it will be appreciated. They aren’t sacrificing for others expecting them to acknowledge their sacrifices. But there is that unconscious sense that the sacrifice they make will be so self-evident, so compelling, that others will show proper honor for their sacrificial love.
Unfortunately, the capacity of people to sin is so great, that all too many times agape goes unnoticed. The capacity of people to receive a sacrificial gift without appreciating their receipt of it too often leads to distain. Pride disdains agape by those who receive sacrificial love.
Jesus mounted the Cross knowing that the gift of agape that He had been offering and teaching His followers, was unappreciated. His followers routinely misunderstood His purpose. They wanted something in return for being His follower. Whether it was greatness, or Jesus’ admiration or respect, they did not appreciate the sacrificial love He was giving them.
Then, when He showed them His greatest act of love from the Cross, all but three disciples fled. Peter denied his association with Jesus. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was left alone at the foot of the Cross with the disciple Jesus’ loved, the Apostle John, and Mary Magdelene. Jesus’ mother understood what her son was doing. She couldn’t abandon her son in His greatest hour of love.
So why did Jesus offer His love in the sacrifice of Himself? Was it simply because He was the greatest altruist that ever lived?
At the root of agape, Jesus offered His love in obedience to His Father. Jesus obeyed His Father’s wishes, unconditionally.
The unconditional love that Jesus offers sinners came from His unconditional love for His Father. The Father directed Jesus to accept the Cross for the salvation of the world and Jesus obeyed.
Whenever Jesus’ followers obey our Father who art in heaven to the degree Jesus did on the Cross, they offer love unconditionally. Their offering comes from obeying our Father, who art in heaven.
Christian love for our heavenly Father is great, respectful, honorable, obedient. We follow His will to the very end of our lives, offering love without conditions.
Loving those who sin without expectation of appreciation is the obedience of the Cross. Loving those who sin without anticipating gratitude is the obedience of the Cross.
Only through obedience to the Cross are sinners brought to shame and repentance. Only by obedience to God are sinners cleansed of their ingratitude and drawn into a greater sense of appreciation for God.
The Cross of Obedience is Christian love. Christ didn’t obey His Father in Heaven out of a sense of duty. His obedience was His love for the Father. Jesus’ love for the Father He offers the world.
The Cross of Obedience teaches the unrepentant, the self-indulgent, the self-sufficient sinner how much they don’t really know what true love is. Once they see the Cross of Obedience they know true love through Jesus’ obedience. They’re ready to take the first steps to agape love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. They are ready to receive God.