LOVE FOR US
The above passage is one of the most encouraging and inspiring in the Bible. It is in the context of Yahweh promising to bring His people back from Babylonian captivity after 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10). The verses right before our text show that God would defeat the wicked (Jeremiah 30:23-24). At the same time He says that He will be the God of the families of Israel and the families of Israel would have the great privilege of being His people. He speaks of the grace He extended to His people in the wilderness. The implication is that God will again extend grace to Israel in bringing them from Babylonian captivity. He speaks of the rest that He had promised them implying rest when He brings them from captivity. He speaks of the love with which He loved them. He calls His love an "everlasting love," and the attitude with which Yahweh had "drawn" them out of bondage and to Him was one of "loving-kindness." In the verses that follow God promises to rebuild the nation of Israel which was fulfilled in the days of Ezra (Ezra 1:1 Cf. Jeremiah 29:10).
Think of the meaning and impact of this passage. Here, tenderly and personally, our Heavenly Father reveals His attitude toward His chosen people. The Bible teaches that the nation of Israel is a figure of the church (Romans 9:6-8). The church is God's chosen people in the Christian age. The everlasting love with which God loved Israel is the same love with which He loves the church today (cf. Ephesians 5:25). He loves us with an everlasting love, and thus draws us with loving-kindness.
It is imperative that we come to know and appreciate God's love. Without a proper understanding of His love it is easy for us to reject the salvation He makes available to us.
I can't think of anything more appropriate as we come to the end of this year and enter into another year, than to study what the Bible teaches about God's love for us. Our purpose in this study is to look at the depth of God's love and to emphasize the means or instrument by which the Father draws us to Himself, so that we might be motivated to appreciate and respond to His everlasting love and loving-kindness in obedience.
THE CROSS REVEALS GOD'S LOVE
If anyone ever doubted that God loves all people, if there is any question in your mind about His everlasting love, then all you have to do is look at the cross of Christ. The powerful magnet by which people are drawn to God is specified by Jesus Himself: He said, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself." (John 12:32). The cross of Christ is the drawing power by which God, in His loving-kindness, draws all people to Himself. There is no reason for God's people to rely upon gimmicks and worldly entertainment to draw people to God. The cross will do the job.
The Father's everlasting love is shown in the cross of His only begotten Son. When we look at the cross, nothing else has to be proven. When we look at the cross, we see God's everlasting love and God's loving-kindness by which He draws men to Himself.
THE OLD TESTAMENT REVEALS GOD'S LOVE
There are those who say that the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love. To say such things is to show a lack of understanding of both the Old and New Testaments. This is so because it is in the Old Testament that we are first introduced to God's everlasting love, and the New Testament also reveals God's wrath (Romans 1:18). The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament.
In the book of Exodus speaking of graven images, God told Israel, ". . . you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me" (Exodus 20:5). The word "jealous" is not used in reference to God in a bad, evil or selfish way as one might use it in reference to people. God is jealous because He does not want us to give our hearts to anyone else but Him. This is not because of some selfish desire on His part, but it is because He knows that if we give our hearts to someone/something else, we will be eternally lost. He also knows that this will influence our children. Thus, He demands allegiance and desires our loving response to His will, but He does not force His love on us. The jealously that God has, simply shows how great His love is for us. It is an unselfish jealousy. It causes Him to desire the best for us.
In discussing why God delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage the Bible says, "And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power" (Deuteronomy 4:37). When Israel was in Egyptian slavery the Bible says, "Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob." (Exodus 2:23-24). The "fathers" in Deuteronomy 4:37 refer to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was because of His love for them, that he brought Israel out of Egyptian bondage. The Bible then describes God bringing Israel out of Egypt with "a strong hand" (Exodus 13:9), and "a mighty hand" (Deuteronomy 7:8). When the people of Israel needed to escape from Pharoah's army, God parted the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army (Exodus 14). Moses refers to this by these words: "You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation." (Exodus 15:13). The American Standard translation renders the word "mercy" as "loving-kindness." When God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, it was an act of loving-kindness. When they needed bread, water and meat God provided for their needs (Exodus 12:8; 16:4-15; 17:6). During the conquest of the land of Canaan, God sent judges to deliver His people. When Israel sinned, God punished them. But His punishment was proof of His love (Proverbs 3:11-12). When Israel repented, God brought deliverance. This cycle of sin, punishment, repentance and deliverance occurred six times during the period of the judges. When the people needed guidance, God sent His servants the prophets to warn and instruct them. All of this because He loved them.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is pictured as Israel's husband under the figure of marriage. They entered into a covenant relationship. Both agreed to be faithful. God was faithful, but Israel became an unfaithful wife thus breaking the covenant. She violated the first of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:3). God said through Jeremiah the prophet, "Surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, says Yahweh" (Jeremiah 3:20). God said about the Northern Kingdom of Israel, "Yahweh said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the prostitute" (Jeremiah 3:6). Husbands, how would you like for your wife to prostitute herself upon every high mountain and under every green tree? That's what Israel did spiritually. After reading these verses, are we not able to appreciate a little better how God felt about Israel's unfaithfulness?
Jeremiah speaks of the Southern Kingdom of Israel like this: "Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the prostitute also" (Jeremiah 3:8). Judah did not learn from her sister's unfaithfulness, she followed in her footsteps and prostituted herself with the false gods of the nations around her.
Yet, God is pictured as Israel's loving husband who loved her so much that He was willing to take her back if she would but repent. "Return, O backsliding children, says Yahweh; for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion" (Jeremiah 3:14). Certainly God, the spiritual husband of Israel, was grieved because His wife prostituted herself with false gods. What husband, who truly loved his wife, would not deeply grieve over his wife's unfaithfulness?
God is no different. He grieves over our sins (Genesis 6:6; Mark 3:5). Why? Because of His love for us. He knows that if we sin we will be lost.
Why does God use the figure of marriage? I believe it is because most of us (at least those of us who are married) can understand and appreciate it. Those who have had a spouse become unfaithful to them can especially appreciate this figure. But all of us who have been or are married can understand the pain involved, the deep distress and sorrow that a spouse becoming unfaithful would bring. Thus, we have a better understanding of the depth of God's love for us.
God's love, which is depicted in the Old Testament as a faithful loving husband with an unfaithful wife, emphatically makes the point of how much God loves us. Knowing the depth of God's love for us should motivate us to love Him so much that we would never think of becoming unfaithful to Him.
GOD IS REVEALED AS OUR LOVING FATHER
The figure of God being a Father is used very seldom in the Old Testament. In the Psalms, God is addressed hundreds of times as God, Yahweh, The Almighty, the Holy One of Israel etc.... but there are only two references to Him as Father (Psalm 89:26; 103:13).
It is when we turn to the New Testament, that we see this concept of God being Father taught repeatedly. In Jesus' great sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), which consists of 107 verses, Jesus referred to God as Father 17 times. It was one of His favorite ways to refer to God.
To many, the word "father" means the man who comes home drunk, beats up his wife and children, and spends his money on alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitutes. Some fathers just walk out on their families never to be heard from again. How sad it is that some children are raised from infancy with no father around and have no concept of what the term father ought to mean.
One of the greatest blessings that we can have in our lives is to be raised by Christian parents. When one is raised in such an atmosphere, the term "father" can mean security, love and care. It means one who truly and genuinely cares about us.
All of us need to be loved, and know that someone cares about our welfare, problems and needs. Jesus taught that the One who truly loves and cares for us is our Heavenly Father. Regardless of what type of earthly father we have had, the view that we have of our Heavenly Father is much more important. All of us need to understand that no one loves us as much as our Heavenly Father does.
In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus emphasized our Heavenly Fathers' care and concern for us. He points out in this passage that God provides for the birds and plant life. He said, "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (verse 26). The point is this: we are of much more value to our Father than the birds of the air. If God will take care of them, how much more will He take care of us?
Jesus once asked, "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a snake?" (Matthew 7:9-11)? No father who truly loves his children would give them a rock if they ask for something to eat, or would give them a snake if they ask for fish to eat. A loving father will give his children what they need for nourishment to make them healthy. You may have been blessed with an earthly father who loves you, but your Heavenly Father loves you so much more.
In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the younger son asked for his inheritance and went away and spent it on "prodigal living." When he finally "came to himself", he decided to return to his father and work as one of his hired servants. The main point of this parable is that the father's love continued for the son regardless of what he had done. The Bible says, "But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (verse 20). After the son had confessed his sin, the father said to his servants, ". . . 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 'And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 'for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry" (verses 22-24). The lesson we must learn is that God loves us and earnestly desires for us to return to Him. When we return, forsaking and confessing our sins, then he will receive us back with great joy. The joy experienced by the father to see his prodigal son return is expressive of the joy our Heavenly Father experiences when one of His lost children returns.
This is why the Bible, describing God's attitude toward the lost, says that He ". . . desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4), and why Peter wrote, "The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches us that our Heavenly Father disciplines us because He loves us. Verse 6 says, "For whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives." When discipline comes upon us, we must look at it as from a loving Heavenly Father. It is evidence of His love for us.
GOD'S ULTIMATE EXPRESSION OF HIS LOVE
Those who are familiar with Christianity and the Bible know what God's ultimate expression of love is. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (you are in grace having been saved). . ." (Ephesians 2:4-5).
The greatest expression of love possible is for one to give his life for another. That's what Jesus did for us. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). If it is possible for one to have greater love than to give his own life it would be to give the life of his dearly loved son. That's what our Heavenly Father did. Paul wrote, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). The apostle John was inspired to write: "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10). None of us can really ever appreciate or fully understand the love that would be necessary for the Father to sacrifice His only begotten Son unless we were put in a situation where we had to do it ourselves. Where would we be without the love of our Father in Heaven? How can we look at this proof of God's love and fail to understand our need to obey and be faithful to Him?
GOD'S LOVE IS
EXTENDED TO ALL
Some people evidently have developed a misunderstanding about the Father's love. They have come to the conclusion that since the Bible teaches that God loves all people, and since He sent His only begotten Son to die for all people, then all people will be saved no matter how they respond to His love.
The Bible does not teach this. It does teach that God loves all men and wants all to be saved as we have seen from passages we have already studied. Hebrews 2:9 and 1 John 2:2 teach that Christ died for all people. But the Bible does not teach that all people will be saved (cf. Matthew 7:13-14; 21-27). God has a universal love for all, but all do not return that love. If we are going to be saved, we must return God's love. God does not force His love on anyone. His love provides all anyone needs to be saved eternally, but it will only provide that salvation to those who love Him in return. The only people who will be able to truly enjoy and appreciate the love of God are those who love Him in return.
Here is one thing we must understand. The only truly meaningful way we can show our love for God is by obeying His commands. Jesus once said, "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments" (John 14:15 ASV). The apostle John also wrote, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Only those who love God in return (which love is shown and proven by keeping God's commands) will be saved. This is so because only those people show that they desire to be with God and to love Him and to enjoy His love.
Dear reader, do you recognize that God loves you? Do you not desire to return that love and obey His will? Are you a Christian? If not, then contact me at the email address on the main page and let me help you to become one.