“Finding True Love”
February 14, 2016
By John Partridge
Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Romans 10:8b-13 Luke 4:1-13
Today is the day.
Today is the day that many of you will send cards, or buy flowers, or go out to dinner with someone special. Today is the traditional celebration of St. Valentines Day, and a celebration of the people that we love. But this is also the first Sunday in Lent, the forty days in which we prepare our hearts for Easter, the resurrection, and Jesus’ defeat of sin and death. And so, as I considered these two great themes for today, I realized that since Easter is God’s most profound and eloquent statement of his love for us, the stories of Valentine’s Day and the stories of Lent are not separate and distinct from one another, but they are, in fact, very much connected.
Lent and Easter are, in the end, God’s greatest gift of love to his people. In order to discover how, let’s turn to Deuteronomy 26:1-11 where God summarizes the entire story of the Exodus in one paragraph…
26:1 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
At first glance, this may not sound a lot like a love story, but it is once you get past the surface and look a little deeper. As the people of Israel move into the Promised Land, God asks them to remember the story of how they got there, and in that story we keep coming back to the idea of love. The story says that Jacob, also known as Israel, went down to Egypt with a few people, but God loved them, blessed them, and they multiplied. But Egypt did not love them. Egypt became afraid of the people of Israel, mistreated them, and abused them. And so the people cried out to the only God they had ever known who had genuinely shown them love. And, true to his nature, God heard their prayers and answered them. Although God had great strength, he did not use that strength to frighten or to bully his people into obedience, but instead used it to protect them and bring them to a place that was even better than the one they had left behind. And the only thing that God asks in return is for the people to remember and to celebrate the love that he had shown to them.
There is a great contrast in this story and it is the contrast to how Egypt treated God’s people, and how God treated them. Egypt and its Pharaoh cared only for themselves and so they were afraid when Israel was blessed by God and became strong in both strength and numbers. But God never reacted out of fear. Instead, God always reacted out of love, compassion, and a concern for the best interests of his people. Another great, but also quite similar, contrast is found in Luke 4:1-13 where Satan meets Jesus in the wilderness.
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
As we read through this passage, what is it that Satan wanted? Satan wanted Jesus to cut short his worship of God, he wanted Jesus to act selfishly and seize power before God gave it to him. Satan wanted Jesus to worship him rather than the one true God. And Satan wanted Jesus to force God to reveal his glory before his chosen time. At every turn, Satan wanted what was best for Satan and not what was best for Jesus, what was best for God, best for God’s kingdom, or what was best for God’s people.
That, my friends, is not love.
We see that same behavior in human relationships where people only want what is best for themselves. They take people, they use people, for their own ends, but they never truly love them.
True love is not about getting what you want. True love is not about using others so that you can look good. True love is not about using others to make yourself feel good or so that you can advance your career, become more powerful, more influential, or more wealthy.
True love is something different.
In Romans 10:8b-13, Paul reminds us of what it is that Jesus did for us…
8 “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
In this short passage, Paul reminds us that it was Jesus who rose from the dead, and he did so because he was willing to give his life for others. Jesus sacrificed himself in order to be obedient to the will of God and he sacrificed himself so that others could be rescued from sin and death. Jesus demonstrated the same kind of love for God’s people that God himself showed to Jacob, Moses, and the people of Israel.
Jesus showed us that true love is sacrificial.
True love is about the needs of others.
And the message of Easter as well as the message of St. Valentine is very much the same. We can recognize true love when we see that someone does what is best for someone else and not what is best for themselves. We recognize true love when someone helps others to grow instead of only using others for their own pleasure or for their own benefit.
What we find in scripture is that God loves us with that kind of sacrificial love.
Likewise, Jesus was willing to give his life for us so that we could live without fear of sin and death.
This kind of selflessness is what we look for as we learn how to love others, and what we look for as we evaluate those who claim to love us.
We should always be asking ourselves two questions.
Do they love me like Jesus?
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.