In our text, Jesus speaks of love 9 times (almost 20 times, if we include it in His statements about bearing fruit). Love is one the most sought-after things in the world, and yet, at the same time, how could it be the most misunderstood? Because it’s so often confused for something altogether different. Because we so easily get carried away with how we feel. Often without even realizing it, true love becomes completely secondary to how I am feeling at the moment, how I am being treated, and how I think I deserve to be treated.
People often grow up having these completely unrealistic expectations about love, as if we can reach a state in life – a heaven on earth – where we get to experience only the most wonderful feelings with someone, all the time. Because, after all, isn’t that what we deserve?
But true love is so much more than a feeling or an emotion. Christ was, and is, the most loving, most forgiving, most compassionate being of all. And yet, look how He suffered, bled, died, with true love in His heart. How can we be so shallow, so superficial, to think that love is all about how I feel? True love begins with Christ, and Christ alone.
He says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches…without Me, ye can do nothing.”
Even if we had the most beautiful, luscious, fruit-producing tree in the whole world – if it’s branches are laying on the ground – what do we call those branches? Firewood. Because they’ve lost their value. No longer being capable of producing any fruit.
What are we, what is our life, what is our love, without Christ, the only one who laid down His life to save us from our sins?
Several times, Jesus uses the word “abide”. He says, Abide in Me. Abide in My Word. Abide in My love. Continue ye, in My love.
But we have this tendency to think that true love is about giving those we care about every single thing their heart desires. “We must be able to supply our children with all the latest gadgets, all the most fashionable clothing. And we must always be so careful never to rock the boat, or make waves, when it comes to religion among family and friends. How terribly unloving it would be to ever cause anyone any discomfort, in their belief-system.” But wait, even if if they are completely wrong? What about their soul, their eternal soul? What about standing for the truth in Christ, the only Savior from sin? The only one with the words of eternal life. The way, the truth, the life. No man comes unto the Father, but by Him.
Jesus says, Abide in Me. Abide in My Word. Abide in My love.
His love is so altogether different than the world’s love, which focuses so much on feelings, unlawful sex, and toleration of almost every kind of sin.
Christ’s love, the love to which He calls us, is about self-sacrifice. Self denial. Self-abasement. The willingness to give our all, our everything. To sacrifice all earthly treasure, for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the salvation of souls – for what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.”
True love begins with Jesus Christ, and Him alone.
And He says, “ As I have loved you.” “This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
Context is key. Jesus was speaking these words to His disciples, when? When Judas was on his way to betray. And that same night, Peter would deny His Savior 3 times. That same night, all the disciples would forsake Him and flee. And yet, Christ was not ashamed to call them His friends. He loved them. He was not ashamed to die for them.
“When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.”
This is the love that is so much higher, so much better, so much more meaningful, and effective: the love of God’s Son, who gave His all for us.
If we really want more love in our life, true compassion and forgiveness, then we look no further than Christ and His forgiving grace. His love stopped at nothing to cover all our sins and make us acceptable to the Father by His self-sacrifice. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Yet, Christ didn’t hesitate to lay down His life for his enemies, for those who wanted nothing to do with Him. "Even when we were dead in sins, God hath quickened us together with Christ."
True love and forgiveness begins with Christ alone, the only one who made everything right between us and God.
He says, Abide in Me. Abide in My Word. Abide in My love.
He says, remember Me. Remember what I did for you. As we take in His true body and blood, for the remission of all our sins, He wants us to remember His sacrifice. He wants us to remember our Baptism, the day in which He washed all our sins away, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. And He continues to daily forgive us all our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We need that comfort and assurance from His precious promises in His Word and Sacraments. We need His strength, His love, His forgiveness.
He says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.” With His grace, His Spirit, His love working in us through His word, we can and we do love others as Christ loved us, with true compassion, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Christ is key. He is our strength. In Him we trust. In Him, we believe.
And when we fail, He is there to forgive our sins and give us the strength to carry on.
“This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” His call to us, is not in vain. His Word is powerful. His Spirit is powerful. In us, He produces much fruit. All because Christ gave His all for us, and accomplished all things needful for us to be saved.
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Amen.