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If we’ve learned anything from the civil unrest over the past few weeks, we’ve learned that is a sad fact of human existence is that we’re not all brothers and sisters as politicians and celebrities have imagined us to be. 

The world is not a family. We are separated by hatred and that hatred brings death, not life. The only way we can become brothers and sisters is by passing out of death into life. This can only happen when our hatred is swallowed up in love. When He who was begotten of the Father’s love from eternity and became our flesh and blood brother in time was nailed to the cross, it was then that love confronted hatred in the battle of the ages. And in that battle love did not give way to hatred. It did not appease it. Love defeated hatred.


When Jesus laid down His life for us He bore our sin. He bore our hatred. He bore the hatred of the whole world. I cannot understand it, but I know it is true because the Bible says so. St. Paul says that He was made to be sin. But that was not by committing a sin for He never did that. It was by having sin reckoned or imputed to Him. In that imputation of sin He who was love begotten and love incarnate overcame all hatred. He overcame it by love. He loved when all the hatred of the world was laid upon Him.

What a battle this was! The purest of pure love that could not give way to hatred nevertheless suffered every effect of pain and guilt and judgment and punishment that hatred brings. In His laying down His life for us all Jesus destroyed the power of hatred with the power of His own pure and eternal love.

This is the love in which we trust. This is the love that overcomes the world. This is not only the motive and the power for our love; it is the very love with which we love one another. That is to say, when we love one another as Christians we are simply saying “Amen” to the love that God has for each one of us. We are agreeing with Jesus. We are saying “yes” to His laying down His life for our brothers and sisters. That’s what love is. It is not a human thing. It is divine. It is from God. It is from God to us. And it is from God through us to one another. It is eternal but we can’t leap up out of our time and space to catch it, as if it is floating up in heaven somewhere and we must find our way to it. It comes to us here and now where we live whenever God speaks His Gospel to us. The Gospel is always the word of God forgiving us our sins, setting us free from guilt, bringing peace to us, and rescuing us from death and punishment all for the sake of Jesus laying down His life for us all. This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to suffer on the cross to take away our sins and set aside His judgment against us.

So don’t talk about love as if it originates in the efforts of humanity. Love is of God and He who loves is born of God.

We ought not to be surprised if the world hates us. The world loves its own. Christians are those who, in looking within themselves, see nothing but sin and death. Christians are those who have found in Christ alone the love to replace hatred. And so, Christians do not respect the religiosity of this world. If the love of which we are capable were sufficient then Jesus died for no purpose. If human efforts could prevail then Jesus has done no more than to provide us with a moral example. But if every form of love that has its origin within the human heart is inadequate to bring us true and lasting life, then every human effort to overcome hatred must fail.

The unbelieving world does not want to admit this. This is why people reject the Christian Gospel and its doctrine of love. They want to believe in their own love and they don’t want to admit that their love fails, producing the very thing they seek to overcome. Politicians will pontificate about this kind of love. Celebrities will scold us for not doing it. The media will hype it. But the human race does not have the power to bring real love about. And when they try to, it always brings not real love, but more hatred and violence. And that is because love is seen as no more than a synonym for niceness, sentimentality, and appeasement. And that is weak and mild.

A sentimental and humanistic notion of love often parades itself as being Christian, deceiving Christians. But God’s love for us is not mild or weak. It does not appease. It confronts us with the truth that we are sinners. And that while we were yet sinners, while we were enemies of God, Christ laid down his life for us. The key to love is in the blood of Jesus poured out on our behalf. It doesn’t come from us. It originates in God who does what love requires for us all.

And so neither is the love God expresses through us to one another weak or mild. It rejoices in the truth. It doesn’t rejoice in evil. If a brother or sister in Christ needs what we can give we give because this is what love requires. This isn’t simply a matter of giving to charity. It’s a matter of doing whatever it is that love requires at the moment that love requires it. Love doesn’t need a rulebook. It needs only an opportunity. But what does it do? What do the Commandments say? Love honors father and mother, not despising parents and other authorities. Love respects human life and helps those in physical need. Love honors the marriage vow and avoids sexual sins. Love respects private property. Love protects the reputation of others. Love is content with what God provides, not seeking to take advantage of others in getting more. Love does whatever is to the benefit of others without asking for anything in return. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love forgives even when the one who has sinned repeats the sin again and again. Love lays down its life for the brothers and the sisters. Love never fails.

But we fail. Every single Christian in this world fails. We fail every day. And when hatred bubbles up within us and the world, speaking for the accuser and slanderer of God’s children, would convince us that God’s love for us has been exhausted by our repeated failures, our God silences the devil’s lies with the Gospel. That Gospel reveals to our penitent hearts the unfailing love of Christ who laid down His life for us. That holy death, wherein love conquered hate once and for all, remains the source of God’s forgiveness of all our sins.

And so Christ invites us to His supper, and we come as we are. He feeds us with His grace. He forgives us all our sin, cleanses our guilty conscience, and delivers us from the devil’s power. This is what His love does and will continue to do for us all the days of our lives. We know this is true because Jesus laid down His life for us. And that, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is the source and strength of every act of love we will ever do.

The Rev. Jason Braaten is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Tuscola, Ill.

 

Be Informed

“One LCMS sailor, facing a months-long submarine deployment, was prohibited from attending a farewell communion with his congregation but allowed to attend a ‘pre-deployment’ party the following day.” Learn more about a new government order regarding COVID-19 from Rev. Craig Muehler here.

Be Equipped

Washington observer Tim Goeglein joined moderator Kip Allen to discuss the many decisions and events impacting Christians and all people of faith in the year 2020. Click here to listen.

Be Encouraged

“Lutherans are not bound to silence in the public square. We are free to be faithful — free to speak and free to act in love for our neighbor and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The needs of our neighbors compel us to act. The promises of God fill those actions with hope and joy.” – Rev. Jonathan Lange

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