(The following meditation was delivered during the Christmas Eve service at the First Baptist Church of Benbrook)
When we finally make it to Christmas Eve, when all the shopping is done, and all the parties have been attended, and all the cards have been mailed, and all the fruitcake eaten, and when all the decorations are up, the simple message of Christmas is all that remains. As the angels said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy for today a Savior has been born to you.”
When Christmas is reduced to its one, foundational, core truth, Christmas is a demonstration of God’s love for each one of us. One of the very first verses of the Bible that most of us learned and memorized is John 3.16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The reason that God became flesh and dwelt among us is because this Most High God, this Creator of everything, this sovereign King of Kings, this Holy One loves you and loves me.
The scriptures tell us that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and humanity has always known that behind the beauty and greatness of creation there had to be some kind of a creator. And that Creator must have some kind of incredible power and a divine nature that is completely different from us humans. But, in our attempts to try to understand God, mankind has almost universally thought that the divine was always angry with us mortals. Much of pagan religion through out history has been mankind’s attempt to keep the gods happy.
And God knew that unless He revealed Himself to us, we would never know Him. We would only be able to guess what He was like. So, throughout history, the Creator God began to reveal Himself to His creation. And you can imagine what a shock it must have been when God began to reveal Himself as a God who was not, in fact, an angry God, but a God of love. Whether we look at God revealing Himself to Abraham, or Moses, or through the prophets, or through His final self revelation in the incarnation, what humanity has learned about God is that this sovereign, creative, divine, and eternal God loves the men and women He created. In fact, the Bible says that God has set His affection upon us and that we are the apple of His eye.
Before we close our Christmas Eve service tonight, I want us to meditate for a few moments on a verse of Scripture, and by meditate I mean to focus on, to ponder, and to chew on the Word of God. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he wrote a prayer, what he was praying for that group of Christians. And I would like for us to meditate on this prayer for just a few moments. Paul wrote,
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3.17-19)
Tonight, I want to send you away with a better grasp of how wide, high, deep, and long the love of Christ is for each one of us.
Wide Enough To Love Us As We Are
Paul’s prayer is that we would be able to grasp how wide God’s love is for us. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 5.8, where the apostle Paul wrote,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.8)
There are several reasons why I really like this verse, but one reasons is that this verse is one of the very first verses where I actually applied my studies in Greek. I was a religion student at Baylor and studying biblical Greek. And I actually applied what I was learning in class while preparing a Bible study for my church. I learned that this word “demonstrates” is a present active verb, not past tense. Paul did not write, “God demonstrated His love” but that “God demonstrates His love.” That means that God continues to demonstrate His love for me while I continue to be a sinner.
God demonstrates His love for you and for me by sending His own Son to die in our place while we were still sinners. He did not wait for me to get my life together, to stop doing the bad things and to start doing the good things. No, He demonstrates His love for me while I was still living in rebellion, in ignorance, in defiance, and in selfishness.
Everyone of us in this room has a story, a story that includes a past full of things we would rather not remember, things we have said and done that bring us great shame today. Our stories include times where we have mistreated others, times where we have made selfish choices, and times where we have lived in abandon to God’s moral law. If we think of our lives as a graph, with the “straight and narrow” is the middle line and our lives wandering away from that line, when we were as far away from the middle line as possible, when we wandered as far away from God as we ever had, at that moment is the exact moment when God demonstrates His love for us.
When you get that, when you get that the Creator of all things, the Sovereign King of Kings, the Most High God loved you and continues to loves you even when you are living in rebellion and defiance and immorality and selfishness, when you truly understand that it will amaze you.
God’s love does not just shine on those who are able to keep their lives on the straight and narrow, to keep it between the ditches a they say in the country. No, God’s love is wide enough to reach out to those who have wandered very far away.
High Enough to be Our Wonderful Counselor
Paul’s prayer is that we would be able to grasp how wide and how high God’s love is for us. God’s love for us is not only wide enough to reach out to those who have wandered far away, but it is also high.
When Jesus was searching for an image to describe His love for us, he often used the image of a shepherd and his flock, which might not be the most flattering imagery for us since sheep are not the brightest members of the animal kingdom. But those who lived in first century Palestine knew a lot about being a shepherd. A real shepherd leads and guide his flock with compassion, and care, and sacrifice. As a result, the sheep have come to recognize the voice of their shepherd. Several shepherds would pen their sheep up in the same pen over night, and then would separate them in the morning simply by the sound of their voices. Each shepherd’s sheep would know the sound of his voice, and they would follow him because they knew the shepherd would guide them to quiet waters and green pastures.
In other words, God love me and cares for me by leading and guiding me to quiet waters and green pastures. One of the prophecies about the coming Messiah is that he would be called “Wonderful Counselor.” God’s love for each of us is high enough that as He looks down upon our lives, He guides and counsels us from His wise and omniscient and compassionate perspective. He sees our lives and His plan for our lives, and if we will seek out His wise counsel and follow it in faith, He will guide us on the path of life. The apostle James wrote,
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1.5)
How amazing it is to me that God loves me enough to be my Wonderful Counselor, and when I need divine guidance to make a career decision, or divine wisdom to know how to react when a friend has hurt my feelings, or divine wisdom to know how to care for an aging parent and make those difficult choices, whenever I am in need of wisdom, God’s love for me is high enough to be my Wonderful Counselor from a perspective of wisdom and compassion and sovereignty.
Deep Enough to Patiently Forgive Again and Again
I pray that you might be able to grasp how wide and high and deep God’s love is for you. God’s love for us is not only wide to reach out to those who have wandered far away and high enough to be our Wonderful Counselor, but His love for us is also deep.
Sometimes we have heard the gospel so many times that we take it for granted.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1.9)
In God’s great love for each one of us, He has forgiven us of our sins. We are told in the Scriptures that we are to forgive each other like God has forgiven us and that we are to forgive each other not just once, not just twice, but over and over again for the same offense. Which means, that God forgives us over and over again since this is the way He wants us to forgive others.
All of that to say, that not only is God’s love for me deep enough to forgive me, but it is deep enough to forgive me over and over and over again for the very same offense. Some sin in our lives is rather easy to get rid of, but other sins linger and stick around like a bad penny. Fear of rejection, low self esteem, outbursts of anger, pride, materialism, judgmentalism, lust, these things can take the Spirit of God quite a while to work out of us. And yet, as we slowly mature in our faith, the promise of 1 John 1.9 remains true. God’s love is deep enough to forgive us for the same sin over and over again. No matter how many times you have claimed that promise, the offer still holds because of the depth of God’s love. If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just and He will forgive your sins.
Long Enough to Prepare a Place for Eternity
I pray that you may be able to grasp how wide and how high and how deep and how long God’s love is for you. God’s love for us is wide enough to reach out to those who have wandered far away, high enough to be our Wonderful Counselor, and deep enough to forgive us for the same sins over and over again, but God’s love for us is also long.
Here, Paul adds a fourth dimension to the measure of love, the dimension of time. God, in His great love for us, does not simply love us in the short term. He has long range goals for us. And by long range, I don’t just mean next year. His love for you will extend through out eternity. In fact, He loves you and me so much that He has prepared a place for us so that we will be close to Him in His eternal heaven. When Jesus was telling His disciples that He would be leaving them and going back to the right hand of God the Father, He encouraged them with these words,
I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14.2-3)
God loves you and me so much that He has prepared an eternal place for us so that we will be with Him forever.
I remember when I was considering whether or not to ask Kelli to marry me. As I was thinking about that, one of the strongest motivations for me was that I loved her so much that I wanted to make sure that she and I would always be together, wherever that togetherness would lead us. I wanted a guarantee that if something caused me to move, that she would move with me, and if something caused her to move, then I would move with her. I wanted to make sure that for here on out, she would be by my side.
That kind of love, when you love someone so much that you want to make sure you are always together, is the exact kind of love that God has for each one of us. God loves you and me so much that He has made a place for you in eternity so that you will always be at His side. God’s love for you is long enough to last through eternity.
I pray that you will be able to grasp how wide and how high and how deep and how long God’s love is for you. In a few moments, we are going to stand and end our service, as we do every year, by singing Silent Night by candlelight. In a moment, we will sing these words,
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
I want to encourage you as you look at the light of the candle before you, to drink deeply of God’s love for you. My prayer for you this Christmas eve, is that you would have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and high and deep and long is the love of Christ for you. May you have the eyes to see that God’s love for you is wide enough to reach those you when you have wandered very far away, high enough to be your Wonderful Counselor, deep enough to forgive you over and over again, and long enough to last throughout eternity.
And all God’s people said, “Amen.