I am going to begin tonight by stating a simple, profound, and moving truth.
Jesus Loves You. God Loves You.
What a glorious truth! Jesus loves me. God loves me. I would submit to you that there is no song that we could sing together as profound, as joyous, or as awe-inspiring this evening as Jesus Loves Me. But perhaps to the unprepared heart these words ring hollow, too familiar, possibly misunderstood and probably minimized. Consider the words with me,
“Jesus Loves me, This I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little Ones to Him Belong
They Are Weak But He is Strong
Yes, Jesus Loves Me.
For years that truth meant very little to me. For years that truth did not affect me as it should have. Sadly today even as I read those words, they do not affect me as it should. Perhaps for you this song does not mean what it should. So let us shepherd our hearts together to understand the love of God together, the love of God which is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. To misunderstand this point is to misunderstand yourself, to misunderstand God, and to misunderstand the very gospel and assurance of salvation. There is no more important topic for us to consider or understand tonight than God’s love that moved Him to die for us in order that we escape His Wrath and be with Him and enjoy Him forever.
What do you love? I’ll give you a list of a few of the things that I love:
· I love pizza
· I love Starbucks
· I love Kraft macaroni & cheese
· I love to read
· I love to go on vacations
· I love basketball
· I love my wife, Kiki
· I love my family
· I love my church, all of you
· I love my small group
· I love the cross
· I love Jesus
· I love God
What do you love? I’m sure that we could come up with a list of many things that we love. And do you know what would be common to every single one of those items that we put on that list? For every item on that list – God, a person, Starbucks, whatever – there is something inherently attractive, appealing, alluring, beneficial, and beautiful in the objects of our love.
The error we may make to misunderstand God’s love for us often lies in this. In this age where we are encouraged by our culture to find the best in ourselves, enhance our self-esteem, and believe the lie that we are inherently good and beautiful creatures, when somebody is told, “Jesus loves you” they believe that God’s love must be just like our love, and they respond, “Well, why wouldn’t he? There’s a lot to love.” Or “Of course, God should love me.” Or we may even think that if He were to not love me that there would be something wrong with God.
If you are not deeply affected by that statement “Jesus loves me” do you think that any of those thoughts could be at the heart of your apathy. Or perhaps you are affected, but not amazed, not in disbelief at the incomprehensible, unfathomable love of God for me, for you. Let’s open our Bibles together to learn more about God’s love: Ezekiel 16.
Ezekiel 16 says much about our sin, but it says much more about God’s gracious love. Tonight we will say much about our sin, but much more about God’s gracious love. We cannot truly understand God’s love until we understand our sin; we cannot truly understand God’s love until we understand who we are before a Holy God.
Ezekiel 16 is specifically written to the people of Judea left at Jerusalem during the exile, but it has application to us believers today God chose Israel from among all of the peoples on earth to be in special covenantal relationship with Him. That relationship was initially manifested to the 12 tribes of Israel but could not remain there. With Christ, what had only trickled beyond the banks of Israel before, burst into the entire world to all peoples, to the church. So what we hear God say to his Old Covenant people here is even more true to his New Covenant people: The Church.
Read with me starting in verse 2, describing how he found all those who he would call to himself—completely undesirable, unclean, unattractive, helpless, ugly:
2 “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. (Eze 16:2-5)
Before Judah could be told of God’s love, God had Ezekiel remind them of the way that they were found. In this analogy that Ezekiel is building God’s people were found by God as rejected, abhorred, dirty. Elsewhere in the Bible God described this pre-God condition as:
· Dead in trangressions and sin (Eph 2:1)
· Sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2)
· Children of wrath (Eph 2:3)
· Weak…ungodly…sinners (Romans 5:6-8)
· Enemies [of God] (Romans 5:10)
· Alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (Colossians 1:21)
There are some out there who agree with this in concept. Pause and consider the reality of this. These statements that the Word of God makes about you, about me, are not just mere propositions with which we should agree. These statements describe natural position before God. If you have truly been saved, this is from what you were saved. This is what you brought to God.
If you look at this list and do not recognize yourself in that list – as dead in sin, an enemy of God, hostile to God – praise God that you’re here this evening. What you are hearing will be part of the most life-changing news you have ever heard. You must recognize your position before God before you can ever appreciate God’s love for you and receive the greatest manifestation of that love: Salvation found at the cross, the salvation that we read of here in Ezekiel 16:
So we have God, the one who with a Word spoke all things into existence, the one who is too beautiful for human eyes to even gaze upon, to great to even comprehend, the one whose Holiness will decimate us if unclothed in Christ’s righteousness we were to venture into His presence, the majestic, the powerful, the perfect one, without beginning, without end. He needs nothing; he lacks nothing. That one in these verses passes by me and you, a rejected, helpless, ugly baby who in fact is in complete rebellion to Him—would kill God if he could—God passes by this hostile creature to whom He owes nothing but wrath and here’s what he says to that creature, to you and to me (verse 6):
And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood (the symbol of our uncleanness, rejection, and abhorrence), I said to you in your blood, “Live!” I said to you in your blood “Live!” (Ezekiel 16:6)
And with what end did He say “live!”? To bless us, verse 7:
“I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment.”
Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly place in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-8)
This is a picture of what God did in his love for the nation Israel; this is a picture of what God did for the Church; this is a picture of what God did for me, and for you if you are saved! He did not pity us. He loved us!
What love! What love unlike our love! Remember our list that we made of things we love? This love is completely unlike the love that you have for any of those things. We have no category for love like this. He said to us in our blood, “Live!” Even when we were dead in our trespasses, hostile, God loved us. Consider your condition before God and consider his love.
I have a hard time even moving on past this first point just touching the surface of God’s Love. I could speak of it for years and still fall short. Charles Spurgeon said:
"[God’s love] is to be felt, but it never can be uttered. Who can speak of [His] love? In what language shall we sing its sweetness? No other word, nor set of words, can utter its meaning. You may go round about and make a long definition, but you have not defined it; and he who never felt his heart glow with it will remain an utter stranger to it, depict it as you may. Love must be felt in the heart, it cannot be learned from a dictionary. “God hath loved us.” I want you not so much to follow what I shall have to say upon that wonderful fact, as to try and think over this thought for yourselves. God hath loved us. Drink into that truth. Take the word, lay it under your tongue, and let it dissolve like a wafer made with honey, till it sweetens all your soul. (Spurgeon, vol 19; no 1096)
Let me then only make one last point before moving on. These passages that we have read haven’t yet discussed the most amazing aspect of God’s love, the cost that God had to pay when he looked at is wallowing, squirming in our hateful blood: The cost was His own perfect blood! When God looked at us and said “Live!” He had to look at His only Son, God the Son, and say “Die!” That love I cannot even begin to comprehend, I can only bow my head in amazement. It is of that love that we have sung. It is of that love that we must constantly be remembering. It is that profound love that should propel us to our knees and suck tears from our eyes when we sing “Jesus Loves Me”.
Why did it cost his blood? Many of you already know the answer: Sin. God in his Justice, in His Holiness, cannot let sin go unpunished. God loved even in our rebellion. But he couldn’t just let our sin go unpunished, so he placed it on His Son. His hatred for sin, and love for us, was expressed at the cross where he poured out wrath against His own perfect, willing son. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says,
“For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!”
Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
But why? Why is sin so bad as to make God hate his very own son? Why does God hate sin so much? Let us explore now just what makes sin so very sinful.
Ezekiel 16 continues in verse 8 with the image of God taking us, his people, the church to be his wife. This is imagery used throughout scripture and is the perfect image of marital love of which love within our marriages here on earth are merely a shadow or a dim reflection:
8 “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. 9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. 14 And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God.
God uses sexual, romantic, marita imagery, I believe to help us to understand the depth of his love, and then to understand the horrificness of our sin:
Here’s how God describes Israel’s sin; here’s how God views the believer’s sin, here’s why God, righteously jealous for His bride, righteously hates sin with a deeper more passionate hatred than you or I could ever imagine:
v. 15 “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore, because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his…(v. 22) In all of your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.”
Sin is adultery against God. Sin is looking at God and all that he has to offer and then looking at the lures of the world, comparing them, and choosing sin.
Why does God hate sin so much? Why is sin so sinful?
a. [When I sin] My wicked heart chooses Sin Over God
God created us for himself. He chose us (as believers) as His bride and bought us with His Son’s blood. He is worthy of devotion, and as God, he has the right to demand it.
Zechariah 8:2 says “I am jealous for Zion (another name for his chosen people) with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.”
This is a jealousy and love that leads him to verse 3: to step out of heaven and dwell with his people. He came to ransom his people from their sin so that they can dwell in His midst forever. God, therefore, hates whatever causes this estrangement.
Our desires lure us. We lie to ourselves. We say, “If only I had [x] then I’d be happy.” We say, “I deserve [x], so it must be ok for me to have.” “Lying, cheating, stealing, or whatever is justified in this instance because [x].”
“It’s ok if I just have a little,” We lie to ourselves. Like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with his Turkish Delight: What promised to satisfy results in nothing but temporary pleasure and longterm-stomache-ache or worse. And look at the cost at which these fleeting desires come.
Each time we choose to gratify our own desires apart from God, apart form faith, it is sin. Sin is choosing the world and the gratification of our lusts over and above finding pleasure in God. Sin is adultery. Sin is whoredom.
Back to Ezekiel 16:30, speaking of us in our sin:
30 “How lovesick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, 31 building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different. (Eze 16:30-34)
Each and every time we sin, we give ourselves as an adulterous wife to anybody and everybody except the perfectly loving Christ. James in chapter 4 cries out against the recipients of his letter trying to be devoted to both God and the world: “You adulterous people. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God.”
Following the imagery from Ezekiel, when I sin, no matter how big or how small, I am commit cosmic adultery. Worse than me seeing my wife on my right (Where I know I can find true love and satisfaction) and in front of her eyes turning and going and paying prostitutes on the left to go and be with them.
Why does God hate sin so much? With each sin I am making a declaration to the world and to God: “There is something better than God to be enjoyed, obeyed, and devoted to.” For every prodigal who leaves the father’s house says in effect, “It is better elsewhere.”
But Oh how gracious God Is! He redeems us and forgives us time and time again. Once again as we consider our sins of the day and how many times even today I have chosen sin instead of God, we are forced to see how utterly loving God is. For the believer, he forgives you time and time again.
Husbands do you love your wife like this? Like Christ loves the church (Eph 5)? What if your wife sins against you one time? Do you forgive? What if it’s a big sin? What if she does it again? And again?
What about with other people’s sin against you? How quick are you to see the debt you’ve been forgiven and then quickly offer forgiveness? There we are full of sin as well. That leads us to our second point:
b. [Sin is utterly sinful because when I sin] My wicked heart acts inconsistently with my faith?
a. If I believe that I have been forgiven 10,000 lifetimes of debt, how can I then be unforgiving? (Matthew 18:21-35)
b. If I believe God gave me His life, how can I then be selfish? (1 John 3:16-18)
c. If I believe that God is supreme and supremely good and I am a creature – dependent and supremely evil – then how can I be proud? (Isaiah 66, etc)
d. If I believe Christ is truly satisfying and that things of this world cannot satisfy, how could I then be discontent and grumble?
[If time permits share story of Bible, different covers, and Kiki here]
c. My sinful heart attempt to dethrone God
Mahaney: “Sin is contending for the supremacy of God with God.”
Packer: Sin fights God to play God
Venning: Sin goes about to ungod God….Deicidium, God murder, or God-killing:
“Sin strives with and fights against God, and if its power were as great as its will is wicked, it would not suffer God to b.e God is a troublesome thing to sinners, and therefore they say to him, Depart from us. Sin is contrary to God and all that is dear to him or has his name upon it; and thought it is against all good, yet not so much against any good as against God, who is, and because he is the chiefest good.” -Venning, p. 36
"Sin is contrary to all the names and attributes of God. It sets itself in opposition to them all.
1. It deposes the sovereignty of God...It will not [do] that the King of kings should be on the throne, and govern this world which he has made. It was by this instinct that Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I know no Lord above me; I will not let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2). It was from hence that the Jews of old said, "We are lords; we will come no more to thee" (Jeremiah 2:31). Thus it attempts to dethrone God.
2. It denies God's all-sufficiency. As if there were not contentment and satisfaction enough to be laid in the enjoyment of God, but that vanity and wickedness had more of pleasure and profit than he, whose ways are all pleasantness, and whose service is the health of man! Every prodigal who leaves the Father's house says in effect, "It is better to be elsewhere."
3. It challenges the justice of God, and dares God to do his worst (Malachi 2:17). It provokes the Lord to jealousy, and tempts him to wrath.
4. It disowns his omniscience. "Pooh!" they say, "God does not see, nor does the most High regard."
5. It despises the riches of God's goodness (Romans 2:4)
6. It turns his grace into wontonness (Jude 4). It will make bold with God, and sin because grace abounds.
In short, "Sin is the dare of God's justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, the contempt of his love," as one writer prettily expresses this ugly thing. We may go on and say, "It is the upbraiding of his providence (Psalm 50), the scoff of his promise (2 Peter 3:3-4), the reproach of his wisdom (Isaiah 29:16), and...it opposes and exalts itself above all that is called God (and above all that God is called), so that it [attempts to be God, sitting] in the temple of God, showing itself as if it were God (2 Thessalonians 2:4)."
d. My sinful heart breaks God’s law
§ Sin is ultimately breaking God's law motivated by all of the above and God the judge who was completely Holy and completely just in laying down such a law has no choice as a righteous judge other than to lay the just penalty for our sin on us: Death (Romans 6:23) & his righteous wrath (Romans 1:18).
§ I determine that I know better and that God’s law is not worth keeping. I place myself in the position of the most important being, again attempting to dethrone God when I break his law. For that mutiny we deserve judgment.
Having now just scratched the surface of recognizing our own sinfulness, we must look no other place than to Christ. We have come full-circle back to Christ. This news of God’s love and our sinfulness should drive us to the foot of the cross. We must never see our sinfulness and think that we can make it better by resolving to sin less, or compare our sinfulness to the sinfulness of another. We are all God-haters at our core, adulterers, and stand utterly condemned.
There’s nothing we can do to make up for what we have done. Yet, Praise God! We can’t outsin God’s grace. No, we can’t out-sin God’s grace, and we can’t out-merit our sin. When we see our sin for what it is and God’s holiness for what it is, we begin to understand just how great a payment and expression of love was made at the cross. To try to earn our way to God will be unthinkable. Likewise you won’t be able to say that you have sinned too much for God to accept you.
The Father killed his son. He made him who knew no sin, the perfect one, God the Son, Jesus…He made him sin. And if Christ is your only hope to be righteous before God – to be the object of his mercy and not the object of His wrath – …If Christ is that only hope for you, the righteousness of Christ is yours because he took your sin.
It is that which we remember as we come to the Lord’s Table. Jesus said that we were to take the bread which represents his body and the blood which represents his blood in remembrance of him. We declare as we take this that we are in need of his broken body and spilt blood.
We confess our sins. We agree with God that we have sinned. And now after today we confess to God our sins in a new way. I hope that after this evening you will not confess your sins in the same way again that you will confess it as we have presented it:
So now in your heart confess to God your sins declaring just how evil you’ve been, adulterously choosing sin instead of God and committing your illicit act before His very face. You deserve wrath. How if it were in your power, if you were as powerful as you are sinful, you would have removed God from the throne, killed Him, and placed yourself there. And then repent:
1. at the sight of your sin
2. out of sorrow for your sin
3. After confessing your sin
4. And recognizing your shame in your sin
5. Out of hatred for your sin
6. Turn from your sin.
That is repentance. We must kill our sin in a Christ-centered way being aware of God’s grace and love for us and the Holy Spirit which he gives to believers to help us kill that sin. We must not kill our sin in a man-centered way, embracing our own power, hoping to impress God or make ourselves more attractive to him.
There is a Christ-centered way of killing sin and a man-centered way of killing sin: The cross points us to the former and guards us from the latter.
In response to God’s grace and love toward sinful, abhorrent, helpless, disobedient, weak, ungodly, hostile, enemies such as us. In response to Him taking children of wrath and making us Children of God I will ask the men to bring the bread and the juice as I read the words of the song that we will close with tonight.
If you are a believer, if your only hope as we discussed is Christ, praise God with me and take the bread and the juice and remember Christ crucified for you, for me, for the Church.
If you are not a believer, if you do not agree with the Bible’s assessment of your state before God. If you are hanging onto an appearance of your own goodness to get you to God and to avoid His wrath. If by your own confession, you are not a believer, if Jesus is not your only hope and your only treasure, please let the cup pass by. But please don’t leave here tonight without coming and talking to somebody.
The men will come as I read the lyrics from fathomless love. Take communion on your own tonight as Josh plays. We will close the evening singing Fathomless Love together:
Praise God with me:
Lord what moved Your heart to love lowly man
Before any star could herald Your praise?
And why did you come, abasing Yourself
Veiled in a robe of frail human clay?
Why would You, the pure, give Your life for the vile
The innocent seeking the guilty to be reconciled?
I can’t comprehend this fathomless love
I’m gripped and amazed at what You have done
Why would the adored become the despised
to bear all the furious wrath that was mine?
How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me.
Why would you adopt and take as Your own
Those who had crushed Your one precious Son?
Why mercy and grace toward Your enemies?
Your name [we] have cursed
And your throne [we] have shunned.
Oh, how could you choose to show kindness to these?
The one who would mock You and hate You
The ones just like me? Me?