The Dynamics of Receiving and Relating in God’s Love
The message that arises from the set Bible readings for Sunday, May 15, is about us having God’s heart – the heart of the gospel.
As usual this follows the Revised Common Lectionary, used by a broad spectrum of churches and chapels. This article is based on The Living Word study for May 15 which looks at the Bible readings in detail.
• Watch this week’s video God’s Love: Receiving It, Living In It
This gospel is something that Christians get excited about, and that’s because it is good news – good news of God’s goodness, good news that God loves us, good news that this is for everyone. There’s no barrier — no one is excluded from hearing this good news and receiving it.
So we set the scene with some verses excerpted from Psalm 148 in praise of God’s goodness:
Praise the Lord…praise Him in the heights above… Let them praise the Name of the Lord, for… He created them… and established them for ever…
Kings… and…nations… princes and…rulers… young and old, men women and and children… praise the…Lord, for His name alone is exalted… And He has raised up…a horn… [for] the people close to His heart. Praise the Lord.
Psalm 148 excerpt
The gospel is the good news that Jesus announced at the start of His ministry, and it is about Him giving us a new opportunity to be right with God, a new start in life. Although He doesn’t immediately tell us, it is also about He is, and what He does for us that can make us right with God.
If you don’t know much about Jesus, the one thing you probably do know is that He is all about love. He was the most loving person who ever walked the face of this earth. He demonstrated in human form what God’s unconditional love is like. He didn’t just show love to the people who were like him, who were on-side for Him. What makes Jesus remarkable is the way He showed love to people considered as of little account, outcasts and those with desperate needs — and in a Jewish male-dominated society, paying serious attention to non-Jews and to women.
In this next passage Jesus sets out clearly what it means to follow Him – to follow His way of loving others. This quality of having love for others, He said, was the distinguishing mark of His disciples.
In His own words from John 13:
31–32 When [Judas] was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will glorify the Son in Himself, and will glorify Him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34–35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:31–35 NIV
To love one another wasn’t too difficult a concept for Jews brought up on the Torah. This had always been central to the Law of Moses. It was part of the Sh’ma prayer, the saying that every observant Jew recited every day.
What made this command new was Jesus saying that they must love one another as He had loved them. It dawned on them that Jesus didn’t just love the Twelve He shared His life with closely, but He drew them into compassion for people they still saw as outsiders. Jesus was not even cautious about ministering to women. He even ministered to a Samaritan woman, and to a Canaanite woman in the coastal region of Sidon. The people He showed love to were often the most needy and the most marginalised of society — like those caught in adultery, or demon-possessed and violent with it.
Jesus associated with tax collectors who as clients of the Roman administration were considered social and religious outcasts. To pay any kind of respect to the pagan Roman occupation was to be treated as an alien.
This brings us to the account of Peter explaining his actions to a critical Jewish gathering back in Jerusalem. This was after he had experienced a dramatic trance-like vision from God, followed immediately by a request to go to a Roman household, where he was asked to tell his story of how Jesus had been put to death and raised again to life. As he did so, he saw the Holy Spirit come on this Gentile household in a similar way to what he had seen and experienced on the day of Pentecost.
This account is from Acts 11:
1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.
2–3 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:
5–7 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9–10 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.
13–14 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as He had come on us at the beginning.
16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptised with [or in] water, but you will be baptised with [or in] the Holy Spirit.’
17 So if God gave them the same gift He gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles, God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Because the gospel is about God’s love, when we talk about the gospel, God’s love becomes real — a spiritual impartation — and it changes lives.
It changes lives one by one, as people turn towards God, believe in Jesus, receiving Him into their hearts and trusting Him as Lord, and so the kingdom of God is established now — gradually.
The kingdom of God is not this church establishment or that one. It is not even the church itself. It is people who are submitted to God and transformed by Him — not any man-made structure or organisation.
The kingdom of God exists now wherever Jesus reigns – and that means where He rules in people’s hearts and minds and attitudes. And where God’s rule is upheld, He can work. He can bring His change, from new attitudes and forgiveness, to works difficult if not impossible to explain like healing and miracles of nature.
At the end of time that transformation will speed up and find completion. This is when Jesus returns, not just to rule and reign in the hearts of those who have believed and trusted Him, but to be sovereign over over every living creature.
John was the youngest of the twelve original disciples and he lived for a long time. Towards the end of his life he was in exile on the island of Patmos. There he saw an extraordinary, unfolding vision which he wrote down for us as the apocalyptic, and sometimes difficult to understand, book of Revelation.
This includes glimpses into heaven and heavenly worship where Jesus is entitled the Lamb of God and enthroned in glory together with His Father, receiving the praise of angels and the believers who have gone before.
This heralds the new order that which will come at the end of time, a new community where Jesus’ sovereignty will be visible. It will be marked by a dramatic change from the difficulties, rebellion, independence and sickness which is part of our experience of earthly life. Under His rule there will be no pain and no crying because the old broken, dysfunctional order will have passed away.
Above all, God will be among His people — and His people will have intimacy with Him.
Here is an excerpt from Revelation 21 which explains what this loving community will be like when the good news has finally become established as God’s perfect new order.
1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.
4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
Revelation 21:1–6 excerpt
What does this mean for us now? Why is it important for us to grasp the essential heart of the gospel?
The good news of God’s love and forgiveness is about our relationship with God, which had been broken by Adam’s and Eve’s mistake of deciding to act independently in the Garden of Eden. It’s about how this breakdown has been restored by Jesus.
The gospel is about the forgiveness secured for all who put their trust and belief in Him and His work of redemption on the Cross.
There will come a time when there is a new community, all of whom joyfully accept Jesus as their Lord, and welcome the presence of God the Father among them — without a single dissenting voice.
This is looking ahead to the end-time and this is the picture that John saw recorded in revelation.
But we can know this peace, this restored relationship, at least in part — in our present time. We can know the Father by believing in Jesus and trusting Him who has given His life to be the One who can give us new life for eternity.
So that we will, in the end, be part of that wonderful, perfect new community with God dwelling among us that John saw in his vision.
And when Jesus is Lord of our life, we won’t need commanding to love one another, although we might need reminding (and the Holy Spirit in us will do that). We won’t need instructing to extend this unconditional love to people not like us — because the Holy Spirit in us will be prompting us and enabling us, so we’ll find ourselves doing it, willingly and joyfully.
And that’s bringing a little bit of the new community that John saw his vision forward to our time and place.
Yes, it will be messily incomplete..
But we can know that the parts that we can bring into His order* will be done really well, and others will see that and be drawn to experience the same.
And that’s how this good news of God’s love: how we are loved and how we can love others, brings glory to God and His kingdom.