Love Has Flesh
Rev. Kurt Lantz 5 Easter B 1 John 4:1-21
May 02, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes I wonder if I am doing enough to love others as God has loved me. Am I a true Christian when there are so many people around me and my church that need help, and yet we seem to be doing precious little in the way of helping. Today’s Epistle reading from 1 John 4 puts it in a biting manner: “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Do I really love God if I am not loving the poor, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned?
The season of Easter celebrates the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We emphasize that it is a bodily resurrection. The tomb was empty. The physical body was not lying dead in there (John 20:12). Jesus showed His hands and side and bid Thomas to stick his fingers into the wounds (John 20:27). When the disciples thought that they had seen a ghost, Jesus asked for food and ate it in their presence (Luke 24:42). It was no hallucination. The resurrected Jesus is not spirit-only. He rose bodily from the dead just as He had bodily died from the suffering and crucifixion that He endured for us.
When we talk about Jesus, we need to talk about a physical, bodily Jesus, who was really born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The third day He rose again from the dead (Apostles’ Creed). Jesus is a flesh and blood Jesus. He continues to be a flesh and blood Jesus.
This Jesus is the love of God for you. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven... And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2-3).
Jesus coming in the flesh to physically suffer and die for our sins and to physically rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, is God’s expression of real love for you. Just as Jesus is not only a cognitive construct, a philosophical idea, an expression of emotion, but a real, physical person; so the love of God for you is real and physical too. It is not just an invisible power or an emotive feeling that He sends out to you. It’s more than thoughts and prayers. God’s love for you is Jesus coming in the flesh to suffer and die and rise again in order to be your Saviour. Love is physical, real, tactile, and not just a feeling.
So there is a very real connection to true faith and doing acts of love (faith and works). We are saved by faith, but our faith is in the physical sending of Jesus Christ into the flesh to suffer and die for our sins. Faith in God is faith that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh to save us. And that faith in the physical act of love that Jesus Christ did for you in His body, is also expressed by you in physical acts of love that you do with your body for others who are in need. The loving actions don’t save you. Your faith in God’s loving action saves you. But your faith in God’s loving action also produces works of love in you.
It is really rather simple on paper, but we seem to get it awfully mixed up in life. The spirit of the antichrist proclaims that God’s love is not the love that sent His Son in the flesh to save you through His death and resurrection. The spirit of the antichrist proclaims that God’s love is not so physical; that it is ephemeral, the existence of a goodwill toward you that hasn’t really done anything for you, but inspires you to make yourself holy. And so, also then, it is the spirit of the antichrist that convinces you that Christian love exists only in sending out good vibes toward others, wishing the best for them, and not really doing any physical acts of love or mercy for them. I often feel that lying spirit at work in me.
God’s love for us in Jesus Christ proclaims something different. It proclaims that God’s love for you is indeed very physical, flesh and blood stuff. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His Son into the world, so that we might live through Him... He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins [the physical sacrifice offered in death and the shedding of blood]. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).
When we fail to offer real physical acts of mercy and love toward others, it is a sign that the spirit of the antichrist is at work, confessing that our loving God did not send His Son into the flesh to offer a real physical act of mercy and love. It is disturbing to me when I struggle to show real acts of physical love and mercy toward others. It is so easy to say or type, “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” and to let that be enough. But Jesus did not leave it at that. His thoughts and prayers are with us, but in real physical love He suffered in the flesh to save us. He gave of Himself physically in order to come to our rescue.
As a church we struggle with this, too. We can have various persons, organizations, and causes in our prayers, but how do we physically help those in need of rescue? Do we not believe that Jesus fed and healed and visited and gave to the poor even aside from giving Himself over to death and rising again?
We need to combat the fleshless concept of helping by not doing; of healing without contacting; of rescuing without giving of ourselves. These acts of loving mercy will not save us, but they show the love that God has shown to us, the love of Jesus Christ come in the flesh. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
Sometimes at a funeral we struggle with a list of the loving acts of Christian love that the departed loved one has done throughout their life. We need to be careful that we never give the impression that the person was saved by doing such works of love, even as motivated by God’s love for them. That is an even greater deception of the spirit of the antichrist. We are not saved by our works of love. We are saved by Christ’s work of love through His physical death and resurrection. Our works of love cannot measure up to our failures to love.
Be careful not to gauge your salvation on your acts of love, because it is only God’s love that saves you. Yet, at the same time, be aware that when you know God’s physical love for you in Christ Jesus, there will be physical expressions of love for others flowing through you. Remembering those acts of love that our departed loved ones had done, then can be a comforting testimony to us that they are indeed saved by their faith in God’s great love for them in Jesus.
Before acting on His love for us on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Works done apart from Christ, apart from recognizing He came in the flesh to save you from your lack of love, are nothing. The secret to loving others with a true, godly, physical love is to abide in the Christ who truly loved you with a physical love in His death and resurrection. It is to hear and confess that God sent His Son Jesus into the flesh; that He suffered, died, and was raised again for the forgiveness of all your sins. This is the love of God for you and this is the only source of your true love for others.
When you feel that you are not doing enough to love those around you in their physical needs, the proper response is not to redirect your efforts from hearing of Jesus to doing like Jesus. That will not solve your problem, the problem of your sin. The proper response is to confess that you have failed to do physical acts of love for those around you, and to confess that the acts of love that you do will never make you into a good and loving person.
The solution is in absolution, forgiveness for you in Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh. Concentrate all the more on your hearing and receiving the physical love of Jesus for your sins: hearing more of His coming in the flesh to suffer and die in order to rescue you; eating His flesh and drinking His blood as He bids you to do; being immersed again in the confession of the cleansing waters of your Baptism, in which Jesus Himself stood to take your sins into His own body and to give to you the eternal life that is in His. Abide in Him. Rest in Him. live in Him. And love one another in Him.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.