April 13, 2008
Part 3: The unsearchable riches of His love
When my kids were little and I’d tuck them in bed, I’d ask, “Do you know how much I love you?” They’d giggle and say, “How much Daddy?” And I’d spread my arms as far as I could and say, “Thiiiiiiis much!” And then scoop them up and hug them and kiss them.
Parental love might be the closest we can come to understanding God’s love. You love your kids with an everlasting, unconditional love. You would die for your kids. Perhaps that is why God chose to call Himself our Father, and us His children.
1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
Today, we’re going to talk about the unsearchable riches of His love!
We’re talking about the unsearchable, ungoogleable riches of Christ. And today, we’re going to talk about the unsearchable riches of His love. God loves you more than you know. Would you say this with me: God loves me more than I know.
What does that mean? The word “love” is used in so many different ways, it’s important to define our terms.
- We “fall in love”, and what we mean is that we’ve met someone who has swept us off our feet. It’s luv-romantic love! It’s all about feelings. We fall in love, and then when the feelings are gone, we have fallen out of love. Couples divorce and say, “We don’t love each other any more; we don’t feel anything.” Romantic love, feelings love, is very fickle. In fact, “falling” is a good word to describe it-you don’t control it (you don’t fall on purpose), it just happens to you. Luv.
- We “make love”. We use the word to describe the sexual act, and when it’s a married couple who are committed to each other for life, it’s an accurate description. It is making love. However, when it’s recreational sex, when it’s two people who barely know each other and have no lasting commitment to each other, then it’s not making love at all. That’s a misuse of the word.
- We “love our families”. We say, “Blood is thicker than water,” and we mean that we have a deep commitment to and care for our families. I love my kids; I would do anything for them. And I’m nuts about my granddaughter!
- I “love” lasagna and boysenberry pie. We use the word to indicate what we like. I love popcorn and cheese and dill pickles and homemade root beer on Sunday nights. I love riding my motorcycle. I love sunny weather!
- And “love” is a zero! Love is a zero score in tennis! Love-love!
The word is used in many ways. So when I say that God loves you or Jesus loves you, what do I mean? Well, first, He doesn’t think you’re a zero-so it’s not that. And He’s not “in luv” with you-I don’t think it’s romantic love, my heart’s-all-in-a-flutter love. When the Bible says that God loves you, it uses a Greek word, agapao or agape, that can best be described as “active benevolence”. It is not primarily about feelings, but action, what you do. So let me give you a definition of love.
Love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you.
You can see this best in Jesus. The Bible says over and over that Jesus’ love for us was seen most clearly on the cross. There, He did what was best for us, no matter what it cost Him. He put us ahead of Himself. This is love. When someone loves you like that-when someone is willing to die for you-that grabs you. It certainly grabbed Paul. He said Christ’s love “compelled or controlled him.” He couldn’t stop talking about Christ’s love. Which brings us to our text:
Ephesians 3:17-19 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
I pray that you will grasp the full dimensions of the love of Christ-how wide and long and high and deep-and that you will know this love that surpasses knowledge. It’s unsearchable! No matter how much you know, there’s more. I can safely say, God loves you more than you know. His love surpasses knowledge; it’s unsearchable.
Most Bible scholars think that the four dimensions-how wide and long and high and deep-are a poetic expression for the infiniteness of Christ’s love. They think that Paul didn’t have individual aspects of that love in mind, that it was just a beautiful way of saying, “Christ’s love is infinite. It’s as vast as the universe. Look any direction you want and the love of Christ is there.” I think they’re right.
However, all through history, Christians have used these four dimensions as a way to reflect upon Christ’s unsearchable love.
- Ancient commentators saw these four dimensions represented in the four arms of the cross.
- Augustine (354-430 AD) said that the width was love, the length was patience, the height was hope, and the depth was humility.
So I’m going to borrow from this rich tradition, particularly Augustine, and use the four dimensions as a framework for knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
1. How wide is the love of Christ? Wide enough to include everyone.
So wide, that on the cross, Jesus spread out His arms and embraced the whole world! How much do I love you? Thiiiiis much!
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God so loved…THE WORLD! Everyone. God’s love is scandalous! He loves people we would never love.
ILL: Each of us has a circle of comfort, and inside that circle are the people we love, the people with whom we are comfortable. The people inside your circle of comfort are people whom you would gladly have for an extended stay at your house. Mi casa, su casa.
Outside our circle of comfort are:
- Those who make us feel uneasy, uncomfortable.
- Those who are different than us.
- Those we don’t understand.
- Those we don’t trust, of whom we are suspicious.
- Those we just plain don’t like.
- Those we think are evil or bad.
- Those who are scary or threatening.
These are people whom you wouldn’t want to have for an extended stay at your house. There are a lot of people outside our circle of comfort.
How big is God’s circle of comfort? It includes everybody-the whole world, including everyone outside my little circle.
For God so loved the world. Everyone! God loves everyone, including the people I can’t stand!
ILL: Jesus illustrated the scandalous nature of God’s love in a story that we call the Good Samaritan. Jesus had just told his Jewish audience that the most important thing is to love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself. One of them, wanting to justify his lack of love for others, asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus told a story about a Jewish man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by bandits, who beat him, robbed him, and left him naked and half dead by the road. Pretty soon, a priest came along and saw the man, but did nothing; he passed by on the other side of the road. Then a Levite came along and did the same. Neither of these deeply religious Jews bothered to stop and help their fellow Jew, their own countryman. Then along came a Samaritan, and he stopped and bandaged his wounds, and put him on his donkey, and took him to the nearest hospice where he could receive care. He even paid out of his pocket for the Jewish man’s care.
Jesus asked, “Which of the three was a neighbor to the injured man?” And the man answered, “The one who had mercy on him-the Samaritan.”
Now what you must understand is that the Jews and Samaritans were mortal enemies. They hated each other. They would walk miles out of their way to avoid each other. In fact, if a Jewish man walked through Samaria, he was likely to beaten and robbed like this by Samaritan bandits! Samaritans were the bad guys-way outside the Jewish circle of comfort!
If we were to cast the story in modern terms, we might tell the story this way.
An Israeli was robbed, and two Israelis passed by, but a Palestinian stopped to help. Or to bring it closer to home…
An American was robbed, and two Americans passed by, but a member of Al Qaida stopped to help. How does that make you feel? Scandalous, isn’t it? Or…
A Republican was robbed, and two Republicans passed by, but a far-left ultra-liberal Democrat stopped and raised taxes. Just kidding. He stopped to help.
In Jesus’ story, the villain turned out to be the hero. Scandalous! You can insert your own villain. Jesus was saying that God’s love is inclusive, and ours should be too.
For God so loved the world. Everyone! How wide is the love of Christ? So wide it includes everyone. God’s circle of comfort is the whole world. God loves you more than you know. And God loves the people outside your circle just like He loves you…more than you know.
How wide is God’s love? Wide enough to include everyone. It reminds me of one my favorite poems!
“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Rebel, heretic, thing to flout.
But love and I had the will to win-
We drew a circle that took him in.”
This is what Jesus did: He drew a circle that took us in. How wide is the love of Christ? Wide enough to include everyone.
2. How long is the love of Christ? Long enough to last forever.
So long that you’ll never come to the end of it. So long that it can outlast you! It’s longer than your rebellion. Run as long as you can, but the love of Christ is longer still. It’s longer than your stubbornness. Resist as long as you will, but the love of Christ is longer still. His love will outlast you!
Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
This is God speaking to the Israelites in captivity. They had a long history of ignoring God, rebelling against God, disobeying God and worshiping idols. Eventually, they ended up as slaves in Babylon. There, God promises to take them home, to restore their fortunes. Why? Because He loved them with an everlasting love, a love that wouldn’t quit or give up on them, a love that kept pursuing them. An everlasting love can just outlast you!
ILL: In 1989, an 8.2 earthquake flattened much of Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes.
In the midst of the devastation and chaos, a father rushed to the school where he sun was supposed to be, only to discover that the building was flat as a pancake.
After the initial shock, he remembered the promise he had made to his son: “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked at the pile of rubble and debris that had once been his son’s school. It looked hopeless, but he kept thinking of his promise to his son.
He went to where the back corner of the building had been, where he son’s classroom had been, and started digging. Other weeping parents tried to stop him, to pull him off the rubble. “It’s too late. They’re dead. You can’t help. Go home.” And to each parent, he asked the same question: “Will you help me?” and kept digging.
The fire chief showed up and tried to pull him off the pile of rubble. “Fires are breaking out; explosions are happening everywhere. You’re danger. Go home and let us take care of it.” This father asked him the same question, “Will you help me?” and kept digging.
The police came and said, “You’re upset about losing your son, but you’re endangering yourself and others. Go home!” But the father asked, “Will you help me?” and kept digging.
Courageously, he kept digging…along. He had to find his boy-he had to know if his boy was alive or dead. Alone, he kept digging, for 8 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours…and in the 38th hour he pulled back a rock and heard his son’s voice. “Armand!” he cried.
“Dad? Dad! It’s me. We’re down here. I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you’d find me and save me, and they’d be saved too. I told them what you always told me, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.'”
It turned out that when the building collapsed, it had made a wedge, like a triangle. Fourteen students were trapped, but alive in that wedge. 14 students were saved because one father had a love for his son that wouldn’t be stopped.
This is the love of our Father for us. A love that never stops, a love that finds us no matter how lost we get, a love that is everlasting, and never gives up. This love is, in the words of that great theologian, Buzz Lightyear, “To infinity, and beyond!” Jesus is in the words of Francis Thompson, the Hound of Heaven, who pursues us relentlessly and never gives up.
How long is the love of Christ? Long enough to last forever.
3. How high is the love of Christ? High enough to get me to heaven.
So high that it will take me all through life and into eternity. Augustine liked to think of this dimension of Christ’s love as hope. Because of the unsearchable riches of the love of Jesus, I have the hope of heaven. Let me say it another way. I’m sure I’m going to make it to heaven because:
- God’s love for me is much sturdier than my love for Him.
- God’s commitment to me is much stronger than my commitment to Him.
- God’s grip on me is much surer than my grip on Him.
I know I’m going to heaven because He loves me…more than I know. How high is the love of Christ? High enough to get me to heaven. Paul put it this way:
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul says that there is nothing in this life or the next that could ever separate us from the love of Christ. Not even death can separate us from His love! When I die, Jesus will be there, waiting for me with love. Nothing, not even death, can separate me from His love.
ILL: In March of 1999, I went snow camping with some buddies and two of my sons. Jeff was 15 and Michael was 10, and we skied cross-country into a backwoods cabin on Sherman Pass. It had snowed about 18 inches the day before, so the trail was hard to find at times and the skiing was hard work. Jeff kept having trouble with his skis. We had stopped several times for repairs and adjustments, and the last time we stopped, the other 3 guys skied on ahead, leaving Michael and Jeff and I behind. The repair took awhile, and Michael got antsy, so he took off to catch the other guys. Finally, a half hour later, Jeff and I finished the repairs and took off. Before long we came to a fork in the trail-it was obvious that the group had gone to the left, but one set of tracks went down into a valley to the right. Immediately, I thought about my 10-year-old son skiing by himself somewhere between two groups of adults…and going the wrong way. Nightfall was not far away, and I had no idea how far it was yet to the cabin. I began to ski as fast as I could in the direction the group had taken, hoping Michael was with them. The next 45 minutes were the longest of my life as I was separated from my son and worried sick that he might be lost and alone in a winter wilderness when night came. When I caught up with the group, there was Michael, safe and sound. “Hey Dad!” Oblivious to the agony I’d just gone through!
Your heavenly Father loves you so much that He will never let anything separate you from His love. Nothing in life, and not even death can separate you from His love.
How high is the love of Christ? High enough to get me to heaven.
Pass out communion: Ask the ushers to come.
4. How deep is the love of Christ? Deep enough to die on a cross.
So deep that Jesus would die for you and for me. Augustine likened the depth of God’s love to humility-the humility of God becoming a man and dying in our place.
Philippians 2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!
Jesus emptied Himself and became a man, and then humbled Himself all the way to death on a cross. Down, down, down-God came all the way down. As far down as a man can go, as deep down as the deepest sinner, the love of God is deeper still. How deep is the love of Christ? Deep enough to die on a cross.
Every one of the verses listed on your outline say that God’s love is revealed on the Cross. Listen to a few of these:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Ephesians 5:1-2 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
1 John 4:9-11 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
How deeply does God love you? Look at the Cross. He loved you so deeply He died for you.
Romans 5:7-8 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God demonstrated His love for us in this. How deeply does God love you? Look at the Cross.
ILL: Patrick Morley, in Man in the Mirror, tells about a group of fishermen who landed in a secluded bay in Alaska and had a great day fishing for salmon. But when they returned to their sea plane, it was aground because of the fluctuating tides. They had no option except to wait until the next morning till the tides came in. But when they took off, they only got a few feet off the ground and then crashed down into the sea. Being aground the day before had punctured one of the pontoons, and it had filled up with water.
The sea plane slowly began to sink. The three men and a 12-year-old son of one of them, Mark, prayed and then jumped into the icy waters to swim to shore. The water was cold, and the riptide was strong, and two of the men reached the shore exhausted. They looked back, and their companion, who was also a strong swimmer, did not swim to shore because his 12-year-old son wasn’t strong enough to make it. They saw that father with his arms around his son being swept out to sea. He chose to die with his son rather than to live without him.
Jesus loved you so much that He chose to die for you, rather than live without you.
How deep is God’s love? Deep enough to die on a cross.
We’re going to finish today with communion. The wafer in your hand represents Jesus’ body nailed to a cross for you. The cup of juice represents His blood shed on a cross for you. He did it because He loves you…more than you know. Listen to this…and then I’ll come back and lead us in taking communion.
Communion with Wes King song: The Love of Christ.
What do we do with all these riches? Share it!
John 15:12 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Love others as Jesus has loved you.
Love with a wide love that includes others.
Love with a long love that never gives up on others.
Love with a high love that is inseparable. Nothing can separate you from my love.
Love with a deep love that is humble and sacrificial.