How freely do you and I love those around us? True love is costly, going far beyond the cards you might have given on Valentine’s Day, or the roses you might have received. In fact true love is far from free, but how freely, how willingly, do we bear the cost?
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”Mark 8:31
From the last paragraph of Mark 8, we learn that Jesus had to suffer. And be rejected. Be killed. And then be raised. It was necessary, yes, the Scriptures tell us that. But what internal motivation fueled his resolve?
Love Fuels Us Only So Far
I know why I must do certain things. When I was raising my kids, there were days when I would rather have stayed in bed or left them to fend for themselves while I went out to lunch. (Actually, my kids remember the time I did walk out in exasperation and circle the block before returning.) It’s duty that keeps me doing the right thing. Love may get me started, but plain ol’ “I gotta do this” gets me to the end.
Love started Jesus toward the cross, but what kept him traveling all the way to Jerusalem? Was it duty?
Love caused him to lay down on the wooden beam with the meekness of a lamb. But what kept him there? Was it “my sin that held him there” like the song tells us? No. It was his love from first to last. Love was his freedom and love was his constraint.
“Love was his freedom and love was his constraint.”
In effect the resurrection proved it. Listen to John Piper connect the dots for us from his ebook Love to the Uttermost (Easter 2013, page 29).
Freely Loved, Freely Loving
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:17–18)
“Why does Jesus say this? Why does he stress his willingness to die? Because if it weren’t true—if his death were forced on him, if it weren’t free, if his heart weren’t really in it—then a big question mark would be put over his love for us.
“The depth of his love is in its freedom. If he didn’t die for us willingly—if he didn’t choose the suffering and embrace it—then how deep is his love, really? So he stresses it. He makes it explicit. It comes out of me, not out of circumstances, not out of pressure, but out of what I really long to do.”
The Devil’s Argument
“Jesus is stressing to us that his love for us is free. He seems to hear some enemy slander saying, “Jesus doesn’t really love you. He’s a mercenary. He’s in it for some other reason than love. Clearly, he’s under some kind of constraint or external compulsion. He doesn’t really want to die for you. He’s just got himself somehow into this job and has to submit to the forces controlling him.”
Jesus seems to hear something like that, or anticipate it. And he responds, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” So he is pressing this on us to see if we will believe his protest of love, or if we will believe the opposite—that his heart is really not in this.
“Anybody who makes a statement like that is either mentally deranged, or lying, or God. I have authority from inside death, as a dead man, to take life back again, when I please.”
What does “freely” tell us?
Piper zooms in to make his point:
“Now what’s the point here? Well, which is harder: to control when you die, or to give yourself life again once you are dead? Which is harder: to say, “I lay my life down on my own initiative”? Or to say, “I will take my life back again after I am dead”?
“The answer is obvious. And that’s the point. If Jesus could—and did—take his life back again from the dead, then he was free indeed. If he controlled when he came out of the grave, he certainly controlled when he went into the grave.
“So here’s the point. The resurrection of Jesus is given to us as the confirmation or evidence that he was indeed free in laying down his life. And so the resurrection is Christ’s testimony to the freedom of his love.
The Meaning of His Love
“Of all the great things that Easter means, it also means this: it is a mighty “I meant it!” behind Christ’s death. I meant it! I was free. You see how free I am? You see how much power and authority I have? I was able to avoid it. I have power to take up my life out of the grave.
“And could I not, then, have devastated my enemies and escaped the cross?
“My resurrection is a shout over my love for my sheep: It was free! It was free! I chose it. See how I embraced it? I was not caught, nor was I cornered. Nothing can constrain me to do what I do not choose to do. I had power to take my life from death. And I have taken my life from death. How much more, then, could I have kept my life from death!
“I am alive to show you that I really loved you. I freely loved you. Nobody forced me to it. And I am now alive to spend eternity loving you with omnipotent resurrection love forever and ever.
“Come to me, all you sinners who need a Savior. And I will forgive you and accept you and love you with all my heart forevermore.”
As we leave Valentines Day behind and turn toward Ash Wednesday, may these thoughts fill us with joy. He laid down his life freely–out of love, not duty.
That’s how much he loves us.