February 18, 2007

FOREVER LOVE

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.  Isaiah 49:15-16

Many pregnant women starts to feel like a mother and act like a mother even before she gives birth. If you’re pregnant right now, you may know what I’m talking about. You’ve never seen your baby (except maybe as a black-and-white blob on an ultrasound); it may still be quite sometime before the little one is actually born; and yet and that tiny life is already precious to you, and your heart swells with love. The day of birth may still be months away, but you start planning and preparing for your baby’s arrival: you buy some cute clothes and baby blankets, stockpile diapers, and get a room ready for the new arrival. All of this love and affection, all of this activity and preparation and planning, starts up long before the baby actually makes an appearance in the world.

When you give birth and the little one finally appears, the bond between you and your baby becomes even more intense. You gaze into those eyes, touch the tip of that tiny nose, smile at those chubby cheeks, and stroke that downy-soft hair, you are flooded with love. As you cuddle that little one, the force of the love you feel may shock you and even scare you a little. You can hardly believe it’s possible to love someone this much!

Of course, there’s more to motherhood than being pregnant or buying baby clothes or nursing a newborn. Babies are a lot of work. They’re not always cute; sometimes they’re cranky and messy and smelly. And as they get older, they don’t necessarily get easier to live with. Many a mother finds herself wondering how that darling, dependent little baby could turn into a rebel with so little respect and such a big mouth. Many a mother has wept at the rotten things her children have done and the trouble they’ve caused. And yet, even when her kids are at their worst, it’s almost impossible for a mother just to forget about her children and stop loving them.

If you think about your own mother, what’s the best thing about her? Most of us, I think, would say that the best thing about our mother is her love. It’s an awesome thing to be loved by someone whose love goes back before you were even conscious of being you, before you could see or think or talk or say anything. And it’s a marvel to know that this person whose love goes back so far has kept right on loving you even when you’re unlovely and will go on loving you through ups and downs, through good times and bad, no matter what.

Mother Love and God’s Love

This amazing love of a mother tells us some important things about God. For one thing, it tells us that God deserves credit for creating wonderful things like families and babies and mothers and for designing women with a marvelous tendency to cherish and nourish and love their children. The simple fact that God is the Creator of motherhood shows that he is a God of life and of love. But according to the Bible, mother love not only shows God’s goodness as Creator; it also pictures the love that God himself has for those who are his children.

At this point, we need to be careful. The Bible does not teach us to worship a goddess or to picture God as an earth-mother who gave us birth, the way some extreme feminists are doing nowadays. Jesus never addressed God as his mother; he called God his Father. Jesus never told us to pray to our mother in heaven; he taught us to pray to our Father in heaven. So it is wrong to re-imagine or reinvent God as our favorite female or to address him as our mother. If we want to relate to the living and true God, we must be careful to keep our language for God in line with the language of Jesus and the Bible. Having said that, however, we must recognize that motherhood is one of our heavenly Father’s great inventions and rejoice that God’s love has some important similarities to the love of a good mother.

God himself says in Scripture, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13). What a picture of God’s kindness and tenderness for his wounded, weeping children! As a screaming baby finds comfort in the arms of its mother, as a toddler with a bloody knee goes crying to mommy, so God’s children can go to the Lord with their hurts and tears. If you know and trust God, you can rest in his love the way a child rests in a mother’s loving arms. In Psalm 131:2 a biblical poet prays to God and says, “I have stilled and quieted my soul: like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” So, then, one way God’s love is like a mother’s love is that God’s love is so compassionate and comforting.

God’s love is like a mother’s love in another way. Much as a mother starts loving a child even before birth and goes on loving the child through all sorts of ups and downs, so God loves his children before they are born and goes on loving them no matter what. God loves his chosen ones already before they are born; he loved them even before he created the world; in fact, he has loved them forever. He always has loved them, and he always will. He never started loving them, and he’ll never stop loving them. His love is eternal. If God has set his love on you, he will never forget you or give up on you or stop loving you.

In Isaiah 49:15-16 God says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” The love of a mother goes back so far and runs so deep that it’s almost unthinkable for a mother to abandon and lose all feeling for her child. [Yes, there are shocking cases where a mother abandons her baby in a dumpster or kills her toddler, but such cases are very rare. Mother love is so strong that only a very disturbed woman would do such things. Usually mother love is so strong that a rotten scoundrel is still loved by his mother, even when he’s broken her heart, even when no one else wants him around.] How can a mother forget a child who once lived inside her body? How can she stop loving the one who nursed at her breast? And if that’s the case with mothers, how could God forget about someone whom he has loved from all eternity? How can Jesus forget his dear ones who are carved as nail prints on his hands?

In the Bible God tells his people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). We’ve talked about the way many pregnant women love their baby already before the child is born, even before the child is conscious or aware of its mother. That’s just a hint of God’s everlasting love which goes back before I was aware of him, love which goes back before my birth, love which goes back before the creation of the world, love which goes back as far as the eternal God himself. God has loved me for as long as he has been God—which is forever.

What an astonishing, overwhelming thought! There has never been a moment in the boundless eternity of God’s existence in which he has not loved me with an enormous, unquenchable love! Nothing I’ve done in the past, nothing I do in the future, can change or diminish the vast ocean of God’s love for me in Jesus.

Chosen By God

How do I know God loves me? How do I know that his love for me is everlasting and unchangeable? Because I know what God says in the Bible about choosing his loved ones from all eternity and drawing us to himself. I know that I trust in Jesus as my Savior, and I know that I would be unable to do that unless God had chosen and loved me from all eternity. Jesus himself says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Jesus also says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). In other words, only those whom God has loved from all eternity and drawn with his love will come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation and new life. So if I have come to Jesus and trust him as my Savior and Master, it’s proof that the Lord has chosen me and loves me with an everlasting love.

The apostle Paul made this point in a letter to some Christian friends. He wrote, “We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction… you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5). Paul saw their faith, and he knew that it wasn’t just a matter of them choosing God. The fact that they chose God was a sure sign that God had first chosen and loved them.

In another of his letters Paul wrote, “For he chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3-4). When you hear the word predestined, what comes to mind? Maybe you’ve never heard much about predestination, or maybe you’ve heard just enough to think of it as a dry, difficult doctrine or even as a harsh, harmful idea invented by heartless theologians. But listen to what God’s Word says about predestination: “In love he predestined us.” God tells us about predestination, not to give preachers and theologians something to strain their brains over, not to give enemies of biblical truth one more thing to gripe about, and certainly not to discourage weak and trembling souls, but to show every person who trusts in Jesus that we are loved with an everlasting love.

God tells us about predestination because he wants each of his children to know that his saving love has no beginning, no end, and no variation. If you became a Christian only a week ago, God wants you to know that he didn’t start loving you just last week. He has loved you from all eternity. What happened last week is the result of a loving plan which God had for you before you were ever born. God tells you about his eternal choice and predestination so that you can rejoice in his everlasting love and rest secure in it—and so that you will give him all the credit for loving and saving you.

If you’ve come to Jesus in faith, if you find yourself included among those who are chosen and dearly loved by God, don’t think that his love for you is based on any choice you’ve made or any deed you’ve done. You may be tempted to think that God simply looked ahead through the mists of time, saw you making a decision to follow Jesus, and therefore decided that you qualified as one he should choose and love and save. But that’s not how it works. God doesn’t base his choice on foreseeing what we choose. Jesus says very bluntly, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). We choose because he first chose us. We love because he first loved us. His faithfulness comes before our faith, and his faithfulness remains the foundation of our faith.

This is very humbling and very encouraging.

It’s humbling to know that God’s choice did not depend on anything he saw in you. The Bible says, “God chose the foolish things… God chose the weak things… he chose the lowly things and the despised things… so that no one may boast before him… Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30). God’s choice was based entirely on his love, not on our worth. The glory is his, not ours. God’s everlasting love for his children depends on the fact that God is love, not on the fantasy that we are lovely. That is humbling.

But it’s also encouraging. If salvation depended on your choice and will, if you had to count on yourself instead of counting entirely on God, faith would collapse. But salvation doesn’t depend on your choice and will; it springs from God’s choice and will. It springs from God’s everlasting, unchanging, indestructible, unconquerable love. And so faith stands secure. As Jesus put it, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28-29).

When God’s love stirs your heart to trust in Jesus, eternity touches time. God’s Spirit makes you come alive inside. The gospel message hits you between the eyes. You hear God’s Word and you say, “That was speaking directly to me.” You realize that God is calling you by name. You repent of your sin. You trust in Jesus. And as you trust him, you discover that you have been loved with an everlasting love, that you were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.

That’s is why I can speak the gospel of Jesus with confidence. If the results depended only on my ability to change people or on their ability to change themselves, I’d give up. Why should anybody listen to me? How can people stuck in their own sin pull themselves out? But I know that whenever I preach the gospel of Jesus crucified and risen, God is at work. I know that I am God’s instrument, that among those who hear me are people God has chosen in love, and that the Holy Spirit will transform them through his powerful inner calling.

This awareness also encourages me to pray for the salvation of others. I wouldn’t pray for someone else’s salvation if I thought everything was up to that person. Why pray if everything is up to the person and God can’t do anything more to change the person’s heart? But God can change even the deadest, most stubborn heart by his inner call, so I keep praying that he will do exactly that.

Maybe you’re a Christian with loved ones who show no interest in Christ. Maybe you’re tempted to give up on them and stop praying for them because you figure they’ll never change anyway. Well, if it were up to them, they wouldn’t change. But since it’s up to God, he may yet change them. And your prayers may well be part of God’s eternal plan to bring that about. So keep on praying to the God whose inner call can change anyone, the God whose love can melt even the hardest heart.

Loved as the Father Loves Jesus

God’s invincible, everlasting love is amazing, and it’s even more amazing when we realize that the love of God the Father and Jesus the Son for us is at the deepest level nothing less than the love the Father and the Son have for each other. In the life of the Holy Trinity, God the Father and God the Son love one another with a love that is everlasting and intense beyond description, and this love of Father and Son proceeds forth in the love of the Holy Spirit. It is this infinite, eternal love within the being of God that embraces the people of God.

In the Bible, Jesus speaks to God the Father about those who believe the message of Christ. Jesus says, “You sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). Isn’t that astonishing? God the Father loves those who believe in Jesus just as he loves Jesus himself. Jesus tells his Father, “I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26). No wonder God’s love for his chosen ones is so great and everlasting: it’s the very same love the Father has for his own beloved and eternal Son.

Now, I know that the biblical truths of predestination and the Holy Trinity are hard to grasp. These realities are more than even the smartest person will ever figure out. But even where our minds are unable to go deeper, our hearts can swim in the depths of a love too great for language or thought. Whatever is too hard to understand, this much is clear: God’s love is based on his choice, not mine; and the love of Father and Son for me is the very love of Father and Son for one another.

And that brings us back to our main point: the love of God is everlasting, without beginning or end, more intense and more permanent than the love of the most devoted father or mother. As one biblical writer puts it, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10). Do you have that kind of confidence in God’s love? Listen again to what God says in Isaiah 49. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” The nail-scarred palms of Jesus bear the names of every person whom God loved from before the creation of the world, and those names are impossible to erase.

 

Our Only Hope

This is our only hope and comfort as sinful people. If you want to have a relationship with God, appeal to him not on the basis of your own record but only on the basis of his everlasting love. Pray along with the biblical writer who said, “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember, for you are good, O Lord” (Psalm 25:6-7). Don’t ask God to save you on the basis of your past. Ask him to forget your past. Ask him to remember instead his love which goes much further back than your sinful past.

Then move into the future, trusting entirely his love in Christ. Don’t imagine that if God’s loves you today, you can somehow lose his love tomorrow. If you commit a sin tomorrow, God won’t love you any less than he loves you right now. Your sin harms you and it angers him, and he will discipline you to get you back on track, but his love for you will not change. Nothing you do can shock God into not loving you. Think again of a pregnant woman who starts loving her baby even before the child is born. At that point she doesn’t yet know all the things her child might do to hurt or offend her. But God has always known everything about you. God already knew all your sins—past, present, and future—when he chose and loved you in the depths of eternity. Jesus knew all your faults and failures when he carved your name on the palms of his hands and went to the cross to die in your place. No sin you commit can cost Jesus more than he has already paid.

Nothing you do can make God love you any less than he already does; nothing you do can make him love you any more than he already does. So don’t try to earn God’s love, and don’t live in fear that you will somehow make him stop loving you. Instead, trust his love and rejoice in it.

And remember: if even your sin can’t prevent the Lord from loving you and saving you, then surely nothing else, no matter how painful or discouraging or terrible it might be, can separate you from his everlasting love.

In Romans 8, after speaking of predestination and God’s forever love, the Bible rings with a joyous shout:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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” (Romans 8:35-39)

PRAYER

Father of love, thank you that your love has no beginning, no end, no limit. Open our hearts to accept your love in Jesus, and by your Holy Spirit embrace us in you forever love. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.