1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
(Ephesians 2:1-5, NIV)
In 1969, the English rock band Led Zeppelin released their second album, which featured the song “Whole Lotta Love.” Soon this song was heard on radios and at school dances everywhere, reaching Gold (one million copies sold) in less than a few months, even though many Christians criticized it for its apparent sexual immorality. If you know the song, you can almost hear the repetitive chorus ringing in your ears: “Wanna whole lotta love, wanna whole lotta love.”
I can say with a great deal of certainty that Led Zeppelin was not thinking of Ephesians 2:4 when they sang “Whole Lotta Love.” But, in fact, this song’s title accurately captures a core truth about God’s character and activity. A more literal translation of verse 4 would be: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us . . . .” The word translated as “great” is a common Greek word that means “very many” or “very large.” God’s love, according to verse 4, is gigantic. One could even say that God has a whole, whole, whole lotta love. Not the best poetry, perhaps, but great theology and great gospel.
But God’s love is not of the Led Zeppelin variety. It is neither friendly love, nor romantic love, nor erotic love. The Greek language had words for these kinds of love. Ephesians 2:4, however, employs the word “agape,” which is self-giving, sacrificial love. Agape seeks, not selfish pleasure or the joys of friendship, but whatever is best for the other person. According to Paul, God is filled to the brim with this kind of love for you and for me.
As human beings, we were created with the capacity to love and the desire to be loved. Because of sin, our God-given yearning for love can lead us down all sorts of dead-end roads. We can seek love through promiscuity or popularity. We can be led to believe that we’ll be loved if we are beautiful or successful or wealthy. But our search for a “whole lotta love” will never be fulfilled until we turn to the One who loves, not only the whole world, but also each and every one of us. The good news of Ephesians is that God has a whole, whole, whole lotta love for you.
Think of all the ways you have experienced God’s love for you. In what ways would you like to know God’s love more deeply?
How would your life be different if you really believed and acted on the great love God has for you?
18Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. (Luke 5:18-19, NIV)
Two weeks ago, we examined the story in Luke 5:17-27 in which several men brought to Jesus a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When they couldn’t get close enough to Jesus, the men did a shocking thing: they got up on the roof of the building where Jesus was speaking, made a large hole in the roof, and let down the bed with their friend so that it landed right in front of Jesus. Jesus did indeed heal the paralyzed man, but only after forgiving his sins, which stirred up the Jewish teachers who were observing Jesus’s behavior.
Last time, we focused on the fact that the men who carried their friend to Jesus took many risks in order to do what they did. They risked reputation and legal repercussions. They risked angering many people, including Jesus. And they risked the disappointment that Jesus would not, after all they had done, heal their friend.
Do you ever wonder why the bed-carrying men were willing to take on such risks? First of all, there is something that is likely though not stated explicitly. We can surely infer from the story that the bed-carrying men were deeply committed to their paralyzed friend and his healing. They were willing to risk so much because of their care for him. Committed love for others will motivate us to put everything on the line. The more we love, the more we will take risks in service to others.
Luke does note another reason for their risk-taking behavior. After they tore a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus, Luke writes that Jesus “saw their faith” and then ministered to the paralyzed man (v. 20). Surely, the men who brought their friend to Jesus had exceptional faith. They were convinced that Jesus had the power to heal and would indeed heal their friend if they could only get him into Jesus’s presence. They trusted Jesus utterly.
The more we trust Jesus, the more we will take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We will be emboldened to try things we would not otherwise try, to love in ways we would not otherwise love, to build what we would not otherwise build. Why? Because we trust Jesus to guide us, empower us, and work through us. So, whether we are moving far away from home in response to God’s call, reaching out to care for a colleague at work, confronting injustice in our city, we rely on Jesus, the One we trust because He is utterly trustworthy.
Have you ever taken a risk because you cared for someone? Can you think of a time in your life when you took a risk because of your trust in Jesus? What were those experiences like for you?
What helps you to grow in your trust in Jesus?
21When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened 22and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22, NIV)
What a spectacle the baptism of Jesus must have been! Before Jesus showed up, John the Baptist drew the crowds with his prophetic preaching and dramatic baptisms. But when Jesus appeared one day to be baptized, several astounding things happened. First of all, the heavens opened. (Perhaps like the wormhole above New York in the first Avengers film.) Then the Holy Spirit descended from heaven “in bodily form like a dove.” (I would have love to have seen that!) Finally, a voice from heaven, God’s own voice, said, “You are My Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased” (v. 22).
What was that experience like for Jesus? Surely, He knew, from His parents, about His unique birth and calling. They must have told Jesus what they had learned from the angel. The Bible doesn’t describe how Jesus experienced His Heavenly Father throughout His life, though we rightly suppose that this was a deeply intimate relationship. But, as far as we know, it was at His baptism that Jesus heard for the first time the words, “You are My Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.” Did Jesus feel surprised? Affirmed? Overwhelmed? Special? Deeply loved? All of the above and much more?
I have no doubt that my own father loved me and was pleased with me. But he had a very difficult time expressing his love in words. I don’t remember my father ever saying the words, “I love you” to me. I know my dad was proud of me. But he rarely said it. The words “With you I am well pleased” may not have come from his mouth, though I know they were in his heart.
Perhaps, like me, when you read Luke’s account of Jesus’s baptism, you find in yourself a deep yearning for affirmation from your father. I won’t be able to get that in this life from my dad because he’s been with the Lord for almost 17 years. But I also realize that what I want most of all is to know that my Heavenly Father is pleased with me. I want to know that I am His beloved. Of course I realize that the Father’s love for Jesus was unique. But we also know that, through Jesus the Son of God, the Father loves us (John 14:21-23; John 16:27; 1 John 3:1). I need this knowledge to flow down from my head to my heart (Romans 5:5).
Honestly, I wouldn’t mind a voice from heaven affirming the Father’s love for me from time to time. Perhaps you feel similarly. But, whether or not that ever happens, we hold on tight to the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. We believe that the God who knows us through and through has adopted us to be His beloved children (Ephesians 1:5). We claim the promise of Psalm 149:4, affirming that “the LORD takes pleasure in His people,” and, through Christ, that includes you and me.
So, though you may not hear a heavenly voice today as Jesus did when He was baptized, the Good News still rings strong and clear. Through Jesus, the beloved Son, you are God’s daughter or son. God loves you more than you will ever fully comprehend. God delights in you and claims you as His own.
Reflect on the ways you have experienced God’s love. Spend a few moments reflecting and letting this truth sink in: God is well pleased in you. May you daily experience God’s love and pleasure for you in a deeper way.
18Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
(Luke 5:18-19, NIV)
Following Jesus isn’t safe. If we’re going to follow Jesus today, we will inevitably have to take risks. We may put at risk our comfort, reputation, safety, or financial security. Yet, the more we trust Jesus and pay attention to Him, the more we will be empowered to take risks for the sake of His kingdom and for the purpose for which He has called us.
If you grew up going to Sunday School, then you are surely familiar with the story in today’s passage. And if we are familiar with this story, we may miss one of the things it teaches us about following Jesus. I’m hoping that today we may see things in a new light.
The basic story goes like this: Jesus was teaching and healing in some sort of building, probably a home. Quite a crowd had gathered, including many Jewish teachers. Some men brought a paralyzed man on a bed so that Jesus might heal him, but the crowd kept them away. So, the men went up on the roof, removed a good portion of the roof, and lowered the paralyzed man down before Jesus. Seeing the faith of the men on the roof, Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man. This enraged the Jewish teachers who believed that only God could forgive sins. Jesus explained that He, as the Son of Man, had authority to forgive sins. He proved the point by telling the paralyzed man to get up and go home, which he promptly did. The crowd marveled, glorifying God and saying, “We have seen strange things today” (Luke 5:26).
We often focus on the faith of the men who lowered their friend before Jesus. Or we talk about the significance of Jesus’s claim to have authority to forgive sins. Today, however, I want to ask you to reflect on the risk taken by the men who carried the bed. It was a big one!
Imagine for a moment, what their conversation must have been like. When they realized that there was no way they could gain access to Jesus, one of them might have said, “Oh, this won’t work. Maybe we should wait until later.” Another might have said, “Hey, why don’t we ask people to make room for us?” Still another added, “That won’t work. But we could get on the roof, make a big hole, and let the bed down right in front of
Jesus.” The first speaker might have responded, “Are you crazy? We can’t get up on the roof with this bed. And there’s no way we can make a hole in somebody’s roof. We’d get in serious trouble.” But, as they talked, they were determined to see their friend healed. They believed this really was their only chance. So they decided to climb onto the roof and break it, making a hole large enough for the bed.
Unfortunately, Luke doesn’t tell us what happened while these men were creating the hole in the roof. It’s not hard to imagine, however, what they might have been hearing from the crowd: “What are you guys doing? Are you crazy? You can’t break Levi’s house! That’s illegal . . . and stupid. You’re interrupting the teacher. You’re cutting in line. You guys are going to be in such trouble.” Still, the men opened up the roof and lowered their friend right in front of Jesus.
What did these men risk? Many things. They risked their reputation. If their scheme didn’t work, they’d become the laughingstock of their town. They risked serious legal trouble by damaging someone’s home. Would they be arrested? Would they be sued? They risked Jesus’s ire, since they interrupted His teaching in a major way. They risked the ire of the people who had gathered to be healed but we’re stuck in the back of the crowd. And, of course, they risked the possibility that, after all that they had done, their friend would not be healed.
If you and I are going to follow Jesus, we will need to take major risks as well. No, I’m not talking about us making a hole in somebody’s roof. But I am thinking about other risks you might take as you follow Jesus. You may run the risk of having people on campus or at work think you’re a religious nut. You may put yourself in places where you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. You may have a smaller nest egg for your future because of your generosity. You may put your professional reputation on the line because you believe God wants you to lead a startup. You may risk the unhappiness of your classmates or coworkers when you ask them not to make jokes that disrespect or objectify others. Or . . . you name it.
Here are a few questions for us to reflect on the story. If you had been one of the men carrying the bed, how might you have dealt with the problem of “no access” to Jesus?
Have you ever taken a risk because you are a follower of Jesus? What happened? How did it turn or is it turning out?
I pray that we will have the boldness of the nameless men described in this passage. Pray that God will give you the boldness you need to follow Jesus faithfully, even if you have to take risks.
13”You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
14“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)
Godspell is a popular musical about the life of Christ. It is a musical comedy that came to life as a masters’ thesis: John-Michael Tebelak, the author of the original libretto, was studying drama at Carnegie-Mellon University, and at least one story has it that he wrote the entire original version in two weeks! Some of the lyrics were taken from the Episcopal hymnal and others penned by Broadway songwriter Stephen Schwartz. It became a hit and has a long history of being performed by colleges and church groups. The first act of the show ends with a rollicking song drawn from the above verses in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus instructs His followers: “You are the light of the world!/ (You are the light of the world!) But if that light is under a bushel / It's lost something kind of crucial / You got to stay bright to be the light of the world. / You are the salt of the earth (You are the salt of the earth) / But if that salt has lost its flavor, it ain't got much in its favor / You can't have that fault and be the salt of the earth!”
This weekend, we celebrate our church anniversary and we give thanks to God for all that He has done for us and through us in the past 32 years. But we also look forward to what He desires for us to do as we continue to grow together as FECC. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the kind of worship and devotion God wants. Fasting and outward devotions and shows of humility are not good enough, God says, if they aren’t lived out in our daily lives, in our work and in our encounters with those in need (see Isaiah 58:6-9a).
Jesus, who would have known Isaiah’s words well as a Torah-observant Jew, doesn’t let us off the hook, either. The Sermon on the Mount, as a whole, commissions us to live out our life of discipleship in the world of human relationships and activities. This passage in particular, which directly follows the Beatitudes, is no exception. We are to show God’s light and love just as if we were a candle on a stand shining all over the place. We are to be the peacemakers, the meek, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. When we are found in a place, our exercise of those virtues should be just like salt; we should change the flavor of the whole dish.
So, as we give God thanks for our church anniversary, let us continue to seek out places to let our light shine in worship to God and let our salt flavor the world around us in service of those whom Christ died to save. After all, “you gotta stay bright to be the light of the world.” How have you been letting your light shine recently? How has your salt been flavoring the lives of those with whom you come in contact?
Ask the Lord to lead you so that you may let your light shine in the days to come. Make a commitment to let your light shine and your salt flavor the life of someone on a daily basis. That would be the kind of worship the Lord desires, according to Isaiah.