Mid-Week Lenten Vespers
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Bethany Lutheran Worship, 6 PM Phoenix Time
The Hymn #552 Abide with Me 2:11
The Order of Vespers p. 41
The Psalmody Psalm 2 p. 123
The Lection The Passion History
The Sermon Hymn #436 The Lord's My Shepherd 1:33
The Sermon – God's Dominant Love
The Lord’s Prayer
The Collect for Grace p. 45
The Hymn #281 The Savior Calls 1:29
KJV John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
The Gospel of John is often called the Gospel of love, because the word is found there so often.
The word is over-used in our time, often applied to everything. We love this and that, we love, love, love this and that.
John’s Gospel describes God’s love and contrasts that with man’s hatred for the truth and rejection of Christ.
KJV John 15:18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
KJV 1 John 3:13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.
And yet –
KJV John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
This is an important contrast, because all the false religions of the world make man pleasing to God by his sacrifices, works, and endless prayers.
John’s Gospel teaches us that God loved the entire world so much that He gave His only-begotten Son. God’s love is prior and it dominates.
The Passion of Christ contrasts the steadfastness of Christ with the fickle and fearful nature of the disciples. That is where this verse is so important. Exposing the massive flaws and weaknesses of the disciples, the Gospel says, nevertheless,
John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
Jesus did not stop loving His disciples when they were fearful at the time of His arrest. One follower, thought to be Mark, ran away. A soldier caught his cloak, and he ran away naked.
KJV Mark 14:51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: 52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
Peter mistakenly drew out a sword and sliced off the ear of one man.
KJV John 18:10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus.
Only John was at the crucifixion, which had been foretold three times.
After the crucifixion, the disciples were so afraid that they locked themselves in a room.
Still later, they were fishing, not for men, but for fish.
The disciples present a cross-section of our weaknesses and failures. The lesson teaches us that throughout His greatest trial, Jesus still loved His followers. They were His sheep. They belong to Him, so He protected them.
We have herding dogs, and they show the same concern. They understand sickness and pay special attention to the patient. Sassy sleeps with front paws on one of her sheep and her remaining back leg hooked on another. Their tender concern is a shadow of Christ’s work as the Good Shepherd:
KJV John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
KJV Matthew 26:31 Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
KJV Mark 6:34 And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
This is an important lesson – that God loves us to the end.
KJV 1 John 4:19 We love him, because he first loved us.
God’s dominant love is taught to us by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel. That creates faith and sustains our faith in trying times. When we fall as sinners, which must happen because of our nature, God continues to love us. The Gospel is proof of that love and it is not withdrawn because of our sinful nature.
As Luther said, we should not use the Gospel as a pillow to fall asleep on. So many take forgiveness for granted, so much that they “sin more that grace may abound.” That is a reversal of the message of the cross, which is – All sins have been redeemed on the cross.
It is this forgiveness that gives us the power to withstand temptation and turn away from sin. And yet, the more we are forgiven, the more we experience our need for forgiveness.
In the cold spells that hit Arkansas and every other part of the sunbelt, I thought of Luther’s comparison of God’s love to a furnace. On bitterly cold days, we could feel the chill seeping through the walls and windows, the feeble heat pump unable to keep up. Lighting up the fireplace, I could feel its radiant heat across the room. Luther called God’s love a baking hot oven that we can feel. In fact, we cannot help feeling it.
“Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.”