Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 12/16/01.
"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another"" (John 13:35, RSV).
I don't have to tell anyone that what the world needs now is love, sweet love, nor do I have to mention that it still is in VERY short supply on planet earth. Individuals and countries get hurt, angry, and before you know it, there is strife and war rather than love and peace. One of our friends says that the Islamic militants, the radical fringe as it were, are chaffing at the bit because they are suffering from sibling rivalry in its ugliest form. She could be right. Most people in the Middle East, except the Israelites, are descended from Ishmael, who was Abraham's son by Sarah's handmaid Hagar. Even though Sarah and Abraham hatched up this plan to help God fulfill His promise to bless them with children, nevertheless, like most of our grand schemes, it backfired on them, big time! There was tension between the heir to the promise and the son born to the bondwoman. The record states, "The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring" (Gen. 21:8-13, NIV).
Though he was grieved, Abraham did as Sarah said, and sent Hagar and the boy Ishmael away with food and water. When the water ran out, Hagar put the child under a bush and went a "bowshot away," so she would not have to watch him die. "God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer" (Gen. 21:17-20, NIV).
At the time that God changed her name from Sarai to Sarah, He told Abraham that she would bear him a son. The scripture says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed, certainly an understandable reaction (Gen. 17: 15-17). When he tried to persuade God to work Ishmael into the promise, "God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year"" (Genesis 17:19-21, RSV). God kept His promise to Abraham and to Hagar, for Ishmael did indeed become a mighty nation. Twelve princes, or leaders of tribes came from his loins (Gen. 25:12-18). His progeny became a mighty force to be reckoned with, and are responsible today for much of the problems that continue to plague Israel. Yet, God loved Ishmael and blessed him, even though he was not heir to the promise He had made Abraham. Ishmael was the oldest son, and in that culture would therefore have had primary inheritance rights. Instead, he was cast out and replaced by Isaac.
Sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau, and our friend is probably right that the descendants of Ishmael have looked at the descendants of Isaac and felt left out, deprived, and as a result, very angry. The deprivations they suffered over the centuries have made some of them jealous and enraged them to the point of committing murder and mayhem on the favored son, even as Cain treated Able.
What struck me about this account is that even though Ishmael was a product of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God loved him, saving his life and making of him a great nation. God is Love! LOVE is not something He does; it is WHO HE IS! Love flows out of His innermost being and defines all His dealings with His creation. For instance, Ishmael was a child born out of man's desire to help God keep His promise. In Sarah's mind, the child was expendable, a threat to her own son. Having waited all that time for Isaac, she was not about to share his inheritance, or take a chance that God might divvy up the goods with her handmaid's son. Yet, God did NOT react harshly toward Ishmael as a result of his father's sin. He loved him, saved his life, and blessed him.
How far are we from this God kind of love? From what I can observe in my own life, as far as the earth is from the moon. We judge each other by doctrine, dress, behavior and many other criteria, and treat each other accordingly. People who would not steal or murder or commit adultery, think nothing about condemning others for having different beliefs than they do. This harsh judgment is what crucified Jesus. I commented to someone this week that had He just kept quiet about the hypocrisy he saw being practiced by the religious folks, He may have lived to a ripe old age. Instead, He came among the Scribes and Pharisees, people who knew the Law, and told them that they were whited sepulchers because they did not have love in their lives. "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone" (Luke 11:42, NIV). How do you know if someone has the love of God in his heart? The Apostle Paul did not leave us in doubt.
He said if we speak beautiful words like a great orator, but have not love, we are as a resounding gong or clanging symbol. If we have a gift of prophecy so that we know all mysteries and have all knowledge, and along with that, if we have faith that will move mountains, but have not love, we are nothing. If we give everything we have to the poor, and surrender our bodies to the flames but have not love, we gain nothing. In these verses, (I Cor. 13:1-3), the Apostle tells us what love is NOT. Most of these gifts he describes such as prophecy, knowledge, faith, and good works have to do with the dictates of religion. I sat in church for most of my youth and wondered about what it all meant. There was a list of things for us to do, and an even longer list of things for us NOT to do. I memorized the lists and then tried as hard as I could not to do any of the things on the bad list. Most of the forbidden items had to do with sex or activities like "mixed bathing" and dancing that might lead to sex, but since I was a late bloomer, I really had no idea what they were talking about. I was a good student, got straight "A's," in all my classes, and you know, boys are not terribly attracted to that. They left me alone and the feeling was mutual. So, what was it all about, I wondered?
The women in the church were quick to take a casserole or a cake when someone was sick, but also quick to judge if one missed services, or wore her skirt a tad too short, or had friends who weren't Christians. They were also quick to carry tales about people. Gossip is the antithesis of love because usually people do not spread the good deeds of others, but rather their sins. This straight jacket of behavior, beliefs, judgment and criticism helped me to figure out early on what love was NOT. Here's what Paul says IT IS: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (I Cor. 13:4-7). That's a tall order, and no one lives up to it all the time. God set the bar so impossibly high that no one can get there on their own steam.
The Lord gave me a "time out," from the Internet forum we participate in, so that I could get perspective on what I was feeling. During that cooling off time, He shined the light of His unconditional love into some of the dark places of my heart, and what I saw there was not comforting. I saw impatience, judgment, criticism and anger. Not a very pretty sight, and definitely NOT a Hallmark moment for me. I learned a long time ago, however, that God shows us our flaws, not to condemn us or make us feel like a worm, or to cause us to be guilt ridden. Our religious friends do that quite well, and need no help from God in doing it. No, God shows us what the problems in our lives are so that He can deliver us from them. In actual fact, He has already delivered us from them, almost 2000 years ago now, IN CHRIST, but the Good News travels slowly through time.
On the cross, Jesus said, "It is finished." He accomplished the work He was sent to do. John the Beloved said, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (I John 3:8). So, unless we think Christ failed in His mission, then we have been delivered because Satan has no more power over our lives. However, to the degree that we do not know this on a cellular level, to that degree we are still subject to some of the deceiver's lies. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Notice this powerful statement in Revelation, Chapter Twelve: "Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Rev. 12:10-11). The Book of Revelation was written as an encouragement to the First Century Christians who were being persecuted unto death. I can imagine that those who were being tortured for Christ might be tempted to believe the devil's lies, that God had forsaken them. Don't we feel abandoned by God sometimes when things go wrong in our lives? Can't you imagine that Hagar felt forsaken when she contemplated watching Ishmael die of thirst out in that desert place?
In John's powerful vision, he heard a loud voice in heaven say that the salvation and power and kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ HAVE come. It would have done the Christian Martyrs little good to know that the kingdom was about to come, that it might be coming soon, nor would it have helped at all, if they thought they would have to wait 2,000 years to see it! No, John said that the kingdom has come, present tense, meaning it is already here! Many Christians are still living on the "layaway" plan today, by which I mean that they have projected the salvation, power and authority of the kingdom of God into the future, "when Jesus comes again." They have put off the fulfillment of their spiritual lives until then. They will have a long wait, because the good news proclaimed by Jesus and the Holy Spirit within us is that the kingdom is here now! It is within us! (Luke 16:15; 17:21). Jesus reigns on the throne of our lives, NOW!
This is the answer to the question, "What is love?" It is the reign of God, who is Himself Love. We observed last week that Jesus did NOT say the world will know us by our great theology, or because we agree on everything, but by the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35). Jesus came to shake up the religious folks and show us a better way to relate to each other. In that dramatic scene recorded in Matthew, Chapter 25, when the King is on His throne, separating the "sheep" from the "goats," His criteria for who stood on His right hand (sheep) and who on His left hand (goats) was NOT doctrine, dogma, or the religious practices men hold so dear. It was how people treat each other! Here's the text: "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me'" (Matt. 25:34-36, NIV). When they asked Him WHEN they did these things for Him, He replied, "'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'" (Matt. 25:40).
Our Father IS "a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (II Pet. 1:19). Where the light shines, His LOVE REIGNS! On a practical level, love is not a high and lofty theory spoken by preachers in a sermon designed to get you to act better. Love is the power and might and the authority of God flowing like a river deep and wide through His kingdom, and through our lives. Sometimes we fail to act lovingly. That does not even cause a blip on heaven's radar screen. Nothing we do or do not do can stop the love of God. This brings joy to my heart in situations where I failed to act lovingly. No longer do we have to depend on our own feeble attempts to love each other. It is not I, but Christ, who lives through me and loves through me and forgives others through me (Gal. 2:20). Love is not something we do; LOVE is the ONE who lives in our hearts.
God loves black and white and Afghanite, Jews and Greeks and Arabs all, people everywhere, great and small. As we join our hands and hearts in love and forgiveness for each other, we will begin to see the fulfillment of the glad tidings spoken by the angel to the shepherds the night Jesus was born. "And lo, the angel said unto them, 'Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great Joy, which shall be to all people" (Lk. 2:10). Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"A little town called Bethlehem,"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 12/15/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 11/23/08.