Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Last Sunday, our Epistle lesson was chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, that marvelous “love” chapter where the Lord teaches us what love is and what fruit love bears. I’ve been thinking about that this week, and particularly thinking about our love and Christ’s love, and a question that Jesus asks Peter after Easter.
Remember how Jesus comes to Peter of the sea of Galilee and asks him three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” (John 21:16-19). I was in here looking at this banner that’s over my right shoulder – Jesus, on the cross, suffering the agony of hell because of my sin. What if he would look down at us and ask, “Do you love Me?”
The question stings, doesn’t it? The best we could answer is, “Well, I’m trying to love You… I’m starting to love You… I’d like to love You…” But really this answer is, “No.” We don’t love God, not like we’re supposed to, not like we’re commanded to, not like He loves us. We look at the cross, the agony and the blood, at His love. And then we look at our weak and pitiful efforts, our failure to give up anything, our unwillingness to sacrifice or to take on even the smallest inconvenience for the Lord or for our neighbor. It it is shameful. I’m ashamed by my lovelessness.
If we have this question thrust on us in this way, that the Lord Jesus is asking us how our love is for Him, this question is the severest law: it shows us our sin, exposes our failure and our utter weakness. It brings us to shame.
I think it’s good for us to soak in that question for a moment? Do you love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind and strength?
Even if we’ve begun to love, there’s always more, isn’t there? That’s the trouble with this word, this command: love. There are no loopholes, no way to squirm out, it demands our all, every ounce of it. It demands that our riches and our lives and our strength be poured out for our neighbor and for our Lord, and that we keep nothing back for ourselves.
But it gets worse: we think that because we’ve never kept God’s command, and because no one can keep perfectly His command to love, that therefore it’s OK. We think of God saying, “It’s OK.” Our sin is like a terrible smell that over time you get used to. You shouldn’t; it’s toxic and disgusting, but after awhile… This is how we treat our lack of love for our God and our neighbor. But we aren’t supposed to get used to our sin, to think it’s okay. Your sin is the reason you’re dying. It’s the reason you deserve God’s wrath.
“Do you love Me?” “No,” we must answer with tears. “I have not loved you with my whole heart.” “I have not loved my neighbor as myself.” I’m a sinner. I remember it now. I see it now. I repent. I’m sorry.
But then let’s turn the question around. How about instead of seeing this as a question from Jesus to us, what if it’s a question from us to God? What if we are the ones asking, “Do You, O Lord, love me?”
Now when the Lord is asking us this question, we feel the pinch, the squeeze of our conscience as the First and Greatest Commandment presses down on us. But there’s some risk in us asking this question: when we cry to heaven asking if God loves us, we know what the answer should be.
We know our sin, we’ve covered that. And we know that we have deserved God’s wrath and judgment, His hatred, His condemnation. We know that if we stand and shout to God, “Do You love me?” the answer should boom wrathfully come back, “No.”
But look at this banner. Here is the Lord’s surprising and undeserved answer to our question. The answer is not “No”, His answer is the cross. From the cross the Lord’s answer comes through with comforting clarity: “Yes, I love you.”
God loves you. In spite of your sin He loves you. In spite of your failure He loves you. Before your love and even in spite of your lack of love for Him, He loves you, loves you to death. Jesus loves you more than He loves Himself and His life. He has given His life for you.
Do you wonder if the Lord loves you? Because of your sin, your guilt; because of all the trash and trouble that fills your life? Because of the things you’ve done or thought or said or desired? Because of all the unfair things that have happened to you? Do you wonder, “how could God love me?”
Your answer is here, on the cross. The answer is, “Yes, God does love me.” There is nothing that can separate you from His love, from His forgiveness, from His promise of life.
This question: “Does God love me?” with God’s answer: “Yes, He does, He gave His Son on the cross” will bring to you His comfort and peace.
We need this comfort and peace, for the devil comes to tempt us just as He did our dear Lord Jesus in the wilderness. He tempts us to doubt our baptism.
Remember Jesus’ baptism, how the Father had spoken to Jesus, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)? And now look how the devil begins his temptations, “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3,6) “That promise you heard 40 days ago, that You are God’s Son, prove it. Because it sure doesn’t look like You’re God’s Son out here starving in the desert. Would not God feed and clothe and take care of His Son.”
Likewise the devil tempts you: “You say you’re baptized, that you are the Lord’s child. Wouldn’t a heavenly Father be a bit better to His children? Wouldn’t He help you to avoid that trouble, or give you a break from your constant struggles…” or whatever crosses that you bear? The devil would have us look around and try to prove by our troubles and difficulties that God doesn’t care. “Does God really love you?”
But the cross is the answer: “Yes, I love you. You are my Baptized, children of the heavenly Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus.” Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God.
The devil also tempts our Lord Jesus to doubt God’s Word. This has been his plan from the beginning, to Adam and Eve: “Did God really say…” It’s the same with Jesus. It’s the same with us. “Did God really say that He came to save sinners? Perhaps He didn’t know what you had done. Did God really say that salvation is a free gift? Surely you must do something to earn it or to keep it. Did God really say that He loves you? Well, that was a long time ago, before He knew you.”
Do you recognize the tempter’s voice? His doubt, his questions? Beloved, the Lord’s answer, the Word of His cross, stands secure, established, unmovable. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends…” (John 15:13-14). That’s what Jesus says.
His love for you and me cannot be moved. It cannot be taken away. It’s nailed down.
As our timid and loveless hearts ask the Lord, “Do You love me?”, His answer steals away all doubt. “Yes,” He says as He is lifted up on the cross, “I love you.”