“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:17-19)
The love of God teaches us that we are not to be afraid of Him. Fear involves punishment, but we have confidence for the day of judgment because we are as He is—that is, He has given to us His righteousness. God loves us, so we don’t need to be afraid; He will not give us the punishment due our sin. Rest in the knowledge that His wrath is appeased at the cross of Jesus Christ.
Oh give thanks to the Lord because He is good. His love, which never changes, lasts forever! Let those whom He has set free say so, those whom He has set free from trouble and brought back from faraway lands.
Some people wandered around in the desert. They were looking for a road that would take them to a city to live in, but they could not find any. They were so hungry and thirsty that their souls became weak and nearly fainted. But then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble. They prayed, and God snatched them up out of their distress! He walked with them, leading them on a straight road that brought them to a city to live in! Let them thank the Lord for His love which never changes, and for the wonderful things He does for people! He fills up the empty soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Some people sat in the dark, in the shadow of death. They were prisoners, they were depressed, and in shackles of iron. This happened to them because they did not listen to God and because they rejected His advice—the advice of the Most High God. Because of this, God made their hearts sink low with weariness, and they fell down and had no one to help them. But then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble. They prayed, and God snatched them up out of their distress! He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke into pieces the chains that were holding them captive. Let them thank the Lord for His love which never changes, and for the wonderful things He does for people! He breaks through steel doors and splits iron bars in two!
Some people were foolish because they did bad things, and because of their sins were miserable. They couldn’t stomach food anymore and were drawing near to death. But then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble. They prayed, and God snatched them up out of their distress! He spoke, and they were healed! God saved them from being destroyed! Let them thank the Lord for His love which never changes, and for the wonderful things He does for people! Let them thank the Lord and sing about all the good things He does!
Some people got in ships and did business in the sea. They saw the God’s wonderful work in the deep ocean. God commanded the stormy wind and made giant waves. The waves were so high they seemed to rise up to heaven and then drop down to the bottom of the ocean. The people in the ships lost all their courage, staggered all around, and had no idea what to do. But then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble. They prayed, and God snatched them up out of their distress! He made the storm be still and He made the sea be quiet. They were glad when the waters were quiet and that God brought them to the place they wanted to go. Let them thank the Lord for His love which never changes, and for the wonderful things He does for people! Let them worship Him in the congregation and sing praise to Him with all the leaders!
God makes rivers turn into a desert. He also makes springs of water into dry ground. He makes a land that could grow lots of food to be useless because those who live there do evil things. But He also turns a desert into pools of water, and dry lands into springs of water. He lets the hungry live there and make a city to live in so that they can plant fields and grow food. Because of His blessing they have abundant crops and lots of livestock.
When people are in trouble because they are doing harm to each other, God causes their leaders to be disrespected and despised and to wander around aimlessly. But He raises up the needy and blesses their families. Those who do right see this and are glad, but those who do bad have nothing to say.
Whoever is wise, let him pay attention to these things and let him think about the love of the Lord which never changes.
“I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”
I will recount
In our society, it’s become trite to say it, but that doesn’t make it less true—God loves you.
Stop to think about it: the God of Heaven and Earth—the Holy One, the Majestic One, the King of Glory—He loves you.
Recount it often. Recall it to mind. Remember it. Think upon His love. Dwell in it.
- “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
- “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” (Psalms 26:3).
The abundance of His steadfast love
God has more than enough love for you. It won’t run out.It’s in never-ending supply. It’s always there, it’s always fresh, it’s alwaysavailable.
So in the most positive way, take advantage of it. Don’t take it forgranted, don’t abuse it; enjoy it.
- “I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, willenter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear ofyou” (Psalms 5:7).
- “As for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At anacceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me inyour saving faithfulness” (Psalms 69:13).
- “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for hissteadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for hissteadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for hissteadfast love endures forever; to him who alone does great wonders, for hissteadfast love endures forever” (Psalms 136:1-4).
1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Do not love the world
After coming to Christ the Christian becomes increasingly weary of this world. He finds himself despising the flesh. He abhors the depravity he sees in himself. The lusts of the flesh agitate him. The evil he sees in and around him “torments his righteous soul” (2 Peter 2:8). I know this because all Christians have been given the Holy Spirit. If the Christian could love the world–if he could get comfortable here and never long for a better country–God’s love would not be in him at all. But it is, and so he struggles.
- Galatians 5:17; For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
- Romans 7:15-25; I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
The love of the Father
The Christian wrestles internally because the love of the Father is in him. He has been born of God. His flesh is altogether evil and his spirit is altogether righteous. The two cannot, and will never, coexist in peace.
He is God’s child now. He cannot love the world. It’s foreign to him. His citizenship is in heaven.
So if you are a Christian, don’t even try to love the world. It will only make the battle more intense. Stop investing in it. Seek the things which are above.
- Colossians 3:1-4; If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
- Philippians 3:20-21; Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
The world is passing away
This life is excruciatingly short. “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes;” James 4:14. So instead of loving this world, love the life to come. If you have Christ, you have eternal life. Make that your joy. Make Him your love. Make your desire to do His will while you are here. Not because you fear damnation but because you joy in salvation–the eternal life He has freely given to you.
- 2 Corinthians 5:1-9; We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
“Our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep”
Initially I assumed our English word for great would be inferior to the Greek word used in this text. I thought it would be something more descriptive like wonderful, magnificent, illustrious, awesome, clothed in grandeur. But no, it means great. In fact, its even more plain than the word great. It literally means big. But there’s nothing insufficient about that word when it’s used to describe God. It means powerful. It means preeminent. It means majestic. It means exceedingly abundantly above all we could ever imagine or describe.
- Psalms 145:3; Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
- Psalms 48:1; Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
- Psalms 86:10; For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
- Psalms 147:5; Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
- Psalms 96:4; For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
- Psalms 135:5; For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
- Jeremiah 32:17-19; Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.
- Revelation 15:3; Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
- Malachi 1:5; Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!
Anyone would be willing to lead from a throne, or an oval office, or a corner suite on the twentieth floor. How many would be willing to lead the way a shepherd does? Instead of sitting on a throne, sitting on a rock. Instead of walking through palaces, walking through mud. Instead of mingling at cocktail parties, living with the sheep.
- Ezekiel 34:15-16; I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
- Micah 5:2-5; But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.
- Isaiah 40:11; He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
- Revelation 7:15-17; …He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Understanding Christ to be our Great Shepherd requires us to understand who we are in relation to Him. He is our God, we are His people. He is the potter, we are the clay. He is the Shepherd, we are the sheep.
- Psalms 95:7; For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
- Psalms 79:13; But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
- Psalms 100:3; Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
- Ezekiel 34:31; And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.
1 Kings 20:15, 29
“…He mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. …And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day.”
The Lord makes it clear to us why He chose to work in such a miraculous way on behalf of Israel in this particular battle. Verse 28: “Because the Syrians have said, ‘The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,’ therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Because the Syrians have not recognized Me as God and because you haven’t either, I am going to prove Myself to both of you.
It is typical of the Lord to intervene in the matters of men, not for the sake of the righteousness of men, but for the sake of His righteousness and for His name’s sake. Remember what the Lord told the people of Israel when they first came into the promise land:
- Deuteronomy 9:3-7; “Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you. Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.”
This correlates directly with the Gentile’s inclusion in the body of Christ. Listen to Paul’s words in Romans chapter 11:
- Romans 11:15-24; “For if [Israel’s] rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”
The Lord has not saved us because we were deserving. If that were the case it would not be “saving” at all. God saved us because He decided to. He purposed to bring us to Him. He set His love on us even though we had spit in His face and rejected Him. Our inclusion in His family, our stake in the inheritance of eternal life, is only based on His mercy and grace which we receive through faith.
The overriding theme of Paul’s thought is “Do not become proud, but fear.” You do not support God, but God supports you. You did not initiate a relationship with God, He did. And just as He did not act on behalf of Israel in the Old Testament because of their righteousness, so He has not saved you because of yours.
- Titus 3:3-7; “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
- 2 Timothy 1:9; “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began….”
- Ephesians 2:1-9; “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The Lord made it clear to Israel that He set His love on them and chose to help them just because that’s what He wanted to do. His mercy directs His actions. His grace constrains Him to act on behalf of man. It is also true of us that He has saved us based on His mercy, His grace, and His love alone.
Every man, woman, or child is included in His sphere of love “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life;” John 3:16. And this He has done not because the world first loved Him but because He loves the world and “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth;” 1 Timothy 2:4.
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The news of Jesus’ birth came with the simplest of explanations of his mission: He will save his people from their sins.
He has. As we celebrate Christ’s birth we look back in faith to a work that is complete.
- Hebrews 10:10-14; By [God’s will] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
To save: to preserve from destruction, rescue from danger, deliver from calamity. He didn’t came to exalt Himself or condemn us to hell but to save.
- John 3:16-18; For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Not only Israel but all who share the faith of Abraham. Anyone who calls out to the Lord for mercy qualifies.
- Romans 10:9-13; If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
From their sins
Just as the law of gravity says “what goes up must come down,” so the law of sin says “the soul that sins shall surely die.” But by becoming the sacrifice that appeased God’s wrath, Christ has rescued us from sin’s penalty.
- 1 John 4:10; In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
This Christmas let’s celebrate Jesus’ birth, life, and death—the single demonstration of His great love for all time.