The greatest declaration of love

How wonderful it would be if there were a love that never stops and forgives everything? This is the kind of unconditional affection that people long for. Here is a Good Friday sermon on extraordinary manifestations of love and the human pitfalls.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” This Bible text from John 15: 13–14 was the basis of the sermon on Good Friday, 2 April 2021 in Würzburg (Germany). Ninety-nine members were in the church in person, while several thousand from 380 congregations in Southern Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Northern Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine watched a video broadcast of the service.

A few days before his visit, the children and youth wrote to the Chief Apostle and, among other things, mentioned some thoughts on God’s love for mankind. This was decisive for his choice of the Bible text, he said. “I thought this was very beautiful and when you think about it… the entire gospel is one great love story, and Good Friday is nothing less than the greatest declaration of love!”

God created man for fellowship

How did everything start? The answer can be found in the gospel, Chief Apostle Schneider said with reference to the statement: “God is love” (1 John 4: 16). God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—these three are inextricably linked. “They cannot be separated and they are always one. This is why we say: God is love!”

God created man in His likeness (Genesis 1: 26). “He wanted to incorporate him into His fellowship,” the Chief Apostle emphasised. “Out of love, God gave everything to man. He entrusted the whole of creation to us.” But man “separated himself from God, left Him, and fell under the dominion of evil”.

God liberates man for fellowship

And how did God react? “He did not give up on human beings. He continued to love them and, out of love, sent His Son.” And Jesus became man and He made good what man had done wrong. Jesus resisted all of Satan’s temptations. The devil threatened Jesus, tortured Him, and killed Him. He pulled out all the stops. Jesus stood firm: ‘No, I will remain one with God.’”

The sacrifice of Jesus is God’s declaration of love to us, the Chief Apostle stated. Even on the cross, Jesus still cared for the people: for the criminal hanging next to him, for Mary, and for John. And God continually proves to us how great His love is for us. He does not put pressure on us, but shows us how great His love is. “That is the real message of Good Friday: ‘I love you in spite of everything. The way is open. Come to Me!’” Chief Apostle Schneider summed it up.

God leads human beings into fellowship with Him

We must obey God’s commandments to attain fellowship with Him. This includes the commandment of faith, the Chief Apostle explained: “Jesus clearly said: ‘You believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14: 1). Without faith you cannot come to God. That means you have to trust in His word. This is precisely what Adam and Eve did not do.” And this also includes faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “Brothers and sisters, it is very important to me that we have this firm belief: God loves me! – Why? Because Jesus Christ died for us. This is the foundation of the Christian faith.”

The other commandment we must follow is the commandment of love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22: 37). The Chief Apostle gave three examples to make this love tangible:

  • seeking communion with God in prayer and the celebration of Holy Communion: “Those who love God have the desire to speak with Him, to hear Him, and to experience Him!”
  • renouncing sin and proving our love in everyday life: “To love God means to renounce all those things that could disturb our fellowship with God.”
  • denying ourselves and giving up character traits and opinions that hinder our fellowship with God: “We are who we are; with our person, with our history, with our strengths and weaknesses. We do not have to give that up. Nor do we all have to become the same. But we love God with all our heart, we serve Him, and we are focused on Him.”

And then there is still one last point, the Chief Apostle said with reference to Leviticus 19: 18: “‘…you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ I don’t even need to explain that. If we come to God out of love and trust and seek fellowship with Him, we also think like God, and then it is easy to see our neighbour as God sees him.”

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Oliver Rütten
Germany, Chief Apostle, Divine service