[John 19:24-30] “…So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
His Love, Your Love
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby…” [John 19:26]. “The disciple whom He loved.” Who is that? Who is that disciple referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved?
The “disciple whom Jesus loved” - that one standing at the foot of the cross - is the one who witnessed, at the foot of the cross, the blood and the water pouring from Jesus’ pierced side. He’s the disciple who said of himself, “He who saw it has borne witness… that you also may believe”[John 19:35].
The disciple whom Jesus loved is the same disciple who bore witness to these events and recorded them in this Gospel, the Gospel according to St. John. John, who recorded this Gospel from which we read the Passion Narrative this evening, though he always refers to the rest of the twelve disciples by name in his Gospel, often refers to himself simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Why this self-designated title? It could almost sound arrogant - “I’m the one whom the Lord loves.” But it’s not that. Not at all. This self-given title is a humble recognition of his own unworthiness of that love. “He loves even me.” The most amazing thing about the Lord is that He loves even me.
That title, “the one whom the Lord loved”, is not so much a statement about John at all - it is a statement about the amazing love of the Lord. The most amazing thing about the Lord’s love isn’t that He can love all people. The most amazing thing is that He can love me, a sinner, the chief of sinners.
That title is for all of us. “He loves even me.” When it comes down to it - if we know ourselves at all - if we’re anything less than arrogant - then this is the most astounding thing to believe as we gaze upon the Lord on the cross, that He did this for me.
Everyone can believe in a generic God who loves everyone generically. That’s a love in theory only, never applied. It’s quite popular because it’s quite easy. But if you’re one of the few who is brought to a true knowledge of yourself - if you see a glimpse or feel a flicker of the true depth of your sin - then this God on the cross, who loved even you, is both the hardest to grasp and the most needed.
So that there need be no doubt, God in His wisdom, has displayed the two needed truths high up on the cross - painted for all to see - both the depth of your sin and the extent of His love are displayed upon the wooden beams.
Jesus bore your sin upon the cross. “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity - the wickedness - of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. The horror of the blood soaked man, pierced with nails and spear - that sight from which we would hide our faces if we ever saw it - that is our sin, our wickedness, our evils on display in His flesh. There we are all exposed. Our sins are seen. But are carried in Him.
More than that, the sacrifice appointed indicates the enormity of the sin atoned for - “Ye who think of sin but lightlyNor suppose the evil great Here may view its nature rightly,Here its guilt may estimate. Mark the Sacrifice appointed, See who bears the awful load; 'Tis the WORD, the LORD'S ANOINTED, Son of Man and Son of God.” [The Lutheran Hymnal, #153]
The price paid - the amount offered - is indicative of the depth of the debt you owed. See what He paid, and you see what you owed. He did it even for you.
Therefore, on display is the extent of His love. Your Lord and God died with His hands pinned out far, arms stretched out in the posture of embrace, that you may have Him as one to embrace. He died with His feet stretched down low, that you may fall down at His feet on the knees of your heart and weep there.
What He has done for the many He has done also for each one. He has loved even you.
“Here we have a firm foundation; Here the refuge of the lost; Christ's the Rock of our salvation, His the name of which we boast. Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, Sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded Who on Him their hope have built” [The Lutheran Hymnal, #153]
At the foot of your cross-bearing Lord, you can each say, “He loves even me.” You are the disciple whom He loves.
You - even you - are a beneficiary of His cross. And you, even you, are now a cross-bearer with and in Him. That love He has for you, He even calls you to have a share in it. His love for you become His love in you. His love, your love. If any would be His disciple “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” [Matthew 16:24]. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” [Galatians 2:20].
Christ’s love for you on the cross is now His love in you. You bear the cross, for whom? Christ’s love is in you, for whom? Look around you. Even for him. Even for her.
Imagine, in your mind. Look around your neighborhood. Look around your city. Trace your steps, as you’ve gone about your day. Whom all did you encounter and pass by? His love is in you even for him, even for her. The Lord has loved even them.
It is no longer you who are to live your life. You must decrease. Christ-crucified - the Lord and God on the cross - stands crucified in you, even in you, for each of them.
And, now, look around your household. Look around your family. Look at your children and grandchildren. You are called to love even them - not with your love - but with the love of Christ-crucified in you. You are there for Christ’s love, for them.
We do not have a God of generic love. We do not have that God of convenient love which loves all and everything as it all currently stands - and therefore never has to speak a difficult word. We have a God, the true God, of a very specific and true love. That love which calls men and women out of darkness and into His light.
His love doesn’t leave your loved ones in sin and darkness - as your love does, so that you can be liked - but His love bears the hard cross of ridicule and shame, of being hated by those for whom He bears it, for the sake of their true help, aid, and salvation from sin, death, and the devil.
Christ-crucified stands in you because He loves even them. That’s your purpose - for His love to be in you for them. To love them truly. To speak the hard words to say. To not watch them continue on into further darkness. But to bear the cross of love which calls them to turn back to that One who loves even them —
— To bear rejection even by those who should love you - as Jesus too was spit upon - because by presenting the truth of Christ to them, some of them, at least some, might learn to say and believe, “He loves even me!”
To turn from darkness and sin and to come to know that Christ was on the cross also for them, that’s what they truly need from you. So, you bear this cross of Good Friday.
You have sinned. You have fallen short. You’ve failed to love your neighbor and even your loved ones as yourself. You’ve not loved your Savior with all your heart and strength. You’ve fallen short. And you are saved by His grace as a gift. His blood, still today, forgives your sin. He died once-for-all. “It is finished.” You are paid for and forgiven.
See what complete and perfect love He has for you. And may His love for you - more and more - bit by bit - Sunday by Sunday - become His life in you. Amen.