Listen to sermons at FreeGraceRadio.com
“No Greater Love”
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
The whole purpose of our Savior in this chapter is to assure believing sinners of his great love. Every word, every phrase, every illustration is intended to assure us of his love, that we may continually live in the confidence of his love. He begins the chapter by telling us that he is the true Vine and we are the branches, assuring us of our union with him. Then, he tells us that the One who takes care of the vineyard of grace is God, his Father and our Father, saying, “My Father is the Husbandman.” In verse 9 our Savior assures us of his great love for us, with these sweet words: — “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.” His next word is “Continue ye in my love.” That is to say, “Now, go on living in the confident assurance of my love, ever trusting me.” Then, our dear Savior says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
There is truly no greater love than the love of our blessed Savior for us! Because of his great love for us, without any compulsion, except the compulsion of his love, the Son of God freely laid down his life for us!
He not only came down from heaven and laid aside his glory and royal majesty, but he laid down his life for us. Nothing is dearer to a man than his life. That is his all. He who gives his life gives everything. But our Lord’s life was not the common life of a common man. His was the life of a man who is himself God. It was the Lord of glory, the Prince of life, who was crucified and slain in our place upon the cursed tree.
His life was not taken from him. He laid down his life, and freely gave his life for us, in our room and stead, as a ransom for us, because he loved us. The Lord of Glory laid down his life for us who were his enemies, because he had from eternity called us his friends, and was determined to make us his friends. He laid down his life; the Son of God voluntarily died for us, because of his great love for us, a people who deserved to die, a people who hated him and wished that he should be made to die, a people from whom he would get no love in return, except he create it.
Being our Surety and Substitute, standing in our place, he took our sins to be his own, and was made sin for us. Bearing our sins in his own body on the tree, our Lord Jesus bore the curse of the law, sustained his Father’s wrath, and all the punishment due to our sin. He willingly suffered the painful, shameful, ignominious death of the cross, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.
This he did for us when we were sinners, without strength, his implacable enemies, and enmity itself to him. And by the blood of his cross, he has reconciled us unto himself, because he chose us for his friends. He pitched his heart upon us from eternity and resolved to make us his friends. And now, by the regenerating grace and saving power of his Spirit, he has made us his friends forever.
Here, our blessed Savior tells us that his love, which caused him to lay down his life for us, is greater than any love known to man. The Son of God, our all-glorious, ever-gracious Christ, laid down his life for his enemies, without any selfish motive, freely and voluntarily. Men may and do die for men, but only because they cannot avoid it, or because they look upon the one for whom they die as being worthy of their sacrifice, or even because they desire the praise and applause of others as being great, self-sacrificing heroes. But our Lord’s sacrificial obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, was the free, voluntary sacrifice of our loving and lovely Surety and Substitute (Romans 5:6-8).
We have a clear, instructive picture of our Lord’s obedience unto death as our Substitute in Exodus 21:1-6.
“Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.”
That is exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did for us in the covenant of grace. Christ became Jehovah’s voluntary Servant that he might redeem and save his people by his free obedience to God as our Substitute. This is what our blessed Savior says of himself, as he describes himself in Isaiah 50:5-7, and as he describes his work in John 10:16-18.
(Isaiah 50:5-7) “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”
(John 10:16-18) “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
Nothing to You
The death of our Lord Jesus Christ is the most wonderful, astounding, magnificent event in the history of the universe. Nothing that is, has been, or shall hereafter be can be compared to it. Yet, as he was suffering the wrath of God, bearing the sins of his people, dying as the voluntary Substitute for guilty, hell-deserving, hell-bent sinners such as we are, we hear the Son of God expressing the most woeful, unexplainable lamentation imaginable (Lamentations 1:12-14).
“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate [and] faint all the day. The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, [and] come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into [their] hands, [from whom] I am not able to rise up.”
When I hear those words falling from the lips of the Son of God, as he hangs upon the cursed tree, I simply cannot avoid asking a question. Of whom does the bleeding Lamb of God speak these words? To whom is the death of Christ meaningless and insignificant?
Nothing in all the universe is more wonderful and magnificent in the eyes of God than the death of his dear Son. The Savior himself declares, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life!” The angels of heaven ever look into the mystery and wonder of redemption by the blood of Christ with astonishment. God’s servants, faithful gospel preachers, are so overwhelmed with the wonders of redemption and the glory of the Redeemer that they never cease to study, glory in, and preach the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 6:1-7; Galatians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 2:2). Redeemed sinners on the earth cherish nothing, delight in nothing, marvel at nothing like we do the death of our Lord Jesus Christ for us (Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:16; 4:10). The ransomed in glory appear to think of nothing and speak of nothing except the dying love of the Lamb in the midst of the throne (Revelation 5:9-12). Hell itself looks upon the death of Christ as a wonderful, unexplainable, mysterious thing. I am certain that this is one thing that Satan himself did not understand: — that Christ would triumph over him and crush his head by his death upon the cross! Else he would never have put it into the heart of Judas to betray the Master.
Yet, there are some to whom our darling Savior speaks, as it were with astonishment, to whom his death is meaningless, insignificant, nothing. — “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” Who are these people to whom the death of Christ is nothing? Who is it that thinks little of the sin-atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ? Our Lord is here addressing himself to everyone who passes by him, passes by his sacrifice, passes by his death as the sinners’ Substitute.
O unbelieving, Christless soul, it is you! O cold, calculating, heartless preacher, you who pass by the crucified Christ and take to your lips meaningless, insignificant things, it is you! Every sermon ought to be prepared and preached as if the preacher knew that all who hear him are on the brink of eternity. Any sermon that does not have Christ crucified for its beginning, its middle, and its end is a mistake in its conception and a crime in its execution. Christ crucified is mundane, meaningless, and insignificant only to unregenerate, unbelieving souls.
It is my heart’s prayer that the death of our Lord Jesus Christ will be made the most important thing in all the world to you. I pray that you and I may become so totally consumed with the crucified Christ, that our hearts, our lives, every fiber of our souls may be constantly dominated by the death of Christ as our sin-atoning Savior.
Our Lord Jesus Christ declares plainly that his death at Calvary was the free, voluntary act of his own obedience to his Father’s will, by which he won his Father’s love as a man, as our Mediator and Surety (John 10:17-18). Surely, such a sacrifice of love ought to win our love to him!
The Father’s Command
The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of himself (in John 10) not as the eternal Son of God, but as the Good Shepherd, the Mediator, the Surety of his people. He says, “This commandment have I received of my Father.” With those words he declares that his death as our Substitute was arranged by God before the world began (Psalm 40:7; Hebrews 10:7-10). The death of Christ was not accomplished by the arrangement of men, or by the arrangement of hell, but by the eternal arrangement of the Triune God (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:18-20). The death of Christ at Calvary was accomplished by the arrangement of an eternal covenant, the arrangement of sovereign providence, and the arrangement of infinite love (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9-10).
The Lord Jesus Christ laid down his life voluntarily, as an act of free obedience to his Father. No man forced him to die. God the Father did not compel him to die, or take his life from him. Oh, No! Our Savior died voluntarily, by his own will. He said, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).
Our Redeemer’s death was accomplished by his own will. — “He poured out his soul unto death!” It is true that “it pleased the Father to bruise him.” The Father cried, “Awake, O sword, against One that is my fellow. Smite and slay the Shepherd!” But Christ took the cup of wrath in his own hands. The Son of God fell willingly upon the sword of justice. Our Savior died by his own will! Our blessed Christ laid down his life as the Substitute for chosen sinners for the satisfaction of justice and the glory of God, because of his great love for us. He laid down his life that he might take it again for the everlasting salvation of his elect (John 17:1-2; Romans 14:9; Philippians 2:5-11).
The Father’s Love for His Son
Look back at John 10 again. Our Savior says, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life.” I know of nothing in heaven or earth so sweet to meditate upon and so impossible to describe as the Father’s love for his darling, dying Son. Hear it again. — “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life.” The Father loved him for the loveliness of his Godhead. The Father loved him for the beauty of his holy humanity. The Father loved him because he laid down his life for us. The Father loved him as the glorious, effectual, saving Mediator of his people.
God himself never saw anything in all the world so lovely, so infinitely worthy of his love, admiration, and honor, as the death of his dear Son upon the cursed tree for his people. — “Herein is love!”
“Much we talk of Jesus’ blood;
But how little’s understood!
Of His sufferings, so intense,
Angels have no perfect sense!
Who can rightly comprehend
Their beginning, or their end?
‘Tis to God, and God alone,
That their weight is fully known.
See the suffering Son of God
Panting, groaning, sweating blood! —
Boundless depths of love divine!
Jesus, what a love was Thine!
Though the wonders Thou hast done
Are as yet so little known
Here we fix, and comfort take:
Jesus died for sinners’ sake!”
— Joseph Hart
Because of this great act of love, because of this great act of Christ’s free obedience to the Father as our Surety, the Father has given his Son everything (Isaiah 53:4-12; John 3:35; 17:2).
Let us learn from these words of our Lord and Savior that though God’s child may suffer greatly in this world, often carrying a heavy cross and having the Father’s face hidden from him, yet he is still the darling object of his Father’s love. — Never did the Father more fully love his Son than when he was heaping upon him the fury of his wrath!
God honors those who honor his Son. — The only way a sinner can honor the Son of God is to trust him. He is the only way of access to God, and our only worthiness of the Father’s love and approval (John 17:22-26). Yet, God, the Triune Jehovah, loves us! O how he loves us! God the Father gave his Son to die for us. God the Son laid down his life for us. God the Spirit now sprinkles us with the blood of Christ and declares us redeemed ((1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
If our Savior so loved us, how we ought to love him! — “We love him because he first loved us” (Psalm 116:1-19). If our Savior so loved us, how we ought to love one another (1 John 3:16-17). — “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends!”