The Two Greatest Expressions of Love Ever Made
“God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might . . . have everlasting life.”—JOHN 3:16.
1. What is meant by the statement “God is love”?
“GOD is love.” The apostle John made that statement twice. (1 John 4:8, 16) Yes, Jehovah God is loving not simply in the way that he is wise, just, and mighty; he IS love. He is the embodiment, the personification, of love. You might ask yourself: ‘Do I know why that is the truth? Could I provide someone with a clear explanation, backed by evidence or examples proving that He is love? And what bearing does it have on my life and activities?’
2. God has given what visible expressions of his love?
2 How much love Jehovah God has bestowed upon his human creatures on earth! Reflect on the complete beauty and function of our eyes, the marvel of our strong bones, the power of our muscles, and the sensitivity of our touch. We have reason to echo the sentiments of the psalmist: “I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made.” Consider, too, the majestic mountains, the calm brooks of clear water, the fields of spring flowers, and the glorious sunsets. “How many your works are, O Jehovah! All of them in wisdom you have made. The earth is full of your productions.”—Psalm 139:14; 104:24.
3, 4. What examples do the Hebrew Scriptures provide of God’s expressions of love?
3 The expressions of God’s love did not cease when his first human creatures rebelled. For example, Jehovah showed love by permitting that couple to produce offspring who might benefit by Jehovah’s provision through his “seed” of promise. (Genesis 3:15) Later, he had Noah prepare an ark for the preservation of the human race and other earthly creatures. (Genesis 6:13-21) Then he showed great love for Abraham, who became known as Jehovah’s friend. (Genesis 18:19; Isaiah 41:8) In rescuing Abraham’s descendants from Egyptian bondage, God gave further expression of his love, as we read at Deuteronomy 7:8: “It was because of Jehovah’s loving you . . . that Jehovah brought you out with a strong hand.”
4 Though the Israelites kept showing ingratitude and rebelled repeatedly, God did not cast them off at once. Rather, he lovingly pleaded with them: “Turn back from your bad ways, for why is it that you should die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11) However, even though Jehovah is the personification of love, he is also just and wise. The time thus came when his rebellious people reached the limit of his long-suffering! They went to the point that “there was no healing,” so he let them go into Babylonian captivity. (2 Chronicles 36:15, 16) Even then God’s love did not stop forever. He saw to it that after 70 years a remnant of them were allowed to return to their native land. Please read Psalm 126 and see from it how the returnees felt about it.
Preparing for His Greatest Expression of Love
5. Why can it be said that sending his Son to earth was an expression of God’s love?
5 Further down in history the time came for Jehovah to give the greatest expression of his love. It was a truly sacrificial love. Preparing for this, God had the life of his only-begotten Son transferred from spirit existence in heaven to the womb of the Jewish virgin Mary. (Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:26-35) Imagine the special closeness that had existed between Jehovah and his Son. We read about Jesus’ prehuman existence under the symbol of wisdom personified: “I came to be beside [God] as a master worker, and I came to be the one he was specially fond of day by day, I being glad before him all the time.” (Proverbs 8:30, 31) So can you not agree that just having His only-begotten Son leave His presence was a sacrifice for Jehovah?
6. What paternal interest must Jehovah have had in Jesus’ early life?
6 Without doubt, Jehovah watched with keen and great interest the development of his son from human conception onward. God’s holy spirit overshadowed Mary so that nothing could damage the growing embryo. Jehovah saw to it that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census so that Jesus would be born there in fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Through an angel, God warned Joseph about King Herod’s murderous scheme, causing Joseph and his family to flee to Egypt until Herod’s death. (Matthew 2:13-15) God must have continued his interest in Jesus’ progress. What a pleasure it was for God to watch 12-year-old Jesus amaze the teachers and others in the temple with questions and answers!—Luke 2:42-47.
7. What three expressions evidenced God’s interest in Jesus’ ministry?
7 Eighteen years later Jehovah was watching when Jesus came to John the Baptizer to be immersed. Then he joyfully sent his holy spirit upon Jesus and said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matthew 3:17) Any Christian father can imagine how pleasant it would be for God to follow Jesus’ ministry and to see the way he directed all praise to his heavenly Father. On one occasion Jesus took some apostles up on a lofty mountain. There Jehovah caused Christ to shine with a supernatural splendor, and the Father said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5) Jehovah had his voice heard a third time in answer to Jesus’ petition for God to glorify his own name. Jehovah said: “I both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Apparently this was said primarily for Jesus’ benefit, for some with him thought an angel had spoken, whereas others thought it had thundered.—John 12:28, 29.
8. How do you feel about God’s love?
8 What have you concluded from this brief review of God’s actions toward his Son and his interest in him? It should be plain that Jehovah dearly loves his only-begotten Son. With that in mind, and appreciating how almost any human parent would feel toward an only child, consider what next occurred—Jesus’ sacrificial death.
The Greatest Expression of Love
9, 10. What was God’s greatest expression of love toward mankind, underscoring what Scriptural testimony?
9 The Bible shows that our heavenly Father has empathy. We read at Isaiah 63:9 regarding his people Israel: “During all their distress it was distressing to him. And his own personal messenger saved them. In his love and in his compassion he himself repurchased them, and he proceeded to lift them up and carry them all the days of long ago.” How much more distressing it must have been for Jehovah to hear and see Jesus’ “strong outcries and tears.” (Hebrews 5:7) Jesus prayed in that way in the garden of Gethsemane. He was made a prisoner, faced a mock trial, was beaten and scourged, and had a crown of thorns pressed down upon his head. Remember, his loving Father was observing all of it. He also saw Jesus stumble under the weight of the execution stake and watched as his Son was finally impaled on that stake. Let us not forget that God could have prevented this suffering on the part of his beloved Son. Yet Jehovah allowed Jesus to suffer so much. Since God has feelings, for him to witness these events without a doubt caused the most pain he ever had or ever will have.
10 In view of all the foregoing, we can see how much meaning there is in Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Of similar import are the words of John, Jesus’ dear apostle: “By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world . . . as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.”—1 John 4:9, 10.
11. How does the apostle Paul highlight God’s greatest expression of love?
11 You can, then, understand why the apostle Paul, at Romans 5:6-8, stressed Jehovah God’s great love in the words: “Christ, while we were yet weak, died for ungodly men at the appointed time. For hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die. But God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Certainly, in having his only-begotten Son come to earth, suffer, and die a most ignominious death, Jehovah God made the greatest expression of love.
The Second Greatest Expression
12, 13. (a) In what way was Jesus’ expression of love unique? (b) How does Paul call attention to Jesus’ great love?
12 ‘What,’ you may ask, ‘was the next greatest expression of love?’ Jesus Christ said: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) True, throughout mankind’s history, there have been some who sacrificed their lives for others. But theirs was only a limited life; sooner or later they would have died anyway. Jesus Christ, however, was a perfect human with the right to life. He was not facing inherited death as were and are all the rest of mankind; nor could anyone have forcibly taken Jesus’ life without his allowing it. (John 10:18; Hebrews 7:26) Recall his words: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels?”—Matthew 26:53; John 10:17, 18.
13 We can further appreciate the love involved in what Jesus did by looking at the following aspect: He had left a glorious existence as a spirit creature in the heavens where he had lived as the close companion and fellow worker of the universal Sovereign and King of eternity. Still, out of unselfish love, Jesus did as the apostle Paul tells us: “Although he was existing in God’s form, [he] gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake.”—Philippians 2:6-8.
14. How did the prophet Isaiah testify to the great expression of Jesus’ love?
14 Was that not an expression of love? It most certainly was—second only to that of Jehovah God, his heavenly Father. The prophetic words of Isaiah chapter 53 testify to all that Jesus endured: “He was despised and was avoided by men, a man meant for pains and for having acquaintance with sickness. . . . Truly our sicknesses were what he himself carried; and as for our pains, he bore them. But we ourselves accounted him as plagued, stricken by God and afflicted. But he was being pierced for our transgression; he was being crushed for our errors. . . . Because of his wounds there has been a healing for us. . . . He poured out his soul to the very death.”—Isaiah 53:3-5, 12.
15, 16. That it was a sacrifice for Jesus can be seen from what words of his?
15 Because of all that was bound up with his death, Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) What was Jesus asking for when he uttered those words? Was he wanting to beg off from being “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”? (John 1:29) It simply could not mean that, for all along Jesus had told his disciples that he would suffer and die, even indicating the kind of death he would die. (Matthew 16:21; John 3:14) So Jesus must have had something else in mind when praying thus.
16 Without a doubt Jesus was concerned about the charge of blasphemy that he saw would be hurled against him, the worst crime a Jew could possibly be guilty of. Why be concerned about a false charge? Because his death under that circumstance would bring reproach upon his heavenly Father. Yes, the spotless Son of God, who so loved righteousness and hated lawlessness and who had come to earth to glorify his Father’s name, was now to be put to death by God’s own people as a blasphemer of Jehovah God.—Hebrews 1:9; John 17:4.
17. Why did the kind of death Jesus was facing prove to be such an ordeal to him?
17 Earlier in his ministry Jesus had stated: “Indeed, I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and how I am being distressed until it is finished!” (Luke 12:50) Now was the climax of this baptism. Evidently that is why his sweat became as drops of blood when he prayed. (Luke 22:44) Moreover, there was an enormous burden resting upon his shoulders that night, a burden beyond our ability to comprehend. He knew that he had to prove faithful because if he failed, what a slap in the face of Jehovah that would be! Satan would claim that he was right and Jehovah God was wrong. But what a slap in the face Satan the Devil got because Jesus proved faithful unto death! Thereby he proved Satan to be a base, gross, and monstrous liar.—Proverbs 27:11.
18. Why was Jesus under a terrible strain that night?
18 Jehovah God had such confidence in his Son’s loyalty that he foretold that Jesus would prove faithful. (Isaiah 53:9-12) Yet Jesus also knew that the burden of maintaining integrity rested upon him. He could have failed. He could have sinned. (Luke 12:50) His own eternal life and that of the entire human race hung in the balance that night. What a terrible strain that must have been! If Jesus had weakened and sinned, he could not have called for mercy on the basis of another’s sacrifice, as we imperfect creatures can do.
19. What did Jesus accomplish by his unselfish course?
19 Certainly, Jesus’ endurance on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., was the greatest expression of unselfish love ever made by any human, second only to that of Jehovah God. And what grand things he accomplished for us by his death! By his death he became “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) He opened up the way for 144,000 of his footstep followers to be kings and priests and to reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4, 6) In addition, the “great crowd” of “other sheep” today are benefiting from Christ’s sacrifice and can hope to survive the end of this old system of things. These will be the first to enjoy the blessings of an earthly paradise. There will also doubtless be billions of humankind who will be resurrected as a result of what Jesus did. They, too, will have the opportunity to enjoy endless life in the earthly Paradise. (Revelation 7:9-14; John 10:16; 5:28, 29) Truly, “no matter how many the promises of God are, they have become Yes by means of him,” that is, by means of Jesus Christ.—2 Corinthians 1:20.
20. How should we respond to the two greatest expressions of love on the part of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ?
20 It is surely most fitting that we show appreciation for all that Jehovah God and Jesus Christ have done in our behalf by giving us these greatest of all expressions of love. We owe them such appreciation, and for us truly to benefit to the full, we must express such appreciation. The following article will show some of the very best ways that we can do this.
Do You Recall?
□ What expressions of God’s love can all mankind see?
□ How can we know that Jehovah suffered when he saw his Son suffering?
□ How was Jesus’ death in behalf of humans different from that of others who may have sacrificed their lives?
□ How should we be affected by the love shown us by Jehovah and Jesus?