Chapter Three: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in Our Unworthiness to be Loved
It is no strange thing when someone loves the beautiful and intelligent, the admirable and worthy. In fact, a man of great wisdom, courage, and charisma may even inspire many followers to give up their lives for his sake. But Christ's love is much greater than this, for when we were yet sinners, he died for us (Rom. 5:7-8). But consider more fully just how unworthy we are to be loved by the almighty Son of God: first, as mere creatures, we are infinitely below him in dignity by our very nature. We would think it an amazing thing if a powerful king or emperor paid any attention to us, or called us out from the crowds to enter into his private suites; but kings are our own kind, and have only a prominence of rank and position, not of essential nature. But Christ by his very nature is infinitely above us, and hence his love for us is far more amazing than any mere love of human to human could be. But not only are we by nature inferior to the Son of God, we are also sinful and disgusting in his sight; and not only have we sinned, which to Christ in his holiness is utterly loathsome (Psalm 119:104), but we have directed our sin personally against him (Psalm 51:4): we have rejected his kingly authority by violating his sovereign commands (1 Samuel 8:7); we have despised his infinite worth by forsaking the Fountain of living waters and hewing for ourselves broken cisterns (Jer. 2:12-13); we have perverted his glory and fashioned him into our own corrupt image (Rom. 1:21-23); and then, after flinging such great opprobrium at the most glorious Holy One, we have added insult to injury, by neither wanting nor seeking to be reconciled and forgiven (Rom. 3:11), and positively resisting the free advances of the Spirit, and the gracious and heartfelt cries of the Savior for our salvation (Mat. 23:37-39; Eph. 2:1-3). How great the love of the Savior must be, that he still loved us when we were so unworthy to be loved, and when we hated and despised him who alone deserves to be loved and worshiped!
1. We were not powerful or numerous, but few, weak and helpless
It is a basic human instinct to hold out love and devotion to the powerful, who are able to provide safety and security for their friends; and it is perhaps an even more basic instinct to love and follow the numerous, for everyone desires to fit in and be accepted as a normal and mutually respected part of society. But Jesus' love for us was much greater than that, for he sought us out when we were weak and helpless, and unable to defend even our own selves, let alone provide any support for others. And we were few in number, and despised by the world, so that, for him to love us, he had to take on that stench of our opprobrium, just as a noble man who loves a poor, ignoble peasant girl is diminished in the eyes of the many and mighty.
Thus it was that our Savior first called out Abraham alone, and made him wander as a stranger and a pilgrim in the promised land (Heb. 11:8-16); he was not strong by number or prestigious connection anywhere he went, and yet, in his weakness God gave him victory everywhere he wandered, defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him (Gen. 14), closing up the wombs of Pharaoh's household (Gen. 20), and never permitting anyone to harm him. Then, he made his seed into the nation of Israel, in their time of sojourn in Egypt; and there, as well, the more numerous and powerful Egyptians put them to hard labor and afflictions, and yet the Savior never wavered in his love of his weak race, but poured out fearful plagues upon mighty Egypt for their sake (Ex. 1-14). And then, in the wilderness, he defeated mighty kings, such as Og and Sihon, before them (Num. 21:21-35; Deut. 2:26-3:11); and he refused to let the powerful duo of Balaam and Barak curse and destroy them, but in his love turned the curse into a blessing (Num. 22-24); and he brought down the mighty city of Jericho for their sakes, and drove out many strong nations from the land of Canaan (The book of Joshua); and whenever he sent his rebellious people into captivity for their sins, he never finally abandoned them, but over and again wrought a mighty deliverance through weak judges, as when Gideon with his three hundred men and their harmless clay pots put to flight an innumerable host of Midianites (Judges 6-8), or when Samson, alone and mocked before the taunting crowds, brought down the temple of Dagon upon the heads of the mighty oppressors of his people (Judges 16). And then, he helped a weak little shepherd boy kill a giant tormentor of his afflicted people (1 Sam. 17), and he overcame an army of a million Ethiopians for Asa in his distress (2 Chronicles 14), and he smote with his own fearful hand one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers (2 Kings 19), and many other such things he did. In all of this, he was showing that his love for his people was not conditioned upon their power, or because they were many; but in the constancy of his love, he had mercy upon them when they were weak, and for their sake he exposed himself to the gibes and jeers that the many love to fling against the few, as when Rabshakeh mocked him as a weak and helpless God, which he thought to be true because of his love for a weak and helpless people (2 Kings 18:28-35; Isaiah 36:13-20).
And so Moses, that great prophet of God and type of the Christ, said to the people of Israel very clearly, when God brought them out to be his own people, â€œYou are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generationsâ€ (Deut. 7:6-9, ESV).
So we see that Jesus always loved his people, even though they were weak and few in number, before his advent to earth; but after he came to earth, we find that the same thing is true: for he did not come to a position of power, but became, as it was supposed by the crowds, the son of a poor and unimportant carpenter, so that his own people despised him and said, â€œ'Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?' And they took offense at himâ€ (Mat. 13:55-56 ESV).
Then, throughout his life on earth, Jesus was never the friend of the powerful, but he was rejected and betrayed by the masses of the people, and delivered over to all who were strong in authority, both the Sanhedrin, and Pontius Pilate the governor, and Herod the King, and the Roman soldiers; but to the end, his steadfast love never faltered for his few, weak followers, eleven chosen men from the lowest ranks of the common people. For their sakes, he freely gave himself up to the many and the mighty, and only said about his beloved few, â€œif you seek me, let these goâ€ (John 18:8), thus delivering himself up to be hated by the many, out of love for the few and weak whom he had chosen. And afterwards, all who were prominent in the mighty Roman Empire scratched their heads in perplexity at the stir caused by so weak and ridiculous a figure as this poor, crucified carpenter's son, and wondered why the world had turned upside down (cf. Acts 17:6).
The Roman Emperors through ten cruel persecutions strove to separate the Church from the love of Christ, but his love was fiercer than they all, and only became stronger when his people became weaker. Then the cruel Roman papists became worse than the emperors, and poured out the blood of many of Christ's weak people, only because they dared to say, â€œWe hope in Christ alone!â€; but his love for them never faltered. And so today, the terrible and powerful governments of China and North Korea, the Muslims of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and many other rulers and powers beside, all hate the weak and the few who are called by Jesus' name. But if you meet any of them and see their scars and their bruised and broken bodies, they will tell you nothing so fervently and so certainly as this, that Jesus never stopped loving them in the worst of times, he rather suffered with them and held them in his arms, he would not deny them because the strong and the many had disowned them, but his love was faithful in and through all. Oh, what a love is this! Will you not run to the only Blessed One who is capable of such a love, and drink in deep and long from the bottomless fountain? He offers it to you freely, no matter how weak you are, if you but come to him and take it from his gentle hand.
And if you have already come to him, can you not see this truth as clearly displayed in your own life? When you turned to Christ, or rather, when he came to you, and drew you to himself, and gave himself up to you, so that you forsook all else and fled to him, did you thereby win much prestige among the many? Did you not rather lose the admiration of the crowds? Did they not mock and deride you, and say, â€œThis strange fellow, this pitiable little girl, is out of touch with reality, these deluded people have no understanding of how the world works, they willingly give up all that it has to offer, and why? Because of that Jesus, that teacher who lived two thousand years ago â€“ they might worship him in their closets, that's good enough, but why will they insist on refusing an opportunity for great advancement in their professions over a little ethical quibble? Why will they deny themselves the pleasures of this life for a little moral stringency?â€ â€“ and so they despise you and denigrate the Jesus whom you follow on your account, but does Jesus ever forsake you because of the mockery of the crowds? Does he not love you however weak you may be and however many may oppose you? Yes, for the love of Jesus embraces the weak and the few, and there are no multitudes and no authorities that will ever change his love for his poor, helpless people.
2. We were not righteous, but sinful
It is amazing in and of itself that Jesus would love the weak, the few, and the helpless, and would never cease loving them, no matter how many rose up against them; but how much more amazing is it that he does not love the righteous, but the sinful, when he himself is the Righteous One, whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Hab. 1:13)? And yet, so great is the love of Christ, that he rejects the righteous Pharisees, and loves the chief of all sinners.
When the upright and moral Pharisees hated a sinful and adulterous woman, and would have stoned her, then Jesus took his stand with her, and drove them all away. He alone was righteous, he could have cast the first stone and been utterly just and free from all hypocrisy in doing so, but his love for the sinful woman overcame his hatred of sin, and so he took her sin upon himself, and suffered for it, so that he might forgive her, and free her from her slavery to it (see John 8:1-11).
In the same way, when Jesus ate in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and an open sinner came to him in brokenness, and with great love and devotion washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, so that the Pharisee despised her, Jesus was quick to take her side, and to offer her all his love and forgiveness; but the Pharisee he rebuked (Luke 7:36-50).
Indeed, all the Pharisees and scribes and they who were right in their own eyes he summarily dismissed with this judgment, â€œThose who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentanceâ€ (Luke 5:31-32 ESV). And he justified the sinful Samaritan but condemned the righteous Pharisee, when they went to their prayers (Luke 18:9-14); and likewise, he justified sinful Mary Magdalene, but he railed against the scribes and Pharisees with fearful curses (Luke 8:2; Mat. 23). And he even justified Paul, a blasphemer and persecutor of the Church, as an example of his love for the chief of sinners, and to embolden every sinner, no matter how wicked he may be, to flee to him for grace, and be certain of his love (1 Tim. 1:12-17).
And were you any better? Were you not dead in your transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1), were you not enslaved to lusts even as the rest (Tit. 3:3), when Jesus loved you and forgave you? So far, then, from being an obstacle to his love, your sinfulness and unworthiness is a great inducement to drive you to Jesus, it is the only qualification he asks of you! So whenever the devil may tell you, â€œJesus cannot love so sinful and unfaithful a person as you,â€ you may turn it back on him and say, â€œYou call me sinful? Well then, I will go to Jesus because it is just the worst of sinners that he loves, and therefore he will love me!â€.
3. We were not rich to repay him for his love, but utterly poor
Again, it is no great thing for men to love the rich, for they hope to be rewarded for their love; but Jesus' love is greater than the love of men, for he does not love the rich, but only those who are utterly poverty-stricken, so that they might not repay him at all. If anyone comes to seek the love of Jesus with a price in his hand, he does despite to the freeness of his grace. If Elisha turned away the proffered wealth of Naaman, if it became a curse and uncleanness to the house of Gehazi (2 Kings 5), what sort of curse will our riches be to us in the economy of the love of Jesus? Has the apostle not warned the rich in this age not to trust in their unstable possessions (1 Tim. 6:17)? â€œCome now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last daysâ€ (James 5:1-3 ESV). So also, Jesus warns the disciples of how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, for he will be tempted to trust in his riches (Mat. 19:23-24); and he pleads with the Church at Laodicea, saying, â€œSo, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may seeâ€ (Rev. 3:16-18 ESV). So we see that Jesus turns away the rich, and refuses those who think they have something with which to repay him.
But how sweet is the love of Christ, that it refuses repayment! No matter how poor we may be, he invites us freely to his feast of grace. It is most reasonable that he told his disciples, when they prepared a feast, not to invite those who could repay them, but only the poor and lame and helpless (Luke 14:12-14); for so he has done for us. Can you not hear him calling out, â€œCome, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for Davidâ€ (Isa. 55:1-3 ESV)? What will you bring to his feast? For already â€œWisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, 'Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!' To him who lacks sense she says, 'Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed'â€ (Prov. 9:1-5 ESV). So Christ, the Wisdom of God, has already done everything for our salvation, and he asks no price or payment in return. Oh, how great is the love of Christ that calls out, â€œLet the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without priceâ€ (Rev. 22:17 ESV)!
4. We were not wise, but ignorant babes in knowledge
The greatness of the love of Christ may also be seen in this, that he did not reveal himself and give himself up to the wise of this world, but he let the world confound itself in its wisdom, and he revealed himself in the foolishness of the cross to his ignorant people. The Greek philosophers heaped up the vastest heights of human wisdom that the world had ever known, but what was the sum of it all? â€œClaiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amenâ€ (Romans 1:22-25 ESV).
Thus also the apostle says, â€œthe word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.' Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards...â€ (1 Cor. 1:18-26 ESV). In saying, â€œnot many of you were wise,â€ he shows that the love of Christ overlooks the wise and embraces the foolish.
And so, as well, a little later, Paul says, â€œwe impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him' -- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritualâ€ (1 Cor. 2:7-13 ESV).
How great a love this is, that Jesus has sent us his Spirit to search out and reveal the great treasures of wisdom that he has stored up for us who were foolish, but hidden from the wise! And Jesus himself rejoices in the perfection of wisdom that God has freely given to babes in ignorance, when he says, â€œI thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little childrenâ€ (Mat. 11:25 ESV); and again, â€œhave you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise'?â€ (Mat. 21:13 ESV). So we were babes in knowledge and foolish in the eyes of the world, but the love of Jesus filled us up with all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
5. We were not noble, respectable, or lovely, but base and despised
Not only were we weak, sinful, foolish, and poor, but we were also ignoble and despised by all others when Jesus loved us. We are often tempted to think, â€œJesus is so great and high above me, he is so beautiful and noble, that he could never love such a poor, insignificant, and unlovely wretch as I!â€. But his love is so great that it stoops to the basest things of this world, so that, no matter how unlovely we may be, we may still assure ourselves of his love.
Consider how Jesus has always chosen the despised and ignoble things of this world: he set his love on weak, young Abel, when Cain was older and stronger; and then he set his love on Seth's line, although it was still the line of Cain that was strong, and built cities, and devised inventions of music and metallurgy and other such things (Gen. 4-5). And ever afterwards, he worked in the same fashion: when he might have chosen Ishmael the firstborn, he instead set his love on Isaac, whose very birth took place in weakness, doubt, and a daunting array of human impossibilities (Gen. 21:1-21); he might have chosen the older and more skilled Esau, but instead he loved the weak and domestic Jacob (Gen. 25:19-28; Mal. 1:2-3); he might have chosen the tall and handsome elder sons of Jesse, but chose rather the little shepherd David (1 Sam. 16); he might have chosen the great city of Jerusalem for his birthplace, but chose instead little Bethlehem of Ephratah (Micah 5:2); he might have chosen a prominent scribe or powerful ruler, but instead, he chose a lowly handmaid and a humble carpenter (Luke 1-2).
Then, after he came in such a lowly way, he continued to consort with lowly people, choosing rustic fishermen, hated tax collectors, radical zealots (Luke 6:12-16). And even when he called out a man wise according to human standards, Saul of Tarsus, who sat at the feet of Gamaliel, he stripped him of all his pride and made him the greatest spectacle of them all when he had showed him his love. For Saul had outstripped all his peers before he knew Jesus, but listen to what he says of himself after Jesus loved him: â€œI think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all thingsâ€ (1 Cor. 4:9-13 ESV).
If these are the very apostles upon whom Christ built his Church (see Eph. 2:19-22), then do you think he will scorn anyone who comes to him, because he is too lowly, base, ignoble, or despised? No, but Jesus loves the despised, he himself became despised out of love for them, and he will never turn them away, no matter how base they may be. If a little peasant girl, lame in her feet, maimed in her hands, unlovely in features, stammering of speech, without father or mother in this world, begging for scraps of bread from them who despised her and jeered at her, should suddenly win the favor of a powerful prince, so that he determined to make her his wife, would she not have cause for wonder at his amazing love? But how much more cause do we have for wonder and joy, when Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, has set his love upon such as we?
6. We were not clean or healthy, but filthy and diseased
So great is the love of Jesus, that it reached down to us when we were wallowing in our filth and distressed by disease and sickness. Among men, that sort of love which toils among the helpless diseased is admired above all, and they who contract illness in their selfless care of the sick and impotent win much adulation. But Jesus came down to us when we were filthy with sin and diseased in body and soul, and he loved us still, and did not cease to work until he had cleansed us and healed us, even though it meant bearing our sicknesses in his own body (see Mat. 8:14-17).
When the leper came to Jesus seeking to be cleansed, he reached out and touched him, which is something that no one else in that society would ever do (Mat. 8:1-4). He let an unclean woman with an issue of blood touch his garment and draw from him his healing power, and did not rebuke her, but encouraged her trembling soul and commended her faith (Mat. 9:20-22; cf. Also Mat. 14:35-36); and everywhere he went, the crowds gathered about him, and he never grew weary of healing and forgiving them all. How this should encourage us, for we are filthy with sin and diseased in our spirits, but if we creep up never so timidly and lay our finger on the hem of Jesus' garment by faith, he will heal us at once! He will never turn us away for our filthiness, but he touches us in our leprosy and makes us clean and whole. He takes the filthy rags from our bodies and clothes us with the spotless garments of his own righteousness (Isa. 6:10; Zech. 3). He is the Sun of Righteousness, risen with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2), and there is no stain or disease of the human body or soul that he will not pity us for, and heal us with tender love. Even though in this lifetime our healing may be imperfect, and we may still be sick in body and distressed by the inward remnants of uncleanness, yet we may assure ourselves that the day will soon come in which his love will utterly do away with everything that is unclean or unwholesome to us (see Rev. 21:4).
7. We were not such as could be expected by human wisdom to be the objects of his love
We have already noted how our Savior loves the weak and despised, the poor and sinful and sick; but even beyond that, his love is surprising in how it embraces those who are utterly unanticipated by human wisdom and inappropriate according to expectations of human lineage and descent. For when God promised to send a Savior to redeem his people in love, human wisdom would have expected the first seed of woman to be that Savior, or at least a recipient of his promised grace, as Eve herself had expected (Gen. 4:1); but he was rejected instead. And so also, when God promised to save Abraham's seed, and make of him many nations, human wisdom would expect Ishmael to fulfill the blessing, but Sarah drove him out instead (Gen. 21). Then, when Jesus finally came to show the world his love, he cast many of Abraham's seed out of the Kingdom, and by a power which is able to raise up children to Abraham from the very rocks (Luke 3:8), he gave his salvation to a Syro-Phoenician dog (Mat. 15:21-28); he proclaimed to a Gentile believer that he would cast many of the Jews into the outer darkness and bring in many Gentiles from the East and the West to the feast of Abraham (Mat. 8:5-13); he promised that he would bring in his beloved sheep from other flocks than the Jewish fold (John 10); and when his people had rejected him, he sent out his servants to beat the hedges and byways, and bring in stragglers and beggars from all over the world to his marriage feast (Mat. 22:1-14). In unfathomable gospel-wisdom, he made the Gentiles the true seed of Abraham, of one body with all the saints, heirs of all the promises ever given to his people (e.g. Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6). So great is the love of Christ that it overturns all human expectations in its lavish fullness, and we who were enemies of God and estranged from the covenants of promise have now been made full heirs. Oh, what a love is the love of Christ!
8. We were in no manner fit to be a worthy bride when Christ married us to himself
In all the things we have already observed, we may see that, when the Son of God undertook to take to himself a bride, who alone should share in his glory and protection, and be joined to him as one, we were in no manner worthy of such a bridegroom; but we may see the vast extent of our unworthiness to be his bride in even more stunning a relief in the following observations.
First, we were not in any social standing to make a fitting match for him: we did not have any noble father to give us away, and by us to make an alliance with our future groom, nor did we have any dowry to give to him at our wedding, nor any social rank that he might expect from us. Among the kings of this world, if one cannot find an heiress of great riches, then he looks for a scion of an ancient and noble family to give him prestige; or if he cannot find that, he searches for a daughter of a powerful opposing kingdom, that he might forge a peace or extend his holdings. But how did Jesus find us, before our marriage to him? We were fatherless, uncared for, naked, and helpless, with neither rank nor prestige nor riches.
Hear how Christ speaks of the time when he found us and took us to be a bride: â€œYour origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GODâ€ (Ezek. 16:3-14, ESV). So how unlikely did it seem that we should be a royal bride, when we had pagan forebears and no dowry or prestige? And yet, in his great love, Christ spread his skirt over us, and entered into a covenant of marriage with us, and beautified us and made us share his royalty.
Then, we were also ugly and disfigured by our sin when Christ set his love upon us and took us as his bride; he did not see in us any lovely features or graceful form to endear us to himself, but he saw us in our ugliness, and out of pure love, he then made us lovely, and adorned us with every fine thing, and clothed us with splendor and majesty and grace (cf. Ps. 45:10-17).
But even beyond this, Christ loved us when we were unfaithful and adulterous, and he refused to cast us away! It is a wonder thing that he would raise us up when we were abandoned in our blood, and take us as his bride; but it is even more wonderful yet that, when we had been shown such grace and still turned aside to adultery, he would love us still, and take us back into his bosom. But such is the case; for in the same passage we have looked at, after describing in revolting detail the whoredoms and adulteries of his faithless bride, God then says, â€œyet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenantâ€ (Ezek. 16:60 ESV). Yes, and this is no more than what God said elsewhere by Hosea; for he commanded that prophet to take to himself a wife of whoredoms and adulteries (Hos. 1:2-3); and then, although he afterwards said to the children of his Bride, â€œPlead with your mother, plead-- for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband-- that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredomâ€ (Hosea 2:2-4 ESV); yet, after all that, he did not finally cast her away for her adultery, but rather comforted her, and said, â€œIn that day, you will call me 'My Husband,' and no longer will you call me 'My Baal.'â€ (Hos. 2:16 ESV). So we see that, even after our wicked adulteries, Christ still embraced us as his bride, and he will never let us flee again to our Baals and lovers, but will love us and purify us and keep us for himself alone.
One more thing we might say on this point is that, although many men seek wives in part because they want children, and hope to gain lawful seed by them, yet Jesus took us as a bride when we were barren and unfruitful, and it was only by his surprising power that he made us fruitful in good works. This is signified by how he gave the promised seed Isaac to Sarah when she was barren (Gen. 21:1-7); and he likewise delighted many times in history to show his grace and power by giving seed to barren women, whom he had chosen for his good purposes, as when he gave children to Rebekah (Gen. 25:21), to Hannah (1 Sam. 1), to Rachel, the bride of Israel's tender love (Gen. 30:22-24), to Elisabeth, the mother of our Savior's forerunner (Luke 1), and to other such women. Now, this was to signify that when he took a bride in her native barrenness, he would then bless her with his own power and grace, and make her fruitful in his embrace; and thus he says, â€œthe Jerusalem above [who is the Bride of Christ, see Rev. 21:2] is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, 'Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.'â€(Gal. 4:26-27 ESV). This was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, when he looked ahead and saw the bride of Christ, that she would be fruitful in raising up many children to Christ, who themselves would neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:8).
9. We were not free to embrace Christ, but enslaved to a harsh and vicious master
In his great love, Christ freed us when we were in bondage to death and sin, and held captive by the devil to do his will (see John 8:34, 44; Rom. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:25-26). This is a very great evidence of his love for us, because before he could plunder the strong man's goods, that is, before he could take us to himself as his beloved people, he had first to bind and destroy the strong man who held us captive (Mat. 12:29). But we were held in slavery through fear of death by him who had the power of death, that is, by Satan, and so to destroy him took the death of Jesus, which was the death of death for us (Heb. 2:14-15). Thus Jesus was put to death in the flesh (1 Pet. 3:18) so that he might redeem us from our slavery, and so that, because of his love, we might cry out, â€œO death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory?â€ (1 Cor. 15:54-56). Thus the love of Jesus is stronger than death, and sets us free from our captivity.
10. We were not even seeking such a Savior, nor willing to come to him, nor disposed to receive his love
It would be amazing beyond comprehension that Christ had shown us such love when we were so unworthy, even if we had been seeking him, and pleading for his grace, and begging him to come and help us. How much greater is his love, that, when he came seeking us, we were not seeking him, but hated and despised him, and would not come and receive so great a love until he had pursued us, and won us by the gentle and patient wooings of his Spirit, and given us a new heart (see Rom. 3:10-11; Ezek. 36:26-27)? We were stubbornly opposed to his free and mighty love, but his mercy tracked us down, his grace pursued us (Psalm 23:6), he was the Hound of Heaven who would not stop until he had chased us down and wrestled us to our knees, and touched our hips out of joint (cf. Gen. 32:22-32), so that he could give us the love we would not accept. Have you not seen much evidence of this in your own life? Did you receive the love of Christ because you sought him out and scaled the ladder to heaven that you might find him? No, he came down and sought you and won you over with immense patience and power. And now, do you suppose so great and patient a love as that will ever leave you or forsake you? No, it cannot, for all eternity.