For decades George Beverly Shea sang for Billy Graham in his crusades. Considering the response to the gospel message that he witnessed night after night for many years, Shea commented on “the wonder of it all.” Later, he wrote a song which expressed more specifically “the wonder that God loves me.” He is not the only one who has wondered at the love of God. Some are so awed by the eternal God that they even wonder if God actually loves them. How can we know?
The gospel message begins with the love of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God loved the world. That encompasses all people. No one anywhere is excluded. God’s love is for the whole world.
What about sinful people who break God’s law? Does God love sinners? God’s love includes everyone regardless of their response to Him. Unlike other religions where their god’s love is dependent on their submission or on their works, the gospel message is that God loves people even while they are sinners. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
A young man came running to Jesus, knelt before Him and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21). The young man turned away. Here was a sinner whom Jesus loved. God loves us before we ever make a decision to either follow Him or turn from Him. Sadly, many people turn away from God’s love. Yet that does not diminish His love. It is still there, reaching out to them. As the Lord said to Israel, “All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom. 10:21).
It is with no small love that God loves sinners. He so loved the world. His love for sinners is great. The Apostle Paul, describing our lives while we were “dead in trespasses and sins,” spoke of “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). While we were sinners, He so loved us with His great love.
If God so loved us while we were sinners, while we were His enemies, what kind of love does He have for us who have come to Him and received His forgiveness and are now His people? The Bible gives us the answer. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). All that was available to us while we were sinners, the great love, the offered grace, the invitation to come to Him, are now expanded for those who have been reconciled to Him through Christ. If He loved us before, He loves us “much more” now!
God tells us of His love for us in His word. He also shows His love to His church. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25b). The Lord Jesus shows a special love for those who have come out of the world and are part of His “called out ones.” These are the ones that the Father has given him. When Jesus prayed for His disciples He indicated a special affection for them. “These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). His prayer was not only for His contemporary disciples to have joy, but for all those who would later become His. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20). He loves His own and desires that they have joy.
In their joy in Christ, those who are members of His body show their love by caring for one another. Like Alaina, a teen who though struggling with significant health issues herself, took time to send me a loaf of banana bread and a card with words of encouragement: “I just wanted to send y’all something yummy to let you guys know that I’ve been thinking about and praying for your family. Things may seem dark and completely confusing right now, but God’s way is always perfect…He will see you through. Just trust Him. His perfect love is unfailing.” It is a great encouragement to know that the Lord Jesus cares enough to show us His love through others who are part of His church.
It is good to know that God loves the world, that He loves sinners, that He loves the church, but what about me? Does He really love me? Yes, God’s love is personal. Paul the Apostle gave his life over to “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20b). He loved me. And He loves me as one of His children. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).
Years ago I was recuperating from major surgery in a hospital in Stanford, CA. My mother had been with me but was called back home because my father developed some health issues. She flew home. Sunday morning came. It was the Lord’s Day, I was three thousand miles from home, confined to bed in the surgical ward, unable to go to church, and was depressed. “Where are You, Lord?” I complained. Later that morning I was surprised by the arrival of two Christian ladies who had driven 400 miles to visit me. But my first reaction was not of joy. When they entered the room their perfume reacted with my chemically changed state apparently due to the medications I had been taking. I told them that their perfume was causing me trouble. They left. I thought that I had offended them and felt worse. But an hour later after having gone to shower they returned, this time without perfume. They really did encourage me. When they left, I realized that my depression had lifted. And then it occurred to me: God loved me enough to prompt them to travel hundreds of miles to come and lift my spirits right when I needed it. He was there. It is true, as the hymn writer stated, that “Jesus is near to comfort and cheer, just when I need Him most.”
The most popular children’s hymn of all time is “Jesus Loves Me.” Its words are true. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” When we respond to Him, His love becomes a constant encouragement, a strong force, and a comforting reality. Yes. Jesus loves me.