Jesus Sets Things Up to Love Us

What do we usually think it means for Jesus to love us? How do we usually imagine Jesus acts in order to love his people? I immediately would answer that he shows his love in his sacrificial dying for us in our place on the cross. This is the gospel message. And it is true.

But what is Jesus really aiming at when he even does that? What is true loving according to Jesus. It is just forgiveness, or is it more?

It is a little jarring at first how much Jesus focuses on himself when he loves his own. It is jarring because there is no one else who can focus on themselves and yet still call it love. But what becomes clear in the Bible about Jesus is that when he draws people to himself, when he deliberately acts and orchestrates events so that he is central, it is precisely then that he is most loving. When he does this to me, it is then that I am most loved.

A Strange Yet Profound “So…”

I recently met one of the most awkward conjunctions in the Bible in John chapter 11.

Chapter 11 of John recounts the story about the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. As most know, in the end Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead with his powerful word: “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). But what is interesting is that Jesus intentionally lets Lazarus die. At the beginning of the story, Mary and Martha come to him and say, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (11:3), but Jesus does not go right away. Instead, he waits so that Lazarus will die.

Which brings me to that awkward but profound conjunction. Notice the "so" between verses 5 and 6:

“[5] Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5-6)

Did you catch it? What is said here is quite amazing. Jesus loved them. And because he loved them, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he decided not to go heal him. Jesus decided not to go to them and heal Lazarus before he died. And the Bible says he did this because he loved them. How can this be?

His Love Is Displaying Himself

The Bible doesn’t leave me to have to try to make up answers as I try to figure out why Jesus did this. It isn’t a mystery why it is loving for Jesus to intentionally let Lazarus die. Jesus made it clear at the beginning of the story. There he says that Lazarus' illness was "for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (11:4). Simply stated, Jesus knew that because of Lazarus’ death, Mary, Martha, and even Lazarus himself were going to be able to see in a new way how beautiful, amazing, wonderful, trustworthy, powerful, and glorious he actually is. And apparently this–making a way for people to see how amazing Jesus is–is loving.

Jesus knows we were made to behold glory, to be compelled by something amazing and to live passionately after that. He knows to grab our hearts is the most loving thing he could do. So, he lets Lazarus die so that he'd use it as an opportunity to show his glory. As a result, the Bible says that he loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and due to his love, he lets Lazarus die so that he can raise him up and uniquely show them his glory. That is how he loved them.

This is similar to how he now loves each of us. I wonder how he is orchestrating things in my life so that he is more glorious in my eyes? I wonder how he is doing that for you?

“To See My Glory”

This idea corresponds to something later in the Gospel of John that also is enlightening. We probably all agree that Jesus was the most loving person on earth. He cared immensely for his own, and still cares beyond comprehension for his flock. Knowing this, Jesus gives an insight into his heart for his people in John 17 when we hear his intimate prayer with the Father. And here, notice one of the last things he says in his prayer:

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” (John 17:24)

So is this selfish or is it love? The Bible sees it as love, and understandably so. He knows what we need. He prays for this ultimate end for his people.

To See His Glory is Love

To see Jesus’s glory is our souls’ deep longing. It is what you and I were made for and it is what is best for us. For anyone–including Jesus himself–to intentionally act in order to show someone God’s glory is love. This is foundational to why Jesus does what he does. Yet I'm realizing that this is only believed and adhered to if I acknowledge 1) how wonderful Jesus actually is (like an infinitely beautiful painting which we will be discovering throughout the ages), and 2) how much my heart was made to truly behold God’s (that is, Christ's) infinite glory.

When these two things are deeply agreed on, it starts to make sense to see why awkward conjunctions like the “so” in John 11:5-6 are not mainly strange, but immensely profound and full of grace. All of Jesus’ loving acts–even and especially his forgiveness for us on the cross–are meant to lead us to him, to point us to see how beautiful he is.

And may we each always remember, it is his prayer for us even now: “Father, I desire that they…may see my glory” (John 17:24).