1 Corinthians, 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Romans, Sermons and Lessons

God’s Unreasonable Love, Our Unreasonable Faith – An Easter Sermon

Romans 5:6-11

When we were still weak, Christ, at the right time, died on behalf of the ungodly. Now, hardly will anyone die on behalf of a godly man, although on behalf of a good man someone might be bold enough to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died on our behalf. How much more, therefore, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved through him from the coming wrath. For if we who were enemies were reconciled to God through the death of his son, how much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only this, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For the word of the cross, on the one hand, is foolishness to those who are perishing, but, on the other hand, to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it has been written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? 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 its own wisdom, God was pleased through the foolishness of the Christian proclamation to save those who believe. Because the Jews ask for a sign, and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we proclaim a crucified Messiah: a scandal to the Jews and utter foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than humans, and the weakness of God is stronger than humans.

The Perfection of Unreasonable Love

My son Peter rides horses most Saturday mornings. Where he rides, there are several different horses that he can ride, and early on they would ask him which horse he wanted to ride. Very quickly, he latched onto one particular horse named Dakota. Not only did he ask for Dakota every time he was given an option, he even named his toy rocking horse at home Dakota. When he would ride on my back, my name became Dakota. Why did he choose Dakota as his favorite? As far as I know, he had only ridden Dakota maybe one time before Dakota became his favorite. There were other horses that were gentler or more appropriately sized for Peter, and those tended to be the horses that Peter ended up riding most of the time. But for no reason that I could see, Dakota remained unchangeably Peter’s favorite.

The fact is, this rather arbitrary way of choosing one’s favorites is pretty typical of children. Perhaps we adults cause it, since we bombard them from a young age with questions asking them to name a favorite color or a favorite this or that when honestly they don’t have a lot of reason to pick a favorite. But pick a favorite they do, perhaps for no real reason other than to have a favorite. I know that’s the way it was for me when I was a child. As a young child I chose red as my favorite color. Why? I don’t know. I just did. If you had asked me why, I would have invented a reason, but just because it was invented didn’t mean it was a false reason. The fact is that reasons to like red best came second. My unjustified choice of red came first. As I have grown older, my favorite color has changed to green as I have come to associate green with objects and feelings that I like. So now I would say green is my favorite, but my choice of green as a favorite is more consciously based on reasons. As an adult, reasons now have come first, and my choice of a favorite color has come second.

This sort of arbitrary picking of favorites that I have noticed in children, as in Peter’s choice of Dakota and my childhood choice of the color red, also is observable in animals. Very often, a pet will choose a favorite human in his or her adoptive family. If the pet is responding to anything, it is probably their perception that this human is nice and safe and will take care of them. But a lot of times, an animal just decides for no discernible reason that he or she prefers one human over another.

Now, for a long time I kind of instinctively viewed the arbitrary picking of favorites as inferior or immature in comparison with reasoned choosing of favorites. My thinking was that as we matured we chose favorites in a more mature way – we did it reasonably, that is, based on reasons. But several months ago I came to the realization that this is backwards. The love of children and animals – because that is what the choosing of favorites really is, a choice to love – is not less perfect or less mature because of its arbitrariness, its lack of rational basis. On the contrary, this kind of love is more perfect than love that is based on reasons. This is because a love that is based on reasons can disappear if those reasons disappear. Two people can fall in love with each other because they share a lot of common interests or because they find each other physically attractive. But people change, physically and mentally. What happens to that love when the two individuals no longer share common interests? What happens when the seemingly irresistible physical attraction fades? This is why romantic relationships in Western culture so infrequently last a lifetime. We think of love as this emotional state that we “fall” into or out of – an idiom that is really nothing more than a neat linguistic trick we use to absolve ourselves of any responsibility – but really what we mean is that there are reasons external to us that compel us to love this other person. The unfortunate implication of this way of viewing love is that when those compelling reasons cease to compel us, the love is thought to be gone. On the other hand, a love that is not based on reasons but on a choice to love – we could call it an unreasonable love – cannot be dissolved by the disappearance of reasons. Rather, an unreasonable love continually finds new reasons to love. The spirit of this world might respond, “Oh, but choosing to love is so unromantic.” On the contrary, a love that is chosen and that perseveres despite reason, an unreasonable love, is the most glorious and romantic sort.

God’s Unreasonable Love

Now, I’m using the word “unreasonable” in a way that might be a little jarring. That’s intentional. We tend to use the word “unreasonable” in a pejorative sense. When we say something is unreasonable, we tend to mean that that something is out of balance with reality and reason to someone’s detriment, usually our own. The amount of my speeding ticket is unreasonable. The cost of healthcare is unreasonable. My spouse, with whom I am arguing, is being unreasonable. In each case, what we mean is that there are not sufficient reasons to justify the reality that we are complaining about. The penalties on traffic tickets seem excessive and unfairly burdensome on the poor. There is no good reason why basic healthcare should cost as much as it does. It might seem to you when you argue with your spouse that reason is entirely on your side and that there is absolutely nothing you can say to enlighten your spouse to the reality that you do, in fact, have a monopoly on reason. But I am using the word unreasonable without this implicit condemnation. I am saying that the purest love is unreasonable – it loves without reason, despite reason, just because it chooses to love without justification, without conditions, without caveat.

This is the kind of love Paul is talking about in Romans 5:6-8, where he tells us how the death of Jesus reveals the unreasonable love of God:

When we were still weak, Christ, at the right time, died on behalf of the ungodly. Now, hardly will anyone die on behalf of a godly man, although on behalf of a good man someone might be bold enough to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died on our behalf.

Here Paul contrasts a human self-sacrificial love that has at least some basis in reason with the unreasonable love of God expressed in the sacrifice Christ. One might say that any choice to die on behalf of someone else, even a good person, would go beyond reason. But in certain circumstances someone might feel that dying on behalf of an especially virtuous or important person might be justified – this virtuous or important person might be critical to the accomplishing of some political goal, or that person might be the focal point of a cultural movement. So someone might see this and decide, “It is better that I die than that you die.” A biblical illustration of what I am talking about can be seen in 2 Samuel 21:15-17:

And again there was war between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down and his servants with him, and they battled with the Philistines, and David grew weary. And Yishbi-Benob, who was among the descendants of the Raphah (the weight of his spearhead was a three-hundred weight of bronze, and he was newly armed) – he thought to kill David. But Abishai ben-Tseruyah came to his aid and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him saying, “You shall no longer go out with us to war, so that you do not extinguish the lamp of Israel.”

In my opinion, this story is here to show us both the heroism of David even into his old age and the effectiveness of his leadership. Even if David no longer went out to war, his leadership had produced a whole company of David-like warriors. But his men felt that at this point in his life David was more important to them and to Israel as a symbol than as a soldier. They were willing to die in his place so that he might live another day to rule over Israel. But as noble as this is, it is still reasonable: that is, it is based on reasons. David wasn’t just some random bystander. He was a good man, even a great man whose death in battle would have tremendous ramifications for Israel.

By contrast, Paul says in Romans 5, God shows the depth of his love for us through its unreasonableness. We had nothing to offer him, nothing to justify the giving of the morally perfect and incomparably valuable Son of God on our behalf. We were weak, we were sinners without the power to stop being sinners. We couldn’t even make the first promissory step, any little token of faith to justify God’s expenditure. In contrast to David’s men saying to David, “We will die in your place”, this is like David saying to a terminally ill Philistine, “I will die in your place.”

God’s love expressed through the death of Christ on our behalf is unreasonable. There’s no way we can rationalize it. And that is why it is so perfect a demonstration of God’s perfect love. Just like Peter’s love for the horse Dakota was based purely on choice rather than on a consideration of Dakota’s appropriateness as a favorite, so God’s love for us is based purely on his sovereign choice – his election. In Deuteronomy 7:7-9, Moses tells the Israelites:

It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that Yahweh favored you and chose you, for you are smaller than all the other peoples. But it was because of the love of Yahweh for you all, and because he kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that Yahweh brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. So realize that Yahweh your God, he is THE God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and loyalty to the thousandth generation with those who love him and keep his commandments.

Notice how the last sentence says that the fact that Yahweh chose the Israelites for no other reason than that he sovereignly chose them proves (1) his identify as the true God and (2) that he as the true God was unfailingly faithful and loyal to his covenant. God’s unreasonable love could not fade away. It could be rejected – Israelites could choose not to respond to his love by loving him and keeping his commandments and so remove themselves from his salvation – but his love could never be destroyed or nullified. God’s love for us, meaning his faithfulness to protect us and to provide for our needs, is entirely unreasonable, and because of that we can rest in the fact that we cannot possibly earn it or “unearn” it. Moreover, we can know that his love is always available to us in an instant of contrition no matter how far away we might have wandered.

The Resurrection: Our Unreasonable Faith

Now, how does this exploration of the unreasonableness of God’s love for us pertain to Easter Sunday? The purpose of the Christian holiday of Easter is to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the radical promise that his resurrection implies for all who follow Jesus. I would suggest to you that the resurrection of Jesus, which really is just the second half of the crucifixion, is the perfect demonstration of the unreasonable love of God. What do I mean? If the love of God is unreasonable, so is the Christian confession of the resurrection of Jesus. Our proclamation that Jesus is risen is the central historical claim of Christianity. Without this claim, and without our commitment to its actually having happened, everything else falls apart. We might as well be anything else but Christians.

But what a claim to hang an entire worldview on! Of all the possible miracles or unlikely events we might claim as necessary and central, that someone has arisen from the dead is a singularly dubious one in terms of provability and compatibility with the universally accepted givens of human existence. Because the Christian proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus is not merely that he was resuscitated after being dead for an hour, which would be astounding in itself but which we might be able to explain scientifically, but that after being dead and buried for nearly two full days Jesus passed through death into an entirely new resurrected physicality for which there was absolutely no true precedent, even in legend and myth. Jesus did not just regain consciousness and re-enter human life still subject to the threat of death. Jesus utterly defeated death. He took everything death had to give and brushed it off. To make THAT the central claim of one’s religion is not exactly the strategic thing to do if you are concerned with convincing people to join you by arguing rationally using empirically verifiable evidence. Acceptance of Christianity necessarily involves making a historical claim that lies beyond the realm of reason, that is, it can be neither proved nor disproved – that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and, following onto that, that he even now reigns as Lord of all creation, despite everything our senses and experiences tell us. In other words, the resurrection is unreasonable, and that is why, in my opinion, it is the perfect demonstration of the unreasonable love of God. Nothing explainable in human terms could ever show the power and love of God as eloquently as the resurrection of Jesus.

Moreover, for us to express faith that the resurrection actually happened is unreasonable: it lies beyond the realm of reason, because reason can never bring you to the point of saying, “God has raised Jesus from the dead.” There are arguments for the plausibility of the historical resurrection, but I am certain that you will never accept those arguments until you have already chosen to believe in the resurrection against reason. Men such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, who are very important Christian apologists and whose books I think we all would do well to read, narrate their conversion to Christianity in a way that makes it sound as if they were convinced of the truth of the Gospel by hard evidence and incontrovertible logic. However, without wanting to contest their own interpretation of their mental states, I suspect that if questioned both of them would acknowledge that before they ever were convinced rationally of the resurrection of Jesus and the truth of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit had already been at work in their hearts convincing them beyond reason of the truth. The “proving” and “convincing” acts were subsequent to a spiritually affected change of heart, and so were merely corroborative. The simple philosophical fact is that the resurrection cannot be proven through the empirical method of science (because it cannot be observed, directly or indirectly), through the logical method of mathematics (because it cannot be argued propositionally from first principles), or through the investigative method of criminal justice (because all evidence is hearsay and circumstantial). Before any of these methods can have a convincing effect on a person’s reason, one must first have decided to believe despite reason. And that is why such an expression of faith is the perfect human response to the unreasonable love of God.

If we choose to believe, against reason, that Jesus has been raised from the dead, then no reason can destroy our faith. What reason did not establish, reason cannot demolish. On the contrary, just as unreasonable love continually finds new reasons to love, an unreasonable faith will continually find new reasons to believe. No hardship, no argument, no so-called scientific proof, no cultural pressure can convince me not to believe the Gospel. The two rock solid things of which I am absolutely certain are these: Jesus is risen and Jesus is Lord. Don’t try to argue with me, because all I can hear in those arguments is your own refusal to believe what is so clear to me.

That is not to say that we as Christians are anti-reason. It simply puts reason in its proper place and recognizes the unavoidable imperfection of human reason (something logical positivists and self-styled aficionados of science cannot bring themselves to acknowledge). This is partly what Paul is talking about in our reading from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

For the word of the cross, on the one hand, is foolishness to those who are perishing, but, on the other hand, to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it has been written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? 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 its own wisdom, God was pleased through the foolishness of the Christian proclamation to save those who believe. Because the Jews ask for a sign, and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we proclaim a crucified Messiah: a scandal to the Jews and utter foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than humans, and the weakness of God is stronger than humans.

When we choose to believe the unbelievable proclamation of a crucified and resurrected Messiah, we implicitly say no to all human pretensions of self-sufficiency, our own included. We cannot discover the good life through our own cleverness or live the perfect life through our own work ethic or find the transcendent truth that makes sense of all human experience through our own wisdom. The only way we can do any of these things is by denying ourselves and our reason and by answering the unreasonable love of God, expressed in the impossible act of the resurrection, with faith that transcends all reason. And this answer is made in response to God’s invitation to us, his call, through the Holy Spirit. Unreasonable faith responds to the divine initiative of unreasonable faithfulness. Unreasonable love responds to the divine initiative of unreasonable love. Or maybe we should say that our answering love is almost unreasonable, because we do have one very good reason. As the song says, “Oh, how I love Jesus, because he first loved me.” God has brought us up from the house of slavery to sin with a mighty hand. So the reasonable thing to do is to continue to trust in God’s unchanging, unreasonable love. In fact, to reject God’s unreasonable love by not unreasonably believing in the resurrection of Jesus is really the most unreasonable thing of all.

So let me challenge you today: don’t let any argument, any experience, any hardship, any hurt, any cultural pressure, any family member, anything whatsoever convince you that God has not raised Jesus from the dead or that God does not love you and want the best for you in Christ. God has demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And if we are reconciled to God by Jesus’ death, how much more shall we be saved by his resurrected life. You didn’t earn that, and so you can’t unearn it. But you can choose to try to live life your own way, without an active, life-transforming affirmation of the resurrection and lordship of Christ. You can choose to live as if the resurrection never happened and so forfeit the benefits of the covenant in Christ’s blood. But if you want to live with the benefits of the covenant, that unreasonable faith, in response to God’s unreasonable love, has to be the single most consuming, most defining reality in your life. Perhaps this is what Paul means in Romans 12:1, which could be translated, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, in view of the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” If that kind of devotion seems unreasonable … well, that’s kind of the point.

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God's Unreasonable Love, Our Unreasonable Faith - An Easter Sermon
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God's Unreasonable Love, Our Unreasonable Faith - An Easter Sermon
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God's love for us is unreasonable - it is not based on reasons but merely on God's sovereign decision. The resurrection of Jesus is also unreasonable in that it lies beyond the realm of reason either to prove or disprove. This is why it is the perfect demonstration of God's unreasonable love. It is also why our unreasonable faith in the resurrection is the perfect human response to God's unreasonable love.
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Bite-Sized Exegesis
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