Let's pray together, and I want you to pray that God will really come and minister to your heart. Will you do that now? Our title is 'Hunger For Reality', and that's what we need to pray now: that we will experience the reality of God's presence, that God will come, that we will be real with God, and that He will be real to us. So let's pray.
Father, we thank You, we praise You, we exalt You, we glorify Your name. We declare that there is none like You, there is none beside You, neither is there any God like our God. There is none holy as the Lord. We worship You, Father; we worship You, Lord Jesus Christ; we worship You, Holy Spirit. We say 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is filled with His glory'. You are worthy of the highest praise, thrice holy God. We want to lift our spirits to You now, Father, we want to give You a sacrifice of praise, we want to bring the fruit of our lips to tell You how much we love You, and how great You are. Lord, as we come in prayer, we want to supplicate You to say we need You, Lord, we need You so deeply. We pray that You will come and meet with us now. Lord, let this be an extraordinary night. Lord, we pray, please deliver us from religion, deliver us from going through the motions, doing the right things in the wrong places, or the right things in the right places, or the wrong things in the right places. Lord, whatever we do, deliver us from just what we do, and You do something tonight. You come, Lord, and make the difference, come and invade this space, come and, Lord, engage with us personally. You are a relational God, for You are a relational Being, three persons, one God. So come and relate with us, Father, come and speak to us. So we welcome You, by the power of Your Holy Spirit now, come. We hunger for reality, so come and be real, Lord, and help us to be real with You. So let this be a place where there is honesty and transparency, where there is truth, so that Your grace might meet us. So come, Holy Spirit, we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.
Well, 'Hunger For Reality' - I'm sure most of you are familiar with VR, 'Virtual Reality'. It's a technological phenomenon that, if you're not up to speed with these type of things, you'll maybe not know about it - but basically virtual reality is defined as 'an immersive interactive experience generated by a computer'. It comprises, as you can see from the screen, hardware (things you put on your head and your hands and maybe other parts of the body), and software (computer programming) in order to have an interactive experience. Effectively, what it does is, it simulates an imaginary world with which you can interact, and you can even interact physically - hence all the hardware. So the entertainment industry, sports industry, games industry, fantasy worlds, they are all availing of this new technology - to make money of course - but to thrill us. Even the professional world is using some of this technology for training purposes.
I believe there is a sense in which our Christianity has been virtualised. What am I talking about? Well, we can become virtual, not real in our Christianity. So on a mental, even an emotional level we can interact with the Bible with our beliefs about God, and our faith may even at times stimulate our senses, but it's not something that impacts our lives in real terms. So I want to ask you tonight, and indeed right throughout this series: have you got virtual Christianity rather than the real thing? There is another technology and it's called 'augmented reality', now that's a bit different than virtual reality because - as you can see from the diagram - this girl is able to look through these goggles, and so she has a view of reality, but it is enhanced by the computer program. Some have called it 'mixed reality'. So you can have a worldview that is Christianised, your value system, morally speaking, ethically, is Christian; but though it has impacted you to a degree, it's not truly transforming your life, and it certainly isn't changing the environment that you're in and those who you touch from day-to-day.
Now I would go a little bit further to say that, for many, their Christianity is virtual escapism. In other words, it's beyond reality, but the motive behind getting away from the real is to escape from the real. So there is a reality that you have created yourself, your own reality. Now I don't know whether you follow much of this in the press about this technology, and even the Internet for instance - but one problem, one fallout of our technological world, particularly the virtual world, is that the real world often becomes boring to the people who are immersed in the virtual world. That's why many marriages are breaking up, because men in particular are immersed within the sensuality of the Internet, and so real-life love doesn't appeal to them any more, it doesn't live up to the fantasy.
Taking this analogy to our faith, I know a lot of Christians are bored, they are bored with church - that's no surprise at times - they are bored with Christian experience in general. One of the reasons I believe is, that their faith is not in real terms, it's not impacting their everyday life because it's virtual, it's confined to some kind of Christian subculture at the weekend, or maybe if you're very religious the midweek meeting - but it's not real, in that it's not impacting the real world around you. Then there are those who have a sort of separatist view, an isolationist view of Christianity. So you divide, you come away from the world and go into your little cloister, and separate from the world. Some even call it 'old-time religion', and even spell that word 'time', 'tyme', just to emphasise what type of version of religion this is - but that further detaches the dynamic power of the Gospel from reality. Someone said, I read them recently: 'So many want the old time religion so much, that they try to preserve a day that no longer exists in the heart of God'. That's profound. Are you trying to preserve a day that no longer exists in the heart of God? To put it another way: if our memories are greater than our dreams, then we are already dead.
Yet we have been called to be salt and light. Isn't that what Jesus says? 'You are the light of the world, you are the salt of the earth', and I used to think that the salt was emphasising some kind of preservative - you remember that they used to salt the meat and so on - but that's not actually what it means. What does salt do? If you have salt and vinegar crisps, what do you need after it? A drink! Salt makes you thirsty. We are not simply meant to be people who preserve some kind of influence within society, we're actually meant to be making other people in the world thirsty for God - that they look at us and they say: 'Wow! What's different about them? I want that!', and they are drawn to it. So we are meant to be world-changers. We're not meant to be people who have a virtual reality in a little corner of the universe, where we close ourselves off separately in isolation from the rest of creation; but we are actually meant to be invading this world. Jesus said: 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it'. So many have used those verses to do with spiritual warfare, and when things are coming against us we think 'Oh, here's the enemy coming against us because we're standing for righteousness', but that's not what that verse means at all. That verse has the concept of, as we are advancing into the kingdom of the enemy, we're going to take flak from him, but we are on the move! We are victorious! We are expanding Christ's kingdom!
The early disciples turned the world upside down, they were world-changers because of the power of the Spirit that was upon them. But listen: you will never change your world with the truth if the truth hasn't changed you. This is why so many hunger for reality, because they see a disparity between what they read, for instance, in the book of Acts, what they read in Christian biography, the heroes of the faith who blazed the trail for Jesus in bygone eras; and they look at their own experience and see such a shortfall of that reality. Is that you tonight? I think we've all been there. Many of us are in a virtual church, if we're honest, detached from reality - we've created our own reality, and we need a reality check! So I want to ask: is there anybody hungry for reality tonight? Is there? In this gathering? If that's the case, where do we start?
Well, I'll be covering many subjects, as you see from the card tonight: 'Power In The Spirit', 'Exuberant Joy', 'Obeying God's Voice', 'Releasing Your Potential', 'Answering The Call', 'Fearless Boldness'. But tonight we're looking at 'Reckless Love', because the first subject tonight is essential for all the others to flow from. They are all vital, but every other one flows from love. It's a bit like the fruit of the Spirit, when you look at Galatians 5 - love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc - but all of them flow out of love. In fact, you probably could say that all of the fruit of the Spirit could be summed up in love. I want you to turn with me quickly now to our first reading, we will have several readings tonight. We're turning to Matthew 22 please, Matthew 22 verse 35: "Then one of them, a lawyer" - now a lawyer in those days wasn't like a lawyer today in our culture, it's a person, a Jew, who knew the laws of God, the Torah, inside out, an expert in the Jewish law, "A lawyer asked Jesus a question, testing Him, and saying, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?'. Jesus said to him, ''You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind'. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'".
Now that's fascinating. Jesus is saying this is the greatest of all commandments: love God, love your neighbour - and on these two hang all the Law and the Prophets. Now the Law and the Prophets was all there was of the Bible in the Old Testament and in Jesus' day, there was no New Testament, OK? So basically what Jesus is saying, and this is profound, is that this is what the Bible is all about - what? Love! Love God and love your neighbour! It summarises the whole of Scripture. So these guys, studying the nitty-gritty, every jot and tittle, every cross and dot of the Old Testament Scripture in the Hebrew, they are obsessed with that. They spend their day poring over all of these verses, and yet they so often miss the whole point - what's that? God is love, and we are meant to love one another.
The sad thing is that, if you look at the church today, and consider the creeds, the confessions, and even systematic theologies, there is not a lot of reference to love in them. Think about that. I don't know what church tradition you come from, but whatever creed you say, whatever catechism you have, think about it: love doesn't really feature that much, does it? Take down your Louis Berkof theology, or another theology, from the dusty shelves of the Bible College library, and you'll probably not get a chapter in it about love, love for God, and love for one another. Yet what is it Jesus said in John 13 verse 35: 'By this shall all men know that you are My disciples: that you love one another. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you'. Jesus says you will be known for your love. This is like the Christian badge. It's not the fish (not that anything is wrong with the fish), it's not even the cross, it's love! Yet what has the church been known for in Ireland? Love? What? Hatred! War! Dissension! It's ironic, isn't it?
Jesus went even further in the New Covenant, because these lawyers of the Jewish law would have agreed with Jesus, they even commended Him for saying 'Love God and love your neighbour' - that's Old Testament stuff. But if you look, go back in Matthew to Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 verse 43, Jesus went further than the Old Covenant. Matthew 5:43: 'You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy'' - that's a wee bit they added on, by the way, 'hate your enemy'. 'But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect'.
Now listen, this is why the parable of the Good Samaritan was so scandalous to the Jews - why? Because the question was asked by another Jewish lawyer: 'Who is my neighbour?', OK? So in the context of this discussion, love God and love your neighbour, and he asks: 'Well, who is my neighbour?'. Jesus tells this story, where the punchline is that his enemy is his neighbour. What do I mean? Well, the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, there was a sectarian, religious, ethnic divide for them, and they hated each other's guts. So Jesus tells this story, you know it, don't you? A man is beat up along the road to Jericho, bandits all over the place, he is beaten up, stripped bare; and the priest, the Jewish priest, walks by him; the Levite walks by him; but it is the Samaritan who stops, tends to his wounds, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an Inn, spends money for his keeping, and says he will pay whatever is necessary for that man's well-keeping in that Inn. Jesus says in verse 37: 'So, go and do likewise'.
Are you getting the point here? I don't think you are really getting the point. Do you understand the impact that this story would have had on the Jewish psyche? The Samaritans were like - and I don't like using the expression - but in the Hebrew mind they were like mongrels, they were mixed-race, but they were also mixed religion. They had a lot of stuff in the way of worshipping God that the Jews knew was wrong, and quite frankly a lot of it was wrong. But that's all a bit conceptual, we need to bring it into today's definitions for a moment to help you and to help me. You think of somebody whose identity is abhorrent to you right now, somebody whose identity is abhorrent to you, or someone whose lifestyle is despised by you - alright? Jesus is saying 'This Samaritan is good', I mean a good Samaritan was an oxymoron for them, alright? There was no such a thing as a good Samaritan. But you put your category in there, someone who is morally and spiritually repugnant, and what Jesus is saying is: 'They are doing a better job than you at loving people'.
Now the Jewish mind just couldn't take this in. Now I really want to push you a wee bit tonight, but I know that it might be difficult - but you think of somebody, dare I say it, think of a homosexual who is more charitable, who gives more alms, who is more kind. We're not saying anything to do with the veracity or morality of their lifestyle, we're talking about how someone who - to you - lives a wrong life. Let's think of a Muslim, someone who you might think worships a wrong god, and worships the wrong god the wrong way, but they are doing better than you in loving people. Now some of you are sitting there thinking 'No, no, no, no, you're going to far now' - that's the way they thought when Jesus told the Good Samaritan parable. That's where I'm trying to get, that's exactly the way they thought: 'No, that couldn't be, how could you have the wrong god, how could you have the wrong lifestyle, how could you be a sinner?' - this is what Jesus is saying, this is the point. Someone who you disagree with, someone who is wrong in their approach to God, someone whose lifestyle is maybe not squeaky-clean could actually be showing more love than you Pharisees who have all the Scripture but are not living up to it. That's what Jesus was saying.
It's unthinkable! We get a bit of a clue to the mind of the lawyer who asked Him the question that He answered with the parable, because it says: 'Willing to justify himself, he asked the question 'Who is my neighbour?''. You see, that's what it was all about, you see, that's religion: you're just trying to justify yourself, you're trying to show 'I'm OK! I've got it sorted! I'm right with God!'. But the problem is, he needed a reality check, he needed to realise that many outside of Israel were doing better than he was - they were showing reckless love.
Now this might be a push for some of you, a struggle, I don't know. First Corinthians 13 tells us that you can have overwhelming gifts from God, charismatic gifts of revelation and speech; you can have astounding intellectual and supernatural capability, prophesying, spiritual utterances, words of wisdom, words of knowledge; you can have mountain-moving faith, Paul says; you can have sacrificial exploits of giving money to the poor, even giving your very body to be burned; you can do all the great charitable deeds imaginable - but without love, Paul says, it profits you little, and you are nothing without love. Now that's frightening, it's very strong, but it's frightening - here's why: because all the aforementioned things that Paul says are nothing without love are often the things that we strive for in the church and we value. Paul says apart from love they all amount to nothing, and you amount to nothing for that matter.
This challenges how we even read our Bibles, doesn't it? The love of God is not just on the page with John 3:16 or some of the other well-known references to the love of God. What we're seeing when Jesus says 'In this is a summary of the Law and the Prophets', Jesus is saying this is on every page of the Bible, the love of God is what the Bible is about from cover to cover. In fact, God is love in His very nature, and so your starting point with anything has to be the nature of God's reckless love - and if you don't get that, you miss the whole point of the Bible! Now, let's be honest, what did Jesus say to these Scribes and Pharisees? He said: 'What credit is there if you love those who love you? If you love those who like you? The tax collectors do that, everybody does that'. You see, if we're honest, most of us have accommodated ourselves to an acceptable level of love. Or, to use the analogy in the beginning of virtual reality, we have created our own reality of love - but it falls far short of the reckless love that Jesus taught about. You know, we love our family, OK? Tick that box. We love Christians, particularly Christians like us, we love those. Tick that box. We might even love our neighbour - that's maybe pushing it for some of you - but what we're saying is: this is a virtual reality that is divorced from the love that Jesus talks about, the reckless love. Some of us perhaps used to know a reckless love, but like the Ephesians that we read of in Revelation chapter 2 that Jesus gives a message to through the Apostle John writing a letter to the church at Ephesus, He says to them: 'You have lost your first love'. The words He actually says is: 'I know your works' - so they were a hard-working church - 'your labour' - they did a lot of good deeds - 'your patience' - they were long-suffering - 'that you cannot bear those who are evil' - they were morally upstanding - 'and that you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not' - they were theologically orthodox - 'and have found them liars; and have persevered and have had patience, and laboured for My name's sake' - they weren't doing it for themselves or for their denomination, they were doing it for Jesus - 'and you have not become weary' - they stuck at it, they had stickability, it's hard to find these days. But here is Jesus' parting shot to them: 'Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love'. Wow! That was a sucker punch, wasn't it? Look at all the things they have got going for them - has your church got all those things going for them? Yet the problem Jesus had was that they had left their first love. He goes on to say: 'You have forsaken your first love, remember the height from which you have fallen; repent and do the first works', or 'the things you did at first'.
Am I speaking to someone tonight, and you once had this love within you, this passionate, exuberant, fiery love for Jesus and for others; but it's gone? I think here we have an explanation for the frigid, the tepid, passionless Christianity that is so much abroad. It's a bit like the church of Laodicea that Jesus also spoke to and said: 'You're lukewarm', He said, 'I would spew you out of my mouth'. Do you know what that means? He's saying: 'You make me sick', because that's what tepid water does, it makes you want to vomit. He says: 'I would that you were either hot or cold, but you're lukewarm'. What He's saying there is: 'I would rather you were cold and enthusiastic about your coldness' - He obviously would prefer them hot, but He's saying 'I would rather you were at an extreme, as in the middle, nominal, tepid, insipid'. By the way, that's Jesus I'm quoting, you know, gentle Jesus, meek and mild - it's Him.
Now let me put the brakes on for a moment, because I have discovered over quite a few years preaching that hammering on people doesn't work. I'm giving you a break here, OK? What I mean is: preachers, and I have done it in the past, can put a guilt trip on people - you know, like tonight, if you're not loving enough, or you don't appreciate the love of God enough or something like that - they put a guilt trip on you, and you start to realise: 'Here, I'm falling far short of what I should be', and you walk out feeling miserable but you're no better. That's not what I'm doing tonight, OK? Definitely not what I'm doing. I'm certainly not saying you need to go away from here and strive to do better; here's why: because that won't work either! So what do you do? Well, if you want to express reckless love to others, you need to experience the reckless love of God yourself - do you hear that? If you want to express this love of God, you need to experience it, you need an encounter with reckless love, God's reckless love. That's not something that can be learned. You can go and read a book about God's love, you can do some kind of programme in the church about it, but ultimately what we need is for the head reality to become a heart reality, the head knowledge to drop down that journey - what is it, 12, 18 inches - right down into the heart so that we will start to encounter the love of God. That's the only thing that is going to change your life, the life of your church, and the life of your community.
I want to ask you tonight: have you ever encountered, have you truly experienced the love of God? The love of God is a wild love, it's a furious, ferocious love. The love of God, the 'agape' love is the Greek word for it, it's an all-consuming, all-sacrificing, all-embracing love. It is a satisfying love, it's an exhilarating love, it's intoxicating, overwhelming! If you have experienced it, you will know what I'm talking about. Those superlatives I have used correctly describe God's reckless love. Though His love is dangerous and fearful, the wonderful good news is that at the same time it is safe, it's gentle, God's love is tender and patient. Listen, this is really the message God has laid on my heart tonight: to have reckless love, you first need to be wrecked by love. Has that ever happened to you?
I want you to turn with me to Luke chapter 15, Luke 15 verses 13 and 14. Now, this is the story, the parable of the prodigal son - we have come to know it as the prodigal son, but it's actually about two sons. You know what happens, the younger one comes and asks for his inheritance before his father is dead - which is tantamount to saying 'I wish you were six foot under in the ground so that I can get my hands on your money'. The father gives him this inheritance, and he also gives the older brother the inheritance. Then we join the story in verse 13: "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living", or riotous, wasteful living. "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want". Now that's why we call him 'the prodigal' - why? Because he got all his Dad's money, and then he wasted it all - that's what 'prodigal' means. But do you know something? The Jews who heard this story were not scandalised by the behaviour of the rebellious son in this parable, rather they were scandalised at how the father received him after what he had done - disparaging the father's name, wasting his inheritance, and then coming back in shame - how the father ran out, it says, to greet him, he threw his arms around him, he kissed him on the neck, he brought him home, he threw a party for him, he put a robe on him, a ring on his finger, shoes, not sandals, on his feet. All those things symbolise sonship, and the young fellow was rehearsing a speech when he was deep low in the pig swill, wasn't even allowed to eat it by the farmer, and he was rehearsing a speech for when he went home: 'Make me like one of your hired servants', because he didn't think he was worthy to be a son ever again.
So the Pharisees, the Scribes, the lawyers were scandalised, because they knew what Jesus was at. He was depicting God as the father in the story and here's God losing His dignity, here's God losing His reputation. If you go into Deuteronomy 21, there is the law of the rebellious son which said that if a son ever did anything remotely like this, he should be stoned to death. They knew that law, and they knew Jesus was a rabbi and He knew that law - but what is Jesus saying? He's saying this is what the Father is like, if you look at chapter 15 verses 1, 2 and 3 you see that He tells this parable in answer to the question: 'The Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, 'This Man receives sinners and eats with them'. It's basically a rhetorical question saying: 'Why does He do this? If He knows the law, why is He eating with tax collectors, prostitutes, various types of sinners?'. Here's Jesus: 'I am doing this because I have come to reveal the heart of the Father. The Father loves sinners! The Father wants to make sons and daughters out of tax collectors and prostitutes!'. Their big brains couldn't take it, because what Jesus was teaching - and Tim Keller has popularised this term through his writings - Jesus was teaching about a prodigal God. I know people who are writing articles online because they're appalled at that title for God, 'prodigal God'. That's what He is - 'prodigal' does not mean 'sinful', 'prodigal' means 'reckless'. Literally the dictionary definition of 'prodigal' is 'spending money or using resources freely and recklessly, wastefully extravagant, giving something on a lavish scale'. What this story of the parable of the prodigal son is actually saying is that just the way that the son wasted his father's inheritance, when he gets home to the father's house, father wastes all his resources on his head - that's great!
Is that what you've got? Is that what you know? Is that what you're wildly celebrating? Romans chapter 8 and verse 32 says: 'He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?'. This is the incredible grace of God. Now the young son was a moral disaster, wasn't he? Yet he experienced this reckless love of the father. Yet the older son, who never did any of these things - he even protests himself saying 'I never wasted anything, all I've done is obey your commands', verse 29, 'He answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends'. He was a religious perfectionist, and yet he had never experienced the reckless love of his father. That's why the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the prostitutes, the terrorists, that's why the moral failures, burnouts, that's why they often get this Gospel quicker than the church-goers, the baptised, the catechised - because they realise it's reckless love, they couldn't pay for it if they had to, but it's prodigal love from a prodigal God who is the prodigal Father.
We need the love of God, this reckless love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We need to realise that love covers a multitude of sins. I can never get over how, when the prodigal came back - he was stinking, he had been living with the pigs, pigs were unclean of course to the Jews, you know all that, don't you? The Dad doesn't say: 'Right, get up to the house, have a bath or shower, and then we will dress you up like a son again' - what does he do? He takes the robe, and he covers his filth in that robe before he is washed, isn't that incredible? Love covers a multitude of sins. Have you experienced this reckless love? Have you ever been wrecked by love? Do you think that son was wrecked by his father's love?
Come with me again, still Luke, chapter 7 this time, Luke 7:36 - and we're going to take time to read all of this story. This is like the female prodigal, if you like, verse 36 of chapter 7 of Luke: "Then one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him". Now look who's asking here, one of these religious guys. "And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner", right, now we are all sinners, the Bible tells us that. So, why does it say 'who was a sinner'? It's meaning that she was infamous as a sinner. In other words, her sin was a way of life, she was most likely a prostitute. "When she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil".
Now, can I just pause there for a moment, because this really impacts me. I don't know what your version of 'holiness' is, OK? There is a lot of 'holiness' teaching that goes on around the country and all the rest, and I'm not being controversial at all, but in all sorts of colours of the spectrum of Christianity we know that 'holiness' is important. But so often our version of 'holiness' separates us from unholy people, and yet the irony of the holiness of Jesus - there ain't one of you any holier than Jesus, you do know that? There's no church in this town or in this county holier than Jesus. Whatever the version of His holiness was, which I reckon was the right one, that holiness attracted the most sinful people in society. Does that not make you scratch your head? It should. Anyway, that's another sermon.
Verse 38: "She stood at His feet behind Him weeping". He was sitting, reclining on one of these tables, low-standing tables, so His feet were sticking out behind Him as He was reclining, leaning on His elbow on the table to eat. "And she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil". This is a prostitute, folks. This is rather sensual looking, isn't it? 'Oh, don't say that!'. Well, that's what it is, waken up! That's what it looks like. She is kissing His feet. If any woman did this, it would be a bit of a shocking moment, but this is somebody else, this is a prostitute. Verse 39: "Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, 'This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner'". Are you getting it? "And Jesus answered" - now he didn't speak this out, but Jesus knew what he was saying - "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Simon, I have something to say to you'. So he said, 'Teacher, say it'. 'There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?'. Simon answered and said, 'I suppose the one whom he forgave more'. And He said to him, 'You have rightly judged'. Then He" - now watch the positioning here, the body language - "Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon", so He's looking at her, speaking to him, "'Do you see this woman?'". He wants him to look at her, He's not ashamed to look at her. "'Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little'. Then He said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven you'".
Now, isn't that incredible? Did Jesus not know where this woman had been the previous night? Yes, He did. Did He not know the graphic scenes that her eyes had looked upon? Yet He received tears from those eyes to wash His feet. Did He not know the illicit kisses and words that those lips had spoken? Yet He received kisses upon His feet. Did He not know the honey trap that that long hair that she let down to dry His feet, the honey trap it was for many a married man? Yes, He did. This is the sinless, spotless Son of God - but this is God the Son who has come to reveal the heart of the Father. This is reckless love. Jesus is teaching Simon, the religious perfectionist, that whoever is forgiven much will - what? Love much! That used to trouble me, because I was brought up in a Christian home, and I didn't do a lot of the things - I did plenty of stuff, mind you - but I didn't do a lot of the things that some of my friends had done in the world and so on. But it's not meaning that if you haven't had a wild life in your past that you can't really love God more, that's not what it's meaning. It's not just big sinners who can love Jesus, but Jesus is saying that it's those who know how much they are forgiven. The more you know how much you are forgiven - whether you're a Pharisee, or a prostitute, tax collector, whatever - the more you realise you've been forgiven, the more you will love God. The more you are wrecked by love, the more reckless you will be with God's love.
There are other records of this story, maybe it is a different story - there is a bit of a debate - but the lady broke the alabaster box, didn't she, or the flask? She smashed it to let out her worship. I have a sense, as I relay this story to you about this prostitute woman and her alabaster flask, that some of you: your love is not reckless, it's confined, it's restricted. I want to ask you: what is restricting extravagant love toward God? What is it? Sometimes this reckless love, if we are truly reckless with it, it will wreck our reputation. I can say that has happened to me in many people's eyes. You have to be prepared for that. If you're following after the love of God, and the love of other people, your reputation will get wrecked. Any prejudices that you have in your past towards ethnic minorities, people of other religious persuasions, those prejudices; if you're going to open your heart up to the reckless love of God, they're going to get wrecked, they're going to get obliterated. Whatever traditions you're maybe wedded to, religious ones, cultural ones, you've got to be prepared for the reckless love of God to wreck them, customs. Even our comfort zones, there is no such a thing as a comfort zone when you're baptised with the reckless love of God - God will push you out of those comfort zones, He will take you out of ease into a place of danger. The reckless love of God is dangerous!
Maybe the problem you have is that you've got idols in your life. You know what an idol is, it's another love. Often other loves in our lives can be idolatrous. First Timothy 6 talks about the love of money being the root of all evil - comprehensive. Is that incredible or what? Every evil comes out of the love of money, that's staggering. There are other disordered loves that we can have in our relationships, we can have misplaced loves. What did Jesus say? He said: 'He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me; he who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life My sake will find it'. Now, what does that verse mean? Jesus is not saying that we need to love our families less, that's not what He saying - you can't put that in Jesus' mouth. What He's saying is: 'You need to love Me more, and then if you love Me more you'll be a better parent, you'll be a better spouse, you'll be a better friend'. If you seek first the kingdom, everything else will fall into place. But it all comes from this reckless love, as we said at the beginning, everything comes from it and everything flows to it - it's the foundation of everything.
There is another record of a similar event to that sinner woman in Luke 7, and it's found in John 12 - you don't need to turn to it. Mary of Bethany this time, and she smashes an alabaster box of spikenard ointment, very costly, the flask and the perfume. She anoints Jesus' feet with it, and it says in that record that the fragrance filled the whole house. Do you know what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 26? He said that wherever the Gospel was preached, the testimony of Mary would be rehearsed. That's incredible. He said to the rest of the disciples: 'Don't say anything to her, because she has anointed Me for My burial'. This is profound: because she had a revelation in her heart of the reckless love of God, God give her a further revelation of what was going to happen to Jesus, so that she was anointing Him for His burial - something that nobody else in the room was able to see, but she could see it in her spirit because of her love for Jesus. But not only did that fragrance fill the house, the testimony of this woman would be rehearsed everywhere the Gospel would be preached. In other words, the fragrance of what she did would fill the world. This woman's reckless love filled the world. Do you believe that love can change the world? Do you believe love can change Ireland?
Now I have to bring you a public health warning, to beware, because reckless love - it causes offence to those whose hearts are not reckless for God. It offends those who value the valueless. With Mary of Bethany it says that Judas was appalled. She smashed this vase, this flask, which was quite priceless, with the ointment in it. I haven't worked out the equivalence today, but it was a lot of money. Judas, of course, we know that he was a thief from the beginning, and he had his hand in the kitty - but he was wedded to money, his idol was money, he valued money, but he hadn't a reckless love for Jesus. When I thought about this, I was reminded of David, King David dancing before the Ark. Do you remember that the Ark was taken into a place of habitation, and it was always on David's heart? He was in a procession with the Ark - and this is probably not too accurate a drawing in a sense, because he was basically dancing in his undergarments, his priestly ephod. And it says that Michal his wife, who was Saul's daughter, she was absolutely shocked at what he was doing, and she disdained him - 2 Samuel 6:20 says: 'How can the King of Israel do this?'. She says: 'How the King of Israel has distinguished himself today' - she's being sarcastic - 'going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!'. But he didn't care, because it was reckless love, he didn't care what anybody thought - just like the prostitute. All these of the religious establishment all round, and she goes in to Jesus, does what she does, anoints His feet, she doesn't care. Mary of Bethany doesn't care. David doesn't care. Do you know that song by Matt Redmond? Do you know that one:
'I will dance, I will sing to be mad for my King.
Nothing, Lord, is hindering the passion in my soul:
I will dance, I will sing to be mad for my King.
Nothing, Lord, is hindering the passion in my soul.
And I'll become even more undignified than this.
Some would say it's foolishness!
But I'll become even more undignified than this'.
We need to smash out of our alabaster boxes! I can feel them on me when I come into a lot of church services. There are places where I feel free, there are other places where I feel a straitjacket on me. I feel confined, I feel manipulated, I feel controlled by the atmosphere - and that shouldn't be, because I should have my eyes on One! It's not just in times of worship and praise, that's the easy things that we can do - whatever it may be doing, praising the Lord, blessing the Lord with all that is in our being. But when it comes to obedience, when it comes to sacrifice, when it comes to surrender, when it comes to doing things that break out of the mould, that other people will disdain and be offended by - if my love for Christ is reckless it will not matter, just like David. You see, Michal loved dignity, she loved reputation, she loved pride of appearance, but David just loved God. He was a man after God's own heart, he had a reckless love.
Do you see this tonight? To have reckless love you first need to be wrecked by love, and then, then you can conform to a verse like this, Romans 12:1-2: 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God'. Now so many times, in so many churches, in so many sermons, these verses have been preached - consecration, surrender, give your all to Jesus, go to the mission field, go and evangelise the lost around this country, do all these great exploits for God - but we miss out. It doesn't seem the most interesting part of these two verses, but it's the key part, the very first opening words: 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies'. In other words, Paul is saying: 'I've just spent 11 chapters in the excursus of the Epistle to the Romans explaining the glorious Gospel that has been revealed from heaven, I've been explaining how Christ died for the ungodly, how we are justified by faith, how we are made acceptable to God by the blood of Jesus, we receive the righteousness of Christ. How the old person is put to death on the cross of Jesus, and we die with Jesus, and we become dead to sin, and we come out of the resurrection empty tomb with Jesus into a new life' - like baptism: we die, we are buried, we are risen, and then we are free from sin. This is a glorious Gospel, this is a reckless love that God has for us. Romans 5:8: 'God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us'. Now folks, because of all that, because of His reckless love, hopefully you have taken it into your heart and you have been wrecked by love, you can now go and take that reckless love to a broken world.
You see, a lot of us have got these verses, but we haven't really been wrecked by love. We've never seen the prodigal Father, we've never known the prodigal Father. We're still worshipping some distant Old Testament, Old Covenant concept of God, when Jesus has come to reveal the heart of the Father to us in the New Covenant. Some of us are still under guilt and shame, some of us have never been healed by the fullness of the power of the blessing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of us are not living in grace, we're still living under law. We're not free, some of us are confined with religion, some of us are trapped and ensnared by the fear of man - wow! What a big one that is! We can do all sorts of things in private when it's just me and God, but as soon as somebody else is sitting beside me, or I'm in a public gathering, I shut down. Folks, this is serious - and, please, I'm not getting cross with anybody here tonight, I'm just fired up with this! OK, I don't want to be heaping shame or anything like that on you, but we are trapped in the church with the fear of man, but we are trapped outside the church with the fear of man! So if God the Holy Spirit whispers in our heart and says: 'Go over and speak to this person', or 'Go over to that person who is not well and pray for them to be healed', we are completely restricted! Do you know what all of that means? You don't go on a course to learn how to do it - it means we have not had an encounter that is deep enough with the wild, ferocious, fierce, all-consuming, intoxicating, captivating love of God!
Don't go and enrol in some seminary or something like that. Go into your closet, shut the door, and say 'Father, show me Your heart of love. Break my heart for what breaks Yours. Let me look at the crowd like my Saviour did, till my eyes with tears grow dim. Let me look and pity the wandering sheep, and love them for love of Him. I don't have that love!'. I don't have it. Hands up? I don't have it, and I can't conjure it up - God has to give it to me. The only place that He gives it to me is in His presence.
Now, next time, I'm going to preach on the power of the Holy Spirit - and the power of the Holy Spirit is vital, it's crucial to live this Christian life. You cannot live the Christian life without the Spirit. Many are trying, but you can't do it - but there is so much emphasis on power, there is so much emphasis on gifts, and rightly so. There should be an emphasis on the power of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit - but love is the key, love is the fundamental, non-negotiable, it's the secret to everything. Do you know what I'm going to tell you? We could talk, and we have talked about spiritual warfare and various things over the years, and we can talk about the weapons that we have, we can talk about the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the girdle of truth, the shield of the faith, the sword of the Spirit, feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, all prayer. We can say that the power is in the blood of Jesus, and there is power in the name of Jesus - but I'm going to tell you: do you know what the greatest spiritual weapon we've all got is? Love. You can go out there and encounter a devil-worshipper face-to-face - and I'm telling you this, I don't care what tricks you have up your sleeve, you love them, love them, and you will see a breakthrough.
Do you have this reckless love? I'll be honest with you, I wasn't planning to say this, but I'll be honest with you: I've felt the Lord dealing with me over the last number of months about loving, really loving people. I'm getting there, but very far off from it. When you're in 'Christian work', this is the irony of it all: you can be so removed from ordinary people with normal problems, you're in your little virtual world - right? I remember going to Bible College, and I went straight to Bible college from school, and I missed school - do you know why missed school? Not for the work. I missed school because I was interacting with non-Christians. I was stuck in the cloister of Bible College with all these people who knew the Lord, and I decided on a couple of occasions to walk home from Bible College, just to interact with people. Now that was very short-lived, but when you're in Christian circles, you could take a Gospel campaign and preach to the lost like Billy Graham, you can tell people how to come to Christ when they're in a church context - but when we step into the supermarket, or we go to the football field, or when we are in some kind of department store, a cafe, or a restaurant, we are tongue-tied - God can't use us!
Why is that? Why is it? We could talk about a lot of stuff: 'Oh, I'm an introvert'. Wait till I tell you: if you get the reckless love of God exploding in your soul, you will have to do it! Paul says: 'The love of Christ compels us'. I'm just being honest with you, OK, I hope you don't mind - but that is starting to happen to me, where I'm finding that if I see someone in need, I'm moving away, I'm walking away, I'm in the car, and then I have to go back, because me and the Lord are starting to deal with this stuff. I was thinking, as I was preparing for these meetings, I never shared this with the folks - and by the way, we all pray together about what we're dealing with in the season, OK? So it's not just coming from me, it's coming from a number of us praying and seeking God together. I was thinking I would love to give you homework every night - you would like that, wouldn't you? I would love to give you homework - but why not make your homework asking God the Father for a baptism of love upon your heart, true love, reckless love. Then, when you feel that love, that prod, that exercise within your heart towards others in need, that you decide: 'I'm going to step out in faith' - that's going to quench your fear. Obedience in faith. You see, we do need more power, but we need more love.
Lord, I've made it my life's work to make no enemies. This is part of the problem, probably, being a non-confrontationist, choosing the easy way, the way of least resistance - but, Lord, that was not the way of the cross, that's not the way You went. You're calling me to take up my cross and follow You the way You went. Lord, nobody promised that it would be easy, but You did promise it would be blessed: 'Blessed are you when men revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake' - blessed are you! Happy are you! Happy! What? Yes, happy, blessed, fulfilled, prosperous, because you're in the will of God, you're following Jesus. It's a reckless love. Father, would You baptise this company, at least who want it, people that want it in this little room, Lord, would You baptise us with a fresh enduement of love right now, Your love, agape love, Jesus' love; that passion that caused Him to pour out His lifeblood. Jesus, we need that, we need that. Lord, we confess how we have failed in this; but, Lord, we know that You're not there with a big stick trying to beat us down because of what we've done wrong. Lord, You want to lift us up, You want to bring us to that place where we can fulfil what You have promised, what You died for. So, Lord, help us. Pour in Your love, Lord Jesus, pour in Your love. Help us to love the unlovable, help us to love people that we wouldn't even naturally like, help us to love people who hate our guts, help us to love people who smell, help us to love people who lie, help us to love people who use - because You loved them, Lord. Deliver us from the Pharisee inside us, Lord. Help us to love. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Stables in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his 'Hunger For Reality' series, entitled "Reckless Love" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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