We would have to be both deaf and blind not to know that the message of the gospel is that our Father loves us. We also know that he demonstrated this love by giving up his Son to allow us to be restored in relationship with him. This message has been preached since the dawn of the Church of Jesus. We preach it, teach it and spend our lives trying to demonstrate it. We even say to people, "God loves you just the way you are", which is the truth but it is not a complete statement. In fact, we sometimes, perhaps a lot of times, fail to preach and teach the whole truth. Yes, God loves us just the way we are but he desires to be pleased with us as well, and that requires change and transformation.
There is a statement from the Father concerning his Son as John finished baptizing Jesus, a statement to which I think we should pay some attention. As Jesus came up out of the river the Spirit came upon him, marking the beginning of his three year mission to cast out demons and preach the good news. As the Spirit lighted on him the voice of the Father could be heard:
And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)
This is an incredible affirming statement to fill Jesus with assurance as he embarked on his mission. Our Father is into affirmation big time as we can see in his dealings with leaders in the Old Testament. He often affirmed Moses and many of us still lean on his affirmation and encouragement of Joshua:
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them... Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:6, 9)
Powerful affirmation but in the case of Jesus it is more than that. In what is spoken over Jesus we can see there are two aspects of the relationship with the Father. First of all there is his love. Our Father does not require anything to love us. He made a decision long ago to always love us and that love is real and present regardless of what we do or say. That love is for the believer and non-believer alike. Some people have trouble with this understanding because of their own preferences, hates, bigotry, prejudices and immaturity. The fact is our Father loves everyone in the world regardless of race, colour, creed, gender and religion. We can easily substitute the relationship of the statement, "This is my son, whom I love", with "This is my enemy, whom I love". John said it best when he wrote "God is love". The context of that statement is:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
I am going to use this now to spring board us into the second part of the statement spoken over Jesus and one that not everyone wants to consider. I remind you of the statement:
"This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
"With him I am well pleased" should be considered as a separate statement here. First the Father establishes that he loves his Son. Second he states that he is pleased with him which does not impact the first part. God loves us regardless of what we do but he is not always pleased with us. By this statement we should be able to understand the quality of this man Jesus. In order for our Father to be pleased with us we have to be obedient to him. Thus far Jesus has shown himself to be obedient. We do not know much about the years of Jesus growing up but we know some because we have this statement about his childhood:
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:51-52)
He was obedient to his parents. Today kids say that their parents have to earn that respect but in the Kingdom respect and obedience is about God's expectations regardless if parents earn it or not. It is the same with love. That is God's expectations regardless if a person deserves it or not. It was Jesus' living the heart of the Father's expectations that pleased him. Jesus did all things right as a child, obeying, loving, respecting, honouring, learning, growing into maturity. As he stood there hearing his Father's words we should understand the weight of them and what it took to receive them.
Often we use the excuse of God's love and grace to do whatever we want, expecting, demanding forgiveness at the end of the day. We fail to understand the two parts involved here; there is the Father's love but then there is also pleasing him. Pleasing him is a simple matter:
If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14:15)
In his epistle John explains it further:
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. (1 John 5:3-4)
The second part of the statement then can be seen as a response to the first part. In response to the Father's love we love him in return and it is this love that compels us to be obedient to him. This obedience is what allows our Father to declare over us that he is pleased with us. We could look at the long list of do's and don'ts to try to figure out if we are in God's good books or we can simply look at our attitude and actions. Yes, it is good to study the Word to know God's expectations but it is possible to try to obey these like a law instead of as a response of love. Remember that our Father is in the business of the heart. It is the response of the heart that matters to him because the heart condition will determine the actions of the mouth, hands and feet. So you can understand that murdering a person would not please God but when we love God we also understand the greater thing which is that hatred is an equal sin.
We conclude then that the Father's love is meant to transform us so that he is able to declare that he is also pleased with us. We cannot hide under the excuse of his love because he loves sinners and saints alike. Our salvation and relationship depends on our heart response to the Father's love. We have to accept this love via the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and we need to allow it to permeate our being so that we are transformed into a new creation. It is as this new creation then that we become his children whom he loves and is pleased with. You know in your heart right now if the Father is pleased with you and, if he isn't, you know what you need to do. May this be a great day of repentance, restoration and affirming for all of us.