The Greatest Thing in the World
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
This week’s lessons challenge us to ponder the depth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.
Today we come to the last point in 1 Corinthians 13, which is where Paul has been leading us. He has talked about the importance and nature of love. What he is saying is that if you understand the importance of love and the nature of love, it follows that love never fails. All these other things are going to fail. Prophecies, tongues, knowledge – all these will pass away because these things are partial. But where there is love, love will not pass away. He puts faith, hope, and love together, and, he says, “These three remain.” I suppose Paul means that they remain through life and through eternity.
But I can think of at least one situation in the Bible where faith and hope died, at least for a time. Love alone remained. At the time of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, those who had gathered around him began to scatter because their faith was shaken. The disciples thought Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and they had a certain idea of how he was going to function. So when Jesus died on the cross, that just did not fit their preconceived idea. And so their faith died.
When the disciples came to Thomas after they had seen the resurrected Lord, they told him that the Lord had risen. But Thomas just did not believe it. What clearer expression of the death of faith could you have? “I just don’t believe it,” he said. “I’m not going to believe it unless I can see him and actually put my hand in the wound in his side and my fingers into the print of the nails in his hand.” As faith died in the disciples when Jesus died, hope died too.
My favorite example of that occurred when the Emmaus disciples were on their way home after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, about which they had heard reports (see Luke 24:13-35). They had no hope. He had died. And dead men do not come back. So when the Lord himself came to them along the way and asked them why they were so sad, they told him all that they had heard about Jesus, and that they had hoped he was the promised redeemer of Israel. But now their hope was gone. Hope died when Jesus died. And yet, one thing didn’t die. And that was love. They still loved him.
Mary Magdalene is the great example of that. Mary had no doubt that Jesus was dead. When she went to the tomb that Easter morning she didn’t expect to see him alive. And she did not express any hope that there was going to be a resurrection. When Jesus first appeared to her, she thought he was the gardener. She said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you put him, and I will get him” (John 20:15).
Mary was offering to do the impossible – to carry the body of a full-grown man, a body that had been wrapped in a hundred pounds of spices. But Mary was not thinking about that. She loved him, and that is all she was thinking about. Love did not die. And so when Jesus spoke her name and she recognized her name from the lips of him whom she loved, hope revived, and faith revived. And as the story of the Resurrection passed to the company of the disciples, hope and faith were revived in them as well. But it was chiefly because of love.
Let me ask whether you really know anything of that love. Have you experienced something of the love of Jesus Christ? Years ago a preacher was preaching on love for Christ. And afterwards, a little girl came forward, and said, “I don’t know that I really can say that I love Jesus. How can I love him?” The preacher answered with very wise words. He said, “When you go home, I just want you to keep repeating over and over, ‘Jesus loves me.’ You know that little song, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’?” She said yes. “Well,” he said, “You keep repeating that over and over. And you keep thinking about that.” And the little girl did that. The following week when she came back, she said, “I went home, and I kept saying over and over again: ‘Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me.’ And, you know, the first thing I discovered was that I had begun to love him.”
That’s the way God commends his love towards us. “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Jesus loves you. It’s by understanding that Jesus loves you like this that makes you begin to love him. Where that has happened, salvation has crashed into your heart. You have been made alive to faith, and hope, and love forevermore.
Why do faith and hope sometimes fail?
What revived those who lost faith and hope after Jesus’ resurrection?
What enables us to love Jesus Christ?
Read the accounts of failed faith and hope mentioned in today’s lesson from Luke 24:13-25 and John 20:10-31.