"Christ loved the church" (v.25) says Paul. The verb is in the past tense. He is not speaking of his present love (though he does love us today) but of an attitude the Son of God once displayed in things he accomplished. So many of the great verses in the Bible on the love of Father and Son are in the past tense. John 3:16 is the most famous verse of all and it tells us that God so loved the world. It is looking back to the Father sending his Son to the world so that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Again, Paul can speak of his Saviour in these terms, that "He loved me and gave himself for me." Again, Paul is concentrating on Christ's sacrifice in time and space on Calvary - there Jesus loved me. The whole Christian faith is rooted in history, established by one particular life, and on what the Saviour accomplished in that life and death, and everything that he did he did because of his love for God and for us.
The love began when the Father donated the church to Christ before the foundations of the world were laid. Let us read the first six verses of John chapter 17, the great prayer of our Lord before the cross. In this prayer he refers to us - who are his church - as those whom the Father had given to him; "After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: 'Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word." (Jn. 17:1-6). Paul has been talking about them in this letter in that sort of language. Look at verse 4 in the opening chapter; "For God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." And again in the next verse, "he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ" (Ephs 1:5). This is the church he loves, the church he chose; the church he changed; the church he was to fill with his Spirit.
So here are the chosen people of God, and they are as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Last week someone asked me how many stars did I think there were for every single person living in the world today. The answer is in the millions. You have to multiply the 6,000 million people who live on our planet today by millions and millions to arrive at the number of stars in space. The people God gave his Son are like the sands on the seashore - an incalculably vast number. It is by such hyperboles that the elect of God are numbered. All of them chosen before the foundation of the world; all of them given by to the Son, and when the Son had them it was love at first sight.
You think of the best gift you have ever had, given to you by the one who loves you the most. I don't know what it is. How you treasure that gift both for what it is and for the one who gave it to you. So it was when God gave us to his Son then Jesus loved us immediately. "My dear beloved Father gave this to me!" There is nothing he didn't know about the people of God. All of us were sinners, and only he could know how badly we had sinned, but he loved us still. He loved us with an immeasurable love. There are no criteria we can employ and say that his love was 'ten' on that scale. It was measureless love. What is the biggest number of all? You say there is no such number. If we said it was a million million million million, then you would just say, "Now multiply that by the same number, and again, and again, and so on." There is no end to infinity. So it is with the love of Jesus Christ; his arms of love stretch out as far as the east is from the west and embrace us all. You cannot say that it is as high as the highest mountain. The whole vast universe floats like a speck before him and he is the one who loves us with all his being.
It is a real love, 100% genuine. Imagine that you haven't seen your wife for a few days and you come back to Aberystwyth by train and there she is on the station platform waiting for you and you smile at one another and you know how much you love one another. You love everything about your spouse, her face, her heart, her voice, her spirit. They are all lovely to you, and the most wonderful thing about her is that she loves you. That is how the Christian gets overwhelmed with the love of Jesus. He in himself is so lovable; his nature and attitude and teaching and character and relationships and actions are all so lovable. We never catch him doing or saying one thing that is unlovable, but the most wonderful thing of all, I think, is that he loves me!
There is this Christian with learning difficulties and Christ loved her before this earth existed. There is King David guilty of an action of heinous wickedness and Jesus loved this repentant man. There is the chief of sinners, whoever he may be, perhaps he is me, or perhaps he is you, and the Son of God loved him - the Christian with the very worst record. He was the biggest hypocrite; his faith was the weakest; he was the most inconsistent in his life; he had told the most lies; he had been most permissive; he had walked the red light areas; he had partied on the drugs scene; he had backslidden longer and fallen deeper than anyone else; he had had the most privileges and squandered them all. He was the chief of sinners who, by the grace of God, trusted in Christ, and the Son of God loved him. He didn't 'tut tut' over him, and resign himself reluctantly to accepting him, letting him into a dark corner of heaven where he had to promise to spend a very subdued eternity. Christ loved him so that he would share his throne and become a joint heir with him of the inheritance he had prepared for him. You cannot comprehend such love. You are even beginning to think that such love isn't fair after all you've done for God. The spirit of the older brother of the prodigal son still complains at the love the father showed his returning son, but you may be the worst sinner in the world. Yes, you! Aren't you glad that the love of the Son of God is like that?
In 1915 34-year-old Dr. Gresham Machen, professor of Greek at Princeton Seminary went to hear the 53-year-old evangelist Billy Sunday preaching without amplification to 20,000 people in Philadelphia . He wrote to his mother and told her, "I was very greatly impressed. The text was 2 Samuel 12:13, 'And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord hath also put away thy sin.' The sermon was old-fashioned evangelism of the most powerful and elemental kind. The total impact of the sermon was great. At the climax, the preacher got up on his chair - and if he had used a step-ladder, nobody could have thought the thing excessive, so dead in earnest were both speaker and audience! The climax was the boundlessness of God's mercy; and so truly had the sinfulness of sin been presented, that everybody present with any heart at all ought to have felt mighty glad that God's mercy is boundless. In the last five or ten minutes of that sermon, I got a new realization of the power of the gospel." And so in this verse the apostle is telling us that whatever Jesus Christ did for the church he was motivated by his love for these people. Why he loved we have no idea. We cannot go behind the love or beyond the love to something more rational. The love is the headwaters; it is the fountainhead out of which all God's saving work flows.