I Can’t Stop Loving You
The story is told of two preachers who were gazing at a painting of David Livingstone surveying the possibilities of Africa. The painting was done during the height of Livingstone’s ministry and it pictured him looking like this (hand over brow) over the broad expanses of the African continent. One of the preachers said, “My, isn’t that wonderful! He is looking for new worlds to conquer.” But the other man said, “Not at all. He’s just had it up to here!”
That leads me to ask: What could we ever do or be or say that would make God say, “I’ve had it up to here with you”? Well, the answer to that question may be found in the parable I have just read for you. For here in one short story Jesus paints a portrait of the very nature of God and then He portrays our mission in life. It’s a gripping and terribly important story. For Jesus is saying to us, “This is the way God is and this is the way you are to live.”
It was the custom in Jesus’ day for a person to purchase a tract of land and to plant a vineyard on it—to hedge it around and to plant the vines within the hedges to construct houses for those working people who would tend the vineyard—and then at the center of the vineyard to build a town. It was from that town that the keepers of the vineyard, the tenants, were able to see those who would come seeking work, those who would come to ravage and to steal, and even those who would come to collect the landowner’s rent from the tenants. But in the parable, Jesus makes it plain that these particular tenants came to feel that the vineyard belonged to them. After all, they were the ones who plowed it and nurtured it and cared for it and harvested the crops. “What right does the landowner have to share in the profits?”, they cried. So when the landowner sent his agents around to collect the rent, the tenants beat the first, stoned the second, killed a third. The landowner then said, “I’ll send my own son. Surely they will respond to him.” They responded by killing him too.
Now that story tells us something about the patience of God.
It says that there is nothing we can ever say or do or be that will make God stop loving us. He keeps coming back to us. They drove Elijah out into the wilderness. They sawed Isaiah asunder. They condemned Zechariah. They beheaded John the Baptist. God sent one prophet after another. God pleaded in one voice after another, always hoping that someday, at long last, His people would listen and repent. They didn’t. Finally, He sent His only begotten Son, and what did the people do? They crucified Him. Yet notice, please, that there is nothing we can ever do that will make God say, “That’s it! I’ve had it up to here with my people. I shall be done with them.” Instead He keeps coming back to us. He keeps coming back for us. And His continuing cry rings through the centuries and right into our hearts. Do you hear it? God says in Jesus Christ, “I can’t stop loving you.”
The man and his wife sat in my office. He had wandered in off the street—and she had come in not long afterward. His clothing was disheveled, his eyes were bloodshot, his breath reeked of stale alcohol… For weeks, apparently, he had been drifting from one town to the next, begging money where he could, accumulating enough to buy another bottle of cheap wine, and then moving on. He stumbled into my office looking for a handout. Shortly thereafter his wife came in. She had been looking for him for days. With the help of the police she had located him and that day she happened to see him entering the church building. The man sat there in my office sobbing out his true feelings, “If only I could go home…” And then, his wife, a calm and gentle woman, stretched out her arms toward him and said, “I want you to come home.” And I saw there the picture of God taking hold of us, dirty in our selfishness and in our self-righteousness, and in our efforts aimed at leaving God out of our lives. I saw God jug and hold and forgive. Surely this is what the poet meant.
Did you know that when George Matheson wrote the hymn we have just sung, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” he was going blind and he had just been rejected by the woman he loved? I want you to know today that the kind of love Matheson wrote about is the kind of love God has for us. In Jesus Christ, He loved us to the uttermost and He will never stop loving us.
But the story also tells us something about the pattern for our living.
Within three days after Jesus told this parable, the whole thing ultimately happened. Word for word, the tale came true. For here were Caiaphas, Ananias, and the rest—the keepers of God’s vineyard. And they said, “As long as this Jesus lives, we shall have no peace. Come, let us kill Him.” And they did.
Ananias and Caiaphas and the others no doubt rubbed their hands on the day of Calvary and said, “That’s it. We’ll have no more of Him. He’s finished.” Finished? Fools they were. For everything about Him—His life, His influence, His work, His Kingdom, Hie impact on the world—had only just begun.
And if they, with the Cross to help them, could not finish Jesus, no one can. Crush down the Christ who haunts you beneath years of prayerlessness and neglect, and still He will resurrect Himself, and go marching through your soul. My friends, we are never done with Jesus. We have never heard the last of the Son of God. They killed Him once and He rose. They have killed him a million times and a million times He has risen. He cannot be stopped. He is living. And He is here today. And He says, “I love you and I can’t stop loving you.”
That means that when you and I take Him into our lives, we shall be changed with a new power. The coldness in our lives will be melted down so that we can love the world the same way God loves us. It means that we have to say to the members of our families: “Nothing is more important than our love for each other—not money or success or selfish desires or anything else.” That means that we have to say to the members of our church: “We must constantly struggle to be God’s loving people. We must set aside petty differences and petty criticisms so that others will say, My, look at how those Christians love one another!” It means that we must work through this difficult period of American history and at no time can we say, “I am finished with this country.” It means that under God we must seek to know His will for our lives. We must commit ourselves to establish His justice in the world. It means that younger people in the church must open their arms and their hearts to those who are older. It means that older people who might be put off by habits or garb or hairstyles, must say to the young: “Nothing can make me stop loving you. It means that this church must become a living demonstration of the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ is made up of people who love with a love that does not end—a people who look out at the world and its inhabitants and say: “I love you the way Jesus loves me.”
And how does Jesus love us? Well, look at this Table and you will know the answer. Here He says: “You may break my bones and bruise my flesh and drain my blood, but you will never stop me from being who I am—the Lord who loves you and who will never, ever let you go…”