It advances earth-changing events. It transforms certain defeat into joyous victory. It energizes us with power at the least unlikely moment. It takes those who are hopeless and consumed with self-hatred and inexplicably fills them with new life and enduring strength. It never fails.
This complex, spiritually necessary, power-filled characteristic of God is known to us in English by a four-letter word: love.
All of us, from the least to the greatest, want and need more of it. We never have enough! It is often the sole difference between a tragic relationship and a highly successful bonding of minds and purpose. It allows us to forgive and even pray for those who harm us. A successful marriage and a vibrant family cannot exist without it.
It represents the very essence of Almighty God, for as the Bible reveals, God is love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16). Remarkably, love of God—redirected in the form of personal worship, admiration and emulation—embodies the first and greatest commandment that Jesus Christ gave each of us (Matthew 22:37-38).
Far from a mushy sentiment, love often possesses the character of steel alloy. It gives us strength and comfort that leads directly to the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Unconditional love reflects a God of love
Love—the inexplicable power that makes things different and transforms lives—has been the subject of thousands upon thousands of songs, poems and narratives. People who are filled with love—particularly the love that comes from God and Jesus Christ—stand out. They attract others to themselves. We want to be around them.
As we read the Bible, the inspired Word of God, we may be surprised to find that while God freely gives lavishly of His love, He expects it to flow through us—we are to love one another in a profound capacity that seems impossible.
Love, unconditional concern that results in the unselfish setting of another's needs before our own, appears as the chief "fruit" —the outcome or result—of the inward presence of God's Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). As the apostle Paul tells us from across the ages, if we don't have real spiritual love, then we are as irritating noise, repositories of worthless knowledge, or reservoirs of failed prophecies (1 Corinthians 13). Without love, Paul asserts, we are "nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2, emphasis added throughout).
God Himself sets the standard for unconditional and unfailing love. As we read, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). That verse is so common in Christian circles that it's easy to bypass its weighty meaning.
Readers of The Good News who are fathers or mothers themselves can have some sense of the degree of sacrifice that God Himself made. Amazingly, God allowed His creation—puny members of the human race—to torture and ultimately execute His only Son, all so that we could have undeserved reconciliation and a direct relationship with Him. That standard of love—making possible the undeserved gift of eternal life—represents the highest form of love known to humanity.
Powerful reminders of God's love
Ironically, it is in that ultimate sacrifice that humanity can not only receive love, but can also receive the astonishing capacity to love others! How is that capacity received? How do we learn to love another?
Here's a fact you may not have previously considered: God's annual biblical festivals are assemblies saturated with God's unfailing love for humanity!
How can ancient biblical festivals hold deep meaning of the power of transformation and God's love for us today? We invite you to reflect on these remarkable facts:
The writers of the New Testament clearly demonstrate how Jesus became the ultimate Passover lamb—the once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice for human sin—on the day of Passover, shortly before the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Paul told the Christians at the Greek trading harbor of Corinth that "Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7)
At the moment of Jesus' death, when He fulfilled His role as our Passover—the ultimate sacrifice for sin—the Jerusalem temple's finely woven and heavy veil supernaturally ripped from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51). The priests present at that awe-inspiring moment would've been shocked beyond measure. Where the elaborate and impenetrable veil once hung, now they could see directly into the Holy of Holies, a chamber where previously only the High Priest was allowed to go once a year (Leviticus 16:1-2). Now, as the torn veil signified, direct access to God Himself was available!
Indeed, the very plan of God for humanity—outlined in powerful detail by God's annual festivals and Holy Days—advanced mightily in that very moment. Jesus, the foretold Messiah of Israel, at that instant became the "High Priest of the good things to come . . . Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption . . .
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 9:11-12; Hebrews 10:19-20).
Now, upon His miraculous resurrection three days and three nights later, the real work for us could begin!
Shortly before He was gruesomely tortured, subjected to a mock trial and summarily executed, Jesus gave every Christian a near-impossible command. In fact, the open fulfillment of this command was to be an identifying sign of His disciples. What was it?
While Jesus previously validated the power and authority of God's law of love as summarized in the two great commandments and the Ten Commandments (Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 19:17-19; Matthew 22:37-40), here He showed that the standard was His own example and that it must be demonstrated among His followers: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
Can we grasp this? As the clock was ticking down toward a series of prophetic events, all of which involved personal pain and outright agony, we find Jesus instructing His disciples that they must openly demonstrate godly unconditional spiritual love!
This is so important, so pivotal, so powerful for our personal salvation that God placed it first in the series of annual biblical observances that He expects all to discern and take part in. Jesus' sacrifice was the ultimate expression of love, as He told His disciples: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). The Christian Passover then is saturated, even overflowing, with the love of God for each of us.
Renewing the capacity for love
As we move each year from the recognition of Jesus as our Passover to the next of God's festivals, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, we again renew our powerful capacity for spiritual love. We do that through the recognition of personal character issues that lead to sin, which impedes our precious relationship with God. As Paul further instructed the Christians in Corinth, "Let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8).
Why would God use bread with no leaven—that is, no agent that causes the dough to rise in baking, such as yeast—as a symbol of spiritual transformation and require us to eat it for this seven-day period?
God's annual biblical festivals and Holy Days are disruptive. They require us to stop straight up in our daily habits and purposely consider where we stand in our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ.
The Bible points out how Christians prepare in advance for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They are to remove all leavened products from their living quarters.
Why? Because leaven over the course of these days biblically represents spreading sin and wrongful pride, an ungodly "puffed up" attitude of thinking that we're good enough and don't need God (1 Corinthians 5:2, 1 Corinthians 5:6). Paul explained that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1, New International Version). And, as we saw earlier, we can have "all knowledge," but if we don't have love (the unconditional and unfailing love that comes from God), we are nothing.
So we heighten awareness of our never-ending capacity for sin and self-deception by physically cleaning our homes of leaven. While doing so, we can meditate on how easily we can embrace conceit and leave off important spiritual issues. Then, as we begin the actual Days of Unleavened Bread, we are physically and intimately reminded of this every day for seven days.
Instead of consuming regular leavened bread, we eat flatbreads and crackers that have no baked-in leaven. We are thus purposefully and directly reminded of the need to constantly be in an attitude of spiritual humility, surrendering our will, minds, thoughts and actions to God Himself, which is our "true and proper worship" (Romans 12:1, NIV). These days help us to recommit ourselves to surrendering to God and overcoming (Revelation 3:11-12).
How do we show evidence of love?
So how do we know we possess and are exercising the very love of God in our lives? We must of course be obeying God's laws: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5:3). But are we doing so in the full spirit and intent, following Jesus' own example? Let's see how the Bible describes unconditional spiritual love that comes from God in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV):
• "Love is patient."
• "Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud."
• "It does not dishonor others."
• "It is not self-seeking."
• "It is not easily angered."
• "It keeps no record of wrongs."
• "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth."
• "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
Do you reflect these godly attributes? No? Maybe some? Don't be discouraged. Read here God's promise to each of us: "Love never fails"! (1 Corinthians 13:8). Spiritual progress and overcoming remains our daily goal.
Given the human capacity to relax and slip a bit, is it any wonder why God lovingly created a whole series of festivals and Holy Days to regularly strengthen, refresh and remind us of His love and purpose for us?
Further, consider this critical fact: God's annual festivals and Holy Days possess real transformational power! They make the Bible come alive and show how you can tap what the Bible calls God's "incomparably great power for us who believe" (Ephesians 1:19, NIV).
The Bible instructs us about seven different yearly festivals, and only two have been introduced here. We invite you to read and learn more. The next one, called Pentecost, holds particular importance for those interested in the power of love. Why? Because it is through the power of God's Holy Spirit—given at the inception of the New Testament Church on the day of Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago—that we can bear the spiritual fruit of love! God's Spirit gives us the power to love as we are "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
The Bible was written for all mankind but also for you personally, and you need this critical knowledge. As Paul wrote long ago for us today, "Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
God already loves you unconditionally. Why not begin today to learn how to love Him back, thus receiving the wonderful and incomprehensible benefits of being in a direct relationship of unfailing love with your Father and your Elder Brother Jesus Christ? Yes, God's love drives real transformation. Begin to experience it today!