MCML - God So Loved The World
Our text for this morning’s sermon is the best known Bible reference in the Western world, even if people don't know what the verse actually says. And there is a good reason for it being so popular; God. Love. The world. Son of God. Faith. Perishing. Eternal Life. Packed into this verse are the greatest realities that exist. Martin Luther said this passage was “The heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature”.
Sometime we become so familiar with a text that we don’t really know the text. I mean we know about the text but we don’t really know the text. It’s like if I were to say Jordan, or Ali, or Tebow you would know who I was talking about. So this past week I was trying to find a fresh perspective on a passage most of us memorized as a small child. I reached out on social media and asked folks what came to mind when they heard John 3:16. There were lots of comments about God’s love and the depth of that love. People commented on His willingness to sacrifice Himself on our behalf, so we wouldn’t have to perish; a few comments about God closing the gap that separates us. Some people mentioned the guy with the rainbow wig standing behind the goalposts of the NFL games (which is a reference that dates you). And five different people actually said Tim Tebow. But, there was one that stood out to me, a friend of mine sent me a “cleaned up” version of a quote from Nadia Bolz Webber.
“Basically God created us and all that is, but because the first woman ate something she shouldn’t have and now we are basically (lost) for all of time. And since we are all so terrible at following rules God needs to punish us. But here’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus is God’s little boy — and he only had one! … and he loved that little boy so much… but he had to KILL that little boy because you stole a candy bar, or lied to your mom, … or maybe you used swear words or looked at dirty pictures. The important thing to know is that God killed his little boy rather than punishing you, because let’s face it, someone had to pay and you should feel so grateful about all of this that you believe and (most importantly) you behave. But the good news is that if you believe all of this and if you try really hard to be good then when you die you get a special all-inclusive vacation package called Eternal Life.”
When I first read that, I didn’t know what to do with it. So I reached out to my friend who shared it with me. She told me that this quote summed up her childhood and most of her adult life. She struggled with guilt over the fact that she was so bad and so terrible that God had no other choice but to kill Jesus for her. And what makes it worse is that no matter how hard she tries to be good and behave that God is still having to kill Jesus over and over again.
No one lives in a vacuum, if someone has a struggle, chances are pretty good that others have the same struggle and issues. So if my friend grew up in a church that taught her to feel guilty about God’s love and grace, she is probably not alone. If my friend was taught that she had to behave and try really hard to be good, chances are pretty good there are others who feel that way as well.
We are in the middle of a series of looking at our call to Model Love in the Model City. I know that you are very familiar with our text this morning, but I want us to look at the text through the lens of how can we model love to our community. For far to long we have tied guilt and grace together, and I am not sure that what Jesus meant.
For God So Loved The World
I know that seems like old news, most of us believe that God loves people. But that’s not what the text says, it says God loves the world. Jesus had a very specific group of people in mind when He talked about the world. He meant the people who did not believe, those who refuse to follow God. He meant the people doing their own thing. In other words, He meant the lost people who don’t know God.
So when John 3:16 says that God loves the world, it means God loves the poor and He loves the rich. He loves men and women, boys and girls. God loves the older person using a walker to shuffle down the sidewalk and the newborn napping in her mother's arms. He loves the strong and healthy, and He loves the weak, sick, abandoned, and broken. God loves the educated and the illiterate.
He loves those from every people group, black, white, and brown. God loves the self-disciplined, and He loves the addict. He loves the high and mighty, and He loves the low and powerless and oppressed.
God loves liars, thieves, hustlers, men on-the-make, adulterers, pimps, prostitutes, rapists, pedophiles. He loves the victims of sexual predators. God loves murderers, gang bangers, and those who abort babies. And he loves their helpless victims.
God loves transvestites and homosexuals. God loves the greedy, the lazy, the good-for-nothing, the employed, the unemployed, the homeless. He loves dead-beat dads.
God loves the divorced. He loves the happily married, the miserably married, the single, the widowed.
God loves those who bow down to idols and those who bow down to sports teams. He loves those who are addicted to pornography. God loves atheists, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. He loves those who take his name in vain. God loves evil people. He loves His enemies. He loves those who hate Him. He loves the gentle soul that wouldn't swat a fly. He loves selfish, mean, proud, vicious people. He loves everyone.
And while we might shout Amen in a church service, we will get in our cars, or be at work, or at home and wonder, does God really love the world? Because there are times when it doesn’t feel like God loves me. We have friends who are watching their children suffer in the hospital right now, does God love them? We have members who are in the hospital, and have been sick and struggling for weeks, does God love them? We have friends who have lost everything in hurricanes, tornados, and fires does God love them?
We want to look at pain and suffering and say, see God doesn't love. If God truly loved then why didn’t He create a world where there was no bad stuff, no suffering, and no evil?
You know, He did. In Genesis 1 we are told that when God first created the world, it was good. But God gave the crowing achievement in all of creation, mankind, the ability to choose. He gave us a free will. He did that so that we could express love to Him and to each other. It’s impossible to really, truly love unless we have a choice.
So God created us with the ability to choose. The problem is that we used our ability to choose to do evil. Look at your hands for a moment. These are the hands that you use to comfort a child, or to take food to a hungry person or to build something that was helpful to someone you love. But these are also the hands that you have used to take something that didn’t belong to you, or hit someone who made you mad, or to give the universal sign of disapproval when someone crossed you?
Our hands are capable of good and evil. So why do we expect God to take the blame when we are the ones who made a mess of things? If you believe that in the beginning God created, you can also believe that God did not create evil, or suffering, or death. Evil is the opposite of goodness, suffering is the opposite of wholeness, death is the opposite of abundant life. God created us with the ability to choose, and our wrong choices, bad choices have brought sin, and evil, and pain, and suffering into this world. God did not create them but He can use them.
Because God loves the world, He often uses pain to draw people to Himself. Last week Facebook showed me a memory of when the boys were younger. They were playing football in the street in front of our house and Trafton tagged Rylan a little too hard and Rylan’s nose met the curb. Then Rylan did what all hurt children do, he ran to find me for comfort and to be consoled. Suffering brings us to a place where we turn away from the hurtful and hateful things we do and run towards God.
When life is good and easy and pain free, we tend to forget about God, put Him up on the shelf. But when we suffer, when we experience heartache or disappointment, we’re more likely to turn to Him. God can use the bad stuff that happens in our lives to draw us to the best thing that could ever happen, an intimate relationship with Him that will last for eternity. And the truth is, any price is worth paying if it means coming to know God.
God loves the world; He loves people who don't love Him back, people who take Him for granted, avoid Him, ignore Him, or don't care about Him or His commands. God loves people who stay home on Sunday morning instead of going to church because they are wasted from partying on Saturday night, or because they prefer to read the Sunday newspaper instead of the Bible, or because they prefer to watch the football pregame shows, or because they don’t want to be involved in a community of faith. God loves people, religious and irreligious people, Christians and non-Christians. God loves the world. His purpose is for the world to know His love and to come to Him and find life. In God there is no room for guilt, there is no guilt in love.
God loved … God Gave
Love has to be expressed or it isn't love. love wants to give, love wants to sacrifice, love does. God is love, so it makes sense that God would give. God didn't just say He loved us, words are cheap, He expressed His love to the world by giving. The most important demonstration of God's love is Jesus. Giving Jesus was an act of radical, unthinkable love.
The text says that God gave Jesus who was the only son, unique son, or one and only son. I grew up in a King James Only church so we learned the phrase Only Begotten Son. I think a better translation of the word μονογεν?ς (monogene??s ma-na-ga-nes) would be exact copy. You and I are called the sons and daughters of God, we are told in Genesis 1 that we were made in the image of God. But Jesus is the exact copy of God, Jesus is God.
So the text is saying that God was so in love with what God created that God sent God to die on behalf of what God created so that God could redeem what God created and bring that creation back to God. Do you follow that?
God sent God from heaven to earth to become a man and die for His creation. Everyone of us are created in the image of God and under a death sentence because we chose to sin against God. Because God is love, He is the perfect judge and He cannot just overlook our guilt and selfishness. This is why our text talks about the possibility of perishing. This perishing is not just in the sense of dying physically, but perishing forever, being condemned by God and sent into a place of eternal sorrow called hell.
We don’t talk about hell, we don’t want to think about hell. We want to lean into the fact that God is love; how can a loving God send us to hell? But in our text Jesus says perishing, hell, is a possibility. Those who will spend eternity in hell are the ones who chose to perish, those who allowed the things of this world, their own selfishness, to take God’s place on the throne of their hearts.
I love the boys, and I the last thing I want to see is them hurting or in pain. But I understand that I cannot force them to make the right decisions. I can tell them what is right, what is loving, and what is compassionate. I can show them the right way to live but at the end of the day it’s their choice. They make decisions and they have to reap the consequences of their decisions. I cannot love them enough to take away the consequences of their choices. That is the law of sowing and reaping. Paul says in Galatians 6:7 Don't be misled--you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. That is true for every one of us; we all have to face the consequences of our choices and actions.
Quote the text with me: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. But can anyone quote the next verse? For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Even though we have the ability to choose a way of life that demands we perish, God became man and came to earth where He lived a perfect life of obedience, suffered torture, was nailed to a cross, and suffered until He died. You and I deserved that fate, we deserved to perish forever for our sins, but God gave Jesus as our substitute. We can never be good enough to pay for our own sins, so God became man and suffered and died on the cross.
That was the whole point of God becoming man and giving Himself on our behalf. God did not enter into time and space so that He could condemn us. If God wanted to give us what we deserve, He could have saved Himself a lot of pain and anguish and stayed in heaven. But God left heaven, and humbled Himself. He became a part of creation so that He could make love real and available. God left Heaven so that His love could save us.
Maybe you have experienced things that make you doubt God's love for you. Maybe you have suffered sexual abuse, or you have had physical problems, disabilities, or diseases, or you have suffered failure after failure. Maybe people have rejected you, and life has been hard, even agonizing. Maybe you grew up in a painful family situation, or with no family, or your parents ignored you. You may have suffered one setback and heartbreak and failure after another.
Whatever has happened to, those things do not mean that God does not love you. When God gave the world Jesus, He left no doubt about His love for all people universal and His love for you specifically. When you think of Jesus on the cross, you should hear God the Father saying, "This is what I am willing to give for you. This is how much I love you." You should also hear Jesus, God the Son, saying from the cross, "This is what I am willing to give for you. This is how much I love you."
But God’s love demands a response. I quick story as we close: Augustine, a leader in the church approximately 400 years after Christ, grew up living a rough life filled with brokenness and selfishness. But someone introduced Him to Christ and it made a profound impact and change in his life. The story is told that not long after his conversion he was walking down a street and came across a prostitute whom he had known very intimately. She spoke to him, but he would not answer and continued to walk. She was surprised and called to him again, “Augustine, It is I!” Never breaking stride he simply said: “Yes, but it is no longer I.” His new found belief had made a dramatic change in his life. He did not just come to belief in God, but a change had taken place. The old was gone because the new had come.