This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 3:1-18
Text: John 3:16
The Bible tells us that God is a gracious God who lavishes his love on us, that he is rich in offering forgiveness and that his mercies are new every morning.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t see God as a generous God who lavishes his love on us. Instead, they see God as more of a clenched-fisted tightwad who gives very little and keeps most of the blessings to himself. And if you want to leverage any blessings out of the hands of God, you need to achieve a certain level of goodness. So a lot of people spend their lives trying to be good enough because if you’re good enough then maybe God will notice you and pour some blessing out on you.
And so what happens is that this thing called Christianity becomes a system of checks and balances where the good things I do are used like a kind of currency that I can cash in to get good stuff from God. So if I’m experiencing good things in my life, like a successful business, good family, good health, people who like me, it is probably because of my goodness and God is blessing me. And if I’m experiencing bad things in my life it is probably because I’m a bad person and God doesn’t love me.
Therefore, I spend my life trying to be good enough, (going to church enough, reading my Bible enough, praying enough, journaling enough, serving enough) because if I’m good enough then hopefully God will love me and bless me.
Raise your hand if this is a mindset that you’ve ever heard of before.
Well today we’re going bust this myth and we’re going to do this by looking at probably the most well known passage in all of scripture, John 3:16.For God so loved the worldthat he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
Now, what we’re going to do is break this passage up into three parts and then spend some time looking at each part. And as we do this, hopefully we’ll see that our God is not a God of checks and balances and that our God is not a legalist, but rather that he’s a God of grace, which means that nothing I do can make God love me more and nothing I do can make God love me less. He just loves me and his love is always there.
God Loves the World
So let’s look at John 3:16. It says, For God so loved the world . . .
Now let’s stop there for a moment and let’s think about our world and the people that live in it. And as we think about the people in our world, I think you would agree with me that in our world there are some really good people, people who are kind, generous, forgiving, caring, merciful, encouraging, and loving.
How many of us would say that we know some people like this? All of us.
Now just like we would all agree that there are some really good people in the world, I think we could also agree that there are some pretty bad people in the world, people who are mean, selfish, unkind, uncaring, unforgiving, cruel, unsympathetic, hateful, and impatient.
How many of us would say that we know some pretty bad people? True confession. How many of us would say that within ourselves we have the capacity to do some pretty bad things? (Obviously some of you have the capacity to lie).
God Loves Them All
Now let’s look again at John 3:16. Notice what it says. It says that God so loved the world. Notice that it does not say, For God so loved the good people. Or God so loved the people who go to church, or the heterosexual people, or the hard working people, or the white people. It says that God so loved the world.
In other words, God loves all people. That means that there is not an individual on this planet whom God does not love which is a remarkable statement, especially when you consider the original context in which it was spoken.
You see when Jesus first spoke these words, he was speaking to a guy by the name of Nicodemus. And the Bible describes Nicodemus like this:Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. (John 3:1 NIV)
Now if you know anything about the Bible, you know that the Pharisees believed that the reason why God loved them was because of their ability to follow a list of religious rules.
As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul who was a Pharisee before he became a Christian captures this thinking when he says, If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Phil 3:4–6 NIV)
In one of his parables, Jesus quotes a prayer the Pharisees would pray and this is what he says. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (Luke 18:11–12 NIV)
Quick To Judge
Does this prayer sound a little egotistical to anyone? So, how many of us are glad we’re not like that Pharisee?
You see how easily we fall into the system of checks and balances? You see how quickly we look down on others and condemn them, and how quick we are to compare ourselves to others and think ourselves more deserving of love based on what we do?
He Loves You Because He Made You
Well this is where Nicodemus is at. And Jesus looks at him and says, “Nicodemus, you’ve got it all wrong. God does not love you because of your religious accomplishments; he just simply loves you because he loves you.”
And it has nothing to do with your successes or failures. It has nothing to do with being good or bad. It has nothing to do with being deserving or undeserving. God just loves you because He made you. And nothing you do can make God love you more, and nothing you do can make God love you less. It is all about grace.
For God so loved the world. He loves the good, the bad and everyone in between. And how much does he love them?
He Gave His Son
For God so loved the worldthat he gave his one and only Son…
Let me say this again. He gave his one and only Son. Let me say that one more time. He gave his one and only Son.
Now what kind of a person deserves that kind of a gift? What kind of a person would you give up one of your children for? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t give up one of my children for anyone. So this gift of God is mind-boggling. It is incomprehensible.
Childlessness and Death
And if it is incomprehensible for us, think of what this would have been like for a Jewish person like Nicodemus. Because, you see, for a Jewish person, children were not just valuable because they were your children. They were priceless because they were like life itself.
You see, to have children was to have a future, a heritage, a hope. It meant that life carried on. To have no children was to have no future, no heritage, no hope for life. In other words to have no children in a Jewish culture is equivalent to being dead.
Abraham As Good As Dead
Remember Abraham had no children? Here’s how the Bible describes him.It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going…And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead... (Hebrews 11:8;12, NLT)
So to have no children was to be as good as dead. And the Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. In other words, when God gave up his one and only Son, he wasn’t just giving up a precious child, he was giving up his future, his heritage, his hope, his life. He was giving up everything.
Your Only Son
Now let’s return back to the story of Abraham for a moment. You remember that Abraham had no children. He was a good as dead. So God comes to him and promises him a son, and 25 years later Isaac is born.
Well, a few years after his birth, God comes to Abraham again and says"Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”" (Genesis 22:2, NIV)
So Abraham does as God says. The next day he takes Isaac and heads up to Mount Moriah. Now the Bible does not give us all the details but somehow Abraham was able to tie up Isaac and lay him on the altar. And then he raised up his knife and just before he plunged it into the chest of his son, and angel stopped him and said, Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. (Genesis 22:12, NIV)
Jesus the Ultimate Substitute Sacrifice
And then God provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice for Isaac. This ram would point to Jesus as the ultimate substitute sacrifice, so that whenever we go through times of doubt and despair, or when we enter times of fear or failure, all we need to do is go to the cross, and say, “God, even though I don’t always understand your ways, I know that you still love me because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Again think, what kind of person is so deserving that you would give your child to them? No one.
And what kind of person is so deserving that God should give his one and only son to him or her? No one.
You see, you will never understand how much God loves you until you first understand how much God loves his Son.
So if we are so undeserving, why would God give us his Son? For that, let’s look at the passage again.
So We Won’t Perish
For God so loved the worldthat he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
So the reason why God gives us his one and only Son is so that we won’t die. And the reason why we’re dying is because of this thing called sin. And sin is basically the inability to love perfectly. Every time we get the love thing wrong, every time we are impatient, selfish, unforgiving, every time we distort the truth, every time we gossip etc.-- every time we do this--we die a little inside, because no one feels fully alive when they live like this.
And not only do we die inside a little, we contribute to the death of this world. And every time we contribute to the death of this world, we stand guilty before God and we deserve to be punished. And the punishment we deserve is death because if you contribute to death you deserve death.
But death isn’t what God wants to give us, he want to give us life, so much so that he was willing to give his one and only son to take the punishment that we deserve and to die in our place in order that we can live.
Only Believers Benefit
Now unfortunately not everyone is going to benefit from this gift because, according to the Bible, the only people who will benefit from this gift are those who believe in the gift.
For God so loved the worldthat he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
Believing In Soap and Toyotas
So what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means you submit yourself to Him and allow Him, by His Spirit, to make a difference in your life.
For example, if I told you I believe in using soap, I’m telling you that I submit myself to soap and allow it to change my life, so that I am no longer dirty and smelly anymore but now I’m clean and smell great.
Or if I told you I believe that driving Toyotas is the best, I’m telling you that I am submitting to the Toyota brand and I’m allowing it to make a difference in my life, so that I’m not sitting in some garage with some kind of repair but I’m on the road driving a reliable vehicle.
Believing In Jesus
It’s the same way with believing in Jesus. If I tell you that I believe in Jesus, I’m telling you that I’m submitting my life to him and I’m allowing him to make a difference in my life.
And how does Jesus change my life? Well according to the Bible, if I believe in Jesus, if I submit to him and allow him to make a difference in my life, than I no longer have to fear condemnation, because I know he loves me, and I know that he forgives me. And I know that no matter how badly I mess up, he’ll always be there for me, ready to pick me up when I ask him to.
In the very next sentence after John 3:16, Jesus told Nicodemus For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17, NIV)
Not Condemning Selves
This means that I no longer worry that I’m not good enough, and I don’t have to beat myself up with condemning words and think that of all the people of the world, God probably doesn’t love me.
It is simply not true, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him, whoever submits to him and allows him to make a difference in their lives will not perish but have eternal life.
And the more I believe this, my friends, the more I believe that God loves me and forgives me. Every day he offers me a new beginning to live in his grace. That is most certainly going to affect the way I relate to others.
Not Condemning Others
In other words, the more I believe in Jesus, the less likely I am to condemn others and to be critical of them, or to judge whether or not they are worthy of receiving love based on how good or bad they are. And I’m not going to prop myself up on some self-righteous pedestals and point condemning and accusing fingers at others who in my opinion don’t measure up, whether because they have made bad choices, or they were born on the wrong side of the track or they might not be as far along the spiritual continuum as I am. And why don’t I do this? Because the Bible says: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," (Romans 8:1, NIV)
You see the more I believe in Jesus, that is, the more I submit myself to his love, and the more I let his love change me, the less hateful and unforgiving and worried and fearful and condemning and critical I’m going to be. Instead what will flow out of me will be things like love, joy peace patience kindness, forgiveness, generosity, self-control, and integrity.
Like A River
You see in many ways, God’s love is like a river in a desert. Now imagine yourself in that desert, and you’re dirty and you’re hot and you’re thirsty. What do you need to do in order to experience the cool, refreshing, cleansing, thirst quenching waters of the river?
You don’t have to do anything. Just walk in. You submit to it, and you let it flow over you. You let it wash the dirt off, you let it refresh you, you let it quench your thirst.
It’s the same way with God’s love. The only way to experience the healing and cleansing power of his love is to surrender to it. And then let it flow over you.
And as it flows over you, it will change you and it will shake stuff loose in your life like pride, or anger, or jealousy. And you’re going to look at that stuff and you’re going to say, “I don’t want this in my life anymore.” And so you let it go, and you let God fill you with his love. And the more he fills you, the more alive you’ll be.
So, do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe in his love? Do you believe in his grace? Or are you still stuck in the system of legalism and condemnation? The Bible says: For God so loved the worldthat he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
Order of Worship
Call to Worship:Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.(Ps 25:8–10 NIV)
Silent Prayer concluded with: Psalter Hymnal #624 Hear Our Prayer O Lord
God’s Greeting: Heavenly Father as we gather in your name we pray that the Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. (2 John 1:3 NIV)
Hymn of Praise: PH# 267 And Can It Be
God’s Will For Our Lives:
We just sang about God’s love for us. And the heart of God’s law is love; our love for God and our love for others. Jesus said: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:30–31 NIV)
The apostle Paul describes what this love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:1–13 NIV)
Prayer of Confession: Obviously, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit how far we fall short of God’s standard of love, and how much we need his grace to sustain us. So let us bow in a time of prayer before our God.
Heavenly Father, when we reflect on your word, and listen to the standard of love that you require of us, we must admit that we fall short. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that the evidence of your Spirit living in us is measured by our religious accomplishments. And yet your word is clear that the true evidence that you live in us is seen first of all in our desire to love You first and then one another. To forgive one another, to cancel debts owed to us, to wipe out records of wrong, to be kind and considerate, and to want the best for all people.
Forgive us, Father, for the ways that we have hurt you and others by our actions. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we can be the people that you have called us to be. We pray in Jesus name. Amen
Assurance of Pardon: The Bible says: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8–9 NIV)
Hymn of Assurance: PH #490 Blessed Assurance: Jesus Is Mine
Hymn of Preperation: PH #479 I Will Sing of My Redeemer
Prayer of Illumination: Open our eyes Lord. We want to see Jesus. Thank you for the gift of your Son and the gift of your word. In your name we pray. Amen.
Sermon: God’s Greatest Gift
Prayer of Application: Heavenly Father, what can we say about this wonderful gift? To think that you would love us so much that you would give your one and only Son so that we could be with you is a gift that leaves us, on the one hand, speechless, but, on the other hand, it makes us want to celebrate your great love. God may we never take this gift for granted. May we never live in a way that makes this gift look cheap. Help us Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to live lives that reflect your amazing grace. And thank you for the assurance that through the gift of your Son Jesus, that we can say, it is well, it is well, with our souls. In your precious name we pray. Amen.
Hymn of Response: PH#489 When Peace Like A River
God’s Parting Blessing: As we leave this place this morning, I would ask that we bow our hearts before God and ask his blessing: May you, O God, be gracious to us and bless us and make your face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, and your salvation among all nations. Amen (Psa 67:1–2 NIV)
Doxology: PH# 632 To God Be the Glory (My Tribute)