Date: Sunday March 9, 1997
NT Text: John 3:14-21 Numbers 21:4-9
Sermon Title: Love that Sacrifices
LOVE THAT SACRIFICES
On this fourth Sunday in Lent we look at the Gospel of John and the Message of God’s sacrificing love for us. The sentence, "For God so loved the world..." has probably been the most-quoted phrase of the Bible. The reference has become a catch-phrase. On television, at sports events, someone holds up a placard that says "John 3:16" and expects even the uninitiated to get the punch line. The reference itself has become an icon. Like the Nike (Check mark) if you will.
In preparation for today’s message I was inspired by the great preacher of the 19th Century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. One Sunday in 1885 when he spoke about John 3:16 he said: I was very greatly surprised the other day, in looking over the list of texts from which I have preached, to find that I have no record of ever having spoken from this verse. This is all the more singular, because I can truly say that it might be put in the forefront of all my volumes of discourses as the sole topic of my life's ministry. It has been my one and only business to set forth the love of God to men in Christ Jesus. I heard lately of an aged minister of whom it was said, "Whatever his text, he never failed to set forth God as love, and Christ as the atonement for sin." I wish, that much the same may be said of me. My heart's desire has been to sound forth as with a trumpet the good news that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Indeed, the story of God’s self-giving love for us sinners is absolutely central to the Biblical message. This message is so central to our faith, that we do well to refresh our memories with the most elementary of all Christian Truths, namely that God sent his Son to die for our sins. With this message we are called back to consider the cross of Christ - the suffering that he endured for our everlasting benefit.
We are wise to come to him again, as we did when we first believed - with our helplessness our needs, and the burdens of our daily lives. We do well to look at the cost at which God reconciled us to himself.
Every station of the Lenten season proclaims to us the unspeakable Love of God. The love of God is a very wonderful thing, especially when we see it at work in a lost, ruined, and guilty world. And we can’t help but wonder, what was there in the world that God should love the world? Much more, what was there that God should want to sacrifice His own Son for the world?
There was nothing lovable in it. From the beginning, mankind has tried to put a distance between us and God. We have disregarded his perfect law. We have rebelled against his commandments. We have fallen into sin. And yet, the Bible tells us that God loved the world so much - with such a divine passion - that he gave his Son, his only Son, to redeem us from the pit, and to set us free to give him praise.
The contemporary Dutch Theologian Hendrikus Berkhof, says the following about God’s Holy Love: “It is a love that stops for nothing, that is resolutely devoted to the other, however far away and hostile that other may be; it is a love that is unmotivated and for which no sacrifice is to great… The love of God is infinitely more than what we call love in earthly relationships. The love of God is the coming and bending down to us of the infinitely high God. …mankind can experience it only as an undeserved and unexpected favor.”
Berkhof continues to speak about two dimensions of God’s love. In relation to our sin we speak of God’s love in terms of grace. And in relation to our needs we speak of God’s love as mercy.
First then, the fall of Adam and Eve made room for God’s grace to save us from sin and guilt. Amid the ruins of humanity God showed us how much he loved mankind. Although undeserved, His grace has reached to all corners of the world that whosoever believes in him may be saved.
There can be no greater display of love than for the Eternal Father to give his only-begotten Son to die for us. Let’s think about that for a moment. No living thing will readily lose its offspring. We’ve seen evidence of that in many a nature show - where mama-bear chases intruder, and so on. We as humans experience tremendous grief when a child is taken from us. And so, we can only guess from our own experiences at the agony that God felt when he gave his only Son to die in place of sinful humankind.
We celebrate Christmas with joy for God’s holy gift. But, there is another side to the story of Christmas. In the midst of our joy and celebration we tend to overlook the pain and the heartbreak of God when he sent Jesus down into that manger, not in might and power, but as a helpless little child. I wonder about the intensity of God’s pain when the scribes and Pharisees mocked him, and when Christ’s own disciples deserted him. Can we imagine God’s suffering when his Son - his Only begotten Son - was crowned with a crown of thorns, when they hurled insults at him, hit him in the face, and nailed him to the cross…
Look at the cross that holds the Son of God. Feel the pain of the heavenly Father, who gave his Son so fully for our salvation that he hides his face and abandons the one he has begotten. God made him to be sin for all of us. This is the price for our salvation.
The way of salvation is simple to understand and accept when we are willing to be obedient to God’s call. That is the miracle of God’s grace, that he gave his Son, that whosoever believes shall not perish but have everlasting life. The prerequisite on our part is faith. Salvation is not given as a privilege to those who will keep his law. If that were the case we would all be damned. Nor does it say that he gave his Son to all who experience terrible despair and bitter remorse. God gave his own Son, that "whosoever believes in him" should not perish. It is by Faith that we are saved. Trust in Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life and joy.
To believe in Jesus means that we place our full trust in him. It means that we give our full trust to the truth, that God did send his Son, to take the place and burden of our guilt. It means that we must believe the Scripture which says, (Isaiah 53:5) “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed”.
The only prerequisite for our salvation is that we believe that Christ - the Son of God - died for our sins and rose from the dead. Our sin is punished in the person of Jesus Christ, and grace is extended to us. Jesus has offered an atonement - that is, he paid the price in substitution for us.
I also want to say something about God’s mercy in response to our needs. We read in verses 18-19 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
In our day it is rather fashionable to blame our bad habits, indeed many of our sins, on some psychological need that we have inherited from our childhood, our work and living environment, and other such favorite villains. It is often our pet sins that keep us from coming into God’s light.
Regarding our personal needs, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, Jesus says, “You have a choice!” Light has come into the world… If we believe in Jesus as the Christ, however horrible our past sins and needs may have been, they shall be blotted out. We will be saved from the powers that hold us captive. We will break free from the chains of our bad habits. And we will begin again with a new life in God.
All this and much more is given to us in the wonderful and sacrificial love of God who gave his only begotten Son for our everlasting reconciliation with God. The moment we believe we receive the gift of eternal life that nobody can take away from us. To have Christ living in us, and His truth ingrained in our very nature, that is what saves the soul. That is what eternal life is all about - to know that through all eternity we will not only exist, but we will live. As long as there is a heaven, we will enjoy it; as long as there is Christ, we will live in his love; and as long as there is an eternity, we will continue to fill it with praise of the God who sacrifices Himself out of love for his creation.
We will sing about the wondrous love of Jesus. We will sing his mercy and his grace. He is now preparing a place for all who believe his precious promises. And when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory. Then, we will all understand the mystery of God’s suffering and the divine love that sacrificed His own Son for the salvation of the world.
Praise God for his mercy and grace.