“For God so loved the world…” Did you hear that? Let me repeat it for you one more time. “For God so loved the world…” The “world” is a messy place. It’s littered with derelicts, debutantes, and dictators. There are broken pieces of humanity strewn from sea to shining sea. A teenage girl walks the halls with hundreds of students during the day, yet feels all alone…so she sits in silence in her room at night and slices her skin trying to find relief. Widows stuck in their grief pull the blinds on the world. Burned out businessmen delay their arrival home by spending time at their favorite watering hole. Frazzled moms watch the clock waiting for dad to get home to find some relief. Hedonists from every walk of life look to get over on somebody, take advantage of somebody, and for no other reason than to gratify their own insatiable desires. Lawyers, laborers, and lobbyist, con artists, CEO’s, and congressmen, teachers, tradesman, and technicians—different professions to make a living, but sharing the same predicaments, perils, and pitfalls of life. Husbands and wives once in love now grit their teeth and set their jaw. The world is a messy place. They say home should be a haven, a sanctuary of solace, but in a messy world home can be hollow, a hellish house of horrors that breeds fear, feelings of abandonment, and prompts prayers of escape. The world is a messy place where modern-day gangsters with their pants sagging down to their thighs, soccer moms in their mini-vans, and power brokers in their hand stitched Valentino suits suffer from the same debilitating disease though they are completely in denial of the truth. Alcoholics lying in the alley and power brokers sitting in Boardrooms have made this world a messy place. Welfare recipients, waiters and waitresses, writers, and welders have made this world a messy place. Preachers, politicians, and painters all suffer from the same pathological problem…our lives are a mess in this messy world. And yet, “God so loved the world…”
It is mind boggling isn’t it? The God of glory, unencumbered by sin, shrouded in holiness, and surrounded in majesty and glory chose to leash Himself to this messy world, invade the mess as its Messiah, and give everything He had to rescue us from the mess that we have made. New stories are being created in the minds of screenwriters, playwrights, and novelists every day, but never has there been, nor will there ever be, a story as compelling as, “For God so loved the world…” Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in John 3:16.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)
John 3:16 is the most well-known verse in the entire Bible. When Bible translators work with a people group that doesn’t have the Scriptures in their own language, the first verse they translate for the people is John 3:16. It was the first verse I ever memorized. In all of the years that I’ve been here at BCC I’ve known folks who lived on the streets with nothing to their name, but they had John 3:16 in their heart. I’ve met folks who lived behind big beautiful gates in palatial homes who counted John 3:16 as their greatest treasure. John 3:16 has been an anchor to many a soul.
Back in the early ‘60s there was a Swiss pastor and professor named Karl Barth who was nearing the end of a long and productive life. Dr. Barth had been trained in liberal theology when he was young, but he had rejected it and embraced what he called, “a theology of the Word.” Dr. Barth had written many books by the time he came to America in 1962 to tour the nation while giving lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, Chicago University, and San Francisco Theological Seminary. The work he is best known for is still available today and it is called, “Church Dogmatics.” The 14 volume project took him 35 years to complete and it covers topics like “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” “The Doctrine of God,” “The Doctrine of Creation,” and “The Doctrine of Reconciliation.” While Dr. Barth was at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago teaching the Bible, a student asked the renowned theologian, “In all of your years of study, what is the greatest thought you’ve ever had?” Dr. Barth paused for quite a long time as he thought about his answer. Then he raised his head and said, with childlike simplicity, “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
The simple truth found in the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” is rooted in the verse that our Awana kids will hide away in their hearts, a verse that many of you know by heart, and it is a verse so full of truth that we can never outgrow! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Let’s take a closer look.
When we read the verse we are drawn to the “love” of God that led Him to “give” His Son as a gift, a priceless gift, to those who believe. What is not so clear in the English translations is the intensity and the motive of the love which God has for sinners who are by nature His very enemies. “Love” for most of us is an emotion or feeling. Emotions are strong, but emotions are also fleeting. What you felt yesterday might not be what you feel today and what you feel today may be only a memory a month from now. The New English Translation helps us a little. Listen to this.
16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NET)
The reason why they have changed, “For God so loved the world…” to “For this is the way God loved the world…” is because of the Greek adverb, “?????” (houtos) which can refer either to the degree to which God loved the world, that is, to such an extent or so much that he gave his own Son or simply to the manner in which God loved the world, i.e., by sending his own Son (Note from the NET Bible). This adverb coupled with the verb, “??????” (agapao), translated, “love,” points us beyond mere emotion or feelings to the conscious decision of love. To get an idea of the type of love John is describing we can turn to Romans 5:8 where Paul writes,
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)
It was not while we were expressing a deep love for God that He stepped in and gave His Son for us. It wasn’t while we were faithfully serving God that He demonstrated His love for us. God acted on our behalf while we were His enemies. While we were His enemies, God determined that He would span the gap that our sin had created between us and Himself by offering His Son on our behalf.
Who is God’s love for? That’s a relevant question especially when you consider that, for the Jews, they had always seen themselves as the “Chosen People.” They were favored by God over all of the other people on the planet. “Chosen” they were, and chosen they are, but “why?” and for “what” purpose? We can learn the answer to “why” in Deuteronomy 7:6-8. Read along with me.
6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NIV)
“Why” did God choose the Jewish people, “Why” did God demonstrate His love for them? Because He chose to. It wasn’t because they were better than the other nations, more numerous or powerful than other nations, or for any other reason than He chose to love them. Now, we know that God is a God of purpose so what was His purpose in lavishing His love upon the Jewish people, His purpose in revealing Himself to them? In Exodus 19, the LORD spoke to Moses and gave him a message to give to His people. Take a look at Exodus 19:4-6 with me.
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:4-6 NIV)
“You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” What is the function of the priest? Great question! Throughout God’s Word the priests are to make intercession for the people to God. If I understand this verse right then we can conclude that Israel was called to be a nation of priests for the entire world, God wanted to use them to reach them. Israel is called a “holy nation.” “Holy” doesn’t mean privileged; it means “set apart.” Israel was set apart from all of the other nations of the world for the purposes of God, for the purpose of making God known to the nations.
John says correctly, “For God so loved the world…” The whole world! This isn’t evidence that God has had a change of heart my friends. That’s the way many people view the Bible, or divide the Bible. These people view the Old Testament as being dominated by a God of wrath, who in the New Testament is somehow persuaded, I guess by “gentle Jesus” to demonstrate His love. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Let me show you an example of what I’m talking about from the prophet Jeremiah. Turn with me to Jeremiah 48.
In Jeremiah we read about God’s judgment which is coming on the nation of Moab. The Moabites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. They turned away from the LORD and worshipped idols. God had blessed the Moabites, but they continued to turn away from Him and the time of judgment was at hand. In Jeremiah 48:7-8 we read,
7 Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive, and Chemosh will go into exile, together with his priests and officials. 8 The destroyer will come against every town, and not a town will escape. The valley will be ruined and the plateau destroyed, because the LORD has spoken. (Jeremiah 48:7-8 NIV)
Now, for those of you who understand God, in the Old Testament, as a God of wrath, then you have to imagine that God was smiling and rubbing His hands together while He pronounced judgment on this pagan nation. Right? The Moabites certainly weren’t God’s chosen nation so why wouldn’t God relish the opportunity to wipe them out? Oh, if this is what you are thinking then you don’t really understand the heart of God my friends. Judgment, the discipline of God, would come to the Moabites, but it wouldn’t come with God gloating over putting the people in their place, it would come with God groaning in anguish over His people. Let’s begin in Jeremiah 48:29 and see what we can learn.
29 I have heard how proud the people of Moab are, I know how haughty they are. I have heard how arrogant, proud, and haughty they are, what a high opinion they have of themselves. 30 I, the LORD, affirm that I know how arrogant they are. But their pride is ill-founded. Their boastings will prove to be false. 31 So I will weep with sorrow for Moab. I will cry out in sadness for all of Moab. I will moan for the people of Kir Heres… 35 I will put an end in Moab to those who make offerings at her places of worship. I will put an end to those who sacrifice to other gods. I, the LORD, affirm it! 36 So my heart moans for Moab like a flute playing a funeral song. Yes, like a flute playing a funeral song, my heart moans for the people of Kir Heres. For the wealth they have gained will perish…46 Moab, you are doomed! You people who worship Chemosh will be destroyed. Your sons will be taken away captive. Your daughters will be carried away into exile. 47 Yet in days to come I will reverse Moab’s ill fortune.” says the LORD. The judgment against Moab ends here. (Jeremiah 48:29-31; 35-36; 46-47 NET)
I didn’t hear any gloating, but I did hear the wailing and mourning of a God who loves…even the Moabites. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Who is the love of God for…it’s for you and me. It’s for those who are desperately in need of being reconciled to God, it’s for those of us who need to be forgiven for our sins, sins that others may not know about, but sin that is eating away at our souls, and it’s for those of us who have the appearance of righteousness and holiness, but the truth is that we are white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones. God’s love is for losers, liars, lunatics, and the lonely. God’s love is for sinners, skeptics, scum bags, and sex fiends. God’s love is for crooks, cheats, creeps, and convicts. God’s love is for teetotalers, temptresses, and transvestites. God’s love is for the neediest of people–skid row bums and billionaires. God’s love is for the prideful, perverts, pedophiles, and parasites. God’s love is for murderers, the marginalized, messed-up, and menacing. Oh, the world is a messy place, but God so loved the world!
What’s really interesting is that in another book written by John, 1 John, we are warned not to “love” the world or anything in the world. That’s kind of strange isn’t it when you consider that “God so loved the world.” John’s warning for you and me isn’t a command to not love people, but a command not to get entangled in the ways of the world. Listen to what John says in 1 John 2:15-16.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15-16 NIV)
It’s the ways of the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—that got us in the fix we were in. Why, after having been freed from the shackles of sin would we ever want to go back? We are to love people, but stay free from the snares of the world’s ways. And what’s the best way to avoid allowing the world to sink it’s claws in us? Read about God’s love for you in His Word. Learn about God’s love for you. Meditate on God’s rich love for you. Think about the innumerable ways He has shown you His love throughout your life. My prayer for you is the same as Paul’s prayer for those in Ephesus. Listen to this.
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)
I pray that first of all you will receive God’s wondrous love for you that has been demonstrated in giving His Son so you might be reconciled to God. I pray that He will enable you to grasp, to truly understand, “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” It is this love that has the power alone to reconcile us to God and it is this love alone that can empower you to face any challenge in life with assurance that you are not alone, that your Father loves you with a boundless love. It is this love alone that will provide you with the security that others seek in relationships, accomplishments, or experiences in life.
I wish George Matheson could be here to testify for me this morning. George was only fifteen when he was told that he was losing what little eyesight he had. George wouldn’t allow his dimming eyes to keep him from getting his education so he enrolled at the University of Glasgow and graduated 1st in his class in 1861 at the age of 19.
George totally lost his eyesight when he 20 years old. He was engaged to the love of his life at the time, but when he lost his sight she returned the ring and told George that she couldn’t see herself going through life with a blind husband. George was heartbroken, more heartbroken than anyone knew. George’s sister moved in with him to help care for his needs. She went so far as to learn Latin, Hebrew, and Greek just so she could help George with his studies. George graduated and began to pastor a church in Innellan, Scotland. George was an outstanding preacher and a wonderful pastor and much credit went to his sister. One day George’s sister announced her own engagement. George was happy for his sister, but her engagement tore the scab off of a deep, deep hurt that George had really never recovered from even though he was now 40 years old.
On the eve of his sister’s wedding George’s family was staying overnight in Glasgow and he was all alone. He began to be drawn into what-could-have-been and the sorrow was draining. George then began to console himself in thinking of God’s love—love that is never limited, never conditional, never withdrawn, never uncertain. And out of George’s experience he sat down and wrote these words in less than five minutes.
Oh, love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give you back the life I owe
And in your ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be
Oh, joy, that seeks me through the pain
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not in vain
That morn shall tearless be
Oh, cross that’s lifing up my head
I dare not ask to fly from thee
I lay in dust life’s glory dead
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be
It is the love of God that rescues us, redeems us, reconciles us, and restores us my friends. The love of God, sweet as honey, more beautiful than anything that has ever existed, and yet tied to the cross of our Savior—God’s demonstration of His love for you and me. He can open your eyes to His great love for you. He can soften your heart with His great love for you. His love can and will bridge the bottomless canyon that sin carved between you and the Father. His love and His love alone. Won’t you ask Jesus into your heart this very morning and allow the Father’s love to envelope you and begin to change your life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 15, 2013