Over the last decade as American men and women have been serving and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan some of their funerals here in the United States have been protested by a small group of misguided people who are largely from one family. The fact that the leader of the group calls himself a pastor and his group a Baptist church saddens me because their message is one of hate. The word “hate” is even in their website address. To protest at a funeral is about the lowest and most insensitive thing I can imagine. Among the many lies and distortions this man has spoken, one of the worst is, “That God only loves those who repent from their sin.” This is totally false. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
March 18, 2012
John 3:14-17, The Gospel in Miniature
Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
The Gospel in Miniature from BBC Staff on Vimeo.
The words of John 3:16 are even more familiar to most of us than Romans. John 3:16 represents as Martin Luther, the spark of the Protestant Reformation said, “the gospel in miniature.” So many people have been exposed to harsh, judgmental, and false teaching in Jesus’ name that they have completely tuned out God, Christ, and the way of Jesus. So today I want to sum up the most important message in the Bible in a clear way so we all can understand it. This is a day when you may find it helpful to take a few notes to keep the key points in mind. Listen to John 3:14-17, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
If you’re going to write things down on the back of your bulletin begin with this: The Story of Love. The Bible is the story of God’s love for all creation.
Love Expressed in creation and in our creation. Love is experienced through relationships and God offers us relationship. In the Book of Genesis we learn humanity is made in the image of God that includes the fact that we’re made to be in relationship with God and with one another. Last Sunday we had a rose on the communion table to celebrate the birth of Ruth Ross’s first great-grandchild, Jacoby. We do that when a new life has come to a family in our church. Each new life is an expression of the Creator’s love and every life is offered the opportunity to know, love, and serve God. Though God always takes the initiative to express love to us, many of us don’t embrace that love when we first learn about it.
Love Rejected. Many of us reject and resist the love of our Creator. We resist accountability to God. We try to control our own lives and destinies, we reject relationship with God. This rejection is called sin. One of the saddest parts of the story of Adam and Eve is the Creator having to call after those who were created, asking, “Where are you?” The question lingers waiting for an answer for each individual, “Where are you?” God has made us, given us life, and offers us relationship, but we flee in pursuit of our own selfish ends and reject the love and longing for relationship that God expressed. The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “At some thoughts one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide ‘I will combat it by humble love.’ If you resolve on that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.” This is what God set about to do – to combat human sin by humble love.
Love Restated Our rejection doesn’t stop God’s love. God’s love was restated in a completely new way in Jesus. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it is now possible for all people to love God and others in restored relationships. This is what John’s Gospel is trying to make clear. John 3:16 represents The Greatest Love – For God so loved the world
The Greatest Gift – that he gave his only Son,
The Greatest Offer – So that everyone who believes in him
The Greatest Promise – May not perish but may have eternal life.
The gospel or good news is the story of a Creator’s love. It’s a story that began with the expression and rejection of God’s love. So God sent Jesus to represent divine love on earth, as Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. Jesus was willing to surrender his life in order that others might live, bear his name and carry on his work. Have you ever noticed that every time there is a significant earthquake in the world, stories of survival, sacrifice, and courage always emerge? In the town of Stepanavan, Armenia, there is a woman known as “Palasan’s wife.” She had her own name, of course, but townspeople called her by her husband’s name to show her great honor. In 1988 when a devastating earthquake struck Armenia, it was nearly noon, and Palasan was at work. He rushed to the elementary school where his son was a student. The facade was already crumbling, but he entered the building and began pushing children outside to safety. After Palasan had managed to help 28 children out, an after shock hit that completely collapsed the school building and killed him. So the people of Stepanavan honored his memory and his widow by calling her Palasan’s wife. Sometimes a person’s greatest honor is not who they are, but to whom they are related. The highest honor of any Christian is to be called a disciple of Jesus who laid down his life for all people. God’s love is expressed, rejected, and then restated in Jesus.
Love Accepted We can choose to give our lives to God’s love and direction. We can accept God’s offer of love and believe in and trust Jesus. When we acknowledge Jesus as our Savior and the Leader of our life, our past rejection is forgiven and we are set free to become who God created us to be. The offer is extended, but we still have to claim it. We have to believe and accept it. During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, George Wilson, a postal clerk, robbed a federal payroll from a train and in the process killed a guard. The court convicted him and sentenced him to hang. Because of public sentiment against capital punishment, however, a movement began to secure a presidential pardon for Wilson because it was his first offense, and eventually President Jackson intervened with a pardon. Amazingly, Wilson refused it. Since this had never happened before, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether someone could indeed refuse a presidential pardon. Chief Justice John Marshall handed down the court’s decision: “A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives to it. George Wilson has refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die.” George Wilson, as punishment for his crime, was hanged. Pardon, declared the Supreme Court, must not only be granted, it must be accepted. The same is true with God’s love for us – it is expressed and restated, but only we decide whether or not to accept the offer.
Love Empowered When we accept the offer of God’s love in Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit we are included in the family of believers, enabled to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and we’re equipped with gifts to use in ministry and service. Believing in Jesus, empowered by the Spirit we live for God as children of the light and do deeds worthy of God. We no longer fear condemnation and even when we die we may do so with trust if we’ve accepted God’s love in Christ and live for Jesus. Steve Winger from Lubbock, Texas wrote about his last college test – a final in a logic class known for its difficult exams. “To help us on our test, the professor told us we could bring as much information as could fit on a piece of notebook paper. Most students crammed as many facts as possible on their 8 ½ x 11 inch sheet of paper. But one student walked into class, put a piece of notebook paper on the floor, and had an advanced logic student stand on the paper. The advanced logic student told him everything he needed to know. He was the only student to receive an “A.”
The ultimate final exam will come when we stand before the Almighty and our Creator asks, “Why should I let you in?” On our own we can’t pass that exam. Our attempts to earn eternal life fall far short. But we have someone who will “stand in” for us. Having accepted the offer of God’s love and believed in Jesus we can live with hope and confidence.
Love Obeyed We live as God’s children by worshipping with others in a local church, reading the Bible and praying, participating in a small group, being in a relationship of encouragement and accountability with another person, and by sharing God’s love with others through faithful and generous service to the world.
We need one another to truly know and experience the loving touch of God.
In the prologue to his book Leadership Jazz, Max DePree shares this story:
“Esther, my wife, and I have a granddaughter named Zoe, the Greek word for life. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding ring could slide up her arm to her shoulder. The neonatologist who examined her told us that she had a 5-10% chance of living three days. When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she two IVs in her navel, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.
To complicate matter, Zoe’s biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born. Realizing this, a wise nurse named Ruth gave me my instructions. “For the next several months, at least, you’re the surrogate father. I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I want you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger. While you’re caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch.”
Our Creator knew that we also needed both God’s voice and touch. So we were given not only the Word but the Son. God’s voice and touch say to us all how much we are loved. The world became estranged from its Creator and God sent the Son into the world to save it. Jesus is our link between heaven and earth. The death of Jesus reveals the fullness of God’s love for the world, the love that delivers people from death by bringing us into that relationship with God that is eternal life. Each of us has to decide what we’re going to do with Jesus.
Love Expressed, Love Rejected, Love Restated, Love Accepted, Love Empowered, Love Obeyed.
The Greatest Love – For God so loved the world
Gift – that he gave his only Son,
Offer – So that everyone who believes in him
Promise – May not perish but may have eternal life.
This is the story of God’s love for you. It is a serious offer of love. Don’t let it slip away.
Prayer by Saint Patrick
May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.
May Christ be with us! May Christ be before us! May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all! May Thy (Love and) Grace, Lord, Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.