Happy mother’s day. In a congregation this broad, we realize that histories vary, that life stories are quite different from person to person. For those of you who find a particular pain or struggle in the mention, the Lord knows, and we pray he comforts you in that struggle. Some of us may have a mother who is a great mom. Some of us might have a mom who is more of a mixed blessing. There are some who will feel the ache of abuse when thinking about our moms. There might even be some who do not know their mother at all. There are two things I know, clearly and vividly about my mom. One, she loves Jesus. Two, her favorite verse is John 3:16. In honor of her, though she could not be with us today, I’ll be preaching through John 3:16.
Whether they were good or bad, our mothers gifted us with life. That alone is a reason for thankfulness on this day when we honor our mothers. Yes, they gave us life, in a very real and personal sense. But there remains a gift of life far beyond this gift of life from a mother. It is the gift of eternal life, found only in believing in Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 – “God’s infinite love made manifest in an infinitely glorious manner.”
Backdrop: A religious teacher and leader of the Jewish people named Nicodemus, comes to see Jesus at night. He offers some deference to Jesus, but certainly does not understand yet who Jesus really is. Jesus cuts directly to the chase and tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, born from above. This is language that is familiar to Nicodemus, as it is one of the descriptions of new converts to Judaism. Yet Jesus is directing this at Nicodemus, a pharisee (a Jewish religious order), member of the Sanhedrin (the ruling religious body over Jews), and a teacher of Israel. Jesus makes it clear that Nicodemus is not at the height of right worship of God, but is in need of initial birth into the faith – in other words, he is a sinner who is still at war with God and Jesus is calling him to believe in Jesus as his Savior.
*** John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The amazing depth of the gospel: “For God so loved the world.” The good news given to Nicodemus, and to us here, has at its root and foundation the love of God. The very author of love is writing the gospel using the inkwell of divine love. Even such a picture as this is inadequate to cover the infinite expanse of God’s love displayed here. Stop and consider… picture the highest and most pure human acts of love, and remember these are but a faint shadow of the reality of God’s love. If we could say it this way without being too crass, God’s motion to save us in the gospel of Jesus Christ is powered by the engine of divine love. One challenge here: does your theology allow you to say “For God so loved the world…”, or is there an imbalance in the system that causes you to hold back?
Consider for a moment, how easily we skip past “so”. It speaks of “how much”, “in this manner”, “to such an extent”. It is a small word in this verse which, in its context here, reveals the infinite love of God displayed in the infinitely glorious sending of the Son of God. May God open your eyes to begin to see the depth of mercies displayed here by the Holy One, acting in the Sent One, to redeem unholy and ungodly people of all colors, shapes, sizes, and whose records of rebellion cover the range of sin against God.
Sometimes our use of the language of love in our culture leaves gaps in our understanding. For example, I love peanut buster parfaits. I love my wife Diane. If my wife is sitting at the kitchen table, with a peanut buster parfait on the table, and the house starts on fire, I will spend every ounce of human energy to rescue her without a second thought about the ice cream. Those are two different loves. Remember, God’s love pictured here is not like our love of ice cream, or cheesecake, or a good book, or our favorite dolly, or our fastest hot wheels car. God’s love is “love in action” for men and women, boys and girls. If you want to know the depth of love, look at the sacrifice, the self-denial and serving . The Son, the infinite Son of God has been sent by God to offer an infinitely precious life given in sacrifice. Love can speak no more clearly, no more loudly, no more universe-shakingly than this act of God put on display for all to see.
*** “For God so loved the world“.
Remember, Jesus is addressing Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, a member of the nation of “Israel – God’s chosen people”. Nicodemus understood, through long tradition, that he was a member of God’s chosen nation. That he was “one of the good guys” and that practically speaking, every other nation or group of people on the face of the earth were all “one of the bad guys”. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world…”. Jesus expands Nicodemus’ view of the reach of God’s saving grace. He shows Nicodemus that it extends across all the peoples of mankind, not merely or only to a single ethnic or religious group, not only a specific class, not simply a certain geography. Rather, He will save from “every tribe, and language, and people, and nation” as described in Revelation 5:9. What amazing good news for us! Listen up. “For God so loved the world…”.
You are not unreachable by the saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing real standing between you and the hope of eternity with Jesus Christ except your own sin and your sinful refusal to believe in Jesus to save you. The color of your skin is not a barrier. Your job does not rule you out. Your education, bank account, medical issues, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, addiction, weakness… none of these rule you out of reach of the gospel. Let’s speak frankly. In loving the world of humanity, God knows the wickedness possible in the human heart. He knows the wickedness in my life and in yours. There isn’t any sin in your past which places you outside the reach of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Oh, if you only knew what I’ve done.” I don’t need to know, and God already knows, and we’re still hearing God’s call of the gospel for you to believe and be saved.
Maybe “being too bad for Jesus” isn’t your excuse this morning. Maybe your excuse is “being too good for Jesus”. Let’s close all paths of escape which the human heart will try to invent. You do need Jesus. You are not ok. You are not acceptable in and of yourself. You are as much “of the world” as every other thief, liar, murderer, pimp, or paedophile who has ever lived. The curse of death, which comes as the result of sin, is a reality across all human existence. In the most expensive, remotest resorts, you still find graveyards. In the halls of academia, the boardrooms of every industry, the history of human endeavor, you will find each person marching inevitably towards meeting their Creator and giving account of their lives, with the stain of sin found throughout everything they have done. This call to believe in Jesus is a call directed at you today.
*** “that he gave his only Son”
Here is the great sounding of the depths of God’s love, and it is infinitely deep. The Father sent his only Son as the greatest demonstration of his divine love. Some people can say “I love you” quite easily, readily. There is something that rings out louder than those words, no matter how often spoken or unspoken they may be. Action. How do you know the depths of love which someone has for you? Look at their actions to see how much they care for you, how much they are committed to your well-being. Look at the actions of God’s love, to know how much He loves. God gave… he gave his only Son in love for the world, that the world might be saved through him.
HE GAVE – God is the great initiator, the architect of our salvation who draws from the well of divine love and sends forth his own beloved son, his one and only, his only-begotten Son to work redemption of all kinds of men, all kinds of women, all kinds of boys and girls. His “giving” of the Son is not simply a sending so we can meet Jesus. God’s “giving” of the Son is a “giving” to the great work of bearing sin and its punishment upon the cross for the sure and certain rescue of all who believe in Jesus for their salvation. God moves, and then calls us, not to move in return, but rather to trust him in his moving. The great question for today – “Do you?” Do you believe in God’s Son and in him alone for your salvation?”
There is mystery bound up in this… the mystery of the Trinity is put on display in the working of our salvation. God sends his only Son; not as if a great inventor sent his prized robot creation. No, in the mystery of Father, Son, and Spirit we have the working of God on our behalf to perfect salvation. The giving of the only-begotten Son of God was the one and only way to accomplish this great act of redeeming sinful men and sinful women from the wrath of God unto eternal life in peace with God. It was the costliest gift. The humblest gift. The most loving act in the history of the universe and beyond.
*** “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”
How good must we be to earn this inexpressibly great gift? How high must we reach before we can begin to touch heaven? Where must we go to find this Messiah, this Lord and Savior of sinners? What must we give to buy this salvation? The short answer to each of these: “It is impossible.” You cannot earn this gift. You cannot buy it. You cannot reform your life to such a degree to attain salvation. He is not to be found solely on a specific mountain, only on that island, or exclusively at the bottom of the ocean. No amount of money, gold, or diamonds will purchase the smile of the Almighty. Sin has broken your fellowship with God and no solution is to be find in yourself. Rather, believe in him for salvation. Trust him for forgiveness of your sin and deliverance from God’s wrath. Commit your destiny to him, that you may be with him forever. Believe in Jesus to save you from your sinful life of rebellion against God, and he will save you. Believe in Jesus for new and lasting and eternal life instead of inescapable death, judgment, and the well-deserved eternal wrath of God.
Repent, which means to turn from sin, to consider it hateful, and to desire in God’s empowering to be free from it in your thinking and doing as you turn towards Jesus in faith. God has told us the truth in Ezekiel 18, “the soul who sins shall die.” All sin leads to death. It promises pleasure but only gives emptiness. It promises freedom but only brings slavery. It promises excitement but only brings futility. Why cling to the anchor that drags you beneath the surface? Why clutch sin which brings upon your head the searching, righteous judgment of the Almighty? Why dive into this sin-soaked world and search endlessly for something to take away the pain of sin when there is only one solution – repent, and believe in him.
Maybe, just maybe, you are listening to this and thinking to yourself that you do not need Jesus to save you… that you don’t sin… that you are not a rebel against God… that you are “better than most, not as good as some, but you are doing ok”. Without Jesus, you are already on the road to hell, the flames of judgment are licking at your feet, and fear of death is binding you with chains of slavery which you cannot see. Oh, that God would open your eyes to the terrible position you are in. To be hopeless and helpless and guilty through and through before the searching sight of the Almighty is a most fearful state.
Are you deaf to the only message that can save you, blind to the reality of your own sin and the one Savior? Then you shall be guilty and defenseless before the throne of judgment when the All Seeing God calls you to account. He will open the book of the record of your life, and it will all be there. I call on you again: believe in Jesus that you may not perish, but have eternal life.
What are you to believe? Simply that a man named Jesus lived 2000 years ago? No, not the bare facts of history alone, but to believe in him who is able to forgive, to save, to give life eternal. To believe in him is to believe that who he claimed to be is, in fact, true; that he is the one sent by God to save us, the one who died in our place bearing our guilt of sin, the one who rose from the grave and who gives us new life now and eternity with him. To believe in him is to be in union with him. Believe in the one who lived for you, the one who died for you, the one who rose again for you. Believe in Jesus, who calls you to believe in him.
*** “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The life that Jesus gives is eternal life. How might we think about that phrase “eternal life”? If you are like me, you hear “life which lasts forever”. That is true, and part of the picture, but it is so much richer and more vibrant that that. “Eternal life” is life as it should be; life in fellowship with our Creator and King; life in the joy of our Master which is not given over to the fleeting fickleness of what we call “joy” in this world. To see the King enthroned in glory as all creation rightly worships him, in natural creaturely response to the presence of our Creator and Owner, will surpass every vision of greatness conjured up by any artist; whether in word, picture, painting, or sculpture. It will surpass every vision of greatness conjured up by heads of state of any nation or people. Infinitely.
The building anticipation of this scene begins from the moment you believe in him, for he raises you from the dead and breathes life into your sin-dead soul, life to be lived with the purpose of glorifying God in everything you do! Life no longer lived in slavery to sin, but in service to the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep, who gave his life for each of us who believe in him. Believe in him, that you may hear from his own lips, “Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your master.” Rather to hear that then the dreaded declaration, “I never knew you; depart from me, you worker of lawlessness.”
Consider for a moment the deep joys which await the redeemed as we live in the presence of our Savior King. To dwell in peace with God, without the stain of sin, without the barrier of slavery to another master, without the guilt and shame of past sin or fear of future failure; offering our worship willingly, eagerly, full-throated, whole-hearted, unashamed and unafraid before the One who first loved us. We truly shall “enter into the joy of our master”.
Believe in Him and you will not perish, but have eternal life!