John 3: 13-17
Lord God, merciful Father, maker of all that is seen and unseen, may the words of my mouth be from my heart and may they be acceptable in your sight and fruitful for those who hear. Amen.
For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He even gave up His only begotten, unique, Son, so that whosoever believes in Him, trusts in Him, clings to Him, relies on Him, shall not perish or come to destruction or be lost but have eternal, everlasting life. There it is in a nutshell. The Bible in one verse.
The Lord our God created the universe, then He created us and placed us in the Garden of Eden, paradise. He gave us one rule. Don’t eat that fruit. One rule. Now, if you read the Bible, you may very well form the impression that The Lord our God is not in the habit of telling us twice. But the enemy whispered in Eve’s ear and he probably whispered, repeatedly and often. There is a saying. Opportunity will knock only once but temptation will lean on the doorbell. So, we gave in to temptation and rebelled against the one rule we had been given, against The Lord our God. One rule, and we fell at the first hurdle and took sin upon ourselves. Now sin cannot exist or survive in the presence of The Lord our God, so out we went into the fallen world and we descended to the deepest depths of depravity. Cannibalism, child sacrifice, every type of vice you can imagine and quite a few you hopefully cannot.
But The Lord our God hates nothing He has created. He loves us as part of His creation and there are numerous places in the Bible where we are told that He will never forsake or leave us. We are told in the first letter of John 4:16 God is love. Now this is not Book of Solomon love. It’s not hugs and kisses. This is agape. Caring love. Fatherly love. Looking after us no matter what love. Watching us fall and fail and still being there for us even when we do something hateful love. Hate the sin but love the sinner. We fell very very far and very very deep. But The Lord our God has a plan. And this verse encapsulates the whole plan. But you have to read the rest of the Bible before you can see that. You have to do the homework.
So let’s see if we can tease out some things from this verse. For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He even gave up His only begotten, unique, Son. Now, some people might ask, ‘how can God, who is Spirit, have a son, who is flesh. Well, John goes out of his way to tell us and try to explain it. John 1:1 & 14. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, And the Word became flesh and lived among us. Our Lord Jesus is co-eternal with The Lord Our God and His Holy Spirit. One God. One being three persons. Our sins had to be paid for, but we could never meet that price ourselves, so deep was the sin and so heavy the price.
The Lord our God who is pure spirit could not pay this price for us. The price had to be paid for physically before it could be forgiven spiritually. So, The Lord our God had to take on the form of flesh in order to bear our burden in a way we could see and understand. Because if we could not witness the acts of The Lord our God, how could we begin to understand them? And if we could not begin to understand them, how could we begin to believe that we are forgiven? For everything; slate wiped clean! No small print! All you have to do is believe it. All of it. Despite this fallen world, which is the domain of the evil one, and all it will do to whisper doubts into your mind and fear into your heart.
Why did The Lord our God do all this? Why did The Lord our God not simply wash His hands of us and start again on one of the billions and billions of other worlds in His creation? Well it tells us right there For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world. The Lord our God hates nothing that He has created and vanity moves me to hope and believe that He saw something worth saving in us and the Bible reinforces that belief. I shall never forsake you nor leave you.
So, why did we have to be forgiven; at a price so terrible we could never pay it for ourselves. Well it tells us in the third section of today’s reading, so that whosoever believes in Him, trusts in Him, clings to Him, relies on Him, shall not perish or come to destruction or be lost but have eternal, everlasting life. That’s the plan, that we have eternal life as the stewards of The Lord our God’s creation. What does it mean, to perish? Revelation 14:9-11 lays that out pretty comprehensively. Then another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a mighty voice, ‘whoever pays homage to the beast and his statue, and permits the beast’s stamp to be put on his hand or on his forehead, he too shall have to drink of the wine of God’s indignation and wrath, poured undiluted into the cup of His anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no respite, Eternal bodily torment.
If that doesn’t scare you, you need to read more books and watch less Hollywood.
The Lord our God loves us as only He can. And this in itself can become a problem. Because, let’s face it, we are so far out of His league. We’ve all been there, I hope. Someone tells us they love us and the first thought that comes into our mind is how could you love me? And we refuse to believe it at first. But this is an integral part of our faith. We have to believe that The Lord our God through our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ does indeed love us in all our weakness and selfishness and wrongdoing as only He can. Fully, completely, wonderfully, no matter what we have done or not done.
Our Lord Jesus has paid the price we could not pay and we are forgiven. Once you have worked your way over that bump then you are on your way to believing in, trusting in, clinging to, relying on our Lord Jesus Christ.
But this is not a once only commitment. Read the verse carefully. It says whoever believes, present tense. Not believed. We have to go on believing, go on trusting, go on clinging to, go on relying on our Lord Jesus, because we live in a fallen world. We live in the domain of the enemy. An enemy who will never stop trying to move your course a millionth of a degree away from the path towards The Lord our God. There is a saying, which I believe to be true; if the enemy is leaving you alone then you know you’re doing something wrong. If the enemy is not attacking you, it’s because you’re doing what he wants you to do or you’re not doing something he doesn’t want you to do.
You will not get to the finishing post if you try to do it on your own. You need the support, the protection, the strength of the Holy Spirit; sent By The Lord our God through and with our Lord Jesus for that very purpose. You need the support, the protection, the prayers of the Body of Christ, the church, us, each other. That is part of why our Lord Jesus Christ paid the price we could not pay, took on the pain and the shame of The Cross, in order that we might see and understand and believe. In order not to perish or be lost but have eternal, everlasting life. And it will be eternal and everlasting and joyful. It won’t become boring because let’s face it forever is a long time and there are only so many books to read and places to visit.
But the life we are promised won’t be comparable to the life we have today. Because the eternal life we are promised will not be in the backyard of the enemy. The life we are promised will be at the table of The Lord our God in His garden with our Lord Jesus in eternal joy.
Now you may have noticed that I have moved on a bit from previous sermons, where I have made the claim that all you have to do is believe and you will be saved and left it there and I have to confess I was probably wrong in that. I would in my own defence point out that for seventeen years I was a very successful insurance salesman (remember, we forgive each other) and it is a tenet of selling insurance you have to eat the elephant one plateful at a time. By that I mean in order to get your message across you have to do it step by step. You have to climb the staircase one step at a time. So yes I have up to now talked about belief as being sufficient. Only believe and you will be saved as the apostle Paul said. But to believe consistently it has to be all or nothing. Just like love.
I hope that we may be ready to look at the question of believing in a little more detail. You have to believe completely as much as you are able. I have said many times, you don’t have to win, you only have to try and I believe that sincerely. The Lord our God loves us as only He can. He loves what He sees when He looks into our hearts and minds; not what He sees when he looks into our record. Believe with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength, as best as you can. We will stumble. We will fall. We will fail.
None of that matters as long as we always get back up and try again. Remember prayer is press-ups for your faith. Don’t believe as Judas believed. Judas spent three years watching our Lord Jesus turn water into wine; heal the sick; bring the dead back to life; feed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes; walk on water; calm the storm. There should not have been any doubt in the mind of Judas as to the true identity of our Lord Jesus. But Judas refused to believe because our Lord Jesus wasn’t conforming to what he thought the Messiah should be. Judas made the mistake of demanding a price of his own devising for his loyalty and his love and when the price was not met he rebelled and lashed out. Judas did not love The Lord our God. Judas loved what he thought The Lord our God could give him. Do not make the mistake of thinking that believing is enough in and of itself.
James 2:19 tells us. You believe that God is one; you do well. So do the demons believe and shudder. Believe in your heart with love, because that is how The Lord our God loves us, In our hearts, from His heart. For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He even gave up His only begotten, unique, Son, so that whosoever believes in Him, trusts in Him, clings to Him, relies on Him, shall not perish or come to destruction or be lost but have eternal, everlasting life. There it is. That says it all. Everything that comes from the Lord our God is rooted in love, because God is love. And if we can love the Lord our God with all our souls, and all our hearts and all our minds, then we are firmly and securely on the road to a life of belief that The Lord our God will find acceptable, because when you love somebody there is no price you will not pay to make that person happy.
But remember, it’s not a competition. Only God will see how hard we try and reward us accordingly. If you lost your legs in an accident The Lord our God would not keep counting how many steps you didn’t take today. We all have our limitations and The Lord our God knows them better than we do. The Lord our God knows us better than we know ourselves and loves us despite everything we might hate about ourselves as only He can. When we stumble, He will understand, when we falter, He will forgive as long as we confess. If we can run the race as long as we are able then the rewards are beyond description or understanding. If we cannot believe then we will not run, and the price for that is beyond contemplation.
So run the race not because you want the reward but because you want to please The Lord our God who looks upon us as His children. Run the race out of love for The Lord our God and you will last till the finishing post without doubt. Run the race solely for the prize and you take the risk of losing your way or giving up. Without love, belief is merely a way of doing business and achieving a goal, it almost certainly won’t last. With love, belief is a sacrifice acceptable in the eyes of the Lord our God and a sacrifice we will never tire of offering. All you can do is try, so do all you can do. I guarantee it will be worth it. Amen.