Bible Passage: John 3:16
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: March 12, 2017
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christ returned as we sit here this morning, worshiping him? Perhaps, just maybe as we gaze into heaven he will now appear. Perhaps, just maybe in this service we shall see him as he is, as we sit with him in the heavenly realms. It hasn’t happened yet. It still could, of course. But, well, don’t be surprised if the service ends as it began, without the sight of Christ dazzling in glory coming down over the altar and filling us all with the joy of the final resurrection. Perhaps, instead of his amazing and glorious visible return, he will leave us with something that at first glance appears rather shabby by comparison. Perhaps he will leave us with some words of encouragement, the words of this verse that we all know so well. It may seem shabby in comparison, but doesn’t it still just overwhelm you, these things that Christ has left us? Doesn’t it overwhelm you, this little verse, these few words that you know by heart, words that sum up why he came, what he did while here, what he is doing even know and for the rest of time? Doesn’t it just overwhelm you? For in it all he is telling us yet again how much he has loved us and loves us still.
Listen again and carefully contemplate each word and phrase of this verse. Jesus says to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world.” A more literal translation would be: “In this way, God loved the world.” Jesus grabs Nicodemus’ attention and ours too, doesn’t he? How? How? In what way does God love the world. It already overwhelms us that God would love the world in any way at all. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve it has been a soiled and rotten pit and it is getting worse by the hour. It does the bidding of sin and Satan, death and hell. Its inhabitants, each and every one of them, each and every one of us, are all drowning in the depths of our pet sins, not even considering the hell which awaits at the end of life. Millions would rather scroll on their phones than read a page of the Bible. People prefer steak and lobster to the bread of life and a second beer to the cup of salvation. And is there anyone who even for one moment perfectly loved and served God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength? No, not a one. And all the open and obvious, the secret and unspoken sins of the heart just prove what the Psalmist says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” And so it already overwhelms us to hear it: “In this way, God loved the world.”
Well, but talk is cheap. People say they love each other all the time. It doesn’t mean anything to most. So what? This is the so what: “Thus, in this way God loved the world, not with mere words or empty phrases; this in this way God loved the world that he gave…God loved the world and gave? Gave what? Gave us a beautiful world, a world of vibrant colors, a world rich in natural resources. He gave time to live, time to enjoy life. He gave health and wealth, the warmth of intimate friends and family. He gave useful work and pleasure. Is that what Jesus is going to tell Nicodemus, that God loved the world so that he gave all these things? Given what the world deserves from God, that would be more than enough. But no, that’s not it. As excellent as all those things are, that’s not what Jesus focuses on or wants us to focus on. No, it’s this: “In this way, God loved the world, so that he gave his only begotten Son.” He gave his only begotten Son! That’s how much he loved us! Doesn’t it overwhelm you?
God did not give him as a judge, jury, and executioner to try the world and condemn it to what it deserves. No, he gave him as Savior, as Savior of the whole world; for that’s how he loved the world. He came, not just for the good, the better, and the best, but for the whole world. To the cross he went, not just for those who would eventually prove themselves worthy, but for the whole world. Hell itself he experienced in his anguished cries from the cross to suffer the pain and torment the whole world earned with its sin.
If he gave his Son for the whole world, then he must have given him for me too! I am part of the world and its corruption, part of the world and all its sin and shame. But “In this way, God loved the world—including me—that he gave his only begotten Son to be the one and only Savior!” That’s how much he loved us. Doesn’t it overwhelm you?
But surely there must be a catch. We’ve all seen and heard it often enough: Get your free (you fill in the blank), all you have to do is meet the following conditions: buy the lottery ticket and buy another and another and you’ll be rich; just send in fifty bucks and you’ll get this that and the other thing. We’ve all heard it a thousand times. So what’s the catch here for getting this love of God?
Listen to what Jesus says and let it overwhelm you: “In this way God loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” There’s no catch at all! For believing is not the condition we fulfill in order to have eternal life. Not at all. If it were, we would be doomed indeed, for we would never know if we had really believed or believed enough. No, to believe in Jesus is simply to receive what he has promised in his Word. Believing is to receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life and salvation. That’s God’s promise, and as Luther loved to say so often, “God would not lie to us!”
God keeps giving him for us and for our salvation. In the proclamation of the Gospel, there he is. In the Sacrament of Baptism, there he is, washing us with water and the Word; there he is putting on the white robe of perfect righteousness; there he is adopting yet another child and placing it in the lap of his Father as one for whom he lived, died, and rose again. And in the Sacrament of his body and blood, there too is the Christ, the only begotten whom God gave for us and our salvation. What does God see when he looks down on us? Our sin? No! Our shame? No! Our guilt? No! What does he see then? He looks down and sees his gift, his only begotten Son who has come to be with us always in the Word, to be with us ever with his body and blood in the Sacrament. He sees not what we owe, but what his one and only Son paid; he sees the price of our salvation in the body and blood of that only begotten Son whom he has given us.
During this Lenten season, we see that love in action. We see that love accomplishing everything we need. We see the gift being prepared and wrapped and ready to be delivered. What great comfort! For we still live in this vale of tears. We still have a sinful nature that troubles us. We still suffer many things here on earth. But since God loved us so much, and since he loves us still in Christ, we join in the hymns of the Apostle Paul as well: “If God did not spare his only begotten Son, but freely gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Yes, even give us trial and trouble, pain and suffering to fix our glance more firmly on him and his promised help.
Doesn’t it just all overwhelm you? “In this way, God loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Life now, life forever! Now and forever, it overwhelms! Amen