week the leaders of Vacation Bible School have been demonstrating—and
teaching—the idea of love. You have heard about love in the
children’s music today as well as in the choir music. We will
continue to sing about it in our hymns and some here today will be
going out in mission with it next Sunday. Love is that important. One
of the foundational statements of the Old, or First Testament, is
also a foundational statement of our Jewish neighbors. It is
contained in the words of the SHEMA, which is Hebrew for “Hear.”
It goes like this: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord;
and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, and with all your mind.” [Deut. 6: 4-5] Christians know
those words especially because Jesus learned them as he was growing
up and he taught them to his disciples. Some versions say “mind and
strength” instead of might but it is the same commandment. It is to
“Love God!” Now why should we love God? Some might say we love to
be kind or to be considerate. But in the Bible’s first letter of
John, chapter 4, we hear the best reason: “We love because he God
loved us!” Some of the best relationships in the world are
reciprocal; if you love someone with all your heart, and that person
doesn’t, and perhaps never did love you back, you are destined for
sadness and heartache. But if you love someone who first loved you,
it can be a match made in heaven. And when it comes to God loving us
first, it is great news to remember!
is a very important disciple in the Bible. The Gospel that bears his
name, as well as his letters, talk a great deal about love. Love was
very important to John, mostly, some say, because he felt so loved,
so valued, and so noticed by Jesus himself. John seemed to be tuned
to the key of love; he wrote about it more than Paul did, and even
more than the other Gospel writers. And there is one place where John
condensed his central understanding into one great sentence. It’s
the sentence we see held up on poster board in the stands of a
football game or other sporting event. It’s the sentence that
evangelists use, sometimes in less than loving ways, when they are
walking on street corners or taking stands against or for ethical
issues. It’s the sentence that has been called, “The Gospel in
Miniature.” It is John 3:16. Today I want to unpack this sentence,
and the one that follows it, to help explain words that seem
self-evident, but there’s more than meets the eye.
sentence starts with God. Do you start with God in your life? If you
do not believe in God, then for you, life could end at your last
breath. Is there nothing, like Heaven, beyond this life for those who
do not believe in Jesus, who Christians say “ascended into Heaven?
Those who put God in their life end with God in their life. God is
the Creator who was in the beginning, who is now, and ever shall be.
But Christianity affirms that God is also is the Redeemer, who the
Bible calls the Son; he is every bit God, but he also knew human
joys, sufferings, and bled human blood on the cross. And Christianity
affirms that God is the Spirit as well, the one who is with us to
counsel, confront, and to comfort as needed. This is the
multi-faceted nature of God.
Here we must look at love. The New Testament was written in Greek.
One Greek word for love is “Eros” which is passionate love. That
is not the word used here. Another word for love in Greek is
“Philios” which means a kind of brotherly love. That is not the
word used here. The word used here is “Agape,” sometimes called
“Christian love.” It means genuinely caring for others as if they
were your neighbors, or even your children. “God so loved” means
that God wants to keep pouring love into us and shedding his grace on
us. It means if your heart is a well, God keeps filling it up if you
stay connected to God. God is good.
so loved the world.
When we add “the world,” it doesn’t just mean Americans, or
Christians, or any one group on our planet. In fact, the word is
closer to the idea of “the cosmos” so God loves all of creation!
We cannot play the childish game of thinking that God loves us best.
God loves the world.
so loved the world that he gave his only Son. This
starts some of the tricky parts. Remember the Christian belief that
God is in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Here, if we
use the symbolic language of “Father,” we might understand the
wording to be “God in three persons loved the world so much that,
as the Father, he gave his only Son.” Otherwise I would join some
of you with this objection: “What is so loving about a Father
sending his son off to be killed? Is that what I would do with my son
to show love? No. I, instead, would go myself to face death and show
my love.” So the wording matters here. We must remember that God is
multifaceted and is fully in the one known traditionally as “Father,”
but that God is also
fully in the Son. So during the crucifixion of Christ, God did not
just stay in Heaven; God was also on the cross, in Christ, and
suffered scourging, derision, torture, and ultimately crucifixion for
our sakes for our sins, not his own.
That is to say, he paid the price for the sake of those there at the
cross that day, and for the sake of those around the world that day,
in the world up
to this day and beyond.
It is enormous love that God shows. As the story goes, a child asked
a Sunday School teacher one time how much God loved him. She opened
her arms wide and said: “This much” showing the position of
Christ when he was on the cross. So this text today is not about God
keeping holy robes clean in Heaven while the Son is sent to Earth to
do the dirty work. This is about God, as always, wanting to
tabernacle, or live among humans, to experience our pains and joys,
and to pay the price that will one day lead his followers beyond
so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes
in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Believing in Jesus is essential; it is through Jesus that the curtain
of the Temple was torn in two and a connection with God through
Christ was possible. It is through Christ that a room has been
prepared for followers to live in the Father’s house. And it is
through Christ that God says ultimately: “I have tried the world I
created for you when I was in Christ. When your mortal life ends,
come and be with me forever, in an everlasting life!” Those who
have tried to do what Jesus would do while they’ve been on the
earth will love the joys of Heaven! Those who have no high regard for
Christ in their mortal life will have no use for the kind of life
that Heaven provides. That’s why it’s important to believe in
him; it’s not for his
it’s for ours!
finally, we cannot stop without addressing John 3:17 as well:
God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but
that the world might be saved through Him.
There have been a lot of books written about a second coming of
Christ to the world picturing ours Savior as returning with
condemnation, anger, and harsh judgments. They are popular reads. But
if God sent the Son the first time to show his great love, and the
Bible says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and
forever” in Hebrews 13:8, then why would Jesus return angry? Some
churches teach that. In this congregation we believe that Jesus will
lovingly and joyously join us on the day of his return when “the
kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his
Christ.” [Revelation 11:15] He will invite those who believe in him
to live in the New Heaven and New Earth created for those who believe
in the one who made it possible. And sadly, but not angrily, Jesus
will watch as the others depart, because his world never has been the
one in which they want to live.
is not in the condemning business; God gave us freewill, and Jesus
Christ hopes you will choose him for a life that can change this
world, and then give us a new life in the next world! Today as we
commission missionaries, as we have thanked Vacation Bible School
workers, and as we have welcomed everyone to this celebration, I hope
you feel loved, and I hope that your heart, like a well, is being
refilled by the living waters of Jesus Christ, who once said:
“Whoever drinks of this
shall never thirst.” May it be so with you. Thanks be to God.
A. Sumner June 23, 2013