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Sermon based on John 3:14-21
Across the Triad I suspect many people this past week have been suffering from that maddening sickness that strikes every March known as ACC Fever. For lovers of basketball we have now entered March madness. As a UNC Charlotte basketball fan the only thing I have been rooting for was the end of their season that saw my beloved 49ers win six games and lose 23 games! I for one enjoy watching the upcoming NCAA tournament basketball games. In thinking of these upcoming games, although not as prevalent as it once was, at these games for many years we could usually view on television someone holding a poster board with the following inscription: JOHN 3:16. No verse in the Bible has been quoted or seen as often as this verse of Scripture. One of my earliest recollections as a young child of this verse came as I watched a sporting event on television. I remember seeing a person who became known among many as the Rainbow Man. He was a fixture in American sports culture in the 1970’s and early 1980’s best known for wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and holding up a sign reading “John 3:16” at sporting events around the United States. As my love of sports grew, I began to notice this man at the World Series, golf tournaments and the Super Bowl. While some children wanted to grow up to be doctors, policeman or firefighters, for a time I had a secret desire to wear a rainbow colored wig and watch these sporting events in person. At some point in time I began to ask my parents who this man was in the rainbow colored wig but the more important question that I asked was what did John 3:16 mean. I wasn’t sure who this John person was and as a sports fan I figured early on that the score was not always 3-16.
It was at this point I was given my first Bible from my parents. I still have this Bible today, packed in a box with my other books in the Fellowship Building Basement! This powerful verse in the Gospel of John is often called the gospel in miniature or as our sermon title indicates, “the verse that matters.” If we are looking for a condensed version of the Scriptures, if we are looking for a single verse that summarizes what being a follower of Christ is all about, we would be hard pressed to find a better verse than John 3:16. While this verse does not disclose all the information available through Scripture, we are provided a wonderful beginning. This morning we are going to explore this verse together. We will divide this verse into a few segments. Our first segment begins with the following words:
For God so loved the world…
In unlocking the meaning of those words in John 3:16 we discover that God loves us unconditionally. God is there to protect and guide us. Sometimes this is difficult for us to comprehend because we tend to love only if someone does something for us or because someone is fun to talk to and be with. We love people who we think deserve our love and affection. But that is not the case with God. God loves all sinners in spite of their sinfulness. Perhaps we are familiar with the original words to Isaac Watts’ hymn, At The Cross? The beginning of this hymn says the following:
Alas, and did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
love this old wording because it communicates the fact that God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us in spite of our sin. God’s love is an unconditional love! As Watts says in another verse,
Was it for sins that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
In thinking of that love beyond degree there is a story told of a sailor who ran up to the bridge of his ship and in panic told his captain, “Sir, my little dog has fallen overboard. Will you stop the ship so that I can rescue him?” The captain responded, “Son, this ship does not stop for dogs.” The sailor thought a moment and then said, “Sir, if it were a person that was overboard, would you stop the ship?” The captain answered, “Of course we would.” Immediately the sailor jumped overboard. He rescued his dog and waited for the captain to turn the ship around and rescue both of them. Our love is like that captain it has to be earned. But not God’s. It is given to all no matter what. God stops for dogs and even sinners like us. This is because the source of God’s love is not in the object that God loves. We can’t provoke, trick, convince, earn, or win God’s love. God doesn’t love us because of who we are but rather because of Who God is. God loves not just the good or the obedient, but the bad and the disobedient as well, because God’s love is absolutely unconditional.
This revelation leads to a second characteristic of God’s love. We know that God’s love is so great as this verse from John records this act of sacrifice with these simple words,
“…he gave us his only Son…”
As we think of God’s great sacrifice I recall the story about a missionary broadcaster named Glenn Chambers. On February 15, 1947 Glenn Chambers boarded a plane bound for Ecuador to begin his ministry. Sadly Chambers never arrived. The plane carrying Chambers crashed into a mountain peak and spiraled downward. Later it was discovered that before leaving the Miami airport, Chambers wanted to write his mother a letter. All he could find for stationery was a page of advertising on which was written the single word “WHY?” Around that word he hastily scribbled what turned out to be his final note and put the letter in the mail. A few days after her son’s death, his letter arrived. She opened the envelope, took out the paper, and unfolded it. Staring her in the face was the question “WHY” followed by the last written words of her son. That question “Why” is often asked when thinking about crucifixion of Jesus. Why did God allow his Son to be crucified? In learning this answer “why” we learn the reason through these remaining words of this verse:
…so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
While there is a mystery of the cross that we may never be able to fully understand, we realize that someone who died thousands of years ago still has a great impact upon our lives today.
Over the centuries the Church has struggled to express what Jesus did for all humanity by his dying upon the cross. Metaphors, symbols and reasoned argument have been used. Christ’s death has been described as a sacrifice and substitute. However these descriptions fall short of fully explaining the death of Jesus. Throughout Scripture we learn the simple truth that Jesus died for us. Fortunately we do not have to understand fully all Christ did for us we must simply accept the truth as revealed in our passage from John. As John 3:16 shares, our faith in Jesus, our belief that he saved us and has given us eternal life is all that matters. That is the gospel.
God so loved the world that gave his only son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
If we are to respond to God’s love, I believe we must emphasize that love is active, tangible, and action oriented. Love is a choice one has to make, not so much a feeling we choose to have. Remembering the words of Jesus who once said the following,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
It was God’s love that took Jesus to the cross and that cost must be acknowledged with the expressed desire that we too will love one another as Christ loved us. Certainly this love comes with a high price but for people of faith, we know this price provides us an eternal blessing and reward.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
March 11, 2018