Sermon 3.11.18 Lent 4

John 3:14-21    Pastor Kenneth Frey 
Lent 4    3/11/18

John 3:14-21  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.  16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

God so loved the world

1.  He gave his one and only Son

2.  Believe in him and have eternal life

Standing on the edge of Hanging Lake in western Colorado or looking up at Angel Falls in Venezuela or skiing through the northwoods of Wisconsin on a sunny Winter’s day and we might say that we love this world.  There is so much beauty to be enjoyed and pleasure to be had in this world.  But when we see murder, abortion, hatred, abuse and other crimes – when we see disease, suffering, pain, trouble and hardship, do we still love this world?  But God loved the world.  God loved everyone in the world even though he knew what they were like.  He loved the world despite mankind’s rebellion and wickedness.  God so loved the world.

God loved the world so much he gave his one and only Son.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.   We heard the story in our first lesson today.  God punished the Israelites with poisonous snakes.  The poison of these snakes is a good picture of the results of sin in our lives. Every sin is like a poisonous snake crawling over us.  Each bit of gossip, every angry word, every whine, every lustful thought, every self-centered ambition, every greedy action is another slimy poisonous snake crawling all over you.  

“You have been bitten by that old snake, the devil.  With his poisonous bite he has wounded you so that you lie there under God’s wrath, condemned to eternal death.  With your sins you have fully deserved, and still deserve, to die.  If you wish to be healed from this satanic poison, from sin and death, and if you wish to be saved, so that your sins cannot condemn you and death cannot swallow you up, then you must believe in [Christ] who is lifted up on the cross.” (Martin Luther, Luther’s House Postils, Vol. 2, p. 211)  

Because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.  A story has often been told of parents in the Far East a long time ago who were reduced to poverty and the only possibility of preserving the life of the family was to sell one of the children into slavery.  Their children begging for bread tugged at their hearts so they had to consider the options.  But which one would it be?  They had four sons.  It certainly couldn’t be the first-born.  How could they part with their first-born?  The second looked so much like his father that the mother could not part with him.  The third looked so much like his mother that the father could not part with him.  The fourth?  Well that was their baby; they couldn’t sell him.  

But God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, not one of many or one of four, but the one and only Son.  And he didn’t just give his son to some profession or to a job over seas.  He put him in a manger.  He sent him to hunger and thirst, to poverty and rejection.  He gave him to mocking and beating, scourge and a thorny crown.  He gave him to nails and a cross.  God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.

And what did we do with His Son? We mocked Him and accused Him of being a liar and a cheat. We spat at Him and mocked Him and crucified Him. And what did God do? Instead of standing up for His Son and defending Him against our accusations, He allowed His Son to go through all of our abuse. What is more? He piled on the abuse by using it as an avenue through which He would punish His Son for our sins. The amazing thing is that hidden under all of this abuse He was giving us something we all needed; a place for God’s wrath to go on instead of us; so that He could be punished as our substitute. He gave Him over to death; He put Him in our place; asked Him to become us and die as if He were us; so that He could give us His Son’s righteousness and His holiness in exchange. In this case, the curse of death on Christ was given as a blessing of life to us. (Joel Pankow)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  That’s what every Jew at that time expected:  that the Messiah would come to judge.  That’s what we should expect, too, because that’s what we deserve.  If God is coming into our world, the only rational conclusion is that he is coming to judge.  That’s why the gospel is a surprise.  Just the opposite of what we would expect, God sent his son into the world to save, not to judge.

It’s so surprising, many have a hard time believing it.  Believing is trust.  But trust what?  A snake on a pole?  How can that help?  Isn’t there a salve or some other treatment?  It doesn’t make sense that simply looking at a bronze snake could cure anyone.  How many Israelites must have died because they thought the idea foolish!

That’s the way of the world.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Two boys were playing around an old abandoned mine.  They were told not to go there because it was dangerous.  They went anyway.  While there a raccoon that had made the mine his home bit one of the boys.  Now what do they do?  That raccoon could have rabies.  If they don’t say anything, he could be in serious trouble.  If they do say something, they will be punished for disobeying their parents.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 

If you ruined your neighbor’s fence and the father in that house took his son out into the yard and beat him instead of you, we would feel that is just wrong.  If the father said, “I’m going to beat him instead of you because I love you” we would probably say, “I don’t want your love.  Leave the poor kid alone.  It’s just a fence, no big deal.”  That’s the world’s response to God’s love.  They call it hate.  They don’t want it.  They don’t think sin should be such a big deal.  (Pankow)  They reject God’s love and forgiveness and they perish.  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  The gospel offers only two options:  believe or perish.  To perish does not mean cease to exist.  It means to experience utter failure, futility, and loss of all that makes existence worthwhile.  And that lasts forever.  

The other option is to believe the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  To believe is to trust what God said.  If God says that a bronze snake can cure snakebite, believe it.  If God says that water and word bring about spiritual rebirth, believe it.  If God says that Jesus’ body and blood are really present in bread and wine, believe it.  If God says those who believe in Jesus will not perish, what will you do?  Believe it.  

Believe it personally.  Put your name in that verse.  God so loved _______________ that he gave his one and only Son.  God loved you personally and if you doubt that, remember your baptism.  Go to the Lord’s Supper.  Faith doesn’t just believe that Jesus died on the cross. Faith trusts that Jesus died for me; that baptism made me his child; that I am completely holy in God’s sight; that I will not perish but have eternal life.

There is much that fights against faith.  The whole world and everything our senses tell us fight against faith.  The world says that belief in God is foolishness.  Our conscience says that we sin too much or too big for God to love us.  Our senses tell us that baptism doesn’t do anything.  Our minds argue that all of our problems and suffering are proof that God doesn’t love us.  Our feelings tell us that God doesn’t love us because we don’t always feel forgiven.  We don’t feel loved by God.  

But the promise still stands.  The truth is still the truth:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  Believe in Jesus and you have eternal life.  

The next time you are in an airport, notice the difference between passengers who have confirmed tickets and those on standby.  Those with tickets are relaxed, confident and expectant.  Those on standby are nervously pacing and anxiously wondering.  The difference is certainty. (Adapted from Timothy Peck) May we have the faith that makes us certain.  May that confidence give joy, meaning and purpose to our lives.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.