Home > Uncategorized > Message for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Mar 15

Message for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Mar 15

Sermon on John 3:14-21

Text John 3:14-21

 Note: this message can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

>

Forever 21The clothing chain Forever 21 prints it on the bottom of their shopping bags.  One of my favorite places on earth, In & Out Burger, prints it on the bottom of their cups.  It shows up on signs at sporting events.  It’s the whole Gospel in a nutshell.  Christian author, Max Lucado assures us it’s the most often quoted verse in the whole Bible.  John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his onlybegotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Certainly, this well-known passage tells us not only that God loved the world, but how he loved it and to what extent he loved it.  But as we see today, the most well-known Bible passage comes to us not as an isolated kernel of wisdom or even truth, but in a rich context that links it to the cross of Jesus Christ.rainydays

God does a new thing for the sake of His creation in sending Jesus but He does not do a completely unexpected thing.  Our reading today begins with direct reference to the Old Testament reading.   “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  The people of Israel had sinned against the Lord loathing his good gift of manna and so the Lord has sent fiery serpents to chastise them.  They were probably not literally serpents of fire but most likely serpents whose bite felt like fire.  They were dying from the bites and cried out to the Lord and the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole and lift it up so the people could see it and when they beheld it, they were saved from perishing because of the serpents.  It’s a story every Israelite knew.  And Jesus reminded them of it as He began to explain how God would save people from perishing, how He planned to show His love for the whole world.  Even in Isaiah 52, the Lord says, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.”  (Isa 52:13)  So, “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Just as Israel had been saved in the wilderness from the punishment for sin by beholding the serpent Moses had lifted up, so the whole world would now see the Son of Man high and lifted up on the cross for the sins of the world and trusting that sign not perish, but have eternal life.  Certainly the coming of Christ into the world to reestablish the kingdom of God is a new thing, but it is not a completely unexpected thing.

Atop Mt. Nebo, today.

Atop Mt. Nebo, today.

God loves the world this much, that He sent His onlybegotten Son into it to be lifted up on the cross, that whoever believes would not perish.  The depth of that kind of love is unfathomable to us.  This idea of God sacrificing His Son has led many otherwise earnest Christians to reject it, claiming it something akin to child abuse on the cosmic level.  Who could trust in, much less love such a God who would even ask much less command His onlybegotten Son to suffer in such a manner as Jesus did?  No they say, substitutionary atonement is a barbarism consistent only with a religion that says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  It’s completely inconsistent with the New Testament idea that “God is love.”  That’s what they say, anyway.  And yet, God acted in the OT this way too.  Instead of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, God provided a ram there on Mt. Moriah, thus forever remembering that it was in that location that God provided.   It’s also worth noting Mt. Moriah is the same geographical location we know today as Mt. Zion, the temple mount in Jerusalem, mere steps away from Calvary where Jesus was crucified.  It is a hard thing to begin to understand the depth to which the Lord would go in order to free His creation from the curse of death but it is a necessary thing and a good thing to ponder during this Lenten season.  He loves the world this much; He did not withhold His Son.

So what do we do with such a clear teaching from the Lord?  Do we hear it?  Accept it?  Or do we reject it as blood religion superseded by a religion not of blood but love?  To do that mustn’t we disconnect it with how God acted in the past not just with Moses and Israel but even with Abraham and Isaac?  That won’t work will it?  Like Israel in the desert we grumble and moan against God’s Law, all of it, all Ten Commandments.  We despise His gifts, thinking these Styrofoam-tasting wafers akin to the loathsome manna Israel was sick of.  We despise His way of loving others as He has loved us.  This is the state we are in worthy only of a new knot of serpents to come and sting us with the fiery pain of death.

And yet here is the Lord lifted up on the cross for us.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  That’s why I think it’s so important we keep actual crucifixes in our church and in our homes rather than mere empty crosses.  And lest we think crucifixes to be idolatry, we should remember it was the same God who forbade graven images who commanded a bronze serpent be fashioned and held up for the sake of the people—a beautiful divine irony worth pondering on its own.  No.  Looking at an empty pole would not have saved the Israelites just as looking to an empty cross does not immediately point us to the suffering of Jesus in our place.  And shortly now, the same body that was lifted up on the cross for us, the Lord Himself will give into our moths in, with, and under the bread of His Supper that we might not just behold eternal life won on the cross but taste and see the fruits of His cross for us.

Behold Jesus lifted up for you.  Behold a God who acts in love to remove from you the curse of His wrath for sin.  Behold a God who delights to give Himself, so that you would not be lost but have everlasting life with Him.  14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.  It’s why we ask Christians to memorize it and understand it.  It’s why a man holds signs up at every football game he can get into.  It’s why Forever 21’s founder insists on this little attempt to spread the message of God’s love.  It’s why the Snyder family who controls In and Out Burger puts it on their cups as well as a bunch of other verses on their other cups and wrappers.  God loved the world this much.  How can you share the same message?  Amen.

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: