Fourth Sunday In Lent – Pr Smith

Msg for Lent 4, John 3:14-17

John 3:14–17

What does it mean to love? The husband says to his wife, “I love you.” What does that mean? The parent says to the child, “I love you.” Young lovers say to each other, “I love you.” What do they mean by those words?

I love you.” That could be a physiological statement, saying that you produce in me a combination of hormones and adrenaline that tickles the deep recesses of the brain producing sweaty palms, fluttering heartbeats, insomnia, attention deficit, mood swings, and loss of appetite. It could be a psychological statement, saying that I desire you, or I need you or I want to control or manipulate you or mold you, or get something from you. “I love you” could be a theological statement, whose equivalent might be “I adore you” or “I worship you.” “I worship the ground you walk on,” says the lover to his beloved. “I love you so much, I can’t live without you.” That is love as idolatry.

But from the mouth of God, the word “love” could best be described as an “attitude in action.” The action most associated with the attitude of love is giving. “God so loved the world that He gave.” That’s what “I love you” means. It means that I want to give you something that is precious to me, something of myself, and I want you to be on the receiving end of my giving. In short, when God says, “I love you,” it doesn’t mean “I want you all to myself,” as much as it means “I want to give all of myself to you.”

God loves the world He created. He expresses His love for the world in many ways—by sending the rain and sunshine at the proper times, by holding everything together and ordering all things so that they work together. God cares and provides for His creation and His creatures—not only for us human creatures, but also for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. “The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food in the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

God so loved the world.” That the world remains the object of God’s love may come as a shock and a surprise, since the world doesn’t appear terribly loveable. We look at the world and we see violence, evil, hatred, prejudice, and murder. We see a world where children are not safe in their homes and neighborhoods, where liars, thieves, and thugs seem to have the upper hand. We see a world that extols evil and makes a mockery of the good, the true, and the beautiful. We see a world in chaos, disorder, disarray, and anarchy. Divorce, disease, decay, death, are all around us.

A thick blanket of darkness has crept back through the cosmos. The darkness is Adam’s sin, our sin, human sin. Each of us contributes to the darkness and the chaos in our own individual way. The world is so wicked that John elsewhere forbids Christians to love it or anything in it:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1Jn 2:15-17)

Yet this darkened world is the object of God’s love! This world that shakes its fist at God, and denies God’s own existence is loved by God! This world that lives only for the idolatry of its own satisfaction is beloved by God! This teaches us that God’s love is pure, unearned, unmerited gift. We don’t earn God’s love. We do nothing to make ourselves open and available to God’s love. We do nothing to open our hearts to God’s love. God loves the unlovable. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

The gift of God’s love to the world is His Son. He is the human embodiment of God’s love. He is God’s love come down from heaven to dwell in human flesh. “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son.” Jesus entered this world, under orders from the Father, to proclaim the Father’s love by Jesus’ words and works. Jesus preached the Father’s love, and He worked the Father’s love – healing the sick, releasing the demonized, raising the dead, forgiving sins, dying on the cross.

Our reading begins with the allusion back to the OT reading with the snakes killing the Israelites and Moses making a bronze serpent, “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.” Jesus is pointing Nicodemus to the cross as the place he can find the new birth in much the same way as the ancient Israelites were commanded to look upon to the bronze snake for new life. Most likely in that evening conversation, Nicodemus was befuddled. Only later when Nicodemus saw Jesus on the cross, or perhaps only in still later reflection on the cross, would it become clear that the ‘lifting up’/exaltation of Jesus took place on the cross and only there was the salvation of the world accomplished and eternal life won for all who believe.

He shines still, into the darkest recesses of our own sinful hearts. He searches us out and calls us by His Word. He comes to us as a Light suddenly beaming into the darkness, or a Word of forgiveness spoken suddenly in our hearing, or baptismal water washing over the head. He comes in the power of His Word. Jesus bids you live in His light, to receive His gifts, to cling to Him by faith, to bask in His Father’s love, to be the object of God’s perfect love.

But I’ll warn you, unbelief hates this Light and prefers the darkness. When Christ shines on unbelief, unbelief scatters and runs the other way, much the way cockroaches scatter and hide when the light clicks on. If we love our sin and unbelief and the wickedness of our hearts, we will hate this Light. We will stay away from His Word. Sin is “photosensitive.” Sin loves the darkness. It hides in the darkness. Where Christ shines, sin is destroyed, the darkness is destroyed. If we love sin, we will love the darkness. If we love our sin, we will hate Christ.

But this light of Christ is the light of faith. Faith receives this gift of the Father’s love. Faith clings to Jesus crucified for me. To believe in Jesus is to lay hold of the Father’s gift in your heart, to trust Jesus with your life and with your death, to cling to His perfect, finished work instead of your imperfect works. That’s why we confess our sins to God, not to bad mouth ourselves or to boast in our humility. In confessing our sinfulness, we bring our sin into the light, exposing it to Jesus’ death and resurrection. To believe in Jesus means that we can be confident that the Father is kind and gracious to us, that He loves us and will never turn us away.

God loves the world. We are certain. God sent His Son. Jesus is the clincher. He is the evidence of the Father’s love, and we need look no further for the love of God than Jesus lifted up for the life of the world. He hung on a tree for the world, and if for the world, then most certainly for you and for me.

God so loved you, that He sent His only-begotten Son, that believing in Him, you would not perish but have everlasting life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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