4 Lent, Proper B4
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 3:14-21 Sermon
March 15, 2015

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 149 "Come To Calvary's Holy Mountain"
TLH 144 "Jesus Grant That Balm & Healing"
TLH 242 "Father Of Heaven, Whose Love Profound"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"  


TEXT (vs. 14-18 KJV):  [Jesus said:]  14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

            This morning, I have something to show you.  Just in case you haven't guessed, this is a Bible, and it happens to be a very special one at that.  If you look at the title page, you would see that I received this Bible in 1960, on my sixth birthday.  It was a present from an older couple who had no children of their own, so they unofficially "adopted" me.

             At this point in my life, I was about halfway through the first grade.  My reading and writing skills were rudimentary at best.  I was learning how to print by using one of those big fat pencils they would give to kids, and I would write on a three-lined pencil tablet.  And as for reading, I was still trying to master those elementary primers, learning all about Dick, Jane, and Sally; and their pets Spot the dog, and Puff the cat.  "See Spot run!  Run Spot, run!"  I had those one and two syllable words down pat.

            But now I had this brand new Bible with my name embossed in gold on the front.  And it was chock full of all sorts of interesting words.  Even though we used the King James Bible in Church and Sunday School, this one was a Revised Standard Version, which was supposed to be a bit easier to understand; and it was close enough to the King James Version so as not to confuse me too much.

            So anyway, as I began to go through this new Bible, I had a few questions, which had nothing really to do with theology.  So I found my mother and asked her.  One of my questions was, "Why are their no Chapter 1 numbers?"  The first chapter with a number was "two."  Why was there no number one?  My mother said that everybody knows each book starts with chapter one, so there was no need for it.  But I didn't think that was right, so I took a pen and wrote a number "1" at the beginning of several of the books.

            Then I wondered why there were blank pages at the beginning and end of the book.  All the books I owned up until that time were those "Little Golden Books" and other children's books.  And they had something printed on every page.  So why did the Bible have those blank pages?

            So I asked my mother.  And she told me that those blank spaces were places that I could write down Bible verses and notes.  Wow!  Here was a book I could actually write in, and not get into trouble.  I couldn't do that with my school books.  So that's what I did.

            The first notation I'll share is what I have written on the back page.  Our Sunday School teacher was explaining the Trinity.  But instead of drawing a triangle like she did, I drew a rather misshapen five pointed star.  And I labeled each of the points as follows:  Father, Son, And, Holy, Ghost.  Yeah, leave it up to a kid to change the "three-in-one" Trinity into a "five-in-one" formula.

            But the thing I want to point out today is what I have written on the very first page, even before the presentation page.  This is something I did almost right away when I got the Bible.  I wrote a Bible verse, which was the very first one I learned.  Allow me to read what I have written:  (sic) "Bible verse For god so loved the world that he gave his only son that whatever believes in him shuld not persh but have eternal life."   

            I complained to my mother that there was only enough room for one verse, and I had to finish the last four words on the top of the title page.  I showed her what I had written in my six-year-old childish scrawl in pencil.  She looked at it, smiled, and said:  "I think you have the most important one."

            I think that you would all agree that this is one of the more important verses in the Bible, because it says a lot in just a few words.  God is amazing, isn't he?

            But it is a verse that we recognize so well.  Parents teach it to their children, Sunday School and Parochial School teachers teach it to their pupils, and pastors share it with their congregation.  And you can't go to a sporting event or watch one on television without seeing somebody holding up a banner that says, "John 3:16."  The verse is not only important, but it is popular as well.

            Admittedly, I use it often in sermons and in classes because it is both concise and profound.  It's an easy one for me to quote because I know it.  And I like to use it because you can immediately identify with it and understand it.

            This morning, I want to go through this verse, piece-by-piece.  Let's have a fresh and in-depth look at just this one sentence, which I've heard referred to as "the Gospel in a nutshell," or "Christianity in one sentence."        

            The very first part of the verse, "For God so loved the world" gives us a good look at the nature of God.  In 1 John chapter 4 verses 7-8 we read this in a bit more detail: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love."    And if we back up just one chapter to 1 John chapter 3 verse 1, we read:  "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God..."

            The fact that we have a loving God who loves us beyond what we can comprehend is a very foundational premise.  Everything that God does, how he acts, what he commands, what he promises, and everything about him radiates his love for all of humanity.  All of God's actions are according to his grace, his undeserved love for us.  He has mercy upon us because he loves us.

            People will often put God's power as the most important thing.  Certainly we know that God's omnipotence is very, very real.  Apart from denying himself, there is nothing that God cannot do.  His sovereign power has been shown many times throughout history, and we can be thankful that he is in charge and all things are subject to his power.

            But God does not exercise his power arbitrarily.  He doesn't do things simply because he has the power to do so.  He acts according to his grace.  We might not always understand it, but thankfully God knows what he's doing.  And we are reminded in Romans chapter 8 verse 28:  "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good..." 

            So who does God love?  He loves the world, which includes each and every soul in it, as well as those who have ever existed, right down to every person who will ever be in the future.  God's love extends to all without exception.  "The world" is an all-inclusive term, and none are left out, which of course includes you and me.

            According to that love so eloquently described in the Bible, what does this cause God to do?  How did he show that love to us?

            Here is where we bring the second person of the Trinity into the picture, which is the very core of this verse.  Jesus Christ is the one who came to this earth out of love.  In Matthew chapter 1 verse 21, the angel Gabriel gives Joseph this word of instruction:  "She [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

            The name "Jesus" means "one who saves," or "Saviour."  It is a transliteration from the Hebrew "Yeshua;" or "Joshua" as it is rendered in English, like the name of the Old Testament Prophet.

            So the very name of Jesus describes his ministry.  He came to save the people from their sins, to save the whole world.  God gave his only begotten son that he dearly loves to save a sinful world that he loves so very much.  In Matthew chapter 17, verse 5 God speaks these words on the mount of Transfiguration:  "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."   We can't even begin to fathom how deep God's love is.  We just know that it is something we can't even begin to understand.

            The next words in our text are "whosoever believeth in him."  When we tie that in to "the world," referring to the people whom God loves so much, we see just how universal and far-reaching the Christian faith really is.  Nobody is beyond the pale as far as God is concerned.

            Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin with his very life.  So if we wonder exactly whose sins Jesus paid for, the Bible tells us that he paid for everybody's sins, irrespective of who they are, when they lived, or even if they're yet to be born.  The life and death of Jesus includes everybody.

            But now we're presented with two different endings to all of this.  And remember, we're still on John 3:16, that one single verse, that one sentence I have penciled in the front of my old Bible.  I told you that there is a lot going on here!

            Anyway, there are two different conclusions here:  Those who will perish, and those who will have everlasting life.  I know that it's tough for some people to reckon that there will be those who will perish, those who will be subject to eternal punishment.  But it is something that the Bible presents as a reality. 

            Jesus mentions hell several times in the Sermon on the Mount, and other times during his ministry.  He gives us a very vivid description when he talks about the rich man and Lazarus.  And in the illustration of the millstone, Jesus describes hell as a place "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched."  It's not a pleasant prospect at all. 

            Jesus doesn't tell us this because he wants to threaten us with it.  But it is the alternative here, nevertheless.  I like the example of a child and a busy street.  Mother and dad can warn a child about going into the street, possibly getting hit by a car, and being killed.  They will naturally do everything in their power to be sure this doesn't happen. 

            So now, are the parents threatening the child with this warning?  Are they being bad parents because they describe the dangers of being hit by a car?  Can making the child aware of the reality of all this be somehow perceived as mean and sadistic?

            A parent acts this way out of love for their child.  God also acts out of love for us.  He wants us to know the dangers and the reality of hell without threatening us with it, like so many people think. 

            I frequently quote 1 Timothy chapter 2 verse 4 when it comes to knowing what God's will is for his people:  "[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."   He wants his children to be safely home with him for eternity.

            Going on to the verse immediately following John 3:16, we read the following in verse 17:  "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."  Now if we add this to the words in verse 16 that read:  "whosoever believeth in him," we get a picture of exactly how this love extends to each one of us. 

            Jesus didn't come to condemn us and threaten us with hell, but to save us and to do it through faith alone.  And now we begin to see just how beautiful this picture actually is.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour are promised everlasting life in heaven without any worry whatsoever about perishing.  For the believer, the hope of heaven is not just something off in the distant future; that hope is ours, right here, right now, today.  This is the good news of the Gospel for us as we live our lives in today's world.

            John 3:16 paints a beautiful picture for us.  We see our God who loves us beyond our wildest imagination.  We see our Saviour who loves us and came to this earth to redeem us.  We see Jesus who gave his life to pay the price for our sins.  We see the promise of eternal life in heaven, and any worry about eternal perdition has been completely eradicated.  And all of this is a reality for all who believe it through faith alone.  How could it get any better than this?

            When my mother told me that I had probably written the most important Bible verse in the front of my Bible, I doubt if she realized just how accurate she was.  Certainly every word of all 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books are important as well, because they're all God's Word.  But this one verse, this "Gospel in a nutshell" or "Christianity in one sentence" is vitally important to our Christian faith.

            This old Bible has a lot of memories for me.  As I page through it, I see the different markings that I made as a little child, and I have to chuckle.  The pages have gotten more brittle and yellowed over the years.  Some of the pages are torn and have been fixed with Scotch Tape, which has also yellowed and fallen off, that I have had to fix again so I don't lose anything.  And to the best of my knowledge, all of the pages are still there.

            This Bible went to Sunday School with me every week.  In fact, I discovered this book mark in it that I made in Sunday School, just a piece of red construction paper with a piece of gold paper glued on it, upon which I drew a cross.  

            My Bible also went with me to Vacation Bible School in the summer, and it went into my suitcase when I went to Bible Camp.  At home, it lived beside my bed.  And as I read it in those quiet moments at night, many of those old Bible stories came alive, like Daniel and the lion's den, Noah's ark, Jesus with the little children, Moses and the bull rushes, etc.

            This was my only Bible until I got a new one for my Confirmation when I was 14.  But this Bible is the one that holds many of my childhood memories.  And right on the front page, written in pencil with my first grade penmanship, is one of the most important verses of all: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."