Love So Great

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 3:16-18

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:16-18 rsv

The word gospel, you know, means “good message.” It means “glad tidings of great joy.” It means really the best news you’ve ever heard. And of all the passages in the Bible, this is the one that for millions of people expresses it best. Listen: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Let’s dwell on that very familiar word today. May the wonder and gladness of it grip our hearts afresh!

GOD LOVES THE WORLD

Think of it, friends. We learn here that God loves the world. The Creator of the universe cares about this world. That doesn’t mean that He has a special affection for our particular planet more than, say, Mars or Mercury, or the moons around Jupiter. There may be millions of other spheres out there in the universe that are structurally very much like this one.

To say that God loves this world doesn’t mean either that He approves of all that’s going on down here. Most of the evidence points the other way. There is much that grieves Him on planet earth that calls forth His wrath and judgment. In fact, sometimes the New Testament writers use the term world for a system of opposition to God. “The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” that’s all “of the world,” John says. And God surely doesn’t love that.

When he writes here, “God loved the world,” he means without a doubt the people of the world, all of them. Now that was a new message when it broke on the world in the first century. No writer or thinker before that, Jewish or Gentile, had ever put forth that thought. It’s a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all humankind.

Many people had been persuaded in the ancient world that the God of the universe favored a particular group of people. Israel was sure, for example, that God had set His love upon them. But in their minds, there was a good deal of resistance to the idea that His love could reach out beyond them. Read the book of Jonah some time for an unforgettable vignette of that resistance. That strikes close to home, doesn’t it? It’s hard for any of us to imagine that God loves people, for example, who seem opposed to us. Now we’re hearing today that His love is not confined to any race or nationality, or any spiritual elite. It may start with a chosen people, but its range and reach are wider far.

God loves people, apparently, not because He sees in them some special worthiness, some compelling attractiveness. He does not love some because they are better, brighter, or more beautiful than others. He loves because it is His nature to do so. Love is His name. Love lies at the heart of who God is. He doesn’t love human beings because of who they are and what they’ve done, but largely in spite of all that.

I heard a young man speak recently about his father. One of the most memorable things to this son was the way his dad had always believed what he said. Sometimes the boy would lie. Still his father would trust him. That affected the son deeply and eventually led him to be truthful. He further said that this whole history had moved him because it meant that his father loved him in spite of all.

Now don’t let this remain a kind of generality for you today. It’s a grand thing to contemplate that God loves all the people in the world. But we need to personalize it, too, don’t we? I need to know, you need to know, that we are among those people. God loves you. He loves me. We are important to Him, precious to Him. He looks on us with compassion and kindness. He wants the best for us. Isn’t that good news to know that God loves a world of people like us? Yes, even that He knows our names and loves us?

HOW MUCH?

Now the news gets even better. How much does God love the world? I got a Father’s Day card recently from some of my grandchildren. It was in the form of a bear, with imitation fur attached. On the front, it asked the question, “How much, grandpa, do we love and appreciate you?” Then, when I opened the card, the bear spread his paws wide and said, “This much!” Well, God loved the world “this much,” that He gave. That’s important to grasp. With God, love is never just a feeling or a sentiment. It leads to action, moves Him toward others. It’s the nature of His love to give, to spend, to impart.

And here we learn that God gave for our sake what was dearest to Him. The Father of mercies has a Son, an only begotten Son, whom He loves as only God can love. The Son has always been with Him, the apple of His eye, the joy of His heart. Yet God loves us so much that He gave Him to us. That’s what the miracle of Christmas meant, that God was sending His only Son, His well-beloved, His everlasting Word, to live on the earth as a man, to take our nature upon Him and share our life. God was identifying Himself with us. He was giving the best that heaven had to give to the people of earth.

But that’s not the whole story. In the verse before this one, we read of how it was necessary for the Son to be lifted up, to be raised from the earth on a cross. It was needful for Him to die for us. God gave Him in that way, too. This is the poignant depth of it, the heart-wringing wonder of it, that God gave His Son to suffer unimaginably for us.

Now anyone who is a parent knows that the pains and heartbreaks of your children are in some ways harder for you to bear than your own. In our own family, my wife and I have seen one son severely handicapped through encephalitis, deprived of many experiences in life that might have been his. We’ve seen another son endure the hidden torment of mental illness. What would we not have done or given to make our sons well? How often their anguish made our hearts bleed!

We often think of the sufferings of Jesus as revealing His love to us. As Paul sings, “He loved me and gave himself for me.” But think of what it was for the Father to give His Son to endure all that. Think of what it must have cost to stand by looking on when it happened. How much did He love us? That much!

Many things happen in this world that make us doubt the reality and depth of God’s love. I don’t need to chronicle those. Every day’s newspaper details the agonies and treacheries that surround us. But believers like the apostle Paul face everything in life with this logic: “If God . . . did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” In other words, no matter what the appearances are, if God loved us enough to give His Son to die for us, then nothing will ever separate us from that love. If He gave us the very best gift, He will not withhold anything from us that we really need. He will finally grant us all that He has to give.

I remember hearing about a young paralyzed man who was asked by a friend, “Does the devil ever tempt you to doubt God’s love when you lie here unable to move?” The young man said, “Yes. The evil one does harass me with temptations like those. But when that happens, I try to take him to the cross and I say, `There, that’s how much God loves me.’ The tempter has no answer to that.” I don’t know what it is that shakes your faith today, that tries to tear away your assurance. Whatever it is, remember Christmas. Remember Good Friday. Remember Easter morning and hold on. God loves you this much!

THAT WE MAY HAVE LIFE

Now the news gets even better, fuller and richer. God gave Jesus, we read, “so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The purpose of God’s heart, the goal of the gift, is not only to assure us of His love but also to meet our deepest need.

It couldn’t be more plainly said than it is here that all of us are perishing people. That means not only that we’ll all die some day or maybe blow up our planet or pollute it beyond healing. To “perish” in biblical language means to be headed for a death of endless separation from God. That’s what the Bible means by hell, by eternal destruction, by outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. We are all a doomed people, hastening toward judgment.

Now it’s striking to notice that the biblical writers don’t argue about that, don’t try to prove it. It’s one of their bedrock assumptions. They know that we are a fallen race. They see evidence of that around them every day. Having turned from God and disobeyed Him, having chosen our own way, we are hastening in the wrong direction. Left to ourselves, we are utterly lost and without hope.

Though we deserve that fate, the gospel tells us that God doesn’t want it so. He shows His love, bestows His gift, sends His Son to die, all so that we will not perish, not be lost forever. He wants us instead to have life, true life, God’s life, to be with Him forever.

Just this morning we were reading in our devotions here at Words of Hope about the prodigal’s return in Jesus’ famous parable. We were marveling again at what the father did when that crestfallen son of his came trudging homeward. The boy didn’t get what he deserved, did he? What he received was far more, infinitely better, grace upon grace. His father killed the fatted calf. Instead of dying in a far country, the young man found a new life back home. There was room for him still in the father’s heart. That’s God’s way – to save us from the worst and then impart to us the very best. To keep us from perishing, yes, but also to give us never-ending, an abundant life.

WHAT MUST WE DO?

Well, you say, what do I need to do? In one sense, nothing. Nothing at all. It has all been done. There’s nothing you can do, that is, to achieve this love of God, to merit it, to help it along. All you can do is receive it. Receive the gift. And you do that, listen carefully now, you do that by looking toward Jesus Christ, the One who was born for us, who lived for us, who died for us, who rose again for us. Yes, what’s needed is looking toward Him, believing that He, in all His saving work, is God’s gift of love to you.

We were noting in our last broadcast how the Israelites who had been bitten in the wilderness by fiery serpents were cured when they looked toward the bronze snake that had been raised up on a pole in the midst of the camp. It was a marvelous thing. But among the stricken ones, it was only those who looked who survived. If a man decided to stay in his tent and not bother to go out and look, the poison did its deadly work. In a similar way, if you say, “I don’t believe all this stuff, I don’t think it will do any good to trust in Jesus Christ. Count me out!” then you’ve made your choice and turned your back on God’s so great love. And that means for you simply, tragically, to perish.

But know this today: you don’t need to perish, you don’t need to be lost. God doesn’t want it so. We read in the scriptures that He’s not willing that any should perish. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. In the gospel, He extends to you a personal invitation to turn toward Him. Oh, trust today His great love for you! Believe that in the coming of Jesus, in His whole life and ministry, in His death and resurrection, God is saying, “I love you. I want you to come home.” And as you trust His love, you will have, here and now, the gift of eternal life. That’s the good news. That’s the gospel truth. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever [put your name in there] believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”