God's Love Sermon
March 27, 2007
<Open in prayer.>
Today’s message is about God’s Love. What a great topic to preach on! Since there is probably no greater summary of God’s love than that which is found in John 3:16, we’ll be making that verse our text for today. Just about everyone knows John 3:16. As a matter of fact, you may even know it by heart. It occurred to me that there’s a chance that we know it so well that its meaning and significance has been lost to us. So, let’s take a closer look at John 3:16 as we go word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase to see what God is trying to say to us through this incredible verse. Once we’ve found the meaning, let’s examine how it applies to each and every one of us. Before we begin, let’s read the verse together.
READ JOHN 3:16
“For God so loved…” Just how important is love in the life of the average person? Can love actually make a difference?
More than fifty years ago, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a young sociology professor assigned his class the project of interviewing 200 city youths residing in downtown slums. He asked them to predict their future. Students predicted that ninety percent would serve time in prison. Twenty-five years later the same professor asked a class to track down the original boys and discover what had happened. One hundred eighty were located and only four had ever been in jail. Why were their predictions so far off?
Looking for common factors, over 100 of the boys mentioned the strong influence of a teacher they all had in common. They then located the teacher, a seventy-year-old Sheila O’Rourke, in a Memphis nursing home. Puzzled by the interest in her, she could only exclaim, “All I ever did was love each of them.”
As that great 20th century hymn writer Huey Lewis said, “That’s the power of love.” And if being loved with an imperfect, human love produces results like this, what are the results of being loved by a perfect, divine love? As a result of this one teacher’s love each of these boys had a life. But as a result of God’s love, we’re told in John 3:16, that each of us can have eternal life.
John 3:16 was the verse through which the great preacher D. L. Moody learned to appreciate the greatness of God’s love. Moody had been to Britain in the early days of his ministry and there had met a young English preacher named Henry Moorhouse. One day Moorhouse said to Moody, "I am thinking of going to America."
"Well," said Moody, "if you should ever get to Chicago, come down to my church and I will give you a chance to preach."
Moody did not mean to be hypocritical when he said this, of course. He was merely being polite. Nevertheless, he was saying to himself that he hoped Moorhouse would not come, for Moody had not heard him preach and had no idea of what he would say should he come to Chicago. Sometime later, after Moody had returned home, the evangelist received a telegram that said, "Have just arrived in New York. Will be in Chicago on Sunday. Moorhouse." Moody was perplexed about what he should do, and to complicate matters he was just about to leave for a series of meetings elsewhere. "Oh, my," he thought, "here I am about to be gone on Sunday, Moorhouse is coming, and I have promised to let him preach." Finally he said to his wife and to the leaders of the church, "I think that I should let him preach one time. So let him preach once; then if the people enjoy him, put him on again."
Moody was gone for a week. When he returned he said to his wife, "How did the young preacher do?"
"Oh, he is a better preacher than you are," his wife said. "He is telling sinners that God loves them."
"That is not right," said Moody. "God does not love sinners."
"Well," she said, "you go and hear him."
"What?" said Moody. "Do you mean to tell me that he is still preaching?"
"Yes, he has been preaching all week, and he has only had one verse for a text. It is John 3:16."
Moody went to the meeting. Moorhouse got up and began by saying, "I have been hunting for a text all week, and I have not been able to find a better text than John 3:16. So I think we will just talk about it once more." He did. Afterward Moody said it was on that night that he first clearly understood the greatness of God’s love.
The topic of God’s love is truly an overwhelming subject to try and tackle in only one message. There is so much that the Bible has to say about the love of God that I doubt anyone has ever come close to fully comprehending it. So I will simply begin by saying that I could never do justice to the topic of God’s love, but let’s take a look at John 3:16 to get just a hint; just a taste of what the love of God is all about.
As we just recited, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is only one sentence. And that sentence contains only twenty-four words. Yet that one sentence is packed with so much truth that we literally will not have time to fully unpack its contents this morning. But I’ll try anyway.
From this one verse we can find at least seven truths about the love of God. Let’s take a look at them together.
1. THE LOVE OF GOD IS UNCONDITIONAL.
For God so loved the world,
The Greek word for world (kosmos) can be defined as “the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ.” This is the world that God loved. It doesn’t say that God loved all the good guys. Or that God loved all the Jews. Or that God love all the saints. It says, “For God so loved the world.”
That God should love the world only heightens the mystery of this love. Were we to imagine a pristine world, fresh from the hand of the Creator and uninfected by evil, we could more easily comprehend God’s desire to save it. But this filthy, perverse, rebellious world which not only failed to recognize its maker (John 1:10) but openly hated His approach to it (15:18) would seem a poor choice for love.
So God’s love clearly isn’t based on our spiritual condition or our moral predisposition. It isn’t based on our behavior or our attitude toward Him. Rather we see here that God’s love for mankind is universal and unconditional. He loves everyone. And this is one of the things that sets Him apart from every other god held up by every other world religion.
At a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God took human form in Jesus. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.”
Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.
Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, arm full of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what’s all this rumpus about?”
Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We’re debating what’s unique about Christianity.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” answered Lewis. “It’s grace.”
The room fell silent.
Lewis continued that Christianity uniquely claims God’s love comes free of charge, no strings attached. No other religion makes that claim.
After a moment someone commented that Lewis had a point, Buddhists, for example, follow an eight-fold path to enlightenment. It’s not a free ride. Hindus believe in karma, that your actions continually affect the way the world will treat you; that there is nothing that comes to you not set in motion by your actions. Someone else observed the Jewish code of the law implies God has requirements for people to be acceptable to him and in Islam God is a God of judgment not a God of love. You live to appease him.
At the end of the discussion everyone concluded Lewis had a point. Only Christianity dares to proclaim God’s love is unconditional…an unconditional love that we call grace. Christians boldly proclaim that grace really has precious little to do with us, our inner resolve, or our lack of inner resolve. Rather, grace is all about God and God freely giving to us the gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and love.
So God’s love for us is unconditional. It is as Philip Yancey once wrote: “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”
2. THE LOVE OF GOD IS SACRIFICIAL.
that he gave
According to a footnote in the English Standard Version of the Bible an alternate translation of the first part of John 3:16 is as follows: “For this is how God loved the world…” How did God love us? He loved us by giving, by serving, by sacrificing. So here we learn something important about the nature of true love. Some people think they love others because of what those people do for them or how they make them feel. But God shows us that true love has nothing to do with what you can do for me, but everything to do with what I can do for you.
And what are the results of God’s sacrificial love? Stuart Briscoe illustrated this well when he wrote:
Years ago when I was a young banker, we used big leather ledgers where all accounts were entered by hand. I remember daydreaming about those ledgers and God’s ledgers in heaven. We are told those books will be opened. I imagined my name, David Stuart Briscoe, and God adding up the sum total of my indebtedness against Him. I could never cancel the overwhelming indebtedness. In my mind’s eye, I saw God take His pen and transfer the sum total of my indebtedness to the account of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the account of the Lord Jesus, He wrote, "Transferred from the account of David Stuart Briscoe."
I thought God was finished. But then I saw Him do something incredible. He added up the total righteousness of Christ and against it wrote these words, "Transferred to the account of David Stuart Briscoe." That’s love. That’s mercy. That’s grace. The more one studies the scripture and the doctrine of salvation; the more one realizes that this is precisely what has occurred in the life of every believer! We did not and could not do anything to earn this salvation. God has freely given it to us. All we have to do is reach out and accept it.
3. THE LOVE OF GOD IS VALUABLE.
Here we see the value of the Father’s love for us. Not only was He willing to give, but we see here that He was willing to give the only one He had. When you give to someone out of your abundance that is one thing; but when you give out of your poverty that is quite another. If you had several vehicles it might be seen as a noble thing if you were to give one of them to a family who had none. But if you were to give them the only vehicle you had that would be seen as something more than noble – something above and beyond the call of duty – it would be seen as real sacrifice.
How many times have you heard or even said yourself: “I can’t give you that because it’s the only one I’ve got.” We’ve probably all said that. But we learn here that God didn’t have a back-up. God didn’t have a spare. But He loved us so much that He was willing to give us the only one He had. “The power and passion of God’s love comes across, not through a supposed special meaning of the Greek word involved, but through the length to which God was willing to go for the sake of the world.” To give His “one and only.”
Romans 5:7, 8 tells us:
7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
What a contrast to this world’s definition of love!
4. GOD’S LOVE IS PERSONABLE.
God’s love is not merely some abstract concept. It isn’t just a philosophy or a theological construct. God’s love was made manifest in this world through the person of Jesus Christ the only Son of the Father. Jesus Christ came into this world to reveal to us the love of God in human form.
A child was once trying to quote from John 3:16 in the King James Version, which says, “his only begotten Son.” But the child misquoted it and said, “his only forgotten Son.” It was one of those slips of the tongue that carried more truth than we would care to admit. For by most people in the world today Jesus Christ is truly forgotten. His life is forgotten. His love is forgotten. His sacrifice is forgotten. It is our job as Christians – as God’s ambassadors – to help them remember.
Joe was a drunk, miraculously converted in a street outreach mission. Before his conversion he’d gained a reputation as a derelict and dirty wino for whom there was no hope. But following his conversion to Christ, everything changed. Joe became the most caring person at the mission. He spent his days there, doing whatever needed to be done.
There was never anything he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up vomit left by some sick alcoholic, or scrubbing toilets after men had left them filthy, Joe did it all with a heart of gratitude. He could be counted on to feed any man who wandered in off the streets, undress and tuck him into bed, when he was too out-of-it to take care of himself.
One evening, after the mission director delivered his evangelistic message to the usual crowd of sullen men with drooped heads, one of them looked up, came down to the altar and kneeled to pray, crying out for God to help him change. The repentant drunk kept shouting, “Oh God, make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!” The director leaned over and said, “Son, wouldn’t it be better if you prayed ‘make me like Jesus?”
After thinking about it for a few moments, the man looked up with an inquisitive expression and asked, “Is He like Joe?”
What a great story and what a powerful way to live. Are you living your life in such a way that you are reminding people of the only ‘forgotten’ Son of God?
God’s love is personable on the one hand because it was made manifest through a person – Jesus Christ – but also because it is bestowed on a person – you.
But why would God go to such great lengths to save you and me? There are many reasons God saves us: to bring glory to himself, to appease his justice, to demonstrate his sovereignty. But one of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because he is fond of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you’re the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while… If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. And the Christmas gift he sent you in Bethlehem? Whoa! Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you!
5. GOD’S LOVE IS ACCESSIBLE.
that whoever believes in him
The really good news about God’s love is that it is not limited to a select few. It is not available only to those who were born with right color of skin or on the correct continent. Nor is it difficult to obtain. It is not reserved for only the intellectual elite or the power brokers or financial wizards. No, the love of God is accessible to “whoever believes in” Jesus – the only Son of God.
James Van Tholen in his book “Where All Hope Lies” gets at the accessibility of God’s love when he writes:
“From the human perspective, when you compare [God] to the other gods of the other religions in the world, you have to say our God is really sort of odd. He uses the most common of people, people that aren’t any different from any of us here; He comes in the most common of ways, when by His Spirit an anonymous young woman is found to be with child. And the strangest thing is that He comes at all … He’s not the Above-Us-God, too holy to come down. This God’s love is so immense that He wants to come down. And He has proven His love by the fact that He did come down and touch our ground.”
God has come down to our level. Not in the sense that He has lessened His holiness or lowered His standards. But only in the sense that He has made His love accessible to the average, ordinary person like me and like you. He is not a distant God who loves us only from some mystical, far away place that is completely removed from us. Rather He has entered into our world and He longs to enter into our lives.
Will you believe in His Son who made the ultimate expression of God’s love by giving His life on the cross for your sins? By believing in Him you access the love of God, the grace of God and the forgiveness of God. By believing in Him you access the new life that only He can provide.
6. GOD’S LOVE IS NON-JUDGMENTAL.
should not perish
God’s goal in sending His Son from heaven to earth was not to condemn you or to show you how bad you are, how unworthy you are or how hopeless you are. God’s only desire in sending His Son was to show you His love and draw you into a love relationship with Himself. Jesus didn’t come into the world in order to rebuke you. He came to rescue you. He didn’t come to criticize you. He came to cleanse you. He didn’t come to punish you. He came to pardon you. He didn’t come to destroy you. He came to deliver you.
However this does not mean that God is not a God of judgment. Make no mistake about it. Many a church has so overemphasized “God’s love”, that they have forgotten about His other attributes. God is love, but He is also Holy and Just. God must punish sin. This has been made clear from the very beginning. God will judge us for our sins and even sentence us to hell, but only as a last resort – only if we refuse to accept His offer of forgiveness. Another way of looking at it is that it isn’t so much that God sends us to hell as that we choose hell over heaven – we choose Satan over God – we choose sin over righteousness. No study of John 3:16 is complete without studying its immediate context as well:
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 he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
7. GOD’S LOVE IS BENEFICIAL.
but have eternal life.
In the original Greek, the verb ἔχῃ translated “have” is in the present tense. What this means to you and me is that (if you are a believer) eternal life is right now. It’s not some future thing. It’s not something we have to wait until we get to heaven to realize. If you are a believer, you already possess eternal life. We are already members of the Kingdom of Heaven. And all this was made possible by God’s love for us.
Years ago a young man who had quarreled with his father left home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother, and wanted very badly to come home for Christmas, but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home, but he did not feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him. Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with the father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white cloth on the tree which grew right alongside the railroad tracks near their home, which he could see before the train reached the station. If there were no white cloth, it would be better if he just kept on going.
So the young man started home. As the train drew near his home he was so nervous he said to his friend who was traveling with him, “I can’t bear to look. Sit in my place and look out the window. I’ll tell you what the tree looks like and you tell me whether there is a white cloth on it or not.” So his friend changed places with him and looked out the window. After a bit the friend said, “Oh yes, I see the tree.” The son asked, “Is there a white cloth tied to it?” For a moment the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a very gentle voice said, “There is a white cloth tied to every limb of that tree!”
In some sense, Jesus Christ is the white cloth our heavenly Father tied to the tree – to the cross of Calvary – signaling that it was safe for us to come home to His love. You see, we’ve gotten it all wrong for far too long. We think that we have to be perfect; that we have to be good to come to God; that we have to do something to earn God’s love. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, according to the scripture, there is nothing we could ever do to be “good enough” in God’s eyes. That is why God sent His Son to die for you and me….because we’re not good. We’re sinners. But Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. He made it possible for us to “come home”. A loving God is waiting with open arms. It’s time to stop running away. It’s time to go home.
If you’ve never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior; if you’re not sure that if you died today you’d spend eternity in heaven; please don’t put salvation off another minute. It’s too important. God loves you. He sent His Son to die for you so that you can have eternal life. Salvation is a gift freely given by God. All you have to do is reach out and accept it. If you wish, you can pray a simple prayer like this:
Lord, I know that I’m a sinner. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Today, I accept the payment that Jesus made on my behalf and I ask you to save me.
If you prayed that prayer, would you please tell Pastor Mark or myself after the service? Or, if you prefer, you can indicate the same on your communication card. We’re not trying to embarrass you; we just want to be able to pray for you.
<Close in prayer.>