God's Love Forgives Debts
It’s a little game that parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents like to play with children. A young child stands in front of their parents gazing lovingly up at them. As the parent looks down at their child they can’t help but ask in some silly sounding voice, “How much does daddy love you?”
And still grinning the child looks up at their father and they stretch out their arms wide. “You love me THIS much!” They shout in a gleeful voice. Perhaps you’ve played this or some other version of the game. Maybe you’ve tried to top your child by showing your arms stretched out further than theirs. Or maybe you’ve proclaimed that you love them from here to the moon and back.
It can be a fun game. Children love hearing that their parents love them. Adults love expressing their love in such simple language to young children. It’s always interesting to see what comparisons can be made, whether it’s the child or the adult making the comparison.
This morning we hear Jesus speaking to us about love. But the love he is speaking about is a far greater love than the love between a parent and a child. Our text this morning speaks about God’s love to us. God’s love is not just an emotion or feeling like that of a parent or child – God’s love was shown in one great action. God’s Love Forgives Debts! It forgives the debt of the whole world. It forgives the debt of you and me.
A man approached Jesus in the middle of the night. He had heard about Jesus, but still had so many questions. He had seen Jesus’ miracles, but still didn’t know who exactly Jesus was. “We know that you are a teacher,” the man said, “for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Behind these words was the glaring question the man left unasked – What is it that you have come to teach?
And so Jesus responded, telling that man that anyone who wants to enter the kingdom of heaven must be born again. Still confused, this teacher of the law asks Jesus to elaborate. The answer he got was an illustration from Israel’s past. It was an illustration from reality – a story that this teacher of the law, Nicodemus, surely would have remembered. “Moses lifted up a snake in the wilderness, and by that lifted serpent the people of Israel were saved,” Jesus reminded Nicodemus. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Just as the lifted serpent saved the Israelites, so also would the lifted up Son of Man save the world.
Nicodemus may have still had his questions, so Jesus then summed up the whole reason he was sent from heaven. Flesh gives birth to flesh, he had earlier said, and by this was saying that all mankind received one common trait from our mutual ancestors: Adam and Eve. That common trait is the damning stain of original sin. That common trait meant that from conception all people failed to love God, in fact, mankind hated God!
In two thousand years, things haven’t changed much. Children are still being born, and original sin is still being passed on from parent to child. And that sinful nature claws and fights to hate God. That sinful nature tries with all its might to disobey that command we heard last week – to love God above all else, to have no other Gods before him. And we have to admit that we have not kept that command perfectly – our sinful nature has won out far more often in our own lives than we’d like.
As we fail to love God above all, we have followed our own desires instead of God’s Not only have we failed to perfectly hold to God’s command to “have no other gods,” but we have sinned against him by not listening to the rest of his will.
Those sins left us with a pretty deep debt. This debt says that because we sinned we shall die. For Ezekiel says, The soul who sins is the one who will die (Ez 18:4). Ezekiel, and God through him, wasn’t just speaking of an earthly death, but also a spiritual death and even worse, an eternal death in hell. Our sins have serious consequences – because of them we owe a debt that can only be repaid through death.
On our own, we could do nothing to change the terms of that debt. There is nothing that we could do to refinance or cancel it. That debt has a contract that has been signed, sealed, and delivered. In fact, we don’t even have a shot at reducing its interest charges.
The Son of Man, Jesus himself, assures us that our heavenly Father was aware of that debt. Our Father knew that something had to be done since mankind couldn’t do anything to help themselves. And so, from the beginning – right after the fall into sin – he promised that the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the devil. Even though the whole world had not loved God as they should, Jesus – that offspring of Eve – comforted Nicodemus and us by saying God so loved the world. This love of God is unmatched – it cannot be compared to any love seen here on earth.
Because of this love, our heavenly Father took action. Our text this morning tells us that because of this love, He sent his only begotten Son. This love led the Son of God to the cross. Christ’s life on earth as one of us, and his death on that cross, paid the debt that every person who has lived, is living, or will ever live, owed. That’s what Christ himself proclaimed as he hung on the cross. As he died, he cried out: It has been paid in full! (Jn 19:30).
2. And yet, there seems to be a paradox in the world. Christ’s sacrifice – God’s love in action - paid for the debt of the sin of the whole world. Yet, the whole world will not be in everlasting life. It seems unloving, but it’s not. God has assured us that he forgives the debt of you and me.
God revealed to us how his love, how the forgiveness of our debt, becomes our very own. The Son of God tells us this morning that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. In that undeserved love, God has shown us the way to everlasting life. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who was the Word of God. That Word did not keep the way to God a secret, but freely proclaimed: I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. (Jn 14:6).
God has revealed to us his act of love – the forgiveness of our debt of sin – through his Word. And in his grace, his undeserved love, he decreed the way that that forgiveness is made ours. He sends us the Holy Spirit, who uses the revelation of God’s love to bring us to faith. The Holy Spirit uses the gospel as we hear others proclaim it to us. He uses the gospel as we read the Bible. He uses the gospel in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism to bring us to faith. And he uses that gospel in Word and Sacrament to keep us in and strengthen that faith.
And so, as believers in God’s Son, God promises to you and me that our debt of sin has been forgiven. He alone has worked that faith in our hearts. And so he promises us that everyone – us included! - who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life! What wonderful love God has shown us! He does not want us to remain here on a sinful earth, so he sent his Son. He did not want to leave us on the road that leads to perishing in hell, so he sent us the Way to everlasting life. In love, God changed our eternal destination from hell to heaven!
And so, today and always, my brothers and sisters in Christ rejoice that your debt of sin has been paid in full! Reflect the love that God shown you, for as John wrote: We love because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
We respond to God’s love by gratefully showing him love in return. We show God our love by placing him as our #1 seed and loving him above all else. We show our love by wanting to follow his will. And part of that will is that we give back to God, as Christ himself said, Give to God what is God’s (Matt 22:21). What a wonderful blessing we have to show our love by giving back to God through our weekly offerings.
So we joyfully give back to God a portion of what he has given us. Today we have an opportunity to respond to God’s love by helping Nebraska Lutheran High School continue in their mission of training children in the message of the gospel. As we celebrate NELHS 30th Anniversary, we have the option to designate our offerings to lower some of the financial debt Nebraska Lutheran High School has. Offerings designated on your envelopes to go to NELHS Debt Retirement would help to lower the current $600,000 debt they owe the bank.
But today is not just about lowering an earthly debt. It is about remembering the love God has shown us and our response to that love. Therefore, we don’t respond by saying, “Oh great, another organization wants our money – how many times can I slice the pie?!” Instead, look at today as another way of responding to God’s love and the wonderful blessing that we have options where to send our money.
And what a blessing it is that we can send our money to help a school whose sole purpose is to train Christian high school students in the gospel. What a blessing to have a school who continues the Christian education of its students, who in turn can share the gospel with the world in whatever their future field may be. And what a blessing that Messiah once again, after 20 years, has students attending NELHS. These current and future students will be trained to carry God’s Word into the world, to share God’s love with the world, so that others may come to believe and not perish but have everlasting life.
A child may ask their parent, “How much do you love me?” and get the playful response, “THIS much!” There is a similar story that has been told. A man was given the opportunity to speak with Jesus. When his time with his Lord was almost up, the man asked one last question. “Jesus, how much do you love me?” With a smile, Jesus looked at the man. “Friend,” he said. “I love you this much.” And then Jesus stretched out his arms and died. Love led Christ to the cross, and there the love of God was shown. It was God’s love that forgave our debt of sin! Love forgave the debt of the whole world, including your debt and mine.