The Creative Power of God’s Word!
By Rev. S. D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, OR
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse is one of the best known in Scripture. The words are simple and direct, this is the Gospel in a nutshell. It contains the very proclamation of our salvation. It’s so clear and concise that I hesitate to expound upon it. Yet on the other hand, there’s so much to unfold that I could preach on this text for hours and still not fully cover it. So what should we do? I had a professor at the seminary who taught Greek. He said to properly understand Scripture start with the verbs. So rather than taking hours to unfold everything let’s take a look at the 3 primary verbs in verse 16. For anyone that doesn’t remember what a verb is here is a simple definition: A verb is the part of speech that expresses: existence, action, or occurrence in most languages. The verbs in our text will allow us to see what the Lord is doing. I think once you see what our Lord is up to, you will be filled with great joy. Furthermore, if you know this text, then you are prepared to stand against the evil one and his many false doctrines. So let’s take a look at the Good News message of John 3:16
II. The Action of Love
“For God so loved the world….” Loved! In and of itself, this statement is beyond compare. We hear so much of God's love, from Christian and non-Christian sources alike. Often God's love is attributed to the wrong thing. Too often our old sinful nature tempts us to believe that God loves us because we're just so loveable. Sure, we have faults; but after all everyone does, but as long as we try to do our best. We like to compare our lives to those movies where the hero has obvious character flaws but still works hard and triumphs in the end. That's how we are tempted to picture ourselves before God: Flawed but full of conviction, still trying to do our best, and that's why God loves us.
When I was growing up I wasn’t raised in the Lutheran Church. The pastor of that church often quoted John 3:16 in part: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” “Isn’t that wonderful”, he would say. Yes, but it’s not the whole picture!
If we think that our conviction, or our character, or our efforts, merit us God’s love, then we are guilty of the sin of works righteousness. Isaiah sets us straight in chapter 64:6: But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteous works are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. You see this notion that God accepts us for our attempts gives us the credit but our works are nothing more than filthy rags. Remember the Scriptural truth: Apart from Christ, we enemies of God and spiritually dead.
I want you to imagine for a moment what every driver never wants to happen, an accident. Not even your fault, well at least not this time. This was your car, your only car totaled. The metal is torn and bent the cost of repair is greater than the value of the vehicle. The only thing left is to load it on a truck and haul it off to a scrap yard. No matter how much you want that car fixed, it’s totaled!
We are in far worse shape than that before God. Born in sin, we can't be repaired. We can't be bent back into shape. We can't be patched up so that we're good enough to be in God's kingdom. Furthermore, we're not just a broken thing; even if we could fix ourselves we're bent on destruction like a car in a demolition derby. We constantly sin against the Lord purposely offending His holiness. The only option for us is death. The only thing left for God to drop us in the scrap yard move on to a new model. After all that’s what makes sense, doesn’t it?
But "God so loved the world," Jesus says. He doesn't love the world because we are so loveable. That would be bad news for us, because His love then would be conditional. It would depend on how loveable we are on the day of our death. No, God loves the world not because of who we are, but because who He is! He is LOVE. His love is not a cheap, emotional feeling that comes and goes; no, this love of God is a desire to save no matter what the cost. Remember, we are born in sin, the only option and outcome for us is death; so the Lord of love launched His plan to save us.
III. The Act of Giving
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” Notice the word, GAVE? Notice, God gave His Son as a free gift, no strings attached; this is how great God's love is. No cost, no requirements this is an unconditional gift. Remember I told you before my pastor loved to read this part of the verse and say “Isn’t that wonderful!” Again it is but it’s not the whole picture! When He gave His Son, He gave Him up to death. Not just any death but a death on the cross. He’s the world's salvation. Because of our sin, the only option for us was death. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). A death was required because of your sin. A price had to be paid for your sin. So God, in His love, gave His only-begotten Son to die for your sin. Due to the sin of sinners, like us, Jesus died. That's how much God loves the world: He's freely given His Son to die for the sins of the world. Once again, this shows how great the Father's love for us sinners truly is. Even though many (most) will never believe in Jesus, even though most sinners will never give Jesus thanks for His death for them, God still gave His Son to die for them, too!
So, God loves the world, believer and unbeliever alike. He’s given His Son for the world. This means that He has also given His Son for you. This is the Good News of our final verb.
IV. The Act of Believing
“…that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Whoever believes! Once again, this tells us of God's great love. When one gives a gift purely out of love, it’s a gift: It’s not a forced obligation. In other words, if you give an unconditional gift in love, you do so with the understanding that the recipient has the right to reject the gift. Your love doesn’t change because of that rejection. God has given His Son to die for the sins of the whole world, but salvation is a gift: He will not force people to be His people. He will not strong-arm them to be saved and have eternal life. If people choose sin and death then judgment and hell will be the end for them. God doesn’t require people to accept salvation and therefore heaven.
That’s why, even though Christ has died for the whole world, not everyone will be saved. Only those who believe and don’t reject God’s gift have eternal life.
The verb, "believe," is misunderstood by some. Some claim salvation isn't really free, "I have to believe to be saved. That's my part, my doing, in God's plan." But this misunderstanding of faith actually diminishes God's love. Faith is not our part of the deal; it's not something that we can come up with in order to be saved. Faith is a gift that is received from God. St. Paul writes in his epistle to the Ephesians: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). So which is the gift, grace or faith? The answer is both. Both are a gift. Whenever the Lord says believe, He is imparting the faith to do so. When He told the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and walk" (Mk. 2:11), He gave the man the ability to do so. When He says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," He gives the faith to do so.
So the Lord gives you faith to believe as well. Faith combined with it the gift of forgiveness. It's a package deal, along with eternal life and salvation. In your Baptism, Christ joins you to His death on the cross. The death He died for you, so that you don't have to die for your own sin. He joins you to His resurrection; He gives you His eternal life. Although your body is still playing catch-up, and although your sinful nature still clings and tries to drag you back into the grave, you have eternal life because Jesus gives you His life. He has died your death yet He gives you His life. You’re not destined to death anymore, because He has died in your place. By water and the Word, He gives forgiveness, faith, life and salvation all of it a gift.
And so that you don’t perish once again, He continues to sustain this faith with forgiveness throughout your life. Through the proclamation of the Word, God gives His only-begotten, crucified and risen Son, for you; so that you might be forgiven all of your sins and strengthened in faith. In the Holy Communion, God once again gives you His only-begotten Son: You eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of sin so that you should not perish, but have eternal life.
This is the creative power of God’s Word both the written Word and God’s Word made flesh. This is the Good News of your salvation: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Commit this verse to memory, for it’s your salvation and its God’s faithful promise of love and life to you. In Jesus name, Amen and Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.