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For God So Loved The World
John 3:16 Screenshot: I am Sam, Newline Cinema, 2002 So this is Christmas, almost on us once again. A time for gifts and a time for love… at least so we are told! Its perhaps a good time then to reflect briefly on this passage from John’s Gospel: John 3:16 Lets take another quick look at the passage.
John 3:14-19 (NIV) 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 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. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil…” This verse, maybe the most well known verse in the Bible sits at the end of a passage where Jesus has a discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus. In that discussion they talk about truth and being born again. We pick up the story at verse 14 where Jesus paints a picture of Moses and the snake being lifted up. Indeed he uses the snake story from Numbers to illustrate the point he makes, which is why he says ‘FOR God so loved the world…’ NU 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" NU 21:6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. NU 21:8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. So the point of the snake story is to compare the grace and life given to the people of Israel through Moses with the grace and life given through Jesus. The idea of being lifted up of course has double meaning, a symbol of exaltation and a prophetic symbol of crucifixion. But these truths are not what I want to focus on here this morning. I think a cursory reading of John 3:16 could easily lead someone to say: so what? In fact it has become such a well known passage of scripture that even Christians are likely to say John 3:16 in rote fashion as if to say yeah yeah we know that lets move onto the next one, as if it were part of the religious times table. JN 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. There is of course a lot of deep truth and meaning contained in this passage and it speaks powerfully of the meaning of faith and salvation. But again I don’t want to speak of these things either. I want to focus on two things.
For God so loved the world…
How much? What kind of love? That He gave His only Son What kind of gift? One of the questions that arises for me is: God so loved the world… just how much did he love it? Another one that arises, particularly at Christmas, is if God gave us His Son, what kind of gift is it?
Complete the following…
Love is… I’d like to explore these two questions by getting you to give me some feedback: Who can complete the sentence: Love is… for me? [Expect responses like: Love is that feeling you get when youre attracted to someone… Love is the wag of a dog’s tail Love is a bunch of roses given to your lover Love is the joy of a new born baby Love is kind, love is patient… Love is sharing with family ]
Complete the following…
The best kind of gift is… OK now to the second one: The best kind of gift is… [Expect responses like: …the one that comes from the heart. …something you really really wanted, …a box of chocolates … ] Earlier this year while I was sitting in my motel in Jabiru I watched a movie that really moved me….
A picture of a father’s love
Screenshot: I am Sam, Newline Cinema, 2002 The movie, “I am Sam” tells the story of an intellectually disabled man who raises his daughter, Lucy, after her mother walks away from her responsibilities shortly after she was born. The story picks up around the time of her 7th birthday when well meaning people start to ask questions about Sam’s capacity to raise his daughter. The courts order that Lucy be taken into foster care but determined to get her back, Sam hires a lawyer who reluctantly offers her services ‘pro bono’. We’ll pick up the story when Sam takes the stand in court… Show about 5 minutes of movie from about 86 mins in.
So the question remains…
Screenshot: I am Sam, Newline Cinema, 2002 I think this movie illustrates the depth of love a father has for his children. My immediate response was, if someone tried to take my kids away, that’s exactly how I would feel. And then I thought, hey that must be a little bit what it must have been like for God to give up Jesus. Heart wrenching, sacrificial, unfair, unjust, painful. Most of us who are parents can only imagine the grief that having our kids taken away would cause us, regardless of whether we deserve to be parents or not. Regardless of whether we have been good in our role as parents or not. So here in this passage we see a picture of a God who, just as he was with His people in the desert, again faced with the pain, suffering and death of the very people He had created. He could have said “no they deserve to die, let them suffer alone, let them die, let them be condemned because of their own sinfulness”. But no, just as he offered grace and life to the people of God in the wilderness, he offers and even greater gift of grace and life. It was a gift that was unjustified, it was a gift we didn’t deserve, it was a gift way too costly for anyone to be expected to give. It was the gift that we celebrate in Jesus at Christmas.
If God so loved the world…
What kind of gift should we offer this Christmas? How should we then respond to the Father’s love? Screenshot: I am Sam, Newline Cinema, 2002 The depth of love demonstrated by God in giving us His son at Christmas almost makes a mockery of the shallow love that we demonstrate to our friends and loved ones at Christmas by giving presents. The love that we share at Christmas time with our family is nothing like the love that God poured out on us when he willingly let go of His one and only Son. So, if God so loved the world, what kind of gift should we offer at Christmas? I’d like to suggest that we give the gifts that we usually do, but not as a symbol of God’s love for us… its way too hard for most of us to change those age old traditions, and in any case they are a lot of fun! But I think the kind of gifts that we can give at Christmas that reflect the life and grace that God offered us are gifts of compassion, gifts of hope, gifts of forgiveness, gifts that show others we care. They are the kind of gifts that make a stranger feel welcome, that extend beyond our loved ones to the unlovely. Because remember, before we knew Jesus, we had no hope, we had no future and we had no reason for being. And maybe if you don’t know Jesus its time to offer yourself back to Him, just as he said: … that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
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