Summary: What is this about a snake in the wilderness? And what can that tell me about the fact that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son?
OPEN: A soldier serving overseas received a Dear John letter from his girlfriend back home. Not only was she cutting off their relationship - adding insult to injury - she wrote, "Will you please return my favorite photograph of myself? I need it for my engagement picture in the local newspaper."
The poor guy was devastated. But the soldiers in his unit came to his rescue. They went throughout the entire camp and collected pictures of all the other guys' girlfriends. Then they put them all in a shoe box and sent it to the girl along with this note:
"Please find your picture, and return the rest.
For the life of me, I can't remember which one you were!!"
APPLY: Pictures can say a lot.
Most people have pictures of loved ones in their wallets and purses.
Or on their walls at home.
Or on their desks at work.
Or they use them for wallpapers on their computers.
Those pictures are an expression of how much they are loved.
And John 3:16 has always been THE snapshot of how much God loves us.
It’s simple, short, and to the point:
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Now let’s think a moment about what that picture of God’s love means to us:
It tells you that God loves YOU and that He showed His love for you by giving you His Son to die for us on the cross. And He did this so that you could build your life on Jesus, because once we’ve built your life on Jesus – we now have hope.
That’s what Ephesians 2:1-13 tells us when it says that we should
“remember that (before you became Christians) you were
* separate from Christ,
* excluded from citizenship in Israel
* foreigners to the covenants of the promise,
* without hope
* and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
In other words, we now are part of God’s covenant. We now have hope in a hopeless world. And we now have a God in our lives who cares what happens to us.
That’s what God did for us when He gave us His son. That’s the PICTURE God gave us so that we’d know how much He loved us.
Now, the question this sermon is this: How can I learn to love others like God loves me? Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about how we can learn things from Jesus:
• How we can learn to live our lives like He lived
• How we can learn to pray like He prayed
• How we can learn to love our enemies like He loved His enemies
This morning’s question is this: How can I learn to love the world like God loved me?
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son ...”
The first thing we need to realize about this passage in John 3 is that it tells us NOT only that God loves us, but there’s a reason why we need that love. But that truth is introduced in a most unusual way.
Notice in John 3:14 Jesus says: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.”
Lifted up in the desert?
What’s this all about?
Well, in Numbers 21:5-9 we’re told that as Israel was wandering in the wilderness those 40 years, they rebelled against God they were filled with bitterness and bickering and complaining. It says there that “(Israel) 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!”
Israel rebelled against God.
They spoke against him.
They sinned by their constant bickering and moaning and complaining, and in their rebelliousness they angered God.
(Just an observation: if you’re tempted to be a complainer because someone hasn’t listened to your opinion in church or you didn’t get your way… I wouldn’t go there if I were you. God hates complainers).
And so it was in Numbers 21. God wasn’t happy with Israel, and so He decided to get their attention.
“Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 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.
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.’