Summary: God’s love gave his son and leaves his church to model and multiply his message.
Sermon #7 in a Series on the Gospel of John
One Thursday the mailman delivered an unusual item from the Northend Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Seattle, Washington. An announcement card (show sample) listed the special things which would be done for everyone who attended church on the upcoming “no-excuse-to-stay-at-home-Sunday.”
“Cots available for those who would sleep-in on Sunday. Eye drops supplied for eyes red from late night Saturday TV shows. Steel helmets for those afraid the roof will cave in if they ever show up at church. Blankets for those who find the church too cold. Fans for those who feel it is too hot. Scorecards for those wishing to note the lineup of hypocrites present. TV dinners for those who cannot go to church and cook Sunday lunch. Finally, The sanctuary will be decorated with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never see the church without them.” (Green, Illustrations #169).
Not real funny, but a slightly humorous dealing with a serious problem. The church has trouble attracting and keeping committed members who attend regularly. Some people even say, “Why bother? Why labor to keep the church up and running? Let it fail – and invest your time and talent in work that helps people.”
The problem is especially acute for denominations like the one of which we are a part. Anyone seeking to join a PCA church must take membership vows! You want to talk about old fashioned and out of date – compare the promises we require to the standard fare at most churches. Many modern congregations have done away with membership entirely – certainly they do not require the swearing of a public oath.
Listen to the PCA Membership Vow #4: “Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?”
Do you promise to support the church? Not simply to “love God” (the spirit of the age might concede to such an ideal); but to “support the church…to the best of your ability” – what are we thinking? Here is what we are thinking – the church is the only institution created by Jesus to model and multiply his message.
Organizations like the Red Cross help many when disasters strike and wars destroy. But the Red Cross, for all its kindness, cannot offer eternal life. Radio and internet broadcasts of sermons and Bible teaching preach a fine message. But for all their educational efforts, they can never personally model the present and powerful work of God in the life of a believer. The church alone both multiplies the message through her preaching and teaching and models the message through visibly transformed lives.
So we unashamedly require all followers of Jesus to promise to support the Church in its worship and work.
In the paragraph we are studying this morning, God explains three things: first, how great is our need; second, his solution – a Savior; and third, his motive for giving his Son – his great love. Together these reveal the importance of the church.
Before we consider those, let’s take one side road. You may have a footnote in your Bible that says, “Some interpreters hold that the quotation ends at verse 15.” That may concern some of you, because your red letter Bibles clearly show Jesus’ words. But the manuscripts (copies handwritten between 200 and 1200 AD) have no sign given to show where a person’s speech begins or ends. (I have given you a handout with two manuscripts of John 3.15-16. One is from around 200 AD, the other from about 500 AD. I marked where John 3.16 begins. You will notice there are no punctuation marks, no spaces between letters, no red letters to mark Jesus’ words and no paragraphs.
Two quick observations. 1) The Bible is God’s word. It is probably not best to imagine that Jesus’ words are different (somehow better) than the rest – than, say, Paul’s words. The (whole) is God’s Word to you. 2) Though it may seem strange to us, the handwritten manuscripts of the Bible which were circulated in the early days of the church had the text and nothing else. There were no signs to tell where a person’s speech began (as opposed to other writing). The Bible student herself must interpret where Jesus stopped talking and where John started narrating. It seems to me that this paragraph is John’s commentary and explanation of Jesus’ speech to Nicodemus. But others believe it to be a continuation of Jesus’ speech. I think it does not affect the content or application to us either way.
1. Because of the Great Need, We Support the Church (John 3.18-20)
When Helen and I lived in Jackson, Mississippi, we were forced to deal with cockroaches, disguising little insects. Memphis (where we were both born) is enough north of Jackson that if you keep your house clean and work hard, you can pretty much avoid them. It is much harder in Mississippi. It almost never freezes that far south and even a good housekeeper has an occasional problem. (For example, you never bring paper bags or cardboard boxes into the house – they are almost always carrying the eggs.)