Summary: A SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT 2009. We reflect upon God’s love for us, and God’s promise of eternal life, made known to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
John 3: 14-21
Journeying with Jesus through Lent #4: ‘Into God’s way of love - God loves YOU!’
Sermon Series: Lent 2009
A SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT 2009.
We reflect upon God’s love for us, and God’s promise of eternal life, made known to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Our verses from John’s Gospel today must surely be among the best known and most used verses in the whole of the Gospels, especially verse 16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
In fact, these words form part of the Communion Liturgy of some of our churches. And they will be found emblazoned across advertising billboards, especially perhaps during mission campaigns. And again, if we were to stop and look at such ‘wayside pulpit’ notice-boards, we may well see this verse described as being ‘at the heart’ of the Gospel or ‘the Gospel in a nutshell.’ You know, if you were to look inside the front cover of the bibles provided to hotels, hospitals, schools and prisons by Gideons International, we will find this text printed in twenty-five different languages. John 3:16 tells us all who read its words that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” What an incredible thought! What an incredible REALITY!
But before we consider / reflect upon the amazing power and the impact that these words have had on those that have read or heard them, let us first of all consider the background to the whole passage from which these words come.
We read from the beginning of John 3 the story of the Pharisee called Nicodemus, and his coming to visit Jesus in the darkness of night. His visit took place in the darkness of the night, perhaps, because he was uncertain – and cautious – about his being seen going to see Jesus by his fellow Pharisees. For, as a group, generally, the Pharisees disagreed with Jesus and his teachings. In fact, we could say that Jesus had become very unpopular with them.
But Nicodemus was different. He had seen – sensed perhaps – something unique and special about Jesus and what he said and did. And as the two of them speak that night, in the darkness, Nicodemus is touched very deeply by the One many people had come to call ‘Messiah’. He recognises that Jesus has the authority and guidance of God in what he says and does. He feels that the new movement that had grown around this man Jesus (and of which the Pharisees were so critical) was, indeed, of God. Nicodemus’ approach and words to Jesus are polite and reverent, yet we see that Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are URGENT.
Jesus was saying to his night-time visitor that there was no time to waste. If Nicodemus was seeking the Kingdom of God, he must make a new start. He must be reborn – born again from above.
To give emphasis to what he says, Jesus reminds Nicodemus of an event in the time of Moses, which we find in the Book of Numbers (21:6-9). Here, great serpents had bitten and killed many of the Israelite people, whom Moses was leading during their escape from slavery in Egypt, and towards the freedom of the Promised Land. The people turned to Moses for help and guidance. He told the anxious, frightened people that he would fix a bronze replica of a serpent to a staff, and that those who were bitten by a snake should gaze at this in order to survive the venomous bite and live.
Here Jesus is clearly making the serpent-story of Numbers a parable of his own death on the cross. As Moses fixed the image of a serpent on a staff (remembering that the symbol of a serpent often symbolises healing), so Jesus would be ‘fixed’ upon that cross and he would die - to ’heal’, restore our relationbship with God. And, continuing with the idea of the parable to which this story lends itself, the dying, the crucified Son of God should be gazed upon and loved by all people. For it is by looking upon, and loving, and believing in the Crucified Jesus that all people can be saved, restored, healed. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (3:14).
So, in what way do these words of John 3:16 have an impact, an effect, upon us today?
There are, no doubt, countless people who can testify to the powerful influence these words of Jesus have had on their personal life and faith. Words that were allowed to seep into the very depths of their minds and hearts, and which were absorbed into their whole being. Such people may tell us that they grasped the significance of these words for themselves as individuals with such certainty, that they felt compelled to respond to them with a conviction and faith that has never left them.