Lent 4B St. John, Galveston 3/14/21
“Given For You”
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading you heard a few moments ago. John 3 is well known for a number of reasons. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and Jesus talked to him about being born of water and Spirit, being born again as Jesus said. Just after He told Nicodemus he had to be born again, in fact, while He was still talking to Nicodemus, Jesus spoke the words we have before us this morning.
Sometimes translations of some really well-known Bible passages stick with us, almost to the point where we can’t envision the passage being read or understood in any other way. A case in point is a verse from the Gospel reading for this morning from John 3. I would venture to say that it is one of the most well-known verses in all of Scripture. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
There are a few words in the verse that are especially important and often misunderstood, or, misinterpreted. Unfortunately, the verses is sometimes misinterpreted to make it fit someone’s already corrupted understanding of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. For instance, a critical question regarding Jesus’ death on the cross is “for whom did He die?” Was Jesus death on the cross for a select few, as some Christians believe, or was His death for everyone? Interjecting the concept of selectivity into Jesus’ atoning sacrifice necessarily leads to doubt about whether or not any given person was or is the object of God’s love in Christ. Those who believe that Jesus died only for those who ultimately come to faith do not believe that Jesus’ atonement was universal, that He died for the whole world.
The particular word in the verse that sets us straight is, of course, the word, “world.” “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.” As it turns out, there aren’t many words that the Holy Spirit could have used to make the reality of God’s universal love and atonement more certain. The word is actually “kosmos.” “For God so loved the kosmos, that He gave His only Son.” While the word “kosmos,” or, “world” might seem a bit impersonal, the fact is, it is that very word that ultimately comforts your troubled soul with the realization that Jesus’ death was precisely for you, because His was a universal atonement. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”
From those who are the object of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, we can turn then to the One who atoned, namely God’s “only Son,” or, as some versions have it, “God’s only-begotten Son,” or, even, “God’s one and only Son.” Now we get to the heart of the person of Jesus, the very One we confess as Lord and Savior.
Much later, in Matthew 16, Jesus asked the disciples what the people were saying about Him. Their opinions were many and varied. Some said He was John the Baptist returned from the dead. Others said He was Elijah, or, one of the prophets. “But who do you say I am (Jesus asked?) With that, Peter, as he often did, spoke on behalf of the all the disciples. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus then praised Peter because, by the Holy Spirit, he made a true and proper confession of faith.
The word used to refer to Jesus in John 3, “the only-begotten Son,” is crucial and it’s filled with rich and deep meaning. It literally tells us that Jesus is of the “same substance” with the Father. In other words, as Jesus said later, “I and the Father are One.” “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father!” You and I learned to confess that oneness of Jesus with the Father by the Holy Spirit working through the word and so, we have joined with Christians of all ages to declare what we believe answer to the question of who we say Jesus is.
“He is very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary
and was made man.”
More than words, there is an incredible reality behind those words. They touch our hearts and minds when we realize what they actually mean. When God gave His only-begotten Son to die for you, it was God who died for you! It is a profound mystery, but a certain reality!
“The sinless Son of God must die in sadness (we sing);
The sinful child of man may live in gladness;
Man forfeited his life and is acquitted;
God is committed.”
The Father gave His “only-begotten Son” up on the cross, “that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” To perish, it would seem, isn’t such a bad thing. Some, in fact, have even come to think of death as a natural part of life, even the solace and rest of the weary. Death though is anything but natural. When God created man, He didn’t intend for him to die. “Death (we are told) is the wage of sin.” It is anything but a natural part of life.
That which God has saved us from in the giving of His Son, that is, to perish, is not simply the physical process of dying. Rather, to perish is to face destruction. It is to face the eternal consequence and the eternal torment of sin.
Sin, you see, always brings death, and it always separates us from God. In the Old Testament reading for this morning, we heard about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. Much earlier, Moses had encountered God on the top of the mountain. God, you may recall, appeared to him in a burning bush. As Moses began to approach the bush, God said, “Moses, take the sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” God came to Moses in that way, veiled as He was, that Moses not be destroyed, that he not perish in the presence of such pure holiness.
God has called you by the Gospel. He has enlightened you with His gifts and sanctified and kept you in the one true faith. Believing in Christ, you will, in time, stand before God and you will know Him even as you are fully known by Him. The destruction that your sins merit will have been fended off, absorbed, if you will, in the body of Christ. The great exchange has taken place. God became what He was not that you might be what you were not.
Even now, the promise you hear in John 3 is so beautifully and concretely set before you this morning. The body and blood of Jesus, the very substance of God, are here given to you. “Take and eat (Jesus says). Take and drink. This is My body. This is My blood. They have been given and shed for you!” And here, at this very rail, the blessing of the cross, of which Jesus speaks in John 3, is laid upon your sin-parched lips that you may not perish, but that you may have eternal life, life without sin, life without suffering or anguish or pain, life without whatever it is that, from time to time, causes you to loathe it. Life in the presence of Jesus who wipes away every tear from your eyes. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +