Monday, March 16, 2015

Lent 4 Sermon: "Divine Love"

+ Lent 4 – March 15th, 2015 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The players line up. Snap. Kick. The football splits the uprights. It’s good. And then the camera zooms in on a celebrating fan hoisting a neon construction paper sign, and on it, only a name and a few numbers…John 3:16.

We’ve probably all seen some variation of this: sky writing, bottom of the In N Out cup, or at a sports game. Next to Psalm 23, John 3:16 is probably one of the most well-known Bible verses. And for good reason. Like the season of Lent, Jesus’ words point our eyes and our ears to Jesus Crucified for you. The closer we get to Holy Week, to Good Friday, the more Jesus points our eyes and ears to his death for you.

John 3:16 is the Gospel in a nut-shell. It’s as comforting as it is memorable. You can carry it with you to your neighbor or anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within you. But what does this verse mean?

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Here’s where our English language gets in the way of understanding this verse. We hear the word “so” and think “so much”. Like a little girl stretching out her arms and saying, “Daddy, Do you love me this much?”

True, God’s love for us is unfathomable. We could travel across time and space in a police box or a DeLorean and never reach the end or limit of God’s love. For as high as the heavens, so great is his steadfast love towards you (Psalm 103:11). It’s true, God loves you in Christ Crucified to infinity and beyond. But there’s more to this verse than the magnitude of his love.

And speaking of love, we use the word love for anything: I love Tillamook Cheese. I love Oregon microbrews. I love rain. I love lamp. Misuse a word long enough and we lose the meaning of the word.

We typically think of love as magical wistful like Princess Anna in Frozen, who got engaged to a guy the same night she met him at a party (btw, he turned out to be a villain), or tragic love like Romeo and Juliet, Gus and Hazel, or Edward and Bella. Eventually, love becomes all about our contentment, our peace, our happiness. This romanticized view of love is what drives the debate over same-sex marriage. “I can love whomever I want”, we hear. Or, “We love each other and that’s all that matters.”

Problem is, we think of love primarily with our emotions. Love is how we feel about something or someone. Or rather, how someone or something makes us feel. Do you see the problem? Inevitably, our love leads us right back to our greatest love of all…ourselves. We take God’s gift of love and twist it into an idol. Love is all about my contentment. My happiness. Or whatever makes me feel good. And haven’t we all thought that? Repent. For this is selfish, self-love of the highest order.

For who of use can say that our love is long suffering, patient, or kind? That we do not envy others or boast in ourselves? That we’re not rude, arrogant in constantly insisting on our own way? Not a one of us. For in truth, we delight in doing wrong.

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

In sin, that’s what we love: the darkness. For apart from Christ all our loves - the people, places, and gifts in God’s creation that are good and lovely – are idols.

But while our love looks inward, God’s love looks outward. Where our love desires only our own interests and well-being, God’s love desires and seeks the well-being of others. Though our love is selfish, God’s love is selfless, self-giving, self-sacrificing – for you.

Jesus isn’t sitting in heaven writing schmaltzy Hallmark cards or country ballads. God’s love isn’t about warm fuzzies or Jesus-is-my-girlfriend songs. In John 3, Jesus is teaching Nicodemus, and us, how God loves the world.

Now…try reading John 3:16 again like this: God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 isn’t about emotional or self-serving love, but divine love. God loves the world in this way: the Father gave his Son into death as a ransom for rebels who hated him and killed him and only love themselves. God’s love is gift-love.

Jesus’ death on the cross is how God loves the world. Jesus dying for you is how he loves you and makes you his again.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10

As great as our love for ourselves is, Jesus’ love for you on the cross is greater. Where our love is all about taking for ourselves, God’s love for you is all about giving himself to save you. Love is what God does for you. Love is who he is.

The Father gives.  “The Father gives all he is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too” (Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 7).

The Father does not withhold from us His Son, His only Son. Jesus stretches out his arms on the cross for you to show you how and how much he loves you. He loves you to death. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus’s death atones for all of our love – the good, the bad, the ugly. Jesus covers our selfish love with his sacrificial love.

For God’s love in Christ Crucified is patient and kind. God’s Son is not arrogant or rude; He does not insist on his own way. God’s love for you in Christ Crucified never fails.

This is why Christians often make the sign of the cross. Or why we display a crucifix or cross in our church and homes. The cross tells us who Jesus is and what he does. The crucifix shows us the clearest picture of God’s love. It’s a sermon all by itself.

But Jesus’ love doesn’t stop at the cross. God continues to love you in this way: You are baptized. God drenches you in his saving love by water and word. God proclaims his unconditional love for you in absolution: You are forgiven all your sins. God loves you in this way: He pours the blood of Christ into your mouths so that you will not perish but have eternal life.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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