HOW DO YOU KNOW GOD LOVES YOU?
Prayer: Lord, You have loved our fallen race, and rather than condemn us, cast out and banish us from Your face, Your only Son You sent us. He died upon the cross that we should all be saved forever; thus Jesus also died for me. Help me forget it never! Amen. (Thomas Kingo, ELH 449 v. 2)
Sermon Text, John 3:1-17.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ, who is given and sent by the Father to us all: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Do you know John 3:16? It seems like everyone knows John 3:16 by heart. I don’t know if that’s true. I think we assume everyone does. I want to make sure I don’t assume that. I want to make sure I teach it to you. Because you should know these words. But then even more: You should know what they mean. And even more than that: You should know that it applies to you.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
When I say I want to teach you this verse, I’m not saying you don’t know anything about it. I was taught to understand as a pastor that Grandma Schmidt doesn’t come to church to learn the Gospel as if she doesn’t know it; Grandma Schmidt comes because she loves the Gospel and wants to hear it!
It’s that kind of learning. So you might know this verse, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” But how is it that we know by heart the words, “God so loved the world,” yet it can be that we think we’re un- lovable, or unworthy of God’s love, or even that we can sin our way out of God’s love? There are times when you’re unsure if God still loves you, or you feel unlovable. So I think there is something to learn here with John 3:16.
Often John 3:16 is used as a stand-alone verse. But it’s not on its own in the Bible. It’s part of this scene where Jesus is visited by Nicodemus at night.
Jesus answers a question Nicodemus didn’t ask. Nicodemus didn’t ask about God’s love, wasn’t seeking it. Yet Jesus says: “God loved the world.”
This teaches us something. God didn’t ask whether we wanted Him to send His only Son. God didn’t wait until we were ready. God didn’t hold back His only Son from people who despise Him or don’t want Him, don’t think they need Him, or even say there’s no God. God didn’t keep back His Son from people who claim to have no religion, the so-called “nones” who, when asked what their religion is, answer “none.” God didn’t exclude them from His love. He didn’t send His Son just to people who appreciate Him.
The reason? “God so loved the world.” In this verse Jesus says that God loves every person in the world, period. We want to add: “except for the people who …” or “except when people do …”But that isn’t what God does! God’s love includes the people who don’t want Jesus, don’t care, don’t believe in Him.
Even Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee. He was a “teacher of Israel.” He thought he was already in the kingdom of God. But Jesus acts like he isn’t! He teaches Nicodemus about how a person can or “cannot enter the kingdom of God,” and He’s clearly saying that Nicodemus has yet to enter it (which would surprise him). Jesus says despite Nicodemus’ so-called learning, despite his interest in Jesus’ miracles, “you do not believe.”
What does Jesus think of him? John 3:16 tells us. Jesus says “whoever be- lieves in” Him will “not perish.” So if Nicodemus doesn’t believe in Him, he’ll perish, not just physically but eternally.Jesus’ words to him, teaching the need to be “born again” in baptism, so he can “enter the kingdom of heaven,” this is Jesus saying: God wants Nicodemus. He loves him.
This brings it around to us. We aren’t always looking for God’s love. Sadly it doesn’t always matter to us. We can practice a practical atheism, where we’re gonna make it our own and God’s role in our life is mainly in a crisis. Sometimes, especially if life is busy and we’re doing OK, we really push God to the back, we “have” faith but don’t use it, there’s no urgency.
So Jesus throws cold water on us with the word “perish.” He makes us think about death. But this is perishing eternally. He’s really making us think about not being in heaven, or not having our loved ones with us for eternity. Suddenly all the things we get worked up about and consumed with, things that make us say, “I don’t have time,” they don’t matter so much. What does matter? Not to be left out of heaven. That God’s love is for you.
This is when we look at what we do and have doubts that God would love us. So Jesus’ words in John 3:16 are so important when He says: “God loved the world.” That includes you. No matter what you’ve done or been. “God loved the world” begins in eternity. He loved you before He made you, long before you were born. You didn’t cause His love. His love for you came first.
The word “so” in this sentence – “God so loved the world” – means: “God loved the world this way.” Jesus is about to tell us, not just that God loves you, and it’s a fact. But now it’s how God shows this love.
This answers the question: “How do I know God loves me?” Jesus says: “that He gave His only Son.” It isn’t only that the Father sent His Son into the world. But in the verses before this one Jesus explains the absolute center of how God shows His love and how you can know that He loves you.
Jesus says: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus refers to when the grumbling Israelites were being punished by God, who sent poisonous snakes. Then they cried out to God, sorry for their sin; so God had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, and God attached a promise to this bronze serpent: if anyone looked at it, believing the promise, he would not perish but would live. Jesus says that was a preview of what He would do: “As Moses lifted up the serpent, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up.”
Jesus was to be “lifted up” on the cross. He would die to take away the sin of the world. He would die for every sin of every person, whether they believe in Him or not. “He died for all” (2Co 5:15), the Bible says. Which means that He died for you. This is always true. He died for you.
This is how you can know that God loves you. He shows you on the cross. Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world is God saying to you: “I do love you.” On every day of your life, every minute, every hour, this is true.
If you sin terribly; if you don’t live your faith like you should; if you deny Him; if you forget Him; if the devil or your suffering brings you even to say you hate Him – it’s still true that He loves you. You can’t sin Christ off the cross. He died for you. You can’t sin your way out of God’s love. Christ’s death on the cross – and His resurrection that proves God accepted His death as payment for your sins – proves that God loves you. His love includes you.
If you don’t repent, then the sad truth is that God’s love would still be for you but it would not reach you, you wouldn’t enjoy the benefit of His love. He doesn’t take back His love, but we can cast it from us, to our own hurt.
But here too we see how loving God is. He doesn’t want this for anyone! Not only did God the Father give us His only Son. He also gives us His Holy Spirit. This is in John 3:16 too, when Jesus says: “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
The believing, the faith part, is the work of the Holy Spirit. He loves you! Not wanting you to perish is why the Holy Spirit came to you in baptism and gave you faith. It’s why He’s stayed by your side. It’s why He keeps coming to you in His Word and the Lord’s Supper, to strengthen your faith.
It’s especially when you’re weak, when you fall, and feel most unworthy of God’s love, that He makes it clear that He loves you. He points you to Jesus’ cross to see: It’s true that God loves and forgives you! The love He has for you is forgiving love. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
No video this week.