Saturday 21 December 2013

Really, really (John 3:16)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but will have eternal life.
John 3:16

I want us to see four things today. I want us to see that God really, really loves the world; That he gave his only, only Son; So that those who believe in him will never, never die; But that they will truly, truly live.

1. God really, really loves the world

The first thing we see is that God really, really loves the world. This is the God who made the world - who made you and me. The bible says that he loves us.

Some of you hear that and say, “Of course, he loves me. I’m so lovable!” But others hear that and think, “Who cares?” Either we assume if there is God he must love us - that's his job. Or we use that as an excuse to say God doesn't exist because if he did, a loving God would never allow so much suffering to happen in this world.

When the bible says that God really, really loves the world, it is describing a world that takes him for granted. This is a world that ignores God. This is a world that hates God. And yet the bible says the God loves this world that he made.

When Princess Leia finally says to Han Solo, “I love you,” at the end of the Empire Strikes Back, Han turns to Leia and replies, “I know.” We think that’s cool. Or when Jack and Rose are standing on the top of the sinking ship, Titanic and Jack says to Rose, “You jump, I jump,” we think that’s love. Love is something that is mutual. It's chemistry. It’s spontaneous.

But that’s not the kind of love the bible is talking about. It’s more like Shrek, the big green monster when he says, “I love you,” to Fiona the princess at the end of the movie. Shrek is an ogre - a monster - and he is standing in front of Princess Fiona in a big church at the end of the movie; only Fiona is no longer a beautiful princess. She has turned into a big green monster and Shrek looks at her and says, “I love you.” Fiona is surprised and says, “Really?” Shrek answers, “Really, really.”

When God looks at us he does not see a beautiful princess - attractive, beautiful, size 8. He sees a big green monster. And he says, “I really, really love you.”

In this sense, the bible uses the word “world” to describe not its bigness but its badness. It’s not the world of the National Geographic documentaries - panoramas of mountaintops, snapshots of places and peoples in the world. Rather it’s world of the 8 o’clock news. Each time you turn on the evening news you expect to see reports on war, famine and violence; on conflicts happening across the globe. That’s the world we live in. Verse 19 tells us: This is the verdict: Light has come into world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil. This world is filled with people who do evil things. This is a world which hates God.

The bible says this is the world that we live in, but it also says: This is the world that God really, really loves.

2. God gave his only, only Son

Secondly, God gave his only, only Son. That’s the message of Christmas: Jesus coming into this world to be born as a baby.

His father (if you remember your Sunday School) is Joseph. His mother’s name is Mary. They are his parents; his mum and dad. But actually, the bible tells us that Jesus is God’s one and only Son.

That’s why God sends angels to the shepherds in the middle of the night with that important message, "I bring you good news of great joy for all the people." That’s why we read passages like Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders,” written 700 years before the birth of Christ. That’s why the angels say to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

It is because God is telling us this baby is no ordinary baby. This is God’s only, only Son. He was born to rule all of creation with the authority and power of God himself. The title the bible gives him is “Christ”, a word which means God’s chosen King. When we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating the birth of the King - the birth of the Christ - who is Jesus.

A few months ago was my wife’s birthday and I got a big poster that said, “Happy Birthday” and put it up on the wall in our living room. It’s now December - which means the poster has been up on our living room wall for three months - and the other day, we were watching TV when she said to me, “Are we going to take it down?” “No problem,” I said to her. “We can just write ‘Jesus’ underneath, and it can be our Christmas decoration!”

Happy Birthday... Jesus!

Christmas celebrates the birthday of King Jesus - God’s one and only Son. And if you turn to the very beginning of the gospel, John first introduces us to Jesus as the eternal Word of God. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. This is the same Word who created the world - Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. And John 1:14 tells us, this is the same Word who enters our world as a human being: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God became human in Jesus Christ.

Theologians call this the incarnation. Carne is the latin word for flesh, but I like to think of “chilli con carne” - Chilli with Meat. That is, the Word took on flesh, or meat! I know that sounds crude, but it is supposed to be a shocking statement: God became a human being. Through the incarnation, Jesus becomes fully man and at the same time, fully God. He is Emmanuel - God with us. 

The question is: why? Why did the Creator become like his creation? Our third point tells us: So that we will never, never die.

3. So that we will never, never die

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… so that whoever believes in him shall not perish. And that word “perish” means to be completely and violently destroyed. It’s saying something we don’t hear a lot during Christmas: We are in danger of perishing - of being destroyed - because of God’s wrath over our sin.

Wait a minute! Didn’t we just say a moment ago that God really, really loves the world? How then can this same God be angry with the world? If you have never thought of that question before, it’s worth struggling with it - because people tend to either choose God’s love and ignore God’s anger or they focus on God’s anger and forget his love.

We know from the bible - and from our own experience - that both are true. The people we hurt most in our lives are the people we love the most and the people who love us the most. Our parents, our friends, our loved ones. When we let them down; when we lie to them; when ignore them - we hurt them much more than we would a complete stranger.

Someone asked me recently why God should care about the way we live our lives. When we sin against another person - it's understandable if that person is upset. But why should God be upset? It's actually a good question because I don't think this friend of mine disbelieves in the existence of God. But I think that this person believes in a God who is indifferent, not loving. They believe in a God who doesn't care about sin because they think sin doesn't affect him.

The bible tells us that sin is something God takes personally, mainly because sin is defined in the bible as rejecting God. One of the reasons God sends Jesus into the world is to show us that he takes that rejection very seriously. Look at verse 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Our attitude towards Jesus is a picture of our attitude towards God - whether it is rejecting Jesus as King because I want to be king over my own life. Or it is rejecting Jesus as a Saviour because I am perfectly able to solve my own problems, thank you very much. The bible calls that sin and it tells us, one day, God will judge the sin of our lives and our attitudes and our actions and our hearts with death and destruction.

But that day is not this day. Verse 17 says: “For God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world but to save the world through him.” Jesus was sent as a King who would save his people. That’s what his name means. The angel says to Joseph (Matthew 1:21), “You are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus means God saves.

4. So that we will truly, truly live

Which brings us to our final point: God gave his one and only Son so that all who believe in him shall not perish but will have eternal life. How does Jesus save us? Not by ignoring our sin but by taking our sin. Jesus came to take our death and to give us his life.

The way that Jesus saves is by himself being condemned. The way that Jesus gives life is by taking our death. In fact, that's how we know that Jesus really is who he is - God eternal and incarnate - through his death on the cross. The word became flesh - Tim Keller a Christian author says that at that point, the word became killable. What Christmas does in such a spectacular way is prepare us for the cross.

What does it mean to truly, truly live? It means to live in a relationship with God that is so intimate and trusting and loving that it can only be described in one way - in terms of God's love for his only Son. All his life, Jesus lived in obedience to his Father. All his life, Jesus never sinned against his Father, not even once. He was the only human being ever to have done that. He walked in obedience and love before God every step of the way.

Yet on the cross, Jesus would cry out to his Father, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was abandoned on the cross. Why? Not because he sinned. Jesus was being punished not for his sin but for ours. The eternal Son of God was abandoned on the cross. When it says there that “God gave his Son,.” it’s not talking about the baby in the manger. God gave up his Son on the cross when he treated Jesus the way he should have treated us - with anger and abandonment. On the cross, it was Jesus who really, really died.

But you see, because Jesus really, really died, we can truly, truly live. He takes our death and he gives us his life. Earlier on, I said that God looks at the world and sees the big green monsters that we are. That’s not the full story though, because if we trust in Jesus, something marvellous happens. God looks at us and sees us the way we should be. He sees Jesus, his Son. On the cross, Jesus takes all our ugliness and sin but he also gives us his life, loveliness and relationship with his Father. He gives us eternal life.

Friends, do you know that God really, really loves you? And if you do: How do you know?

Some of us have never heard of God's love before and it sounds amazing! Wow, God really, really loves me? But some of us know all about God's love. If that's you, might I ask: How do you know that God really, really loves you? Can you even be sure of such a love?

John 3:16 is there to say to us: God wants us to be absolutely sure of his love by looking to the cross. He gave his Son. The incarnation prepares us for the crucifixion. Christmas points forward to the cross. Don't leave today without that absolute assurance - God really, really, really loves me, so much, that he gave Jesus on the cross, so that I might never, never die but will truly, truly live.

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