Sunday Sermon: What Must I Believe? John 3:16-18

BeliefsI cannot imagine Evelyn and I ever giving up our children for anything in the whole world. At the moment, both our daughters are in New York City for the weekend and will be returning home later today. They’ve both grown up in Knoxville and this church, and through the attention, love, and care that they have received from Erin Church, they are now beginning to discover who they are and what God wants them to become. They might roast their parents’ hearts from time to time, but we would never give them up or sacrifice them for anything in the entire world. And I’m certain that every parent in this sanctuary would heartily agree when it comes to their own sons and daughters. We all love our children dearly and we would all give up our lives for them.


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 have eternal life.  But God works in mysterious ways. He deeply loved Jesus His Only Son and God was well pleased with His life, ministry, and mission. And yet, when it comes to making a final choice between saving His Son from the agonizing death on the Cross and saving the world from sin, God chooses the world. Instead of rescuing Jesus who loves Him completely, God chooses to save the world that totally disrespects Him. Rather than shield Jesus from the shame of Calvary, God sacrifices His Son for a shameful world.


That’s absolutely crazy and if there was an inter-galactic Social Service department, God would be up on charges of child abuse and possibly murder. It’s just not natural, so I guess it must be the divine way that God deals with things. None of us would do it, but God does: which leaves us asking this question: WHY? What so good, so unique, so unusual about humankind that causes the God of all Creation to sacrifice His Son. Why does the Most Supreme Being in the Universe leave His Son on a Cross to die? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we be the ones sacrificing everything in order to placate, appease, and please God?


Way back in 1972, on Feb 17, on the very same day that President Nixon flew out from Washington to China, the British parliament voted to join the European Union. It didn’t have much of an affect over here, but throughout the British Commonwealth, it was a major decision. You see Britain was at one time at the heart of the British Empire and all its territories like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand exported a lot of their produce to the United Kingdom. When the British Parliament decided to join the EU, it was sacrificing the productivity and economies of Commonwealth countries all over the globe, in order to sustain itself. When I was a child, I can remember eating Canadian bacon and New Zealand Lamb, but when Britain became part of the European Union, they couldn’t be found in the supermarkets or grocery stores. The Mother Country sacrificed its Commonwealth children in order to sustain itself.


When God sacrificed Jesus, He wasn’t sustaining Himself. He was sustaining the world, as wicked and as wayward as it was. In the Good Old Testament days, when God got fed up with sin and sinners, all He had to do was stretch out His arm and smite them. God even tried to destroy the whole world once, flooding it completely, whilst only allowing eight to survive His wrath.


But this time, God fulfilled the plan of salvation by sacrificing His One and Only Son. It’s almost as if He’s stretching His own faith to its absolute limit. After all, is there anything worse than the death of a dear child?


John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


Let me give you an example of this:


One of the saddest prayers that I have ever heard was voiced by a mother in her seventies, whose fifty year old son had just died of cancer. It occurred in the church sanctuary, during a special mid-week prayer time. The church was open in the morning, to allow people to come in and quietly talk to God. In the background, a tape was played, which included some favorite hymns and contemporary choruses. I happened to be in the sanctuary at the time, doing my own prayers and devotions.


One of the songs on the tape was an upbeat version of Psalm 63. Its repeated refrain was “because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” In the middle of this song, the aged mother made a heart felt cry: “How can your love be better than life, Lord, when You have taken my son away from me?”


It was one of those holy moments when the reality of life confronts the reality of God. The woman’s heart was bleeding with grief, and her faith was being sorely tried. Each time the tape played the song’s refrain, she would ask that disturbing question. When the tape finished, the mother got up silently and left the church sorrowfully. I wanted to reach out and help, but something stopped me. It wasn’t the right time, and neither was it my place to answer a question directed to God.


The following Easter, our church held a Good Friday service. Usually during Holy Week, we held a Maundy Thursday service, but I thought it would be good if we tried something different. When I preached about the Cross that night and talked about God losing His Son to death, and feeling the grief of that separation, it was as if a light went on for the grieving mother. For the first time, since her son’s death, she could relate to God. He shared her heartbreak and knew the emptiness, hurt, and grief that she bore. God’s love was indeed better than life, not because it was holier or more perfect; God’s love was better than life because it was grounded in the reality of pain and suffering, loss and loneliness, sadness and grief.


Some of us may be carrying a grief that continues to hurt us and separates us from God. Perhaps if we remember that God understands our wounds because He experienced the same, it will draw us closer to Him, instead of keeping us at a distance.


That’s why God sacrifices His Only Son. He doesn’t want to deal with us at a distance. He doesn’t want us to be separated from Him forever. God loves the world and its entire people, but because we are so prone to be sinful and faithless, deceitful and proud, we end up putting ourselves against God, instead of being for God. And no matter what the circumstances, our background, our culture, our country or tradition, we can’t justify our sins before the Holy, Sacred, Perfect and Supreme Being in the Universe. That would be the equivalent of a flea standing before a wooly mammoth and blaming it for having so much hair, causing the flea to bite. We cannot stand before God and expect Him to hear what we have to say. It doesn’t work that way. The Only Way that we can get God to listen is through Jesus: He is our Advocate; He is Our Savior; He is the One who restores us to God’s favor and love.


John 3:18 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.


And this brings us to the last point from this passage. Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already – why? Because he has not believed in the name of God’s One and Only Son.


A lot of people miss this part of what Christ says to Nicodemus because they don’t want any judgment or condemnation to be a part of Christ’s ministry. They like the ‘love one another’ stuff and look to be accepted by Christ totally. They don’t want to make any exclusive commitment to Jesus as their only Savior and Lord. They also want Him to fully accept their lifestyle choices. And heaven forbid, if any of Christ’s followers ask them to change their ways.


An example of this occurred the other day when NBA star Charles Barkley was asked about  his reasons for supporting presidential candidate Barack Obama, instead of Hillary Clinton or any of the Republican candidates.


“I’ve got great respect for Sen. McCain, great respect, but I don’t like the way Republicans have taken this country,” said Barkley. “Every time I hear the word ‘conservative,’ it makes me sick to my stomach, because they’re really just fake Christians, as I call them. That’s all they are.”


“I think they want to be judge and jury,” Barkley said. “Like, I’m for gay marriage. It’s none of my business if gay people want to get married. I’m pro-choice. And I think these Christians, first of all, they’re not supposed to judge other people. But they’re the most hypocritical judge of people we have in the country. And it bugs the hell out of me. They act like they’re Christians. They’re not forgiving at all.”


Yes, Christians of all persuasions can be judgmental and unforgiving at times, but when the true word of God is preached and the Gospel gives us an either/or, the world condemns us as being judgmental, unfeeling, and unchristian. But we forget that when it came down to the basics, Christ could be as conservative as anyone. After all, how would you interpret what He says to Nicodemus: whoever believes is not condemned, but whosever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s Only Son – tell me honestly folks: is that a liberal, progressive statement or basically a religious conservative one?


Charles Barkley may have trouble with conservative Christians being judgmental; but I put it to you, he would also have the same trouble with Jesus being forthright about what we must believe.


In the end, we must all make our own choices about what we must or cannot believe, but realize this: at the end, based upon those beliefs, Jesus will decide where we will go. After all, He sacrificed His life so that we could be given a choice. Without Him, we would not even have that opportunity.


In Christ’s Name, Amen.


About stushie

I'm originally from Scotland and have been a Presbyterian pastor for over twenty years. I live in Knoxville, TN. I enjoy art as a means of therapy, but also as a creative way to strengthen my spiritual connection to God.
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