Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Fourth Sunday in Lent (B)
March 22, 2009
Text: John 3:14-21

“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” (John 3:16; NKJV). We often think of the beginning of this verse in these terms: God loved the world so muchSo great was God’s love for the world, beyond measure, beyond human understanding, that this is what He did: He gave His only-begotten Son into death to save it. Now there is nothing wrong with what I just said. It’s all very true, and greatly comforting to a people otherwise in bondage to sin and death and hell. God really does love the world so much. But I would like to propose this morning a slightly different translation of the beginning of this popular verse, less touchy-feely to be sure, but that perhaps gets more at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “so” in “God so loved the world,” could better be translated “in this way,” or “in this manner.” “God loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now I’m certainly not asking you to throw out the way you memorized this verse. I’m just asking you to consider what is really the force of that word, “so.” It’s really an Old English way of speaking, to say that God “so” loved the world, and if you said this in Old English, probably quoting your King James Bible, you would mean something along the lines of God “thusly” loved the world, or “in this way” loved the world, which is really what the Greek says. Here is a literal translation of the Greek: “For thus loved God the world, so that the Son, the only-begotten One, He gave, in order that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have life eternal.” In other words, there was and is no other way for God’s love for the world to be realized than in the death of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, on the cross. It’s not just that God was so warm and fuzzy about the world that He went to such a great length to save it. There is, in fact, no greater love than God loving the world in this way, that He sends His Son to partake of our flesh, to be our substitute, to perfectly fulfill the Law on our behalf, give us His righteousness, and in exchange take upon Himself the whole load of this world’s sin, take it into His body and nail it to the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; ESV). That is the way, the manner, in which God loves us. And there is no other way.

There is no other way, because, as Paul says, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph. 2:1-2). There is no other way because there is nothing within us that makes us loveable to God. Outside of God, we are filthy and dead sinners. Outside of God, we follow the course of this world and the prince of the power of the air, the evil spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience. Outside of God, we live in the passions of the flesh, the wicked and self-serving desires of the body and the mind, making ourselves our own gods and rejecting Him who has created and redeemed us. By nature, we are enemies of God. Thus to confess that we are poor, miserable sinners is to confess that the only way we can be loveable to God is that He pronounces us so. And that is what He does in sending His Son. God makes a decision, a decision having nothing to do with warm and fuzzy feelings or the lack thereof, God makes a decision to love us who are unlovable. And He does so in this way: He sends His only-begotten Son.

The only way you can know with certainty that God loves you is to look to the cross of His Son. That is the revelation of God’s love. Every sermon, every Bible class, every devotion, ought to point you to the cross of Jesus Christ, for God loves the world in this way. The living and active Word of God in all places is ultimately the Word of the cross, for that Word of God pours out God’s love upon you, His mercy, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. From the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ flows God’s pure grace. It flows to us through the Word. And it is free. It has nothing to do with our works or worthiness. Grace cannot be bought. Grace is the unmerited favor of the God who has pronounced you righteous and loveable on account of Christ Jesus. Thus Paul writes, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv. 8-9). That means that forgiveness really is God’s free gift to you in Christ Jesus. Salvation itself and eternal life really are God’s free gifts to you. Not that they didn’t cost anything. They cost God everything. They cost God’s blood and God’s life on the cross in the flesh of Jesus. But they are free to you, free for the taking, because God loves you in this way.

You receive all of these free gifts by faith. Faith is trust. Faith is the receiving hand of the beggar who has nothing but that which his benefactor places in that hand. Faith is the receiving hand of us who are nothing but beggars, and have nothing but that which God graciously and freely places in our hands. And He places everything in our hands; everything, including forgiveness of sins and His victory over death and hell; everything, including heaven itself! God loves the world in this way, that He sends His only-begotten Son into death on the cross, and whoever believes, whoever looks to Christ crucified in faith, trusting that that death is for Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.

For “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). When the children of Israel became impatient in the wilderness and started to grumble against their gracious God and against Moses, God sent fiery serpents, lethally poisonous, and they bit the people so that many in Israel died (cf. Num. 21:4-9). The people confessed their sins and prayed that God would take the snakes away. But instead of taking the snakes away, God made provision in another way. He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it up on a standard, and God attached His promise to the serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness, that anyone bitten by a snake could look at this bronze serpent and he would live. He would not die. He would be healed. Those who took God at his word looked at the bronze serpent and lived. That’s faith. They took God at His Word. They trusted that God’s Word was for them, and so they lived.

This is nothing less than a foreshadowing of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. All who have been lethally bitten by sin, and that includes every one of us descended from Adam, can look to Jesus Christ lifted up upon the cross and so be healed and live. A snake is raised up on a pole to cure those bitten by snakes. The death of God is raised up on a pole to cure those under the curse of death. The snake on the standard is a picture of Christ on the cross. One commentator puts it this way: “The brazen serpent of Moses had the form and appearance of the poisonous reptiles after which it was modeled, just as Jesus was revealed in the form of our sinful flesh, had the needs and ways of an ordinary human being, was finally punished as a criminal. Just as the brazen serpent, however, had no poison, was altogether harmless, so Jesus, though in appearance like unto sinful men, was without sin, holy, harmless, undefiled… And… just as he that looked at the brazen serpent in faith remained alive, so also every sinner that has been poisoned by sin in its various forms, but now looks up to Jesus, the Savior, in simple, trusting faith, shall not perish, shall not be punished with everlasting destruction, but have eternal life. For in Christ all sin has been conquered, all guilt has been taken away: there is complete redemption in Him.”[1]

God loved the world in this way, that He sent His only-begotten Son to pay the price of our redemption. All who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. What a gift! But of course, no one is forced to believe. That would not be love. So all who do not believe, Jesus says, are condemned already (v. 18), and hate the light and do not come to the light lest their deeds be exposed (v. 20). Such prefer walking in the darkness and death of their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-2). The end of those who reject Christ and His light to the bitter end is eternal death in hell. Let this be a warning to any here present who have rejected Christ in their hearts. But all who believe walk in the Light. Jesus Christ is the Light which has come into the world. To walk in that Light means to live in the knowledge that you will not perish, that you have eternal life in Christ Jesus, that God loves you in this way, that He gave His only Son for you. And so walking, your deeds are carried out in God, all sin having been forgiven, your life hidden with God in Christ Jesus, ready to be revealed on the Last Day. Let this be a comfort to all here present who believe and trust in the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, God loves the world so much, and this is very comforting. But His love is manifested in this way: Your Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. He is risen, lives, and reigns to all eternity. Thus God has pronounced you righteous, loveable, and so He loves you with an everlasting love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament, Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 423.

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