You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Sermon. March 14, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
“John 3:16.” We have seen this verse being held up at football games, and being displayed on billboards, tee shirts, coffee mugs, and the like. I’ve even seen the verse shared as simply “3:16,” it being obvious that this refers to John 3:16 rather than say 1 John 3:16 – “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
With twenty – seven words, for many Christians, John 3:16 might be the best known Bible verse. For some this is a short evangelical mission statement that expresses the core beliefs of the faith. Martin Luther for example called this verse “the heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.”
Others hold that John 3:16 is a sort of Christianity 101, which would certainly simplify confirmation class. Imagine confirmation as being wrapped up in one short Bible verse. If only it were so easy.
The context of John 3:16 is an exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sandedrin. As a leader of the Jews, Nicodemus would have been a highly educated intellectual with a deep understanding of the Bible.
Rather than clarifying things for Nicodemus, he is left baffled by what Jesus is calling for. Note verses John 3: 9 – 10. Nicodemus: “How can these things be?” Jesus: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” John 3:16 then comes in the context of Jesus explaining the transformation that the kingdom of God brings about.
This transformation is sometimes oversimplified as being “born again.” However, transformation is never simple. Change is never easy.
For God so loved…
At the core of this verse is a loving God. God’s love creates, sustains, and holds the universe together. Everything that is comes from God and ultimately everything returns to God. All of this is an expression of God’s love.
Loved the world.
God’s love is poured out on the world. This world is cherished and blessed with life and the means to sustain life. The earth is not a bank of resources to be processed in ways that enrich the wealthy. The earth is loved by God the Creator. Protecting the earth not only sustains life, it is a way of honoring and loving God.
That he gave his only Son.
There is a self-giving nature to God’s love. The distance between the Creator and the creature is vast. This distance is bridged by God’s self-giving love through Christ. God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ makes possible a deep, intimate relationship between God and those who God loves.
So that everyone.
God’s love embraces and is for everyone. God’s love is a universal invitation. There are no distinctions, no boundaries on God’s love. “Whosoever” means everyone, no exceptions. Any and all walls and doctrines that humans might build to separate and scapegoat, to exclude and exploit, or to omit and oppress are swept away by God’s all – inclusive love.
Who believes in him.
What does it mean to believe? Historian Diana Butler Bass in her book, Christianity after Religion shows that the English word “believe” comes from the German “belieben” – the German word for love. To believe is to love.
To believe is not to hold to a doctrine or to an opinion. To believe is to hold something beloved. To give one’s heart over to it without reservation.
We love God with our all of our hearts, minds, and bodies. We love God by putting our full and complete love, trust and confidence in God.
The call to believe is an invitation into a relationship of love and trust. It is not an intellectual affirmation of a doctrine. It is a willingness to be so fully embraced and completely transformed by God’s love that this love becomes central to our lives.
To say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” is not about agreeing to a magic formula that somehow gets you into heaven. “I believe in Jesus Christ” is a practice. A practice of discipleship. A practice of living into the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love. To believe is to love. To love as Jesus loves.
May not perish.
Every creature dies. Our embodied form comes to an end. We are made of stardust and to stardust we return. Yet there is within us a Soul that will not perish.
As Quakers put it, “There is that of God in each one of us.” When we connect to the Inner Light of Christ we connect to a reality within each of us that will not perish with the demise of our bodies. God’s love brings deliverance from death.
But may have eternal life.
Love never ends. We are embraced by God’s love and this love brings every lasting life.
Rather than God’s love + our belief = eternal life it more like God’s self-giving love leads to our ability to love (to believe is to love) which opens us to Love that never ends.
God’s love is constant. The process of practicing love in the Way of Jesus / Love opens us to dimensions of Divine Love we cannot reduce to a doctrine. We realize and understand Divine Love by practicing love, by being embraced in love, through trusting God’s love and being transformed by this love. To believe is to love.