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John 3: 16 (1-17)

 13th Mar 2011

The importance to us of this passage:

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’. John 3:16

Most people who read this scripture lesson focus on the Nicodemus story and the idea of being born again.

This idea of being born again is a difficult concept to understand and for many people it is a lightning rod of whether you are a Christian or not. For some say that you have to be “born again” to be a true Christian.  If that means you have to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as part of your life of faith then I would agree.  If it means you have to have had some kind of spiritual re-awakening resulting in special gifts then I would have my doubts.

But this morning we are not going to focus our attention on that part of the text. Since this is the Lenten season, I think the important part of the text for us this morning is this:

"And just 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.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

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."

This section of the gospel lesson focuses our attention on the action of God for our salvation.

It refers to an Old Testament time when the people were in the wilderness and they began to complain about being lost, having no food, etc. The Lord cast fiery serpents among the people, many died. The people came to Moses and repented of their sin of not trusting Moses and the Lord.

“And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole, anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.  Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

So Jesus is saying in our gospel lesson that the Son of Man, Jesus will be lifted up and whoever believes in him may have eternal life. This lifting up is placing Jesus on the cross so that you and I may have eternal life.

This act of selflessness by Christ is for our salvation. God sent His son into to the world not to condemn the world, or to punish the world, but to save the world.

And that salvation came by the way of a cross.

I saw a poster once which said, "The crib and the Cross were both made of wood," God sent His son into the world through the wood of a crib in a manger and used the wood of a Cross to save the world from sin.

The cross gives and gives to each generation.

It is like the apple tree in this story of "The Giving Tree"

"The tree gives the little boy her apples to pick and her branches to climb. The boy and the tree love each other and are happy in their life together. As the boy grows older, however, his interest in the tree becomes less. The tree is very lonely until one day the boy returns as a young man. The tree offers her apples and branches, but the boy claims that he is too old to climb and play. He is more interested in money.

’Can’t you give me some money?’ he asks the tree.

The tree has no money, but she does have apples. Why doesn’t the boy pick the apples and sell them then he will be happy. The boy picks the apples and sells them, then both he and the tree are happy. But then the boy stays away an even longer time and the tree is sad.

Years later the boy returns. The tree is overwhelmed with joy as she invites the boy to swing from her branches. But the boy is too busy to play. What he really wants is his own family and a house to keep him warm.

Can the tree give him a house? No, but the boy can cut her branches and build a house with them, suggests the tree; then he will be happy. The boy does this and the tree is happy.

Many years pass before the boy, now middle-aged returns. The tree, overjoyed, invites the boy to play. But now the boy is too old to play. All he wants is a boat which will take him far away. ’Can you give me a boat?’ the tree invites the boy to cut down her trunk and make a boat so he can be happy. The boy does this, and the tree is happy--but not really, for now only a bare stump remains.

When, years later, the boy returns, he is a hunched-over, old man. The tree apologizes for having nothing to offer any longer, no more apples to eat or branches to climb, only an old stump.

But the old man says his teeth are too weak for apples, and he is too old to climb. All he needs is a quiet place to sit and rest for he is very tired.

’Well,’ says the tree, straightening itself up as much as she can, ’an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, boy sit down, sit down and rest.’ And the boy does. The tree is very happy."

The cross of Christ is the same way. Jesus suffered on that cross centuries ago, but the salvation of that cross keeps on giving generation after generation.

Jesus was lifted upon that cross for our salvation.

And it was done as Jesus said;  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

For God loves us so much that he gave His son on the cross for our salvation.

Did you know there is a John 3:16 Mission?  It’s in Tulsa, America and offers a Christian Counselling service.  There’s a whole range of posters and Tee shirts with the John 3:16 logo.  Sometimes if you ever watch American baseball matches you will see someone in the crowd hold up a placard with John 3:16 ­ no words or pictures just John 3:16.

Are these supposed to be a reminder of what God did, not us? Or ar e they supposed to be a reminder that since God did so much for us; we are to reach out to those around us with the same kind of love?

I would like to think it is both and a closing story speaks volumes about God’s love for us and our love for each other.

Listen:

In the city of Chicago, one cold, dark night, a blizzard was setting in. A little boy was selling newspapers on the street corner; the people were inside and out of the cold. The little boy was so cold that he wasn’t trying to sell many papers. He walked up to a policeman and said, "Mister, you wouldn’t happen to know where a poor boy could find a warm place to sleep tonight would you?

You see, I sleep in a box up around the corner there and down the alley and it is awful cold in there, of a night. Sure would be nice to have a warm place to stay."

The policeman looked down at the little boy and said, "You go down the street to that big white house and you knock on the door. When they come out the door you just say John 3:16 and they will let you in."

So he did, he walked up the steps to the door, and knocked on the door and a lady answered. He looked up and said, "John 3:16."

The lady said "Come on in, Son." She took him in and she sat him down in a  rocking chair in front of a great big old fireplace and she went off.

He sat there for a while, and thought to himself "John 3:16.... I don’t understand it, but it sure makes a cold boy warm."

Later she came back and asked him "Are you hungry?"

He said, "Well, just a little. I haven’t eaten in a couple of days and I guess I could stand a little bit of food."

The lady took him in the kitchen and sat him down to a table full of wonderful food. He ate and ate until he couldn’t eat any more. Then he thought to himself "John 3:16... Boy, I sure don’t understand it, but it sure makes a hungry boy full."

She took him upstairs to a bathroom to a huge bathtub filled with warm water and he sat there and soaked for a while. As he soaked, he thought to himself, "John 3:16... I sure don’t understand it, but it sure makes a dirty boy clean. You know, I’ve not had a bath, a real bath, in my whole life. The only bath I ever had was when I stood in front of that big old fire hydrant as they flushed it out."

The lady came in and got him, and took him to a room and tucked him into a big old feather bed and pulled the covers up around his neck and kissed him goodnight and turned out the lights. As he laid in the darkness and looked out the window at the snow coming down on that cold night he thought to himself, "John 3:16... I don’t understand it, but it sure makes a tired boy rested."

The next morning she came back up and took him down again to that same big table full of food. After he ate she took him back to that same big old rocking chair in front of the fireplace and she took a big old Bible and sat down in front of him and she looked up at him and she asked, "Do you understand John 3:16?"

He said, "No, Ma’am, I don’t. The first time I ever heard it was last night when the policeman told me to use it."

She opened the Bible to John 3:16, and she began to explain to him about Jesus. Right there in front of that big old fireplace he gave his heart and life to Jesus. He sat there and thought, "John 3:16. I don’t understand it, but it but it sure makes a lost boy feel safe."

You know, I have to confess I don’t understand it either, how God would be willing to send His Son to die for me, and how Jesus would agree to do such a thing. I don’t understand it either, but it sure does make life worth living.

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

Amen

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