January 2014: For God So Loved The World
Pastor Don Prewitt
Have you ever been looking at something that you walk by every day and all of a sudden you see something different, something that you have never noticed before? Creators of corporate logo’s like to do this. Here are two logo’s that you know very well. Both say what the companies name is but they also try and project what they are about through the logo.
The same is true with the scripture; it’s a living book and there are hidden gems and insights that only come from study and contemplation. You can read certain passages or verses all your life and still there is insight and understanding to be found in them.
The early Christians practiced a spiritual discipline that helped them find insight for their personal lives through the living word of God. This practice is called:
LECTIO DIVINA (Letio-deveena), which means divine reading
This form of insight does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word.
Traditionally Lectio Divina has 4 separate steps:
The focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. In this spiritual discipline you are looking to take each word or phrase and think about it, apply it to your life, pray about it and allow God to show you personal revelation through His word.
So today we are going to start out 2014 reminding ourselves of a very familiar passage in the Bible. John 3:16.
The 3rd chapter of John starts out with the story of Nicodemus; a Pharisee and Jewish teacher. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, possibly out of fear of rejection from other Jewish leaders, or maybe because of the crowds of people during the day. Nicodemus made a very interesting statement to Jesus in John 3:2: “Rabbi (or teacher), we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Nicodemus was a Pharisee; a teacher of the Law. How did a Pharisee feel acceptance from God? By keeping the Jewish laws. What they did or didn’t do said everything about who they were. Nicodemus recognized the signs or good works of Jesus and must have thought; this guy is someone special…because of what he is doing.
Many of us today have been brought up to believe the same un-truth about others and our own selves. Author Craig Gross says that many Christians have been taught a three-step approach to God. If you BELIEVE the right things, it will lead to a change in BEHAVIOR. When you have changed your behavior, the church will ACCEPT you.
The heart of Nicodemus bleeds out of all of us from time to time. We look at certain folk’s behavior and determine, at least in our hearts, that the church is NOT the place where they belong. After a time of trial and changed behavior, maybe then, we could accept them into the club…but we must see them DOING what we do or the church doors could possibly be closed to “those types”. Maybe some of you have swallowed this performance lie about yourselves, believing that when you BEHAVE the way you should, you will finally BELONG. This is nothing short of a lie when it comes to scriptures like Ephesians 2:8-9 that says: “For by GRACE you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus that he must be born again or born from above, reminding us that this story of God’s acceptance and forgiveness doesn’t start with us but starts with God Himself. At this very point is where Jesus gives us the verse that we all know and even those outside of these walls probably could quote. This is where we will spend the rest of our time today, hoping to find new or forgotten hidden treasures: "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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." John 3:16-17 (NKJV)
- FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD
- Jesus starts this most famous statement with the word “FOR”. In this case it would be a conjunction word and its function is to introduce the reason for the preceding clause.
- Example: “many people at Harbor Light were delighted, FOR Pastor Don finally decided to take his shoes off.”
- So if we are to first understand the statement “For God so loved the world”, we must first know what He was saying BEFORE this statement. Jesus tells Nicodemus:
- You must be born again
- Being born again isn't something that YOU do, but something that is Heavenly and from above.
So, what am I trying to say? There are many people who believe that God, if there really is a God, is a selfish being who wants us to serve him, do all the right stuff for him, and if we don’t…zap! He sends us to hell. But Jesus is saying that you must be born of the spirit, you must have a spiritual re-birth, and you must have a transformation in your heart but why? Because God loves you! He isn’t asking you to be transformed so that you can lose your rights or not have fun anymore or because he wants a human race of puppets. And He’s not asking for YOU to transform yourselves. He is asking you to be transformed because when you do, you GET to see and understand and experience his great and never ending love that is reserved just for you.
It was the WORLD that He loved and that He still loves, the ungodly and the unworthy are part of that world that he loves. He has not and does not only love a certain people group, nation or person. You and I, worthy or clean or still struggling with sin or beyond our years in holiness…He loves all of us just the same. So much that He went on to say…
For God so loved the world
2. THAT HE GAVE
I am almost sure that this was a huge slap in the face of Nicodemus; Jesus certainly wasn't rebuking him, but his statement was so contrary to what Nicodemus knew and understood as a Pharisee.
The name Pharisee in its Hebrew form means the separated ones.
The Pharisees perhaps meant to obey God, but eventually they became so devoted and extremist in very limited parts of The Law (plus all that they themselves added to it), that they became blind to The Messiah when He was in their very midst. They knew how to WORK for God, but they didn’t know how to receive the free gift that God given. It was too much for them.
Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:2-8: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men."
We ourselves can be Pharisees. We work hard to look like we are being accepted by God and get offended when we realize that this whole story isn't about what we have done or what we have given or how well we have performed but its only about what Jesus Christ already has done and already has given.
We see that God was acting not for His own sake, but for ours–not to satisfy his desire for power or to bring a universe to its knees, but to satisfy his deep longing for us.
I want us to practice a few minutes of LECTIO DIVINA (Letio-deveena) right now. In silence I want us to meditate on those couple of words “that He gave”. Think about what He gave, what it means that you couldn’t ever give enough? Think about how you have tried to earn your salvation by thinking that if you just gave and gave and gave God would finally accept you. And walk through the field of His giving to you, undeserved and unworthy…how does it feel to know that He longs for you?
For God so loved the world
That He gave
3. HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON
The word for Begotten in the original Greek is an interesting word, which refers to a child, but a single child, a one of a kind child. In other words, God came and made a way for us, it was all his doing and to prove how deeply he loved us, he sent the one and only child he had. The most precious of all his creations was sent here to take your punishment. Hear me say it again, God loves you so very much. The proof is that he decided that he would not make you perform your way to him, but instead he came to you and I, people who deserve death because we all have broken moral laws and been self-centered and self-focused. He showed how very deep his love was for us by sending the one and only son, the most precious of his creation to earth to take our punishment and die in our place. Do you understand the gravity of that? Do you understand that you will never be able to be good enough for God?
This one act shows off the very intentions of God toward you. His intentions are to love you, not to condemn you; to shower His deep longed love on you and give you all of Himself. This is what God has longed for from the very beginning…created beings that would love Him the way that He loves us. He delights in us, He craves for our attention, He has sacrificed deeply for us, and He is not just a loving being HE IS LOVE!
1 John 4:8 “…God is love.”
Romans 5:8 “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
1 John 4:9-11 “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
For God so loved the world
That He gave
His only begotten son
4. THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.
What is Jesus telling Nicodemus and us about His father?
Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be pacified, as if he had to be persuaded to forgive us. Sometimes the message of Gods love is presented in a way that it sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God to men and women from condemnation to forgiveness. But let me remind you that this text started out with God. And it was His idea to forgive and love and restore mankind to himself. So when we read this statement “That whoever believes in Him”, Jesus didn't convince Him to save WHOEVER believes in Him…it was Gods original plan and idea. Do you hear what Jesus is saying? Whoever believes in Him; those will be the ones that he gives everlasting life to.
The word “WHOEVER” refers to individuals, rather than certain people groups or communities. In other words, what Jesus is NOT saying is:
- If your country of origin is considered a Christian nation that you also are a Christian.
- If you grew up at Harbor Light, knowing the right things to say and do that you are a believer.
- If you live in a family that professes to be Christians, you also are a Christian.
What Jesus IS saying is that ANY individual that chooses to believe what God did by sending Jesus to die in our place will receive the privilege of being with Him, who is the very definition of Love, forever! And it really is that simple!
In closing I want to ask three questions:
- Have you forgotten the beauty of the ocean? Have you read John 3:16 so many times that you forget the beauty and deep love that oozes out of that one verse? If so, I encourage you to ask God to renew your passion for His word, taking the simple tool of Lectio Devina and applying it to your life, one verse at a time. God isn’t interested in you memorizing entire books as much as He is interested in letting you see every single hidden treasure in every single word of the Bible.
- Have you lived your Christian life out with a different view of God than what John 3:16 tells us? If so, I want you to know that He has patiently been waiting for you and is willing and ready to embrace you with His real intentions for you…to love you!
- Are you one that has never taken the step of believing and embracing John 3:16. Maybe you are still questioning what it means to give your life to God. Let me explain.
“FOR GOD DID NOT SEND HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, BUT THAT THE WORLD THROUGH HIM MIGHT BE SAVED.” John 3:17