Sermon Text: Does God Love the World?
A pastor once said to me, "God does not love the world."
I was in high school when I heard him say this. A few weeks ago, I did Show & Tell with this New Testament. A pastor gave me this hardcover copy of the New Testament when I was a junior. I sometimes went with my friends to the youth group in his church. I told you about it a few weeks ago.
But the same pastor said something that directly contradicts this book. He said, "God doesn't love the world. God OFFERS his love to the world, but God doesn't love the world."
Now, I think he said that because he was a strict Dutch Calvinist. That is a strict, and somewhat strange, form of Christian faith. In my opinion, it's not a very nice one. And even in high school, I had read enough of the New Testament to know that he was wrong.
I mean, think about what is probably the most famous sentence in the New Testament. If people only know one text from the New Testament, it might be this one. We heard it in our Gospel reading today from John. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
Seems clear enough to me. In spite of what that pastor said, the Gospel of John says that God loves the world. It's right there in John 3:16.
Now, chapter three of John's Gospel tells us the story of Nicodemus. He is a religious leader who is interested in Jesus. But Jesus is a religious rebel, and Nicodemus has a reputation to keep up. So he comes to Jesus at night, to avoid attention.
Nicodemus represents a religious system of rules and regulations, one which offers people a detailed technology for approaching the Divine. Jesus cuts through all that, rebel that he is, and teaches that people can approach God simply and directly. Jesus rebelled against many aspects of the nastiness of the popular view of God in his time. And to those brought up to fear a vindictive God, this charismatic young preacher who advocated generous forgiveness must have seemed radical to the point of subversion.
No wonder Nicodemus came to him under the cover of darkness! But we know that Jesus must have gotten through to Nicodemus. How do we know that? Well, near the end of John's Gospel, Nicodemus shows up again. John has 21 chapters. Nicodemus first appears in chapter 3. In chapter 19, Jesus dies on the cross. And then Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pontius Pilate to ask a favor. Joseph was a prominent figure, with the clout to ask Pilate for a favor. The favor is permission to give Jesus decent burial.
Pilate gives permission. And Joseph gets the body of Jesus and buries it in a tomb.
But he has help. John writes, "He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night." And John goes on to tell how the two of them put the body of Jesus in a tomb in a garden. So must be the message of God's love did in fact get through to Nicodemus.
Even as a high school kid, I rejected what this pastor who gave me this New Testament said, when he said that God does not love the world, but only offers his love to the world.
Not long after I heard the minister say that, I went off to college. I learned to play guitar. I also read a lot more of the New Testament, and became captivated by God's love in Jesus Christ. And I wrote a little blues tune that goes like this:
Jesus takes my blues away.
Jesus gives good news today.
He tells me stories about our God above,
the God whose greatest glory is everlasting love.
Hear me when I say, Jesus takes my blues away.
And I had a friend in college who wrote a blues at the same time I was writing mine. Hers is better, and I've always loved it. It tells the same story -- her story, and my story of coming to experience the love of God in Christ. So here it is.
Well, I'm saved by grace,
And nothin' separates me from the love of God in Christ my Lord.
Yes, I'm saved by grace, and nothin' separates me from
the love of God in Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord.
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.