Lent 4b

Preached: March 22, 2009

God's Love Calls Forth Faith
John 3:14-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior is from John 3:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so also the Son of man must be lifted up in order that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son in order that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not judged. But the one who does not believe stands judged already because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. Now this is the judgment: Light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light. For their works were wicked. For everyone who does what's worthless hates the light and does not come to the light lest their works be exposed. Now the one who does the truth comes to the light in order that their works may be made clear that they have been worked in God.( John 3:14-21)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

In the old westerns in the movies or on TV, the greatest danger sometimes did not come from the bullets or the cattle rustlers, but from the lowly rattlesnake. Coiled up it springs, its bite injecting toxic venom. Will the victim survive? The others do all they can to save him. They put a tourniquet on the limb to stop the poison from spreading. They lance the bite and try to suck out the venom. They go for the doctor.

Or fast forward to our day. What are we to do to treat a poisonous snakebite? Keep the person calm. Try to keep the limb below the heart. Seek medical attention right away to get the antivenom. In fact, modern first aid warns against using a tourniquet or lancing and sucking the poison. Those attempts often cause worse damage than the snakebite.

Yet no matter what way we picture treating a snakebite, would you ever think of treating it by looking at a statue? That just doesn't make sense to us. Even if its misguided, we can at least understand the intent of using a tourniquet or sucking out the poison ; but looking at a statue? Even if we can't explain the chemical and biological reactions that cause antivenom to work, we at least understand the concept ; but looking at a statue? That just doesn't make sense.

And I doubt that it made sense to the people of Israel as the neared the end of the forty years in the wilderness. This new generation complained against God, “Why have brought us out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Numbers 21:5 NIV). To call them to repentance, God sent venomous snakes among them. You might remember these as the fiery serpents because no doubt their poisonous bite was a burning pain until death came.

The people saw the greatness of their sin. They repented. They said to Moses: “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us” (Numbers 21:7 NIV). And in his great love and mercy, the Lord not only took away the snakes; he provided treatment as well. He had Moses make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten and looked at the bronze snake lived.

Did it make sense? Did it make sense that looking at this statue would save them from the snakebite? Not at all. But God's love, dear friends, God's love works in ways far beyond our understanding. And the only right response to God's love is faith, faith that trusts God's love even though we cannot make sense of it.

Now what's illustrated in the bronze snake in the wilderness is all the more true of God's love in Jesus and our faith in him. That brings us to the theme and parts today. May the Holy Spirit strengthen our faith as we focus on the theme: God's love calls forth faith. Part one: What lavish love that gave his Son! Part two: What surprising love for us to trust!

A. What lavish love that gave his Son!

1) In what ways is God's love so different than our ideas about love?

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV). Such love was much more than just a feeling. God didn't sit back in heaven and say, “I feel so sorry for those people. But what can I do? They made that mess themselves.”

God's love took action. He gave. And he didn't give stingily or miserly. He gave generously, lavishly. He gave his dearest treasure, his Son, his only-begotten Son. Can we even imagine willingly giving up our dearest loved one? Yet even our closest human relationship cannot compare to the intimate closeness of the Father and the Son. They are one God, in perfect fellowship and communion from all eternity. Even our most exalted vision of love is but a vapor compared to the love of the Father to the Son. But God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son. What lavish love!

Now did I hear that right? God so loved the world? You mean, he gave his most precious Treasure, the bright Jewel of his crown, his beloved Son, because he loved the world? What's so great about the world to get God to love it so much?

But that, dear friends, is just how selfish our thinking about love is. Our natural self cannot imagine loving anyone or anything without asking what's in it for me. What about it attracted me? How does it make me feel? What benefit will I get from it?

But God's love is totally different. There was nothing in the world, and that includes nothing in you and me, to attract God to us. Just the opposite. The world is full of sin and vice. The world works against God with its tempting worries, riches, and pleasures. The world rejects God's love, hates God's light, murdered God's Son. And you and I, we were born children of this world, filled with all its wickedness and filth.

So when you hear of God's lavish love giving his Son, don't you dare start thinking what in you attracted such love. God's love is totally different. His love wasn't duped into giving his Son. He knew perfectly well how wicked and sinful we were. His love hates all that is impure and unholy. There was nothing in this world, nothing in you and me for God to like in any way. Everything about us offended God's holiness like a repulsive stench.

So what lavish love that gave his Son even for stinking sinners like you and me! What lavish love that gave his Son into death on the cross, lifted up for you and me, sacrificed for our sins. Can we make any sense of it? Not at all. But our inability doesn't lessen how lavish God's love is!

And that love, that lavish love, God's love, calls forth faith. It brings you and me to believe in him with complete trust, even though we cannot make sense of it.

B. What surprising love for us to trust!

1) Where do we look to find God's surprising love?

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV). His love acted for you, dear friend. Yes, for you ; no matter who you are are, where you come from, or what you do. For you are included in that word world. God so loved the world. Place your name there.

“But how could God love someone like me. You don't know all I've done. I've failed him so many times. How could he love me?” But his love isn't based on you. Do not look into yourself to find the reason for God's love. Look to where he points you. Look to the cross. For there he gave his Son for you.

And don't base your trust in God's love on the good things that happen to you. When life is going well sometimes we think it's easy to trust God's love. But such trust isn't relying on his love but on the good we're enjoying. For when God takes it away and sends hardships, how quickly we wonder about his love, for we weren't really trusting it in the first place! Do not look into your life to find the reason for God's love. Look to where he points you. Look to the cross. For there he gave his Son for you. His Word declares it and his Supper brings you his very body and blood that was given for you. Look to the cross. Yes, even as the Israelites in the desert looked to the bronze snake for physical life, look to the cross for eternal life.

2) What surprise does God's love have in store for us?

For you see, as we look to the cross and marvel at God's surprising love ; such love that loved even me ; his love calls forth faith. This faith trusts God's promise: “Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

What a surprise God's love has in store for us! Instead of the death and hell we have earned, surprise! he gives eternal life. Instead of never-ending suffering, surprise! he gives eternal blessedness. For eternal life is that blessed communion and fellowship with our God, that eternal rest with our Lord.

And surprise! This gift of eternal life is for you right now. Through faith in Jesus you not only have eternal life waiting in heaven, but you have it right now. Through faith in Jesus you have that fellowship with God, so that you can talk to him as his dear child. Through faith in Jesus you have the spiritual rest and blessedness that knows that your sins are forgiven so that they can trouble your soul no more. Our enjoyment of these blessings is hampered by the sinfulness that still is with us, and we eagerly anticipate that day when we will enjoy them in full in heaven. But that does not change the truth that eternal life is yours right now through faith in Jesus. Faith trusts God's promise.

3) How does this trust (faith) show itself in our lives?

God's surprising love calls forth faith. And this faith, or trust, shows itself in our lives.

Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19 NIV). Without faith and trust in God's love, people try to hide their sin. They may hide by denying how evil and wicked we all are by nature. They may hide by arguing that what used to be labeled as sinful really isn't, but it's something they can be proud of and boast about. They may hide in the darkness of their own self-righteousness, thinking, “I'll just do the best I can and that should be good enough.” All of this rejects God's love and stands condemned already for they have not believed on the name of God's only-begotten Son. They may use his name and call themselves Christians and talk about God's love, but they are trusting their own efforts. They do not trust in Jesus alone as their Savior. They stand condemned, headed for hell.

“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:21 NIV). To live by the truth means to believe God's promise. For the ultimate truth is that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). Such faith in God's truth, such trust in his surprising love, comes into the light.

Yes, we are not afraid of the light. Why? We're unafraid, not because we're such good people that have so many good deeds to show off. No. We're unafraid because we know and believe that our many, many sins, our shameful, wicked sins, all our sins are washed away in the blood of God's Son given for us. We're unafraid because we know that any good we do is from God. He has worked it in us, therefore it will stand the scrutiny of the light.

So God's surprising love also works surprises in you and me. His surprising love works in us to do what is right and good, to live for him. What a surprise that we who were on the path to death and hell as wicked sinners, now serve the living God and walk in his light! All that because of God's lavish love that gave his Son for you and called forth faith in your heart. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313