Text: John 3:16-17; 1 Jn. 4
St. John the apostle wrote in his first letter, our epistle reading, that God is love. This a phrase that most people probably know, even if they don’t always know that it’s from the Bible. True, if you’ve ever been to church, you’ve most likely heard it. (I would hope.) But, we also see it in many other places. It’s on everything: from t-shirts and mugs to bracelets, and at present, even on protest signs on TV or in the paper. Something interesting happens when a word or phrase is used so frequently and in so many different places. What happens that its meaning changes. Words and phrases get their meanings from how they’re used, the context. One comes to my mind right now. What frequently changes, as I’ve learned over the past few years is “Sloppy Joe.” I was always taught the a sloppy joe has three ingredients beside the beef: ketchup, mustard, brown sugar. Does that sound like a sloppy joe to you?
I wonder, has this sort of thing happened to the phrase, “God is love?” What I’d like to to do today is go back to the Scriptures, where the phrase originally comes from, and learn what it’s all about. In doing so we’ll also see what the Christianity thing is all about. Just like with phrases, what people think Christianity is all about fluctuates, too. What Scripture says, and what we must preach, is that God’s love for the world is shown in this way: He sent His only Son to die, so that everyone who believes in Him would not die, but have eternal life.
Let’s remind ourselves of the verse we heard a few minutes ago. A lot of people have it memorized from their VBS days, but I’ll read it again. This is 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.” Another verse goes with it today. St. John also wrote, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” So, we’ll get this part out of the way: God is love, this is true. Now, Lutherans are a quirky bunch. This is shown by the fact you can tell someone was raised as a Lutheran because they instinctively ask, “What does this mean?” whenever they hear Scripture.
What does it mean that God is love? That’s the question today. First, it means that God created everything – the heavens and the earth. As Scripture says, God is love; but, to love, there needs to be something else – something to love. So, God created. God created all that there is, including us, and He continues to provide for all that we need to support this body and life. Since God is love, He created human beings with the ability to love Him back. But, the ability to love works both ways. If you can love, you can also not love. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. Shortly after God created mankind, they decided that loving God wasn’t what they wanted to do. And that’s where sin comes from.
God created everything out of love, desiring nothing other than to love us and be loved back. Instead, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Bad happened. It’s kind of like going into the basement and loosening up the one light bulb so that it flickers. When it flickers, there’s light. But, in between you stub your toe and knock things over. When Adam and Eve decided to not love God, it broke the world. When they decided to not love God, it also introduced a new and terrible thing: death. See, to live in fellowship with God is life. To live apart from Him is death.
The Scriptures do say that there is a punishment for sin, and that is death. The failure to love God results in death. All those times where we don’t listen to the Bible and do what we want instead, all those times where we think thoughts about those whom we aren’t married to, all those times where we maybe aren’t as helpful to others as we could be add up. The end result is that, for our sins, we will all die.
But, the Scriptures say this: God is love. Love is what led God to create and take care of us. Love is also what made it so that God couldn’t just stand by while the whole world dies. Instead, He loved the world so much that He acted. He acted in this way: He sent His only Son as the payment for our sins. God is a loving God, but He is also a just God – a fair God. Fairness demands that transgressions be punished, that wrongs be righted. God is also mercy, however. Instead of demanding that we right our own wrongs, pay for our own sins, God sacrificed His Son, His only Son, Jesus.
In this way, God’s love for the world is demonstrated. He sacrificed His only Son to pay for our sins. Now, we might not think that we’re really that bad. Think about it this way. When you speed you get a ticket. If you lie to a judge, you can be placed in jail. If you disobey a king, in some countries, you will be put in prison – or worse. That’s for a single offense, and we’re trained to accept that. What do you think should happen if you disobey God? What do you think should happen if you willingly and purposefully break the law many times a day for an entire life? But God is love, so He sent Jesus to die in your place, to pay for your sins.
Jesus Christ’s death did pay for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world. By His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with God. He put the water back under the bridge, tightened the light bulb so that it shines like it should. By His death and rising again, Jesus has brought back to mankind eternal life. He won for us the ability for us to again call God, “Father,” and the ability to live at peace with those around us and in our community. These things He gives to us not because we deserve forgiveness, eternal life, and peace – but by His grace as a gift. As it says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Some of us are newer to the whole Lutheranism thing. Some of us have been around it for a while; and we sometimes forget, but this is what it’s all about. The Christian faith, and Lutheranism as a part of it, is all about how Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. We’re talking forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes in Him. It doesn’t matter whether you were born into the Church, or came as an adult. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, where you live, how much you give, or even how often you warm a church pew – Jesus died for you. He gives the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who believes in Him.
Now, this is all fine and good, but some of us might be thinking why we need to hear this again. Why should I to go to church, if I’ve heard this once already? For starters, life is hard. It is a struggle; it is busy; some days we don’t even know how to do. Even beyond that, before we’ve noticed, we’ve been short with people; we’ve treated them poorly and they’ve done the same in return. Church allows us to hit pause, to hit reset and reflect, to hear God speak to us and tell us that it’ll all be okay – that our sins our forgiven, and that eternal life awaits us in heaven. In heaven there is no pain or sorrow or stress.
Then, St. John also says, “If God so loved us, we also ought to love each other.” Speaking for myself – even as a pastor – I’m not always so good at that part as I should be. So, in addition to pausing to hear God speak through His Word that my sins are forgiven, church also helps me to love others as I have been loved by Christ. “We love because He first loved us.”
May the peace of God be with you this week and always. God is love, and this is the way He showed His love for you: He sent His Son Jesus to die for you, so that through faith in Him, you might not die but live eternally. In Jesus’ name.