Hope in Love (December 20, 2020)
John 3: 16-17
Hope in Love
We continue today our series looking at the hope that we find in themes of advent: hope itself, peace, joy, and today love; and on Thursday, Christ himself. And this may not have been a Scripture you anticipated hearing during the advent season. It’s not one that we associate with Christmas, even though it is arguably the most famous Scripture in all of Scripture, with only 1 Corinthians 13 challenging it, both interestingly having to do with love. The love of God permeates our understanding of what God is doing in the world and what the Gospel is. And that is the topic of today’s sermon.
Throughout the series we’ve been looking for the hope that we find in each theme, and the hope that we find the love of God is in what that love leads God to do in the totality of the Gospel. Something that is fundamental to my understanding of the Gospel is that you don’t get to take it in parts. There’s no beginning of the Gospel, and then middle of the Gospel, and then end of the Gospel. We don’t have the Christmas Gospel, and the teachings of Jesus in the parables Gospel, and then the resurrection Gospel; we have the Gospel. It is telling a collective story across the entirety of what it is saying. And the hope that we find in the love of God has to do with what that love does, on display in the Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 16.
Here we see that “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that all who would believe, or trust, in him might not die but have eternal life.” Our hope is that the love of God did indeed lead him to give his only begotten Son so that we who believe in him might not die but have eternal life. That is our hope. And that is why we celebrate the love of God in one of these four weeks.
There’s a movie starring Will Ferrell called Talladega Nights. Now, as a pastor, I am not recommending that movie in the slightest. I haven’t even seen the whole thing myself. But I have seen the commercials for it as it was coming out on DVD, and one of the commercials showed a scene that really stuck with me. And it explains what I think a lot of people feel is happening when they think about Christianity, as they think about Jesus in their experiences. In the scene they are all gathered around a “feast,” and the character played by Will Ferrell is saying grace over the feast. And he says the grace to “Sweet Baby Jesus.” And his wife calls them out on this, she said he grew up and you don’t have to keep saying Sweet Baby Jesus all the time, but he says he doesn’t like the other Jesuses. He doesn’t like grown-up Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus.
These other Jesuses, those guys are hard. Grown-up Jesus tells us to do things that are hard. Bearded Jesus teaches us. Grown-up Jesus involves a cross and death. Many prefer Sweet Baby Jesus, or as he put it “dear 8 lbs. 6 oz. newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly but still omnipotent” Jesus.
Baby Jesus is sweet. He lies in a manger, and he can’t tell us to do anything. Rome hasn’t gotten angry at him yet, although go to the Gospel of Matthew and you might reconsider that. We get to bring him gifts and he doesn’t ask us to do anything that we don’t want to do. We bring him gifts that show what we’ve done; the kings didn’t bring the gifts of a shepherd, right, they brought Gifts of a king. They showed that they were kings.
But that’s not the way it works. We don’t get to keep Jesus the sweet baby lying in a manger. One of the things that I’ve mentioned many times before is that we have to look at the Gospel in totality. The Christmas story is meaningless without the Easter story, and the Easter story is meaningless without the Christmas story, and they’re both meaningless without the resurrection. Someone dying on the cross, even if he says he’s dying for us, doesn’t mean anything unless it was God doing so; and unless they’re resurrected on the backend. That’s what tells us that we have victory over death; and the fact that it’s God tells us that that can be extended to us. And we understand that it’s God because we have this story where the child is declared by the angel to be Emmanuel, God with Us. But God coming to earth and looking around at what he’s created means nothing unless that coming winds up in the sacrifice of the cross, done for us, so that whosoever would believe in him might have eternal life. These things must be interwoven. You can’t just sit with sweet little innocent baby Jesus. So the hope that we find the love of God relies upon the rest of the story.
And this Scripture lays out for us the teaching. This is grown-up bearded Jesus talking to Nicodemus, who has come in the middle of the night asking what Jesus is all about. He says that he is God’s beloved Son ,sent to the world so that all who believe in him might not die but have eternal life. I believe that the word there is better translated trust. This is not about having a set of things that you ascribe to, a checkmark of statements that you can say yes to; it’s about trusting, an action. It means trusting that what Jesus, grown-up Jesus, is teaching is good for you. I talked last week about God inviting you on a path toward joy; this is trusting that God‘s leading you down the path that you want to go to the end, that it would be joyful. I talked two weeks ago about God bringing peace into the world, saying that we as a church are a group helping God to bring about the kingdom, and we must be peacemakers that are trusting in Jesus and doing things that bring about peace: taking the final punch, turning the other cheek. Indeed our hope is that trusting this child that grew up into this 30-year-old rabbi will indeed lead to life and light in the midst of our darkness.
This may be the most famous Scripture, but I don’t know if it’s widely understood. This is an extremely challenging Scripture. And Nicodemus could not take it; he doesn’t follow Jesus around, he doesn’t become a disciple. He might well be saved, that’s above my pay grade, but he doesn’t follow him around. He's not an apostle. Can we take the Scripture? Do we trust in Jesus?
Now, in a minute I’m gonna ask you to pray that you today trust in Jesus. Whether you are praying that for the first time, or the 10th time, or 100th time, I am asking you to decide if you will pray a commitment to God. And I promise you that today God is offering you that life, if you do trust in him. And by the way, I know I can say that because I trust in God. And I know I can say that on a video that is going to be recorded and kept around on Facebook and YouTube for eternity. And I promise you that today, wherever you are right now, whether you are watching this as it is premiering or whether you’re watching this 45 years from now; today, your today, God is here offering you love, because God does. That’s who God is. And in a minute I’m going to ask If you will say that prayer, to place your trust again or anew in the Son that was given that we might have eternal life.
But before I do, I want you to know that you don’t get to pledge to Sweet Baby Jesus who can’t tell you to do anything because he’s just sitting there cooing and looking cute in swaddling clothes. The Jesus you’re placing your trust in asks you to make the Kingdom on earth. It’s challenging. That’s why I want to bring in another Scripture, to remind you of that. The Scripture is 1 John 3: 16-17 (and no, I don’t believe it’s coincidence that it is so similar and it talks about the same kind of thing). Except it’s a social Gospel instead of a personal Gospel. It’s what we are doing as a disciple instead of what we receive as a disciple. I’ve often wondered how the church might be different if 1 John 3:16 was as famous as John 3:16. But here it is: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
If you trust in Jesus, you will likely be asked to give up your life for others, to lay down your life for other people (hopefully only metaphorically). But you will be asked to care about things that don’t affect you. You’ll be asked, if you have resources, to give beyond what you’re comfortable with. You will be asked to serve. But if you trust in Jesus, if you declare your trust in Jesus, Jesus will take that at its word and start to guide you toward being a disciple. And that is one of the most rewarding things that I know, but it is also very challenging.
So now I ask whether you will trust in Jesus, whether you will declare that you want to be a disciple, you want to follow God down his path toward peace and love and joy and hope, the path toward Christ. Know what it could mean. Do you place your trust in someone who may ask you to lay down your life for someone else, but who also led by example in that he laid down his life for you? Do you trust that God indeed has your best interest at heart, and helping to bring about the Kingdom will protect your soul? Then I would invite you to join me in praying this prayer:
Almighty God, you showed your love for us in that you came to the world in your Son, to teach us and to show us the way, to show us the truth, and to show us how to live. You laid down your life that we might be able to live. And you call us to lay down our lives, that others may come to know you. I trust in you Lord. I trust in your guidance. I trust in your teachings. And I trust in your power. Forgive me my sins, and help me to live as you would have me live. Show me the way, Lord, In Christ I pray, Amen.