Fourth Sunday In Lent
March 11, 2018
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
3:16. You already know what that is. Though I didn’t tell you what book I was quoting, there are, after all, 60 of the 66 3:16’s in the Bible, one for every book in the Bible that has three chapters, but you knew that I was referencing John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” All I had to say was 3:16 and you knew what I meant. You are an amazingly smart crowd!!
A few weeks ago Time magazine wrote some articles about “How to Live Longer Better”. (February 26, 2018) Did you know that people who are religious, on average, live longer than folks who are not? The Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2016 found that women who went to any kind of religious service more than once a week had a 33% lower chance than secular peers of dying during the 16-year study follow-up period. A guy from Vanderbilt said that having a religion makes sense physically, “Having that sense that you’re not in the world alone, that you are part of a power larger than oneself, can give one confidence to deal with the issues of life.” (Pg. 73) See, I told you it was good to go to church.
The average life expectancy in the world is about 71.5 years. In the U.S. it is 79 years. At Ascension it is much higher!! 73 of our folks are 80 and older, of that 73, 21 are 90 and above. It is good, if you want to live long, to be a regular worshiper. It is better, if you want to live even longer to be a Lutheran. And if you want to live even longer, join this congregation. We must have some type of funny water that we are drinking!!
The article that I quoted is from Time magazine – not some type of religious publication. The page that contained this article has a birthday cake with candles lit with the number 3:16 on the cake. That’s all it said. 3:16 See? Everyone knows what that is. John 3:16…God so loved the world…
But, do they really know what that verse is about? Do you know what that verse is all about? 3:16 – well known. 3:16 – well needed.
The context of the verse is that a man named Nicodemus, both a member of the Sanhedrin and a Pharisee, came to Jesus at night and asked Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2) Why did he come at night? Timid? Scared? Curious about Jesus but didn’t want to be seen with Him? That’s what I think. He had a lot to lose if others knew that he was interested in Jesus.
3:16 is well needed. Jesus told him, and us, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3). There has to be a radical rebirth and regeneration for everybody. Jesus told him the problem with attempting to enter God’s kingdom of his own doing – “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:6) That is, our own efforts fail, but His work, His Spirit, His new birth into our lives in Jesus, succeeds.
3:16, the verse that even folks who don’t come to church still know, is the clearest message of salvation in the Bible. Martin Luther called it “The Little Bible”. It is known and it is needed. Listen to this, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18)
Without Jesus there is condemnation for every sin. Without Jesus there is judgment with no one to stand on our side as our advocate. We find ourselves all alone. No answer. No hope. No future. It is just flesh giving birth to flesh which doesn’t help when we are in need of being born again – being born from above.
We have the neatest youth group here at Ascension. But they are also the loudest. My Wednesday Confirmation class is next to the Youth Room. With the Youth Room rumbling I almost have to shout so my kids can hear me.
But sometimes they are quieter. A few months ago they had a cross placed in the center of the room and invited those loud kids to quietly write the things that bothered them on these sticky notes and then stick them to the cross. They were told that worries, problems and life’s difficulties should be brought to Jesus. Jesus is the one who invites everyone to bring their worries to Him. That’s what they did.
Here are some of what our kids are facing. Here is the reason that the love of God is so deeply needed. They wrote: “I want to fix the relationships that I have ruined.” “I want to reconnect with my mom.” “Give me patience” “I want to find someone who loves me the same way I love them.” “Bring peace to my house.” “I hope my family recovers from debt and we can be stress free.” Last one, “For life to turn out right.” John 3:16 which says, “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” tells us that God meets our need. Eternal life isn’t just about the duration of life but about the quality of life. Jesus brings the fullness of life. Jesus is the one who said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
3:16. Needed. Without Jesus there is not the fullness of life for life right now. And there is not the fullness of life for all eternity. Instead of anticipating the light of eternal life – heaven – there is no such hope.
3:16. Well received. A person has to believe. There is no salvation without faith in Jesus. “…Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In our Sunday morning Bible Study we will be running into Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” In John 1 the importance of faith, the act of receiving what God has already done, is given, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
In our reading Jesus talks about the connection that His death had with the snake that Moses put up on a pole in the Book of Numbers. (Chapter 21) In the Old Testament God had sent snakes to be His punishment to his grumbling chosen people. God had a strange remedy. Make a snake out of bronze and if someone is bitten by a real snake, look at the bronze snake that has been placed on a pole and if you look at the snake on that pole the bite is not going to kill you. So Jesus, just before our verse talks about faith that must be established in the heart. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15) What God was asking of His people in Moses day was faith, trusting His word and promise. “Look at the snake and live.” That is what He is asking still. Simple faith. Simple trust. Taking God at His word. Believing that by seeing Jesus lifted up – that is, lifted on the cross in His atoning death, we are brought eternal life. My friend, Dr. Dale Lewis, shared with me a verse of the Bible that means the world to him – Romans 10:9-11, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’” It is the John 3:16 of the Book of Romans.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent is known as “The Sunday of Refreshment”. The Scriptures that are read are to give us a break from the harder ones that have been read and that are still coming. In the middle ages this Sunday was celebrated with the eating of Fruitcake. (I’m glad that such a tradition hasn’t carried over to our generation!!) But it is a refreshing Sunday. A simple passage: John 3:16, “God so loved the world…” is refreshing. It is well known not just because we’ve memorized the words but because they live in our heart. It tells us plainly of God’s heart and His action for bringing us the gift that we would be His forever. It tells us that we would trust in Jesus to take this gift and make it our very own.
3:16. Known by an entire world. Trusted by believers in Jesus Christ. Trusted by me. Trusted by you. Amen!!