Printable PDF: 3-14-2021 Lent 4 Sermon
Pastor Mark R Jacobson ~ Lent 4 ~ March 14, 2021 ~ John 3:14-21
14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16For 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. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Of the many things I have enjoyed throughout my ministry, one has been the opportunity to stop by the homes of World War II veterans. Those visits have allowed me to look at their World War II medals and memorabilia, and most importantly, those visits allowed me the opportunity to hear their stories. World War II stories have been told and retold countless times through books and movies. One of those movies is called, “Hacksaw Ridge.” Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss. Desmond Doss was a combat medic. Desmond Doss was also a conscientious objector to war. He refused to fire a gun at another person, but became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for service above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa. Doss ran into the line of fire to render medical care to the wounded and to bring the wounded back to their military base. Desmond Doss saved 75 lives during the Battle of Okinawa. Every time Desmond Doss would go back into the line of fire he said a prayer, “Lord, help me save one more.”
Today’s Gospel jumps into a conversation already in progress. Jesus had been talking back and forth with a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus belongs to a religious group that was clearly opposed to Jesus, but Nicodemus was also an individual trying to figure out what Jesus Christ was all about. As Jesus closes his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus makes a comparison between himself and the snake we heard about in the first lesson. The simple comparison is “The snake saves; The Son of Man saves.” Here are those words of Jesus: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life.”
This is where the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus ends and this is where the commentary of the Apostle John starts. John is going to talk about how faith saves, but before John talks about how faith saves John first talks about why faith saves. That answer is summed up in these familiar words, “For God so loved the world.” “World” is a key word in John’s gospel and in all of his writings. Of the 184 times the word “world” is used in the New Testament, 105 of them are in John’s handwriting. And it’s not just the frequency of John’s use of the word that is so stunning. John uses the word “world” as the epitome of God’s perfectly ordered creation gone sinfully mad. Listen to these Bible passages from the Apostle John: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (1:10).” “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (3:19) “I have given them (the disciples of Jesus) your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (17:13). So let’s review: The world does not recognize Jesus as their Savior. The world loves the darkness of sin more than the light of God’s love. And the world hates God’s Word and all who dare to speak it. Exactly why does God SO love the world? The answer has absolutely nothing to do with the goodness of the people of the world. The answer has absolutely everything to do with the goodness of God’s love. It is by grace you have been saved.
John 3:16 is an important Bible verse, but I don’t know if we should memorize John 3:16 without also memorizing John 3:17. John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” There are many reasons to be here today. There are many reasons to be watching online. We are here to praise God for all that has done for us. We are here to be encouraged in our faith and to be equipped for a life of Christian service in God’s kingdom, but let’s not forget the first reason we need to be in God’s house today. We need to be saved. The mission of Christ is first of all a rescue mission. The mission of Christ is to save sinners, not make nicer sinners in this world. And so when I look at the people of this world and make a comment like, “What’s wrong with people?” without any intention of helping people, am I not guilty of condemning the world and not saving the world?
Listen. There are a lot of problems with our world. Its ancient history that the world looks at a pregnant woman and thinks she is only carrying a fetus or additional tissue. Today, you could hold up a baby and the world can’t decide whether or not the baby is a boy or a girl. There are a lot of problems with our world. As Christians, God calls on us to call sin a sin in the same way the Bible calls sin a sin. That’s what Jesus does. Last week in the service we heard how Jesus overturned tables. The week before that Jesus scolded Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Our saving mission does not mean we become soft on sin. Our saving mission means we address sin head on, but we address sin only for the purpose of saving souls. That’s why God gave his one and only Son – to save sinners. That’s why Jesus talks to sinners. God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And the truth is we, as Christians, are as guilty of sin as anyone in the world, and one way we show that is with a condemning attitude and not a saving attitude for our world. And yet as much as God loves the world so also he loves each of us. God sent his Son for us so that whoever, even me, believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The word “believes” jumps off the page here, but I want you to notice the next two words, “in him.” Maybe you want to circle those words with a life preserver. The reason is simple. Can a drowning man hang on to any old thing if he just hangs on hard enough. Can just about anything be placed in the mouth of a starving woman? Will any grown-up do for clinging if you have lost a small child? Can you really believe “whatever you want” and be saved as long as you believe? The answer is “no.” We believe in him.
We believe in his love for us. We believe he lived perfectly according to the Ten Commandments as our substitute. We believe he was lifted up on the cross to die as an atoning sacrifice for us and for our sins. We believe he talks to us in the Bible, and we believe as Jesus talks to us in the Bible, the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in us. We also believe the Holy Spirit will strengthens faith through the means of grace, the Bible, and the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and finally bring us to heaven. The first and foremost mission of Christ is to save us from our sins. And when this mission of Christ also becomes the mission of the church, then we start to pray like Desmond Doss once prayed, “Lord, help us save one more.”
It would appear that the man named Nicodemus was saved. Nicodemus is not recorded in the Bible as saying, “I believe in Jesus.” But in chapter 7, Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus in front of his own religious group. And in chapter 19, Nicodemus was one of the two men who asked Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus, and in the presence of many people, buried Jesus in an act of serve and love.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus saves. If it helps, slap that bump sticker on your car. If it helps, tattoo that truth on your forehead. If it helps, make a corny little cross out of those two words. I don’t really care what we actually do with those two words, but I pray that we would believe them, and until Jesus comes back to judge the living and the dead, I pray those two words would guide the primary purpose of everything we say and do as a church. “Lord, help us save one more.” Amen.