O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Love Crisis
The Love Crisis
Based on John 3:14-21
Preached on March 11, 2018
Click on the Play button
to listen to the Sermon.
Fellow baptized saints, “How do I love you? Let me count the ways.” When it is the Father talking to His world, you only count to one. His only-begotten Son. That’s it. Jesus says. The Father loves the world - in His Son. This is the exclusively inclusive love of the Father. God is love. He can’t stop Himself. That’s what He is. Love isn’t simply something God does; it’s also something God is. Love is His very essence. God is love and God loves. The Father loves the Son, and He loves the world in His beloved Son. And yes - He loves you in the very same way.
It's not a love we’re used to - this love of God - agape in the Greek – because this love intentionally loses. It sacrifices something. Gives it away – with no conditions – no expectations to receive something in return. It does not ask “what’s in it for me” nor does it seek to have the needs of self met. Agape is entirely focused on the other - the Beloved - the object of love, to the certain detriment of self. And agape is given from above! Today God declares to you a higher love than you can fathom - that the thing He gives away so that you may live is not merely a holy angel. It isn’t His holy heaven. It isn’t anything in all of creation. God loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son. The Father loved the world by giving His eternally Beloved Son to the world. No, there is no comparison. Only trust and praise.
Back in their wilderness days, God gave the Israelites a similar sacramental sign. They had rebelled – again – grumbling and complaining against Moses and against God. In judgment, God sent snakes into the camp - fire snakes - that caused horrific wounds and death. In mercy, God gave a curious antidote, an image made of bronze (something ordinarily forbidden), a bronze serpent, the very image of the disease, raised up on a pole so that all the eyes of Israel could look on it. And in looking on it, they would live.
That bronze serpent on a stick, rather hideous to look at, and were it not the direct command of God Himself, idolatrous as well, was a tangible token of God’s love for His people, rebellious, stubborn, and sinful though they were. To look on that image trusting in the promise of God was to live, to be healed of the fiery venom of the snakebite, to survive. And it was the only way to survive. There was no other way.
It’s a picture of humanity - of us. Snake-bitten - with the venom of Sin coursing through our systems. It’s killing us – but it also deceives us into thinking its not. Quite the venom. Fiery. Deadly. And we are born this way, born with the fangs of the ancient serpent lodged deep in our veins, injecting that fatal lie into our hearts that begins with a question “Did God really say?” ringing in our ears and in the back of our skeptical minds – that means disbelief, disobedience, and death. You are the Israelite in the wilderness. Snake-bitten – that’s how you were born into this world.
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” I’m the Cure – Jesus says. I am your bronze serpent – lifted up on the pole of the cross – that all who look on Me, turn to Me – trust in Me – will live. My blood is the antidote to the snake venom in your veins. My life given on the cross is the medicine for your death. Have you got any other medicine for death? No. Of course not.
Taking any medicine is an act of trust. We trust our doctor when he or she says, “Take this three times a day.” You know how it is – you look at the data sheet that comes with the drug. You see all the weird chemical names and wonder what it will do to you. You read the list of side-effects ranging from bad dreams to depression to death. And yet the good physician said, “Take this three times a day,” and so you do - in trust.
God gave His Son, His only Son - lifted up on a cross, marred and disfigured almost beyond recognition. Can you trust that? He says, “Look. Look on my Beloved Son in faith and you will live.” Don’t look away – though it is hard to bear. He is your Sin and He is your Salvation. The Cure looks terribly much like the disease. That’s why the cross is so hideous, so painful to look at, so macabre. Why would anyone want to look at this? We’d rather look at flowers and sunsets and kittens and puppies. We’d rather seek the signs and tokens of God’s love somewhere else, something more uplifting than being lifted up on a cross. But this is how God loves the world – the only way. This is the Father’s agape. The way love for sinners looks. “Look to Me,” Jesus says, “lock your eyes, your heart, your mind on what I am doing for you. This is where the action is – over here – in my body hanging on the wood. Trust Me. I’m getting us out of here.”
KIDS – bulletins/crucifix - This is the way it looks. In our world – this is what true love looks like.
It’s inclusive. This love. It is for the world. Not simply the respectable, religious, lovable parts of the world but the whole world. It is a cosmic love that loves the cosmos to death and in so doing saves it. Does that mean that everyone is saved? Well, it depends how you look at it. From the point of view of God’s agape love, the answer is “yes.” God loved the world. God gave His beloved Son to the world. God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save the world. You can’t be any more inclusive than that. And you can’t divide up the world into the saved and unsaved parts. As far as God is concerned, the world is saved and loved in His beloved Son.
But it is only and exclusively in His beloved Son. There is salvation in no other. There is no life or love outside Him. There is no other revelation of God’s love for the world. No other sign, sacrament, token of God’s love but the one act of self-sacrifice: The Father sending and giving His Son into the world, knowing that men love darkness rather than light, knowing that this Love Incarnate would be rejected, knowing that He would be lifted up in the darkness and evil of this world – yet it remains the only way to save snake-bitten sinners. Do it Son. Do it.
“Every one who practices evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed.” - - We come kicking and screaming. We’re throwing a temper tantrum as Christ drags us into His eternal light. We need to understand that or we won’t understand what’s going on with us spiritually speaking. Our old Adam, our snake-bitten sinful nature hates the light, hates the truth, hates the law, and yes, hates the Gospel and Christ. It’s the new man in Christ who delights in the Law, who rejoices in the Gospel, who “does the truth” and comes to the light in order that it may be seen that his works have been wrought in God and not in himself.
Our old Adam needs to be crucified – mortified. He needs to die. The new man, the new you in Christ - needs to live, rise, walk - and this is a work the Holy Spirit does through the Word. Sometimes you can even observe this. People will come to church for a while, they’ll get all religious for a while, they’ll be all enthusiastic for a while. But then some issue comes along, some sin comes to light, the Law begins to do its killing work, and they turn away and go back into the cover of darkness again. - - It can happen to you too. That’s why the resistance, that’s why you’d rather sleep in than come to Bible class on Sunday morning, that’s why you can’t wait for the service to end. It has less to do with the music and the preaching and whatever other excuse we make. It has to do with our old Adam who hates the Light, who prefers the darkness, who loves the practice of evil, and must be coerced and forced to go through the motions of doing the truth. He needs to die. The new man to rise.
I’m sure there were many Israelites who preferred their own homeopathic treatments, their own alternative medicines, to that bronze serpent on a stick. I’m sure there were many who refused to look and live. They died - rejecting a promise of life that was intended for them.
This is the judgment – Jesus says - light has come into the world. The Greek word for judgment is crisis. It’s a CRISIS! Light has come into the world! Love has been revealed! And that’s a crisis. The coming of Christ, the preaching of Christ, the knowledge of Christ is a crisis. A game-changer. The Singularity – that nothing can escape. And your hearing of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a crisis for you. You can never be neutral about it again. Your knowledge of Baptism and of the Lord’s Supper and its true nature and meaning precipitate a crisis between faith and unbelief. It’s one thing to turn your back on Christ, on Baptism, on the Supper, on the Church, on His Word, if you do not know what they are. But once you do, once you have been “enlightened,” once the knowledge of salvation has to come you, you can never be neutral or apathetic again. Now it is faith or unbelief; there is no middle ground.
We sometimes worry about those who have never heard the Gospel – you know - what about “those people”? What will happen to “them”? But that whole question is misplaced. If you know the cure, and you know someone who is diseased with Sin (and you don’t have to look too hard for that), how much do you have to hate your fellow sinner not to tell them? That’s the crisis. You might say, “Well, I’d have been better off not to have heard,” and the answer, “Too late. You’ve heard. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Now is the moment of your salvation.” You have no excuse. You have no choice in the matter. God has ordained that you hear His Word of love in Christ.
I know how it is – you might like to stay a child, trying not to know adult things – but it’s too late. You’ve had the crisis – you know agape love – you can’t be a child anymore. But it is better to be an adult. Better to play the bigger role. So it’s time to grow up. Become who you are in Christ. Take your place in the Church – and the world. Because the world needs you – desperately. The world needs the medicine God has placed on your lips – that good news – that crisis of love – yes, Christ on the cross – that God is pleading with people to look to and live.
God loved the world in giving His Son. The Son loved the world by giving His life. God loved you by bringing you to Baptism, by putting you in Christ’s death. And He holds you in love by giving you His Body and Blood to eat and drink - by putting His preached Word into your ears to hear. To reject these whenever they are offered to you is to refuse the token of His love.
His is a wondrously inclusive love. No one left out. It is also a terrifyingly exclusive love. Only in Jesus, the beloved Son, and no one else. Apart from Him, there is only the nothingness of darkness and death.
You are baptized. You have been brought to the Light. You are loved in the Beloved Son. Look on Him, lifted up for you. Look on Him in faith - and live. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr