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Archive for September, 2008

Justin Taylor, over at Between Two Worlds, has posted eight things Christians should do with evil from Dr. John Piper’s new book, “Spectacular Sins:” 

1)    Expect evil. (1 Pet. 4:12).

2)    Endure evil. (1 Cor. 13:7; cf. Mark 13:13).

3)    Give thanks for the refining effect of evil that comes against you. (Eph. 5:20; cf. 1 Thess. 5:18, Rom. 5:3–5).

4)    Hate evil. (Rom. 12:9).

5)    Pray for escape from evil. (Matt. 6:13).

6)    Expose evil. (Eph. 5:11).

7)    Overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:21).

8)    Resist evil. (Jas. 4:7).

Here are four things never to do with evil:

1)      Never despair that this evil world is out of God’s control. (Eph. 1:11).

2)      Never give in to the sense that because of seemingly random evil, life is absurd and meaningless. (Rom. 11:33, 36).

3)      Never yield to the thought that God sins or is ever unjust or unrighteous in the way he governs the universe. (Ps. 145:17).

4)      Never doubt that God is totally for you in Christ. (Gal. 3:13; Rom. 8:3, Heb. 12:6).

Read the whole thing here http://theologica.blogspot.com/2008/09/piper-what-to-do-and-what-not-to-do.html .

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Acts 29 posted some notes from a recent talk given by D.A. Carson on 5 trends in the Church today.  Here they are:

1. It is important to observe contradictory trends.

2. Current evangelical fragments are moving into a new phase — into polarized “clumps.”

3. The most dangerous trends in any age are the trends that most people do not see.

4. There is a trend in our churches to be consumed by social concern.

5. There is a trend in our churches to emphasize discipleship over the gospel.

Dr. Carson is insightful as always.  You can read the whole thing here http://www.acts29network.org/acts-29-blog/five-trends-in-the-church-today-d-a-carson/ .

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on Sunday morning, September 28, 2008:

Scripture is abundantly clear that “salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).  God is a holy and righteous God… and we aren’t.  He is morally perfect… and we aren’t.  He never sins… and yet rarely does a moment go by when we don’t sin.  And this means we are in trouble, because sin is detestable to God.  It is an abomination to Him… meaning it smells bad.  He is angry with human beings because of our sin.  But because of His great love which He had for the world, God sent His only Son, Jesus, who lived the perfect life we could never live, earning the reward of heaven for us… and who died for our sin upon the cross… who was buried and rose again the third day so that we could have victory over sin and death and hell.

God did all the work to save us.  To receive this free give, God expects us to repent of our sins and trust in the work which God has done for us in Jesus in order to receive this salvation.

Have you done this?  Then you are a Christian.  You have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.  You have entered into a new relationship with God through Jesus… but now what?  What does God expect of us in the Christian life?

Last week, we looked at the first responsibility in the Christian life which is to love God with all that we are.  Today we will look at a second responsibility of our relationship with God… and it involves the way in which we love others.

Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 22:34-40

Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV) – 34  But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38  This is the great and first commandment. 39  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In context, this event takes place near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and a lawyer… an expert in the Law from among the Pharisees… has come to Jesus in an effort to trick Him by asking what he thinks is an unanswerable question, “What is the most important commandment?”  The rabbis in the first century argued about this and couldn’t seem to come to a consensus.  But Jesus is not stumped.  And in answering this question, Jesus tells us the two most important responsibilities in the Christian life.

As we saw last week, Jesus makes it abundantly clear here that the great and foremost… or first… commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and (as recorded in Mark 12:30) with all our strength.  This comes first.  This must precede everything else in the Christian life.  If we get this wrong, then we will get everything else wrong. 

Why is that?  Why must love for God come first?  Because this provides the motivation for everything else in the Christian life.  When we love Him… when we feel a deep-seated, all-encompassing passion for God… we are drawn nearer and nearer to Him and we express this inward affection toward God in our outward actions.  Loving God with all that we are means that we will willingly do all that we possibly can to nurture and strengthen this relationship.  We will be drawn into conformity with His will.  What is important to God will become more and more important to us as we come to love Him more and more.  As our love for God deepens, we will seek to do that which strengthens our relationship with Him and reject anything which could harm this relationship. 

We see this all the time in our earthly relationships.  For example, I love my wife dearly.  She is more important to me than anyone else on this planet.  Because of this, I greatly enjoy spending time with her.  I’m not required to spend time with her.  I want to spend time with her.  I don’t want to do anything which might hurt our relationship.  If I love her… if I truly love her… then I will live my life in such a way that our relationship is nurtured.  For example, I will not commit adultery, because the fleeting pleasures of sin do not compare with the ongoing relationship I have with the woman I love.  Now I don’t always do everything perfect in my relationship with my wife… just ask her… she’ll tell you… but my love for her should lead me to want to live my life in such a way that our relationship grows stronger.  Love drives us to do that which will build up the relationship and it drives us to avoid those things which will tear down the relationship.

The same is true with loving God.  If we love Him with all that we are… if He is the most important Person to us in all the universe… then we will naturally seek to draw nearer to Him.  We will want to do that which strengthens our relationship with Him.  The Christian life is not intended to be a list of do’s and don’t’s… it is a love relationship with our Creator God.  When we love Him passionately, then we instinctually do that which pleases Him and avoid that which hinders our relationship with Him.  We don’t do this perfectly, but our love for Him will drive us to do that which is pleasing to Him.

This is why loving God with our whole being is the first commandment.  It must precede everything else, because it provides the motivation for everything else God expects of us in the Christian life.

The first commandment also provides us with an understanding of the other responsibilities which God has laid upon us.  Notice how Jesus says that the second commandment is “like it” (μοιος.)  The second commandment is similar to the first.  They are not exactly the same, but they are alike.

How are these two commands similar?  They both involve love… which we defined last week as an affection which leads us to take action on behalf of another.  Both of these commands require us to have love for others and do something about it.  Both of these commands require us to feel affection for another and take action on their behalf. 

But although these commands are similar, they are also different in two distinct ways. 

First… the object of love is different.  The first commandment involves love for God and the second involves love for our neighbor. 

The second way in which these differ is to the extent to which this love is to be expressed.  We are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength.  We are to love God with all that we are as a human being.  But we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

So, with this said, we are going to look at two things in this message:  What does it mean to love someone “as we love ourselves”?  And who is our neighbor?

The second commandment is like it… “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  What does it mean to love someone as ourselves? 

Let me start out by telling you what it does not mean.  Some preachers in recent years have taken this to be a command to love ourselves.  We hear it said all the time… if you don’t love yourself, then how can you ever love anyone else?  That is not at all what Jesus is saying here.  He is not commanding us to love ourselves, He assumes that we already love ourselves, because we all do.  In fact, Scripture never commands us to love ourselves.  When love of self is specifically mentioned (as in II Timothy 3:2), it is always mentioned as a negative trait.  We don’t need to be told to love ourselves… we all love ourselves.  Probably more than we should.   We are all inherently selfish and self-serving.  Scripture says that naturally we all seek our own wants and needs over the wants and needs of others (James 4:1-2, Rom 3:10-18.)  Loving ourselves comes naturally and that is not hard to prove.  For example, why are people trampled to death in fleeing from burning buildings?  Because we love ourselves and we strive to flee impending doom.  We all seek to provide for our own needs (even if it is at someone else’s expense.)  Even suicide is ultimately an act of self-love.  It is seeking an end to our own life despite the ramifications on the world around us.  It is desiring an end to our own suffering and not caring how that affects others.

We all love ourselves… every one of us.  This isn’t something that we need to work at.  It comes naturally.  This is not to say that loving ourselves is always bad.  I just think it is important for us to note that this is not the command here.  Loving ourselves is not something we need to strive for.  This is something we already do.

So think with me for a moment.  Remember… biblically, love is more than a feeling.  It is an affection which leads to action on behalf of another.  So, if we love ourselves, then how do we express that love for ourselves?  What do we do as a result of our love for ourselves?  Let me suggest three ways in which we express love for ourselves:

1)      We look out for ourselves. 

We take care of ourselves.  We see to it that we get enough food to eat.  We make sure that we stay warm at night.  We can’t always do this as much as we would like… sometimes we can’t provide for ourselves, but we certainly try to take care of ourselves.

2)      We value ourselves. 

None of us have a perfect self-image, but all people who are fairly emotionally healthy tend to see themselves as people of worth.  We recognize that we have value in and of ourselves.  Often we fall into sin here and begin to think that we are actually more important in the scope of the universe than we actually are.  But no one who is healthy thinks they are truly and utterly worthless.  Even when we do things that we shouldn’t do… even when we fall on hard times… even when we make the worst of mistakes… we still believe that we have value.  We still recognize that we have some significance in the universe.

3)      We want what is best for ourselves. 

We never hope that things will go badly for us… do we?  We never think, “Gee, I hope I don’t get that raise at work.”  Or, “I really wish I would get audited by the IRS this year.”  Instead, we seek our own joy and happiness.  No one consciously goes looking for their own unhappiness.  Sometimes we unintentionally sabotage ourselves in our pursuit of joy, but no healthy person intentionally goes out of their way to pursue what makes us unhappy.  Ultimately, loving ourselves means wanting what is best for ourselves.

There are probably many other ways in which we could describe what Jesus means by loving ourselves.  But let’s just take these for a moment and plug them back into the context of Matthew 22:39.  Jesus says that we are to love our neighbor “as ourselves.”  We are to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  We are to love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves.

This means that part of loving our neighbor as ourselves is to look out for their needs.  We must provide for their needs.  This doesn’t just mean just hoping things work out for people.  It means taking action to provide for their needs.  When we are hungry, we feed ourselves… if we can… because we love ourselves.  When we are cold, we warm ourselves… if we can… because we love ourselves.  If we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, then we will do the same for them.  We will look out for their needs.  We will feed them when they are hungry.  We will clothe them when they are naked.  We will provide for their needs to the best of our ability.  Now, we can’t always meet everyone’s needs… just as we cannot always meet our own needs… but we should demonstrate the same commitment to meeting the needs of others as we do for ourselves.

If we are going to love our neighbors as ourselves then we must see our neighbors as people of value.  Regardless of the mistakes they have made… regardless of where they are in life… regardless of their needs… we should see them as people of worth… made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) and crowned by Him with glory and honor (Ps 8:1).  Even if they don’t look like it or act like it or smell like it.  We should treat them as people of dignity and worth.

If we are going to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves then we should want the best for them.  Love demands that we seek the joy and happiness of our neighbor…after all… that is how we love ourselves.  We should not simply provide for the basic needs of others, we should seek the very best for them, because that is how we love ourselves

Do you see the radical nature of this command? 

This runs contradictory to our very nature.  We naturally want what is best for us and we don’t want to be bothered by others.

This runs contradictory to our culture.  We live in a culture which is very selfish.  We are conditioned to always ask the question “What’s in it for me?”  We are constantly told to “look out for Number 1”!  We are being told all the time that we need to work hard to love ourselves.  But the problem is, most of us are working so hard at loving ourselves that we never have the time or energy or interest in loving others.

Does the thought of loving others this way make you feel uncomfortable?  It does me.  This is devastating to my self-righteousness, because I know that I don’t do this well.  I don’t even come close.  I fail here all the time… and I don’t like that.  Naturally… in my sinfulness… I want to find a way to wiggle out of this command.  Surely God doesn’t expect me to love everyone like this?  If I can only narrow the field so that my “neighbor” is simply my family and closest friends, then maybe I can get close to meeting this expectation.  So the question arises… who is my neighbor???

Jesus is quoting from Leviticus 19:18 here, which reads…

Leviticus 19:18 (ESV) – 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Notice that “neighbor” is in parallel with “the sons of your own people”… meaning fellow Jews.  And this is the way in which most Jewish rabbis would have taken this command.  They would say that this is a command to love those among the people of God.  Therefore, if we were to apply this thinking to our modern context, then this would be a command to love within the Body of Christ.  This is, of course, true and commanded by God, although, as we will see weeks to come, the love we are commanded to have for one another is something different than what we see here.  But Jesus is saying something much more than simply love the people of God.  The term translated “neighbor” is the Greek term πλησίον, which literally refers to something or someone which is near to you.  Literally, Jesus is saying that we are to love anyone who crosses our path with this type of love.  Not just our family.  Not just our friends.  Not just the people of God, but anyone who crosses our path.

Sometimes this is harder than others.  We tend to be drawn to some people more than others.  Let’s face it… some people are easier to love than others.  None of us have to stir ourselves up to act in love toward our children and grandchildren.  But what about the homeless guy down the street?  Or the boss who treated you real bad?  Or your former spouse?  These are people who cross our paths, therefore they are our neighbors.  Jesus says that we have to love them as much as we love ourselves.

Jesus makes this abundantly clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.   We all know the story right?  A Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is mugged and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest and a Levite… the religious elite of Israel… both passed by and saw him lying there, but they had more important things to do and they left him there for dead.  But along came a Samaritan… an enemy of the Jewish people… and when he saw this man who crossed his path, he felt compassion for him.  And, despite their cultural differences… despite their ethnic animosity… he stopped and took care of him.  He bandaged his wounds and put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him and paid for him to stay at the inn even after he had to leave.

Do you remember Jesus’ point in telling the parable?  It was an effort to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29.)  He was refuting an effort to wiggle out of this command. His answer was that our neighbor is more than our friends and family… more than the person who is like us… our neighbor is anyone and everyone God sovereignly brings across our path, even if they are people we find personally distasteful.

The point Jesus seems to be trying to make is that rather than spending our time trying to identify whether or not God intends for us to love this person in front of us, we are to concern ourselves with being a loving person to all those God puts in our path… whether we find ourselves naturally drawn to this person or whether we find them distasteful.  We are to love all those God brings into our lives to the same degree that we love ourselves.

When I come to this passage of Scripture and I see that I am commanded to “love my neighbor as myself”, I want to find a loophole.  I don’t do this well.  None of us do.  I fail at this.  All of us fail at this.

That is why we need a Savior.  Jesus died for all our sins… including the sin of not loving others as much as we love ourselves.  When we come to passages of Scripture like this, we should not only see what God expects of us, but we should see how much we fall short of the glory of God.  And this should drive us to the cross.

Maybe you are here today and you have never trusted in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin.  Then I would point you to this passage of Scripture and I would say, “Do you love your neighbor?  Do you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself?  Do you succeed in loving all those who cross your path as much as you love yourself all the time?”  If the answer is no, then you are a sinner and the consequence for that sin is death.  Not just physical death, but spiritual death and separation from God for all eternity in hell.  That is what all of us deserve, because none of us succeed in this.  Not me.  Not you.  None of us.  We are all sinners.

But Jesus bore the punishment we deserve for our sin when He died on the cross.  And He rose from the grave victorious over death and hell on the third day.  And God promises us that if we repent of our sin and begin trusting in Jesus to save us from our sin, then we can be forgiven and God will freely give us eternal life.

Have you repented of your sin?  Are you trusting in Jesus to save you from your sin?

Maybe you are a Christian here today.  You have repented of your sins and you are trusting in Jesus to save you in the Day of Judgment.  Then this is what God expects of you.  He expects us to love those He brings across our paths as much as we love ourselves.  This isn’t easy.  We won’t do it perfectly.  But we must strive for this.  Why?  Because this is pleasing to God… and we love Him… and we want to nurture our relationship with Him by striving to be and do all that He expects of us.

How do we do this?  How can we grow in love for our neighbors?  It is not easy, but let me offer a few suggestions for how to apply this to our lives…

First… we must all work on our love relationship with God above all else.  Everything else flows from this.  If we don’t love God, then we can’t love our neighbor.  Loving God with our whole being results in a softening and changing of our affections toward others. 

Therefore, if you want to love others as God expects us to, then strive to know Him more.  Seek Him in His Word.  Spend time alone with God in prayer.  Spend time in fellowship with other Christians and come to know Him more and more.  Meditate on the love of God for you.  Never forget how God has loved you… a detestable sinner… at great cost to Himself.  Remind yourself every day what Jesus has done to save you.  As we grow in our affection for God, we will begin to reflect His character more and more in our lives and we will love those around us as God demands of us.

Secondly… we need to learn to recognize our neighbors. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am so self-absorbed that I don’t even notice those who are in need all around me.  Sadly… to my shame… sometimes I do see them, but like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, I ignore them out of my own selfishness.

Think about all the of people God brings into our lives…friends… family members… coworkers… people in your neighborhood… people at church… the guy down at the ball field… the waitress at the restaurant… the guy who bags your groceries.  How many are there?  Too many to count. 

The fact that God brings them across our path makes them our neighbor.  We can’t meet all the needs of every person we encounter, but we must love them to the best of our ability.

I would urge you to take notice of the people God brings across your paths.  Be on the lookout for them.  Begin to think about them as your neighbor… as someone God has brought into your life so that you could show His love to them.

Third… draw near to those God brings near to us. It is hard to love someone we don’t really know.  We can show mercy to people in need that we don’t know, but it is hard to really love them as much as we love ourselves.  To do that, we must get to know them. 

Spend time with the people God sovereignly brings across your path.  Get to know them on a personal level.  Know their wounds… know their needs… learn about them so you can care for them.  We won’t really be able to love those we don’t draw near to.

Fourth… be a neighbor to those God brings across your path.  Reach out and meet their needs.  Take action on their behalf.  Do something for them.  I know this gets messy.  I know that it will cost you… your time… your money… your energy… your hobbies and entertainment.  It will cost you… perhaps dearly.  But ask yourself this, “How can I pour my life into theirs?”

This isn’t easy, but if we are Christians, then we don’t have a choice.  This is not an optional part of the Christian life, this is the second responsibility which God demands of His people.  This is a command from the sovereign God of the universe to all of His people of all time.

Finally… when we fall short of this expectation which God has laid upon us, we need to come back to the gospel and confess our sin before God and turn away from our unloving attitudes and trust in Jesus to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness.  The Christian life is not about being perfect.  It is about loving God and loving others and trusting in Jesus to save us when we fall short.

I urge you… as a Christian… to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  This is the great and foremost commandment.  Then love the people around you… as much as you love yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the expectations of God for us in the Christian life.

 

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I read an interesting post today about Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama, where 800 people have read through Dr. Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” (yes… all 1,290 pages!) in small groups.

Wow!

Have you read Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”?  It is probably overall my favorite theology textbook.  Dr. Grudem has a way of presenting theology in a very practical and devotional manner.  His book is absolutely worth reading.  Get a copy and read it.  Even better… get several copies and read it with your small group!

You can read the whole post about Hunter Street Baptist Church here http://zondervan.typepad.com/koinonia/2008/09/hunter-street-b.html.

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on Sunday morning September 21, 2008.

Over the last several weeks, we have been looking at the gospel of John and we have seen over and over again the importance of believing in Jesus.

Who is Jesus?  We have seen that He is the eternal Son of God… the Creator of heaven and earth… who left His heavenly home, taking on humanity and walking among us.  He lived a perfect life and He died the perfect death in our place and rose again the third day so that we might be saved from the wrath of God against us for our sin.  He came and died and rose again so that we might be saved from the judgment to come and have eternal life in the presence of God.  This salvation is a gift which God gives freely to those who believe in Jesus.

What does it mean to “believe” in Jesus?  It means to know Him as He truly is and to trust in Him.  It means to repent… to experience a change of mind about Jesus and ourselves and our sin and to turn from our sin to Jesus and rely upon Him alone to save us from the judgment to come.

We have seen this emphasized over and over again in the Gospel of John… but then what?  This is just the beginning of the Christian life.  Salvation is a free gift received by all who trust in Jesus.  We do nothing to earn it.  But once we receive this free gift, we enter into a new relationship with God… and like all relationships, there are responsibilities attached to being a Christian.  God expects us to live our lives in ways that are pleasing to Him.  And at the heart of these responsibilities is love.

We are going to look at the responsibility of love in the Christian life over the next couple of weeks and in order to do so, we will look at the words of Jesus spoken to a lawyer from among the Pharisees near the end of His earthly ministry.

Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV) – 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

This event took place near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He had traveled about Palestine, doing miraculous works of grace and mercy and always preaching the need to repent and believe in the gospel if one was to be saved from the anger of God against sin.  In doing so, He made more than His share of enemies.  As He draws near the end of His earthly ministry, the opposition is becoming more and more hostile and His enemies are beginning to surround Him on all sides.  It is in this context, in an effort to trap Him in saying the wrong thing and therefore to find ammunition to use against Him, that this Pharisaical lawyer approaches Jesus with this question, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?

This was a common point of debate among first century rabbis.  They identified 613 different commands in the Old Testament Law… 365 negative commands and 248 positive commands.  There was no possible way to remember all these commands, much less intentionally seek to obey them all at all times.  Therefore, the rabbis would debate about which was the most important of all these commands (Wessell, Expositors Commentary, Mk 12:28.)  But they couldn’t always make up their minds about which commandments were “greatest” or “least” among this large array of inspired commands given by God.  This expert in the Law is attempting to trap Jesus by asking Him to answer a question which the rabbis of His day couldn’t agree upon even among themselves.

But Jesus doesn’t miss a beat here.  He answers this man’s question by pointing back to the Old Testament and quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. And by doing so, He not only tells this man what the most important commandment is, but also which commandment is of second importance as well.  These two commands can be summed up rather simply…

1)      Love God.

2)      Love people.

Now in the context here, this lawyer may be speaking in hypothetical terms about the stuff of 1st century theological debate in an attempt to trick Jesus into saying the wrong thing, but the answer to this question is of the utmost importance.  You see, the Law was given to describe for us the character of God and His will for our lives.  The Law is intended to describe for us what God expects of us.  The Law tells us what our responsibilities are before God.  Therefore , the answer to this question is of the utmost importance us as Christians today.

We are told here that the Law and the Prophets… all the Old Testament commandments… depend on these two instructions.  Literally everything else in the Law “hangs” (κρεμάννυμι) on these two commands.  This doesn’t mean that there are no other expectations which God demands of His people.  But these two commands are foundational to everything else.  You might say that these two commands are like a clothes hanger on which the suit jacket of all God’s expectations hang.  The clothes hanger isn’t the suit jacket, but it supports the whole suit jacket.  Without the hanger, the jacket falls to the floor and becomes useless and unwearable.  All of God’s expectations for His people hang from these two commands… 1) Love God and 2) Love people.

We are going to deal only with the first commandment here today… we will deal with the second commandment over the next few weeks.  There are only two things I want us to see in this first commandment:

1)      What is the greatest responsibility of the Christian?

2)      How are we to fulfill this responsibility?

First of all… what is the greatest responsibility in the Christian life?  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…”  Mark records Jesus also adding that we are to love God “with all your strength” as well (Mk 12:30.)  This is the great and foremost commandment.”

Notice that last phrase, “This is the great and foremost… or first (πρτος) … commandment.”  This comes before all else.  This is first and more important than any other responsibility which God demands of those who have a relationship with Him.   The fact that this is the “first” commandment implies that every other commandment flows out of this commandment.  This comes first.  This responsibility is more important than any other.  If we get this wrong… we will get everything else wrong.  If we don’t love God… then we cannot meet any of God’s other expectations for our lives.

So with this said… what does it mean to love?  What is love?  This isn’t an easy question to answer.  We all have a vague idea of what love is, but we seem to have a hard time defining it.  We know it when we see it… or it is probably more accurate to say that we know it when we feel it… but we have a hard time explaining it with words.

The Greek isn’t much help to us here.  The Greek term is γαπάω… it is simply means to love.  As many of you probably know, there are different terms in Greek used to describe love, γάπη and φιλία being the most common.  I have often heard many preachers say that γάπη is a God-like love which is selfless and unconditional, while φιλία is a human, brotherly love.  But this distinction cannot really be supported from Scripture.  In passages like John 21:15-17, Jesus uses both terms within the same context interchangeably.  So the Greek doesn’t help us much in attempting to define what love is.

Looking to our modern, cultural understandings of love isn’t much help either.  In our modern culture we have a very warped idea of what love is.  Love is often equated with attraction or physical intimacy and clearly, from a biblical perspective, this is not central core of love. 

Often I hear that love described as being something which is not so much an emotion, but an action.  In other words, people will often say that love isn’t what you feel… it is what you do.  But we can’t support that from Scripture either.  Love is clearly tied to our affections in Scripture.  Love is what we feel… yet it is also more than just a feeling.  Love is a feeling that leads to action on behalf of another.  A good example of this is found in John 14:15

John 14:15 (ESV) – 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that love is keeping His commandments.  No.  Love doesn’t equal obedience.  This is a conditional statement.  Love results in keeping His commandments.  Love is a feeling of affection which leads to action on behalf of another.

Let me give you another example of this…

Matthew 6:24 (ESV) – 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Notice that love is not equated with service here.  Love is equated with devotion (ντέχω).  But even more importantly, love is contrasted with hating (μισέω) and despising (καταφρονέω), both of which are a negative affection or emotion directed toward someone or something.  The point Jesus is making here is… do you have greater affection for God or for money?  This affection… this love will lead to action on behalf of the thing you love.  If you love money… you will serve money.  If you love God… you will serve God.

Although this is far from exhaustive, this should give us a sense of what it means to love.  Biblically, love is an emotion which leads to action on behalf of another.

Now, back in Matthew 22, Jesus is talking about the responsibilities which are ours as a result of our relationship with God and the great and foremost responsibility is love God.  But how are we supposed to do this?

Knowing the biblical context from which Jesus is answering this lawyer is helpful here.  Jesus is not answering this question out of a vacuum.  He is quoting from the Old Testament when He answers this Pharisee.  He is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and to really unpack the significance of what Jesus is saying here, we need to turn back there and pick up the full context…

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV) – 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

This passage is part of a Jewish prayer which is commonly called the Shema in Judaism (Deut 6:4-5, Deut 11:13-21 and Num 15:37-41.)  It is considered by orthodox Jews to be the most significant theological passage in the Old Testament.  Pious Jews in the 1st century would pray the Shema twice everyday, once in the morning and once at night (Wessell, Expositors Commentary, Mk 12:29-30.) 

Part of this prayer is the explicit command to love God with all our heart, soul and might.  But notice how the command to love God is preceded by a summary statement about who God is.  This is crucial, because we cannot love someone we do not know.

Notice what this text says about God.  “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one.”  Literally in Hebrew, “Yahweh is our Elohim.  Yahweh is one.”

Names are very important in Scripture.  Names are more than simply a label attached to someone.  A name describes what a person is like.  Here… God is described by two different names which describe different aspects of His character.

1)      First, He is called Yahweh – the God who is.  This name of God speaks of His unchanging nature.  God always was, always is and always will be.  It speaks of His eternal faithfulness to deliver His people in their times of need.  He is eternally faithful and always keeps His promises.  Therefore, this is the name by which He is known to His special, chosen people in the Old Testament.

2)      Secondly, He is called Elohim. This speaks of God in creation and judgment.  This speaks of His power and sovereign authority.

These two names depict God as mighty and powerful… as ruling over all things… setting the standards of the universe and passing judgment over all things.  Yet He is also seen as a personal, caring and promise keeping God who acts on behalf of His people.  He is a God who forges relationships and always fulfills His promised responsibilities within those relationships.

Then, after speaking of the name of God, there is a specific mention of the nature of God.  God is One.  There is only one God… there is none like Him.  No other God exists in heaven and earth.  Only Yahweh… the personal God who forges relationships and keeps His promises… who is Elohim… the Creator, Sustainer and Judge of the universe.

But there is something else which is explicit but often overlooked here in Deuteronomy 6.  It is a tiny, 3-letter word.  In fact, in Hebrew it is nothing more than a suffix attached to a noun.  But it is of the utmost importance.  It is the word “OUR.”  God is a personal God who enters into relationship with people.  He is OUR God and we are HIS people. 

This summary statement regarding God precedes the command to love God.  Before we can love Him… we must know Him.  And the only way to know God in this kind of personal relationship is through Jesus Christ.  Jesus made this clear when He said, “…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 (ESV).)  We come to God through Jesus Christ.  He alone can reconcile sinners like us with God.  In Him alone can we come to know and understand our great God.  This must precede any effort to love God.  Apart from Jesus, we can never fulfill this responsibility.  After all, how can we love a God we don’t even know?

Do you know God? 

Do you know what He is like? 

Do you know that there is only one God? 

Do you have a relationship with the God the universe through Jesus Christ?

Is He your God?  Are you one of His people?

We can’t really love someone we don’t know.  We can’t love someone we don’t have a relationship with.

Every relationship has responsibilities attached to it… and Jesus says that the primary responsibility for those who have a relationship with God is to love Him and, as we see both here in Deuteronomy 6 and back in Matthew 22, we are not to simply love Him a little bit.  Jesus says that we are to love the Lord our God “with all our heart, and with all our soul and with all our mind” and Mark adds in Mark 12:30, “with all our strength.  What does this mean?  Let’s take it apart phrase by phrase.

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart.  The heart (καρδία and לֵבָב) is the seat of the emotions and will.  In other words, we are to make a conscious choice to love God.  Our innermost being is to be directed toward loving God.

We are to love the Lord our God with all our mind.  The mind (διάνοια) is rational part of our being.  It is where our thought life takes place.  We are to love the Lord our God with all our thoughts… all our meditations… all our daydreams.  Everything that takes place in our head should be centered around loving God.

We are to love the Lord our God with all our soul.  The soul (ψυχή and נֶפֶשׁ) is often translated “life” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and it refers to all that a person is, both in the mind, body and spirit.  This speaks of all that we are as human beings.

The point Jesus seems to be making is that those who have a relationship with God are to love Him with all that we are as human beings.  Every aspect of our being is to be committed to expressing the deepest of affection toward Him.  And we are to be absolutely committed to this, because we are to love Him with all our “strength” (σχύς) or might( מְעֹד.)  This implies commitment… zeal… passion.  Everything that we are is to be absolutely… passionately committed to loving God.

What does this look like?  I know this illustration fails on some levels, but I can’t think of a better way to express what this looks like than to compare it to a man who is pursuing the woman of his dreams.  I remember very well when I first fell in love with my wife.  She was all I thought about.  She was all I cared about.  I was constantly devising ways to be around her and when we were apart I was looking for ways to call her on the telephone.  My thoughts… my affections… pretty much all of my life centered around pursuing her.  I am not unique in this… this is what we men do when we truly love a woman.  We pursue here with all that we are, because we love her with all that we are as man.  This is how we love with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

Does this describe the way in which we love God? 

Do we think about Him often? 

Does He occupy the center place of our thoughts and affections? 

Are we constantly seeking contact with Him? 

Is our life focused around Him above all else?

Isn’t this what Jesus says is the great and foremost responsibility of a Christian???

There is a tendency in our culture today toward segmentalizing every aspect of our lives.  When we go to work, we tend to be focused exclusively on being productive and being successful in our career.  When we are with our families, we tend focus only on being with them and doing whatever is necessary to fulfill our responsibilities to them.  When we are enjoying sports, we focus on the game at hand. 

In this segmented life, God often gets pushed to the periphery.  Let’s face it… most of us don’t really spend that much time thinking about Him.  We push Him off to the side of our existence.  Of course we think about God once in a while.  Many of spend some time thinking of God every morning in our quiet times as we read Scripture and pray.  Of course, we think about God for an hour a week at church.  But how much does He influence the rest of our lives?

Jesus says that every aspect of our being… every aspect of our life should express a heart overflowing with love toward God.  When we go to work… we should work in such a way that we are expressing love toward God as we work.  When we spend time with our families… we should spend time with them in such a way that we are expressing love toward God.  When we wash our cars… we should wash our cars in such a way that we are expressing love to God with all that we are.  When we lay down to sleep at night… we should express the love we have for God in the way in which we nod off to sleep.

If we are honest with ourselves, none of us love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  That is why we need a Savior… because to love to anyone or anything more than God is sin.  That is why Jesus died on the cross, so that we might be forgiven for the way in which we fail to love God as we should.

But we cannot allow our failure to love Him as we should to stop us from striving to love Him more.

So how do we do this?  Let me offer us four suggestions in how to apply this teaching of Jesus to our lives…

1)      Seek to know God

We can’t love someone we don’t know.  We can’t have a relationship whatsoever with someone we don’t know.  Everything we have seen here today assumes that we already have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  If we are not trusting in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then none of this matters, because ultimately, we don’t know God.

Once we have come to God through Jesus, then we begin the long process of getting to know God more and more.

How do we do this?  Through reading His Word and prayer.  Through spending time in gospel fellowship with God’s people… reminding one another who our God is and what He has done for us.  We grow in our knowledge of God through simply trusting in Him and living each day in His presence.

If you want to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength… then strive to know Him better.

2)      Cultivate love for God by constantly reminding yourself of how much He loves you.

Love tends to produce love.  Babies aren’t born loving their parents.  Babies come to love their parents through experiencing the love which their parents show them.  This is true in our relationship with God as well. John expresses this so clearly in his first epistle…

1 John 4:10 (NASB95) – 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

We don’t love God naturally.  Love for God isn’t hardwired into our being.  We love Him only because He loves us first.

If you want to love God more, then spend time meditating on how God has loved you.  Remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Meditate on the cross.  Preach the gospel to yourself every day.  Remind yourself that you are a sinner, but God has loved you and sent His only Son, Jesus, so that you might be saved from your sin and saved to an eternal life in relationship with Him.  Remember the gospel!!!  Nothing melts the heart of stone like knowing how God has shown us His love.  Nothing.

3)      Constantly strive to put God at the center of everything you do.

This is perhaps the hardest thing of all to do.  How do we love God at work?  At school?  In our homes?  With our families?  In the activities we enjoy?  In the movies we watch?  In our thought life?  Is God central to all that we do and think and feel?  Do we strive to make Him so?

How do we do this?  Try to reflect something of the character of God in all that you do.  We are created to magnify Him… to make Him seen in the midst of this world.  Strive, to the best of your ability, in the strength which God provides, to show to the world that you belong to Him… and that you love Him, because He first loved you.

4)      Finally, when we fail, which we all do… repent and trust in Jesus to forgive your sin. 

None of us succeed in living up to this responsibility.  This is sin.   And the answer to sin is Jesus.  The Christian life is a constant life of repentance and faith.  Daily we must confess that we have not loved God the way that we should and we must repent of our selfishness and pride and unloving attitudes and turn to Jesus, with full expectation that He will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I Jn 1:9.)  Repent… believe… and strive to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Because this is the foundation upon which all Christian responsibility hangs. 

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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (ESV) – 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

                These are Paul’s final words to Timothy, his beloved son in the faith (II Tim 1:2.)  Paul knows that his time is short and that death looms on the near horizon (II Tim 4:6.)  So what final words of advice does he have for Timothy?

1)      He reminds Timothy of the nature and power of Scripture.  It is breathed-out by God Himself.  It comes from within God and is the means by which God brings life and salvation to sinners.  It equips the Christian for every good work.

2)      Then he tells Timothy to ground his ministry in this very same, inspired Word of God.  “Preach the Word, both in season and out of season.”  In other words, preach it all the time!  Wield the Word of God as a surgeon does a scalpel, cutting away that which is harmful (i.e. “reprove, rebuke.”)  Use it as a means of building up those who hear it preached (i.e. “exhort.”)  Preach the Word with all patience.

3)      But it won’t be easy.  The people won’t always want to hear it.  They will want to be entertained (i.e. “itching ears.”)  They will wander away and listen to those who will tell them what they want to hear (“they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…”)

4)      But Timothy is to think clearly and endure the hardship.  He is to continue to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (i.e. “do the work of an evangelist”) and fulfill his ministry.

Why would Paul end his life with these words of advice for Timothy?  Apparently this is important.  And apparently, this is not always easy to do.  The temptation will be great for Timothy to turn aside from preaching the Word to tickling ears.  He will endure hardship if he preaches the Word.  But there is no other true ministry, for it is the God-breathed Scriptures alone which are the means by which God brings salvation and holiness in the life of believers.

                How often do we as preachers forget this?  How often are our sermons drawn from the headlines?  Or the hottest movie?  Or the most recent pop-psychology trends?  How often are we more concerned about entertaining the congregation than preaching the Word of God to them?

                Paul charges Timothy in the presence of God and Christ Jesus to “preach the Word”?  Is our charge as preachers any less?

                Are you a pastor?  Then preach the Word… in season and out of season… no matter what the people want.  Endure the hardship and fulfill your ministry.  Remember… you are performing your ministry in the presence of God and Christ Jesus who will one day judge the quick and the dead…

                Are you a church member?  Then expect your pastor to preach the Word.  Encourage him to feed you regularly from the God-breathed Scriptures.  Accept no substitute.  For it is through the ministry of the word that you and others will become wise unto salvation and be equipped for every good work.

                This post was spurred on by a recent article by Dr. John Piper over at the Desiring God blog.  It is worth your time to read it.  You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2008/3243_In_Honor_of_Tethered_Preaching/ .

 

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on Sunday, September 14, 2008.

Do you believe in hell?  It seems like very few people do anymore.  And no one… virtually no one thinks they will end up there.  A study conducted in 2003 showed that less than 1% of Americans think they might go to hell.  Could it be that is because no one talks about hell much anymore? 

I remember as a kid hearing pulpit pounding, fire and brimstone sermons by old Baptist preachers on a regular basis.  And I remember being scared to death (not literally) that I might go to hell.  But no one seems scared anymore.  Could that be… at least in part… because no one talks about hell anymore?

Today we come to a passage of Scripture which contains probably the best-known and most-loved verse in all the Bible… 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.” (Jn 3:16.)  It is not a verse which we typically associate with hell, but that is probably because we don’t think through the whole context of this verse.

What does this passage really teach us about God?  What does it teach us about ourselves?  What does it teach us about Jesus?  What does it teach us about heaven and hell?

John 3:16-21 (ESV) – 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Now in most of our Bibles this is in red letters, which implies that these words were spoken by Jesus.  However, most scholars don’t think that is actually the case.  It is clear that somewhere in this passage, the Apostle John stops recording the words of Jesus to Nicodemus and he begins offering some commentary on Jesus’ teaching.  For technical reasons, I think John’s commentary begins right here.  For example, Jesus never speaks of Himself as “the only Son” (τν υἱὸν τν μονογεν).  However, Jesus does speak of Himself as “the Son of Man” (τν υἱὸν το νθρώπου) as in verse 14.  Therefore it seems like what follows here are the explanatory words of John and not a quotation from Jesus.

Either way… whether these are the words of Jesus or the words of the inspired Apostle John are irrelevant… because this is the very Word of God to us.

As we look at this passage today, we are going to see three things…

                                                            1)      We will start with some bad news…

                                                            2)      Then we will see some good news…

                                                            3)      Then we will see how we should respond to this news.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish…” (Jn 3:16.)  “Perishing.”  We don’t talk much about “perishing.”  It’s kind of an old fashioned word.  The Greek term is πόλλυμι (pronounced apollumi) and it means to be destroyed… or to be lost… or to disappear.  Most importantly… it means to come under the judgment of God for our sin.  It speaks of the consequences of our sinfulness.

Over and over again, Scripture affirms that “perishing” or “death” is the consequence of sin…

Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV) – 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Ezekiel 18:4 (ESV) – 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

Romans 6:23 (ESV) – 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Death.  Destruction.  Perishing.  This is the consequence of our sin.  That is what John is talking about here. 

But what is this perishing like?  To answer that question we have to look beyond this passage of Scripture and see how God describes the consequences of sin elsewhere. 

In Matthew 25:41, Jesus says that those who perish… those who face the judgment of God for their sin… will be cast into a place “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  It is a place where the fire never goes out… a place prepared for demonic beings… but used by God to judge sinful people as well.

Several other passages describe for us in detail what the experience of “perishing” will be like…

Revelation 14:10-11 (ESV) – 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Isaiah 66:24 (ESV) – 24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”  (also Mark 9:43-48.)

The imagery here is of an ancient garbage dump.  There was a valley outside of Jerusalem called Gehenna, where the city’s garbage was burned.  This was also the place where the dead bodies of those who were unclean or foreigners were disposed of.  I know this is disgusting, but it is important to understand the imagery here, so that we can grasp the full significance of what it means to perish.  As the bodies decomposed, they would be infested with maggots… worms.  But eventually the bodies would decay completely and the maggots would die.  But not here.  Those who perish will be always decomposing.  They will be forever falling apart at the seams… deteriorating always… because their worms will never die.

In Matthew 8:12, Jesus describes this experience as being cast into “outer darkness.”  This probably implies loneliness.  Those who perish will not be comforted by others in their torment.  They will suffer alone. And this suffering will be great.  In this same verse, Jesus says that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for those who are perishing.  How much pain must you be in to grind your teeth forever and ever?

This suffering… this agony… this “perishing” will never end.  Not only do most of these passages I just mentioned speak of the eternality of “perishing”, but this passage here in John does as well.  Notice how “perishing” is contrasted with “eternal life.”  If the life described here goes on forever… then this perishing must last forever as well.

Let the full weight of this sink in.  This is awful.  But this is what we all deserve.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.)  We have all failed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength.  None of us love our neighbor as ourselves.  We have all lied and stolen.  We have all coveted what others have.  We are all sinners.  And the wages of that sin is death (Rom 6:23)… perishing.  This is what we all deserve.  I deserve it.  You deserve it.  Our spouses deserve it.  Our children and grandchildren deserve it.

And that is clear here in this passage.  In verse 16 we see that if God had not intervened and sent His only Son into the world… we would all perish.  In verse 18 we read “whoever does not believe in Him… meaning in Jesus… he is condemned already.”

That describes all of us naturally.  None of us are born believing in Jesus.  As we saw last week, unless there is a supernatural work of God causing us to be “born again” then we cannot even “see” the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3.)  Unless God does something miraculous in us… we can’t even begin to believe in Jesus.  Naturally… we are all condemned already.  We are all on our way to perishing.

This is all very bad news.  But don’t blow it off.  Let it sink in.  Because unless we realize the full depth of the bad news… we won’t really appreciate the beauty and grace of the good news.  The diamond never appears as beautiful until we see it held up against a black backdrop.  It is only when it is contrasted with a dark background that the true brilliance of the diamond shows forth.  The same is true here.  Until we see the blackness of the bad news, we cannot fully see the beauty of the good news.

And the good news is that “God so loved the world…  This is an amazing statement.  God loved the world.  Not just a few people in some remote part of the world.  Not simply Jewish people… but all types of people… men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  God’s love extends out to all.

But even more amazing is that God loves the type of people found here in the world.  You see, when John speaks of the “world” it is always a reference to the sinfulness and rebelliousness of human beings.  The world hates God and wants nothing to do with Him (Jn 15:18.)  Yet God loved the world anyway.  And this is no mere emotion.  It wasn’t that God simply had some warm, fuzzy feelings about the world.  No!  His love for the world resulted in Him taking action on behalf of the world.

Out of love for the world, God “gave His only Son…  His “only Son.”  This speaks of the uniqueness of Jesus.  This speaks of the preciousness of Jesus.  God didn’t just give an angel or a cherubim or seraphim.  God gave the only One like Him… His only Son… very God of very God.  God gave His beloved Son on behalf of people who had sinned against Him and rejected Him.

What does it mean that He gave His only Son?  Verse 17 tells us… “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  He gave Jesus by sending Him into the world… not in order to condemn the world, but He sent Jesus to bring salvation.  Jesus Himself makes this clear in Luke 19:10

Luke 19:10 (ESV) – 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The interesting thing in that verse is the word “lost.”  It is the Greek verb πόλλυμι (pronounced apollumi)… the same word we have here translated “perish.”  He came find the ones who were perishing… those who were already condemned… and to save them.  God didn’t send Jesus on a “seek and destroy” mission.  He sent Him on a rescue mission.  This was a mission that would ultimately cost Him everything, for Jesus said…

Mark 10:45 (ESV) – 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A price had to be paid to save us from our condemnation.  We might say… someone had to pay our fine.  Some had to “perish” for us.  And Jesus is that Person.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV) – 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

God entered human existence in His only Son, Jesus, so that He could perish on our behalf and we could be saved from perishing.

But the good news is even more than the fact that we can avoid “perishing.”  No.  We can have “eternal life”.

What does it mean to have eternal life?  It is the exact opposite of “perishing.”  Whereas perishing is experiencing torment forever and ever as a consequence of our sin… eternal life is experiencing the blessings of God forever and ever.

One of the most beautiful descriptions of this anywhere in the Bible is found in Revelation 21:3-5

Revelation 21:3-5 (ESV) – 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

This is eternal life. 

1)      It is being with God forever.  It is Him being our God and we being His people for all time.  Despite our sin… it is being reconciled to God and being in His presence forevermore.

2)      It is no longer experiencing pain.  God will wipe way every tear.  There is no more mourning or crying or pain.

3)      It is being set free from the power of death.  No longer will we live in fear of death.  Because it is gone.

4)      And so will be all “the former things”… everything that is fallen and broken and sinful on this earth.  It will all be no more.

5)      Because all things will be made new.  Including us.  Our bodies and souls will be made new and incorruptible (I Cor 15:52-53.)  Whereas those who perish will be deteriorating for eternity… we will be imperishable… incorruptible… perfect in every way forever and ever.

This is good news!  Despite our sin, we can escape from perishing and be freely given eternal life, but only if we respond rightly to this news. How must we respond to this?  We must “believe” in Jesus.  This is by far the most important verb in this whole passage.  It occurs 4x here.  In verse 16, it is those who believe in Jesus who will not perish, but have eternal life.  In verse 18, it is those who believe in Jesus who are not condemned, while those who do not believe in Him are already condemned.

This is more than simply believing facts about Jesus.  It means to actively trust in Him.  It means to come to Him in faith and rely upon Him to save us.  This is made clear in verses 19-21.  Light has come into the world and this Light is Jesus.  But naturally people love darkness rather than light, because our deeds are evil.

Picture with me for a moment being alone in the middle nowhere.  It is night.  It is dark.  There are no man-made lights anywhere.  The night sky is veiled in clouds.  There is no moon.  There are no stars.  There is no light period.  You are surrounded by inky blackness.  You can’t even see your hand in front of your face.  You are alone and covered in blackness.

Then suddenly you are bathed in brilliantly white light.  The light is streaming down from a helicopter overhead and you are completely illuminated by this light.

Is this good news?  Or bad news?

It depends on your situation.  If you are lost in the wilderness, then this is good news.  It means you have been rescued!  You are saved!  This is good news.

But if you have just escaped from prison and are on the run for crimes you have committed… then this is bad news.  You have been found!  You will not escape.  There is nothing but an even greater judgment awaiting you.

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (Jn 3:20.)

Those who are still actively living in sin… running from God… seeking their own will, rather than the will of their Creator… they will run from the Light.  They will flee from the presence of Jesus.  Because they don’t want to be caught.  They are trying to escape.  They don’t want their sin exposed.  They don’t want to face the humiliation of repentance.  They would rather run.

But you can’t really run from God.  One day everyone will stand in His presence and all wicked deeds will be exposed and we will perish forever, unless we humbly come to Jesus in faith, repenting of our sin and pleading with God to forgive us because Jesus died for our sin.

This is what it means to “do what is true.”  This refers to responding rightly to the Truth… which is Jesus Himself.  Those who come to the True Light…Jesus… know the truth about who they are… that they are sinners.  And they know the truth about who Jesus is… that He is the Son of God who was died and rose again for their sins.  And they act appropriately.  They repent of their sins and trust in Jesus.  This is what it means to “do the truth.”

Those who know the truth and respond rightly come running into the arms of Jesus… “so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Notice carefully what this says.  This person comes boldly into the light… not for his own gain… but so that everyone can see what God has done in Him.  In the final analysis, we all deserve to perish forever because of our sins and if you are saved… if you are trusting in Jesus alone to save you… then one day it will be clearly seen what God has done in you… to the glory of His love and grace.

It’s no wonder that John 3:16 is one of the most memorized verses in all the Bible.  But it isn’t enough to simply know this verse.  We must understand the truth contained here.

1)      We must understand the bad news… we are sinners who deserve to perish forever.

2)      We must understand the good news… that Jesus is the only Son of God who died for our sins, so that we could be saved and have eternal life… all because God loved the world and sinful people like us in it.

3)      And we must come to the Light… we must repent of our sins and trust in Jesus… and receive the free gift of eternal life.

Notice that there are only two types of people described here… those who are perishing and those who have eternal life.  Those who are condemned and those who are saved.  Those who run from the Light and those who run to the Light.

Which type of person are you?

Are you one of those who is fleeing from Jesus?  Or have you come to Him?

Are you drawing nearer to Jesus… or are you drawing nearer to perishing?

There is a heaven to be gained… and a hell to be shunned.  And where we spend eternity is solely based upon our relationship with Jesus.

Are you trusting in Him?

Is so, then my challenge to you is simple.  Remember these things.  Don’t forget them.  Remember the bad news.  Remind yourself every day that you are a sinner who deserves to perish.  Remember the good news.  Remember constantly how much God loves you and what He has done to save you.  And may your whole life be about others seeing clearly what God has done in you.

 

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