As we continue in Luke’s Gospel, this morning we walk through Luke 21:14-37.
This is the sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The sermon text is: John 3:14-21. The sermon theme is: Let Us Learn About Undeserved Love
Let Us Learn About Undeserved Love
Sometimes the teacher needs to be taught. Years ago I met a poetry professor. It was his job and his joy to teach poetry at a local community college. And since I had just met him, I thought that I would be able to build some bridges by sharing what I learned about poetry. So I told him how I had taken classes on Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Æneid. And I even recited the first couple of lines of those poems for him. And I thought that this would be something that he would be able to appreciate. But instead of finding something in common with him, it did the opposite. It surprised him. It shocked him because he didn’t know Greek or Latin and would never learn them. And yet it was his job to teach these poems. And he realized that he still had so much more to learn about them. There are those times when the teacher realizes that he needs to be taught. And as we walk through these cherished verses in John 3 we meet a teacher who desperately needed to be taught. There is this guy, Nicodemus. He is one of the teachers and professors for all of Israel. But, when he comes to Jesus he realizes very quickly that he is the one who needs to be taught, not Jesus. And we have the great privilege this morning of sitting in on that lesson. We have the great privilege of learning about undeserved love from Jesus, the perfect teacher. And so, in John 3:14, Jesus says these words to Nicodemus: “14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. 16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:14–17 HCSB)
The first thing that Jesus says to Nicodemus is that just as Moses lifted up a snake, so also the Son of Man must be lifted up. And in this conversation, there was no mistake and no miscommunication as to what “lifted up” meant. Being lifted up meant being suspended above the ground in crucifixion.
And if this was difficult for this teacher, Nicodemus to be taught, then what followed next was just as difficult. Jesus doesn’t just say that he would be crucified. He also says that it was necessary that he be crucified. If anyone in the world would have any hope of heaven, then Jesus had to be crucified. What a strange statement to make. Sometimes words are not just enough. Jesus created the universe with words. And those words were powerful. But, according to his Father’s plan, words were not enough. Promises combined with actions are what his Father planned. And because that’s what his Father wanted, they became necessary.
And very quickly then, in the next verse, we see why it was necessary that Jesus be crucified. Jesus had to be crucified because of God’s love for the world. And there are two thoughts there to focus on. First, the love that God has for the world is a self-sacrificing, undeserved love. Second, is the object of the Father’s love. Got loved the world. Two chapters before this John told us that Jesus came into the world but the world did not want him or receive him. The Father’s love was to true and thorough that he would have his Son lifted up and crucified for a world that did not know his Son and did not care for him.
And to make the same point even more so clear, he tells us that the Father gave up his Son for this unbelieving world. How can you begin to understand that sentence? If you have children, you can barely begin to understand these words. Every parent loves his children deeply and truly. But who of us would allow our children to be abducted and abused for people who hated us? That is the sort of love that God has for the world and everyone in it. This morning, along with Nicodemus, we learn about the Father’s undeserved love to us. The Son was lifted up because of us. The Son was given up to save us. But there’s more to learn about undeserved love in these words: “18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. 19 “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.” (John 3:18–20 HCSB)
Nicodemus didn’t just learn about the self-sacrificing, undeserved love that the Father had towards the world. He also learned that the world had a deep and enduring undeserved love toward the darkness. And that answers a question for us. For when we, like Nicodemus, learn that Jesus died for the world, we conclude (and rightly so) that the world’s sin is forgiven. And if the world’s sin is forgiven, then why aren’t all people in this world going to heaven? And there’s your answer. The world has this deep and enduring undeserved love towards the darkness.
Sin is like addiction. The heroine addict knows in one part of his or her brain that taking that drug will only make things worse. But even though that is true, they will still sacrifice themselves and everyone around them for the sake of that drug. It’s undeserved love that the addict has for that drug. The same is true for domestic abuse, isn’t it. Policemen hate to be called in for domestic abuse calls. You go in and you subdue a man who is beating up his wife. And then, just when you you have him on the ground and are just about to handcuff him, what happens? You get hit on the back of the head with a cast-iron frying pan. Why? Because she still loves him. She loves the man who is abusing her.
It is an undeserved love, isn’t it? And this undeserved love doesn’t just dwell in the world’s heart, it also takes action in their hands. Here we are told that they practice wicked things. When you practice or train for something, just think about what is involved in it. If you are trying to run a 5 mile race, what do you do? You plan for it, prepare for it. And when you are done running one day, what to you do the next? You do it again. That is why so many people in the world will not end up in heaven on the last day—because they planned, prepared for and practiced what was evil. They trained themselves in wickedness. And those who have this undeserved love towards the darkness will not come into the light.
We learn so much with Nicodemus, don’t we? We learn about the undeserved love the Father has toward the world. We learn about the undeserved love the world have toward the darkness. But in these words we learn one more lesson: “But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”” (John 3:21 HCSB)
If you just heard about the world’s underved love for the abusive darkness, you might have asked yourself, “how am I different than those in the world—those who love the darkness?” After all, we plan, prepare and practice sin too, don’t we? If we plan, prepare, and practice sin, then how will we ever be in heaven on the last day? And the answer is right here in these words. Our Father doesn’t just show his love to us. He also places his undeserved love in us. Each and every Christian comes into the light. We come into the light so that everyone will see that whatever good we do is done by God. Whatever good you have and do is not from you. It is from God. You have repentance, don’t you? You know what is evil and you hate it. But make no mistake, that didn’t come from you. The gift of knowing what is evil and hating it instead of loving it came from God. You have this joy at knowing that your sins are forgiven because Jesus was lifted up and given up in your place. But that joy didn’t come from you. It was given to you by God through his word. And, throughout your life, you will do good. You will have good thoughts, words and actions. But this is not from you. It is God who gave you a new person inside of you alongside the old person to wage war against it.
All of it—whatever spiritual good you have is God’s work, not yours. And that’s why we are so quick to come into the light. For, on our last day, when our Father says to us, “well done, good and faithful servant” we can gladly call our work good because God is the one who was working in us by his Spirit, through his word, with the gift of faith.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, let us along with Nicodemus learn about undeserved love—the undeserved love the Father shows toward us, the undeserved love the world shows the darkness, and the undeserved love the Father shown in us. Amen.