God’s Love is for All Sinners

A sermon preached on John 3:14-21 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on March 14, 2021.

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In 1977 Rick Hoyt asked his dad, Dick, if they could run in a race together to benefit a student from Rick’s school who had become paralyzed. Something was started that day. Since 1977, team Hoyt has run in well over 1,000 races including over 250 triathlons, 72 marathons, and almost a 100 half marathons. An impressive feat in and of itself, but what makes Team Hoyt truly amazing that they do every single step of every race together. Why? Rick was born with cerebral palsy. He can’t walk and can only communicate through a computer. His dad, Dick, pushes and pulls him through every inch of the race. Rick loves to run – he has said that when he runs, he doesn’t feel handicapped anymore. Of course, it isn’t really Rick doing the running – he trusts in his dad to take him in the right direction and to keep him safe.

I think Team Hoyt is a rather apt picture for us and our faith. Our trust is in God for our hope and forgiveness because there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love or forgiveness. God has done everything needed for our forgiveness in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We simply trust in him for our salvation. And even our faith the Bible teaches us is a gift that God gives us with verses like: “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). And that is the best part of God’s plan of salvation. Your salvation is based purely on objective facts that don’t depend on us and so we can trust them in our good and bad days. Today God reveals the central truth that we cling to and Christianity is entirely built around:

God’s Love is for All Sinners

  1. Revealed in his only Son
  2. Results in a new life

This morning Jesus points us to the objective truths of our salvation in the most famous passage in the entire Bible: John 3:16. John 3:16 is most likely the first the first Bible verse you ever memorized. There was a time that you were likely to see someone holding a sign saying John 3:16 in a sports crowd as some sort of weird outreach program. Let’s take a look at this famous verse and make sure we actually understand what it’s saying because honestly, it’s very easy to give this verse the wrong emphasis.

For 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. God loved the world. Notice who is doing all the action here – this is God’s doing, not ours. God so loved the world. God loves the world out of his mercy. God’s love does not happen because the world is deserving – no God’s love starts in himself because he is love. It’s obvious that God’s love is undeserved when you look at the object of his love – the world. God doesn’t just want us in heaven – he wants every last person in heaven. We’ll come back to this point too because it is so important. God so loved the world that he gave: our salvation, heaven, faith – it’s all a gift from God. What is the greatest gift God gave? God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. He gave us his Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

I think when we say this verse, we consciously or subconsciously put the emphasis on the word “believe.” That’s all I have to do – believe. Those who believe go to heaven, those that don’t believe go to hell. But if that’s where we focus – the focus is on me and my faith and I am nervous if I believe enough. But that’s not where the focus of this verse really is. The emphasis of this verse is not “believe,” the focus is on the words “in him.” Our faith has value because of its object. The object of our faith – Jesus – is powerful and certain because he lived and died for us. We simply trust in him. And that faith is a gift from God too. The Bible says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Just like Rick Hoyt didn’t actually contribute to the races he was in, we don’t actually contribute to our salvation.

And here’s the importance of the fact that God has done all the work for you and the fact that faith is a gift that we don’t have to earn. John 3:16 plainly lays out the teaching that in a seminary classroom we would call objective justification. That teaching is that Jesus died for the sins of the entire world – whether you believe in him or not – Jesus died for you. When Jesus died he won forgiveness for the sins of the entire world – not just believers. It’s an objective fact, regardless if you believe it or not.

Why is this important? It is only because Jesus died for every sin ever that I have confidence in him. If Jesus had only died for the sins of believers, I would be asking “am I one of those believers?” and the focus would all be on me and not him. But Jesus died for everyone – so when I am faced with my sins I simply look to Jesus, not myself. Am I forgiven? Jesus died for the sins of the entire world and I am part of that world. I am certain of my forgiveness because of Jesus.

Jesus won forgiveness for the sins of the entire world. But notice I didn’t say the entire world is going to heaven. Verse 18 explains a bit more the roll of faith in forgiveness: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Jesus objectively won forgiveness for everyone – but the benefits of his forgiveness become mine personally through faith. The way I picture it is – imagine Jesus has won all that forgiveness and has it in this giant water tower. That’s great, but it doesn’t do me any good when it’s up there and I’m down here. It needs to be piped to me. Faith is the pipe that God channels his forgiveness to me. Again this isn’t something I’m doing – the pipe doesn’t do anything, it simply receives the benefits that God sends to me through faith.

Jesus made this point by pointing back to the Old Testament: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” After God had rescued the Israelites from Egypt, they still rebelled against him so God allowed poisonous snakes to enter the camp and people were getting sick and dying. When they repented, God had Moses make a bronze snake and put it up in the center of the camp. Anyone that looked to that snake trusting God’s promise was healed. No one who did this would have said that they healed themselves – God did it for them.

One thing that is confusing is – why didn’t all the Israelites look to the bronze snake for healing? The same is true of Jesus – why don’t more look to him for their spiritual healing? Unfortunately they love the darkness instead: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” You are in the light of Christ. Unbelievers are in the dark. Because of this, you will face obstacles in this life. Believing in Jesus as our Savior from sin means that we must consider any other spiritual idea or “truth” as false. And I’m sure you know what the world calls that viewpoint. Conviction in the truth is now considered to be intolerant and bigoted. The world loves the darkness of sin more than the light of God.

But you are in the light. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).Listen to God’s encouragement to live in the light. Why do we need this encouragement? It can be tiring striving to live in the light surrounded by darkness can’t it? We know it is wrong to stay in the darkness of rebellion against God, but do we like to dabble in the twilight of sin? I can avoid the darkness of obvious public sins but I revel in the twilight of secret sins.

What is the answer to the twilight in our lives? Look back to the light of the world. Jesus comes as the light of the world not just to shine light on the darkness of sin, but he came to the save the world through his life and death. Light also makes it so we can see our way. Jesus and his Word help direct us in our lives to live in the light. The Bible guides us “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). And in the times the world and those dwelling in darkness bristle at us – they are bristling at God, not us.

In the end, we love to follow the Lord because he has saved you. He saved you through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I didn’t say he saved you through anything you did. He saved you all on his own. He will continue to be with you and guide you. Amen