Good News of Jesus in a Nutshell

Published: Monday, 12 March 2018

PeanutThis sermon was presented by Geoff Pound at the Ashburton Baptist Church on 11 March 2018. This occasion was only one week after the funeral of the Rev Dr. Billy Graham so the service and the sermon had several references to his life and ministry. The sermon manuscript is followed by questions for personal reflection and group study.

Scripture Reading: John 3: 14-21

After last Sunday’s Vietnam-flavoured service, we went into Melbourne’s inner city. Watching people flow into Flinders Street station, it seemed a United Nations. People dressed in burqas, saris and turbans. Diners eating Japanese sushi, croissants from the French-styled café, Baguettes, people snacking on Spanish donuts and two Indian guys sharing some French fries.

We went to St Michael’s Church for the Welsh festival of music, the Gymanfa Ganu. Owain Jones and Rhys Parry were singing with their choirs. The conductor alternated between Welsh and English and we sang songs from Australia, Wales, England, the United States and Sweden.

What an international world we live in! Into such an arena we hear Jesus saying today:

“For God so loved the world

John 3:16

A person recently gave me the latest copy of the New Testament produced by Gideons International. This group is dedicated to putting the Scriptures into the hands and minds of people.

In addition to directing people to verses of Scripture that address common situations like anxiety, anger, perplexity and conflict, it translates this verse—John 3:16—into 38 different languages. Despite our languages and cultural differences this verse points up the Gospel’s universal appeal. This verse contains the essence of the Gospel. John 3:16 is the good news of Jesus in a nutshell.

“For God so loved the world…”

Jesus spoke about building his church. His followers wrote about worshipping as a church, caring for the church and service with the church.

The New Testament writers pictured the church as a flock, a building, a bride and an army but this verse lifts our horizons. God isn’t just interested in the church. God’s concern is for the world. Our songs need to capture God’s love for the world. Our prayers must embrace God’s heart for the world. Our worship must enlarge our vision of the world. Our ministries must equip us for life in this world.

“For God so loved the world…”

When we think about the vastness of the world, we can feel so small. When we think about the complexity of the world, we can feel paralyzed. When we think of the problems of the world, we can feel despondent.

Jesus says when God thinks about the world, God is moved to love. If only we could grasp the newness and the freshness of God’s response to the world.

So many teachers and thinkers have presented the greatness of God, the vengeance of God, the judgement of God and the anger of God. But now Jesus is expressing the love of God towards the world.

For God so loved the world.

Have you noticed how many people often start a sentence with the word ‘so’? ‘So’ is the new ‘Um’ or ‘like’. The old-style teachers of grammar told students never to start a sentence with a conjunction (a joining word) such as ‘but’ or ‘so’ but that’s gone out the window.

You ask the person at the computer shop why your laptop is running slowly and they say, “So, Macs have two kinds of disk permissions…”

Mark Zuckerburg is interviewed about his company and he says[1]: “So, Facebook is not one thing…” Two sentences later he says: “So, what we want to do is to build a pipeline of experiences for people to have.”

Jesus uses the word ‘So’ in a different way.

“For God so loved the world…”

He’s wanting to show not only that God loves but the extent of God’s love. He’s emphasizing the degree of God’s love. There’s no comparison.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”

Instead of looking at the world with resignation and despair, God looks at the world and God is loving. God looks at the world and God is giving. And the measure of God’s love is seen in the gift of God’s son—to live as one of us, to speak words of grace and truth, the gift of his presence, the gift of his death, the gift of his resurrection and the gift of his spirit.

If only we could look at the world and show this love.

If only we could live in the world and share this love.

Like the ocean, the world that God loves is so immense, so unfathomable, so deep, so mysterious but the ocean has a ‘near end’ where we can paddle and swim and row our boat.[2] That place where we can touch God’s love, that ‘near end’ where we can engage with the love of God is supremely in the person of Jesus.

Now Jesus addresses this point of engagement.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes

The old version stated, ‘so that whosoever believes’.

It was powerfully symbolic last weekend when Billy Graham was carried out and buried in a casket made by prison inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.[3] This was a prison where Billy Graham had preached.

Through this wooden symbolism he was not only saying to prison inmates that he valued their workmanship. He was sending to all prisoners and lawbreakers the message that they were valuable, that Christ had lived and died for them. When Jesus was saying, ‘whosoever believes’ he was including prison inmates like the ones who had made his pine plywood casket.

The gospel of Jesus is that we’re not judged by our past.

We are freed to live out a new future.

The Gospel of forgiveness means that we are all given a second chance.

“So that everyone who believes…”

Following the death of Billy Graham many people have spoken up and attributed their entry into the Christian life to a meeting at which Billy Graham preached. As an evangelist Billy Graham took seriously this ‘whosoever believes’, that the Gospel was a gift to be received.

Dr. Graham became known for extending the invitation, ‘Just get out of your seats…the buses will wait for you’. Perhaps it wasn’t clear that the hour of decision must be followed by years of discipleship, that signing a card must be followed by taking up a cross but what was emphasized was the need for us to believe.

Yes, it’s wonderful to start the Christian life, to sign a decision card, to get baptized but it’s even more wonderful to keep on believing.

This call to believe, for us all is a day by day challenge:

“So that everyone who believes and keeps on believing.”

Today we might look back and cherish the hour when we first believed. But where today and this week are we being called to believe? Over what matter, what issue, what task are we being called to trust Jesus with all our energy and commitment?

“So that everyone who believes may not perish but may have eternal life.

Here Jesus speaks about perishing or enjoying ‘eternal life’. Not everlasting life that goes on and on for that could be more and more of the same. But eternal life, a new quality of life that begins now and extends beyond the grave.

The next few verses describe more what this eternal life is all about and one of the big themes is living a life with ‘no condemnation’ (verses 17-18):

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

Those who believe in him are not condemned…”

John 3: 17-18

Despite knowing that we are forgiven for what we’ve done, we may still feel that God condemns us and maybe we feel condemned by others for what we’ve done and this can make us condemn ourselves.

There was a touching tribute given by one of Billy Graham’s daughters at his funeral last Saturday and with this I finish.

Ruth Graham said “Everybody has a Billy Graham story and I’m going to tell my own Billy Graham story because it speaks to the essence of who my father was and is.”[4]

She said, “After 21 years my marriage ended in divorce…” After a little while, she met up with a widower and they began a relationship. Her children didn’t like him but she wouldn’t let them tell her what to do.

Her parents, Billy and Ruth, had some questions about the timing and the speed at which she was entering into another relationship but she said, “They’d never been divorced. What did they know?

So being stubborn she married this man but within 24 hours she knew she’d made a terrible mistake. After five weeks she fled. She was afraid of him. What was she going to do?

She wanted to talk to her mother and father but questions swirled in her mind. She thought, “What was I going to say to them?... I’d been such a failure. What were they going to say to me? ‘We’re tired of fooling with you.’ ‘We told you not to do it.’ ‘You’ve embarrassed us.’”

Ruth said, “You don’t want to embarrass your father. You really don’t want to embarrass Billy Graham.”

Her parents knew she was coming to see them after her second marriage was over. Ruth said as she drove up the drive way her father was outside waiting for her. As she got out of the car she said, “He wrapped his arms around me and said ‘Welcome home.’”

She said, “There was no shame. No blame. There was no condemnation. Just unconditional love.”

She said, “My father showed me that day what God was like. When we come to God with our sins, our brokenness, our failures, our pain and our hurt, God says to us, ‘Welcome Home.’

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ

Yours was a life overflowing with Grace

because it was given from the One who gave everything.

Lord, grant us the simplicity of faith to keep on believing, to keep on receiving

that we might share and show the power and wonder of love to everyone, everywhere.

Amen.

Questions for Personal Reflection and Group Study

Reading

John 3:14-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 

15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 

20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 

21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Icebreaker

“For God so loved the world…” (John 3: 16)

Geoff shared his experience of Flinders Street Station.

What story, what view, what experience epitomizes the international flavor of our city and the world in which we live?

“God isn’t just interested in the church. God’s concern is for the world.”

How might our songs better capture God’s love for the world?

How might our prayers better embrace God’s heart for the world?

How might our worship better enlarge our vision of the world?

How might our ministries better equip us for life in this world?

How might we better grasp the newness and the freshness of God’s response of love to the world?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes

How can we better understand and present this Gospel message that God’s love and invitation is for everyone?

Billy Graham became known for his invitational preaching in calling people to respond.

When did you first respond to Christ or when did God become more than just a name to you?

“It’s wonderful to start the Christian life, to sign a decision card, to get baptized but it’s even more wonderful to keep on believing.”

How do we get the balance right between starting the life of faith and enduring to the end, between making a decision for Christ and living as a disciple of Christ?

“Where today and this week are you being called to believe?

Over what matter, what issue, what task are you being called to trust Jesus with all your energy and commitment?”

What does it mean to experience ‘eternal life’?

Ruth Graham told a story that epitomized the essence of her father. Share a story that helps you understand the grace of God.

 

[1] Christina Sterbenz, ‘So Here’s Why Everyone is Starting Sentences with the word ‘So’, Business Insider, May 13, 2014.

[2] Harry Emerson Fosdick used this image of the ocean and the ‘near end’ where we can engage with the mystery of God. This is quoted in Robert Moats Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet, 399.

[3] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, ‘Trump, Pence and many evangelical leaders mourn Billy Graham at his funeral’, The Washington Post, 2 March 2018.

[4] Sierra Hancock, ‘Ruth Graham Speaks at her father’s funeral: Everybody’s got a Billy Graham story’, Fox Carolina, March 3, 2018.