Sunday, December 6, 2015

I Know the Love of God (John 3.16-17, 1 John 4, Romans 5,8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 6, 2015
Text: John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:9-11; Romans 5:8; 8:35-39

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Some Music Used ::
Gathering Music: The Love of God (Rich Mullins)
Song of Praise: Here I Am to Worship (Hughes)
Special Music (Baptism): Long Love Foresaw this Day (Dawson/Austell)
The Word in Music: Before the Marvel of This Night (Schalk)
Preparation for Communion: What Feast of Love (GREENSLEEVES)
Offering of Music: O Holy Night (Bobby White, piano)
Hymn of Sending: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (STUTTGART)
Postlude: He is Here! (Rick Bean, piano; Royallen Wiley, organ) (Loonis McGlohon)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.


Today is the second Sunday of Advent, a season observed by the Church looking forward to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ. Each week we light a candle on the advent wreath and remember a particular biblical theme as part of that preparation. Last week we talked about hope as we considered God’s promise to send a light into this dark world. We recognize Jesus as that light – the Light of the world.

Today we are on the theme of love, especially God’s love for humanity, seen most perfectly through Jesus. We will look at several biblical passages that explore that theme and also some of the implications for our lives. We will also hear another personal story about our theme as Marlis Littleton shares part of her story with us during the offering.

God So Loved (John 3)

One of the most basic truths of the Christian faith is that God loves us. That’s one reason John 3:16 is so famous and so memorable. But don’t miss the full verse, including the one after it. Taken together, they are a good, concise summary of the Good News and just what it means that “God loves you.”

For God so loved the world – What kind of love are we talking about here? Is it “I want a pony for Christmas; yes you can have anything your little heart desires” kind of love? Is it a warm fuzzies kind of love? The rest of the verse tells us – and teaches us about real love.

He gave His only begotten Son – What could be more precious and costly than that? It would be one thing if God waved a magic wand, spoke a word of power, or zapped a few bad guys. But God’s love was expressed through the Incarnation – through taking on human flesh by being born into this world, to live, suffer, feel, and die as one of us. God gave it all and Jesus paid it all. What God gave, in love, was dear and costly and personal.

That whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life – This wasn’t for ponies or warm fuzzies, but was a life and death situation. God’s love saves us from death and gives us life.

For God did not send the Son…to judge… but [to] save – There is a time and place for judgment, but that’s another thing. God’s love – through Christ – was to save us.

Romans 5 also tells us about how God shows (present tense) His love toward us:

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us – What is that important? It is because God is not sitting back waiting for us to impress Him. We don’t have to be good enough or strong enough or holy enough or faithful enough. God’s love is not conditional in that way. Rather, while we were still sinners – and facing a spiritual and eternal death sentence because of it – God came after us. That’s God’s love! We are reminded of that in baptism, as we have been today with Millie’s baptism!

There is a lot more that could be said about God’s love – what it’s like, how we experience it, and more. But bottom-line, most simply said, God loves you so much that he sent Jesus to experience death so that if you trust him, you might live. That’s what is meant by salvation or being “saved” – God loves you so much he came and comes after you to rescue you.  All the way down, as far and long as it takes, God has come that far and further. God loves you that much.

Love So Strong (Romans 8)

Just how strong is God’s love? Romans 8 does a good job of telling us. I think that’s why those verses are so memorable and encouraging. We often hear them at funerals because we can’t imagine anything stronger than death, yet scripture says that love is stronger than death and these verses declare that very thing and more.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 35,38-39)

I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to explain those verses. I think they speak for themselves. Rather, what I want you to do is hear them, receive them. You may well need to be encouraged by truth like this. It’s at the end of Romans 8 if you want to go look again later. We often feel alone and isolated in life – people disappoint us, jobs go away, our bodies fail, there is war and terror loose in the world. It is easy to lose hope and give in to despair. And to say “God loves you” can just sound like another warm, sentimental dream.

But did you hear the declaration in those verses? That love isn’t a comfy blanket, it is stronger than war, famine, death, the future, and more. Listen one more time and dig into this as God’s truth:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 35,38-39)

We Love Because We Are Loved (1 John 4)

I said earlier that God’s love is unconditional. We do not have to be good or holy or perfect to get it. Rather, God gives us generously and powerfully while we are yet sinners – while we are yet in complete rebellion against Him!

The letter of 1 John explains to us our part in all this. First, John recaps what was in the Gospel of John:

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him…. not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Pretty similar to John 3, but then there is verse 11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

So we are to love like God loves. We don’t do it to impress God or earn His love. We do it because we learned how from God!

How do we know what love looks like – how it behaves, what it does, how it perseveres? We know because we have experienced the unconditional, strong, tenacious, fierce, love of God. And once you’ve been loved like that, and know it, you want to give love like that!

Do you see how that goes? If you are not loving others well, don’t hear a guilt trip that says “do better, try harder.” Instead ask yourself if you really grasp how God has loved you – at your worst, in your darkest, without ceasing. Many of us think we have to earn it and we won’t accept it out of shame. Don’t miss it for that. God loves you; each of you. God loves you; you who push against it. God loves you.

That can change a person. It can even save you. Amen.



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