Reconciled With The World

  • Reconciled With The World
  • John 3:16-17
  • Brian Brownlow
  • December 21, 2020
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Reconciled With The World

 

 

On this fourth Sunday in Advent, I am excited to continue our series titled Reconciled. This week I had the opportunity to meet with one of our Engage Groups. They were in the 11th chapter of Romans and struggling with some of the passages there. Without getting into the details – which would be a whole other sermon – I will cut to the chase and say that discussion came around to understanding individual verses in light of the larger context around them. While some of the wisdom literature, like Proverbs, do contain individual bits of nuggets on wisdom, how to live, and moral teachings, the Bible is one grand story. A grand story of reconciliation and redemption.

 

In the beginning, God created everything and he created everything good. He created men and women in his image and gave us authority and dominion over the rest of his creation. We are caretakers, stewards of what he has created. He is still in charge. He is God and we are not. However, in his sovereign power over all things he has chosen to give us a measure of free will. The ability to choose right and wrong. The ability to choose him or to reject him. Many of you know the rest of the story. The first human creation chose poorly. We have continued to do that ever since. We do not live in the Garden of Eden. Instead, because of sin, we live in a fallen world. But, because God loves us, he continues to offer us forgiveness and reconciliation. His desire is for us to return to a right relationship with him and he has made that possible through Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

 

The last few weeks Lyndol has given us insight into how God reconciles his people. First, he reconciles us with him. That relationship defines all others. God has created men and women in his image. One is not better than the other. But we rightfully refer to God as Father. Our relationship to our earthly father has a tremendous impact on who we are. Many emotional scars result from father wounds. In the United Methodist Church when you go through the ordination process, you are required to do a psychological evaluation. Part of that is a face-to-face interview of sorts. Another aspect is a written questionnaire. I think there were 200 or so questions and it seemed like every 5th question was some form of, “do you hate your father?” Clearly psychology has recognized the impact of a father on the emotional and psychological well-being of children. We have a Heavenly Father who is always good and never stops loving us. Sometimes our circumstances do not give us the perception that he is good. Being reconciled to God is the first and most important step to spiritual wholeness.

 

Just last week we examined how God is reconciling us with each other. We were created for community and to be together not only as families but also in larger associations such as a church where we are to live with and care for each other. At Christmas time we like to use the phrase Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men. We can never live in peace while still harboring ill will toward others.

 

This morning we are going to talk about how God is reconciling the entire world to himself. The first 2 ways were individual. Being reconciled to God and other individuals. This one is collective. God desires to reconcile the entire world to himself – leaving no one out.

A few moments ago, I said that the Bible is one grand story of God reconciling his creation. God did not suddenly start doing that with the birth of Christ. Throughout the Old Testament we see a merciful God who is slow to anger. A God who relents when his people repent. But make no mistake – from beginning to end – Scripture shows us a God who will not be mocked.

 

I would invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to the book of John. There we are going to examine a passage of Scripture that shows us the fullness of God’s character. Not just one aspect but both his mercy/kindness as well as his holiness. I will be reading from the 3rd chapter verses 16-21.

 

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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. 

John 3:16-21. NIV

 

John 3:16 is perhaps the most recognizable verse in the Bible. There is a group that conducts a poll every year and John 3:16 has never failed to be in the top 5. I sometimes wonder if familiarity has dulled its impact. An author named EW Howe said, “Nothing is wonderful when you get used to it.” I just read the larger context (through verse 21) partly to counter its familiarity but also because it enhances and completes what is being communicated here.

 

In verse 16 there is a key word. Everything hinges on it. That word is LOVE. For God so loved the world…reveals his motivation. It speaks to the heart of God. It’s not sentimental. We are not talking about the plot line for a Hallmark movie. The heart of God wants to reconcile the world to himself so much that he gives a part of himself to make it possible. We know God as three persons in one. The Trinity. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The incarnation, God becoming flesh in the birth of Jesus is an expression of God giving of himself. Immanuel, God with us, is a powerful picture of how much God loves us. Come join us on Christmas Eve. Lyndol is going to be preaching on the idea of God with us in the person of Jesus. It is the greatest expression of love ever and John is telling us that that love is for everyone. No one is excluded. For God so loved…the world. Not all respond, but all are offered. All are loved.

 

Some might say, “isn’t heaven – eternal life – the key part of this passage?” Can I say heaven IS the greatest fringe benefit ever?! Raise your hand if you are looking forward to experiencing eternal life in heaven. It is awesome and I am looking forward to it. God places us here for a reason and we are not to hasten the end of this life. But the eternal life promised through Christ is much better than anything we have here. The problem is our understanding of heaven is often self-referenced. If you are a golfer then heaven is playing the Master’s course at Augusta National every day of the week and hitting a hole-in-one at least once a round.

 

Or, it is like the 3 guys who go to heaven. I don’t know why every one of these stories starts with 3 guys. They are either going to heaven are walking into a bar. I don’t make the rules. Anyway, God informs them that they are not getting in. However, he’s going to give them another chance. In addition to a second chance, he will allow them to change one thing about themselves to make it easier the second time around. The first guy says I want to be 100 times smarter. God tells him that is a good choice, makes him 100 times smarter, and BOOM sends him back. The second guy says I want to be 1,000 times smarter. Again, God commend him for choosing wisely and, BOOM sends him back 1,000 times smarter. The third guy arrogantly states that he was always the smartest guy in the room and definitely wants to be smarter than the other two idiots that just went back so he chooses to be 1,000,000 times smarter. God says okay, and BOOM, sends him back as a woman.

 

I am not sure why I told you that except for the fact that about half of you are going to leave here thinking, “Wow, that was great sermon!” Of course, the flipside is the other half of you are thinking, “Hmmmph…I don’t think I like that!”

 

The point is the promise of eternal life – heaven – is not about my mansion in the sky or smart I’ll be but about being restored, reconciled to God. THAT is heaven.

 

Verse 17 is often neglected. Maybe we stop at 16 because it has such a great ending. Whoever believes in me would have everlasting life. It is an amazing promise for those who have faith in Jesus Christ – amen! We all want to go to heaven. I am going to suggest that verse 16 is incomplete without verse 17. In many ways they are two sides of the same coin. You really cannot have one without the other.

 

For God did not send his Son to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him. The key word in verse 16 was love. There are 2 key words in this verse: condemn and save. They stand together as opposites for emphasis. The Son (Jesus) was not sent to condemn the world because that is not God’s heart and it never has been. He was sent to save the world because that is the heart of God.

 

Why was the incarnation necessary? Why did Jesus have to not only be born but to die and be resurrected? Well, we live in a fallen world. There is sickness, death, and loss all around us. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and political unrest. Respect for each other and trust for authority seems to have gone out the window. We need restoration. We need reconciliation. We need to be reconciled to God as individuals. We need to be reconciled to each other. We need God to be reconciled with all of creation.

 

Want to hear some good news? What we need is what he wants. Why doesn’t he just fix it you may ask? Why doesn’t he just reconcile these things by waving his hand? Remember, at creation he gave us a measure of free will. The ability to choose right and wrong. The ability to choose him or reject him. He sent his Son to save the world and it is a free gift, but we do have to accept it by faith. 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.

 

All will die but not all will perish. Our bodies were not made to last forever. Everyone will die but those who believe in faith that Jesus was dead, buried, and resurrected will spend eternity reconciled with God in his presence. Romans 10:9-13 echoes this for us.  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The whole world is offered reconciliation through Jesus Christ. All we have to do is accept it by faith. He does not send us back to try again until we finally get it right. Hopefully, you took that silly joke I told earlier for what it was. Ridiculousness.

 

John is not done. In verse 18 he reminds us that the same God who is kind, merciful, generous and slow to anger is also infinitely holy. He is not to be trifled with. His motivation, his heart is not to condemn. It is to save. But those who reject him and turn their hearts towards evil will suffer loss. This is not a Hallmark movie. John gives us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Jesus came to reconcile the world to himself. But for those who reject him and refuse the offer of faith by embracing evil in their lives will spend eternity apart from him.

 

Beginning in verse 19 John gives us what he calls “the verdict” and it is a hard dose of reality. This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people 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 their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

 

The current condition of the world is one of being lost. We know that from our own experience. Scripture only confirms what we already know regarding the state of the “world.” There is evil all around us. If we are honest, we have to admit that at times we participate in some of it. When our flesh rises up in us, we can actually feel the darkness. We know that something is not right when we are separated from God. Spiritual darkness becomes very tangible in those times. All of us know what that darkness looks and feels like.

 

John begins his gospel account like this: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  The promise of God is that the light of Jesus always overcomes the darkness.

 

I know most of you are aware that, from a physical standpoint, there is no such thing as darkness. You cannot add darkness. You cannot make something dark. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Light is energy. It has physical properties and is a tangible substance. Darkness is simply what we observe – or perhaps I should say don’t observe – when there is no light. I can add light to a room. I can turn on the lights but the only way the room becomes dark is to turn off the light. God’s word says spiritual light and darkness operate the same way. I understand evil is real; however, the word tells us that evil can only succeed when the light is not present. The spiritual light of the world – Jesus Christ – always overcomes the darkness. The darkness can only prevail when we turn away from the light of Jesus Christ. When we refuse to be reconciled to him.

 

I am going to guess that everyone listening to this knows how to turn on a light switch. You know how to make physical darkness scurry? Turn on the light! Shine the energy and power of light into a space and the darkness goes away. Darkness can never push back the light. You can turn on the light switch but the darkness can’t fight it. There is no power in the darkness. Darkness can only exist when the light is either not turned on or shielded and obscured.

 

Flipping a light switch is easy. Is there a spiritual light switch? Well, yes there is. It’s called faith. Not just a common everyday “I believe in something” kind of faith. It is faith that the Son of God came in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived, he died, he was buried for 3 days, and then raised from the dead. Christ’s defeat of physical death gives proof that Jesus can overcome and defeat spiritual death. It is the promise that he is the light of the world. And the darkness cannot overcome him. God wants to reconcile the entire world to himself. That is his desire. That has always been his desire. That can happen when we begin to shine the light of Christmas into a world of darkness.

 

The Bible is a grand story of reconciliation. It’s the story of light and its climax is Christmas. Not a commercialized Christmas of gift giving and food. Christmas that proclaims the light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it. Brothers and sisters, you are the light bearers. Jesus is the light. You and I have no light of our own but by faith we carry the light of the world. God’s desire is to reconcile the world to himself. He has chosen to use you and me. You get to flip the switch. Turn on the light everywhere you go. Tell people the story of how Jesus destroyed the darkness in your life. Give them an example of your own testimony. Be willing to share in faith the darkness you’ve experienced in order to encourage and give someone hope that they can be reconciled to God himself because his heart is to ultimately reconcile the entire world through Jesus.