Sermons to Read Again !
There is nothing quite like sitting down to plan a
sermon and discovering that you are to preach on
one of the most well known verses in the ENTIRE
If you have ever watched sporting events in the
United States, you are bound to have seen many
people in attendance carrying signs labelled JOHN
3:16, the promise that God so loved the world that
he gave his only Son.
When I was at Calvin College in the United States in
January of last year, I was told of a sporting !xture
where the announcers began to snigger and gawk
at a sign one of the spectators held that said John
“He’s got it wrong! they said.
Doesn’t he know it’s JOHN 3:16 not JOHN 3:17…
What an idiot!”
But listen to the words from John 3:17, “For the Son
came into the world not to condemn the world, but
that the world through him might be saved.”
Does that not beautifully sum up the Christian
gospel in its entirety?
John 3:16 is one of the most well-known Bible
verses. But in spite of its popularity and familiarity,
the world thirsts more and more on a daily basis to
know that it is loved by God; the world hungers to
understand what it means that God loves us.
John 3:16, despite its popularity, has done and
continues to do a lot of damage to people. It is a
passage, which can be very easily misinterpreted
and can very easily turn into a very exclusive and
judgemental piece of scripture.
In a recent book called ‘Love Wins’, Rob Bell writes
that as a result of such interpretations of this
passage, “the gospel is diminished to a question of
whether or not a person will ‘get into heaven’, that
reduces the good news to a ticket, a way to get past
the bouncer and into the club.”
It is not a text, in other words, that explains how one
gets to heaven rather than being stuck in the !res of
hell. It is NOT cosmic !re insurance. While some may
see it as comforting to draw a neat line around ‘the
Christian community’ so that people can say ‘so-andso
is a Christian’, this is neither biblically nor
Bell continues with another very powerful point. He
goes on to confront the reader with this question.
How can people go from saying that God loves all,
cares for all, made us all, wants to be a part of
everybody’s lives and, suddenly, when somebody
decides that they are do not believe in God or at
least, not yet that He is going to mutate into some
angry, vengeful God, who is going to cast you to an
eternity in the !ery pits of hell in the blink of an
Is it any surprise that so few young people, when
they hear this passage being explained to them with
this club mentality want nothing to do with God -a
God who if they struggle to believe in will leave
them to perish? Not only that, if they do believe in
Him, what about all their friends? Are they doomed?
Are they being left behind to perish?
It’s a worrying thought… But it is not only young
people suffering as a result of such an interpretation.
I did my !rst placement in North Motherwell, where
Derek Pope, the minister there, was the chaplain to
Hartwoodhill Hospital near Shotts. Derek took me
there once before it was shut down to meet the
residents. One of the men we met didn’t
communicate very much. He was sitting outside a
room being used by the visiting hairdresser for a
haircut with his brother. This man, even if he wanted
to, would not have had a chance to speak over his
brother who spent our entire conversation reciting
bible verses which he saw as how to get into and
stay in the club. How we are all sinners, how God will
do this and that and the next thing. On the way
home, Derek and I discussed this encounter where I
was told something that has stuck with me ever
since. The man who we hoped to try and
communicate with, but couldn’t really get a chance
to because of his brother, had been in Hartwoodhill
for decades. He had given up hope because he had
grown up being made to feel that he was a sinner -
there was no hope for him. He spent his entire life
fearing death because he had been made to feel by
the worshipping community he had grown up in
that he could never reach God’s benchmark…
That experience really hurt me…
Do you remember the video I showed a few weeks
ago about people who didn’t think they would
belong at church? Do you remember the woman
who said ‘If you knew everything that I had done,
you wouldn’t want me?’
There are so many people who !t this category.
So many people hide in the darkness in fear of what
the light will uncover.
What is so important about this is to note that God
hasn’t put them in the darkness, they have placed
themselves there. They have been made to feel that
the darkness is where they belong and must stay…
There are SO MANY PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO THINK
THAT THEY ARE BEYOND THE LIGHT. THAT THEY ARE
BEYOND SAVING. THAT THEY ARE BEYOND THE LOVE
And that too hurts.
In faith, we come before God in our daily walk along
We come before God with our everyday struggles
We come before God aware of our shortcomings
and wrongdoings, in the knowledge that in bringing
these before him we will be forgiven.
Because he loves us.
He loves us unconditionally.
God did not send his Son into the World to condemn
the world, but to save the world through him…
Let’s have another look at John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he have his only son
so that those who believe in him may not perish but
have eternal life….
When John talks about eternal life, this does not
refer primarily to life after death.
Eternal life, for John, begins while we live on earth.
John is talking about a quality of life, and not about
quantity, or what some refer to as ever-lasting life.
Eternal life is participation in God’s life. It is a life
lived intimately in God’s presence. It is a rich and full
life, where hope and joy are present realities. It is a
life so vibrant not even death can extinguish it. In
that sense, it does encompass life after death, but
that is not the main focus of this rich term.
The same can be said for the word “perish.” When
John talks about perishing, being condemned or
judged, he is talking about our experience while we
live on this earth. To perish is to experience being
lost in a profound way.
When we don’t give our hearts to God, when we
choose to live in the shadows because we think we
prefer those deeds that we don’t want exposed to
the light, we experience being lost. We are perishing
right here and now. We judge ourselves by our
actions. And, as I have already said, I won’t push this
to perishing beyond death. That is not our place to
discuss. We can leave that to God, a God whose
grace is ultimately irresistible.
When we have eternal life, we are living in a way that
we are happy for God to see. And that is what I see
as the Church’s task for people of today -to support
people to develop enough con!dence to stand in
the light, showing their deeds before others in
effective ways rather than hiding lights under
This passage in John affirms that grace is the main
message. God, in Christ, came, not to condemn
humanity, but to save it, to bring all the people of
the world wholeness.
John pushes belief beyond just giving our hearts to
something. For John belief is futile unless it issues in
action. If we truly give our hearts to God we will be
obedient to the way of life Jesus modelled. We don’t
do this to earn our salvation. We do it because we
know such obedience helps us experience eternal
life in the here in and now.
The bottom line is this: even when we affirm grace
and stop using belief as a club to make people
choose Jesus, to make people believe exactly like us,
we all still have a choice to make. Will we walk in the
light where joy, ful!lment, and meaning can be
found? Or will we be seduced by the shadows and
the $eeting pleasures to be found there that don’t
!nally make life worth living? Will we remain in the
shadows where it feels safer and less revealing?
I can’t speak for everyone here and I don’t intend to
start. But I do not believe in a judgmental God who
needs, or even wants to punish us for our behaviour,
or our doubts, or our believing the wrong things. I
believe that we are called to give our hearts to a God
who yearns for us to choose the light and the quality
of life found there. And that life is eternal life. That is
the rock solid foundation out of which we make the
choices life offers us.
Though the world did not believe in God,
God believed in the world.
That is still the message today.