Billy Graham - John 3:16
This is a wonderful place, I'll tell you. We've been here three or four days, and we've fallen in love all over again with Pittsburgh and this area. Now I want us to open our Bibles, if you have a Bible. And if you don't have a Bible bring one with you every night, because we're going to see what the Bible has to say, about the problems that we face in our world and in our city and in our communities. In the third chapter of John and the 16th verse, is the most familiar passage in all the Bible. It's only 25 words. But someone has called it, the Bible in a nutshell. It's the Gospel in miniature. John 3:16.
I was a boy, and every Saturday night my mother always gave us a bath in a great big tin tub. And I remember her saying, I want to teach you something out of the Bible. And she taught us John 3:16. I never forgot it. And other verses as well, that my mother in her faithfulness, out on the farm, in North Carolina, taught her children. And I'm sure that you had parents like that as well that probably taught you some passages in the Bible. So we turn tonight to the third chapter of John. Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus, who was a great religious leader. And Jesus had said, you must be born again, if you are to enter the Kingdom of God. And then, the famous passage, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life". I want us all to say it together. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life".
Millions of people today are depressed, discouraged, around the world. I just read about a politician in South America, who was crying, and he said, the bottom has dropped out of my world. So many people have become suicidal, and suicide is the third greatest cause of death in the United States today. But this scripture says, "For God"... Is there hope at this hour, at this hour that has been called dangerous, and even some people said desperate. Is there hope? Yes. There's hope because there is God. Now, it says in this passage, "For God"... And many people ask me, "Can you prove that there is a God"? I said, no, you cannot prove God in a test tube in a laboratory anywhere, and say I've got God in a mathematical formula.
Helen Keller, as you remember, was blind and deaf and dumb. No one had ever been able to communicate with her. And finally, when they did communicate with her, they mentioned the word God, and she communicated back and said, "I've known him, but I didn't know his name". The scripture says that God is the Creator of the whole universe. He is from everlasting, to everlasting. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth". All of that is created by God. "By the word of the Lord were all the heavens made and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth". Think of it, the breath of his mouth... He created all those stars, and planets, and worlds that we see, through telescopes, and we see on our television, as the astronauts flash their pictures back here.
One of the world's most distinguished scientists, after working for years on the theories of cosmic beginnings, came to the belief that there was a God. Yes, back of this whole universe is Almighty God. And we're here this week to talk about God. And to talk about what he can do in our lives, and our community, and change us. Because he's also a God of love now the Bible teaches that God is not only the Creator, but God is a spirit. God is a spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit, said Jesus to the woman at the well. He's also unchanging. "I am the Lord, I change not". Think of it, all these centuries, all these millenniums. There is no variableness, neither shadow of turning with him. He is just the same as he was a million years ago. He's just the same as he'll be a million years from tonight. God never changes.
The Bible also teaches that God is holy. He's absolutely pure. "Ye shall be holy for I the Lord God am holy", the scripture says in Leviticus 19:2. The scripture says, "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all of his works", Psalm 145:17. And then the scripture says in Habakkuk 1:13, that "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity". The Bible also teaches that God is not only the Creator, and God is not only holy, but he's a God of judgment. The Bible says, "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment". In other words, you're going to die, and that's a judgment, too. But you're also going to face the great Judgment Day, in which God is going to bring the whole world together that has rejected him. And we're going to be judged individually. And God is going to judge us.
He's appointed a day, in Acts 17:31. He's appointed a day in which he will judge the world. So when we die, we're going to the judgment. But the Bible also says that God is a God of love. The Bible says in I John 4:8, God is love. Now the word that is used there for love is different than our word that we use often. It's agape. It means a deep love that we know nothing about until we know God. "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love", Jeremiah says. A popular song a few years ago was, "I can't live in a world without love". You don't have to. God loves you. Whoever you are, whatever your background, whatever you've done, God loves you. And if there's one thing I want you to remember after this crusade is over, if you forget everything else, you remember that God loves you. He has the hairs of your head numbered. He's interested in you, and he loves you, and he wants to forgive your sins. He wants to save you, he wants to take you to heaven. And that's what this crusade, in a sense, is all about. God is love.
Now, why did God create you, and create me? Create the human race? Have you ever thought about that? Certainly you have. All of us have. God created us because he's a God of love, and he wanted some other creatures in the universe that could return love to him on their own choice. He didn't make us robots, we would have to love him. He didn't give orders that we would have to love him, like some dictators do, sometimes. God created man in a garden called Eden, in a country that we call today Iraq. And it's there that we believe the Garden of Eden was, between the Tigris and the Euphrates river. And God said to man, you are made in my image. You have the right to choose, whether you want to follow me and serve me, or whether you want to reject me and disobey me. Now he said, I'm going to test you. You can have every fruit in the garden, everything is yours, but there's one tree that you're not to eat of. That's the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. "Thou shall not eat of it, for in the day that you eat it, you shall suffer and die".
Now man stood before that tree, and was tempted. Think of it... I could be like God. I could be as wise as God. That was what the devil was whispering in his ear. Where all that happened, I don't have time to explain it all now. And I don't know it all, because there's a mystery to it all. But what is the basic cause of war and crime and divorce and deceit and rape and fraud and hospitals and jails and bars on the windows? Why do we have to have police forces, and all the injustice that we have in the world today? All the racial tensions, after all these years, we still have them. Why? Why do we have riots? And why do we have people so unhappy everywhere? What is the problem? There's something wrong with human nature. We have to come to the Bible to find out what is.
People used to look to science to save them. Now they are afraid science is going to destroy them. Man has a terminal disease. The scripture says, in II Thessalonians 2:17, "The mystery of iniquity does already work". I John 3:4 says, "Sin is the transgression of the law". What law? The Ten Commandments. The law of conscience. Have you gone against your conscience? All of us have. And some of us have killed our conscience. Some of us have consciences that can no longer speak to us and warn us when we do wrong, because they're hardened and deadened. The scripture says in Isaiah 53, we're like sheep that have gone astray. We've turned every one to his own way. We're not looking to God to lead us and direct us and guide us. We're doing it ourselves. We make our own choices, and we pay the price of those choices.
Our problems are not altogether social. Our problems are not a lack of education only. Our problems are deeper. They go to the human heart. The Bible says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord". You see, we're alienated from God. When man sinned against God, and you and I are sinners by birth. David said, "In sin did my mother conceive me". Think of it. From the moment of conception, there was something wrong. And then, we're sinners by nature. We're sinners by choice. There comes a time when you reach the age of eight, ten, eleven, whatever is the age of accountability, and you make a deliberate choice, to tell a lie, to do something bad. And you have chosen to sin against God. And the Bible says, all have sinned. That includes you and me and everyone. We're all guilty of breaking God's law. And we are under the sentence of death.
As my friend Grady Wilson used to say, when he was preaching sometimes, he would say, your casket may already be in town. Now the Bible says there's several kinds of death, three kinds of death. There's natural death. And there's spiritual death. Spiritual death is that living inside of you is your spirit, your soul. That part of you is made in the image of God. And that's the part of you that lives forever. But the Bible says that you can be spiritually dead. That's the part of you that has the ability to know God, to contact God. To be reconciled to God. But sin has come between you and God. And so we walk around, physically alive, but spiritually dead. That's the reason so many people turn to drugs and alcohol and extramarital affairs, and all the rest of it. Because they're separated from God. They're searching for something.
Then there's a third kind of death. It's eternal death. Some of the words in the New Testament used by Christ to describe the penalty of sin are: lost, perish, condemned, punishment, fire, torment, hell. And you ask me, you say, "Well, Billy, do you really believe there's a hell"? Yes, I believe there's a hell in this life, and I believe there's a hell in the life to come. Hell is separation from God. And if you continue to be separated from God, you go out into eternity, and you will be separated from God still. Searching for an answer, for fulfillment and satisfaction. But you won't find it. You can find it, here and now, in Christ, but it will be too late then. The moment you die, that's it. And you have eternity ahead of you, without hope.
Now God decided to do something about our condition. So what did God do? He decided to come to earth. And that's who Jesus Christ was. He was God in the flesh. And he came to tell us that God loves us. And God wants to help us in our problems, in our difficulties, in the mysteries of life. He wants to help solve those things for us. So "God gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life". And Jesus Christ came to die. That's the reason he came. To show us a new way of life. To teach us some fantastic things that we need to put into practice every day in our daily lives. But primarily, to die. Because the apostle Paul said, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross".
And on all the churches around here I see crosses, because the cross is the pivotal point of Christianity. You have to come to the cross. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all". Think of it. When he died on that cross and they were putting those nails in his hands, and the crown of thorns on his brow, and a spear in his side, he was dying in your place and mine. Because he not only died physically, he died spiritually. He took the sins. He became sin for us. He didn't know any sin. He'd never committed a sin. But he became sin for you and for me. And he paid the penalty. God says you're lost. God says you're going to hell. But Jesus took the hell and the lostness, and the suffering and the penalty for us on that cross.
And when he said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me"? In that terrible and awful and mysterious moment, God laid on him your sin, and my sin. And he had the capacity to bear hell for us, in that moment on the cross. But he didn't stay on the cross. The Bible says that they buried him, but on the third day he rose from the dead, and he is a living Christ tonight. The angels that were sitting in the tomb, when the women and the disciples went on that first Easter morning, heard this message: "He is not here, for he has risen as he said". He's alive. I don't present to you tonight a dead Christ. I present to you a living Christ, who is alive right now at the right hand of God the Father. And the scripture says, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved".
The resurrection is a part of our confession of faith, when we come to Christ. I remember the first time I made a preaching tour in the Soviet Union, while communism was still reigning, a number of years ago. And there was an orthodox priest who went with me everywhere. He sat by my side and he explained orthodoxy to me. His name is Father Sorokin. He's now the dean of the theological school in St. Petersburg and dean of the Great Cathedral in St. Petersburg. And I said to him, his first name is Vladimir, I said, "Vladimir, you've heard me preach now these weeks. You've heard all that I've had to say". I said, "Do you have any suggestions"? He said, "Well, I believe your message. I accept your message. But there's one thing I'd like you to emphasize more than you do". I said, "What is that"? He said, "The resurrection". He said, "Without the resurrection, the cross doesn't mean anything".
I never forgot that lesson that I learned in Russia when the communists were reigning supreme, that a little priest would tell me that I needed to emphasize the resurrection more. And I am delighted you applauded when I talked about the resurrection, because without the resurrection, there is no meaning in what I'm having to say. Because Christ is alive and you're going to be alive. Because he is going to raise you from the dead and you are going to join him in eternity. Now what does God require of you? What do you have to do to make sure that your sins are forgiven? To make certain that you know Christ. Oh, I know that you might have been baptized, you might have been confirmed. You might have lived a good life and tried to live by the golden rule. But you've somehow failed, and you have a doubt in your heart.
I had a bishop ask to see me one time. I went to see him. And he took me into the quietness of his study and he said, "I have something to confess to you. I have my master's degree from Cambridge University. I'm a bishop in this church. But", he said, "I'm not sure that I really know Christ. I'm not sure that I've ever opened my heart to him personally. I have it in my head but I'm not sure that I have it in my heart. I want to be sure. Do you think it's too late for me? Do you think God will forgive me for these years of hypocrisy"? I said, "Of course, he'll forgive you". We got on our knees, and he acknowledged his sin before God. And he got up and his face was shining, and the tears were coming down his cheeks. He had made his commitment to Christ.
You may be like that. You may be the finest person in the community, but deep down in your heart you're not certain. You're not sure how you stand before God. Well, what you have to do? The scripture says the first sermon that Jesus ever preached was repent. Have you repented? Are you sure that you've repented? You say, "Well, I don't even know what repentance is". Repentance means that you say to God, "I have sinned. I'm sorry that I have sinned. I'm willing to change my way of life. I'll change my mind. I'll let you take over, Lord, for now on". Someone said repentance is being sorry enough to quit. "Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out", said Peter at Pentecost. And then the scripture says, in acts 17, "God commands all men everywhere to repent".
Now it means to turn around, and go in the opposite direction. It means to change your way of living. Are you willing to do that? The scripture says you have to repent. It's like a person in the military, who's marching, and receives the command, to the rear, march. And without breaking stride, he pivots 180 degrees, and begins marching in the opposite direction. God commands all men everywhere to repent. And then the second thing is by faith you receive him. You can't understand it all. Of course, there is so much you will never understand. I study the Bible every day and there are great things in there that I don't understand. But the scripture says, "Without faith, it's impossible to please him".
By faith I receive Christ as my Lord and my Savior. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is". "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name". You come by faith. And the Bible says, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God". Your friends may have shared their personal experiences with you. And you wonder if that could happen to you. You'd like to have that peace and that sense of fulfillment and forgiveness, and certainty that if you died, you'd go to heaven.
I heard about a man who picked up his elderly father at the airport after the older man had taken his first airplane flight. And the son said, "Well father, how was the flight"? The older man said, "It was all right. But I never did put my full weight down on that seat". And that's the way many people are with Christ. They never put their full weight. When you come to Christ, you must come all the way, and put your full weight on him. Not on anything else. Not on your own goodness. Not on any ritual you've been through. You put your full weight on the person of Christ who died for you and who rose again. And who is alive at this moment and extends his invitation to you.
And I'm going to ask you to do something that we've seen thousands of people do in the last year. In Moscow, in Essen, Germany, a few weeks ago. In hundreds of auditoriums throughout Europe, as we went by closed-circuit television to all these stadiums and cinemas and Cathedrals with big screens. And each place prepared as though we were coming in person. And they came by the thousands. And I asked them to come to Christ, just like I'm asking you. To make sure of your relationship with Christ, by repentance and faith. And I'm going to ask you, here in Pittsburgh, tonight, to do that. And don't wait for some other time, because you may never have another time. I'm asking you to come by faith. You may not understand it all. You don't have to. You may be young. You may be old. But this will be the turning point of your life. You may never have another moment like this as long as you live. You get up and come, from everywhere. Hundreds of you, quickly.