David Jeremiah - Knowing a Loving God
The biggest little word in the Bible may be the word "so". Included in "so" are all the agonies of the cross, and all the riches of God's grace, all the depths of my sins, and all the beams of his mercy. The cross is bound up in that adverb "so". God so loved the world that he went to extraordinary lengths to express it. His love is beyond comprehension, for we cannot fathom a God who would willingly, self-sacrificially create the set of conditions we call "Calvary". Today, I end my new teaching series called, "The God You May Not Know" by talking about a quality of God I pray for you to know well. That is God's unfailing love. As we study what is perhaps the most famous love verse of all time, John 3:16, we will discover seven distinct descriptions of God's wondrous love found within those 25 famous words. So, stay tuned for today's edition of "Turning Point".
What a great verse is John 3:16. In fact, most of you would say, "It's my favorite verse". And we put that Word in our heart because it's hard for us to find someone willing to love us as we are, and we know that God does, and he does it perfectly. And the Bible says, "God is love". God isn't just loving. God is love. All love originates with God. The Bible even tells us that, "we love God because he first loved us". We don't have any of our own love that we can offer back to God. We have to get our love from God so we can give it back to him.
And as we look at this part of God's nature, we discover we have a Creator who loves us. He never asks us to get rid of our baggage before he accepts us. He takes us as we are, to be sure when he moves in and begins to rule in our lives, he cleans up a few things here and there. He erases the past through his forgiveness. He begins working in us what is pleasing to him. We're transformed over time by grace. And from the beginning, at the very inception, and continually, and throughout eternity, we have a God who looks at us just as we are and says, "I love you. I love you just as you are. I love you too much to leave you the way you are". And the Bible says of God, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life". He reaches out to every one of us just as we are, despite our brokenness and baggage, and he says, "I am focusing my infinite love on you. Not because of who you are, but in spite of who you are and because of who I am". He expects nothing back from us except to love him in return.
Why does God love you? Not because you're bigger or better than anyone else, but simply because he loves you. God loves us because he loves us. It is his nature. God is love. I want you to say it with me. You know it well. Let's say it out loud together: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life". That, ladies and gentlemen, is the gospel in one verse. That's the greatest verse in the Bible, according to many, because it's the gospel. But what is the gospel? What does the word "gospel" mean? It's a term in our English Bible that is translated from the original Greek word "euangelion," and the middle letters of that Greek term are "eu-angel-ion," "angel" is in that word. And "angel" is the word in the Greek language which also means "messenger". So, the word "gospel" literally means "the good message, the glad tidings, the good news". It isn't simply that God is holy.
The good news of the gospel is that God is love. When we read about this in John 3:16, we're astounded. If you have to distill the message of the whole Bible into one verse, this is it. This is the grounds at the end of the cup of coffee down at the bottom. It's simple, it's deep, so I wanna unpack it for you in just a few minutes, and let's find out for sure that we know what this verse means. First of all, the surpassing quality of God's love. That's the first thing, and that's all wrapped up in one word. "For God so loved the world". Do you ever have a little child come up to you and say, "Poppy, I love you so much"? This verse describes the surpassing quality of God's love. Notice, "God so loved the world". The Bible doesn't just say that "God loved the world," as wonderful as that would be. The Bible says, "God so loved the world".
"So" is the biggest little word in the Bible. Included in "so" are all the agonies of the cross, all the riches of God's grace, all the depths of your sin and my sin, and all of the wonders of his mercy. The cross is bound up in the word "so". This is the truth that makes the heathen wonder and makes the devil tremble. God so loved that he went to the extraordinary lengths to express it. His love is beyond comprehension. We cannot fathom a God who would willingly, self-sacrificially create the set of conditions we call "salvation" and "Calvary". "God so loved us that he gave his only Son". This world is astounded by the surpassing love of God. Notice, the surprising object of God's love. He loved the world. The world is made up of the unlovely and the unloving, the lonely and the loathsome, the arrogant and the lawbreakers, and God loves each and every one.
I grew up in a Christian home, but I went through a period as a teenager that I wrestled with some aspects of the Bible. All of us do that, I'm sure. One of the things that used to really plague me was the thought that one person could die for everybody. I mean, I'd hear my dad preach, and he'd preach about how Jesus died for the whole world. And I went, "How could that be"? In all of human history, there have been over 100 billion souls who have passed through the corridors of time. And the population of the earth today is over 7 billion. How can one person offer himself as a sacrifice for billions of people? And then I realized that this person wasn't just a person, it was the person, the person, the Son of God, God in the flesh. And just as God is infinite in his being, he's infinite in his life, he's also infinite in his death. So he could die a death that would be equal to everyone who would ever live, and therefore, sufficient for everyone who would ever believe.
While Jesus Christ was hanging on the cross for the sin of the whole world, he turned to one somebody, one suffering individual suspended on the cross next to him, and he loved that man, and he forgave that man, and he said to that man, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise". It was as if God were saying to us, "I love the whole world, but remember, that includes you. I don't love the world in general. I love the whole world of everybody, and I personally love everybody in the whole world". Saint Augustine said it this way: "God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love". That's the object of God's love. "God so loved the world". Here's the sacrificial cost of God's love: "He gave his only begotten Son". "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son". This has been an interesting week in my life. It's been a reference and a reprise on other weeks that have gone before.
Several years ago, when my oldest son David had graduated from high school, he decided that he would go to Liberty University. I have no idea why all my children decided to go to school on the East Coast, but that's how it happened. The plan was made that he and his friend who was going there with him would leave in the middle of the night, really, from our home, which, at that time, was up here right behind the church. And so we got up, and they had a pickup truck, and they'd loaded the back of it with all of their stuff. And early in the morning, I stood out in front of my house and I watched my oldest son disappear down that hill and go 2.500 miles away. I wasn't ready for that. At that time, I was a lot younger than I am now. I was running the block. I would start at my house up there. I'd run down, and I'd run down all around where the buses go, all around, past the high school and back, and up the hill to my house. And for the next two weeks, I did great till I got to the football field, and then I just fell apart. And then I experienced that with Jennifer and Jan and Daniel.
And this week, my son got in a pickup truck with his son Bradley and they drove across the country and I couldn't understand why my son was so emotional. And then I thought, "It serves you right. That's what you did to me". And I tell you this story because there isn't any kind of a bond that I know of like the bond between a man and his son. I know there's a different kinda relationship with your daughter. I get that, and it's special, and some people will say, "Oh, yeah, it's..". They're both different. They're different kinds of bonds. But when I read in the Bible that God gave up his only begotten Son and sent him here to this earth to die for my sin, I am just overwhelmed. I mean, I love you all you guys. I love you with a lot of love, but not enough to give you my son. You can't have him. And you get what I'm meaning, don't you? Let's don't spiritualize this so that it ends up in the cloud someplace, and, "Oh, yeah, well, that was some sort of a..". No, no, God put in the terms that he put it in so we would get the message.
God loved his Son as much as we love our sons, and he sent his Son into this world, and he not only sent him into the world, he sent him knowing he would suffer and die so that you and I could be set free. Because, "The wages of sin is death," and somebody has to die. And if it's not Jesus, it's us. And he took our place willingly because his Father loved us so much he gave up heaven's best and sent Jesus Christ down here to be our substitute so that through him, the infinite God, we could be set free. The sacrificial cost of God's love, and then there's the serious offer of God's love. As the words continue to unfold in John 3:16, we learn that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever" You might be saying, "Pastor Jeremiah, you don't know how bad I am. You don't know how much baggage I have or how messed up I am". That doesn't make any difference. "Whoever" means "you". But we also learn the selective choice of God's love is you have to believe.
Is the grace of God sufficient for everybody? Absolutely, but God doesn't just make a fiat decision, "Okay, I love everybody, everybody gets to go to heaven". It's not how it works. Everybody is a candidate for heaven, but you only get to go to heaven if you believe. The offer is made to everybody, but its only received by those who place their faith in Christ. Salvation is a free gift, but a gift has to be received in order for it to matter. And if you don't receive this free gift, if you just know about it, if you just learn about it, you hear it in church, you read about it in books, but you've never personally made a decision to say, "Yes, I will receive that gift," if you haven't done that, then the gift is meaningless to you. And someday, you'll stand before God and he's gonna say to you, "Why should I let you into my heaven"? And you're gonna have to admit, "I knew about the gift. I saw the gift. It was laying right there in front of me, but I just never picked it up and unwrapped it and made it my own".
Friends, I need to tell you that to get to heaven, you have to receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him," and that leads us to the special promise of God's love, "should not perish". God loved us so much he gave us his Son, and the result of receiving his Son is that you don't perish. You say, "Well, what does it mean to perish"? It doesn't mean to be annihilated. Please hear me. A lot of people say, "Well, I'm not worried about all this religious stuff. One day I'm gonna die, and I'll just go in the ground, and I'll die like a dog, and it's over". No, it's not over. Hear me carefully. Everybody in this room is gonna be alive somewhere forever, ever, and ever. You'll either be alive forever in the presence of God, or you'll be alive forever in the absence of God. The word "death" in the Bible is not a word that means "the end". It means "separation". When you die, your soul and spirit are separated from your body.
The Bible says, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord". The word "death" means "separation," and spiritual death is the separation of your soul forever and ever from Almighty God. And if you don't think it's true, you should read the Bible. Read the Gospels and read how carefully the Lord Jesus defined what happens to you after you die if you have rejected his grace while you're alive. You know, the Bible uses the word "saved" a lot. "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe that God has raised him from the dead, you will be..". Saved from what? From perishing. People who claim this promise as their own are freed from the fear of death, freed from perishing. The Bible says that there are some people who go through their whole life in bondage because of their fear of death. They can't ever live life, because all they think about is dying.
I've read so many stories about that. It's becoming almost epidemic. People today are trying every which way to see if they can extend life because of their tremendous fear of death. You know what? I don't wanna die, but I'm not afraid of it. What happens when you die if you're a Christian is you shift into overdrive, amen? Your life just continues, but it gets better. Death is a hard thing. Nobody wants to die. I don't know anybody in their right mind who wants to die. When I accepted Jesus Christ, really understood it, it didn't keep me awake at night anymore, wondering what would happen if somethin' happened to me before the morning hours. Hundreds and thousands of times as pastor of your church, I have witnessed people come to Christ, and what happens to them is an amazing story. There's so many stories in this church. I could devote a whole month to just telling you the stories of what God's done in the lives of people who have been saved, saved by the grace of God.
My father had a radio ministry when I was growing up, and his theme song was an old gospel song that went like this: "Saved, saved, saved". Every word was "saved" just about. It was a high-energy song. We used to sing that every Sunday night because the Sunday-night service was broadcast live. And we need to reinstitute the word "saved". Somebody asks you, "How are you doing"? You say, "I'm saved". See what that does. I'm sure you'll have a good conversation about that. Here's the last point, number seven, the satisfying fulfillment of God's love, "But have everlasting life". When we die, we shift into overdrive. We go on living without interruption with the Lord. So if you're lookin' to find some satisfying quality of life apart from God, you're on a mission that can never ever happen. If you're trying to cram a lot of experiences into the empty space in your heart, it won't work. If you're seeking more pleasures to deaden your pain, forget it. What you really are looking for is the kind of life the Bible describes as, "Abundant, eternal, everlasting life". And only Jesus can give you that.