Text: John 3:16-17
Theme: The Grace of God IS Amazing!
At the conclusion of our service today we are going to sing the hymn “Amazing Grace.” The author of this hymn is John Newton. The hymn serves as a beautiful confession of how God’s amazing grace worked in his life. John Newton grew up in a Christian home. But, when he became older he walked away from his Savior. He became a captain of a slave ship and used much of his time and energy speaking against Christians and making fun of them. But, by God’s amazing grace, John Newton’s heart was changed. Not only did God the Holy Spirit bring him back into a right relationship with his Savior-God, he also became a priest in the Anglican church. As he writes in the opening verse of his hymn:
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see
John Newton points to a couple of events that changed his life forever. The first event was when his ship was caught in a severe storm. The waves had torn a huge hole in his ship so that it started to sink. But then suddenly the cargo on the ship shifted and plugged up the hole so he and his crew were able to sail safely to land. The second event was when he had become so sick that it appeared he would die at any moment. Instead, the Lord, in his amazing grace, granted him healing. As John Newton writes in verses 2 and 3 of his hymn:
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far.
And grace will lead me home.
Based on two verses from our Gospel Lesson for today, you and I will have the opportunity to see that THE GRACE OF GOD IS AMAZING! I invite you to listen once again as I read verses 16 and 17 of John chapter 3:
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
When we hear that a Pastor is going to preach on John 3:16, we may be tempted to tune him out. After all, next to Psalm 23, John 3:16 is one of the more familiar passages in all of Scripture. Don’t give in to Satan’s temptation. He would like nothing better than for you to “tune out” at this point. So let’s offer a brief prayer at this point: “Dear Father in heaven, send us the Holy Spirit to remove all distractions this (evening) morning. Help all of us to focus on what you have to say to us here in your Word before us. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.” Now, with the blessing of God the Holy Spirit guiding our discussion, we look at this familiar passage – phrase by phrase, and even word by word.
This portion of God’s Word begins by reminding us exactly how God the Father felt toward the sinful world. “For God so loved the world. . .” The Greek language, which the New Testament was written in, has many different words it can use for our one English word “love”. For example, in the Greek language there is a separate word used to describe the love that is felt between a brother or a sister. A different word is used to describe the feeling of love between a husband and a wife.
Then there is the Greek word which God the Holy Spirit led John to use here in verse 16. This word is “agape”. “Agape” is used in the New Testament to describe God’s perfect love for sinful mankind. It is a love that is more of an action than an emotion. As one author has written, “It is a love that is offered freely, without expecting anything in return. It is a love shown to someone who by their words and actions doesn’t show themselves to be worthy of love. It is a love that is determined to do what is best for the one being loved.” Despite our sinfulness, God still loves you and me. Despite the fact that day after day we do things that go against his will for us, the Father still loves you and me. Yes indeed, the “agape” love of our Savior-God, the grace of God, IS amazing!
If you ask people the question, “If you were to die tonight, do you think that you would go to heaven?”, the most common response is “I hope so! After all, I’ve lived a pretty good life. I haven’t killed anyone, and I try my best to do what is right. God will have to let me in.” How would you respond to someone who said this to you? Or, maybe you have been talking with a neighbor or family member and they ask you: “How can you be so confident that when you die you will go to heaven?” How do you answer?
It appeals to our human nature to think that there is something that you and I are able to do to save ourselves. There are those people who think that in order to get to heaven they have to do it all. They have to live the right kind of life. They have to do as many good things as possible to earn God’s favor. Then there are others who will admit that Jesus did something to win heaven for us, but it wasn’t enough. “There is something more that I can do”, is the way that they think. However, remember the words that Pastor read just a few moments ago from Ephesians, chapter 2: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The Bible is so clear on this point. It is not because of anything you or I say or do that the gates of heaven are opened for us. It is only because the grace of God IS amazing! We read, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. . .” During this season of Lent, we are reminded that a holy and just God demanded that sin be punished. But instead of punishing you and me, God the Father punished his one and only Son in our place. It is Jesus Christ who willingly lived, suffered and died to pay the full price for your sins and mine.
In Isaiah 53 we read this prophecy about the punishment our Savior, Jesus Christ was willing to put himself through in love for all sinners, including you and me: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Not only did Jesus take our sins and sinfulness upon himself and by doing so win for you and me the forgiveness of sins, but it is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone, who has also won for you and me the promise of everlasting life with him in heaven. “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
At this point, it is very important that we don’t misunderstand what God’s Word is telling us here. It is true from Scripture that the loving God wants all people to be saved. That point is made for us in Peter’s second letter, where we read that “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” While this is a true statement from Scripture, it is also a very sad, but true, fact that not all people will be in heaven. Unbelievers will suffer forever in the flames of hell, not because God’s grace wasn’t enough to save them, but because of their rejection of Jesus Christ as the only Savior from sin.
But, the Good News for those who, by the amazing grace of God, trust in Jesus as their one and only Savior, the promise is a life that will never end at his side of the Jesus in heaven. Just as the grave could not hold Jesus on Easter morning, so no earthly grave can hold those who die believing in the Lord Jesus. For us as believers, the comfort we have is knowing that our death is not an end, but a beginning of a life that never ends with our Savior, Jesus Christ. As God’s Word tells us in Romans, chapter 6, “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Or, as we sing in the final verse of the hymn “Amazing Grace”
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
It is a great comfort for you and me to know that the amazing grace of our Savior-God is not something that is far off in the distant future. At this very moment, you and I enjoy his amazing grace. Each day our Lord God showers you and me with his amazing grace. He holds you and me in his loving hands. He promises you and me that he will make all things work out for our eternal good. You and I are able to find comfort this morning (evening) from God’s Word, which assures you and me that our loving Savior is always by our side. Most importantly, you and I find comfort from the Word of God, which proclaims to you and me full and free forgiveness of all of our sins and the gift of eternal life, though our Lord Jesus Christ. “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Truly, the grace of God IS amazing! Amen.
Pastor Daniel Schmidt
Hear “Amazing Grace” (sung elsewhere)180311_bulletin