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The Love of the Cross (John 3:16-21)

    Today is the final Sunday of Advent. Today is the day that we remember the love of God and the love of Christ, and we celebrate the Christian love that God calls us to. Today we celebrate God’s love, which is seen also in His hope, His peace, and His joy, which is what we have already celebrated this Advent season.
    Today’s passage includes a verse that is probably the most common Bible verse known to mankind. I think perhaps, this one verse says more about the Christmas story than all of the chapters in the gospels that actually contain the story of Jesus’ birth.
    But as I said, we’re covering more than just one verse today, because there’s more to the story than just the one verse. I’d love for you to join me today in the book of John, the gospel of John 3:16-21.
    “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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 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. 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.”
    This is the season we celebrate love, specifically the love of God. And we are hard-pressed to find a passage that speaks as powerfully about the love of God than this one.
    This time of year, we look at images of the manger, the star shining brightly in the night, the serene mother and the peaceful father, the wise-men with their gifts, the animals and the angel, the baby wrapped in linens. How often to we pause to look beyond the sweetness of that scene to think about why God’s Son came, in the flesh, that night that we celebrate.
    See, He didn’t come to be praised and celebrated. He didn’t come to be adored. He didn’t come to be loved or lauded. He came to die. Look at the first two verses of our passage this morning carefully, “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.”
    The purpose behind that sweet scene that we look at in peace and fondness this time of year, the reason that the Son of God came was to save the world through Him. There was only one way that this could happen, and that was through willingly offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
    From the moment the angel first announced to Mary that she was carrying the Messiah, He was moving toward the cross.
    Look at the first four words though, “For God so loved”. Though the purpose for Him coming to the world was to be our sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, love was the motivator that sent Him.
    If you’re following along in your bulletin this morning, that is your first blank. It was love that was the motivator for the Christmas story. Love sent God’s Son to us. Love sent Him to a sinful family, to be born of a sinful mother, to be raised in a sinful world so He could be our sacrifice. Love sent Him. God’s perfect, unfathomable love.
    Paul wrote about the love of God in all of his letters, but I like the way He put it in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    This is the love that sent Christ. This is the love we celebrate on Christmas.
    The next blank in your bulletin is one that we have sort of already gone over. Look again at verse 17 in our passage this morning, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
    God sent His Son to save us, to save the whole world. Here’s the blank: The cross is the reason the Son of God came. Love was the motivator, but the cross was the purpose.
    Look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
    Through the cross, through love, God was reconciling us to Him. The world needed a Savior, and Christ’s ministry was to save us and to return us to God. There was no there other way for us to be saved.
    Consider Philippians 2:6-8, which talks about the purpose of Jesus’s life on earth, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
    That is the Christmas story! The Son of God, who is in His very nature, God, came to earth, made Himself nothing by taking on the form of a human, and offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross.
    The cross is the reason the Son of God came.
    Let’s look at the rest of the passage, “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.” (19-21).
    Love sent the Son of God to the world, and He was sent to go to the cross. But what draws us to the Son is love. That’s your final blank this morning. Love is what draws us to the Son.
    These verses say that Light has come into the world. But people love the darkness instead of light, so it stands to reason that in the same way that we are drawn to darkness through love of evil, the only way we can be drawn to the Light, to the Son of God, is through the love of truth. And verse 21 says as much, that those who live by the truth come into the Light.
    What is one of the “I Am” statements that Jesus made. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) He is the truth. So if we live by Him, we come into the Light. If we love Him, we come into the Light.
    John believed that the love of God in Christ was a magnetic force, especially as it is seen in His death on the cross. Jesus told some who had gathered before Him, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32) Love is what draws us to the Son. The love that He displayed for us when He came as a baby all those years ago, but most importantly, the love He displayed for us when He died on the cross.
    Because without the cross, the Christmas story means nothing. Without the cross, all of humankind is lost. Without the cross, faith is useless.
    I want to finish with this thought from one of my commentaries, “The Incarnation,” that’s the baby Jesus, the Son of God who we celebrate at Christmas time, “The Incarnation, including Christ’s atoning sacrifice, demonstrated God’s love for man; man’s sin necessitated Christ’s death on the Cross. John’s affirmation is positive and strong; going back to the beginning of man’s need of salvation he finds the love of God already working. Instead of “In the beginning was the Word—the Word of God.” He might have written, “In the beginning was love—the Love of God.”

Christmas is the season of Love and Light, let us choose both.

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