A sermon on John 3:16 by Rev Richard Keith, adapted from Max Lucado’s book The 3:16 Promise
The Hope Diamond is one of the most precious gems in the world. Legend has it that the Hope Diamond began its life as the eye from the statue of a god stolen from a Hindu temple in India. In 1668 it was bought by the king of France and was cut by the court jeweller into a gem weighing in at almost 14 grams. A hundred years later it was stolen during the French Revolution and recut to disguise its identity into its present shape at just over 9 grams. In 1839 it was bought by Henry Philip Hope for $90 000. In 1912 it was bought by Evalyn McLean for $185 000. In 1958 it was donated by its last owner Harry Winston to the Smithsonian Museum in the United States where it sits on display. Its brilliant blue colour its legendary origin and its host of famous owners mean that the Hope Diamond’s current value is estimated to be in the realm of tens of millions of dollars. Far more than the lifetime income of all of us put together.
And yet today we pause to admire the most precious gem in all of Holy Scripture. Its value is beyond diamond and rubies, beyond all the gold in all the treasure stores of the world, and yet it is God’s gift not to any old museum, but to you and me.
This true diamond of hope we find in John chapter 3:16.
If you know nothing about God, then start here. If you think you know everything about him, then return to these twenty six words that shine with brilliance of God’s truth and grace, teaching us four precious truths. Firstly, God loves. Secondly, God gives. Thirdly, we believe. And fourthly, we live.
Love is such a funny word. For example, I love my family and I love jam sandwiches. How absurd. I mean, I might have let a jam sandwich sit on my lap while I was watching television, but I’ve never eaten any of my children, well, not yet anyway. But we use the same word to express both feelings. We say things like, I love my country, I love spaghetti bolognaise, and, O, turn it up, turn it up, I love this song. And yet if all these loves come close to matching the intensity of the commitment of his love.
For John 3:16 teaches us that at the heart of the universe beats a heart of love.
We might have expected something different. We might have expected to learn that God rules or that God judges or that God does all those things that we assume Gods do. We might have expected that the universe was ruled by a military junta that turned a blind eye to the suffering of others, as long as it managed to keep its control. We might have expected anything else.
But what we learn is that God loves, that God cares, that God has made a commitment. God loves and the object of his affection is the world. Yes, the world. This world. With its wars and dictators and all its environmental problems. If we were God, we might be tempted to trade it in or to recycle it or just to throw it away. But the true and living God loves the world. When he made it, he made a commitment to the world and to all its people and creatures and he will not throw it away. God has made a commitment to the world and he is prepared to pay the price to keep it.
Firstly, God loves. He loves so much that, secondly, God gives.
The man sat in the cardiologist’s office. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” the heart specialist said. “Tell me the bad news first,” the man said in accordance with the laws of storytelling. “Well, your arteries are blocked. Your valves are leaking. Your pulse is irregular. Your angina is no longer treatable. And any moment you could suffer a heart attack. You need another heart as soon as possible, but fifty other people are in front of you in the transplant queue.”
“That’s terrible,” the man said. “So what’s the good news?”
“The good news,” said the cardiologist, “is that I’ll take your heart, and you can have mine.”
I know what you’re thinking, “Where can I find a heart specialist like that and does he bulkbill?” And I admit, it’s a bit far fetched. I mean, there are a handful of people I’d give one of my kidneys to, but I’m not sure I’d give anyone both of them, unless I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be needing them any more. What kind of doctor, what kind of person would offer a swap, their healthy heart for one diseased and sickly?
The answer is, the Lord Jesus. For he is the surgeon who pronounces his diagnosis on the state of the human heart. The Lord Jesus said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” The heart of the problem of the human race is the problem with the human heart. Although created by God, it has turned on its maker and has become full of anger and fear and selfishness. It is diseased and corrupted and is leading us to eternal death.
But the Lord Jesus, the heart specialist, offers his heart for ours.” The Bible says in Galatians chapter 1,
Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.
Ephesians chapter 5 says
“live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
1 Timothy chapter 2 says,
“there is one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.”
Or as John 3:16 says,
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
The Lord Jesus offers a swap. Our thieving, lying, adulterous and murderous heart for his. He placed our sins upon himself and invited his Father to punish it in him upon the cross. Though healthy Jesus took our disease upon himself. Though diseased, we who accept his offer are pronounced healthy. We enter heaven, not just with healed hearts, but with the heart of Christ. It is the expression of the love of God.
Because he loves, he gives. He loved the world. He gave his son.
Thirdly, we believe. In 1999 I joined the Navy to become a chaplain. As part of my training I had to complete a high ropes course. Unfortunately, I’m afraid of heights. Not as bad as I used to be, of course. No, over the years, I’ve become much, much worse. The high ropes course was a set of thick steel wires going from one tree to another, wearing a harness connected by a rope to three of my class mates, holding my weight. This is 5 metres of the ground. I get giddy standing on a chair. I swear it is the bravest thing I’ve ever done apart from watching someone else give birth. Halfway through the course I wanted to give up. I was hyperventilating and shaking from fear and my hands had gone numb from holding on. The nice Navy instructor said that I could give up any time I wanted. I begged him, please, please. All I had to do to put myself out of my misery, he said, was to stand on the rope 5 metres from the ground and jump off. All I had to do was to believe that one wiry chaplain and two skinny little journalists, could hold my weight so that I did not fall to my grisly death. It was the second bravest thing I’ve ever done. But I jumped.
And that, my friends, is faith. Faith is not a game of make believe. Faith is not believing in things that aren’t true. Faith is not pretending that everything is alright when it most certainly is not. Faith is trusting that the brakes will work when you step on them. Faith is standing up in front of people confident that the words will come out all right. Faith is laughing when your Father throws you into the air. Faith is trusting your friends enough to jump off a perfectly good wire 5 metres above the ground.
And faith is the appropriate response to the love and gift of God. As John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes.” Admit it, it is not quite the verb we were hoping for. Perhaps we’d rather, so that whoever is good enough, or whoever tries their hardest. Something that relies more on ourselves, maybe reciting some prayer or undergoing some ordeal or making some earth shattering sacrifice.
But if there’s one thing I know about faith it is that faith is about letting go. Letting go of pride and of all self reliance. Faith is standing on the rope and jumping off, trusting that others can hold you up. Or as Jesus said to Nicodemus in our Bible reading earlier,
“No one can see the kingdom of God, unless he is born again.”
Now I don’t know much about giving birth, but if there’s one thing I do know it’s that no one wastes any time shaking the baby’s hand and congratulating them on being born. Babies don’t crawl out, they are pushed out, kicking and screaming. The price is paid by the mother, not the baby.
So it is in our spiritual birth. We must be born again. God must do his work a second time for us to receive his gift of life. We do not work for it, or earn it or deserve it.
It is offered to us, and the price of our birth is paid by Christ, and not by us. But we receive it by faith, but faith in him. In Christ. Faith isn’t make believe. It isn’t believing in things that aren’t true. It doesn’t cling to God like some kind of invisible friend who makes us feel better. Faith is trusting Christ. Because whatever we are afraid of: hunger, thirst, grief, rejection, pain, or death, Christ has been their first and calls us to follow him.
Faith is trusting Christ, jumping from the rope that holds all our doubts and fears, because we trust that he will hold us up.
God loves. God gives. We believe. We live.
A little girl asked her father where people came from. Her father said, “Millions of years ago there were apes from whom the human race evolved.” Not quite happy with his answer, the little girl asked her mother the same question. She said, “God made Adam and Eve who had children and so all people were made.”
“But Mummy,” the little girl said, “Daddy said we come from apes.”
“Yes, dear,” she replied, “but only on his side of the family.”
This is the extraordinary teaching of the Bible, that we aren’t just clever monkeys. That we aren’t just a random collection of molecules that simply exist to copy themselves before they disappear into oblivion. We are the children of God. God took lifeless matter and breathed into it the breath of life and the first people became living beings.
Life, you see, is the gift of God. And all our efforts, eating right, getting plenty of exercise, going to the doctors, having tests, taking pills, all these things can extend our existence, but they cannot give us true, lasting, refreshing, fulfilling life. Life is God’s gift. If we turn from him, if we ignore him or reject him, we are only embracing death. But if we turn to him, if we trust him and love him and serve, his gift is eternal life. Not just life after death, but joy and hope and peace and purpose and grace and truth and love, real life, life as it is meant to be, both now and forever more.
God loves. God gives. We believe. We live. It is the true hope diamond, whose value is beyond all the gems in the world. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. It begins with God and ends with life. I urge you to do the same. Begin again with God today and you will end up with life. Not one day after you die. Do it today and you will begin to live before you die.