In Him ... John 3:16
Lent 4B John 3:14-21
For all young people who are taking notes on this sermon, the title of the sermon for today is IN, spelled I N. The text is John 3:16.
Many of us know John 3:16 by heart. Would you say it with me, completing the blanks. "For God so loved ______ that he have his only begotten ______, that whosoever believes ___ ____ will not ______, but have _______ ________ .” So let’s say it all together, as many who can, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
We now have several translations of the Bible, so the wording of John 3:16 is not exactly the same in these various translations, but the fundamental ideas are the same.
When a person preaches on John 3:16, there is so much to say that it is impossible to say it in one sermon. There are too many important words and important truths e.g. God, Loved, World, Only Son, Believes, Never Die, Live Forever. There is far too much to talk about in one sermon.
If you were at worship last week, you realize that the sermon from last week is being continued today, that we are in a two-part sermon based on John 3:16. The first part was last week: for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Today is the second part of the sermon: That whoever believes in him will never die but live forever. The title of the sermon last week was SO. The title of the sermon this week is IN. Part one: God SO loved the world. Part two: Believe IN him.
For you young people taking notes, please write down the following words: Introductory thoughts about the little word IN.
I have been thinking about the little word IN this past week. The little word IN can be used in several different ways, just as the little word SO can be used in several different ways.
You can use the word IN as a preposition e.g. “You are sitting IN the pew. You are IN church. The choir is IN the choir loft.”
Or, you can also use the little word IN as a prefix to a word that means NOT e.g. Incapable or not capable. A little child is incapable of tying his or her shoes. Someone may have an incurable disease; that is, the disease is not curable. There are people who are Inactive at church; that is, they are not active at church.
Or, you can also use the little word IN as an adverb e.g. “while she was baking rolls, she mixed in the flour.” A secretary answers the telephone and says, “The boss is not in.” You can open the front door of your home and say, “Come in.”
Or, you can also use the little word IN this way e.g. I am IN love. When I flew in an airplane to Minnesota, I put my life IN the pilot’s hands. When I had surgery on my heart, I put my life IN my surgeon’s hands. The little word IN is very important. IN LOVE or IN HIS HANDS.
For example, last week I mentioned in the introduction that when I was in high school, that I was going steady with a girl by the name of Lorna Finkelbaum. As I mentioned, we had lockers next to each other, she wore my letter jacket and we talked on the telephone to each other every night. We were so much IN love. We were Infaturated with each other. We had so much IN common. One night, we went out for a ride in my car, and we drove three miles out of town to a lonely deserted road and it was called THE MILE. All the OTHER kids went out there to park and "neck," so it was called in those days. Of course, Lorna and I were not out there to neck but to pass out Bible passages and pamphlets to everyone else who parked out there. We went from car to car, passing out our religious literature. Maybe it wasn’t just like that. When we finally got back into our car and we looked out at the full moon of the night, Lorna leaved over and placed her head on mine. She asked, “Eddie, are you IN love with me?” I coughed and said, “Well, I like you a lot.” She persisted, “Eddie, are you IN love with me?” I replied, “Well Lorna, you are the nicest girl in school.” She again persisted, “Eddie, are you IN love with me?” I mumbled, “Yeah. Maybe. Kind of.” As I recall, we had a big fight and soon after we broke up.
Being IN love is very important. The little word IN is very important and being IN love is very hard to define. Being IN love implies an intensity of emotion, of being captured, of giving your all to another person. In all good and healthy marriages, there is that being IN love with one another. I am IN love with my wife; she is IN love with me.
Being IN love with your partner is not the same as loving your children, loving your family, loving your friends. Being IN love with someone implies an added intensity, an added emotional connection with that person. We become IN love with a spouse but we sense it is not right to be IN LOVE with our child. There is a crucial difference between being IN LOVE and loving someone.
Have you ever been IN LOVE? What did or does it feel like, to be IN LOVE? What does it mean for you to be IN LOVE with someone? With your husband, your wife, your girl friend, your boy friend, your fiancé? Your spouse of many years? What is the difference between being in love and loving some one?
Sometimes, husbands, who no longer have that intensity of feelings to their wives, occasionally make a distinction when they say, “I love you but I am no longer IN love with you.” Does that spouse really like those words? “I love you dear, but I am not longer IN LOVE with you.” Such phrases imply the loss of intensity, a loss of inner connection, a loss of something sacred within the relationship. The little word IN e.g. IN LOVE is very important and the word IN defines what the relationship is like. There is a big difference between being in love and loving someone.
It is with this introduction that we approach the classic Bible verse, John 3:16. The little word IN shapes the whole meaning of the verse of John 3:16. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son; that whoever believes IN him, will never die but have eternal life.” The, IN HIM, makes all the difference in the world.
The two key words are BELIEVE IN. These are two Greek words, “pisteuo ein.” These two words are used more than one hundred times in the gospel of John. Time and time again in the gospel of John, we are invited to BELIEVE IN. The little word IN or in Greek, the word “ein” is the key to John’s theology. John repeatedly says BELIEVE IN him.
In John’s gospel, we hear the words, “The father lives IN me, and I live IN the father, and we will come and live IN you.”
John says about the Holy Spirit that “The Holy Spirit will come and live with you and IN you; and on that day, when the Holy Spirit lives IN you, you will then know that I live IN the father and the father lives IN me.”
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “The person who believes IN me will never die.”
Or “The person who believes IN him will have life IN his name.”
Many scholars say that the whole summary of John’s theology is to be IN CHRIST. Whoever believes IN ME will never die but live forever.
The Apostle Paul says the same thing in II Corinthians 5:16, “Anyone who is IN CHRIST, is a new person, is a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come.”
What does it mean to believe IN CHRIST? To be IN HIM? That phrase has the same intensity as the phrase being IN LOVE with my wife, my husband, my girlfriend, my boyfriend, my fiancé. BEING IN LOVE has the same connotations as BEING IN CHRIST. There is an added intensity, an added connection, an added commitment that is almost indefinable.
Before me is a cup. In our imagination, this cup is filled with the words of Christ, the love of Christ, the person of Christ, the forgiveness of Christ, the eternity of Christ. I take this cup of Christ and I drink it and pour it into me. Christ is now in me. His love, his kindness, his ethics, his goodness. Christ is in me and I am in Christ because Christ lives in me.
That is why Holy Communion is so important. We know that miraculously and mysteriously, Christ is in the wine and wafer. We drink and eat that wine and waver and we take in Christ and Christ is in us.
To believe IN CHRIST is not merely to believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Son of God, that there is life after death.
I have used the analogy often and you may recall it. It is the story of Houdini, the magician, and his walk across the tight wire high above Niagara Falls. The high wire is stretched tight high above Niagara Falls, and Houdini asks the audience watcing from the bleachers whether or not he can walk across that falls high on that high wire. Houdini calls to the people in the bleachers,“Do you believe that I can walk on the high wire across the falls.” The crowd chants back, “Yes, you can do it.” Houdini then loads a wheel barrow onto that high wire and calls to the crowds, “Do you believe that I can take that wheel barrow on the high wire across Niagara Falls?” “Yes,” they shout. “You can do it.” Then Houdini takes a wheel barrow and fills that wheel barrow with a sack of sand, weighing a hundred and fifty pounds.” Houdini calls to the crowds, “Can I take the wheel barrow with the 150 pounds of sand across the high wire?” The crowd thunders at the top of their voices, “Yes, you can do it.” Then Houdini pauses and quietly asks for a volunteer to get into the wheel barrow and Houdini will take them on the high wire across Niagara Falls. No one volunteers. "No, no, no. We don't want to do that."
It is one thing to believe that the high wire walker could move 150 pounds across the wire, but it quite another thing to believe in him, to put your life in his hands, to get into the wheelbarrow and have him ferry you across to the other side of the falls. You have to REALLY believe IN him to do that. To put your life fully in his hands.
To believe IN Christ is to get into his wheelbarrow, and Jesus will ferry you and me over to the other side of the falls, to eternity, to everlasting life. How are you going to get to heaven? To eternity? To paradise. Someone needs to take you.
Somewhere along the line, you and I need to put our FAITH IN HIM, our life in him, our eternal destiny in him. .
It is one thing to believe that there is a God, that God created the universe, that God created the world, that God loves you. It is one thing to believe that God does all of these things, but it is far different to believe in him. To put your life in his hands. To get into the wheelbarrow. The little word IN makes all the difference. The little word IN is crucial. The little word IN helps to define what the Bible means by believing.
The whole purpose of the gospel of John is to persuade us to believe in Christ, to trust our lives in him. We are to put our lives in his hands, in his care, in his direction. We are to put our futures in his hands. Our past in his hands. Our today in his hands. Our marriage in his hands. Our children in his hands. Our parents in his hands. What does it mean to believe in him? It means to put our lives into his hands.
John 3:16, "Whoever believes in me, will never die." Jesus said the same thing at the end of the gospel of John when he said, “Martha, whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” What does that mean? To never die.
When we are in love, we put our heart, soul, mind and emotions into that person. And so it is with Christ. When we believe in him, we put our heart, mind, soul and emotions into him.
Jesus has made us a promise. Whoever believes in me, will never die. We will never die spiritually. Of course, we will all die physically. Our physical bodies will die. The life force will go out of our bodies. Your physical body will die. My physical body will die. We will all die physically and our bodies will be put into a coffin or our ashes into an urn.
But Jesus has the audacity to promise that we will never die, that we will never face death. Of all the promises of Jesus, it seems to me that this is the most grand. When we believe in Christ, we will never die. Amen.
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