“God’s Love Is For All Sinners”

(John 3:14-21 – Lent 4 – March 14, 2021)

John 3:14-21 – 14“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Dear Redeemed in the name of Christ, who was crucified for us:

A popular idea today is that love is tolerant. By this, many people mean that love will never judge a person’s lifestyle or beliefs to be wrong. But rather, love will simply go along with however a person chooses to live or believe, and even support them in their choices. Often, this worldview is brought into theology. Many will point to a passage like 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” Popular preachers say what itching ears want to hear, when they assure their listeners that the God of love is tolerant, accepting however people choose to live and believe. They preach that a loving God would not condemn anyone for whatever lifestyle they choose to call love; and that a loving God would not damn anyone for whatever belief they hold sincerely.

In today’s text, God Himself tells us what His love for us means. It is not a message the world likes to hear. We hear Jesus, the Son of God in our flesh, telling us that the God of love does not tolerate sin and unbelief at all. Rather, He is also a just God; and therefore He punishes sin and condemns unbelief. But the amazing thing is that, while the world of sinners, including each of us, deserves to feel His wrath and punishment for our sin – yet in His love and mercy, God chose to punish His own Son instead of us. Thus in Christ crucified, God has taken our sins away and redeemed us from eternal death; and in Christ our risen Savior, God has given us His gift of eternal life. Now in love for a world of sinners, God holds out His gift to everyone, with the promise that all who repent and believe in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life.

Therefore in the words of Jesus, we see that “God’s Love Is For All Sinners”: 1) It is revealed in the sacrifice of His Son, and 2) It is received by all who believe in Him.

1) It is revealed in the sacrifice of His Son

Jesus begins by describing the love of God, revealed in the sacrifice of His Son. He says in verses 14-15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

When it comes to God dealing with sin and saving sinners, here we have an Old Testament picture and its fulfillment in Christ. First Jesus refers to the symbol of the serpent, which Moses lifted up on a pole as a sign of salvation among the Israelites. Then He speaks of its fulfillment when He Himself would be lifted up on the cross as the Savior of the world.

First, points back to the days when Moses was leading the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. In Numbers 21 we read how the people, ever prone to sin and rebellion as they were, began to grumble against God and Moses once again. They did not like the way the Lord was leading them. They complained that He had led them out into the wilderness to die with no food or water. And they were tired of the manna God gave them to eat, day after day.

As innocent and justified as these complaints may have seemed to the people, the holy God was angry at their attitude of rebellion and unbelief. After all, wasn’t it that same sinful attitude in the heart that had led them to commit many outward sins, during their journey through the wilderness – from times of turning away from Him as the one true God to false idols they made, to times of engaging in immoral living, after the pattern of those in pagan nations around them?

Here we see that God was not at all tolerant. As the God of justice, He sent venomous serpents among them. Many people were being bitten and perishing. When they saw the awful consequences of their sin, they came to Moses confessing their error, asking him to pray that the Lord would take away the serpents. Then the Lord had Moses make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. God graciously promised that anyone who was bitten could look at it and live. So it was; many serpent-bitten sinners were saved from death by looking to God’s sign of salvation.

What happened there was not just about a certain group of people who lived 3500 years ago. It was a picture of the greater salvation the God of love was planning for a world of sinners. As the Bible teaches, as children of Adam we all had become serpent bitten, dying in our sin. When Adam listened to the lies of the serpent Satan, and he fell into sin, all his children fell with him. In our sin-bitten nature, in our corrupted state, we are prone to sin and rebellion against God.

As our Maker, God has every right to tell us how we are to live holy lives according to His moral Law, His Commandments which do not change with time, culture, or convenience. God has every right to tell us that we are to worship Him alone, and to have no other gods or idols in our life. We are to put nothing before Him, whether it be ourselves, other people, or things. We are to be perfectly content in how He leads us and what He gives us in life, and to be thankful.

But we have a sinful nature that grumbles against the way God would lead us. Like the Israelites, our sinful nature complains that God’s way of leading us is too restrictive, as if He wants to keep us hungering and thirsting in a wilderness, holding pleasures of life out of reach. Our sinful nature is never content with what God gives; it complains and covets something else. It wants to make a god in its own image, and call it the “God of love” – a false god who is tolerant of sin, a false god who gives us freedom to follow sinful desires, and freedom to be whoever we want to be, live however we want to live, and believe whatever we want to believe.

But as innocent as all this may sound to the world, as much as one may argue that one is just trying to do what it takes to be happy in life, God is not tolerant. He calls it sin and rebellion and punishes it. Romans 6:23 tells us the consequences: For the wages of sin is death.” If God had left us in our sin-bitten nature to face the consequences, we would have perished in eternal death – apart from His love, apart from His life, and apart from everything good He gives.

But here, Jesus reveals the love of God for all sinners. It is an undeserved and unexpected love. The God who is just, and must punish the sinner, found a way to do so while sparing us. He provided the way both to satisfy His justice against our sin, and in mercy to save us from its wages. God sent His Son into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, to become the sacrifice for our sin (Romans 8:3). As the Son of Man, Jesus represented all fallen mankind before His Father. Though He Himself had no sinful nature, God condemned our sin in Him. When the Son of Man was lifted up on the cross, God imputed to Him the sin of all mankind. God saw Jesus as our sin, and He poured out on Him all His fiery wrath and punishment, once and for all.

There at the cross of Christ, we see that God is not tolerant of sin; but at the same time, we see that God is loving toward sinners. We see His love in action for us all – willing to sacrifice His own Son to spare us the awful wages of our sin. In Christ, God forgives all our sins.

Indeed, the love of God goes beyond imputing our sins to His Son instead of us. In addition, in His undeserved and unexpected love, God even turns around and imputes the sinless life of His Son to us, counting His righteousness to us. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them… For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Here Jesus opens His arms and invites every sinner to receive this free gift of God, this salvation He has won for all. He says in verse 16: “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.”

2) It is received by all who believe in Him

God’s love is for all sinners. It is revealed in the sacrifice of His Son. And now, it is received by all who believe in Him. By faith in Christ, we stand in the grace of God.

As Jesus goes on to say in verses 17-18: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Here we see that the love of God is all-inclusive. The Son of God has died for every sinner, and all are included in the invitation to believe and be saved. At the same time, here we see that God’s loving promise is exclusive. Without faith in Christ, one cannot benefit by His salvation. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1); but apart from faith in the only Savior, the sinner still stands on his own before God, condemned.

Why would anyone stand apart from Christ; why would anyone reject God’s free gift in Him? Jesus explains in verses 19-20: “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

The only reason any sinner is not saved is because he does not come into the light of God’s truth and salvation in Christ. Rather, he wants to remain in the darkness of Satan’s lies, following the deceitful desires of his sinful nature. It is like Adam and Eve at first, after they had sinned – trying to hide their naked shame under a covering of fig leaves, trying to hide their guilty conscience from the Lord behind the trees in the Garden (Genesis 3:7-8). Unbelief tries to hide sin, guilt, and shame under a man-made cover of self-righteousness and false holiness. It tries to hide from the Word of the Lord behind trees of denial and excuses. Indeed, many who claim faith in Christ deceive themselves by false penitence. They demand tolerance for what God calls evil. They love the darkness, and do not want to be exposed by the light of His truth.

But Jesus concludes by describing true repentance and saving faith – the kind the Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts. He says in verse 21: “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” As believers, we come into the light by confessing the truth of God’s Word. We agree with what His Law says about our sin, and we confess it for the evil it is. How can we come into His light, rather than hiding in fear of His justice?  Because in His Gospel, He has revealed Himself as the God of love who saves sinners. He assures us that no sin is too great to be forgiven. As He did with Adam and Eve, He has come and found us with His gracious promise of salvation in His Son. Now that He has called us into the light of His saving truth, we bow before Him with a contrite heart; we say with David in Psalm 32:5: I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Since the God of love has revealed His full forgiveness, won for us by His Son on the cross, we need not hide in the darkness of sin. Instead, we confidently come into His light, knowing His promise 1 John 1:7-9: If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin…. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Then according to the new man, empowered by God’s forgiveness and love in Christ, we go forth in newness of life. As we walk in His light, the faith He puts in our hearts is clearly seen in deeds consistent with His truth. As such, Jesus calls us the light of the world (Matthew 5:12). In word and deed we witness God’s love and truth in Christ. We join our Savior in proclaiming the good news of God’s love for all sinners: 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.”

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.