God so loved the world (December 24, 2019)
God so loved the world
How can a loving God allow so much suffering? I hear that question a lot. Whether it’s because mom or sister or daughter is in the hospital for health issues she shouldn’t be having at this age. Or it’s because dad and husband is not going to be coming home. There are plenty of problems in our lives that might make us wonder, “Does God really love this world? Does God really love me?” In fact, it can even look like God has abandoned this world. It can seem that he has abandoned you. It can seem that he doesn’t care. Since this is what we see with our very own eyes, we must conclude one of two things. Either, there is no God, because if there was this world would be a much better place. Or, if there is a God, he’s not very loving, so I don’t want anything to do with him.
But there’s a third option. In fact, it’s the very reason we are gathered here tonight. Option 3 is that God is loving and that he is doing something about all the pain and sadness in the world. Jesus states the fact very plainly, “God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16). And isn’t it shocking that he does? I mean, we were just talking about how much of a mess this world is. There is hate and hurt and abuse. There is lying, cheating, and stealing. There is jealousy, arrogance and injustice everywhere. And God loved this?!
And if you’re thinking, “Why would God create this mess in the first place? Why doesn’t he just snap his fingers and get rid of all this mess?” Well… if he did, that would mean not only getting rid of the things that hurt or harm me. It would include getting rid of me. Because I also hurt and harm others. He doesn’t want to get rid of you. He wants to restore you to the way things were. He didn’t create it to be this way. That was our doing. God created a perfect place for us to live. God created a paradise in every sense of the word. But sin ruined all that. Sin causes all the suffering we see in this world. Yes, sinful actions, but it’s more than that. Sin corrupts not just actions, but all of creation. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. Now there is death. Now there is illness. Now there is suffering, and sometimes it’s for no other reason than just a general side effect of living in a world corrupted by sin. Sometimes God allows suffering into our own lives to remind us that this is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not our permanent home. God wants something better for us.
Yes, “God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16) and that includes you! It includes you who suffer from weaknesses and illnesses. It includes you who suffer from injustices and abuses. It includes you who suffer under the weight of your own guilt too. Yes, God loves people like you and me even though we are corrupted by sin and sometimes lash out in sinfulness. No matter how big or small in your own eyes, God loves you. And if you are thinking – Who could love someone with so much to feel guilty about from their past? Who could love someone with so much to feel guilty about in their present? Who could love someone who has done those kinds of things or has those kinds of thoughts?
Who? The God who proved that love with action. He doesn’t just tell you about that love. I’m not here to just point to words printed on a page and say, “See?! God says it, so it’s true! God says it, so you have to believe it even when you don’t feel it.” No, we are here today to see how God loved the world. To see what he did about all the suffering in this world. What he did so that even the one who feels unloveable, even the one who feels like no one cares, so that every person sees what God did to prove his love to you – to do something about your pain and suffering.
God loves you, not just with “lovey dovey” feelings. God’s love is his action for you. “God so loved the world that he gave…” (Jn 3:16). Gave what? A new car? A new house? A million dollars? No. Better than that. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). Who of you would give up your own child? Imagine that your child was in the hospital recovering from an illness. A doctor comes into the room and tells you that there is a child a few rooms down who is dying. But that other child will live if you are willing to give her your own child’s heart. It will mean, of course, that your child will die. But the other child will live. Who would ask for such a thing? Who would agree to such a thing? Who would be willing to make such a sacrifice?
Your God would. In fact, your God did. He gave his one and only Son. That is what tonight is all about. That little baby in the manger is God’s gift to you, to the world. Not a gift wrapped in paper, but a gift wrapped in cloths. Not a gift placed under a tree, but a gift placed in a manger. That little baby is God’s gift to you. That little baby is the greatest gift you will ever be given. No matter what you unwrap later tonight or tomorrow morning, Jesus is worth far more. He restored your broken relationship with God – a relationship broken by sin. He willingly went from lying in that manger to hanging on a cross where he paid the penalty that your sins and mine deserve. The baby whose birth we are here to celebrate took our place and paid our price so that God is now able to say, “I forgive you. I no longer hold your sins against you.” And the hymn we just sang weaves those two pictures together beautifully – the manger and the cross. The infant and the Savior. The words to the song are from a Christmas hymn. But the melody is from a Good Friday hymn – “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” The two pictures are connected. The child was born to die as your Savior. God gave his Son to gain you.
So that takes care of the problem of sin. What about the problem of suffering I still endure? I still can’t believe that a loving God allows it. Well, I guess you have two choices. Either you could continue to deny God completely, but what does that leave you with? You still have all the same pains, all the same sufferings, yet still no answers. Or, you can trust that God is loving as he says – loving as he’s shown – and see that sometimes God allows suffering to remind us that this is not how it’s supposed to be – this is not our eternal home. He even uses suffering at times to bring us closer to him. Since you have a Savior from the corruption of sin, you also have a Savior from the effects of sin. “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” (Jn 3:16). That eternal life is life in heaven. God sometimes allows suffering to bring you close or keep you close to him, trusting that there is more to life. There is something better than here. There is eternal life in heaven where there is no more mourning or crying or pain. Where all things are made new again!
For many people, Christmas is a favorite time of year – a time of calm and peace and comfort. But, before long, it passes, and we are back to our busy lives. Before long, we are back to the realities of this world with all of its stress and sadness and sin. And, if Christmas was nothing more than parties and presents, it would have nothing to offer when we return to the realities of this world. But tonight, you see that Christmas is much more than parties and presents. It’s much more than a day or two pause for peace and joy before returning to everything else. Christmas is proof that God loves the world. It is proof that God loves you. Remember this during times of suffering and you are tempted to wonder if God even cares. He does. That baby in the manger proves it. The Savior dead on the cross and risen from the grave proves it. And that means Christmas is more than just a season – it’s the gift of eternity.