Lenten Series: A Season of Decision, A Season of Victory, Part 4:
The Centerpiece of the Bible

March 18, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

John 3:16

16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

Lists of Ten

One of the things we have been working on together as a church family is our prayer practice during Lent. We have been thinking about lists of ten in our private prayer time. My private prayer time is when I first wake up in the morning. Does anyone have a different time of prayer that they would like to share with us? (Congregation responds.) Steve likes to pray when he is walking around his neighborhood. Arlene has a favorite chair she likes to sit in when she prays. Ruthie likes to pray when she is in bed and just before she falls asleep. Others like to have daily prayers before meals.

 

Over the past weeks we have been working on our lists of ten.

The first week we considered ten things that we are grateful for.

The second week we thought of ten sources of strength.

Last week we prayed for Spring Cleaning for the soul. Impatience, fear, anxiety, procrastination, these are some things that we need to sweep from our souls.

This week I invite you to pray for ten people.

My guess is that you will come up with more than ten people who you want to pray for, but ten is a good number.  Prayer is a powerful force - so letís think of ten people that we want to send love to and to bless this week.

 

What Is the Centerpiece of the Bible?

Is there one phrase in the Bible that is most important? Is there one phrase that is more precious than the rest? We would be hard pressed to come up with an answer. Would it be the 23rd Psalm? Or how about the Lordís Prayer?  Or Isaiah 43: 2? There are many, many important teachings from the Bible. But is there one phrase that is most important?

 

The Bible is like a great big mountain. It starts in the valley of ancient Old Testament thinking and gradually rises up in consciousness until it comes to the peak. On the peak of the mountain is Jesus Christ. Is there a verse that symbolizes all that Jesus did or all that He was? Is there a centerpiece to the Bible? I would suggest that there is.  It can be found in this morningís readings.

 

We can take a hint from the Christians who hold up those signs at sporting events.  Have you seen them?  Perhaps all I need to say to you is, "three sixteen", and you may know what I am talking about.  In choosing to hold up that sign, those folks have chosen well.

 

Here is what I believe is the very centerpiece of the Bible:

John 3: 16-17

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. That whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but may have eternal life. 17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

I believe that this is the mountaintop!  This is the centerpiece of the Holy Bible!

 

The Centerpiece of Our Sanctuary

What if you came to church one Sunday and this beautiful altar, cross and candles were placed way over there in a corner? You would wonder what all those precious things were doing way over there. Why arenít they front and center? These items are the centerpiece of our sanctuary, because they remind us of the centerpiece of our lives. As Christians, the centerpiece of our lives is Jesus Christ. So the altar is our centerpiece here in the church. 

 

I had a person come to me one day and say, ďPastor, I like coming to church but I wasnít raised in it. If I got off a space ship from Mars and asked you to explain to me about the Bible and religion, what would you say?Ē

 

Wow! What a question!  How much time have I got? What would you say? Friend, I would take him to John 3:16, I would take him to the centerpiece of the Bible.  And depending on how much time we had, I would take him to the 23 Psalm, to the Easter story, and many other places.  But if I just had a few moments, I would use this verse to anchor his soul.

 

Letís study this together.

 

For God So Loved the World

First of all, please underline the words, For God so loved the world. That is where it all starts. At the heart of it all is Godís love. Some people might think that God is judgmental and punishing and stern. Well, in the early days that was the view of God, and even today some of our brethren continue to hold that view.   But that is not what the Bible says! The Bible says God so lovedóit all begins with the love, the love of God for the whole world. He has got everybody in His hands. God loves the folks that we think are lovable, but He also loves those folks that we think are not so lovable. 

 

God loves the people that are devoted to Him, and worship and respect Him, and He even loves those who do not.  God loves all of his children. It all starts with the heart of God.  It all starts with God's love.  This is the core. 

 

There is a very good reason that the traditional American spiritual, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" has survived for hundreds of years.  It is a timeless tune, of course, and a timeless message.  "He's got the little tiny baby in His hands; He's got you and me, brother, in His hands, He's got you and me, sister, in His hands, He's got everybody in His hands; He's got the whole world in His hands."

 

Years from now, folks may not be able to remember exactly what this preacher said in his sermons.  I can only hope that even if this is so, they might remember how each sermon concludes.

 

On a rainy night in May in the year 1738, a despondent man walking home after a Sunday evening Church service, lonely and confused and feeling failure in his heart, had an insight.  The insight was simply that God loved even him.  Even him!  God even loves John Wesley.  And that night, the founder of the United Methodist Church had the insight that would make all the difference in the world.

 

Yes, God so loved the world.

 

That He Gave His Only Begotten Son

The verse continues: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 

 

Here is a key to life in this world and beyond.

 

God sent His only Son (I like to refer to Jesus as God's "unique" Son, because we are all the Sons and Daughters of God) to demonstrate to us that He would go through what we go through.  That we are not alone in the sufferings of this world.  He sent His Son to show that He understands, that He cares, that he feels what we feel.  Herein is love.  Herein is salvation.  Herein is divine understanding.  Herein is the meaning of the incarnation and the cross for me. Herein is what inspires my love of and devotion to God and Jesus Christ. How about you?

 

A man went to a doctor and complained about having a buzzing in his ears, a low level buzzing that never went away. Although the doctor couldnít cure the man, there was a certain kind of healing that happened when he told the man, "Yes, I know what you mean.  That kind of thing is very hard to cure.  I should know - I have it myself, 24/7."  The doctor showed that he understood what the man was going through. Jesus understands what we are going through, the pain and the suffering and the difficulties that we go through, as well as the joys.

 

That Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life

This verse tells us that those who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, who pray a prayer of invitation for Him to enter their lives, have the blessed assurance of everlasting life.

 

The blessed assurance of everlasting life!

 

Herein is salvation!  Herein is hope.  Ultimate hope. Herein is the promise of the Son of God that, in the life to come, we shall be with Him forever!  In John 14, Jesus assures us, "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you also may be."

 

This, my Friend, is the assurance of heaven.  It is not the earning of heaven.  It is the blessed assurance of it. I believe that heaven is a state of uninterrupted eternal joyous consciousness. 

 

It is the assurance of the transition from this life into the life to come. 

We will be with Jesus, and therefore with our loved ones who are also with Him.  He has gone to prepare a place for us, that where He is, we also will be.

 

Such is the assurance of a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

 

What about the Others?

But, wait just a moment. Suppose someone asks you, what of those who have not accepted the Lord, at least not in the way we know?

 

Especially,

What of those who "walk the walk," but don't "talk the talk?"

What of them?

What of our Jewish and other non-Christian friends?

What if this question is put to us?

 

Friend, I invite you to join me in stepping out of the judgment business.

 

The only one we need to answer for before God: that is the one who looks back at us in the mirror.

That is why the blessed assurance as described here is so precious.

 

And, of course, we want everyone to have the blessed assurance of life everlasting;

That is why we share our faith, and encourage others to accept the promise of Jesus.

 

But in the end, we must trust everyone, all of God's children, to His tender mercy.

 

In pondering this question, let me ask you how would you deal with your children?

Of course.

 

By the way, who put those good parental instincts in your heart?

That's right.

 

When asked this question, I respond with thoughts inspired by the words of a great hymn,

There's  a Wideness in God's Mercy (UMHymnal #121, but here using the original words of the author, Frederick William Faber, 1862 unaltered.)

"There's a wideness in God's mercy

Like the wideness of the sea.

There's a kindness in His justice

That is more than liberty.

 

There is welcome for the sinner,

And more graces for the good!

There is mercy with the Savior,

There is healing in His blood.

 

For the love of God is broader

Than the measure of man's mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.

 

There is no place where earth's sorrows

are more felt than in heaven;

there is no place where earth's failings

have such kind judgment given.

 

If our love were but more simple,

We should rest upon His word.

And our lives would be all sunshine

In the sweetness of our Lord."

God loves all His children!

He is not judgmental.

I believe in nonjudgmental blessed assurance of everlasting life.

Jesus goes to prepare a place for us, that we may be with Him forever

in unending consciousness and everlasting joy.

 

Thank you for exploring with me these timeless words of Holy Scripture,

The priceless Centerpiece of the Bible: John 3:16.

 

God loves you, Friend. I do, too. I wish you a wonderful week.  Amen.

© 2012 Anthony J. Godlefski