March 11 – 4th Sunday in Lent
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read John 3: 14 – 21
[In the Children’s sermon set up the crosses one in front of the other starting with the baptismal font and then the processional cross, the Christmas/Lenten cross, all in front of the Altar crosses.]
Grace and peace as you let God’s will be done in your life, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some of you might be wondering why I lined up all the crosses one in front of the other. Well it’s all about our scripture readings for today and especially our gospel reading that explains how when God’s will is being done in our lives we let God’s love go to work in us, through us and for us. Let me explain what I mean by God’s love working in us, through us and for us by using John chapter 3, our gospel reading for today.
Nicodemus came to talk with Jesus about how to get into the kingdom of God. That’s something that we all want, right, to be in the Kingdom of God now and for all eternity? Well Jesus knew what Nicodemus was looking for and so He answered some of his questions before he could even ask them. Jesus knew that Nicodemus was going to ask, “How do I get into the Kingdom of God?” So Jesus said, before he asked it, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.“ (Jn. 3:5)
(Standing by the baptismal font) God’s will is that each of us would come to believe in Him. But that can’t happen in us because we are spiritually dead in our sins, just like the Israelite in the wilderness were dead with all the snakes biting them. We are all snake bitten and we are going to die unless God does something to help us. God comes to help us and He does that in our baptism as we are washed of all our sins because Jesus took them all to the cross of Calvary and there shed His blood, his cleansing blood, to cleanse us of all our sins and gives to us the Holy Spirit to enable us to believe in Him and live. (Move the Baptismal font off to the side.) The Israelites in the wilderness needed to look to the cross with the snake hanging on it when a snake bit them and they lived, we need to look to the cross with Jesus hanging on it for us to live when we have been bitten by sin.
(Standing by the cross with the snake upon it.) Nicodemus couldn’t understand how God could wash away all his sins and allow him to be in the kingdom of God without him doing something. So, Jesus referred Nicodemus to something what He had learned a long time ago, as He said. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:14-15)
You see God’s will for each us is that we would come to know the love of God for us and want to live with God in His perfect love now and forever, but that means that God has do something about our sins and the serpent who tempts us to become sinners over and over again. Just like when the people of Israel were in the wilderness dying because of the snakebites, so God told Moses to make a bronze snake and hang it up on a cross so that the people could look at it and live. (take the snake off the cross and point to the symbol of Christ.) God told His Son that He would have to take all the sins of the world to the cross of Calvary and there make the full and final payment for all of them for us, so that we could live and not die. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of man, lived that perfect life for us so that He could be lifted up on the cross and suffer hell for us so that we could have live instead of death.
[Set the processional cross off to the side and stand by the Christmas/Lenten Cross.] Jesus tells us about God’s will for us as He says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3: 16) God knew that if Jesus was going to be able to save us from the damnation of sin and give us eternal life with Him, He would have to go through everything that we have to go through in this world. So, Jesus was conceived in His mother’s womb just like each of us only without sin, Jesus was born into this world of sin just like each of us and lived in this world with all the temptations only He didn’t fall into any sin because of the temptations of the devil or the world. Jesus is that perfect child that every parent wants, including God our heavenly Father and yet God’s love for each of us is so great that He was willing to give His Only Son up for each of us so that we would not perish into hell but live with Him forever.
This Christmas/Lenten Cross is sappy, sticky, messy and may not look all that beautiful, but giving up your only son for people who don’t always care for you is a sappy, sticky and messy situation that doesn’t look very beautiful unless you see it through the eyes of a loving Father who gave His Only Son for you and you and you … and me. [Move the Christmas/Lenten cross off to the side and sit down by the altar.]
Jesus tells us, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (Jn. 3:17-18)
On the front of this altar there is a cross engraved on a piece of oak placed in the altar. That cross is placed in the middle of a perfect triangle, the symbol of the Trinity of God, and also in the middle of a circle, which is the symbol of eternity. Now most of you might not be able to see the cross, triangle and circle on this altar but they are there to remind us of the eternal love of God for each of us. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew that when they made this world for us that we would miss use the free will given to us, so that we could share in God’s love. Yet, God’s love for all the world, that is each and every one of us, is so great that He sent His Only Son into this world, not to destroy us for what we have done, but to save us from the destruction that we have brought upon ourselves. It is belief in what Jesus did for us on the Cross of Calvary that bring us to the Love of God for us now and for all eternity. [Standing up next to the Altar and lighting the candles on the Altar.]
Jesus says to us, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (Jn. 3:19- 21)
Every other Sunday we have communion and we light the candles on the altar as a reminder that the light of God, Jesus Christ, who came into this world to bring us the light of God’s love by His very body and blood shed for us on the cross of Calvary. This is the light of God’s love for each of us and we are reminded of it by the Crucifix, the cross-showing Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, sitting on the altar. There are five other crosses on this altar and they are found woven into the altar cloth representing the four nails that nailed Jesus to the cross for all our sins and the spear that pierce His side and lungs to show us that He died for us. The light of God’s love for us is seen in the extent that God would go to bring us to His love, peace and joy once again. When the light of God’s love is shown upon your life what does it show? The love of God for the world or the wickedness of our sins? God’s will is that all our sin be drowned in His love from the beginning of our lives in Baptism to the end of our lives, when He comes to take us to be with Him for all eternity in the heavenly Kingdom prepared for us by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the True Triune God.
[Stepping away from the altar and looking up at the cross in the window.] “For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
We are blessed because each time that we come here we get to look out through the Cross of Christ onto the world that God loves so much that He gave His Only Son, so that we could live with Him, in His love, peace and joy now and for all eternity. The cross that makes up the window that we look out of each time that we come here is sometimes hard to see, because we just look out upon the world we live in and are not focused on the cross of God’s love for us. God’s will for each of us is NOT just to look at the Cross of Christ and remember the greatness of God’s love for us, but to look through the Cross of Christ to see the world that needs the love of God given to us through His Word and Sacraments, so that each and every member of our family, our friends, our neighbors and even our enemies will come to know and believe in the Son of God who showed us His love for us by His life, death and resurrection and invites them to come and live with Him in God’s love, peace and joy for all eternity. May God’s will be done in our lives as we share God’s love with others. Amen.