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The Power of "His Story"
Scripture: John 3:16
Track 7 of 7 in the Transforming Story: As We Tell It series
Running time: 27 minutes, 18 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Jesus Loves Me"

Anna and Susan Warner began writing to help the family financial situation. Their father, Henry Warner, lost their fortune in the 1837 depression. Ann wrote a song to include in her sister's novel, Say and Seal. It was a short-lived, but very popular work of fiction. The story included a Sunday school teacher's ministry to a dying boy.

In his attempt to comfort the boy in his final hours, Mr. Linden, the teacher, recited the poem supplied by Anna Warner. William Bradbury (musical scores for Sweet Hour of Prayer, He Leadeth Me, and On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand) was mesmerized by the story and the poem. So he wrote a score to accompany the poem.

Mr. Linden read the words, which, when accompanied by Bradbury's music, has become the most famous children's song of all time. We still sing it today. "Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me."

This 140 year-old song still captures the heart of children. It still captures the heart of His story. There are no more important words ever written. "Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so." But, just where does the Bible "tell me so"?

Many would guess John 3:16. But that says "God loves me." Close, but not quite. However, Revelation 1:5b says, "To Him who loves us..." "Loves" is a present participle. It's an ongoing action ocurring in the present. He loves us now. He keeps on loving us. He can't stop loving us. It's his nature to love.

It actually sounds a lot like a paraphrase of Romans 8. There Paul announces that "nothing can separate us from the love of God which is founding Christ Jesus." The greatest news ever announced, or written about, or sung, is recorded in a 140 year-old children's song, "Jesus loves me..."

October 29, 2006 - The Power of "His Story"

We've talked about the fact that you have a story, that something that God has done in you gives you a remarkable tale to tell to a world that wants to hear it. And that when you tell your story, it often opens doors into the lives of people because they connect with your story. They resonate with you. But the real question happens or the real question comes in trying to figure out what you say once that door is open. What's the message that we give to a world that needs to hear something that might bring transformation into the world that they live in, that brings transformation into their own personal existence? We've been spending this whole year talking about that story. We started out almost a year ago in Genesis, chapter 1, simply talking about the story. We spent six or seven months just trying to retell the basic pieces of the story. We talked this summer about how you live that story so that what you look like matches what you are supposed to be. We're right in the heart of talking about how to tell the story and we come to the one verse that is probably the most famous verse in all of scripture, John, chapter 3, verse 16. I am guessing that if you have been around the church any time at all, you have heard this verse. Most of you who have been in church for any length of time have it memorized. John 3:16, the story.

So what's the message that we give to people when we hear this particular story? If you want to look at John 3:16 just so you'll have it in front of you, you can open your bible. If not, you can comb your memory and you can probably call it up. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son..." Some of you are saying it with me. Feel free. "... that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life." That's not the end of that particular paragraph, you know. The next few verses are also a part of what he has to say. He says in verse 17, the follow-up to that is "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." This is the verdict. "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes in to the light so that it may be plainly seen that what he has done has been done through God." Here is our message. It's just a simple thing–for God so loved the world. The scope of that message is that his love includes us. Now that shouldn't be news to any of you, and yet I've become increasingly convinced that there are people who are not sure that they fall under that particular message, that the love of God is for them. But somehow, something they may have done in their life or something done to them or some injustice in the world around them convinces them that the love of God must be limited to a few. And certainly the attitude of some Christian people, unfortunately, has been to communicate that the love of God is only for those like us.

I want to read for you just a brief quotation. One commentator on John 3:16 says "it was the world that God so loved, it was not a nation. It was not the good people. It was not only the people who loved him. It was the world. The unlovable and the unlovely. The lonely who have no one else to love them. The man who loves God and the man who never thinks of him. The man who rests in the love of God and the man who spurns it. All are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine had it, God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love." Somehow in the heart of hearts that exists within each of us we must come to grips with the fact that it is the nature of God to love. It is impossible for him not to love and absolutely nothing that you have done or ever could do can keep him from loving you. Nothing that has ever been done to you is in any way evidence that he has stopped loving you. I think one of the greatest theological statements in all of scripture occurs at the very end of the book of Jonah. This little four-chapter prophet that most of us have heard ever since we were little children, even if we didn't go to church we heard about that fish swallowing this prophet. And there in Jonah's book, as Jonah is trying to wrestle with why God has not struck down Nineveh, he comes sitting on a mountainside overlooking this great city, pouting, and in this conversation with God has this profound statement of deep theology. Jonah, chapter 4. Jonah 4 starts "Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord. Oh, Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That's why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, and abounding in love." Jonah understood something about the heart of God that all of us need to come to grips with–that God abounds in love. It's his nature to love and even the rebellion of his own children can't stop him from loving them. One of my favorite chapters in scripture is the 11th chapter of Hosea where we hear this description of God's love for people, that he is the one who literally took them by the hands and taught them to walk. It's that image that you have of a father or a mother bent over with the children, holding on to their fingers, and they're teaching them how to walk and there is this sense of just deep compassion and love for a child. The text goes on to say that Israel rebelled against God, against the very God who taught them to walk and he says I've had it. I am up to here with your rebellion. And it's almost as if there's a blank spot in the page. It's almost as if there's a pause for you to stop and think about the fact that God could ultimately run out of patience. And then he says how can I give you up? I am not man, I am God and so I will not give up on you. That's the message–that God cares so much about us that there is not one single thing that you could ever do to stop him from pursuing you. The scope of his love includes you, whoever you are, whatever you circumstances, whatever you have done or has been done to you, whatever you're thinking today about your relationship with him, whether you even have one with him, the one thing that stands as absolutely certain is that God loves you.

So what is it that our message entails when the door opens and God give us an opportunity to speak to somebody? What is it that we say to them? Well, among other things, we say this: the depth of his love is so demanding that it required the gift of his own son, the sacrifice of his son. God so loved the world that he gave. There's a marvelous sermon that was preached, oh dozens of times I suppose, maybe more, by Ennis Dowling, the librarian at Lincoln Christian College and Seminary called "Love is Like That." I should have just brought it and played it for you and sat down. It simply story after story after story of people who demonstrated or animals who demonstrated or God who demonstrated that love is like this. He has painted a picture of what it was like for people to demonstrate the love of God to other people and then for God to demonstrate his love for us. And every time he came to the end of the story, Mr. Dowling would simply say, "love is like that."

This story is told as true. It is, in my mind, so absurdly unbelievable that I have trouble believing that it's true and yet, every time I look for the story, it is always told as a true story. Most of you who have ever heard preaching or heard me preach have heard the story, but I'm going to tell it to you again. It takes place in the Depression. The actual event occurred in 1937 at a bridge over the Mississippi River. The man's name was John Griffith. He was a unemployed Oklahoma transplant. The Dust Bowl had taken his farm and he had gone wherever he could to find a job and felt good that he found a place to work at a drawbridge on the Mississippi River. He had one simple task–get the draw bridge down when the train came, get it up when the boats came. It was work and he loved it. He took his eight-year-old son to work with him one day in 1937. They were having a grand day together, father and son. At noon, when there was no work to be done, they went out on the catwalk that overlooked the Mississippi. They sat and had lunch and talked together and lost track of the time when all of a sudden, the Memphis Express whistle went off, a 400-passenger train. He told his son to stay where he was and he ran back up to his post. He did what he always did. He looked up the river and down the river. He looked under the bridge to make sure that there was no boat in the way. He prepared to push the lever when he looked down and realized that his eight-year-old son had fallen and was down in the gearbox. As any parent would do, he raced through all of the options, the scenarios. Could he get to his son, get him out of the gearbox, get back up to his post and push the lever in time, and the answer was no. So he buried his head and he pushed the lever. And 400 people went by safely, totally oblivious to the death of his eight-year-old son. True story or not, love is like that. Even when you were oblivious to the fact that God was pursuing you, even when you could have cared less that there was a God in the universe, this God chose to love you so much that he sent his son to a horrid death for you. If you never acknowledge that, he would still send his son for you. That is the depth of this text. The story that we tell is a God of the universe who loves us so incredibly that he will give up his own son. Frankly, I can't imagine it. No offense to any of you, but I'm not sending my child to death for you. I don't have that depth of love in my spirit. I just don't have it. I'm not sure if I had been John Griffith if I'd have pushed the lever. But if I'd been on that train, I'd have been wanting that man to do what he had to do.

So what's the message? What is it that we tell people? It's not just that the love of God includes them, it's that the love of God is so incredibly demanding that it required the sacrifice of his own son and he gave it willingly. So what do we tell them? We tell them that the only legitimate response to the love of God is for you to believe in his son. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him. It's a profound issue. I don't know if we pay much attention to it because most of us who sit in this room Sunday after Sunday have already made that decision. We've chosen to believe in Jesus. We've given ourselves to him in some way. At some level we have responded to him because we're here. We're not somewhere else. We're here. But if you think about it, that is a profound issue because it assumes that you can choose to believe in Jesus. I'm utterly fascinated by that word as it's used in the gospel of John alone, much less the rest of the New Testament. It is John's express purpose according to John, chapter 20. He wrote these things in order that those who read this story, who heard about Jesus, would believe and in believing have life in his son. That was the whole point of telling every story. In fact, this word occurs dozens of times in the book. The issue is belief and over and over and over again he says he put his belief in the son, they put their belief in the son, they put their belief in ... do you hear it? They put their belief in the son. They made a choice to believe in Jesus. It doesn't happen by osmosis. It will not occur just because you sit around and listen to somebody preach long enough. It only happens ultimately when you choose to believe that Jesus is who he says he is and that his offer is real. It's a choice. In fact, come back to this text and listen to the language of choice. Come back to verse 18, "whoever believes in him, but whoever does not believe in him." Verse 19, "light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." Do you hear the choices being made here? God sends his son, he comes as the light of the world, the world refuses to accept that light, to believe that light, because they know if they step into that light, it's going to show what they're really like down inside the crevices of their heart and it's easier, it's easier to keep that hidden.

The story is told of an Arab chieftan who found a spy in his country and he was going to be executing him. He took him out into the courtyard where there was a firing squad. There was also a large door and the chieftan said you have your choice: you can face the firing squad or you can go through the door. After a long hesitation, the man said, "I'll take the firing squad." And so they shot him. The reporter that day asked this Arab chieftan, "What's behind the door?" And the man said, "Freedom, but nobody ever chooses it." People choose that which they know rather than the unknown because the unknown is so frightening. Some of you have been listening to the story of Jesus.. You have heard it again and again and again. And yet there's just enough about what's on the other side of that choice that is unknown to you, what God is going to do in your life, what may change in your heart, what kinds of things may go on in your soul, that you are choosing to stay on this side of that choice because at least on this side of the choice you know what to expect next. But the only way you will every experience freedom is to choose the door called faith, to believe in Jesus, to trust him with your heart and your life and to give yourself to him.

So what is this message? What is this story? Well, the story is God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. See the consequence of your choice, the consequence of his love, the whole desired goal of what God is trying to do for us in this world is to give us eternal life. Now we're not talking about more of the same. If all God is offering me is more of this to last forever, I choose not to take it, thanks. I'd just as soon have it over with and be done. But that is the challenge of trying to understand eternal life in scripture. It's a fancy theological term called realized eschatology: the now and the not yet. And in some rather esoteric way we live in two worlds–a physical limited world and a spiritual world. And on this earth we still hurt and we still suffer and ultimately we still die. But because we have responded to Jesus, the life we live here now begins to make more sense. The things that happen to us take on different meaning. The ability to handle what happens comes to our life because of the presence of God and our confidence that he knows what he's doing. And while all of that is happening down here, we have become eternal creatures destined to live with God forever, in spite of what happens down here, a life in his presence, a life that scripture doesn't even know how to describe. It just simply says for me to live is Christ, to die is gain. It simply says that when we leave this place, we go to another that is better, whatever that happens to be, and it all comes back to this fundamental story that God is interested in transforming your life in this world and preparing you for the next. And so one more time I challenge you to read our story board and to hear the stories of people's lives who have been changed, whose whole being has been transformed by the presence of Christ and whose hope is now in the hereafter and the forever in his presence.

There are two statements that I want to read that I think are good summary statements of what I have been trying to tell you this morning. And then I'm going to invite you to answer a question and I'm going to invite you to celebrate our future, our hope in Jesus Christ. Corey Ten Boom, from the Hiding Place, makes this comment. "The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that he gave his only son. The only requirement is to believe in him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life." That's a pretty good summary of John 3:16. Let me give you another one from the apostle Paul. "There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men, the testimony given in its proper time." That statement about his gift of a ransom comes on the heels of Paul's comment, this is good and pleases God our savior who wants all men to be saved. God wants nothing more and nothing less than for you to believe in his son, to trust him, to let him come in to your life and transform you into the person that God is desiring you to become and to give you hope forever. It's a simple verse and a really simple message–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. Because of what God has done in Christ and what Christ has accomplished in you, you have opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the life that God wants to give to you. We're going to sing that celebration. We're going to voice that before the father. We're just going to let him know how much we appreciate that resurrected life. And while we're singing, I'm going to be standing right over here out of the way, but if you have not yet believed, if you have not yet trusted him, if there's another step you need to make in your journey, please come over and see me. Let's talk about what you need to do next. Let's stand and sing this together. Let's celebrate what Jesus has done.