The Gospel: St. John 3:16-21
In this way God has loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that all, who believe in him, are not lost, but have eternal life. For God has not sent his Son into the world, that he would condemn the world, but that the world would be saved by him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned; but whoever does not believe is already condemned; for he does not believe in the Name of the only begotten Son of God. That is, however, the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness more than the light, for their works were evil. Whoever does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works are not rebuked. But whoever does the truth comes to the light that his works are evident, for they are done in God. (Translated from the German text.)
Beloved in Christ!
Job says in chapter 32:8, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.” These words teach us clearly and distinctly, that the earthly creation of the person and all creatures, as a work of the Father and of the Son, so also is a work of God the Holy Spirit. Thus the entire creation lauds and praises God the Holy Spirit as well as God the Father and the Son. When the lovely color1 of the flowers in the field, the ingenious structure of the human body, or the very wise establishment of the powers of his Spirit move us in righteous wondrousness, then at every time we also have the miracles of the Holy Spirit to praise.
Only, even as highly as the creation of the earthly things praises God the Holy Spirit, still his greatest and most praiseworthy work is that, to which our excellent gospel of today refers, although it does not make mention of the Holy Spirit. Let us now direct our attention to it and consider:
Let us see:
- How a person shall be saved;
- How the person views such salvation;
- How it, according to this, is the greatest miracle that he really becomes saved.
How a person shall be saved.
This question is truly answered by the entire Holy Scripture. For it indeed has no other purpose than to teach salvation to the person. But the answer also stands in the one passage, with which today’s text begins: “In this way God has loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that all, who believe in him, are not lost, but have eternal life.” In this way God has loved the world! - It is not to be surprising, that at the hearing of these words, a heathen exclaimed, “Is that possible? Can the Son of God, the eternal truth, even have said this?” - For isn’t this something inexpressibly great: God has loved the world? Consider still, who and of what nature God is - and of what nature the world is. What an opposite! I do not know it to be described better than with Dr. Luther’s words: “That is a wonderful, unusual love. For here is an entirely very foreign contrast of the one who is loved to the one who loves, namely God. How does such love of God to the world fit? And what does He find in the world, for which reason he should thus pour himself out to it? If it would, however, be said that He loved the angels, they would at least be glorious creatures, worthy of love. But in return for this, what is the world other than a heap of such people, who do not fear, who neither trust nor love, neither praise nor thank God, who abuse all creatures, blaspheme his name, who despise his Word, in addition disobedient people, murderers, adulterers, thieves, rogues, liars, traitors, full of unfaithfulness and all evil malice, and in short, transgressors of all commandments, and in all circumstances obstructive people, depending on God’s enemy, the vexatious devil. This world God has loved. That is truly a love above all measure. And that is truly a wonderful teaching and unusual truth, that God loved the world.” - Thus Luther. Doesn’t he portray the world, that is, the entire humanity by nature, correctly? Yes truly, for the scripture indeed says about it, that the world lies in the evil one, that is, is completely in its element there, like the fish in water. And God has loved it. Indeed, how divinely wonderful is this teaching! God - world - eternal wrath; that fits well. God - world - love of God; that surpasses all inventions of the intelligence.
Then what does God want now with his love to the world? What is his love’s desire? He wants that this so damnable world will not be damned and go lost, but obtain eternal life. - O, what a proclamation! God, who loses nothing if all humans go lost, God, the only God insulted by all human sin, whom no person loves and no person is capable to love by nature, God does not want that the damnable man would inherit the well-deserved damnation, would sink into the well deserved punishment. Yes, and not enough that he wants to take away the punishment; he wants to give eternal life, that is, eternal peace, joy, happiness, blessedness, delight in him, and his glory. Not only does he want to have the damnable person unpunished before him, which indeed could already be called a favor and remission, but rather he wants to draw him close by himself and to himself, as if the person would be so exceedingly dear to him, and wants to have him taste and feel what lovely essence is in him, the blessed God, the highest good. For what is the eternal life other than to be in God and his blessed essence and rejoice. God wants that in his love. - O comfort above measure! If God wants it, who alone is to be feared, and is the Lord, with whom stands killing and quickening2, condemning and saving; if God the Most High wants it, oh, then it must indeed be certain. For what shall still lock eternal life away from us, where God’s will wants to give it?
Still, how can God want such a thing? How can one open his heart to such a will without fear? - For doesn’t God’s Word say that we are children of wrath by nature, namely of God’s wrath? Isn’t death the wages of sin? God himself says that. Doesn’t the law condemn the sinner, and isn’t the law God’s law, God’s will, God’s threat? - Ah, indeed all of a sudden there is again a fearful abyss, which separates the world and God’s love, the world and eternal life from each other.
Yes, beloved, it would certainly be, if it would not be recorded in the text: God has given his only begotten Son. That is the gift of God’s love, who is also the basis of God’s love to the world and the firm basis of eternal life to those, who have merited damnation. In the frightful abyss, which is between God and the world for the sake of the world’s sin, - which is called eternal wrath of God, curse of the law, and damnation, - into that God has given his beloved Son. He has carried the wrath and curse, he has swallowed sin, death, hell, and damnation, he has become our cause, transferee3, and earner of eternal life, in him we are made pleasing to God, as purified in his blood from all sins. In him God has loved us from eternity and granted eternal life in him for the sake of his holy obedience, which he at one time shall afford and has afforded.
O, we highly pardoned sinners! What a gift out of God’s hearty love for us, who have earned a curse. What more should or can God do and give! For because he gives us the Son, what does he reserve, that he would not grant us? Is he, the beloved Son, not Lord and heir of all creatures? Isn’t everything put under him? Isn’t absolutely everything in him? Isn’t he then the fullness that fills everything, the fullness of all lovely, blessed essence that is in God? Isn’t he then life, which overcomes death; righteousness, that makes all sin to disgrace; blessing, that takes away all curse; peace, that knows no fear and punishment; holiness, that knows nothing about sins; joy without sadness; fullness without deficiency; - even heaven? Where the same is, everything is indeed all right and blessedness exists. - What more then would a person want to wish and desire for himself than this gift of God, the Son, and heaven with him. - And now, you fellow sinners and with me and all sinners who are worthy of damnation, hear yet again and again the divinely great, comfort-rich message: He who believes - as it reads here in the text - takes and has the inexpressibly great gift of God’s love, the Son, and with him everything, heaven with all eternal glory and blessedness of God, - he is blessed, free from all damnation and all judgment. God has not sent his son into the world that he would judge the world, but that the world would be blessed by him.
Now then, beloved, thus we have the answer to the first point, namely, how a person should be blessed. - Now is our further question:
How the person views such salvation,…
…what he thinks about that, how he reacts to it. What shall one think then? This proclamation about one such love and gift of God is just like a great radiating sun. Where shall it not shine? Like a violent fire, what in it shall not glow and become warm? Like a mighty sea, whom shall it not tear away? Who shall not adhere to such a message of love, such a saving proclamation with a jubilating heart? Yes, one would think, as soon as a man would only hear about it, that he lies under damnation for the sake of sin, but that God loved him in spite of all unworthiness, and in order to rescue him did not spare his own dear Son, and has judged and punished this one instead of the sinner, that soon he will always be won, to believe such a message and to praise God about it. Only our Lord says a completely different thing. He says, “That is, however, the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness more than the light.” What a horrifying description the Lord makes here of all people, according to their natural way! Yes, nobody would indeed like to believe that. Doesn’t Jesus say it and doesn’t experience teach it? As Luther already said, “Who would be able to believe it, that people on earth would be able to be so evil and full of the devil, that they, even when they see the light and hear about God’s inexpressible love and benefit, that he wants to give them eternal life through his Son, nevertheless do not want to and cannot tolerate such a message. Yes, even though the light is so evident, that they would be able to say nothing against it, and must confess that it is the truth, still they are so bitterly angry, that they cannot nor want to receive it, but knowingly set themselves against it. No person’s heart would certainly be able to believe such a thing if Christ would not have said it. Yes, nobody would even understand these words, where action and experience would not teach it. And that may indeed be called a cursed, hellish wickedness, not only not asking for God’s Word, scorning his love and grace, and not wanting to give honor to the truth, but on account of that also knowingly and willingly loving and seeking his own ruin and damnation, as St. Paul (Acts 13:46) says about the Jews: that they do not even value themselves worthy of eternal life.”
It stands in this way with such people - and they are that, which Christ the Lord calls the world and about whom the Scripture says that it lies in the evil one. And by nature all humanity also belongs to that. Yet the natural person does not believe such a thing, but holds himself as good and pious. For this reason Luther also says: Even those love the darkness more than the light in Christ, who want to be called pious, good and righteous and want never to suffer that their works and life should be called evil. And let nobody be deceived here. For someone thinks he would believe the message and love the light of grace, because he accepts it superficially and leaves it standing still; but he will indeed find, that even in his interior the enmity is fixed against the gospel, as in all places where there is only a faith that is feigned.
Now Christ also declares the reason why they love the darkness more than the light, and says, “For your works were evil.” He also explains it similarly through a general sentence. “Whoever does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works are not rebuked. But whoever does the truth comes to the light, that his works will be evident, for they are done in God.” As if he wanted to say: If a man is in God and stands in the truth, then he will not flee the light from God; now, however, because he does evil and is in the evil one, he hates the light. And in this way the entire Scripture speaks. The law already condemns all wickedness of the person. Yes, it depicts that he is full of wicked desire and in his best works is still godless before God. Rather the light in Christ, the gospel of the gift of God’s love depicts that namely the Son is given to us alone as our only help, righteousness, and holiness before God. Indeed Christ and his merit first really condemns all our work and merit, confirms our incompetence and lost condition, and makes us sinners with all our doings and life in this way to nothing, so that we hear that we cannot at any time attain eternal life, where it is not granted to us out of pure mercy. Now the flesh indeed does not want to let go of its hidden trust unto itself and in its kindness. Such trust now does not want to tolerate the exclusive trust in grace, and the grace again evermore disturbs the trust in self-righteousness. Then through discord, the flesh becomes fiercer and fiercer against the gospel and hates it, as if it were vain injury and harm. - In addition, the grace also wants to overcome the flesh and strip away from the flesh service, desire, and joy. For this reason it is still rather contrary to the natural way, as we all are. It stands in this way with the person by nature, then it must…
…call the greatest miracle of the Holy Spirit, that a person, so wicked by nature and way, still becomes saved, that is, still receives the gift of God’s love, namely Christ and life, in faith. For this reason also Christ calls faith a miracle of God. For if God would say to a person that he shall live a thousand years, have bliss and joy and everything that the heart desires, then he would indeed say, “It is indeed too much and too great. Who am I, that God should give it to me!” How much less can the one person grasp that God wants to give one such treasure, his Son and with him eternal life and salvation. How excellent is the bodily life already; but what is it compared to eternal life! - Yes, it is already a miracle that the person can grasp and receive such an exceedingly high matter in faith at all. But now above all, when one looks over and above at how the natural heart may know nothing at all about such a high gift of God…
…what a miracle of love, for this reason, which is in the Holy Spirit, that he endowed a sinner with faith!, and that he did not rest satisfied to give the message, “take and grasp it, whoever wants to,” but is heartily eager that a person may recognize how he still is so poor, and then is enlightened to his salvation, to recognize and to receive the gift of the Son. For what person, what emperor or king, who holds out a gift to a beggar, when the beggar would still be considering seizing it, would above all give beautiful words and attract and lure him to take it? And yet an emperor is also a squalid, miserable person. And whether or not he acts in this way, thus the Holy Spirit does, who still is God high and almighty. Now truly, what love must be in the Holy Spirit, what desire after our salvation! For this reason, when we become saved, it is a miracle of his love…4
…and of his almighty power. That a stone would be soft like butter would be a miracle; that the hardest steel might be smelted is admired today as exceptional invention; but what is it compared to this work, that a person who is arrogant, rich, pretentious, and secure in his righteousness becomes a sinner who is humble, poor, and hungry for grace, that the hellish darkness in him yields and he recognizes Christ as his Savior and becomes saved. For this reason the saving of a person is truly the greatest miracle of the power and might of the Holy Spirit.
…and finally of his patience. Yet how long does such a man, on whom the Holy Spirit begins his work, travel back and forth, consider this and consider that. Today is broken, tomorrow defiant again; today full of joy about the Word, tomorrow full of annoyance again; today willing to all, tomorrow hard again; today he recognizes the truth a little, tomorrow however he plunges again into lies. And who then may sufficiently describe how most of all the sinners, whom the spirit wants to save, soon side step left, soon right; and still nothing is stronger in them than the hidden wish of the flesh, that the Holy Spirit would still never have been made in them and led the Word in and opened the eyes at all. - Yes, when we have to deal with such people, we are soon tired, but the Holy Spirit does not become tired, although he does not owe such longanimity5 to us. For this reason is very true, it is a miracle of patience of the Holy Spirit when a person becomes saved.
If you indeed now consider this miracle, my dear fellow man and fellow sinner, that you should be saved, isn’t this astounding to you over all measure, that God loves you so very much, that he gives his worthy Son to you, into your death and damnation. Your Enemy loves you with the highest love, which is not to be contrived. Isn’t this astounding that the Holy Spirit loves you in this way, that he now desires, seeks, effects, and creates nothing, except to save you in this love of God and in the gift of his Son? Shouldn’t we, as Luther said, be glad of hearts that we have lived long enough to hear such a thing, and laud and praise God about it? Yes, for this reason there is nothing more abominable than indifference, in which hearts stare and are dead and stand in this way, as if what God did and gave for the sinners would still be nothing. For this reason there is nothing more fearful than the unbelief toward the precious gospel.
O, dear brothers and sisters, thus be drawn and moved, when the Holy Spirit manifests such grace to you, as he now does through his Word, that you do not one day belong in the eternal captivity of death to those, who were not rebuked by the Spirit. But rather gleam and shine to God’s honor in the merit of Christ as a blessed miracle of love, power, and patience of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Farbenschmelz, lit. enamel, because flowers of the field are as colorful as any paint combination
2 making alive
3 in the legal sense, that to him our sin, death, hell, and damnation have been transferred to him
4 The final sentence of this paragraph not only connects with the first sentence of the next paragraph, as happened earlier in the sermon, but connects with the first sentence of the paragraph after that, which deals with the Holy Spirit’s patience.
5 a disposition to bear injuries patiently