Love

Sermon Discussion – John 3:9-21

Hey discussion leaders, I hope this provides some helpful questions as you revisit this last week’s sermon with your Life Group or family!
Teaching goal:

God’s display of love in John 3:16 magnifies the glory and worth of God above all else, and this is very good for us.

Application goal:

That people would have a greater sense of peace because they know their acceptance before God depends on his work and not on our own.

TPQ:

What is your favorite movie/story that is about love? What is it about that movie/story that you enjoy so much?

OR

What is the greatest gesture you’ve ever made in order to show love (or appreciation) for someone else?

Read John 3:9-21

 

Intro Questions:

(Note: if you didn’t do the study last week, here would be a good place to recap John 2:23-3:8 and Jesus’ teaching on being born again)

John 3:16 is probably the most well known verse in the entire Bible. Why do you think that is?

Why do you think that people don’t really know John 3:19 as well as John 3:16, they’re only 3 verses apart?

(This is the main question we’ll answer throughout the study, but give it to people so they can start chewing on it): What do you think people will misunderstand if they read John 3:16 without reading John 3:17-21?

 

Looking at the Text:

The passage starts out with Nicodemus still confused about what it means to be born again. Is there anyone in your study who is still confused as well? It’s ok if they are, Nicodemus was a religious professional and he still didn’t quite grasp it. Why do you think he was still confused?

What is Jesus’ response to his confusion?

  • Answer: a rebuke. “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”
  • And an Old Testament example (John 3:14-15)

 

Interpreting the Text:

Read Numbers 21:4-9

What is the problem the people in Numbers 21 are facing? (Fiery serpents and death). How are they saved from the serpents bite? (Looking to the bronze serpent). What is the result of looking to the bronze serpent? (Life)

Why do you think Jesus turns to this story while he’s talking to Nicodemus? How in the world does this help us understand what Jesus is going to do on the cross?

  • Depending on how much your group feels like talking, this may require some explanation. You gain life by looking at the bronze snake. You gain eternal life by believing in (looking to) Jesus. The serpent being lifted up was a sign of the people’s rebellion and their punishment. Likewise, when Jesus is lifted up on the cross (see John 12:32-33), it is a sign of our rebellion and punishment. On the cross, Jesus became sin for us (1 Corinthians 5:21), he became a curse and punishment for us (Galatians 3:13). In a sense, Jesus became a snake so that we could be welcomed back into the presence of God.
  • If you like preaching gospel to your group, let it rip.

Read John 3:16

This verse starts with the word “For,” meaning that it is explaining what came before it (the story of the serpents). How does understanding the story in Numbers 21 begin to help us understand the love of God in 3:16-21?

What kinds of qualities typically make someone or something lovely?

What are some of the qualities of the world in 3:16-21? What do we learn about the world from verse 19? What does the world love? What does it mean that they “love the darkness”?

Why do you think some of the best love stories ever written entail stories of sacrifice and loss? Do you recall the story from the sermon about the father, the son, and the bridge? What was your reaction to it?

What makes the love of God in these verses so unique compared to the way non-Christian culture talks about a loving god? When non-Christians say they believe in a god of love, what did it cost their god to love them? What did it cost our God to love us?

Who actually ends up looking lovely in all of this? (God). What is it about God’s grand gesture that makes it so lovely? According to John 3:16, who is God’s love offered to and why is that significant? (whoever believes)
Personal Questions:

What are some ways that knowing God loves you on account of his Son’s work for us change the way that we think about love? Does it make you more joyful or less? Why?

How could knowing that God loves you for his Son’s sake make you more joyful?

What is the greatest loss that you could possibly imagine happening in your life (loss of money, loved one, etc. be specific)? How does contemplating losing the thing you treasure most help you understand the heart of God in John 3:16-21? How does it differ?

Do you feel disappointed at the idea that God loves you for his own glory’s sake instead of loving you for being a great person? Why might someone feel disappointed because of this? How should it make us feel? How do you think the teaching on needing to be “born again” can help us see God’s glory as a good thing?

Closing remarks:

We learn three great things from this passage in John 3:1-21. First, we are dead and need to be made alive, and God the Spirit accomplishes that in our lives by breathing life into our spiritual lungs. Second, we are condemned and need to be forgiven, and God the Son accomplishes that by dying in order to pay the penalty for our sins. Third, this all comes from the love God, and knowing this will help us see his glory (John 1:14, 1:18)

Final question: how can knowing these truths help you walk through tough seasons in life (doubt, despair, frustration, sin, etc.)?

  • The answer I’m aiming at here is that you can find profound security and peace knowing that God has secured your salvation and this truth is a life raft in the storms of life.

For God – the greatest Lover
So loved – the greatest generosity
The world – the greatest tragedy
That he gave – the greatest sacrifice
His only Son – the greatest gift
That whoever – the greatest openness
Believes – the greatest simplicity
In him – the greatest attraction
Should not perish – the greatest rescue
But – the greatest difference
Have – the greatest treasure
Eternal life – the greatest experience.

The Kingdom of God in the Beginning

These posts will deal with the revelation of God as a King establishing His Kingdom. In this post we will survey this claim tracking it through Genesis 1-11. You should read your bible before reading this and see if these things are so. The (much shorter) audio for this story can be found here (download or listen) starting around 1:02:50.

We know and we worship a very powerful God. He created the vastness of our universe and governs the infinitesimal parts (Hebrews 1:3). He is a King and his throne is in the heavens (Psalm 103:19). He made everything, and then hovered over its formlessness.

He spent the first seven days of Creation on the throne giving the edicts of a King to His creation. He has established right and rule over all of it. He assigned its functions and deemed their worth. He tested and judged it. He saw that it was good.

Yet in all of God’s creative power, He saw fit to create a being that would share in His likeness. A being that, like Him, would maintain some degree of rule and reign. A being that would also be an “us.” He made man in His image, in His image He made them. And He gave them dominion by the blessing of His word. And He showed them love by His blessing. And He established their steps in front of them. He loved them with an everlasting love. He walked with them.

He showed them that He is to be trusted, that His Word is true and powerful. That He is a King to be honored and revered. He was a King that was with them in the Garden, in His Temple.

He displayed His Kingship over man by giving them a word of warning. More like a command. Eat anything and do anything. Just don’t eat that. Trust Me.

His Word is truth. His Word is steadfast. His Word is right. His Word was challenged.

A snake. It was a snake that uttered the first lie. He first perverted God’s eternal Word, and then He craftily contradicted it. He appealed to that side of man that was hungry for more power, more control, more rule. That side of man that is suspicious of his King. That side that is prone to doubt, and prone to leave the God he loves. Then man fell in. And great was that fall.

The fall into the ocean of doubt left a mountainous wake. We no longer trust God. We don’t know Him. We don’t see Him. We hurt. We labor. We do it all in vain. We go back to the dust from which we were created. And yet we continue, by the sweat of our brow and by the pain of our love.

God could have destroyed them there. He has the power to un-make them. Instead, He made them a promise and some coats. They didn’t realize it, but this was designed to point to a better Man. A faithful Man in whom there is no deceit nor shadow of change. A Man tempted, but a Man who would prevail. A Man that would suffer bruises, but would not neglect to administer the final blow. A Man whose covering would truly shield us from our frigid shame. A Man who was there in the beginning. A Man who not only trusted the Word, but who is the Word.

And so they were exiled from the presence of God. They suffered the murder of their own son, not realizing that this, too, pointed to a better Son who also was going to be murdered. A Son that will one day put an end to all murder. A Prince of Peace, as it were.

And so evil continued. It went from nonexistent to the status quo in the matter of a generation. And it increased. It was pitiful. Sorrowful, even. So terrible that if you could have seen it, or if you could really see it today, you’d have wished there was nothing there. Nothing is at least better than this. The King took note, and then He acted.

Not a faithful subject among them. They had all neglected the King. Yet He liked one of them. And because He liked him, He spared him. A big boat would carry him to safety. Noah could even take his family, and a few thousand animals.

And God uncreated the world. Where once land had emerged, it was now covered again with water. And a dove hovered over the face of the deep. And then land emerged. The dove returned with a message of peace.

The earth was allowed to teem again. Noah was given rule over it. There was freshness in the air. A new thing had been done. A new promise had been made. The spectrum in the sky had been assigned its function. The Warrior King had set down His bow in a symbol of amnesty.

Still, in all its drama, the “recreation” was a disappointment. The boat couldn’t have been the King’s true vehicle of deliverance. Surely there must be a better and more sufficient device in which we can find refuge from His wrath. There must be something better emerging from the water than the same old land, any dove could find that. Show me the Dove who can locate where the truly new life is found. Show me the Dove who descended on Him (Matthew 3:16-17).

And because it was insufficient, the earth’s underkings quickly went back to what they did best. They sought power, fortune, fame, and status. Tall things have always been impressive, so they constructed a city and manufactured a tower. One tall enough to even withstand a flood of biblical proportions.

Yet the cities of man have never compared to the Garden of God. The kings of this world can only think of height when the Kingdom of God demands that we lay ourselves low. And so the true King confused them. He gave them over to themselves, that they might seek their own glory, confusing their own languages, starting their own wars, and creating their own misery. Zealously sitting upon their own thrones.

But in the multiplicity of voices, the King is making for Himself a beautiful song with a harmony of voices that will see, proclaim, and admire His greatness someday in the fullness of peace (Revelation 7:9-10).

And this will start with an old man and his barren wife.

Established Worth Found in Christ

Previously, I had posted on Aaron’s sermon about the anointing of Jesus by the woman with the alabaster flask in Mark 14:3-9. It is a beautiful passage, and I hope the sermon and blog proved to be profitable for those who listened and read. One thing I had wanted to mention but did not, though, was Jesus’s response to this extravagant worship:

And truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she had done will be told in memory of her.
Mark 14:9

By way of preface, I should note two things: first, this will not be an exegetical study of the above text, and secondly, hardly anything I write below is a thought that is original to me, but comes from having my thoughts formed after hearing many, many sermons.

Ok, that’s out of the way.

The context of this story, if you recall, was in the midst of when Mary was being harangued for her worship. In the midst of such derision, though, Christ affirms the precious nature of this worship, and in so doing, validates her own personhood, for He says, “what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

This is an astonishing statement. The Lord of glory Himself not only took note of Mary’s action, but also affirmed her worth. And that’s what I’d like to focus on here.

One thing you may notice throughout the gospel accounts is that in the midst of preaching to the masses and roaming around the countryside with His band of disciples, Jesus repeatedly takes special time and care to stop and interact with broken, hurting, and curious individuals. Passages throughout the Bible that talk about these stories have grown increasingly precious to me.

Perhaps one of the most striking instances of this is the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well captured for us in John 4:1-45. In it we have the story of Jesus interacting with a racially discriminated against, morally rejected, profoundly confused woman. For Jesus to even speak with a woman (not to mention one of “ill-repute”) in that day would have been scandalous to the utmost! And yet we not only see Him speak to her, but He gives to her the most profound of self-disclosures when, after talking to her about the prophesied Messiah, He says to her, “I who speak to you am he,” (John 4:26).

I would love to mention some more of these stories, but for want of time and space I will forego them here. Rather, I would encourage you to open up to any page of the four gospels and see that there is more than likely a story involving Jesus spending time with an individual.

There is something worth pointing out here, and that is this: people have worth. There is something within a person that the Son of God Himself found so compelling that He took the time to interact with many of them on a one-on-one basis. However, this inherent worth in humanity, I believe, is established in something extraneous to itself.

Perhaps one of the more peculiar yet foundational claims made by the Judeo-Christian worldview is that men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That is to say, humans are created with inherent worth because they are made in the image of someone who is infinitely worthy. This is a compliment that I think far exceeds anything that we could possibly comprehend.

I freely admit that I lack a comprehensive knowledge of all the worldviews that find themselves in stark contradiction to the teachings of the Bible. As for what I do know, though, I believe that the way in which Jesus displays this fundamental truth makes for a profound distinction between Him and all the other leaders and pedagogues of all other major worldviews. From eastern pantheism to western atheism, I have a hard time imagining how any other worldview might argue for something that appears so self-evidently true.

Conclusion

Reasonably, you may well wonder why I bother bringing this up. Good question.

For starters, I think we must know this: that the image that God has stamped upon us has been marred by human sin. In all the honor into which God created us, we have all too readily given it up to go after our own sinful and selfish proclivities.

Secondly, though sin has separated us from God, in a sense it did not separate God from us. This is what I mean, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” (Romans 8:3-4). Know this: Christ Jesus came into the world to save individual sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He came in the very likeness of man and died upon a cross in order to reconcile us to a most worthy, and good, and just, and holy, and loving God! Christ coming in this likeness tore down the veil that separated man from God (Matthew 27:51, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Hebrews 10:19-20).

Third, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is to say, if you are a believer in Christ, not only do you have the compliment of being made in God’s image, but you now have the utter privilege of being redeemed to conform to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Do not let this conformity confuse you, however, for in conformity to this Individual, we gain the truer and better expression of our own individuality.

Fourth, take the time to understand and love the way that Jesus does things. He loved people (John 3:16). He loves you (Ephesians 2:4-5). Rejoice in this love! And now show that love by following the example of Jesus. Understand that there is something very important about the individuals that God has placed in your life, both believing and unbelieving. Do not neglect this truth, for you would do so at your own peril and the peril of others. Like Mary, our response to Jesus, his love, and his salvation in our acts of worship and obedience toward God are precious in the sight of our Savior. As feeble and small as they are, like the destitute widow’s offering (Mark 12:41-44), or the handful of unbelieving individuals that you know, individual acts of obedience make for a powerful and lasting impact that leave impressions even upon Jesus.

Fifthly and lastly, this is how the Kingdom of God is built. It is built upon broken individuals being saved and then put together as wholesome stones into a temple (1 Peter 2:5). Yes, Jesus did speak to the crowds, but I’m sure it was not uncommon for them to leave after hearing His hard words (John 6:66). But in nearly all the examples of Jesus going to an individual, the change is drastic and effectual. Jesus did the hard thing by building His Kingdom from the bottom up, and not from the top down. He loves individuals into His Kingdom. This, again, distinguishes Jesus from all others.

We as the Crossing need to take this same approach. On several occasions I have heard Pastor Aaron say that we are planting a church in the most difficult way possible. That is to say, our “evangelism strategy” is simply to tell the church to love their neighbors, coworkers, and friends, to pray for them often and earnestly, and share the gospel in deed and truth (1 John 3:18), hoping that their hearts would be softened and they would come to know God in Christ.

Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Song of Solomon

Attraction, dating, courtship, intimacy, marriage, sex. These might be some topics that many churches would shy away from, but does God? To loosely quote Pastor Tommy Nelson:

Do we really believe that God gave us a feeling as perceivable as romance, a passion as powerful as sex, an institution as emotional and sometimes painful as marriage, and yet told us nothing about it?

Do we really believe that in all the wisdom of the Bible, God has left out a topic so important? Yet so many people have never been taught a Biblical perspective on these issues. How many of you have learned about sex and romance from your church and/or your parents? Now, how many of you have learned about sex from Howard Stern, Hugh Hefner, TV, movies and the like? We are blessed that God has indeed given us wisdom on these important topics. In his video series on the Song of Solomon, Tommy Nelson discusses topics that many pastors would not, topics that are vitally important.

2005 Song of Solomon Trailer from The Hub on Vimeo.

The series starts from the point of attraction and go all the way through marriage and even death, and would be edifying for everyone, no matter what kind of relationship you are in, or not yet in.