THE GREATEST VERSE: AN EVANGELISTIC SERMON
(Winfred Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York. 03.15.2015)
Let me begin my sermon with Bible Trivia. What is the shortest verse in the Bible? It contains only two words. Answer: John 11:35 “Jesus wept.”
What is the longest verse in the Bible? Answer: Esther 8:9. It contains 90 words: ”'At once the royal secretaries were summoned--on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan. They wrote out all Mordecai's orders to the Jews, and to the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. These orders were written in the script of each province and the language of each people and also to the Jews in their own script and language.'’
And what is the greatest verse in the Bible? Answer: it is in today’s gospel and it is John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Why is this called the greatest verse? Answer: Because it captures the essence of the whole Bible.
Martin Luther, the German monk who started the religious reformation in Europe in the 16th century and paved the way for what is now the Lutheran Church, said that John 3:16 is “the whole gospel in miniature.” It is said that even if all the contents of the Bible will be erased and this verse is the only one left, we will still understand the biblical message.
So everyone, let us all try memorize this verse together: “For God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
If we are writing a book, we can outline this verse into three parts: Part I: God, the Greatest Lover ; Part II: Jesus, the Greatest Gift; and Part III: Eternal Life, the Greatest Promise.
1. God, the Greatest Lover
This verse begins with “For God so loved the world that He gave”. This is the whole essence of love. Love is giving and not getting; Love is forgiving and not avenging; love is surrendering and not attacking.
So many stories were written about love; so many songs were sung about love; so many poems were spoken about love. But nothing can compare with the love of God for us. The First Epistle of John verse 3 says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we shall be called children of God.” John made it clear that all love, real love, authentic love, agape love, eternal love, begins with God’s love. We love because God first loved us.
I think the saddest part of the 21st century is the resurgence of hate groups. According to recent survey, in the United States alone, there are over a thousand active hate groups. There are racist groups which peddle hate against another race; there are sexist groups that peddle hate against women or gay; there are religious bigotry groups which peddle hate against other religious people and other cultures.
With the increased efficiency of social media and cyberspace technology, many of these hate groups are enticing young people. We are shocked to see some cops, who instead of doing their duty “to serve and to protect,” would have no restraint in killing suspects. It is shocking to learn that young people even from England, Europe and the United States have been enticed by the ISIS, one of the most notorious hate groups in the world today, to become hateful avengers. Recently, ISIS posted a video of a boy who turned into a junior jihadi. In the video, he executed a hostage, firing point blank, cold-bloodedly, on the head of an adult victim.
It is my prayer that God who is Love, will soon multiply love groups so that hate groups will become a very small minority and would lose their significance. St Augustine wrote: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others; it has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy; it has the eyes to see misery and want; it has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows.”
If we must make a difference in this world, we must proclaim that God is love and invite the world, especially the young people, to join love groups.
2. Jesus, the Greatest Gift
“For God so loved the world that He gave…” What did God give? “He gave His only begotten Son.” And who is this Son? Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Graeco-Roman world of Jesus’ time, was, in essence not different from the world in our own time. Punishment for crime included beheading, hanging and crucifixion. There were hate groups, religious bigots, racists, sexists, homophobes. The world was yearning for peace. The poor cry for justice; the widows and orphans suffer neglect and social apathy; there was corruption, oppression and wickedness in the land.
Into this world of darkness, the light of Christ broke forth. Jesus came as the fruit of love, the love that was impregnated in the womb of a Virgin by the greatest lover in the power of the Holy Spirit. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, begotten not made, one in being with the Father.
Into this world of hate, Jesus came to proclaim the message of the Father’s love. He came to seek and to save the lost; to destroy the power of darkness; to bear witness to the truth. He came to die for the sins of the whole world so that by His death humanity may no longer live in hate but in love.
Martin Luther King, Jr. our American hero and follower of Jesus Christ once said, “Darkness cannot overcome darkness; only light can. Hate cannot overcome hate; only love can.” I Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us back to God.” Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God, the greatest lover proved his love by giving us the greatest gift, the most precious gift of all, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
3. Eternal Life, the Greatest Promise
God, the greatest lover. Has given us the greatest gift; his only Son Jesus Christ. For what? What is the motive of the Giver? “That whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
This is the greatest promise. All human beings, no matter how good and great, have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All human beings, no matter how strong and healthy, are mortal and formed of the earth. From dust we came and unto dust we shall return. All human beings are like grass and flowers in the field. The grass withers and the flower falls---and all human beings will have the same fate.
But in the fullness of time, this greatest Lover, gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to save us from sin and give us the promise, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. And He became the first fruit of that promise. For on the third day after his death, Jesus rose again from the dead. And because He lives, we can face tomorrow. We can live life abundant on earth, and in the age to come, life everlasting.
He said it out before he was to ascend unto heaven, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you with me, so that where I am, there you maybe also.”
The Book of Revelation 21, says it like this:
“Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Then I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
This was the faith of the early Christians. Believing in the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ, there was no longer any fear in their hearts. They dispersed from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the world proclaiming the love of God in Christ Jesus. Many of them were martyred for their faith. Some were tortured, beaten up, beheaded and crucified like Jesus. But on their lips, in their hearts and in their minds were written the words of John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
I know there are some of you here who are not yet Christians or who have not yet truly believed. I want you to consider making this leap of faith by praying this prayer with me:
“Heavenly Father, I thank you for loving me so much that you gave your Son Jesus to suffer and die on the cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world. Lord Jesus, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I believe that you die for my sins; and because you live again; I can face tomorrow. I ask you to come into my heart and be the Lord of my life. Give me the Holy Spirit to guide me, to teach me and to comfort me. I receive your promise of abundant life on earth; and in the age to come, life everlasting. Amen.”