Behold the love of God

by Patriarch Craig Bates

Trinity Sunday, 31 May 2021

I’d like to show you how John 3:16-17 and 3:3 connect and how important they are for preaching and living the Gospel, the good news.

Jesus reveals God’s love

God did not send the pandemic, either as a punishment or a way to draw us to Him in repentance.  This isn’t the God revealed in Jesus, the full making known of the Father – “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father”.  If we look at Jesus’ behaviour, actions and attitude, we see the Father.  He makes known to us the Father’s love.  The Father is seeking us, to love us and to draw us into that love.  We never, ever see Jesus reveal a God who punishes with suffering, disease or death; nor does Jesus inflict these to bring about repentance.  He says, “In this world you will have tribulation; but don’t worry – I’ve overcome the world”.  Jesus came because the Father loves us.  He sent His Son; for those who are perishing, whose lives death has entered, who came from dust and are returning to dust, He enters into our death and gives us eternal life at the point of death, that we’ll be with Him forever.  God so loved the world: memorise John 3:16, and when someone tells us God sent these natural disasters, we can say that’s not God’s love. 

The key is to believe in Jesus.  That doesn’t mean just to believe Jesus once historically existed – many atheists believe that, and many people believe He was a prophet, but they don’t believe He’s the Son of God.  We believe Jesus claimed to be and is the Son of God; in Him, God became human.  The Holy Trinity is a mystery we can’t explain, but we know the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God.  The unique claim of Christianity is that Jesus is God, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father, not made, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. 

The Christian faith is that God entered into our humanity, becoming human and taking all it means to be human: conceived in His mother’s womb, born, being a child dependent on his parents, playing with other children; the suffering and joy of humanity, the God of laughter, but of tragedy as well, who understands a mother who’s lost her child, or a single mother like His mother.  God understands what it is to be human.  He takes that humanity with Him on the cross; and it ascends into heaven, so we’re there before Him. 

We’ll see a God of love whose hands bear the wounds for the forgiveness of sins.  It’s not that now we experience Him as merciful, kind, gracious and compassionate but when we get to heaven He’ll judge us, be angry and cast us into hell for any sin we didn’t confess or repent of.  We’ll meet the same God: Jesus is merciful; the mercy of the Lord is everlasting.  We will be judged for what we’ve done and haven’t done, but those who believe in Him will encounter only His mercy, compassion, grace and love, because He’s human.  As a human, Jesus sits on the throne in heaven, still entering the world by the Holy Spirit, still dwelling in our humanity.  God doesn’t inhabit something that’s evil or not good; He inhabits us because He loves us.

My prayer is that you’ll know you’re loved and forgiven and it’s a new day of resurrection.  The Father loves you, has forgiven you and will never leave or forsake you.  We can come into God’s presence and never hear a single word, or even see a look, of condemnation.  If you’re feeling condemnation, it’s not from God.  The Holy Spirit convicts, leads, guides, and corrects in such a way that you want to say “Thank You”.  You’ll never be made to feel ashamed by God.  Adam felt ashamed – God didn’t make him feel ashamed; He took the shame away.  The cross is to take all our shame, guilt and sin.  Why should we be ashamed of being human, of being who we are before God?  We open our hearts in the Collect for Purity, knowing we need to be cleansed; we hear the Great Commandment, to love God and our neighbour; recognising that we fell short, we confess our sin, and hear that we’re forgiven – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – and restored to righteousness in Him.  He’s in us, and we can break forth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, because our sins have been taken away, and sing, “Glory to God in the highest; peace to His people on earth” – not ashamed, rejected, or hearing, “you’ll do better this week”, or, “if you don’t do better, God will reject or abandon you”.  God will never, ever reject you.  We’ve been accepted so much that Christ Jesus is in and with us, because He wants to be – He’s not reluctant.

Hear and see

We know that because we’re following the voice of the Lord.  We hear His voice in Scripture and through the homily – I hope it’s His voice I’m speaking.  A lot of this comes out of my own prayer life, reading Scripture and living with John 3:16 to the point of calling myself born from above because of my relationship with Jesus, the living God. 

When we hear His voice, our eyes are opened to see God’s Kingdom.  Every person born has spiritual blindness; it takes Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit to heal us.  The Pharisees read Scripture and prayed all the time; but all the legalism, judgmentalism and condemning, which are not God’s heart, they turned into religion.  They couldn’t see His grace and mercy, and couldn’t see God when He was standing right in front of them.  They twisted His words into condemnation, seeking ways to reject Him, and cried out to crucify Him.  But He turned to others who would believe in Him.  They received eyes, like blind Bartimaeus – those who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls our name, as He called Mary’s name in the garden, and then she was able to see.  It’s the voice of the Shepherd who protects and provides for us, leading us every day to eternal life.  That voice tells us who Jesus is and who we are in Him; that’s why prayer is so important.

I’m thankful for our bishops and the clergy who stayed faithful to their bishop in the hard time of the pandemic, who’ve done everything they could as fathers to bring the voice of the Lord to us in prayer and worship.  God’s Word is going forth; thousands have been reached with the message about Jesus.  God will continue to use this medium and these men, and to speak to us about new ways to reach people who are blind. 

It’s about all Jesus

Jesus is Himself the voice of the Lord, the Word made flesh.  At His Baptism we hear God’s voice: “This is My beloved Son”.  God says, “Obey Him, follow Him, listen to Him, believe what He’s saying.”  The work of God is to believe in the one He sent.  “In the former days God spoke… through the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us through His Son.”[1]  Do you and I hear that – that Jesus is the Son of God, that it’s all about Jesus?  Everything we do on a Sunday morning is to point to who Jesus is; it’s all about receiving His love and knowing we’re loved, so we can love Him and love each other.

Pastors must ask, do God’s people leave feeling corrected, that they’ve had a burden laid on them, that they’re under pressure, more into self-loathing or condemnation?  Or believing they’re loved by God, that God is working in them and will not give up on them but continue to work in them?  Do we believe in Him? or in religious formulae, like the Pharisees?  Nicodemus was on the right track: he came to Jesus to find out who Jesus is.  Whether in the dark or the light, just come and tell Jesus what you recognize about Him.  Nicodemus said, “We know you’re a good man because of the works you do”, and Jesus offered him eternal life: “Nicodemus, believe in Me”.  If we believe, our eyes will be opened and we’ll see who He is.  We’re called to hear His voice, so our eyes are opened to see who He is and what He’s doing. 

“Behold the Lamb of God”, John the Baptist says – Look! See! Believe! See!  Receive the forgiveness and grace the Father has given you.  “Thomas, touch My wounds; believe and see.”  The priest lifts up the consecrated bread and wine, having invoked the Holy Spirit to change them into Jesus’ body and blood.  I don’t think a priest can do that, but God can.  We need to believe, and we’ll see it.  Our faith doesn’t make it the body and blood; it opens our eyes to see, to hear those words: “This is My body… This is My blood”.  He lifts the host and says “Behold the Lamb of God” – Behold, see, look! – see Him who takes away the sin of the world – your sin, my sin – takes it away from us. 

Receive His grace

Our response, like Peter in the boat, is, “Lord, I’m not worthy to have You come under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul will be healed”.  We respond by believing in Him.  It’s not who we are – we’re worthy because He’s made us worthy.  We’re really not worthy; we need a Saviour to do that, and He does. 

As a brother in the Lord who needs the same grace and mercy as you, I invite you to get rid of any shame and guilt, and leave knowing you and everyone around you is loved by God.  Live daily in that love, and become aware of it: as you silently sit with Him, as you pray, as you work throughout the day and see Him in your family members, the people around you and the poor…  Speak of Jesus out of His love for you, tell them how much they’re loved and forgiven, tell them because you know it yourself. 

The Holy Spirit is here to help us.  The disciples needed the power of the Holy Spirit: we just need to ask.  Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.  Renew the Church, renew every person in the congregation or at home.  Lord, help us, and renew the face of the earth.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

“Unless one is born again [born anew, or born from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Collect for Purity:

Almighty God, to You all hearts are open, all desires known, and from You no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of Your + Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You and worthily magnify Your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

[1] Hebrews 1:1-2

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