Service Video Message Video Message Audio The service video is unavailable at this time. The sermon video is unavailable at this time. The sermon audio is unavailable at this time. Scripture Verses John 3:16-17, Jonah 4:3, Jonah 4:9-11, 1 John 4:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:14-19, Romans 10:14-16 Downloads & Resources God's World: Are You Leaving a Life-Giving Legacy? Dr. Jon Morrissette - 12/21/2003 The big story this week is that New York City is planning to construct a new skyscraper near the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. The new skyscraper will be called Freedom Tower and will become the single tallest building in the world. If things progress as planned, they will break ground next year and finish by 2008. The new structure promises to bring emotional and psychological healing to a nation scared by the events of September 11, 2001. But somehow we know it will not be that simple. Our memories will always lurk in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, no matter how magnificent its appearance. There will always be a part of us that relives those moments of 9/11/2001 and remembers. We live in dark and ugly world. A world filled with confusion, evil, hatred, and darkness. Against this backdrop we are forced to contend with the Christmas story. The beginning of John 3:16 (NIV) summarizes the Christmas story as well as any other passage. "For God so loved the world..." I’ve been thinking a lot about those words in recent weeks. Any student of scripture knows what John 3:16 is referring to. God loves this world that we live in. It isn’t nature that God loves. It isn’t the flowers and butterflies, or the snowflakes, or even the picturesque landscapes or breathtaking sunsets that God loves, although we haven’t seen the sun that much lately. Instead, this verse is referring to people. God loves people. God loves the nations and cultures of our world. God loves the human race at large. God loves civilization. When I was in grade school we used to sing a simple song. "Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." Of course it is easy for us to love children. Children are so innocent and naïve to evil. They're pure and impressionable. But God doesn’t just love children. God loves all people, young and old. He loves the great expanse of humanity. He loves humanity that on the one hand is capable of divine goodness, but on the other hand is capable of terrifically horrible evil. All people, and not just some people matter so incredibly to God. This is the testimony of John 3:16 and this is the essence of Christmas. "For God so loved the world..." How much do we love the world (like God)? None of us would say that we hate the world. The word "hate" has been practically eliminated from our vocabularies through political correctness. But on the other hand, not many of us could say that we love the world. At least we don't love the world like John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world." The truth is that we pick and choose who we will love and who we will hate. We love those who are most like us. We love those who share our values, beliefs, thoughts, way of life, heritage, ethnicity, nationality, background, religion, politics, code of moral conduct, language, education, economic level, and cultural mores. We love those who do good to us. We tend to dislike or even hate people who do not share these things in common with us. But God’s love is not narrow or limited like our love is. God’s love isn’t conditional. His love is all inclusive. It spans the globe and includes every tongue, tribe, and nation. This is what is so great about our God, but this is also what is so disturbing about God. God loves us, which is great. But he also loves those who we dislike or even hate. I don’t mean to put things in such an extreme manner, but it is the only way we can really understand what it means to say that God loves the world. God loves the Christian, but he also loves the Muslim, the Jew, and the Buddhist. God loves conservatives, but he also loves liberals. He loves Republicans, Independents, Democrats, and extremists. God loves the pure, but he also loves the immoral person like the adulterer, the sexually confused, the fornicator, the pornographer, the prostitute, the homosexual, the bisexual, the criminal, the abuser, and even the pedophile. Any of these souls who might be considered the scum of society are also loved by God. God loves those who love truth, but he also loves the gossip, the busybody, the liar, the blasphemer, the slanderer, the name caller, the false teacher, and the prophet. God loves those who advocate life, but he also loves those who end life prematurely. He loves the one who pulls the trigger, murders out of hate, aborts innocent life, commits suicide, is an enemy combatant, or is even a terrorist. This is not to suggest that God overlooks such evil, because he doesn’t. But what it does mean and what John 3:16 teaches is that the darkness of humanity, the world, did not preclude our benevolent God from acting in our best interests. In fact, quite the opposite was true. God reached out to us. He penetrated the dividing wall of hostility. He forgave us our sins. He gave us one last shot at reconciliation. John 3:16 (NIV) says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." What would it take for us to love everyone as God? The Christmas story takes on added significance when we think about what it would take to motivate us to reach out to those we disapprove of, or dislike, or even hate. Sure we can reach out to those we love. But what about some of those I mentioned earlier? What about reaching out to people who do not value life and freedom? People who do not believe in our God? How can we reach out to people who live for themselves, gratifying their passions and cravings? People who are blatantly selfish and have no regard for others? We are called to reach out to people who are addicted, who are needy, who are weak, who are poor, and who are outcasts. How can we love and reach people who are lawless or who are so filled with anger and hate that they will kill? People who manipulate and control through fear? I know that this story is out of place at Christmas time, but there is a first for everything. In the Old Testament the prophet Jonah had to wrestle with God’s disturbing love. As a preacher, Jonah was God’s man. Every day he extolled the virtue of God’s love. God was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and a God who relented from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2) But then, God sent Jonah to Ninevah, the soon to be capital of the Assyrian empire, in order for Jonah to proclaim that same love to the Ninevites. The Ninevites, or the the Assyrians, were beyond notorious. They brutalized their enemies. They inflicted horrific evils, far beyond what we hear about today. They would capture and skin people alive. They would burn, mutilate and dismember those they opposed. They impaled people on stakes. They would erect huge displays of human skulls to terrorize those who might resist their rule. When asked to preach to these people, Jonah fled to the farthest city he could think of. He didn’t want anything to do with the Ninevites. They terrorized his people, perhaps his family! But God so loved the world that he miraculously prevented Jonah from fleeing. You know the story. Jonah set sail for Tarshish, running away from the Lord. The Lord sent a violent storm and hammered the ship. Everyone on the ship panicked. The sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for their calamity. The lot falls to Jonah and Jonah got thrown overboard. He is swallowed by a huge fish, probably a whale. For three days Jonah prays while he is stuck in the belly of the whale, wrestling with why God even cared about the evil city of Ninevah. He repents and begs for mercy. Eventually, the whale vomits Jonah onto dry land. Jonah reluctantly goes to Ninevah. He calls the city to repentance amd the city repents and thousands are saved from calamity. But even after all this, Jonah is still disturbed and even angry that God saved the Ninevites. In fact, Jonah was so mad that he sat on a hill outside Ninevah and pouted in Jonah 4:3 (NIV), "Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it better for me to die than to live." In fact, while on that same hillside Jonah had the audacity to pray for the city of Ninevah to be destroyed. Jonah would rather die than live with the knowledge that God so loved the world that he would show mercy and compassion to evil people. But God confronts Jonah in Jonah 4:9-11 (NIV). "Have you any right to be angry? Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" So there you have it. Whether we like it or not, God loves our world. Even in spite of us! I don’t know how you feel, but I am glad that Christmas has everything to do with God’s love and even less to do with our love. Consider some of the great passages of scripture concerning God’s initiating love. John 3:16-17 (NIV) says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to the save the world through him." 1 John 4:9-10 (NIV) says, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." This morning isn’t just the Sunday before Christmas. This morning is the final message in a series of messages on how God wants us to grow in our relationship to the world. Just as God loved us so much that he sent his only Son, so he wants to send us into the world. God wants our hearts to ache for the world just as his heart aches for the world. He gives us the honor of being his ambassadors, his representatives, and his spokespeople. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV) says, "For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 (NIV) says, "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." God so badly wants us to receive new life in Christ and be a new creation. But he wants us to share that new life by telling the world about the good news of Jesus Christ. He wants us to be that star that shines in the darkness and that guides people into his presence where they also can receive new life and be added to his kingdom. He wants us to go out into the world he loves and multiply new life to the ends of the earth. Romans 10:14-16 (NIV) asks, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' " This is the "so-what" of the Christmas story. It is not just that Christ was sent, but that we would be compelled by God’s love and be sent to carry on his work in our world.