Mid-Week Lenten Vespers
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Bethany Lutheran Worship, 6 PM Phoenix Time – Thursdays after tonight.
The Hymn #558 Tallis Canon
The Order of Vespers p. 41
The Psalmody Psalm 4 p. 123
The Lection Passion Harmony, TLH
The Sermon Hymn #245 St. Crispin
The Sermon – The Little Gospel
The Lord’s Prayer
The Collect for Grace p. 45
The Hymn #376 Toplady
KJV John 3:10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Luther said about John 3:16 – This verse should be written in golden letters on the heart.
The context is interesting because the John 3 section is one of the more distorted passages in Protestantism. This is where many rest their claim, “You must be born again.” For them, that means an adult conversion experience.
The context and many related passages show that Jesus did not say, “You must have an adult conversion experience.”
He said, “You must be water-Spirit baptized,” and that is a very concise way of saying that baptism offers what God promises. In other words, it is a sacrament, to use our shorthand.
“You must be born from above” is the real meaning of Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus.
All false religion is based on being born from below, from man’s effort. Either he performs works and makes sacrifices to appease God or he accumulates virtue in some way to make himself acceptable to God. “Making a decision” is being born from below, from man’s intellectual effort. Fides formata (Roman Catholic) is faith with works added, or being born from below.
Being born from above can only come from the Holy Spirit working through the Word. The ancients, when they fell away from the revealed truths of God, wandered around trying to determine where God was to be found. They made up the most absurd legends and myths. Many of these stories are barely known because they are too absurd or crude to be told.
God had made His will known in the plainest way possible. His Word always accomplishes His will, (Is 55:8-11) so that means the Holy Spirit is never apart from His Word. There is no independent operation of the Holy Spirit, separated from the Word. And the Word is never without the power of the Holy Spirit.
That is – it must be God’s Word to have the power of the Holy Spirit. If a sermon is about “How to be popular and successful,” that is man’s word and devoid of the Holy Spirit. Worse is the attempt to bend an actual text and turn it into man’s philosophy. Man’s philosophy is always based on works and the Law. If someone wants to test that, listen to the language being used. Wait for – You must do this, and you cannot do that. That is law language.
I read a thesis where a liberal Lutheran applauded Robert Schuller’s maxim that “sin is not believing hard enough.” Schuller is an advocate for Napoleon Hill’s philosophy and for what Norman Vincent Peale plagiarized from an occult source. In both cases, the imagination has special powers to re-create the world (see also Nightingale Conant). In that little maxim sin and faith are both distorted so they serve another interest, which is opposition to God’s Word in the name of God. The conclusion is – You must believe harder. Believe in what? “Believe in yourself. Believe in the power of the your dreams.” Faith is turned into works, man-centered works.
In contrast, the Little Gospel is quite different. We call it the Little Gospel because it states the message of Christ in one, easy-to-memorize verse. When students learn Greek, they turn to John 3:16, because the verse is easy and enjoyable to translated. The words are very simple, plain and easy to understand.
The first phrase reveals the gracious love of God toward all:
God so loved the world.
Jesus, in John’s Gospel, also reveals how the world rejected Jesus and would reject His followers. But God’s love is far beyond man’s grasp. His love is all-encompassing, above and beyond man’s ability to understand. Grace means – free and without strings attached.
Instead of God loving us after we love Him, the reverse is true. We love God because He first loved us.
That He gave His only-begotten Son.
The phrase “only-begotten” is still the best, because “only son” is so quickly distorted by man. In the movie “Oh God,” Jesus is called God’s Son. But so is Moses and Mohammed. So what can that term mean? Only-begotten is very precise, pointing to “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…”
We are called children of God (as believers) and sons of God (as believers) but Jesus is the only-begotten Son.
That whosoever believeth in Him…
Unlike all the false religions of the world, the Little Gospel has no demand of the Law for salvation. No extra law requirements are added to “any person who trusts in Him for salvation.” Once again, whosoever is very precise in making it clear that no believer is excluded on the basis of prior sins or station in life. No one is too old or too young. Babies also trust in Him, from the moment of baptism, because they are born from above, by water-Spirit baptism.
should not perish
The issue is not whether we will die or not. The word perish sums up two concepts at once – both death and eternal condemnation. To show what “not perish” means, the opposite is stated.
but have everlasting life.
Everlasting life, eternal salvation – that rests upon God giving His Son to us, and that message of divine grace produces faith in His gracious love in Christ. In faith we receive the Promises of God, and those Promises in the Word produce faith in our hearts.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
In the verses following the Little Gospel are an explanation of justification without using the term which Paul favored. Only those who believe in Christ are forgiven, saved, and given eternal life. Those who do not believe on condemned for their non-belief. In fact, as another verse clearly states, they are not forgiven (justified) because the wrath of God remains on unbelievers.
KJV John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
The Gospel of John is especially clear about the Biblical message – there are 1) believers in Christ, and there are 2) unbelievers. The world has only two categories, no more.
Finally, this passage includes the statement that false people hide their works because their works are evil. People laugh about my stealth term, but that is the best way to describe false teachers and their works. They always want to work under the radar. They hate being quoted. They hate having their work evaluated in the light of the Scriptures. They claim they can be more effective if they distance themselves from God’s Word. Sadly, they cannot bear to teach the whole counsel of God found in John 3:16. They always conclude, “Look at all the good things we have done in God’s Name.”
God says, “Look at what I have done for you, long before you ever existed.”