"THE LOVE LETTER"
Introduction: Think for a moment about how you would respond if you received this letter:
Do you know how in love with you I am? Did I trip? Did I stumble? Lose my balance, graze my kneeÖgraze my heart?
I know Iím in love when I see you. I know when I long to see youÖNot a muscle has moved. Leaves hang unruffled by any breeze. The air is still. I have fallen in love without taking a stepÖ
You are all wrong for me and I know it but I no longer care for my thoughts unless theyíre thoughts of you.
When Iím close to you, I feel your hair brush my cheek when it does not. I look away from you sometimes, then I look back. When I tie my shoes, when I peel an orange, when I drive my car, when I lie down each nightÖI remain, Yours"
That letter is the focus of a new movie called "The Love Letter." A letter arrived in a sleepy New England town of Loblolly on the Sea that really stirred things up. It was not addressed to anyone particular so that everyone who reads it wonders who its for and speculates who itís from. As the letter falls into different hands the residents in the small town discover that one mysterious love note has the power to unlock some startling secrets, changing the lives of everyone it reaches.
Love letters are powerful, wonderful treasures. They can bring back moments of time and feelings of emotion. What if God could send you a love letter? What would it say? For some itís hard to imagine God being interested in a love relationship with us. The Bible tells us that "God is love" (I John 4:8). Love is the nature of who God is. God has written a love letter to us and has delivered it personally in the person of Jesus Christ. There is, though, one verse that I think of as Godís love letter to this world. Itís this, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Whatís in Godís love letter? Well, this verse tells us about a love that has no limits, a gift that is incomparable, a promise thatís for everyone and a life that doesnít end.
When you read this verse you wonder if these are the words of Jesus or the words of John. Most likely the are the reflection of John the Apostle after telling of the event of Jesusí discussion with Nicodemus in verses 1-15 of chapter 3. Nicodemus was a very deeply spiritual man who came to Jesus at night to discuss certain spiritual things with Jesus. As Jesus talked with him it was hard for Nicodemus to grasp that he couldnít educate himself into a relationship with God. To truly know God he had to be born again spiritually. Jesus tells him that the only way to ever know God is by faith in him, Jesus, alone. It seems that when John finished retelling the words of Jesus in 3:14Ė15 he just stops and then pours out of his heart the words found in 3:16. This is Godís love letter to the world.
John said, "For God so loved the worldÖ." You may remember that the language used in Jesusí day could have several words for love. One very powerful word was the one used for passionate, romantic love. Itís the word we use for erotic love. Itís a love that is given to someone when you count them worthy of your love and you want them all to yourself. However, that is not the word John uses for Godís love. John uses a word that is the opposite of passionate love. He uses a word that means a love for someone regardless of their value and isnít interested in possessing them. Itís love that wants to give itself away without considering how good or worthy a person is.
John says that God loved the world. Thatís doesnít mean the stars and the planets, the circumstances of life or just people in general. The world that John says God loves is the entire human race that despises God, rejects Him, rebelled against Him, has turned away from Him and wants nothing to do with Him. It is this sinful, evil, wicked, cruel, sickening world that God loves with a love that isnít interested in how worthy we might be and wants to give Himself to us.
You might want to think of the world of humanity as a cancer in the body of Godís creation. When we discover a cancer in our body we want to remove it, destroy it and cut it out. It is a cell or a group of cells that have rebelled in our body and we want nothing to do with it. Yet God, knowing that we as people whom he created and are now a sickening, cancerous growth destroying His creation, chooses to love us! "God so loved the worldÖ."
That is hard for us to understand. Itís beyond our ability to comprehend that God could spontaneously, deliberately without concern for the sorry things Iíve done in life love me. We see ourselves as not deserving His love or worthy of His love. Singer Sheryl Crow writes in a song called, "Am I Getting Through?". " Jesus love me I know, for my Mom told me so. Iím a loser at love. Iím a flower in the mud. Am I getting through, am I, am IÖ.?" Today you may feel like a loser, "a flower in the mud," to be trampled on by others but the truth is that you are the object of Godís unlimited, unconditional love. "For God so loved the world" Ė a love without limits.
Godís love was so deep for us that the only way that love could ever be fully demonstrated was by giving Jesus, His Son, for us. How did God give His Son, Jesus? He did it by sending Jesus into this world as human, as flesh, as one of us. Jesus became just like one of us with the same emotions, feelings, body and limits that we have, yet he never sinned against God. Yet God ultimately gave His Son by allowing Jesus to die on the cross for us. John would write later, "He is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world" (I John 11 NLT). Godís love was so unlimited for us that only the ultimate sacrifice would be adequate to demonstrate His love for us. He allowed His Son to die for my sin and yours.
Last Tuesday night on American Airlines Flight 1420 Lewis and Reba Harrison of Paragould gave their ultimate sacrifice, their son James. James, who had been with the OBU singers returning from their trip to Germany, was 21, a senior church music major, leading the music at First Baptist Church, Royal, Arkansas. What we know is that when the plane touched down and came to a stop James was alive. Reports now indicate that James began helping others out but was later overcome by the smoke and flames. He died saving others.
Jamesí heroism would cost him his life. The pain of the loss is unbelievable for his mother and father. All I ask is that you try to understand that what that young man did for those who wanted his help God has done for us who could care less about His love or His gift. God gave in His Son, Jesus, through His death on the cross, a gift that has no comparison. He did it because He loved you and me.
The last part of this phrase catches our attention, "should not perish ." That tells us that we are now in danger of perishing. It means that unless something happens in our relationship with God that we will perish. The word means to bring to an end, destroy or to be lost. John doesnít elaborate on the word but places it in the context of something you donít want to happen.
The accounts of the survivors of the American Airlines crash show they were aware that they could die or perish. It was not something they wanted but many of them knew that perishing physically was not the worst thing that could happen to them. It was what would happen after they died. You see, there is "perishing" beyond "dying." The Bible tells us that unless our relationship with Him is changed when we die we will be eternally separated from Him and His love in a place Jesus called Hell.
That destination is one we ourselves choose in this life. I canít think of a better description than this one by the rock group Creed found in a song called "My Own Prison":
"A court is in session A verdict is in
No appeal on the docket today, just my own sin
The walls are cold and pale the cage made of steel
Screams fill the room alone I drop and kneel
Silence now the sound my breath the only motion around
Demons cluttering around my face showing no emotion
Shackled by my sentence expecting no return
Here there is no penance my skin begins to burnÖIíve created my own prison."
That is perishing.
John says, though, that there is a way out of perishing open for everyone, "that whoever believe in Him should not perish." All that is asked is that we believe in Jesus as our only way to be saved from perishing. This belief is more than intellectual agreement that Jesus is God. It means to put our trust and confidence in him that he alone could save us. It is to put Jesus Christ in charge of our present plans and our eternal destiny.
Do you think that those who offered help to others trying to get off that burning airliner were met with philosophical responses looking for other ways? One woman said that when it was obvious they were going to crash that the person next to her asked if she was saved. She said before that night she could have given a long answer but no more. All that was needed was to trust the hands of someone trying to save you, not try to figure your own way out! To save us from perishing all we must do is believe totally and completely that there is no other way for us to be saved other than trusting Jesus to do it for us. The song I quoted earlier says:
"I hear a thunder in the distance see a vision of a cross
I feel the pain that was given on that sad day of loss
A lion roars in the darkness only he holds the key
A light to free me from my burden and grant me life eternally."
That promise, if we will believe, is for everyone.
The life that God wants to give us is a different kind of life, life that doesnít change, end, stop or wear out. Itís a way of living that starts now and will continue on out into forever. Itís the kind of life that God is and has. Itís a life of a perfect relationship with Him that is endless and unchanging, completely fulfilling. Itís not a life that we can come and go from as is so popular in movies and television. Itís a life after this life. It is eternal life. Itís life with God forever in heaven.
What do you think of when you think of eternal life with God in heaven? Some kids have said that whatís great about heaven is: "In heaven there are streets of gold, and you can play right out in the middle of them without anybody running you over." "You can play with wild animals there. And Iím going to ride me an octopus!" "I think Iím going to like it up in heaven because you know everybody there. Down here I hardly know anybody." Another one added, "Iím going to live pretty much like I do on earth. They say people in heaven barely know theyíre dead."
I got the chance recently to hear what 7 year old Ashley Sten thinks about God and heaven. Her mom and dad asked me to come over and visit with them because Ashley had some questions about God. After we talked for a while she said, "Do you know what got me thinking about all this?" I said, "No." She said, "Well, there was this little "book" I memorized. Do you want me to say it for you?" I said, "Sure." So she said, "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. Thatís John 3:16." Thatís is Godís love letter to you and me.
Are you ready to open it? Itís your choice. Are you ready to accept His gift of eternal life in heaven? If you make that choice, the Bible teaches that you will become a child of God. Your sins will be forgiven, and you will be spotless in the eyes of the holy God. He will say to you, "Welcome to My family!" And when you arrive at heaven, if He asks you for one good reason why He should let you in, you can answer, "Because Jesus died to save me from my sins, and I have accepted Him as my Savior." Then He will usher you into your new heavenly home, saying, "Welcome, I have a home ready for you, and you will live with Me forever."
How does a person make sure that will happen? How can you express that inner choice? By talking to God in a simple prayer of faith, something like this: "Thank you, Father, for preparing a place for me in Your heavenly home. Thank You that Jesus Christ died on the cross and forgave all my past, present, and future sins. I confess my failures and sins to You. I choose to turn around and walk in Your ways. Thank You most of all that Jesus conquered death and rose from the dead. I believe Jesus is alive today. Come into my life, wash me from all my sins, fill me with Your Spirit, and make me Your child. I will serve You for the rest of my life, and I look forward to when You take me home to heaven so that I can see you face to face. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen."
My friends, youíve got mail! Open the love letter of God today.
Sunday, June 6, 1999
Dr. Bruce Tippit, Pastor
First Baptist Church