Readings: Joshua 3:7-17, Psalm 43, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, John 3:16.
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church on November 5 2017
What’s it worth? A question we ask about numerous things. We ask it about material things. In the T.V. program ‘Antiques Roadshow’ people bring their articles to the experts because they want to know, “Is this worth something; has it some value or is it just a piece of junk?” We’re asked to serve on some committee or invest our time in some activity and if we are sensible we will ask, “Is this worth my time? Do I have something I can offer? Is it worth the effort?”
We contemplate some new health kick “Will this diet work?” “Will giving up this and that or taking on a new exercise regime give us the results we are looking for?” What’s it worth to us to get in shape or alter our body weight or do this or do that?
Then there is the question of our faith. What of our beliefs? What is our religion to us? What is our church to us? How much does it matter? How much of us in invested in our relationship with God?
What of God? Let me pose the question in a peculiar way. How much is God worth? Is God a commodity that we can put a price on? Is time for God something we can choose to invest in or dismiss? What is God to us?
To Paul, God was worth investing his whole life in. The gospel inspired him and his fellow missionaries to go to extraordinary lengths that the message may be believed. The very question “What is God worth?” would be a no brainer to Paul.
Put a value on God? A price tag on the gospel? That idea would be incredulous, maybe even offensive, to Paul. His whole life was built upon the notion that what he had discovered through the Holy Spirit, the life of the resurrected Jesus Christ which was in him and around him and working through him was a priceless treasure! Paul’s heart response to God was quite simply, “Thou art Worthy O Lord”.
So it was in this morning’s lesson that he explained to the Thessalonians that when he came to them it was with the aim of preaching a gospel that had no price tag attached. This idea of worth – he doesn’t here apply to God – but turns it around.
1Thessalonians 2:11-12 “You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” He exhorts them, he encourages them, and he charges them “Lead a Life worthy of God.”
In other words - Respond to the love and light that God has cast in your way – in a manner that is appropriate – that fits in with who God is and what God has done – that goes along with the amount that God feels that your life is worth.
Ever considered that one? How much your life is worth to God? What value is there upon your head from God’s perspective? This morning we are gathering around the Lord’s table. Every time we do this we visually recall one of the best known scriptures in the New Testament, the words of John 3:16 ‘God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have everlasting life’.
If ever we doubt our worth to God, it is worth considering the simple truths that John 3:16 contains. For it was in the light of God’s commitment to us in Jesus Christ that Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to be faithful to God. Let us briefly think about the words Paul writes to the Thessalonians, in the light of John 3:16.
God so loved the world… Whose world? Our world! The one that we drift through day after day after day. Our family, our friends, our people, our situations, our problems, whatever it is that makes up our world, God so loved our world. When Paul went to the Thessalonians he didn’t stand far off, he sought to enter their world and understand their problems. He writes to them; ‘For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children.’ He loved them because he was convinced that God loved them. He gave himself to their care because… well let us continue with our verse, God so loved the world …
That He gave His only begotten Son… Paul gave himself to them because he knew God had given Jesus Christ to live and die for them. Paul believed that this was the ultimate offering God could make. In Jesus Christ the gospel… the good news of God… had been revealed and had shown that God was willing to do the unthinkable to win the hearts of those who were alienated from God’s love.
In Jesus Christ God broke every barrier down that prevented people from feeling they could have no fellowship with the Divine. Sins were forgiven. Deliverance proclaimed. Forgiveness embodied. Reconciliation attained. Through Jesus Christ the doorway to God’s presence was flung wide open and we are invited to enter into fellowship with the God ‘Who (according to verse 12) calls you into His kingdom and glory.”
But how do we enter into and experience the love of God? Only through faith. Only through placing our trust and hope, not in what we can do, but in what God has done in giving His Son to die for us. Our verse continues God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…
So that everyone who believes in Him… ‘Believe in Him.’ What does that mean? Believe He was a historical figure? Believe that He existed? Believe that He died? Believe that He rose again? No. That’s not belief – that’s assent – that’s just saying ‘Well. O.K. that’s what happened.” When Paul spoke about belief he was talking about an activity that revolutionized the way you live your life.
Believing in Jesus meant believing something about the purpose and nature of what happened on the Cross that touched you so deeply that you lived free and forgiven. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus meant that something had changed about the way the world is – something wonderful - that you can be part of - a something that is more powerful than death and decay and destruction. Our verse continues ‘so that everyone who believes in Him…
Should Not Perish.. Perish? What do we know about perishing? Look at what they did to Jesus! They accused Him falsely. They lied about Him. They spat upon Him. They beat Him and tortured Him. They forced Him to carry His cross through the insulting, unseemly, crowds that lined the street. They took His hands and feet and nailed them to the Cross. They pierced His side with a spear.
They left Him to die, as though He were an animal that had been hit by a truck and was left on of the road, of little consequence to those who sped by. Jesus Christ perished. This is the heart of the gospel. That's perishing. He perished that we might not perish.
As a young person I remember we used to have an evangelist come to speak at our meetings. I’ve never forgotten his name ‘Peter Partington’. The reason I’ve never forgotten his name was because on all his correspondence he used to write ‘Pastor Peter Partington Preaching Perfect Peace to Perishing People.”
What does it mean to be perishing? Existing only to die. Living a life that has no future other than extinction. Having no hope for tomorrow. Just getting by. Just coping as best as you can with whatever life throws at you but never really knowing the peace that comes through faith that beyond it all is God trying to break into our everyday lives with little surprises of joy and grace and love.
At the end of our short passage from Thessalonians Paul rejoices at the way the church there had received the gospel. He praises them in verse 13 “You accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
The message is pictured not as something static, but something that is life sustaining and active in their midst. So the ultimate purpose of John 3:16 God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish…
But have everlasting life… That we might not begin our days, live our days, or end our days far from God but live every day in the presence and with the blessing of God. Life today. Life now. Life Tomorrow. Life with God. And when this little slice of life is all burnt out and over, a life that continues with God.
Everlasting life is about the quality of life we experience. Life where eternity breaks in like the rays of the sun through a dark cloud. God didn’t send Jesus so that we can all live miserable lives today and only find redemption tomorrow in heaven. Jesus came that we may experience life, truth and freedom and joy in the now. The resurrection makes no sense until it is experienced in the present tense.
So Paul exhorts ... so Paul encourages… so Paul charges... “Live a life worthy of God” ... a life worthy of the God who loved our world with such great depth that Christ died for us whilst we were yet sinners.
This wasn’t just philosophy, or theology or any-ology. It was about the power of God transforming the way they lived. It was about realizing that they had lives deeply valued by God. The Cross confronts us with the value Jesus placed upon our lives. If we allow that gospel message to change us, truly we cannot remain the same.
It brings us to our knees. God cares more about us than we care about each other. The only enemies in the Kingdom of God are those He calls us to pray for. The only barriers to fellowship are the ones we put up through harboring resentments or not counting others as better than ourselves.
We are called to do unto others as we would like them to do unto us, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to embrace others as God has embraced others, to see strangers as those God wants to bless… and so work for wholeness, to feed the hungry, heal the broken-hearted and proclaim release to the captives.
Let us then consider Paul’s challenge. He encourages us to live a life of worship to God, a life whose inner song is “Thou Art Worthy Oh Lord! He writes:
"I exhort you, I encourage you, I charge you;
Live a life worthy of God."
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit may we seek to live such a life, instructed by His Word, empowered through our worship and realized through our daily service.
To God’s name be the glory. Truly, as we will sing in our closing hymn; ‘To God be the glory, Great things He has done”. AMEN.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.