Advent Carols Service

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It’s a great joy for me to be with you here again at these Advent Carol services. If you are a guest or visitor may I give a very warm welcome to you once again. It would be a very great help to me if you could turn to John chapter three. I just want to read two or three verses, probably the best known verse in the bible, John 3:16. We are going to look at that verse and verses 19 and 20.

“16For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed”.

We all know instinctively that light is about love. We become real through relationships of love. We all know that instinctively. One of the reasons that I think the Princess of Wales captured the world’s heart, was that so many people could identify with her. She may have had glamour and wealth, and yet beneath it all she remained desperate for love. And that’s really true for us isn’t it? We all need love. We are all desperate for love. Freddie Mercury said these words just before he died,

“You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man. And that is the most bitter type of loneliness. Success has brought me worldwide idolization and millions of pounds, but it has prevented me from having the one thing we all need, an ongoing relationship”.

A student summed it all up. He said,

“No one has ever loved me. I don’t think I even know what love is”.

You see that true reality for all of us as human beings made in the image of God is not found in plastic money. Its not found in shopping malls. It’s not even found in the latest soccer or rugby game. No its only found in relationships, in knowing God and knowing God’s love. You may know that wonderful book by Marjorie Williams. She made the point so clearly. Its the book called the Velveteen Rabbit. If you haven’t read the book perhaps you should get it and read it. There’s this wonderful quotation which talks about love,

“The velveteen rabbit turned to the old wise skin horse in the nursery and asked “What is real? Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” The skin horse replied, “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long long time, not just to play with but really loves you, then you will become real.” “Does it hurts asked the rabbit?”. “Sometimes” said the skin horse, for he was always truthful. “Does it happen all at once or bit by bit?”. “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the skin horse, “you become. It takes a long time. Generally by that time that you are real most of your hair has been lugged off, and your eyes drop out, and you get very shabby. But once you are real you cannot become unreal again. It lasts for always.”.

Well I think I have become real because I am getting all old and shabby.

True reality is found in relationships, it’s found in knowing God, it’s found in knowing God’s love. Let’s have a look at verse 16 here and the other verses which tells us what’s real love is, what God’s love is, which is good for us to remember especially at this advent Carol service. Two things I want to draw to your attention.

The first thing here which is so clear is that God ‘s love is undeserved.

Have a look there again at verse sixteen.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

You see God’s love is undeserved. When we understand what that word world means! “For God so loved the world”. Well verse 19 tells us what the words means. Verse 19 says, “This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”So Christ is the light. He’s come into the world, and yet the world’s reaction is to reject the light. So instead of loving the light the world loves the darkness. They don’t want them the light in their lives, they don’t want God in their lives. That is the measure of the world. Now you may say, “Why? Why is that so? Why should the world’s reject the light? Why should it reject God?” Well verse 20 gives us the answer. In verse 20 Jesus says,

“Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light of fear that his deeds be exposed.”.

You see, the reason people don’t want to get too close to the light or too close to Jesus is because they know that Jesus will expose the darkness. Jesus will expose our sin and they don’t like it. Many years ago when I was a student, one Friday night I went with some friends to a pub, it was called the Pig and Whistle in Capetown and the place was packed, wonderful food, wonderful music, great atmosphere. It was rather dark inside as these pubs often are. There were few candles, few lanterns. The problem was I stayed too long. I stayed until they were closing up and they had blown out the candles and the lanterns. They had put on the fluorescent lights, only for me to discover that it was a rather dingy and dirty place. You know. Pools of water on the ground, food on the walls. I only discovered that when the lights came on. You see, on our own we think we are all right. We think we’re fine. I know I’m not perfect you say but I’m all right, I’m fine. It’s only when the light comes on that we realise that we’re not fine. It’s only when Jesus comes into the picture that we realise that we are’nt what we should be. We kind of get a little bit ashamed don’t we? Ashamed about how we’ve treated other people. Ashamed about some of our thoughts, our motives, some of those angry thoughts, those jealous thoughts which are hidden, that no one sees. When we come close to Jesus into the light we realise that we haven’t treated God right. We’ve ignored Him, we’ve rejected Him. Jesus gets to the heart of the problem when he says that the fruit is currupt because the tree is corrupt. What did he mean by that? He meant that we are sinful not because of what we do. We are sinful because of what we are. That we are sinful by nature. Turgenev the Russian poet said,

“I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like, and it’s terrible!”

You see we are sinful by nature. We are sinful from birth.

Now some of you may dispute that and say that we are not sinful by birth. Well obviously you do not have children! If you had children you will know - that you do not have to teach your children how to be naughty. You spend years and years teaching them what is the right thing and what is the good thing. Why? By nature children do what is wrong. We are sinful by nature from birth. Some of you will say to me, “I know I’m not perfect Martin, but I’m really not as bad as other people.” You should meet my neighbours. You should meet some of my relatives. They need to be here this evening! You should meet my inlaws! The problem is that God requires 100%. That’s the problem. If we want to know God, God requires 100% and we all fall short don’t we? Let me illustrate that. How do you rate these people? If you were to rate Mother Teresa what would you give her? Eight out of ten? Nine out of ten? Billy Graham, what would you give him? Eight out of ten? Nine out of ten? Or what about Adolf Hitler? What about Chairman Mao? Minus eight? Minus ten? Relative to one another there’s a big difference isn’t there? You would put Mother Teresa and Billy Graham up on the top of Mount Everest. You’d put Adolf Hitler at the bottom of a mine shaft. Relative to one another there’s a big difference.

The problem my dear friends is that none of them can touch the stars. We all fall short. We all fail. I wonder if we realise how terrible it is that we’ve ignored God? That we’ve loved the darkness. We’ve rejected the light. Imagine! God made us. God created us. God gave us breath. God gave us gifts. God gave us blessings and talents. And we’ve hardly thanked him. In fact we’ve ignored him. We’ve rejected him. At the heart of sin there’s men and women like you and me who have said to God, “I don’t need you! I don’t want you! I will live life in my own way! I will make my own rules! I will make my own world view! I will determine my own happiness! I’ll be the master of my own destiny! I’ll be the Lord of my own life!”. That’s the heart of sin and that’s what we’ve said to God. We’ve rejected Him. We’ve ignored Him. Back to verse 16. When we understand what is meant by the word of world, we do realise that God’s love is undeserved. We don’t deserve His love, do we? God knows everything we’ve said. God knows everything we’ve done. God knows everything we’ve thought. God knows that we’ve ignored him and we’ve rejectied him and we’ve hated the light, and still he loves us. For “God so loved the world”, people like you and me. How extraordinary! How undeserved!

The second thing I want us to notice is that God’s love is not only undeserved. God’s love is unbelievable.

Well it won’t be long before we all start buying presents for our friends and family. Its nearly Christmas. So you are standing in a shop and you ask yourself, “How much shall I spend on John?” Well, the answer, to be blunt, is how much do you care about John or love John? Then you think about what John bought you last year for Christmas, that hopeless ‘soap-on-a-rope’, or some writing paper that really was totally useless, and you are downgrading his present immediately. Question? “How much God love us?” Well, verse 16 gives us the answer. “He gave us His one and only Son”, meaning he gave him to die for us. Is it possible for us to grasp that? I don’t know how to explain it. Not that it’s difficult to understand or to comprehend. But can we really understand God loving broken sinful failures like us? It’s just so unbelievable. It’s extraordinary that he should love us, that he should send his son to die for us. During the second world war a German Joseph Krena was a farmer. He sheltered some jews in Germany. Under his barn he built an underground shelter and when there was a patrol, he and his wife and their one year old baby boy with twenty Jews would go underground and shelter. One day a patrol came. They heard footsteps overhead. All seemed fine until Joseph’s one year old son began to cry, and he couldn’t be settled. Twenty people stared at Joseph, knowing their lives were at stake. And finally Joseph put his hand over the boy’s mouth and smothered him to death. Now my dear friends I have two daughters. One is twelve and one is fifteen. I find that story too much, too much to give to somebody else. To take the life of your child. But that’s what God gave us. He gave us his son. Remember that great great definition of grace.

‘You are more sinful than you ever imagined, but you are more loved than you ever dreamed.’

I’m not sure how much you think about God. Perhaps you haven’t given God a second thought this past year. Perhaps last Easter was the last time you really gave God any thought at all. And yet verse 16 tells us how much God loves people like you and me. Of course the reason he had to die was because God takes us seriously and he takes our sin seriously. God is not only a God of love. He’s a God of justice. Sin must be punished. God can never say “Oh! It doesn’t matter.” No, God is a God of justice. Sin must be punished. Justice must be done. So God’s love and God’s justice meet at the cross. It is at the cross that Jesus, who had no sin, died in our place. He died as our substitute. He satisfied the justice of God. He satisfied the wrath of God that we deserved. And then at that very same cross God offers us forgiveness. He offers us eternal life. Notice again verse 16, Jesus says everyone faces two options, two choices, two destinations. Did you notice that? Either eternal life, which is life with God, now and for ever. Or - we perish. Only two options, not three or four or ten. Of course we deserve God’s judgement. We turned our backs on him. We rejected him. We rebelled against him. But God sent his son to rescue us from perishing. To rescue us from the judgement of God. Perhaps your problem tonight is that the idea of facing God’s judgement just doesn’t seem real to you. It’s all kind of morbid, talking about death and judgement and its Advent Carols. So we are in danger of ignoring it. That’s the problem. It just doesn’t seem real to us. Forgive me for stressing it, but imagine standing before God and God saying “Why didn’t you believe in Jesus?” What would you say? What would you say if God said that? “I didn’t think Jesus was all that important.”. “I didn’t realise that it mattered so much.” “I didn’t think I needed him.”. Surely God would say, “Do you think I would have sent my son if it wasn’t important?. If it didn’t matter? Do you think I would have sacrificed my son if you didn’t need him?” My dear friends, if we didn’t need rescuing, God wouldn’t have sent his son to die for us.

Now you may not think that these things are important. But you need to know that’s how important God sees you, that you need rescuing. God knows that without Jesus you and I would perish. And so he loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us, so that we don’t have to face the judgement of God.

Let me close. Jesus tells us, do you notice, verse 16, what we must do. Quite clear isn’t it? He says that

“whoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life.”.

Now I don’t have time to give you the full treatment and you may be thankful that I don’t have time to give you the full treatment. But eternal life is not automatic. You don’t get eternal life by being born in a Christian home, or going to a Christian school or having a Christian parent or spouse. No. You receive eternal life when you make a decision. You need to cross a line. You need to say yes to Jesus. You need to believe in him. Perhaps God the Holy Spirit has been speaking to you this evening. You have felt that inner sense, as we were singing, as the bible was being read, as we prayed, as we read this passage. You felt God the Holy Spirit, in a sense, pressing in upon your mind and heart and saying, “You’re the man you’re the woman.”.

How do you cross the line? How do you take that step? Let me answer that simply with an ABC. It’s very simple.

A. Admit - that you lived in darkness. Admit to God that you loved the darkness.
B. Believe in Jesus – that he gave his life for me – for me, for my sin. And then
C. Come to him. Commit yourself to him. Call on him to save you from your sin.

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