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Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil, for you are with me;your rod and staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

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"For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
St. John 3: 16 (ESV)

AS we look out on our world at the beginning of this new year we cannot help but look out upon a world in turmoil from sickness, conflicts, troubles, and much more. We look on people urgently seeking happiness and rarely finding it in any enduring way. Our everyday experience is more often than not spoiled by reaction to daily experiences that leave us troubled, and perhaps depressed. We may well ask ourselves whether there is any hope of better things. This well known Scripture verse printed at the head of this sermon is a message for this new year that has a message of enduring strength as we face this new year and every year. It has often been called the gospel in a nutshell, and so it is, but only if we are given grace from God to understand and receive the depth of meaning encapsulated in the words.

There are three words in this verse of Scripture which are so often forgotten. In these three words we find understanding of the way this world is, and the way human experience evolves. The three words are 'should not perish'. These three words contain the secret of all the troubles of humanity. These three words tell us that all of us as we enter this world are born perishing. This is a truth that people deny and hate to hear. The fact is we read in Romans 5: 12 Paul telling us that through Adam, our first parent and father of all humanity, and his disobedience, that death came to all men, and all have sinned in Adam, and so inherited that death God pronounced upon Adam when he disobeyed God's one prohibition. Paul tells us in this passage in his letter to the Romans that death has reigned over all humanity from Adam. All humanity are born perishing. This means that although we live our lives in our bodies in this earthly life, we are progressing to eternal death in hell when this life is over. Jesus calls this walking on the road that leads to destruction. Because of this we live this life apart from God and his true blessing, and find ourselves under the rule and dominion of Satan, who is called the god of this world in the Bible, because of Adam choosing to believe his lie rather than God. Here is the reason for all the misery in the world that we see, and why the behaviour of humanity is so perverse.

Our message text is a glorious message of hope and salvation for us all who as human beings are born perishing. This verse tells us that there is an escape from this perishing and death. This verse tells us that we can be saved from this eternal death, and have eternal life. Eternal life is the entire opposite to eternal death we all suffer under. Eternal life is life that never ends, and although we have to experience physical death at the end of this earthly life, our soul lives on, and when Christ returns to the earth to judge the living and the dead, we will be welcomed in love by him, given a new resurrection body, and be brought to live with him in the mansion in his heavenly glory he has prepared for all who have believed on him as Saviour.

This eternal life begins in this earthly life because it is a gift of a new life where the soul, which Adam lost by death, is born again, and we have fellowship with God again, the fellowship Adam lost. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 2 that we have been made alive in Christ and made to sit spiritually in heavenly places with Christ. This eternal life means also that we are adopted into the family of God, and become children of God where God is our heavenly Father, loving us with his pure and perfect love, and where we can truly come to God in prayer with the words 'Our Father, which is in heaven'. This eternal life means also that we have a life within us which Paul tells us in Ephesians 4: 24 is 'created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness'. Because of this new life within us our living is changed, and we hate everything that God hates, and by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us we turn away from all that God hates, repent when we find ourselves obeying Satan rather than our heavenly Father, and loving what God loves, and where we follow Jesus and seek to please him in every way as we live. Where this spirit of Christ is there is blessing and true happiness, even in this life.

Our text for this year tells us that his blessing has been made possible because God so loved the world. There is a great deal of talk about God's love these days, but it is a sickly and sentimental idea of love where God seems to be thought of as patting us on the head and behaving rather like a father Christmas figure. No! This has nothing to do with God's love of the world.

After Adam's sin and disobedience God had no obligation to bless Adam or his progeny. In strict justice God could have given up on humanity and left us perishing in eternal death. We have offended against God. We deserve only to be rejected by God and left to suffer eternal damnation. God owes us nothing, and any idea that it is God's business to love and forgive is blaspheme. Yet this wonderful Scripture verse tells us that God so loved the world. God loves this world which lives in rebellion against him. God loves us who naturally do not love him, live with disregard of him, and do the things God hates. Let us truly contemplate this truth in these words 'God so loved the world', and realise how unworthy of his love we are, and wonder at this truth, that even when we have turned away from God in rebellion he still loves us.

Then in our sinful ignorance we imagine it is easy for God to love us in our wickedness and sin, and that it is his business to forgive. We imagine that God needs only to decide to forgive, and forgiveness his there. This is not true! God is holy. God is righteous. God cannot act against his character. Because he is holy and just, God must uphold his holiness, and can not behave in contradiction of his character. Before God is able to forgive he must satisfy his holiness and justice, and all that falls short of that holiness must suffer the just penalty of eternal death. So how can God's everlasting love be poured out on sinful human being when a just death is pronounced against them?

Here is the difficulty, I say this with reverence, God faced who loves this sinful world. The just sentence of death on sin must be carried out if God is to uphold his character of holiness. Either this judgement must fall on us who have sinned, or else there must be found a substitute to suffer the penalty of death in the place of the sinner. This substitute must be another human being because it is human beings who have transgressed against God's holiness. This substitute must be of high and infinite value in order to be sufficient to atone for the sin of all humanity. This was God's great dilemma. What did God do? In amazing love he took responsibility for our sin in our place.

Here we have the whole wonderful mystery of Christ. Christ, the eternal Word, co-equal with God, and one with God for all eternity, came as the rescuer so that God could be just when he justifies and forgives all who put their trust in Jesus. In obedience to the Father, Jesus accepted the humiliation of being born as a human being, and was born in the likeness of sinful flesh. This means he accepted in his humanity all the misery sin has brought on human life, yet without sin. He became the second Adam. Where the first Adam failed and plunged us all into the misery of sin and death by his disobedience, Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life, triumphing over all the temptations of the devil, facing victoriously all the measures of the religious leaders of his day to cause him to sin, and defeating all their efforts to cause him to sin. He suffered all the evil consequences of sin in his life and remained faithful to his Father, and was totally pure in every way.

In this way he made himself ready to be an undefiled sacrifice, and suffer all the just punishment for sin in the place of us who have sinned and rebelled against God. As the Lamb of God for sacrifice for the sin of the world, God laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53: 6). Because of this he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; the punishment due upon us was laid on him, and by his suffering we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 5). Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us that Jesus became the propitiation for our sins, which means the just wrath of God against our sin was diverted from us, and executed on Jesus. By his sacrifice, Jesus accepted the just wrath of God against our sin in our place. Jesus offered himself for this sacrifice freely in obedience to the will of God his Father. We feel the agony Jesus knew he would suffer of the cross when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, where he said not my will but yours be done.

On the cross he submitted freely to all the degradation of being counted sin for us. He freely gave himself to be nailed to the cross, even though by his divine power he could have saved himself from this sacrifice. He suffered not only the dreadful physical suffering that had to be endured through the cruelness of crucifixion, but much more he suffered the eternal death and hell which is the punishment for sin. This suffering was symbolised by the miraculous darkness for three hours that covered the earth at that terrible event. The hell Jesus suffered for sinners is mercifully hidden from us, but we get a glimpse of it when Jesus cried out in pain and rejection 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me'. All the pain of eternal punishment for sin was condensed upon Jesus when he hung on the cross for six hours.

Words are totally unable to express all the terrible suffering that Jesus endured, in obedience to the Father, in order to save us sinners from the consequence of our sin. But Jesus was victorious. He expressed this in his final triumphant loud cry before he died 'IT IS FINISHED'. He had paid the total price for all our sins. He had completely atoned for our rebellion and disobedience. He had completed the work God had given him to do so that God could be just when he forgives all who come as truly penitent sinner, and put their trust in Jesus as their Saviour.

This is briefly what it means in our text 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son'. Jesus was given by God to suffer all the terrible eternal pain of eternal death so that God could be able to justly forgive sinners. This is love indeed, and love totally unimaginable, except that it is revealed to us in the life and death of Jesus. God showed he had accepted the sacrifice of Christ for the sin of the world, because he raised Jesus from death, and welcomed him back into heaven, and set him at his right hand and placed all authority on him, so that Jesus could pour out this saving on sinners in our world. Jesus now ever lives to make intercession for us who believe, by presenting to God the Father the evidence of his sacrifice as our priest, and God seeing the evidence of that all-sufficient sacrifice in the wounds of Jesus' resurrection body, grants salvation to all who believe in Jesus.

There is a further wonder in this text which is our message for 2021. We are told that eternal life is given to 'whoever believes on Jesus'. There is no good work, merit, or work we can do which can merit our forgiveness. If there was anything given for us to do to win salvation, we would not be able to do it, and we would fail. God, in wondrous love, says just believe on Jesus as the one who has suffered in your place, and by faith become obedient to him as your Lord.

It is important that we understand this free offer of salvation. It is not sufficient for us to believe that Jesus died for sinners. We must understand and confess our own sin and sinfulness, we must understand that we deserve in ourselves divine retribution. We must come to God and to Jesus with empty hands pleading for mercy, and cry to God for his mercy. It is then by revelation of the Holy Spirit we are given to understand and see Jesus suffering on the cross for us, and by so doing purging us from sin, and cleansing us in his precious shed blood.

Head knowledge is not enough. We must truly come as a sinner to Jesus like the tax collector which Jesus saw praying hidden in a corner of the temple, whose prayer was simply 'God me merciful to me a sinner'. The Pharisee who thought he was accepted by God for all his religious observances had his prayer rejected, but Jesus tells us in this gospel incident that the tax collector was justified before God. Why because Jesus died for sinners, and whoever believes on Jesus has eternal life.

With what a glorious love has God so loved this world. May I ask you as you read this message for 2021 whether you have availed yourself of this love of God, and as a penitent sinner come to Jesus and put your trust in Him? If you have, rejoice and go into this new year rejoicing in your salvation and that God has loved you in Christ with an everlasting love. If you have not truly come as a sinner to Jesus pleading for his mercy, I would urge you to do so now and to do so without delay, so that you may enter this new year safe and at peace with God.