so that whoever believes in him
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’d like to begin my sermon this morning with a little travel quiz about a country that most of you have probably never been to, and yet I’m sure you are still very familiar with some of its most famous tourist attractions. And that country is England. So see if you can identify what you see in the following pictures. Feel free to call out the answers. (Show London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Beetles [for fun], and then Cleopatra’s Needle).
Cleopatra’s Needle might look a little out of place in modern day London as indeed it should. For it was originally built in Egypt around 1450 B.C. on the orders of Pharaoh Thutmose III. Because of its dating, it’s quite possible that none other than Moses himself once stood in the shadow of this obelisk since most conservative Bible scholars believe he was living in the palace of Egypt about that time. It was presented as a gift to the United Kingdom in 1819 by the viceroy of Egypt, but it wasn’t actually erected in its current spot until August of 1878.
The reason I wanted to bring this monument to your attention today is because planted at its base is a time capsule that contains pictures and other artifacts from 19th century London including a newspaper, a London directory, a hairpin, 12 pictures of the 12 most beautiful women of the day, and, most importantly, a Scripture verse translated into 215 languages. Care to guess what that verse might be? That’s right. John 3:16…the verse that we began to study earlier this year in a sermon series I have entitled “The Gospel in a Nutshell…“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Were it not for one word in that verse, this passage could easily be dismissed by future generations as nothing more than a statement relevant only to the time it was placed in that time capsule. But that one word suggests that this isn’t just a passage for a particular moment in history. Rather it is a passage for the ages. And that one word is whoever. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him.” That word “whoever” is pretty inclusive, isn’t’ it? It’s a word that invites the entire world to receive from God the forgiveness, life, and salvation that he has to offer through the One whose resurrection we celebrated just two weeks ago. You know, God could have very easily qualified this verse and loaded it with all kinds of restrictions. Instead of using the word whoever, he could have said whatever – whatever man believes, whatever woman believes, whatever Jew believes, whatever Greek believes. But he didn’t do that. He didn’t restrict it. As one Bible commentator puts it: “The pronoun [whoever] is wonderfully indefinite.” For who isn’t a “whoever”? That pronoun makes it clear that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is available to anyone and everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or social standing.
The word whoever is a word that Jesus loved. Prepare yourself for a meteor shower of times when he used it: Matt. 10:32 – “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” Mark 3:35 – “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” John 10:9 – “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” And then my favorite is John 6:37: “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
What a beautiful word whoever is because that word has 3 qualifications that we want to look at this morning. To begin with, whoever means however. However God finds you he wants you. And that’s good news because the disappointments and downturns of life can sometimes leave us in such a sad state of affairs that we may wonder whether God could ever have a place in his family for someone in our place. Lazarus may have wondered that. Not the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead, but the Lazarus who appears in a two-act story that Jesus tells in Luke 16. The other character in this drama is a rich man who lived a very materialistic and luxurious life. He was the Donald Trump of his day before Mr. Trump became President. Yet in spite of his many blessings, he was unwilling to share even the crumbs that fell from his table with a poor beggar like Lazarus. I find it interesting that though Jesus does not give us the name of the rich man, he does tell us the name of Lazarus. I believe that’s a subtle indication that while nobody else noticed this poor beggar, God did even though he would have been the modern day equivalent of a homeless street sleeper. Sores covered his body. And the dogs that Jesus says licked those sores were apparently his only friends. Infected. Rejected. Dejected. Such was the life that Lazarus lived day in and day out. Surely he was an exemption to God’s whoever policy, right? Wrong.
For when the curtain falls on scene 1 of this drama and then lifts to reveal scene 2, we see a complete reversal of destinies for these two men. Lazarus dies and is carried by angels to Abraham’s side, which was the Jewish equivalent of heaven. The rich man dies and is immediately transported to hell where he finds himself in unbearable and unspeakable agony and torment. Note the irony here. The one who had been in the lap of luxury now suffers, while the one who suffered now rests in the lap of Abraham.
There are many lessons we can take from this story, but the one that is of special interest to us today is that God takes you however you are. And again, that’s good news because Lazaruses still populate our planet, don’t they? There may be a Lazarus or two here today. Oh, you may not be begging for bread, but perhaps you’re wondering where your next paycheck is coming from. Or you may not be sleeping on the streets, but you may be sleeping on the floor of someone’s apartment because you’ve fallen on very hard times. And you may be wondering whether God has a place in his family for someone in your place. If that describes you, you need wonder no more. For the answer is yes. And to get there you don’t have to climb up, you don’t have to stand up, you don’t have to clean up. All you have to do is look up. Because the word whoever means however. However God finds you, he’ll take you.
But the word whoever also means whenever. Whenever you hear God’s voice and respond to it. Whenever you heed his invitation to come to him through Jesus. I don’t know if you ladies here today are like my wife, but she has always been a coupon clipper. She makes it a point to go through all those coupons that occasionally populate our mailbox. The ones she thinks she’ll use she cuts out and files away under different categories in a recipe box she keeps just for that purpose. But once in a while she has to go through that box because guess what happens to some of those coupons over the course of time. That’s right. They expire.
Well, the nice thing about God’s invitation to salvation is that this side of the grave it has no expiration date. As long as you have breath in your body, it’s not too late to respond to that invitation. And to convince us of that, Jesus once told a fascinating parable about a landowner who needed some laborers to work in his vineyard. So early in the morning he went to the place where such men gathered and he hired some of them. They agreed on a wage of a denarius a day. And as Jesus tells the story, more workers were hired at 9 a.m., others at noon, others at 3:00, and still others at 5:00, which was one hour before quitting time. Now tell me, what kind of workers are still hanging around at the employment office at 5:00 in the afternoon? I’ll tell you what kind. How about guys who desperately need work? How about men who aren’t wanting to go home and hear their wives ask the same question they ask every day: “Did you find a job today?” We’re talking about guys here who are at the end of their rope. For who hires men with only one hour left in the work day? I’ll tell you who does it. God does. And who pays a one-hour worker the same wage that he gives a full-day worker? God does. That’s the punch line of this story. The grace that God gives to lifelong servants is the same grace God gives to 11th hour converts.
Now some people would say that’s not fair. In fact, that’s exactly what the laborers who worked all day in the vineyard had to say to the landowner when they received their wage from him at the end of the day. To which he replied: “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” So God’s answer to those who would say that it’s not fair for him to give the same grace to 11th hour converts as he does to lifelong servants is: “It doesn’t matter whether you think it’s fair or not. It’s my grace to give. So I’ll give it to whoever I choose whenever I choose.” Like I said earlier, this side of the grave his grace has no expiration date. But do understand that it will expire once a person takes their final breath. So one word of caution here is, don’t wait. Don’t postpone accepting God’s invitation to salvation. For no one knows the day nor the hour when he is going to call us out of this life. And something as eternally important as this must never be put off to a later date.
So whoever means however, it means whenever, and then lastly, it means wherever. God takes us wherever he finds us. I would imagine the prodigal son would have questioned that. In fact, I know he did. He felt that he had wandered too far from his father’s good graces to ever be allowed back in the home again. But you know what happened. After he squandered the inheritance his father had given him, he hit rock bottom. And before he knew it, he went from living high off the hog to literally living with the hogs as he hired himself out to a pig farmer to feed swine for a living. Now that was about as low as a Jewish man could go because according to Jewish law pigs were considered unclean animals – not to be touched, not to be eaten, not to be dealt with in any way. But it got worse. For the day came when the slop those pigs were eating started to look pretty appetizing to him. He was that hungry. He had sunk that low. And that’s when he finally came to his senses and remembered how back home even his father’s servants had plenty of food to eat and a roof over their heads. So rather than swallow the pods the pigs were eating he swallowed his pride and headed home with a well-rehearsed speech on his lips that he never got the chance to complete because when his father saw him, he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around him, kissed him, and welcomed him back into his home not as a servant but as a son. What a beautiful picture of how our Heavenly Father takes us back when we return to him from the far country of sin with sorrowful and repentant hearts.
You know, we lose a lot in life, don’t we? We lose our youth and its vigor. We lose our idealism and its dreams. We sometimes lose at love. Sometimes I think we even lose our sanity. But one thing we never lose, unless we willfully reject it, is our position in our Father’s house. He has a place set at his banquet table just for you. Just like couples whose weddings I perform often have for Marilyn and me at their wedding reception. Sometimes we get there and don’t know very many people and don’t know where to sit. So it’s always comforting to see our names on name cards at the table designated for us.
Well, if you’re a believer in Christ, if you by the power of the Holy Spirit have said yes to God’s invitation to salvation, then you can be sure that his banquet table has a place with your name on it as well. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Don’t you love that word whoever? I sure do because that simple word lets us know that no position is too low, no hour is too late, no place is too far. God takes us however, whenever, and wherever he finds us – all so that we might spend forever in his glorious and perfect presence. Amen.