Fourth Sunday in Lent
What Wondrous Love
Numbers 21:4–9; Psalm 107:1–3, 17–22; Ephesians 2:1–10; Doctrine and Covenants 157:16a, 17
Lenten Reflections and Worship Setting
See information in the 18 February Lenten Reflections.
Print or project the reading.
Prayerfully consider the following statement taken from “We Proclaim Jesus Christ” found in Sharing in Community of Christ. How does this statement help you deepen your Lenten journey?
By the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus, born of Mary, came into the world to live and dwell among us to reveal God’s nature and will. He prophetically condemned injustice in the temple and proclaimed the good news of the coming reign of God on earth, preaching liberation to the oppressed and repentance to oppressors. He taught his followers to love God, to love their neighbors, and to love their enemies. By eating with sinners, serving the poor, healing the unclean, blessing children, and welcoming women and men as equals among his disciples, Jesus declared that all persons are of worth in the sight of God.
—Sharing in Community of Christ, 3rd ed., (Herald Publishing House, 2012, ISBN 9780830915736), 22.
Call to Worship
Leader: Give thanks for God’s goodness;
Congregation: God’s love endures forever!
Leader: They called to God in their trouble,
Congregation: and God rescued them from their sufferings.
All: Let us thank the Lord for this steadfast love, for the wonderful works to humankind. Let us offer thanksgiving and recount what God has done in joyful song.
—Psalm 107:1–2, 19, 21–22, adapted
Hymn of Joy
“Oh, Sing to the Lord/Cantad al Señor” CCS 88
OR “O God beyond All Praising” CCS 90
OR “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” CCS 99
Congregational Sung Response
“Alleluia” CCS 103
OR Instrumental Response
Reader 1: The people of Israel followed Moses out of the land of Egypt and became impatient on the journey.
Reader 2: They became complainers about living conditions in the wilderness, about their lack of food and water, and how unhappy they were with the kind of food the Lord had provided.
Reader 1: The Lord was not happy and allowed the Israelites to experience some of the deadly conditions present in the wilderness.
Reader 2: After much suffering, the people repented of their blaming the Lord for their suffering and said to Moses:
Congregation: We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to deliver us. Lord, we, too, repent of the times we have held you accountable for our suffering. Forgive us, as you forgave the Israelites.
—adapted from Numbers 21:4–9
Prayer for Peace
Light the peace candle.
Display a globe or world map. Briefly point to and name a few areas of the world that are currently torn by conflict, war, genocide, etc. Remind listeners that God’s wondrous love encompasses everyone represented by the globe (or map) and that we are to partner with God in helping God’s vision of shalom become a reality for all the inhabitants of Earth.
Prayer for Peace
Consider including in your prayer some of these thoughts:
- a petition for peace throughout the world;
- the ability to see beyond our own cultural perspectives;
- a worldview of families and the conflicts they encounter;
- the assurance that God will walk the path of peace beside us;
- an understanding that enables us to find common ground with those whose beliefs are different from our own;
- the recognition that we are sometimes part of the problem rather than being part of the solution;
- the need to weave peace through our daily interactions with others;
- that Christ’s way of peace might more fully become our way of peace.
For more ideas: The Daily Prayer for Peace services offered at the Temple in Independence, Missouri, can be found on the church’s website as Calendar Events at www.CofChrist.org /daily-prayer-for-peace.
Disciples’ Generous Response
Remind worshipers there are many ways to share God’s love. The four t’s help us focus on sharing our time, talent, testimony, and treasure. Ask the worshipers to commit to gifting the church in all four ways, but specifically, just now, to offer their gifts of treasure.
Blessing and Receiving of Local and Worldwide Mission Tithes
For additional ideas, see Disciples’ Generous Response Tools at www.CofChrist.org/disciples-generous-response-tools.
For this week, place two small, wooden crosses in a grocery bag. They can be as simple as two small sticks wrapped or glued together where they intersect. Introduce the object in the bag in your own words using these ideas:
This morning the object in the bag represents both death and life. It is sometimes hard to view this object as something positive, but in Christianity, the way we view this object has been transformed. What do you think it might be?
Solicit a few responses. If someone guesses correctly, remove one cross and hold it up. If not, identify it and hold it up. Suggest that during Lent we are led to remember that God’s wondrous love was a costly love, but freely given for all. State that putting the cross in the storage container represents times when our lives seem hopeless and loveless, and darkness seems more powerful than the light of God’s love. Place the second cross on the worship setting and remind listeners that God’s love has and will continue to overcome the powers of darkness and death.
“What Wondrous Love Is This” (stanzas 1 and 2) CCS 454 (vocal or instrumental solo)
OR Congregational Hymn
“What Wondrous Love Is This” CCS 454
Based on John 3:14–21
Hymn of Affirmation
“Womb of Life and Source of Being” CCS 62
OR “O Living God” CCS 183
Congregational Sung Response: “God’s Love Made Visible!” (stanza 1) CCS 411
OR Solo: “God’s Love Made Visible!” (stanza 1) CCS 411
Doctrine and Covenants 157:16a, 17
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Exploring the Scripture
“God so loved the world…” is one of the best-known and often-proclaimed Bible texts. Some scholars testify that Christianity would not exist without this foundational belief.
Jesus’ conversation with a learned Pharisee named Nicodemus (John 3:1–17) leads to this exclamation of God’s great love. Jesus reminds Nicodemus of the story in Numbers 21 about fiery snakes killing Israelites. Moses prayed for the people. God told him to build a bronze snake, attach it to a pole, and lift it to protect the people’s lives and eventually grant salvation. John makes a critical connection to Jesus. Just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent “so must the Son of Man” be lifted on the cross for the salvation and eternal life of believers. To carry out his mission Jesus must, through divine need, choose death on the cross to save people.
Jesus tells Nicodemus the reason for his death was “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The incarnation is the basis of John’s theology. Incarnation means that through Jesus “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). To be saved, people must simply believe in God and Jesus Christ. Belief is important to John as reflected in his use of the verb “to believe,” which is found 99 times in John’s Gospel. Believing or trusting in God leads to eternal life.
To understand eternal life one must know about the Jewish understanding of three times or ages: the time before creation, the present time, and the time to come. The time to come starts with the coming of the Messiah, or Jesus Christ, and will never end.
For John, belief in God and Jesus means to give one’s unconditional trust or faith to God and Jesus. Doing so ensures a better life for the believer because Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The quality of life for the believer is higher and more satisfying because God unconditionally “loves the world” or all people in the world—the good and bad, just and unjust, lovable and unlovable. Unconditional love is God’s nature as expressed in Jesus’ life of loving all people. Jesus’ life revealed God’s unmerited grace and generosity. God is generous love!
Not only does God love everyone, but God sends the Son as a generous gift to all people. By giving the Son, God wishes “the world might be saved through him” (v. 17). God’s love in Jesus Christ is active, restorative, and continues to be active in the lives of believers.
God’s love through Jesus brings salvation rather than judgment or condemnation. John makes it clear that salvation comes from faith or believing. Those who believe are not condemned.
However, those who don’t believe are condemned already. John uses a present-tense verb to show he is speaking of the present-day reality. For those who don’t believe or trust in God and Jesus, their lives are more difficult because they don’t have Christ’s peace to go with them during difficult times as well as good times.
People who live in a permanent state of disbelief in God and Jesus feel judgment or live in darkness rather than light. John is referring to the self-imposed judgment or darkness that people choose when they don’t believe. To choose darkness rather than the light is to exist outside God’s love, which is freely offered. Those who choose to believe in the truth of Jesus’ light lives like Jesus “so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (v. 21). Believers’ lives “generously share the invitation, ministries, and sacraments through which people can encounter the Living Christ who heals and reconciles through redemptive relationships in sacred community” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:2b).
- God’s nature of unconditional love is revealed in Jesus Christ’s life.
- Accepting God’s love brings salvation in this life rather than condemnation and judgment.
- Believing in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of
- God, leads the believer to share God’s love generously with others.
Questions to Consider
- Do you believe “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”?
- What difference has this belief made in your life and ministry?
- How do you and your congregation reflect what matters most to God and Jesus Christ?
- If you or your congregation love unconditionally like God and Jesus Christ, what difference are you making in your neighborhoods and cities?