SERMON TITLE: Go Tell it on the Mountain (Love)
TEXT: 1 John 4:9-10 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — I want you to know that God loves you and I love you too.
And this Christmas season we’ve been looking at some Christmas carols and allowing them to be our guide as we head towards Christmas Day together. And each week we’ve talked about how the Christmas season can be a very busy time of the year — making it easy to miss the beauty of the season — the season of Advent — when we anticipate the birth of our Savior.
So to help us all slow down during this important season of our faith — we've created these cards as a free resource to help you walk through the weekly themes of Advent. On the front is a piece of artwork that corresponds with the sermon being preached. And on the back you’ll find various resources you can use throughout your week to help you focus on the coming of Jesus this Advent season. We hope this resource will be a blessing to you.
And the Christmas carol we’re using as our guide today is the carol Go Tell it on the Mountain — which — to be honest — was pretty tricky to connect to our Advent theme of love — the Advent theme for this weekend. And the reason for the difficulty is because Go Tell it on the Mountain doesn’t have the word love in its lyrics — talk about a preaching conundrum. But thankfully — in the music world there’s this thing called a medley — where you put different songs together — and the version of Go Tell it on the Mountain we’re singing this weekend — at both of our campuses — is a medley of our Christmas carol with the song This is Amazing Grace — which has a line in its chorus that says “this is amazing love.” So after some twists and turns — our conundrum is solved — as we’ve found our way from Go Tell it on the Mountain to our Advent theme of love.
So now that you know the hoops I jumped through to put this sermon together, how about we turn to our passage.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to 1 John chapter 4. We’ll be looking at verses 9 and 10 together today.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in 1 John chapter 4. Beginning in verse 9.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10 ESV)
Now each week, I’ve shared some history about the carol that’s being used as our guide. And our carol for this week — Go Tell It on the Mountain — comes from the rich tradition of African American spirituals from our own country — the US.
According to tradition, “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” originated with the Fisk Jubilee Singers — they were a traveling college choir. No one’s really certain who wrote the song, but we know it was made popular by John Wesley Work — who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and John Wesley Work was a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. What we don’t know — is whether he wrote our carol — or if he discovered the song after it’d been written by someone else — that part of our carol’s story has been lost in history. (C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: Go, Tell It On the Mountain,” Discipleship Ministries: United Methodist Church, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-go-tell-it-on-the-mountain, accessed on October 13, 2018.)
The carol was first published in 1909 (Jane Schroeder, “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” First Things, December 3, 2015, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/09/go-tell-it-on-the-mountain, accessed on October 13, 2018.) but would be edited — reworked a bit — and then published again by Work’s son — John Wesley Work III (Hawn, “History of Hymns: Go, Tell It On the Mountain.”). And even with the “mysterious — lost in history stuff” — regarding its authorship — the significance of “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” is unquestioned. One author has said...
“The song had come from the fields of the South, born from the inspiration of a slave's Christmas, and it was unique in that, of the hundreds of Negro spirituals the Work family saved from extinction, few had been written about Christmas. Most of the spirituals had centered on earthly pain and suffering, and the joy and happiness that only heaven seemed to offer. [But] “Go ,Tell it on the Mountain” was a triumphant piece that embraced the wonder of lowly shepherds touched by God at the very first Christmas.” (Hawn, “History of Hymns: Go, Tell It On the Mountain.”)
I love that last sentence. If you know the Christmas story, whether it be Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men — even the angels — there’s a constant thread of being in awe of — being in wonder of what God was doing in sending His Son to be born as a baby on that first Christmas morning. The Christmas story is a story full of wonder. And the Bible records that those involved in the first Christmas responded to the amazing love God — as displayed in the birth of Jesus — with wonder and amazement.
THE LOVE OF GOD
And that’s what we see in verses 9 and 10 of our passage — we see God’s love — and it’s a love that should amaze us. John writes, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10 ESV)
I can’t think of many people who don’t like the idea of love. We live in a day and age where love is still highly valued. Even those who don’t claim to have any kind of religious faith would say that love is an ideal that all people should pursue. They may not view love as anything more than an emotion or feeling — but it’s still important.
Yet — something all to evident — is how we come up with all kinds of reasons to not love certain kinds of people. Yet in spite of our inconsistencies — love — in some sense — is still valued.
Now a danger — in our day — is how love is often thought of — by many people — to mean something like “unconditionally accepting someone else’s behavior, values, and lifestyle.” To love someone — we’re told — means you have to accept they way they live — their lifestyle — to love means to not judge or disagree with what they do or how they live — that’s love — we’re told.
Another danger is how people believe you can love someone even though you may never actually do something for them — except maybe like their Facebook or Instagram post. We’ve seemed to have redefined love to mean something that doesn’t require much of us.
I’m off of social media now — a great decision — by the way — but I remember seeing posts about someone in need — seeing something about money being raised for a certain cause — and I remember seeing all kinds of people sharing and liking the post — and I kept thinking, “But I wonder if anyone’s actually giving to the need?” I remember people talking to me as if liking the post was the same thing as contributing towards meeting the need. What a strange way to love others. Unfortunately, social media isn’t the only place where our love for one another is lacking.
For example, many of us have church experience — and maybe your experience wasn’t great — but it’s Christmastime — so you’re back to give church a try again — by the way — I’m glad you’re here today. But your experience in the church has jaded your view of love.
Maybe you were part of an unloving church. You heard all kinds of sermons about God’s love and then you saw people do some of the most unloving things — inside the church! And this has made it hard for you to not only trust Christians — when they say they love you — but even to trust God’s love for you.
Others of us may be new to the Christian faith — or maybe you consider yourself to be a spiritual person — not necessarily a Christian — but a commonly held view is that love between you and God — is just that — solely a thing between you and God. And this has led a lot of people to misunderstand the point of church — or the importance being part of a local church. I mean, why does it really matter whether or not you’re part of a church — can’t it just be “me, myself, and God?” But — as we’ll see — there’s more to love than just your relationship with God.
And all kinds of things can affect our view of what it means to be loved by God.
Maybe — and it was some sorry timing being just before Christmas and all — but maybe the doctor just gave you news you never wanted to hear.
Or maybe this is your first Christmas without your spouse — or your mom or dad — maybe even a child.
Maybe your employer let you know that after the new year the company will be downsizing and you’re going to be out of a job.
As much as we want a holly, jolly Christmas — that’s not always what life gives us.
So what happens to our understanding of love — and our relationship with God — when life gives us stuff we’d rather return to the store — like the clothes you know you’re going to return the day after Christmas so you can get something you’ll actually wear?
So how about some good news? In the midst of all of this — every year — we have an opportunity during this season — to be reminded of God’s love for us.
That God doesn’t love us in some sort of “He tolerates and accepts us” kind of way.
His love isn’t tainted with ulterior motives like that bad church experience you may have had.
God doesn’t love us in a way that’s all about “me, myself, and Him” — His love is much bigger than that.
And — if you want a reason to be in awe and in wonder of God sending His Son to be born — the kind of awe and wonder that we read about in the Christmas story — you must see that God’s love for you came at the cost of incredible suffering on His part.
That’s what we see in these two verses. God has proven He loves us — how? Well He manifested His love — He showed us His love — the word means God “revealed to us — He made known to us” — His love — how? We find our answer in verse 9: He sent His Son into our world.
So get this — be amazed at this — wonder at this. Jesus is not only the invisible God made visible — He is that — but Jesus is also proof of the love of God made visible. People can define God’s love however they want — but it’s probably a good idea to listen to God’s Word on the matter. God says, “You want to know what my love is like? I’ve shown you. I’ve shown you my love in Jesus.”
That’s what we celebrate every Christmas — that God sent His Son into our world. God sent His Son to show us His love for us. But notice — in verses 9 and 10 — that our being loved came at a great price. God sent Jesus so that we might — in response to being loved — live — but our living came at the expense of Jesus’ death. That’s what the words “sent to be the propitiation for our sins” means.
So what does that fancy word — propitiation — mean? Before I answer, let me remind you of something you agree with. We didn’t read it, but it’s found back in verse 8. Verse 8 says, “God is love.” You love that, right? You agree with that, don’t you? God is love — do a little dance — get out the party poppers and noise makers — throw some confetti in the air — God is love — great news!
Now the word propitiation also tells us something about God — but you might not be as quick to agree with this as you were to agree that God is love — but I hope you will agree. Jesus was sent to be the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation means to “placate someone who is angry.” (Gary M. Burge, Letters of John, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 86.)
OK — so the only reason Jesus would need to be sent as the propitiation for our sins is if someone was angry with us. And who was angry with us? God, right? But we don’t like an angry God. And we definitely don’t like the idea of God being angry with us. Maybe God is angry with really bad people, but God being angry with me? Or my child? Or your grandma who makes the best Christmas cookies ever? Is God really angry with people you know — maybe even angry with you?
But notice how these two connect. In His love for us, God sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins. In His love for us, God — though rightfully angry with us — sent Jesus to come and appease His anger — or wrath — towards us.
So here’s a rather strange — but truthful — thought. No anger — no love. If God wasn’t angry with us — then there’s no Christmas holiday where we celebrate God’s love for us in sending His Son. This means it’s inconsistent to say you believe in God’s love if you deny His anger. God wouldn’t have needed to show us His love — in sending Jesus — if He wasn’t angry with us. And what makes God’s love so amazing is that He acted on His love despite being angry with us.
And how did Jesus appease God’s anger towards us? In love, Jesus gave His life on the cross for our sins so that God’s anger towards us would be poured out on Him in our place. Now that’s a costly love. That’s a love to be in awe of. That’s a love worth responding to.
RESPONDING TO GOD’S LOVE
So how are we to respond to God’s love? What does it mean to live having been loved by God?
First, we’re to believe that God loves us. Do you believe that God loves you? Not just accepts you — or tolerates you — but that He loves you and has demonstrated His love for you by sending Jesus to live and die for your sins. Do you believe that God loves you with an unconditional — yes you’ve got junk and God knows all about it — but He loves you even with all of that junk kind of love? A love that’s infinitely wide and infinitely long and infinitely high and infinitely deep. A love that — one biblical writer describes as — “too great to understand fully.” Ephesians 3:19a (NLT)
What an encouragement that is — that God’s love is too great to fully understand. Why is that so encouraging? Because with as puny as my brain is — and as fickle as my heart is to trust — man can my heart doubt — but in spite of my puny brain and fickle heart God’s love blows my weaknesses and insecurities out of the water — and even that doesn’t begin to describe the infinite — amazing — love that God has shown for us in His Son. It’s more like our weaknesses and sin — our insecurities and lack of trust — have been buried in the depths of Hell and — through faith in Christ — we’ve been blasted into the Heavenly Kingdom of God where Jesus is reigning as King at this very moment.
Do you trust in God’s love for you? That Jesus died for your sins? That Jesus came to our world willingly — because He loves you? Responding to God’s love begins by believing that Jesus died for your sins.
Second, in response to God’s love — we’re to love Him in return. Jesus was once asked what was the most important commandment in all of the Bible. His response, “To love God.” We love God in response to His love for us. The Bible makes it clear — the only acceptable response to God’s love for us is to love Him in return.
So what does that look like? It begins by wanting to know who He is. And we know who God is by reading and studying the Bible.
Do you love God? I’m always confused when someone says “Yes, I love God” but then have no time for God’s Word. I don’t care if you read it, listen to it, or whatever — but — and you know this — if you love someone you want to hear from them. The soldier deployed cherishes every letter they get from loved ones back home — as do they when they get letters from the soldier. The same should be true of everyone who loves God. I mean — think about it — do you view God as being uninterested in your words to Him?
I think most of us — when we pray — regardless of how often we pray — we don’t view God as being uninterested in our words — otherwise — why pray? We expect that — at that moment — God’s listening. But this is a two way relationship. So what about us listening to God through His Word? How dare we expect God to hear our prayers when we don’t open up our ears to His Word to us — that’s not a very loving response.
Not only that, but what does it say when — instead of listening to God through His Word — we decide to tell God who He is? How awesome is it to listen to someone tell you how to do your job who doesn’t have a clue how to actually do your job? It’s not awesome is it? But how refreshing is it to have someone love you by listening to you?
Recently I got my first speeding ticket — ever. I didn’t even get pulled over — it was a police officer using technology through a camera system. Somewhere on I75 — near Toledo — I apparently missed a change from 60 miles per hour to 50. So — fun times — I got my first ticket.
And when the ticket came in the mail, I’m looking at it thinking, “Why did you let this happen? Why weren’t you paying attention while you were driving? You always pay attention to things like this. How could you be so stupid and not see the speed limit change? And now you’ve got to tell Emily about this.” Now I know that’s not what everyone would think — I’ve got my own set of issues — some of you would be like “Yes! This is the cheapest speeding ticket I’ve ever gotten!” — but not me.
And so I tell my wife. And do you know how she responded? She said, “These things happen. I know you’re already being harder on yourself than you need to be. You made it to 40 years old without getting a single ticket. You’re driving record’s still way better than mine. Pay it and move on.” And do you know what? I felt loved.
When Jesus got asked the question about the most important commandment, right after saying “loving God” was the most important, He quickly followed up with a second commandment that needs to be high on our list of priorities — it’s what my wife showed me.
And that’s how we’re to respond to God’s love for us by loving others. Jesus told His followers, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)
Our love for one another — which is a response to God’s love for us — is visible proof to an unbelieving world that our faith is genuine. Yet how often do people — who say they follow Jesus — completely isolate themselves from being able to love other followers of Jesus? And — listen — I know the church can be messy — it’s full of messed up, sinful, hypocrites, who aren’t quick to admit that they’re messed up, sinful, or a hypocrite. But that’s who Jesus came to save.
Jesus didn’t come to save good people. Jesus didn’t leave Heaven and come to Earth to rescue people who’d figured out how to clean up their act. The Son of God didn’t take on human flesh and be born as a baby — to grow up and die on a cross — for people who were sinless. He came for sinners. Not sinners in a hypothetical sense. Not hypocrites in a “it’s the right thing to say, but not what I really believe about myself.” Jesus came for “I’m messed up and — if you think I’m bad — you don’t know the half of how awful I really am.” Jesus came for people who know — they’re not just bad — they’re eternally damnable.
And — amazingly — Jesus came to love them. And in loving them — in loving you — if that’s you — Jesus tells you to go and love others.
“Go and tell them about my love for them.
Go and tell them about my love for the world.
Go tell them about my birth — about the night when some shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks and the heavens opened up and were filled with a choir of angels who were singing about my birth.
Go and tell them that I have come — bringing salvation and hope and joy and peace and love to my creation.”
“Go and tell them about me and my love. A love that’s unlike any love they’ve ever experienced.
In a world based on conditional love, I offer them unconditional love.
In a society that says you have to earn love, I offer them an unearned love.
I give them a love they don’t deserve and I give it to them as a gift.
I give them myself — in love — so they might find their true self in me.”
That’s what Christmas is about. Beyond the trees and lights, the stockings and the presents — Christmas is about God’s love for you and for me — His love for all people. A love that changes everything when you receive it as the gift that it is. Because — for the first time in your life — when you receive the gift — you know what it means to be loved as you look to the One who gave His life for you. And — in response — you think — but more importantly — you live knowing, “If God so loves me like this, then nothing else in life even begins to compare to what it means that I am loved by God.”
And that’s the best Christmas gift to ever receive. The love of God for you. The love of God for me. The love of God for all people — the people whom He wants us to go and tell that Jesus Christ — the Savior of the world — has been born. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for Your amazing love for us. Your love for us that we don’t deserve. Your love for us that we often doubt. Your love for us that we often take advantage of — is an amazing love. Help us — Spirit — to respond to Your love for us by loving You in return. Help us to respond to Your love for us by loving one another. And help us to respond to Your love for us by going and telling the world that Jesus Christ was born so they might experience Your love — which changes everything.
Jesus, that’s my prayer for those who are listening who have yet to receive the gift of Your love for them. Draw them to You right now. Soften their defenses, break down their walls, help them to trust that You love them. Give them the gift of faith, so they receive Your love — Your amazing love — and begin to live the life that You’ve made possible. We pray all of these things in Your name. Amen.
May you go in awe and wonder because of God’s for you. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.