A friend of mine posted on her facebook wall at midnight last night that it was 3/16, which reminded her of John 3:16 and she wished us all a happy 3/16. I responded by saying, “Yes…and tomorrow (3/17) it gets even better!!! Here’s why I say that…
John 3:16 tells us, “For 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” [New Revised Standard Edition (NRSV) from Biblia.com]. This text is packed with stuff to talk about:
1) God SO loved the world. This is true love, folks, the real kind of love that resides deep in our souls and that we long for. We often find all kinds of other ‘things’ to cling to thinking that they are what this true love is all about, but it’s right here in John 3:16 (and all over in the Bible, too). The love that we long for is from God. It is everlasting, unfailing, unconditional, and FREE!
2) God gave God’s son (I try to be gender neutral in reference to God unless I am directly quoting text from the Bible). Yes, the Romans arrested Jesus, tortured him (Jesus was an actual human on earth of the male persuasion so I do refer to him in masculine terms), and crucified him, but God gave him to the world for that purpose. If you read through the Old Testament, or remember Bible stories from Sunday School, you have probably heard of Noah and the flood (Genesis 7-8). God wiped out all but the mostest of the most faithful, Noah and his family. As a result…well, humans are still human and we continue to struggle with following God. After the flood incident, God made a covenant with humankind that God would never again destroy all living flesh (Genesis 9:11) and the sign of the covenant is the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-13). So the only way for God to reconcile us with God was to send God’s only Son, Jesus, to pave the way for our salvation. Notice that the reconciliation is done by God, not us. There is no amount of doing that we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. This work has been done by God.
It is difficult for me to imagine (and I try) what it took for God to give God’s son. Just sit for a minute and think about it. And then get this…God did it out of love for YOU! For you, and you, and you…whoever you are, whatever you have done (or not done) in your life…it was for you. Sometimes, this brings me to tears because I know that I am not worthy of that kind of love…but it does exist…and then I feel more teary-eyed just knowing that kind of love is really out there.
3) This gift is for everyone who believes in God. EVERYONE. It doesn’t say, ‘everyone who gives a certain amount of money,’ or ‘everyone who attends church regularly,’ or ‘everyone who worships in a certain way,’ or ‘everyone who never doubts,’ or….you get the idea. Belief in God. Belief in God. Believe. And we could dig deeper to try and figure out what constitutes belief…but I would be interested in hearing what you have to say about that first.
4) This last part is hard, “may not perish but may have eternal life.” I say it’s hard because the fact is we all die, and no matter when or under what circumstances, it’s never easy to lose loved ones. And when we read that we will not perish, we associate that with our earthly death. But dying is inevitable. It’s one of the conditions of being human. I want to suggest that this last part has to do with renewal. Our ‘old self’ dies and our ‘new self’ emerges. This can mean two things: a) each day we have the opportunity to choose good versus bad, the more we work on choosing good the more our old self will die away and our hearts will be open to being transformed by God (although no matter how much we do the choosing to do good or bad, the transformation work is done by God…Baptism is huge here…but that’s a topic for another post), and b) when we die our earthly death we are perfected through Christ. The only good that is in us is Christ working through us and when we die this is perfected in our sanctification. [Note: Any theological terms that I don’t define well enough can be found here.]
Okay…so now we have finally reached John 3:17, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (NRSV from Biblia.com). Too often, Christianity and the Bible are used to condemn people for who they are or what they may have done. Yes, God gave us commandments to live by, but they were given out of love and grace so that we can live in a better society. The commandments are a gift! They also help us keep ourselves in check, they are a mirror of sorts. When I look in the mirror, do I see someone who is living the life that God would want me to live? Our ‘meter’ for this are the commandments.
God does not want to condemn us. God wants to save us! And what does it mean to be saved? Well, that might be a topic for another post. What do you think?