For God So Loved
Read your Bible: John 3:1–17
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16 NLT
Several years ago Laurie and I were returning from a long vacation. We were expecting our first child and after we landed in the U.S. for a customs check Laurie just really wanted to get on the next plane to go home.
But when we got to the customs line the wait was unusually long and it looked like we were going to miss our connection home.
I told her, “Hey, cheer up — maybe the airline will give us a free night in a hotel if we miss our connection! We can have a romantic night in the city!” She was tired and sick and looked at me like, “If you continue being happy about that possibility I may be forced to kill you.”
So I scurried to the customs official and dared to say, “Look, I know this is out of the ordinary but my wife is pregnant — and between us, she is possibly homicidal right now — and we need to make our flight, so can you bump us to the front of the line so we can make the connection?”
He responded, “Hmmm.” And I don’t know why he asks me this next, but he says, “What’s your job?”
I said, “Well, I’m a pastor.”
And he said, “Riiiight. You have no idea how often people try to use that line.” And then he challenged me: “If you’re really a pastor, recite John 3:16.” Like it was his fail-safe! As if no one but a pastor could possibly know this!
He folded his arms and looked at me. I glanced back. My wife was looking at me. And I thought, “I’m gonna choke! I’ll end up spitting out the Gettysburg Address or something!” So I took a deep breath… and recited…
“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.”
And he said, “Wow, you must be a pastor! Move to the front of the line, Reverend!”
We got home on time. But it was no prodigious feat of memory. Of course I knew John 3:16 — as a church kid, I learned it before Kindergarten. It must be the very first verse that anyone growing up in Sunday School is taught. And it’s a good one.
Only problem: It suffers from what I call the “Pledge of Allegiance factor.”
Ever really listen to kids saying the Pledge? Usually it’s just a string of sounds that you suspect make no sense to the kids at all, something like:
I pledge all agents to the flag of the United States of a miracle, and total reap puppets four witch it’s sands, won Asian, under guard, with libber tea and just its fur all.
The same might be said of the truths in John 3:16. We know each syllable, the very cadence, so well, the words can lose their meaning.
So check this out: This may seem obvious, but John 3:16 is set up by the verses that come right before it, John 3:14–15:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Uh… Moses lifting up a snake? That’s referring to a strange story in Numbers 21. In that passage the Israelites are in the desert, dying from poisonous snakebites. There is no antidote.
So God tells Moses He’s going to do a miracle.
He instructs Moses to make a brass symbol of a snake, put it on a pole and lift it high, and anyone who merely looks on it in faith will be healed by God’s grace.
Notice the artistic way our creative God heals: He turns the very symbol of death, the poisonous snake, into a symbol of hope and healing.
That healing symbol, by the way, is where we get the caduceus, the symbol for physicians in our society today.
See the parallels to you and me?
The Bible says we’re dying of a poison in our soul. So Jesus is sacrificed on a cross, lifted up for all humans to see. If we look on that act in faith, we are healed. It’s a beautiful, artistic, creative, loving act of grace from God. The cross, the very icon of death, becomes a symbol of hope and healing.
Now that you know the background, look again at the well-known words:
For God. The same omnipotent and majestic and holy God you’ve been studying.
So loved. He didn’t just look on in amusement or anger or apathy. He deeply, passionately, wildly, expensively loved.
The world. Every child. Every man and woman. Every law-giver and law-enforcer. Every criminal and con-man. Every terrorist and every missionary. Me. You.
He gave. Not He demanded. Not He received. Not He expected. He gave. It’s always all about what God gives, not what I do. That’s grace. When you think about it, there really could be no other way but grace: What could I possibly do to merit anything from an infinite God?
His Son. He didn’t just give a set of principles. The Father gave His one and only Son.
That whoever believes does not perish from the poison. Not whoever works real hard. Not whoever proves himself. Not whoever prays the most. Whoever believes.
It’s that simple.
Really? Yes, really. The Israelites didn’t have to know how exactly the poison’s effect was counteracted when they looked up. It just was.
You don’t have to know exactly how it works either.
To paraphrase A.W. Tozer, we’re saved by His death, but how are we saved by His death? We’re alive by His resurrection, but how are we alive by His resurrection? At some point it’s just a miracle. Unfathomable. And we simply stand and gaze at the cross and whisper, “Thank you.”
The Apostle Paul seems to be paraphrasing John 3:16 when he says,
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8
This is the invasion God had been planning for millennia, the incident all history had been building to. God chose a moment in time to enter our world physically.
Not merely to teach or punish or model. But to save.
And God did it all because He
“loved the world so much…”
God is… the One who loves the world.
Questions For Reflection
How does this chapter expand your understanding of
I presume there were people back in Numbers 21 who refused to look at the bronze snake to be healed, because the Bible talks about those who died. In their pride they refused the grace that could have been theirs. Why would people do that? Do you ever see that tendency in yourself?
I encourage you to look to Jesus Christ as your Savior. Thank Him for His love. If you have already received this gift, pray that others may receive Christ through this study of God’s attributes.