Read John 3:1-18
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34 NLT)
Many who have grown up in the church have had to learn Bible verses/passages in Sunday School, or VBS, or for confirmation, etc. Many grew up learning the 23rd Psalm, many grew up learning Isaiah 40:28-31, and many others. probably the most learned Bible verse ever, if I had place my bets on it is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Thank God for the poetic King James Version which only aids in the memorization process because it rings so clearly. With that said, it’s not always the most understandable translation, so I thank God for the more contemporary translations too.
John 3:16 has often been considered the verse of love, in a Gospel that has become known as the Gospel of love. We often hear that verse and are comforted by God’s graciousness in sending his Son to save us from our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross. We see this as God’s great love for all of humankind. The other thing that usually happens in the interpretation of this passage is that it becomes exclusive of anyone that doesn’t “believe” in Jesus, and with that the exclusion goes even deeper as there aren’t two groups of people on this planet that “believe in Jesus” the exact same way. So, this usually amounts to a “my group is saved because we believe, but yours shall perish because you don’t believe or because you believe falsely.”
What’s sad about this is that it takes what is a verse of hope, a verse of complete sacrificial love, and turns it into a verse of judgment and condemnation. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that anything goes and that Jesus’ death on the cross saves everyone unconditionally. Typically, when people try and have a discussion around salvation theology, accusations of “universalism” fly around like bullets out of a machine gun. I am not saying that anything goes because I believe that saying that cheapens what Jesus did for us; however, I am not so quick to turn this verse into a verse of judgement because I believe that ends up discounting and/or nullifying what Christ did for us, at least in the minds and hearts of those we affect.
Instead, I choose to let this verse speak for itself. Jesus Christ sacrificed his life, not just through his death but through his very life. In fact, John 3:16 mentions nothing about God sending Jesus to die…just that God sent God’s only begotten Son. Obviously, his death and resurrection play a vital part, but so did his life. Jesus sacrificed living a normal life, being a husband, being a father, and living out his days relatively peacefully in order to follow God and teach others how to do so as well. In his life, he showed us the truth and the life through his healings, his teachings and his example. Through his death, he showed us the way to the Kingdom of God. In his resurrection, Christ showed us that even death won’t conquer those who follow his way. Anyone who believes in Christ not only believes in his life and death and his resurrection, but also believes they are called to follow in his footsteps.
Jesus didn’t die because he was forced to, or because he HAD to, or even because God willed him to; rather, he died because humanity’s sinful nature rebuked and reviled him. He accepted that reality and took on death because he LOVES US THAT MUCH. He accepted death on a cross because to him, and to God, we MATTER THAT MUCH! Jesus saw in us the what we often fail to see in ourselves…the presence of the Living God. So, why take what is an ENORMOUSLY POSITIVE verse and turn it into something negative? I am not God, nor are you, nor is any other created being in God’s creation. Only God is God, and through Christ, God has showed us the way of love through self-sacrifice. We are to believe, but we are not to judge others who we THINK might not believe. Rather we are to SIMPLY BELIEVE to the point of being moved and transformed from who we are to who GOD is calling us to be. Those who do shall find everlasting peace and life.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus Christ
Lord, help me to believe in you…to truly believe…and not to be in a place of judgment of others. Amen.