This Is How God Loved The World

Written by Joel on March 26th, 2011

John 3:16 on the bottom of In-N-Out Burger cups (Yes. It is better than 5 Guys - in case those on the East coast are wondering)

March 20, 2011
Second Sunday in Lent
John 3:1-17

Sorry, no audio this week; the recorder got temporarily lost in the packing and repacking of my bags.

Did your ears perk up when I got to verse 16 of our Gospel reading today? I bet that it is quite familiar to everyone today. It’s been called the “Gospel in a nutshell” and for most folks it is the first bible verse to be memorized. Let’s recite it together: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that who ever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” This is one verse which we find constantly throughout our culture: People write it on sign boards and hold it up at sporting events – even at professional wrestling, which I find a bit puzzling for a verse about love. It’s brief enough to fit on a bumper sticker, yet deep enough that you could spend your entire life contemplating its mystery. I would like to take the opportunity this morning to explore this Gospel-in-a-nutshell verse a bit closer.

This most famous bible verse stems out from a discussion under the cover of darkness with Nicodemus who was a pharisee. Now it seems that Nicodemus had a glimmer of faith; he even goes so far as to profess that Jesus is “a teacher who has come from God.” The pharisees where the leaders and teachers of the Jewish people who were more than just a bit leery about the claims of Jesus being from God. He did not want to make his interest known publicly, but Nicodemus still felt the pull of the Spirit to go and meet with Jesus. There is mysterious talk of being born from above (or again), of being born of water and spirit. Jesus goes on to explain just how elusive is our understanding of spiritual things by comparing the spirit to the wind which blows where it pleases. And then Christ seems to try to tell Nicodemus plainly: “God so loved the world…”

Looking at the verse itself, there are just a couple of things I want to point out that may help you to understand this verse a new. The popular translation “God SO loved the world” seems to imply the idea of how much: “God loved the world so much…” or “God really loved the world…” Just like we might say “I am sooo hungry.” Talking about a level of hunger or a level of love. The “so” there in 3:16 though talks about the how of God’s love. God loved the world in this way… Or to rethink that hunger example “I was hungry SO I ate a cake.” It is the natural or obvious expression of that initial feeling of love or hunger. Simply put – God loved; and the natural expression of that love is thus: giving his son. I’m hungry so I eat, God loves so he gives himself.

And then there is the “for” which begins our verse. “FOR God loved the world in this way…” that “for” connects the verse with everything that came before it. It’s like saying therefore or because, the sentence is dependent on what came before it; this is the conclusion. It is difficult to understand this text fully when we take it in isolation.

That “for” points back to the Nicodemus dialog, and also the explanation which comes just before 3:16. Particularly an obscure verse which I believe tells us quite a bit about just how God loved the world. Verse 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” It serves to tell us just how God loved the world, just like Moses lifting up the snake. It’s a reference to a time when the Israelites were in the wilderness, after they had been rescued from slavery in Egypt and while they were wondering around in the wilderness. Things were a bit rough out there in the desert and people began to complain. Their complaints are recorded in the book of Numbers where they say “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

The Israelites were basically saying that they would rather be back in Egypt where at least they were fed; they were basically saying that they wish God had nothing to do with them – that they were somehow worse off because God had intervened in their lives. It is a sin of taking things for granted, of disrespect against the power of God’s salvation.

And so the Lord sends venomous snakes as a punishment. The snakes bit people and many died. Then the Israelites seemed to realize “Okay, maybe the food isn’t so bad – at least there weren’t any snakes!” It really put things in perspective for them. They realized that they had sinned by speaking against God in their complaints and pleaded with Moses that he would plead with God on their behalf.

The solution which God presented to Moses was to put a snake on a pole where everyone could see it. That way after being bitten if someone looked at the snake they would not die.

God’s solution for the Israelites was to lift up the punishment for sin; that gazing upon it you could be saved.

John 3:14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” God’s solution was to take our sin, our punishment and lift it up on the cross. That we could look up and see on the cross the punishment due to us, and gazing upon him and believing we could be saved.

We believe in the Triune God. The three and the one. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. When we hear the good news of 3:16

It is NOT: God loved the world so he punished someone else.
It is not God sent someone else to do his dirty work.
It is not that God sent a fall guy.
It is not that God has a blood thirst that must be quenched.

God loved the world that he sent his very self.

This is how God loved the world:
That even as the world hated; God loved!
This is how God loved the world:
That he would step down from heaven and become man.
This is how God loved the world:
That his death at the hands of sinners was not the end of the story, he would be raised up.
This is how God loved the world:
That his atonement would cure even more than snake bites!
This is how God loved the world:
That the son of man would be lifted up!
This is how God loved the world:
That he would lift us up to be born from above with his son.

God loved the world in this way: That he gave his one and only son, his very self, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.


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