For God So Loved
Jesus and Nicodemus
Our Scripture comes right at the end of a conversation between Jesus and a man called, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a great Jewish leader, yet he sensed something in or about Jesus that led him to come and speak with Jesus.
But because of his reputation, and the fact that Jesus was not very popular among the Jewish leaders, Nicodemus came at night. It was there and then Jesus taught Nicodemus the truth about how a person must be saved or redeemed – brought into a right relationship with God.
Jesus even scolded Nicodemus for not already knowing this since he was a great leader of the Jewish people.
Moses and the Snake
As Jesus finished up his lesson to Nicodemus, he referred to an event in Jewish history that Nicodemus would have known well. Referencing Numbers 21:4-9, Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14-15,
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
It is an interesting story, but the short version is this: after God graciously and lovingly rescued his people from bondage in Egypt, they began complaining. They started speaking against God and Moses, suggesting they had been brought out into the wilderness just to die.
Therefore, God sent poisonous snakes among them and the snakes began to bite the people. Many died. As you can imagine, this got the people’s attention, and they began repenting for speaking against God and Moses and pleaded for deliverance and healing from the snakes.
Thus, God told Moses to make a snake, put it on a pole, and then lift it high above the people. And so Moses did just that. He made a bronze snake, put it on the end of a pole, and when the people looked with faith to the image of the snake lifted up, they were physically healed.
After retelling the story, the last point Jesus made to Nicodemus was this: just as Moses lifted up the snake, Jesus himself would be lifted up. By “lifted up” Jesus was referring to his death on the Cross to be sure, but also his resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
And Jesus added, that everyone who looks to him – trustingly believes in him – will have eternal life.
The Bible’s Most Popular Verse
That brings us to the most widely known verse in all the Bible, John 3:16,
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.
John 3:16 is the most succinct summary of the Gospel in all the Bible. In one verse John tells us God gave his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to live, teach, heal, perform miracles, but ultimately, to die on the Cross.
By doing so, those who look to him in faith, as the Israelites looked to the bronze snake, would be forgiven and delivered from the guilt and power of sin. They would be reclaimed and reconciled to a right and eternal relationship with God. And they would be empowered to live the lives for which they were created.
The Front Door
John declares to us in this beautiful verse that we must reach out to God with our hearts and minds to receive this free gift of eternal life.
John 1:12 says,
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
We receive Christ by placing our faith in him. Trusting belief. This is more than mere head knowledge or vague acknowledgement. It is to give our very lives to him. To give him ourselves. To be sure, it involves trust, repentance, submission, commitment, obedience, and following him.
But the front door is faith. We must enter through that front door and say, “Yes Lord, thank you. I believe.” Then, what follows, is a life of getting to know him better – following him wherever he may lead. It means desiring to become more and more like him. It means telling others about him, even as we serve them, along our journey through this world.
According to John, those who do respond in faith in this way receive eternal life. Those who do not respond in faith, do not receive eternal life. John says they stand condemned already because they prefer darkness instead of the light that Christ brings into the world.
Now, if you have been paying attention up to this point, perhaps you noticed I left out the central, governing purpose of all that God did through Jesus on our behalf.
John tells us that, “God so loved.”
That phrase, “so loved” means, God loved “in this way,” which involves everything mentioned so far about Jesus being “lifted up” on our behalf.
And please notice, John says God so loved the world. Not just the Jews, but the Gentiles too, which is a way of saying, everyone. God is not only the covenant God of Israel. He is the God of all. He sent Jesus for all. That is why John said, “everyone who believes” and not just the Jews.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:12-13,
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Emphases mine)
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And this is because, “God so loved.” God’s love expressed in this way, John reminds us in his first epistle, flows from the fact that God is love. It is who God is.
But here is where we need to be careful. We must not go to movies and music, or Hollywood and Hallmark to get our definition of love and then read Scripture through that lens. Instead, we go to Scripture to learn what love is and then look to see how worldly views compare with what the Bible says (and therefore, what God says) about God’s love. This is how we practice the art of spiritual discernment.
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, seldom talked about God’s love without referring to it as a “holy love.” Each of God’s attributes relates to all the rest. God’s attributes do not exist in separate, isolated compartments in which they have nothing to do with one another. Furthermore, God’s attributes are not partial. He is not a 10% one attribute and 15% another and so on. He is 100% each of his attributes, and as I mentioned, they all interrelate and influence the others.
This led A.W. Tozer to write,
From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about his love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, his love had no beginning; because he is eternal, his love can have no end; because he is infinite, it has no limit; because he is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity…”
Charles Wesley beautifully captured a glimpse of God’s love in his hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”…
Love divine, all loves excelling
Joy of Heaven to Earth come down
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling
All Thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus, Thou art all compassion
Pure, unbounded love Thou art
Visit us with Thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart
That is the love of God. And so how do you respond to that? This idea that God sent his Son to come and save, not a world that was cheering for him, but just the opposite. As the words of the Holy Communion liturgy in the United Methodist hymnal, borrowing from Romans 5:8 put it,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Emphasis mine)
How do you respond to that? How does that impact you emotionally? Does it fill you with awe? Humility? Reverence? Joy? Gratitude? Indifference? Distaste? Fear? The Apostle John suggests that all those seem to be ways people respond to the glorious announcement of God’s love in Christ.
How about you? Is the good news of God’s love for you in Christ an announcement of indescribable beauty to you? Of horror? Of Indifference?
I want you to know there is a God in heaven who loves you and who went to the greatest lengths to act on your behalf – to win you to himself. To enable you to become the person he created you to be.
He loves and rejoices over you so much he sings. Zephaniah 3:17 says,
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
He loves you so much he offers you eternal life in his presence. But he will not force you to respond in faith, to give your life to Christ. He will not override your will and desire. To those who would prefer not to spend eternity in the presence of God, God replies, “thy will be done.” And yet, like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, he waits and watches for you. More than that, with his Spirit he lovingly calls you and draws you to himself. And he is doing that today.
The Ultimate Gift
And what is the gift that awaits you when you trust in Christ? The gift is God himself. “Life of abundant joy and immeasurable blessing in the presence of God forever.”
At the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes these words about some of the characters in his books,
“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Don’t you want to be a part of that Great Story?
If you have never put your trust in Christ before, reach out to God today and call to him. Trust in him. Enter his Great Story and become a part of it. If you do know Christ, then give thanks and continue to love and follow him. Tell others about him. Invite them to join you in the Greatest Story ever told.
Thanks be to God for the love of God.
Three Anchors of Hope
There are times in our lives when our most deeply held values and beliefs are tested with fire. This is God’s refining (or pruning) process. With it comes genuine pain, heartache, and difficulty. Yet, ideally, the person who comes out the other side is closer to God and the likeness of Christ. It is during times like these we discover if we really believe what we say we believe.
Over the last twenty-something years, I’ve been greatly influenced by Scripture and godly authors who have deepened my understanding and conviction regarding three great anchors of hope for tough times. I have come to a place in my life in which I embrace these key truths as the only way in which I am able to trust God, regardless of the circumstances. They are,
1. God is good and loves me very much. Because this is true, I know God has my best interest at heart. He is for me and not against me.
2. God is all-wise. Therefore, not only does God know what my best interest is, but he also knows the best way to bring my best interest about.
3. God is sovereign. God is in control of his universe. Therefore, not only does he have my best interest at heart, but he can bring it about.
Trust in the Lord
I believe those three affirmations with all my heart. My belief is no mere intellectual acknowledgement. These three truths are in my bloodstream. Thus, because I so deeply believe these things are true, I know I can always trust God. The God described in those three statements is the awesome God of Holy Scripture, the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Surely that is the God King Solomon had in mind when he wrote these words,
Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
Solomon goes on to say we are not to be wise in our eyes. But that’s exactly what we do when we suppose, even for a second, that we know better than God. It’s laughable to think we know what our best interest is in any situation, no matter how trivial. Among our many deficiencies, we have not been given an omniscient mind that knows all possible scenarios and outcomes of those scenarios. Such knowledge is essential in knowing how to discern what the very best plan for our life would be.
It really is arrogant to lean on our own understanding. Think about the words “lean” or “depend.” They carry with them the notion of putting one’s weight on or against something that will help provide stability. Would you really prefer to put all your weight against something weak, fragile, and incapable of bracing you? Instead, wouldn’t you rather put your weight against an immovable, utterly dependable, trustworthy Rock? That’s the God of Holy Scripture.
Yet, how often do we turn to our own wisdom and understanding?
Enter, King Asa
I had something of a roller-coaster ride of emotions when I first read about good King Asa in 2 Chronicles. Because good kings are so few and far between in the Old Testament, I celebrated his faithfulness to God. Notice what we read about him in the following verses.
2 Chronicles 14:2 – Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.
2 Chronicles 14:5 – He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him.
2 Chronicles 15:1-2 – The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded.  He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
2 Chronicles 15:8 – When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.
2 Chronicles 15:16-17 – King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley.  Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.
Verse 17b sums it up all so nicely. I couldn’t help but cheer as I read those verses, asking God to make my heart just as fully committed to him as King Asa’s. But then…
If you don’t already know the story, then you experience the rug getting suddenly yanked out from underneath you. For in 2 Chronicles 16:1-6, we learn King Asa, who had placed his trust in the Lord, now put his trust in his own wisdom and ingenuity. To make matters worse, his plan seemed to work. He must have thought all was well. Yet we learn of the consequences of his plan in 2 Chronicles 16:7-9,
At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.  Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
What Could Have Been
These words of Hanani could have served as an impetus for repentance. The opportunity was there for Asa to see the foolishness of his ways and get back on track with God. He could have admitted his rebellion and returned to God. Asa would have been no different than any of us who have wandered off the right path from time to time as we sought our own way, according to our own wisdom. Our loving and merciful God is always there at the ready to offer pardon and renewal. I’m astounded at how patient God is with me in my own life.
But Asa went a different way. He chose to respond in anger to the reprimand. He “shot the messenger” rather than taking heed to the message (v. 10). Thus, we read these sad words in verses 12-13,
In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians.  Then in the forty-first year of his reign Asa died and rested with his fathers.
Sad indeed… even tragic.
I have a great desire to run the race of faith to its completion and finish well. Don’t you? But that journey is a lifetime pursuit. We must persevere. No matter how much God has blessed us we must never presume upon his grace. We must not assume God owes us any good thing. We must beware of taking our lives into our own hands and depending on our own wisdom to see our way through, even when (especially when) things seem to be going so well.
It’s during those exceedingly tough times in life you discover who or what you’ve really been placing your trust in all along.
Instead, a lifetime of humility before God is called for. Hosea reminds us in 14:9,
Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.
Zephaniah too, calls us to seek humility.
Zephaniah 2:3 – Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.
I want to finish well. Whether my last day on earth is today or 50 years from now, I want to finish well. I want to hear those words every follower of Jesus Christ desires to hear,
Matthew 25:21 – “…’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Therefore, between today and “that day” I must trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I must acknowledge him and he will make my paths straight.
· What are some obstacles in your life that make it difficult to trust God during the good times?
· During the tough times?
· What are some spiritual practices you can begin today to help you grow in your ability to trust God?
· Set a meeting with a godly friend and share your ideas and ask for prayer.
Gracious God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I praise you for your goodness, sovereignty, and wisdom. Not only do you want what is best for me, you know what is best for me, and the best way to bring it about. Moreover, because you are sovereign, you are able to bring it about. Thank you! I pray, O Lord, that you will help my children to love you more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Help them to always know what is best and to continually grow in purity and blamelessness. May their lives ever bring you glory and praise. In Christ I pray. Amen.
This Week’s Prayer Guide
[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]
Petitions – prayers for yourself
· Spiritual Warfare
· Growth in Christlikeness
· Increasing faithfulness in the spiritual disciplines
· My health
· For my ordinary appointments and activities to become divine appointments and activities.
· Other needs
Intercession – prayers for others
· My Family
· Mercy for those who are poor and hungry
· Justice for those who are oppressed and persecuted
· Love for those who oppress and persecute others
· Peace for those in the midst of war, crime, and violence
· Other needs
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