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.
Fear and Trembling
What is family worship? What does it look like in practice? I’m often asked questions like these. Family worship is one of my favorite things to talk about, and yet, there’s a danger in writing on topics like this, or parenting, or marriage, or any other topic in the same neighborhood. The danger is that the reader may begin thinking the writer has: 1.) Figured all this stuff out and, 2.) Is executing it perfectly. In my case, both assumptions would be a mistake. I’m learning with each and every new day. But I feel I have learned enough to add some value to other parents just starting out. And so I prayerfully pass it along.
Three Forms of Worship
The puritans used to distinguish three forms of worship: Private, Family, and Corporate. Private worship would include your “alone time” with God – in prayer, reading his Word, reading devotional literature, singing hymns, etc. Corporate worship takes place when a local congregation gathers together (usually on the Lord’s Day or perhaps a Wednesday evening) to sing, pray, receive the sacraments, and hear God’s Word read and exposited. Family worship, as you have no doubt guessed by now, is a combination of the two, (minus the sacraments), done in the context of the family.
How We Do It
My family typically has family worship during our breakfast time together. It’s a process that seems to be ever-evolving, but I’ll give you a sample of what we typically do.
Prayer and Scripture
Usually my wife or I open in prayer, thanking God for blessing us through the night, giving us life for another day, and bringing us together to worship him. We are presently reading through the Gospel of John, so I will read about half a chapter of that. John’s chapters are pretty long, so I have been hesitant to attempt to take on a whole chapter. When we have read Paul’s epistles, a whole chapter isn’t as demanding. An accompanying reason I don’t read a whole chapter at a time is because there’s so much rich content in each chapter. Just like a sermon, each chapter needs to be broken down into smaller bite-sized portions so that the family can talk in greater depth about what has just been read.
After I read the text, I try to lift one or two thoughts from it and share those with the children. Or, more often than not, I’ll ask them questions to make sure they got the key points. I once heard R.C. Sproul, Jr. say he always preached sermons to his children during their family worship time and that his sermons were generally 30…(long pause for effect)…seconds. Our “sermon” is not much longer.
After our Bible reading we move to a catechism. A catechism is simply a way to learn the Christian faith in a question-and-answer format. For example, the first question of our catechism asks, “What’s our primary purpose for being here?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We spend one week (in theory) on each question. There is a very brief devotional explanation of the question and answer for each day of the week. Before I ask a new catechism question, I review the last few questions, just to make sure the kids (as well as mom and dad) remember what we’ve already learned.
After our catechism question, we move to a devotional that “hits the kids where they live” in a more obvious way. I qualified that statement the way I did because I believe reading Scripture and studying catechism questions are essential for discipling our children. But in our day and age, those two things are often seen as “irrelevant for life.” I think it’s all in the delivery.
After that, depending on our time, we may sing a hymn or the Gloria Patria, recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and lastly, pray for our day and any prayer concerns we know about.
That may sound like a lot, but actually 15 minutes would be our absolute longest. And even that would have sporadic intermissions of telling my youngest son to get back in his chair or to quit stealing his sibling’s bacon.
When you first begin family worship, it may feel a little mechanical and awkward. Trying new things usually feels that way. But trust me, you do get into the groove after a while. And best of all, the kids love doing it. Ours even remind us if we forget. You can’t beat that!
First of all, you will need to figure out a pattern of family worship that fits your family. Our way isn't the "right" way. It’s our way. Besides that, it changes from time to time to fit the needs and/or demands of our family. There's an old saying that goes, “the one you use is the one that works.” That's true with family worship.
Secondly, family worship isn't the only way to disciple your children. In fact, it shouldn't be. However, if you want to take the Bible’s admonition seriously to disciple your children, then I believe this is a wonderful and effective way to do it. Besides that, it's fun! And, it’s the best investment in eternity you can make.
Did your family have family worship when you were growing up or is this a new concept for you? If you did, what were some of the things you did together as a family during that time? Do you have a favorite memory from that time? If you are now a parent, do you practice family worship with your child(ren)? If not, why not? If so, what are some things you do as a family? There are many parents who would like to start doing family worship together but don’t know how to get started. If your family does family worship, perhaps you could share your experiences and ideas with someone who would like to start it with their family.
Grace and Truth,
Genesis 7:1 - The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.
All in the Family
God works through families. He blesses through families. In the Old Testament we learn he even curses through families. This is the covenantal nature of God’s work throughout Scripture.
Noah found favor with God (Gen. 6:8). Noah was found by God to be a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and walking with God (Gen. 6:9). Because God saw Noah in such a condition, Noah’s whole family was blessed – his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law.
We find God’s covenantal faithfulness in the New Testament as well. The Syrophoenician woman’s daughter was possessed by an evil spirit (Mk. 7:25). So the mother went to Jesus and begged him to deliver her daughter from it. After testing her, Jesus rewarded the mother for her persistence and faith by healing the daughter from the spirit (Mk. 7:29). The child was blessed because of the mother’s faith. This is often how God works.
Psalm 128:1-4 reminds us of this.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in his ways.
 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your sons will be like olive shoots
around your table.
 Thus is the man blessed
who fears the Lord.
Noah was blessed in such a way. So was Abraham. So was the Syrophoenician woman, Lydia, and the Philippian jailer.
Dying That Others May Live
If this is how God works, does it not then behoove us to pursue righteousness and blamelessness for all we are worth? Should we not desire to walk with the Lord daily? Wouldn’t fearing the Lord be wise? The personal blessings that would flow from such a sacrificial life seem reason enough. But the covenantal blessings on your children and your children’s children make this both obvious and compelling. Even in the land of rugged individualism, we can grasp this.
In light of this, let us resolve to give our lives for our spouses, our children, and to all to whom we can minister. Our lives for theirs. It is only in this kind of death we will find life – for ourselves and for our families.
What are three ways your faithfulness impacts the life of your family? Your unfaithfulness? There’s an old saying that one’s faith is more often “caught” than “taught.” Pray about how you can start living more faithfully before your family. Call a family meeting and share your ideas with them. Sharing and brainstorming together can be a wonderful time for your family to grow closer to one another.
Grace and Truth,
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