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I've always felt that different people need to hear things expressed in different ways before they really truly understand them. If what I write here speaks to you, and helps you to understand your relationship with God a little better, then I have accomplished something I feel called to do. If what I have to say doesn't speak to is OK...keep looking for other sources that do. If you seek Him, you will find Him!

Friday, October 21, 2011

John 3:16

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish,
but have eternal life.

I don’t think that I have ever really understood the popularity of this verse. We see it at football games, athletes tattoo it on their arms, people we all think are crazy hold up signs proclaiming the verse (not the text, just the verse) on the street corner. It has even become a joke that people in Hollywood use to take shots at us Christians in the movies.

On the upside, just about anyone in America, inside the church or out, would be able to give you the gist of the verse…”something about God loving us and giving up his son for us...could you grab me another beer?”.  So in that sense, seeds have been planted, seeds that could grow into anything. God is amazing at how he works so I’m not knocking it, I just don’t understand it.

This verse is the foundational tenant of the Christian faith. If your heart allows you to accept all of the words in this verse at face value, with no question, then you and I are going to be partying in heaven whenever God is done with us here.

For those of us who need to dig a little deeper, these 24 words can cause some real stress.

Hundreds of books have been written by people just trying to just trying to get their heads around the first six words. Wars have been fought, and families have been divided, over the next six words. Do our prejudices allow us to really believe the completely open invitation of WHOEVER believes in him?  Do any of us even understand the full implications of the word “perish”? And, what is this “eternal life” stuff? As simple as these words are, trying to really understand the complete depth of their meaning has taken up entire lives of untold people.

Until recently, I have had some nagging questions in the back of my mind that has taken the punch out of this verse for me. First of all, let’s paraphrase the verse so that it is not so neat and clean. To me it is more like “You people, have so screwed up this beautiful creation and intention that God has given you, and even though you don’t even sort-of deserve it, he loves you anyway. And the only way you can maintain even a chance at having a relationship with him…even though you have turned your backs on his love, is for Me to allow you to brutally beat and kill My only son, who is God himself, so that you don’t all just go to hell, separated eternally from the one who loves you most…like you deserve…but get to spend eternity with your creator and your greatest lover, in a place and an existence that is so wonderful that your current minds can’t even imagine it.” Aren’t you glad there isn’t a gospel according to Rob?!

So here’s my questions: If God is eternal, and he would have to be, is it really such a big deal that Jesus died and then returned to God on the third day? So he is without his only Son for three days…what’s the stress with that? I go on business trips and don’t see my kids for longer than that. And, if God is omniscient, and he would have to be, he knows Jesus is coming back to him in a couple of days anyways so is it really that much of a sacrifice? And, if God is omnipotent, and he would have to be, why doesn’t he just avoid the whole “sacrificing my Son” thing, and give us some punishment that we deserve so we can just earn our tickets to everlasting happiness rather than him doing it for us?

OK…most of those questions are actually pretty blasphemous, truth be told. PLEASE don’t stop reading now. The purpose of my writing this is not to plant seeds of doubt, but to water seeds of faith.

The confusion that drives all of these questions is, at the end of the day, pretty simple. God is not bound by time the way we are. To Him, a day is an eternity and eternity is a day. Jesus died 2000 years ago as an acceptable sacrifice for the sin that I committed this morning. The early church fathers understood this. The very first sermon given by one of the apostles (Peter) right after they had received the Holy Spirit starts out by talking about the last days. In the next breath he goes all the way back to the Patriarch David, and what David had to say about Jesus. In only 22 versus of one chapter, the very first Sunday morning message ever delivered stretched from the end times all the way back to nearly the beginning of Judaism, then closes like this:
Repent and be baptized, everyone of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the Holy Spirit.
The promise is for you and your children
and for all who are far off –
for all whom the Lord our God will call…
Acts 2, 38-39
Notice the present tense; notice that this message is specifically for us (all who are far off). God knows us now, and he knew us then.

What does all of that have to do with Jesus’ sacrifice for us?

One more point before I bring it home. I love my kids. In one of the most amazing passages of the entire bible, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son for the Lord. I am honest enough to tell you that I could not do that. My love for my children is my driving passion, so the idea of God sacrificing His only son is almost offensive to me. I’m not God…if I were to sacrifice my child, I would never see him or her in my 40-or-so years I have left here. If I sacrificed my child, a part of me would be gone that will never be replaced. The pain experienced in sacrificing my child would be exponentially worse than if I could only sacrifice myself. That’s how I feel, and I bet that’s how you feel too. Guess what…our love for our children is only a shadow of the love God has for Jesus. We are imperfect in our love, he is perfect. We are loving through our sin, he has no sin. We love for decades, he loves for eternity. Our unwillingness to make that sacrifice is selfish, God is not selfish.

So what is the big deal about “God so loving the world that he gave his only Son”? He didn’t just give his only Son for 3 days 2000 years ago…he has to do it every day. In his eternal-ness God experiences the loss and separation of his only son every single day. Jesus experiences having to be apart from his Father every single day. That separation, that sacrifice, that pain is a part of our God that he has to experience every day as if it happened this day.

Knowing that, how important is John 3:16? That the creator of the world would do that…for you…how could you not want to be loved like this?

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