To Save the World
I recently received an advertisement in the mail for some items to be sold by
church groups, which is not an unusual occurrence. It is also not unusual that an
illustration of one of these items, a cloth bag, shows a logo proudly bearing the
words": John 3:16." In our day and age "John 3:16" has almost become a
mantra or chant among some Christian groups. There are those who go to nationally
broadcast sports events so that they can raise on high signs that say, "John
3:16." There was even a court case to decide on the right to carry "John
3:16" signs into stadiums. There are those who think that John 3:16 is this important
that they will print it, carry it, assert it, and show it to the world.
I agree that John 3:16 is very important. I do wonder about the efficiency of
simply showing the phrase "John 3:16" to the face of the world. How many people
in our society or the world know that "John 3:16" refers to a verse in the New
Testament? How many people in our society or the world know that John 3:16 says, "For
God so loved the world that he gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in him may
not perish but may have eternal life?" Of those who know the words, how many know the
meaning? Of those who do not know, how many will be curious enough to look this up? Is
this a matter of using religious code to preach to the converted and baffle the
unenlightened? I am sure that baffling those not familiar with the New Testament is not
the intent of those who carry their John 3:16 signs to a world in need of hope and truth
and light, but is that what happens?
"For God so lived the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." The New Revised Standard
Version wording of the New Testament is not that different from the old King James
Version. The meaning has not changed. Martin Luther, the German monk and professor who
started the Protestant Reformation, called John 3:16 "the Gospel in miniature."
If any verse is the Gospel in miniature, then it is John 3:16, and if it is the Gospel in
miniature, then it is the mission of Christianity to proclaim this truth to all the world.
In order to do that, we have to begin where people are in their understanding. When I
consult with an expert in a field where I am not an expert, and there are so many
instances of that, then I need to have explanations given at a level I can understand, or
else I will need some education.
John 3:16, wonderful as it is, does not stand by itself. It is part of the Gospel
of John and it is spoken in a certain context. I know that many people grew up on verses
of the Bible, much like my mother gave me small slices of raw salted potato to snack on
while she prepared dinner, but when it was time, I got the whole potato. It is time for
the whole potato. Before John 3:16 is John 3:14, which I have never seen mentioned on a
sign at a televised sports event. "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have
eternal life." If we want to baffle those unfamiliar with the Bible, and many who
are, that verse ought to do it.
Jesus is talking to a leader of the Pharisees, one who is familiar with the Hebrew
Scriptures. Jesus refers to an incident where the Israelites, led by Moses from Egypt,
grumble against Moses and God because of the monotony of the diet of mana. Suddenly they
are beset by poisonous snakes which they recognize as punishment from God for their
rebellion. Moses follows the instruction of God and fashions a bronze serpent on a tall
pole. Whoever is bitten by a snake only has to look to the bronze serpent to not die.
Nicodemous knew the story, but it is unfamiliar to us. It is a strange story to
us, relying on homeopathic principles that like can cure like. What Jesus is saying is
that the Son of Man, the son of God, will be lifted up as the bronze serpent was lifted
up, that whoever sees and believes will have eternal life.
As we know, Jesus is lifted up in crucifixion, the suffering and death of a common
criminal by an innocent person. It is this death and suffering of Jesus that will break
the back of sin and death. It is this death and condemnation that lead to life eternal for
those who know and believe that Jesus is not just some tragic unjustly punished person,
but the Son of God who comes, not to condemn, but to save; not to inflict, but to heal;
not to enslave, but to free; not to kill, but to rescue. This is the Gospel in miniature.
This is the essence and meaning of John 3:16. This is the glory of Jesus and of
Christianity. This is why Christianity does not shrink from the cross, but embraces it
proudly and without reservation because it is the sign of the love of God which does not
draw back from the experience and realities of what it means to be human. The Son of God
came as one of us that we might know that we are of God, that we are the children God
loves. The cross is the sign that nothing can separate us from God who is able to turn
death and condemnation into glory and life eternal which begins not after death, but
begins at the moment and time when a person realizes that God has reached out to us
through Jesus to give us hope and light and truth that changes the quality and nature of
John 3:16 is a wonderful statement of a wonderful truth. God loves us. God loves
us enough to reach out to us in our quagmire of sin and death and darkness to give us life
and truth and hope. We are not innocent. We are sinners infected with sin, and sin is not
mistake or the omission of rules and ritual, but the darkness and shadow of the soul that
separates us from God, that destroys our being, that mires us in dead ends and leads us
into the darkness of being lost. We have done this willingly and deliberately. We have
wandered into paths of darkness until we are unable to find our way out. The Good News is
that there is a way out. There is the Cross lifted high over the world for all to see
which has the power to save for all who accept and believe and live in the power of faith
that God loves and heals.
I do not know if just saying or displaying "John 3:16" can
save the world. I do know that the truth of John 3:16 does save the world. I do
know there is that power of the love of Jesus Christ that makes all things new
by offering harmony with the love and will of God. I know there is hope and
truth and love through Christ Jesus. I know that Jesus came to save, not to
condemn. I know we are to raise the Cross as the sign of our salvation that all
the world may see and know that Jesus came to save the world. "For God so loved
the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may
not perish but may have eternal life." Amen and Amen.