March 13, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – John 3:16-17 (NRSV)
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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
God the Father loves us enough to keep speaking Jesus, the eternal Word, into our pain and suffering.
Maybe you first had someone give it to you in Vacation Bible School or Sunday School as a memory verse. Maybe the Baptists left a tract in your door while you were away. Maybe (as I did when I was a kid) you had a plastic loaf of bread full of Bible verses on pieces of paper and this was the verse actually printed on the loaf of bread. Maybe you were at a sporting event and someone held up a sign. There are some folks who have even bought tickets behind the batter at a baseball game, or under the basket, or in the end zone, so that they can hold up a sign saying “John 3:16.” People who don’t know much of anything about the Bible but think they ought to have read it know this verse. People who hate the Bible and don’t want anything to do with it know this verse. People who have read the Bible until their eyes are ready to fall out know this verse. It has been called the Gospel in a nutshell. And it is. Except it isn’t. Except it is.
It is. One of the reasons this verse has in fact become so famous is precisely because it expresses in one sentence the core of what salvation history is all about. Humans fell away from God, but God has provided a way for us to get back to Him. All you have to do is believe in Jesus and it’s a done deal. (See yesterday’s devotion for more on this in the epistle passage from Ephesians.)
Except it isn’t. Believing in Christ, and believing that God is working for good in the world and in our own lives, is not easy. Our initial decision may or may not be made in an instant. But one of the things we learn on the journey is that being transformed into the sort of people fit for eternal life with Christ is not easy. Christ’s giving of himself was a difficult and painful process. It ended up with his being brutally murdered. Yet out of all this came his resurrection, and our salvation.
We often read this verse as “God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son.” True, but what the Greek is really saying here is different: God loved the world in this manner. God loved the world, and the way God loved the world was by redeeming the world through Christ. Because after John 3:16, there is a John 3:17: “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
That does not answer the question of why there is evil and destruction in the world—if by “answer the question” you mean that we can say that God sent the destruction or even that we can tell with any finality what specific ways for good God is working through the destruction. But it means that in the face of suffering we can assert that we have a God who suffers with us. In the face of death we can assert that our God died—but that he didn’t stay dead.
Except it is. Not because it’s easy to believe in God. It isn’t. Not because it’s easy to walk the Christian road. It isn’t. Not because accepting Jesus solves everything. It doesn’t. But because God the Father loves us enough to keep speaking Jesus, the eternal Word, into our pain and suffering. Because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Because that is the only answer we have. And the only answer we need.
How do you respond to John 3:16? To John 3:17?
How have you struggled with the presence of sin and evil in the world?
What does it mean to you that God the Father loved the world by sending his Son to redeem you?
“Could it be You make Your presence known so often by Your absence?
Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do?
Could it be that You would really rather die than live without us?
Could it be the only answer that means anything is You?”
Lord Jesus, help us trust and believe that the only answer that means anything is you. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project. She is a priest in the Episcopal Church and an adjunct faculty member at Asbury Theological Seminary. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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