THE TWENTY-NINTH DAY OF MARCH IN THE YEAR OF GRACE TWO THOUSAND AND FIFTEEN
We are thinking about three sentences in a context, of which John 3:16 is the second, central, and climactic sentence. The statement that God “so loved” does not describe the intensity or extent of his love (as if it said “s-o-o-o loved”) but rather tells “how” God loved–it is the same “so” we saw in the first sentence and, like that one, it points to the text immediately before it. How did God love the world? The answer is found in an old story about poisonous snakes.
“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” (v. 14-15).God loved “thus”–“so”–“as” he did when he instructed Moses to lift up a brass snake, and he then healed every snake-bitten Israelite who looked at it in faith. Why was the brass serpent “lifted up”? To get the dying people’s eyes off themselves and to fasten their gaze on God’s provision. Why was Jesus “lifted up”? To get our gaze off ourselves and to fix our eyes on God’s provision.
Our cure for sin is not within ourselves. We cannot provide it, produce it, or procure it. It is outside of us but for us. It is Jesus, the Son of man and the Son of God–“lifted up” on the cross for all the universe to see. As we look, we hear in the background the call of John the Baptist, saying: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Now we know: this is how God loved the world. And everyone in this whole wide world who, trusting in God’s love, does look–who looks at Jesus lifted up on that cross–does not perish but lives eternally.
Jesus’ third sentence is a postscript of sorts, just to keep us thinking in the right direction about this whole matter. God is on the side of life and love. The Son came to save, not to condemn. Eternal life is for everyone who will have it and trust God’s love to give it. The final options are eternal life or perishing–and both options mean just what they sound like. Amen.