John 3: 16 – 17 For God so loved the world
We saw yesterday how Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Jesus probed Nicodemus’ understanding of what he was preaching and found that he knew little of it. Indeed, Nicodemus struggled to believe what Jesus was saying. Importantly, though, he didn’t dismiss Jesus out of hand. He stayed to listen and heard a vital message of salvation.
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
When we read these words, we need to remember the context. St John is punctilious in his story-telling. This passage doesn’t tell us anything about how Jesus will save the world, because at this point in the narrative both crucifixion and resurrection are in the future. However, St John knows what comes later, and the theology he presents here agrees with it.
We can read the words as part of the Passion narrative, with St John’s understanding of the cross and the empty tomb, or we can read them as a part of the story of Nicodemus where the future is still mysterious. Today, I’m going to read them as part of the story of Nicodemus, because his ignorance and scepticism have much to teach me about my own shortcomings.
Imagine hearing these words for the first time. The person speaking them is a controversial rabbi. He’s disrupted temple business, he’s baptising people and gathering disciples, and he’s working miracles. And now he’s talking in riddles.
God so loved the world. No problem. Genesis tells us that God created the world and that he saw that it was good. I believe that God created the world – not quite as Genesis describes, but through a set of physical laws including evolution. As a scientist, I’d be hard pressed to deny the evidence of evolution. But – oops – Nicodemus argued against being born again as being contrary to all the evidence. I must keep an open mind. Even better, I must remember to trust in Jesus.
He gave his one and only Son. Who is this one and only Son? I believe Jesus is God’s one and only Son. But part of this study and reading is to understand more profoundly what that means.
That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Eternal life? Pharisees like Nicodemus didn’t believe in a resurrection. Do I? I’ve had a good life, almost my three score and ten years. Coronavirus may extinguish me in the coming months, but I could hardly complain. I’m grateful for my life and for my experience of human love, and for my experience of God’s love. But what about all those people who have been less fortunate? A just God must surely redress the balance somehow? A loving God surely yearns that all his children should be fulfilled? This requires a life beyond this one, so yes, I think I believe in eternal life, and I long to know Jesus’ love more fully.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, Condemn the world? What about the promise to Noah? Is the world that bad?
but to save the world through him. Well, there’s plenty wrong with the world from which we need saving. Nicodemus would probably have thought of the Romans, an occupying power in the Holy Land. I think of wars in which my country has played a wicked and murderous role. It would be good to be saved from these things. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about…
Thank you for your love. Thank you for Jesus. Please help me to trust him and follow him, and grow closer to him every day.
In Jesus’ name,