(This is a “Valentine’s Day” re-post from the late great blog “Enabled by God.” May she RIP)
The more I study the scriptures I have had memorized since VBS, the more I am convinced of my ignorance of them. In my adult life I have often been guilty of neglecting the Sunday school stories of old: Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Red Sea, Jonah and the Whale, etc. This apathetic attitude overflows into the New Testament Scriptures too. My neglect is displayed specifically in what is probably the most celebrated verse in modern time: John 3:16. Sure, I can quote it frontwards and backwards and say all the doctrinally correct things about it, but rarely does this verse resonate deeply while striking me at the core.
You may feel the same way. But we are in jeopardy of neglecting a multifaceted jewel that should leave us awestruck, not smugly content. We should not approach John 3:16 lightly, as Spurgeon said, “like children, playing marbles with God’s diamonds.”
“For God so loved….”
We can never get over that truth. We can never “get past it” and on to deeper more substantial matters. If we believe we can God have mercy on our souls. There is still an untouched uncharted ocean that still dwells within John 3:16. This love that God loves with is an “agapao” love, or the highest form of love. It is the most emphatic love one can express. It’s not just that God loved the world, it is that he intensely loved the world. And the force of the word is coupled with way he loved (so loved), literally meaning, “God intensely loved the world in this way….”
God is a God who loves. That means He feels. He knows devotion. He knows affection. He knows heartache. He has emotions. Stop reading, turn the computer off, and let that settle within your soul. The transcendent One is an emotional being. Though human emotional makeup is so twisted with sin and prone to instability, we have emotions only because our gracious Originator had them first. And it is He who has granted them to us.
The Father is neither stoic nor unstable with His emotions. God’s emotions are perfect. His love is a perfect love (1 John 4:18). His hatred is a perfect hatred (Psalm 5:5). He even possesses a perfect jealousy (Exodus 34:14). When He loves, He does it with a precise intensity and purpose. He’s not a distant watchmaker or some general taskmaster living in a cloud of unknowing. He burns with perfect passion. He delights to love; and He delights to manifest this love to the world.
“For God so loved the world…”
This love was meant for the world. Not for Jews only, or Americans only, or the Reformed only. There are some intriguing ways to break down the word “world” here, which in the Greek is “Kosmon.” It could mean just the elect from all over the world (particular view), or it may mean every man, woman or child who ever lived on earth (most common view). A compelling article on the biblical usage of “Kosmon” can be found here. For now, lets take “world” in its most ordinary sense. That would mean the world God loves with such intensity is the great totality of fallen mankind. It’s incredibly provocative that a holy God would love such ones. It’s compelling because the great totality of fallen mankind is one mired and twisted mass of unlovables. If we seriously doubt this then just glance at the evening news, supermarket tabloids, or bathroom mirror sometime.
“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son….”
This is a love grounded in action. For an infinitely less significant analogy imagine this: You are a powerful King and you beckon your only son and heir of your throne for a mission. You tell him this:
“There is something I want you to do for me: I have some enemies that deserve to die, and I want you to go and die in their place, so that they can have eternal life and inherit my kingdom.”
That’s what the Father and Son did at the cross; and incalculably more than that times a million millions.
We dwell too little on how undeserving we are of such a divine arrangement. My son would stay home safely in my arms forever before I would ever imagine sending him to die for even a thousand martyrs or missionaries. But the Father’s love was too great. God sends his son to die not for the righteous, but the blatantly unrighteous. His love is altogether not like any we have experienced. There is no category for this love in the human realm of categorizing.
This is one reason of many that universalism is a fatal and foolish heresy. A god who saves everyone regardless of unrepentant rebellion doesn’t need to send His own Son to atone for sins. If you are an atheist, Muslim, cultist, or open blasphemer of God it matters not to the universalist. This god saves all regardless of righteousness. But it cost this god nothing to save hell deserving sinners. As a result, this god is worse than worthless. He not only fails to give anything real in grace he also fails to judge anyone in righteousness. It costs the false god of universalism/sentimentalism nothing to love humans. But the true God’s love is grounded in a decisive sacrificial act, not just a thoughtful feeling.
The love of God is not some theoretical sentimental feeling like butterflies, twinkling eyes, and fluttering heartbeats. God the Father looked at his perfect, precious Son in one hand, and the mass of wretched wicked unredeemed humanity in the other, and he literally crushed the blessed Son with His hand of wrath meant for us (Isaiah 53:10). This was the blessed eternally begotten Son, ripped from the bosom of the Father to endure an agonizing hell for mankind. This was a Father giving. But this was also a Father sending (John 3:17). The giving was not a giving over to, but a sending with a specific mission granted in eternity past. The Son came to die. And He laid down His life on His own accord (John 10:18).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
All the groups and categories we place people in on earth are futile in eternity. It may be red state or blue state, black or white, male or female, or any other temporary niche one may find themselves in. In reality, there are essentially only two enduring groups: Those who will eternally perish and those who will eternally live. Simply, those who acquire God’s deserving wrath and those who acquire God’s undeserving mercy. Where we fall between those two groups is the only question that will matter in one hundred years.
We are not left to our own devices. God graciously provides a means for us to accomplish His eternally good end. The God who loves and gave lavishly out of that love says, “Believe in Me. Trust in me. Put your faith in Me.”
There is much that the word “believe” entails. It is a type of believing that perseveres for Christ. It is a type of trusting that exalts in Christ. It is a type of faith that knows the dead heart can only be raised with Christ. And part of that believing is a repenting before Christ.
Maybe repentance is the gift you and I really need this Valentine’s Day.
Repenting of chasing lesser lovers because I believe Christ is not sufficient for all my needs.
Repenting of allowing a fallen culture to tell me singleness is the same as aloneness.
Repenting of my part in contributing to the commercialization and plundering of the word “love” in society.
Repenting of believing God’s love is a reflection of human love and not the other way around.
Repenting because the love of God set forth in John 3:16 has been memorized by me, but has not yet been fully realized in me.
The best gift we can get this Valentine’s Day is not cards, roses, fancy dinners, kisses or even companionship. The world says love looks like a good-looking young couple, dressed to the hilt, holding hands, giggling, and exchanging flirtatious glances with one another. God says love looks like a single Jewish man, stripped and forsaken, beaten beyond recognition, and scorned by all, even by his own Father. Do we desire the former love over the latter? May God grant us the gift of repentance if we do (2 Timothy 2:25).
And may we again return to the precious stones of our childhood, where the lost can become found all over again.