"No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And 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."
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God." (ESV)
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Capturing Our Comprehension
Wednesday of Epiphany 5
12 February 2014
The gospel sometimes just flies by us. We have heard many of the great gospel biblical texts repeatedly read in services of the church and we study them again and again
in Bible classes. They become like elevator music to us, simply sounds in the background, which are ignored; listened to, but never heard. Our familiarity with them breeds contempt. If the Christian does know any Bible passages from memory, he can recite at least Jn 3:16, the so-called "gospel in a nutshell." It trips off his tongue as easily as his own name. But the surprising depth of its meaning seldom reaches the depths of our being. It's all too familiar, too obvious, too well known. We look upon this gospel gem as Luther says, like a cow looks at a new barn door; that is, without understanding.
Jesus places in the words of Jn 3:16 a clash of opposites. He speaks of God's love and then tells us to whom that love is directed: the world. A world that neither knows nor understands the love of God as Jesus expresses it here. There is another kind of uncomprehension rampant in the world. Not only do we feel too familiar with these words, but our sinful human flesh rebels against the impossibility which they place in front of us. Even if we fully understand what these words mean, we may well descend into unbelief; pointing out that there is nothing lovable about the world that should drive Jesus to offer Himself for the world's sins. What love have the loveless shown that they might lovely be? Yet there stands in a single phrase a clash of worlds: "God so loved... the world." God's love meets man's unbelief. Why does He seemingly waste Himself this way, and for us? Why is He willing to offer the price to which He has already referred; that the Son of Man should be lifted up? See the urgency of the Father that the Son should be offered for slaves. We heap contempt upon these words because they seem unreasonable, indeed impossible.
Only if this Beloved of the Father will suffer and die for the slaves would they ever be redeemed from sin and death. Only if the Father abandons His Beloved One will those who have abandoned Him be counted among those who are loved. This beloved One is the only One who can carry out this plan and will of His Father to save a world full of poor wretches. He alone has the power of life and will not be abandoned to the grave, nor will He abandon us either. This is a Word of God to capture our comprehension.
"'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life' (Jn 3:16
). By the expression, 'God so loved,' and the other, 'the world,' Christ shows the great strength of His love. Large and infinite was the gap between His love and the world. He is the immortal, who is without beginning, the infinite majesty. Those in the world are but dust and ashes, full of ten thousand sins, ungrateful, and at all times offending Him. These He loved. Again, the words which He added after these are also significant, when He said, that 'he gave his only Son,' not servant, not an angel, not an archangel. Yet no one would show such concern for his own child, as God did for His ungrateful servants.
"He sets His passion before Nicodemus not very openly, but rather darkly. But the benefit of the passion He adds clearly and openly, saying, 'That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.' For when He had said, 'must be lifted up,' and alluded to His death, so that the hearer would not be discouraged by these words, through forming some mere human opinions concerning Him, and supposing that His death was an ending, He sets this right, by saying, that He who was given was 'the Son of God,' and the cause of life, of everlasting life. He, who procured life for others by death, would not Himself be continually in death. For if those who believed on the Crucified will not perish, much less does He perish who is crucified. He who takes away the destitution of others must be free of it. He who gives life to others, much more pours forth life to Himself. Everywhere there is need of faith. For He calls the cross the fountain of life; which reason cannot easily accept, as the heathens now testify by their mocking. But faith which goes beyond the weakness of reasoning, may easily receive and retain it. How did God 'so love the world'? From no other source than His goodness alone."
Homilies on the Gospel of John, 27.2
Lord Jesus, only Son of the Father, Your Father offered You for the world. How we struggle to comprehend this! Send Your Spirit that we might believe with our whole hearts what the world mocks and ridicules, that we might have eternal life and never perish. Amen.
For the faithful, that they might order their days to hear the Lenten word of repentance and forgiveness of sins that they may be built up in the holy faith
For those receiving the rite of holy marriage, that their joy may be made complete in Christ who joins them
For all students, that they might find true joy in the challenges of faithful learning
Art: MEMLING, Hans Adoration of the Magi (c. 1470)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014