Love is a wonderful thing. It is something that we eagerly desire. We want to be loved by our parents, our spouse, our children, our coworkers; in short, we want to be loved by everyone. Love is probably the one thing that we most desire above all things. Not only do we desire to receive it, we desire to give it in return. Regardless of the love that we give or receive, it fails to compare to the love that God the Father has shown to us.
If you have never heard anything from the Bible or are Bible illiterate and know nothing about the Bible, there are a few things that everyone has heard and probably even know. They are Psalm 23 and John 3:16. Psalm 23 is that great well-known passage often read at funerals. John 3:16 is that verse that we all have heard and know: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” These are more than just words that you have heard before. This is truly the Gospel in a nutshell. God loved the world He had created, even though the crown of that creation had gone bad and ruined it all. Our sins did not stop God from loving us. The sins of Adam and Eve, the sins of David and Judas, even the sins of you, God knew them all. What is more incredible is that even knowing our sins, God did not withhold His love. He loved the world and excluded no one.
Love like this is difficult for us to understand, even impossible to understand. Even if we are not capable of understanding it, we need to know about it. This is not love that we have for one another. While we have a single word for “love,” there are three different words for “love” in Greek. This love that is described by John is a special kind of love; it is that “agape” love. It is more than a feeling, it is a resolve. This is not the love shown by man, but the love that is shown by God. It is love in its truest and intimate sense, the love that only comes from God the Father to His children.
God’s love brought results. He offered the ultimate sacrifice for the world that He had created and for the world that He loved. He gave His one and only Son. God gave Jesus Christ as the necessary sacrifice for the world’s sins, for your sins.
Jesus repeats what God’s gift truly meant: “…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Faith saves, but not just any faith or faith in anything; it is faith in the Son of God, who was given as our sacrifice that saves.
Those who believe in Jesus Christ shall not perish. Yes, they will die a physical death, but they live eternally with Christ. What comfort that is in knowing that because of Christ, on account of what Christ has done for you, you shall receive everlasting life. The best part of all this: you didn’t do anything! You didn’t have to work for it, you didn’t have to earn it; you simply received it.
But here is how that happened. It had to happen at the expense of Jesus. That is what Jesus said: “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.” Salvation lies only in Jesus Christ and in no one or nothing else. The snake was lifted up on a pole; Jesus was to be lifted up on a cross. Everyone who looked in faith at the snake was healed from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who would look in faith at Jesus would be saved from the bite of eternal death and have eternal life. This is the life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit. This is the life that comes only through Jesus Christ for your sins.
Here was God, revealed in His triune majesty. God the Father loved the undeserving world so much that He sent His Son to save it. God the Son, present here in the person of Jesus, came to fulfill the Father’s will and win eternal life for all people. Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t meant for a select few. It wasn’t meant for a maximum number of people. His death on the cross was meant for everyone, hence His word, “whoever.” Everyone may receive this wonderful gift of everlasting life in Jesus Christ, for Christ came to die for the sins of the entire world. Christ came to die for your sins.
God’s love lifted His Son on the cross, and by His love, He lifts us from death to life. To lift us up, God lifted up His Son. Lifted up on the cross, the Father gave his Son as the greatest act of love for His creation. Here was a creation, made in the image of God: perfect, holy, and without sin. Creation did not retain that image for long and God was not content watching His creation suffer the effects of sin: death and eternal separation from Him. To restore creation, the Second Person of the Trinity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, took on human flesh in order to do what we could not: live a sinless life in our place.
There is good reason that all of this was done and Jesus Himself says why: “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.” It was done in order to save it; it was done for you. Whoever believes in the Son of God is not condemned. Sin loses all power to damn us. Sin loses all power to damn you because Christ has died for you. But not only has He died for you, He also rose again for you. Again, the reason that all of this was done is because of the agape love that God has for His creation.
This great agape love that God has is echoed in St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians in our Epistle. He writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….”
“God so loved the world,” says Jesus. He doesn’t love the world because we are somehow loveable. That would be bad news for you, because His love for you would change depending on how loveable you were that day. No, God loves the world because of who He is: He is by nature loving. His is not a cheap, emotional feeling that comes and goes; no, this love of God is a desire to serve, and to serve no matter what the cost. Remember, born in sin, the only option and outcome for us was death; so the Lord in His love launched His plan to give us life.
Give is exactly what God did. He didn’t leverage His Son or offer Him as part of a deal. He gave His Son as a free gift, no strings attached; this is how great God’s love is, that He would save sinners at no cost to them. When He gave His Son, He gave Him up to death on the cross. This is the world’s salvation. As we have said: Because of our sin, the only option for us was death. So God, in His love, gave His only-begotten Son to die our death for us. Sinners sin, so Christ died. That’s how much God loves the world: He’s freely given His Son to die for the sins of the world. Once again, this shows how great the Father’s love for sinners is.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” He has done this for you, out of the great agape love that He has for His creation. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.