Posted by: 15shekels | August 10, 2009

The good news in 26 words

562002774_081d2146fd“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.” -John 3:16

Whatever your religious beliefs, you have probably heard or seen this Bible verse. It has a habit of finding its way onto bumper stickers, posters, T-shirts, and since Tim Tebow showed up, faces. In-n-Out burger prints “John 3:16” on the inside rim of its paper cups. The clothing company Forever 21 prints 3:16 on the bottom of its plastic bags. It is often called the most famous Bible verse. Call it cliche, but it’s beloved for a reason- I think it captures the core of Christianity as succinctly as possible. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly is packed into this little verse, here is a brief elaboration, as I see it:

1. “For God so loved the world”

God loves us. He loves us collectively and individually. God created the world, and God created us. He created us “in the image of God,” (Genesis 1:27), gave us sovereignty over his creation, and gave us the gift and responsibility of free will. He gave us these gifts out of love. Despite “the world’s” repeated and spiteful rejections of God, His love endures. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love.” Zephaniah 3:17 speaks of God’s sweet and personal love: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” The Bible compares God’s love to the strongest loving relationships we experience: the love of a father, the love of a husband, the love of a friend. God loves us, each of us, more than we can imagine. The Bible is a love story, first and foremost.

2. “So that whoever believes… shall not perish.”

This verse indicates that our fate before God intervened, the path we were on, was to perish. To perish is to die, to deteriorate, to spoil. Why would we perish? Well the Bible affirms our fears that deep down, there is something wrong with us. Our hearts are selfish and polluted. “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10); “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) God created us to worship and serve Him, and instead, every single one of us has chosen to worship and serve ourselves. We are in a state of rebellion against Him, in which we try to be our own Gods. You may be thinking, “Come on. Nobody is perfect- why can’t God accept us as we are and just ignore our sins?” Well, because God is not only perfectly loving, but He is also perfectly just. He00001f hates sin, and cannot just ignore it. Ignoring sin would not make it go away. It must be dealt with. And what is the punishment? Romans 6:23 delivers the bad news: “For the wages of sin is death.” Translation: The wages of our sin, the payment we deserve, is to perish. This means literal death. It also means spiritual death- separation from God forever. As I mentioned above, God loves us more than we can imagine. So this isn’t just bad news for us. It’s bad news for Him, too.

3. “… that he gave his one and only Son…”

We cannot deal with our own sin. Perhaps you have tried to stop hating people, or to be perfectly patient, or to stop judging others. Perhaps you have failed. For some reason we can’t seem to fix ourselves. Trying to clean ourselves of our sin is like using a muddy hand to wipe a muddy face. We need a clean towel, or clean water, or a clean hand. And we get one. Maybe you wish God could just ignore our sin and love us anyway. But He does us one better. He sends Jesus. He sends His beloved son down from paradise to walk on this broken and messy earth, fullness of God in human form wading through our pain and suffering. Jesus lives a perfect life, not to show us how – for that would be like a helicopter coming to save a drowning man and shouting down to him, “follow us! swim the 1000 miles back to shore. Look, it’s easy!” – but so that in his perfection, he can take on all of our sin, all of our imperfection. Instead of shouting down from the helicopter, Jesus actually lowers himself down on a line, pulls us out of the water, and then willingly stays in the water to die, because the line only holds one. This imperfect metaphor conveys only a fraction of the love and sacrifice that Jesus pours out on the cross. He takes “the sins of the world” (John 1:29) onto himself, and suffers the punishment for all of our sins- death, literally and spiritually. When Jesus is on the cross, God the Father turns his face away, because He cannot look upon sin. And that separation of Father and Son is a pain greater than any of us can understand. And it is undeserved. And both God the Father and Jesus endure it willingly. Out of love for us.

4. “shall have eternal life

The Bible is filled with imagery and promises of heaven. Before his death, Jesus tells his disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you…” (John 14:2) Revelation speaks of the New Jerusalem: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4) No more pain, no more suffering. The world restored to its intended form.

5. “that whoever believes in him”

Why do we need Jesus? Why isn’t it enough to be a good person to get to heaven? Because there are no good people. GodIMG_0197 has provided a rescue line through Jesus, even though none of us deserved it. We must take hold of the rescue line to be pulled to safety. Because the world could not save itself, Jesus entered into it to provide a way to safety, to show us the way home. And the way is through him: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6)

So in case you were wondering, that’s what your In-n-Out paper cup is really saying.

Who knew the greatest love story ever told could be told in one sentence?

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