Anyone and Everyone
Nicodemus said, ‘How are these things possible?’ Jesus answered, ‘You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? … God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.' (John 3:9-10,16-17 CEB)
John 3:16 is perhaps the most famous and beloved Bible verse in the world. Martin Luther, who launched the Protestant reformation, called this “the gospel in miniature.” And indeed it is good news – the best of news! God loves us and wants to save us, and that’s why Jesus came. If we believe in Jesus, we’ll have eternal life.
Sanctuary window at Forest Junction: Zion UMC. Photo: M. Park Hunter
Eugene Peterson’s paraphase, The Message, drives the point home like a rock star’s mic drop: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave us his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” Boom. This is the way.
We are now in the season of Lent, the 40 days of reflection and repentance leading to Holy Week and Easter. We began this season with snow and ashes and long dark nights. Reflecting on how we’ve fallen short and failed our Lord is an important and humbling part of our journey to the cross.
But lest we be tempted to judge ourselves – or others! – too harshly, it is good to read on. The very next verse, John 3:17, furthers clarifies Jesus’ mission: he did not come to judge or to condemn, but to offer salvation. Jesus holds his open hand out to the world, inviting us, beckoning us, offering us a precious gift freely given.
It’s the height of human pride to think that we are too sinful for Jesus to save us. It is the height of human hypocrisy to judge that others are outside the reach of God’s grace. Jesus might well look at us with the same astonished expression he showed Nicodemus: “How is it you claim to follow me and don’t know these things?!”
Because that’s the gospel in a nutshell. Jesus doesn’t lead with judgment, but with grace. Jesus doesn’t hoard the golden tickets, but lavishes the world with love. We can’t put a box around his generous offer. God sent Jesus so that anyone, everyone – you, me, those folks across the aisle, the people down the street, the guy on TV, the person you hate most – everyone and anyone can have eternal life through him.
Odds are, when we get to heaven, we’re going to be surprised by all the folks we meet. (Some of them might be surprised to see us, too!) But what a day of rejoicing that will be!
Prayer: Lord, as we journey through Lent, recall to our hearts and minds our sins, so that we might repent. But also remind us of your love, so high and deep and wide that no obstacle can block it. May we live brighter, holier lives that dispel the gloom of this world, that other might know love and hope. And may we move together through darkness toward the glory of the resurrection. Amen.