ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- The promise.
John 3:16 must be one of the most familiar and widely quoted of all Bible verses. It sums up the content of the Christian gospel (= good news) in such a way that anyone can see what God is promising to humankind and what God is telling us about Himself and what God is telling us about His Son Jesus Christ.
If this verse is not one that you know by heart why not learn it now and treasure it :- “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.”
However, like any summary, this verse contains hidden depths and it is those which we shall attempt to begin to explore.
This great promise assures us that God wants the very best for us.
The climax of the verse is the gift of eternal life. What is life? We can easily distinguish between, say, a living dog and a non-living lump of rock. The dog moves of its own accord whereas the rock will only move if someone or something else makes it do so. The dog needs food, water and air to stay alive, the rock needs nothing because it is not alive. The dog can communicate through barking, etc, but the rock has no way of doing so. You will be able to think of other obvious differences. The highest form of life that we meet in our day to day existence is human life in all its variety and surely the least which is promised in this verse is that life will continue. We shall continue to be “alive” even after the life which we now enjoy on earth is over.
This great promise is of life that continues.
- Eternal Life.
However it is not just life that is promised but “eternal life.” Sometimes this is translated as “everlasting life” which gives the impression of life going on day after day for ever. This is a misleading idea. Eternal is to be understood in the sense of timelessness, eternal life is life where time is not the controlling factor – something which we time-bound mortals find very hard to imagine. It is, perhaps, glimpsed when we become so absorbed in something that we are amazed when we look at the clock to find just how much “time” has passed.
However eternal goes deeper than that. Eternal is a word that is correctly used of God (Genesis 21:33; Isaiah 26:4; Jeremiah 10:10). So eternal life is truly God’s type of life. This is a more complete, more perfect, more wonderful life than we have ever known. This verse tells us that God is willing to share it with us. Moreover He is willing to share eternal life with us now. We can start to enjoy it now and go on enjoying it in a still deeper way when this present life is over. This is why the bread and wine of Holy Communion are often presented with the words, “The body/blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.”
This great promise means that we really can share in the life of God.
- Why should God share?
Simply because God loves. He made this mighty universe and on this little planet orbiting a fairly insignificant star, He allowed life to develop. The final form of that life is human life. His plan was that human beings should freely respond to Him in love and adoration, but for this to be truly genuine and free, He had to allow His creation to choose. As we all know we have chosen to rebel rather than respond in love. Yet God has not given up on human beings. He planned a second way that would enable the fellowship He so desired to be restored. This fellowship, He knew, would be the best possible thing for human beings. So, as love means wanting the best for the one loved, the whole reason for God’s action is that He loves you and me.
This great promise reveals that the Almighty God is a God who loves us.
- God gives.
Most of the things that we count important in life have to be worked for: the qualification that is gained after years of study and experience; the house that becomes ours after many years of paying off the mortgage; even the holiday that is saved up for over the preceding months. In contrast eternal life is a gift of God. We do not have to pass an exam in theology in order to receive it; we do not have to pay a large amount of money to the Church in return for it. No, it is a free gift, but, as with any gift we have to hold out our hands and receive it.
God, as it were, stands in the street and holds out His gift, asking those who pass by, “Would you like this wonderful present?” Many ignore Him, perhaps suspicious of something they haven’t worked for, or thinking that it is some kind of hoax. Yet, in truth, it is a genuine free offer open to all, just waiting to be accepted by human beings.
This great promise reveals that the Almighty God is a God who gives.
- His one and only Son.
From early years Jesus was aware that He was the Son of God (Luke 2:49) and that He had come to do His Father’s will. Jesus was truly unique, the only one who has been both God and man
Jesus came into this world in the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out the Father’s plan of redemption. Never think that Jesus was reluctant to carry out what had been planned in the “discussions” of the Trinity. Even when the enormity of what He was to suffer loomed so large in His mind that He sweated blood (Luke 22:44), He resolutely pressed on with His task, “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). Jesus knew He had come to die, even if the disciples found it almost impossible to understand His teaching (Matthew 16:21,22; John 20:9). On the cross, when He knew His death was near He gave a great shout of triumph – “It is finished” (John 19:30). He had accomplished what He came to do.
This great promise reveals Jesus as the Son who came to this earth to be the Saviour of humankind.
- The believer.
Two criminals, probably both thieves and murderers, were crucified at the same time as Jesus (Mark 15:27). Initially they both joined in the mockery with which the passers-by and the authorities taunted Jesus (Mark 15:32). Later, however, one of these two men had a change of heart. First he rebuked the other and then he turned to Jesus and asked for forgiveness so that he could enter Jesus’ kingdom (Luke 23:40 – 42). Jesus gave this repentant thief words of the greatest comfort, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Where did this man’s faith come from? We are not told and so we can only assume that what he saw of the way Jesus behaved in His suffering and the promptings of the Holy Spirit working in the man’s mind, made him turn from antagonism to faith. However, sadly, the other criminal did not respond, so underlining the need for a man (or woman) to choose to believe.
This great promise emphasises the need for human beings to respond to God, to accept His gift of salvation and to have faith in Him.
- The alternative.
Even though this is a very positive verse with its promise of eternal life for those who believe, it contains a warning of what will happen if the gift of eternal life is rejected. Those who choose not to believe in Jesus will “perish”. While it is tempting to gloss over this very negative thought it would be wrong to do so. God and sin just do not mix in any way whatsoever. As John said, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
God has done all He can, He has not abandoned sinners. He has provided a way back to heaven through the work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross and has underlined this through the Resurrection. There are no other ways to God. But God does not force Himself on anyone. He offers the gift of life, if it is refused then there is no life, but only eternal death.
This great promise is also the greatest challenge to humankind – accept and live, reject and die. The choice is ours!
- A majestic verse.
Perhaps we have read or heard this verse too often for its true majesty to be noted. Here is the love of God, the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, in action. Here is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, prepared to go to the cross in order to save humankind. Here is the warning that there is a choice to be made by every single man, woman and child on this planet. Here is the gift of God, eternal life, wonderful, wonderful life with Him, on offer now to all who choose to receive it.
This great promise is truly a majestic word of God.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.