“How much does Nana love you?”, Mel will ask our grandchildren. “I love you thiiiiis much!” she says , stretching her arms out as wide as she can. The words are a delight to hear, and the grandchildren soon learn that a Nana’s love seemingly knows no bounds.
This week, we began to look at John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in the Bible. And it starts off, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”
This verse is beloved of Christians the world over, for very good reason. It speaks to us of a love that also knows no bounds. And believers are the recipients of that love.
But what makes this love strange, difficult to comprehend, is that no one seems to deserve it. For the Bible tells us – and we all know from bitter personal experience – that we are far from lovely or lovable.
In fact, both the Bible and experience tells us that we are sinners who are unable to do good; unable to please God in anything we do.
Which makes God’s love even more strange, even more remarkable, even more… unexpected.
How quickly we withdraw our love from people who have hurt us, betrayed us, rejected us, even disappointed us. And how quickly we look for ways to get our revenge.
But God’s love is not like that. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that God’s love is not like our love. But I will anyway: God’s love is not like our love.
According to the Bible, God knows everything; past, present, and future. He knows everything we will do before it ever comes into our minds to do it; He knows it all, the good and the bad.
And His love was set on us before creation. That means that nothing that we have done or will do catches God by surprise, causing Him to say, Well, now that they have done that, I don’t think I can love them anymore.”
In fact, it is just the opposite. Because we are sinners, because we fail to measure up, because we are unable to do it in our own strength, He implemented a plan to do it on our behalf.
And that’s what John writes about in chapter 3 of his gospel. “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” [John 3:14-15].
This was God’s plan from before time; that Jesus Christ – His only Son – should be crucified on our behalf, to pay for the sins that we are unable to pay for ourselves. All that is required of us is that we look to the Son of Man lifted up on that brutal cross, and believe.
The motivation that caused Him to offer His Son as a sacrifice on our behalf, is that “… God so loved the world…”
Amazing! A love that chooses to love the unlovely. A love determined to extend grace and mercy to the very ones who have turned their backs on Him. And a love that does it in the full knowledge that we are by nature His enemies.
The lifting up of the Son of Man – the cross – is the demonstration of that love. As the apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” [Rom 5:8].
And John wrote, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:13], and “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us…” [1Jn 3:16].
Mel tells the grandkids how much she loves them, stretching her arms out wide. But God demonstrates His love for us by stretching His Son’s arms out wide.