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Stars 71


Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

What a great song. You have probably sung this song all of your life. Your affection for Jesus Loves Me, may have started as early as infancy when your mother rocked you to sleep. For many, the melody and the words are familiar, but the deep truths of the song have alluded them.

Before reading on, stop and let this phrase flood your soul: Jesus loves me, and Jesus loves you. He loves you with all of your struggles, and issues. He has loved you through the issues and trials, the failures, and the grief. He waits patiently for you to come to him, because He truly loves you.

John 3:16 is the best known verse in the world and like the song, familiarity with the words often mean that its truth can be overlooked:

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

Read it again: “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.” God loves you enough to give his Son for you.

What would it mean for you if you believed this enough to live like someone who is loved by God? And what would living like you are loved look like? How would this reality affect the way you pray?

Study material on John 3:16 excerpted with permission from the NIV Mom’s Devotional Bible (Zondervan, 2013).

* * *

Let’s look at the context of John 3:16

Jesus’s conversation with the pharisee Nicodemus – the most famous conversation in the Bible.

John has more to say to us here than to describe God’s love and the matter of our conversion [in John 3:1-21]. The conversation with Nicodemus is a model conversation, a paradigm if you will, of Jesus bringing the light of God to one who is captive in darkness.

John has an interest in how Christ’s work extends to those in darkness even though he is “the light.” He speaks to Nicodemus at night. That is, Jesus must step into darkness itself in order to redeem those captive to it. This notion reminds me of Jesus’ saying in Mark 2:17: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.”

God is not demanding some moral or religious preparation from us that makes us interesting and acceptable to him. On the contrary, his mission is to enter the darkness and find us…

Of course when Jesus challenges Nicodemus that he must be “born again/from above” [3:3], he is making a fundamental statement about theological anthropology. That is, humanity is broken beyond all repair. God’s work in the world is not a question of fixing the part, but rebuilding the whole. It is described comprehensively as nothing short of another birth… As Augustine once taught, the problem with humanity is not that we sin, but that we are in a state of sin that needs a comprehensive solution. Nicodemus, then, and everyone in Jerusalem (2:23)—as well as everyone in the world (2:25)—lives with this infirmity…

The transformation offered to Nicodemus also opens the question of the nature of true religion. That is, religion is not necessarily a matter of personal knowledge or ethical behavior. Nor is it fidelity to religious traditions, no matter how virtuously they evoke higher ethical, religious behavior among us. Jesus is claiming that true spirituality is not discovering some latent capacity within the human soul and fanning it to flame. It is not uncovering a moral consciousness that is hidden by sedimentary layers of civilization’s corruptions. Nor is it inspiring aesthetic qualities that promote society in its finest form. It is not a “horizontal” experience that takes up the materials available around us in the world.

Rather, Jesus claims, true religion is “vertical.” It has to do not with the human spirit, but with God’s Spirit. It is a foreign invasion, sabotage of the first order. True religion unites humanity with God’s powerful Spirit, who overwhelms, transforms, and converts (in the full meaning of the word) its subject. Our role in this transformation is belief (3:16, 18), and yet it is a belief that is aided by God’s work within us since we live in the darkness and have our spiritual capacities handicapped by sin…

Will we step out of the darkness, out of the world, out of death, and place our [trust] on the truth of what Jesus says and who he is?

Study material on John 3:16 excerpted with permission from the NIV Application Commentary: John by Gary Burge (Zondervan, 2009)
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