Lesson 6: God, the Lover

Tebow 3-16In John 3, Nicodemus, a teacher of Hebrew law, comes under cover of night to have a discussion with Jesus. He leaves baffled by Jesus’ words about being “born again,” failing to perceive the deep spiritual meaning. But that is not the end of the story. In 7:50-51, John pictures Jesus reminding his friends, who want to take Jesus out, that their law prohibits judging anyone without a complete and fair hearing. And then in 19:38, John reports that he accompanies Joseph of Arimathea for the burial, carrying 100 pounds of spices. He obviously wants us to hear Nicodemus eventually understands and follows Jesus, even though it means carrying a heavy burden.

Too often, being “born again” is presented as making a fast, on-the-spot ”decision for Christ.” John certainly opens up all sorts of other possibilities. Both this text and I Peter 1: 3-5, 23, the only other place where the expression “born again” appears in the Bible, certainly allude to baptism. By not specifically mentioning the sacrament, they leave open all sorts of other means of spiritual renewal. To insist on any “one and only” means of grace is to misread John.

However, John does something far more important in our chapter. He introduces love. John 3:16, often called “the little Gospel,” is the first time the evangelist uses the word “love.” He makes clear why the word love appears here when he explains that being “born again” is to become a lover, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (I John 4: 7, 8).”

We now know the Word that become human in Jesus is “love.” We are no longer pondering Greek philosophy but participating in a love story.

God so loves the World; not Israel, not his own people, not all people, but the entire cosmos. It is God’s desire to save all He has made. Indeed, God is obsessed with saving
His creation.

However, this is not a universalism. John immediately speaks of judgment. But, notice how he presents it. God does not judge us nor does Jesus. John will repeat this many times in his Gospel. Watch for it. No, we judge ourselves.

If we, in our self-destructive madness, chose to reject God’s love and remain in darkness, there does not seem to be anything God or any lover can do. God has no need to punish. Our own hate shall consume us. The darkness will eventually overwhelm us.

John makes clear that salvation and judgment happen, to some extent, right here and now. We are saved from our lack of peace and security, if we accept Jesus’ offer of God’s love that overcomes fear. We judge ourselves if we choose to remain in the despair of our violence, jealousy, defensiveness, hatred, deceit, and selfishness.

John does not negate what the other three gospels proclaim. He simply develops the implications of their Gospel.

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