God’s love is shocking.
John 3:16 opens with the earth-shattering phrase, “God so loved the world.”
To those of us who have grown up in the church and can recite this verse by rote memory, the concept may have lost a bit of its punch. In a sermon entitled “God’s Shocking Love,” Pastor Steven Cole helps us reconnect with the power of this passage.
Cole explains that for the original devout Jewish audience, these words turned everything the Jews knew on end. Of course God loved them. After all, they obeyed the Law, made sacrifices to atone for their sins, and were generally as good as good could get.
But God so loved the world??!!
A world that included sinful Jews, those who had slipped in upholding religious minutiae, those who had missed a Sabbath or couldn’t quite afford that sacrifice . . . well, maybe. They were still God’s chosen people, even if they were a bit backslidden.
But a world that included Gentiles?!
The Jews had spent generations being warned against intermingling with these dogs, failing to listen, and then bearing the punishment of their choices. And now God professed His love for the very people the Jews have been taught to shun?
Let’s not forget those who openly opposed Jesus, condemned Him, and even participated in His death. Surely the love of God doesn’t extend quite that far.
And what about us?
Let’s leave our Jewish brethren to scratch their heads for a moment and turn our focus a little closer to home.
Have you ever felt unlovable?
Surveyed the last few months of your life and seen only efforts culminating in repeated failures?
Lost your temper with your kids, or your neighbors, or your co-workers
. . . for the tenth time
. . . since lunch?
Spoken or acted in a way that hurt those for whom you care the most?
At our prickliest, when it seems nothing we do is right or good, when we’re sick to death of being our miserable selves . . .
Does God love us then?
Say it out loud with me if you have to.
God. loves. Me.
The truth is that the shocking, incomprehensible love of God has nothing to do with our goodness, and everything to do with who He is: God is love.
And therefore He loves us, even at our ugliest.
Like the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32), He sprints to greet us, grinning ear to ear, wrapping His arms around us without giving the slightest thought to the pig poop with which we’re covered, or our past insolence, or the way we’ve done all the bad things.
Devout Jew or Gentile dog, the mostly good, the mostly not good, His sweet mother, the soldier who drove the nails into His flesh . . . He simply loves us.
But the story doesn’t end there.
John 3:16 continues, “that He sent His only son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
God is love. God is also completely holy and utterly just.
Into that tension slithered our sin.
And in the instant of a single choice,
God’s plan for perfect fellowship with His children was broken.
To uphold His holiness and justice, and to uphold the dignity of human responsibility, God must judge all sin.*
Some of us, as discussed above, are acutely aware of our sin and its resulting judgement.
But what about those who, like the prodigal’s older brother, have done the good things? Perhaps we’ve been in the church, faithfully, for as long as we can remember.
Steered clear of “big” sins.
Maintained a respectful attitude toward God.
Get ready for some serious truth:
the older brother was a BIG OLE HYPOCRITE.
We may have done some of the good things, but no one has done all the good things.
Devout Jew or Gentile dog, the mostly good, the mostly not good, His sweet mother, the soldier who drove the nails into His flesh . . . we are all perishing.
But because of His great love, He sent His only Son, who is eternal God in sinless human flesh, to bear the death penalty we all deserve.*
In the face of our sin, His holy justice required separation.
His love moved Him to make a way back.
It’s up to us prodigals to acknowledge our sins and recognize the futility of our own efforts to mitigate their eternal consequences, choosing instead to believe in God and entrust our eternity to the finished work of the cross.
The Father’s love is calling us home.
How will you respond?
*Steven Cole, “Lesson 17: God’s Shocking Love,” www.bible.org.
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