“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16 NLT]. That’s probably the most famous verse in the Bible. It’s also one of the most important ones. Love is a word that’s possibly overused in our culture. We use it to describe how we feel about inanimate objects, situations, affiliations and other human beings. It often expresses emotions devoid of commitment. I can claim I love my car today and then sell or scrap it in a year. Sadly, we often see something similar in relationships when couples who once professed their love publicly become openly hostile to each other. Too often, we use the word love without considering the consequences of what it means to love another. Imagine if God used the word in the same careless manner we do what the implications would be for us.
Thankfully, God says what He means and means what He says. When He chose to love us, He understood the implications. The first use of the word love in Scripture is in Genesis 22. It’s the story of Abraham’s famous test where God instructions him to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering. (A burnt offering is slaughtered and then set on fire). God was testing Abraham’s allegiance in this story [Genesis 22:12, 16], but we also learnt what love means from God’s perspective. It’s going to cost the lover to love the beloved. You can only love if you’re ready to pay that price. That’s a daunting statement for me because, like most human beings, I recoil at the thought of making sacrifices that inconvenience me. Something else that occurred to me as I studied Genesis 22 is this: The calibre of a sacrifice is reflective of the worth of the relationship to the sacrificing party. Abraham passed the test because he was willing to give up what he valued most to please God. He was saying to God: “I love You this much”.
God didn’t let Abraham kill Isaac. Instead, He gave Abraham a substitute [Genesis 22:13]. Nevertheless, this story was a foretaste of Calvary where another Father sacrificed His Son on account of love. This time, no voice came to save the Son. That famous verse at the beginning of this blog succinctly captures why God gave up His one and only Son. If it’s true that the calibre of the sacrifice reflects the worth of a relationship to the party making the sacrifice, then God was saying to the world, you and me: “I love you this much”. What I find even more incredible is that God did this while we were His enemies [Romans 5:6-8]. The depth of His love for us is indescribable [2 Corinthians 9:15, Ephesians 3:14-19]. Elsewhere, Paul would say, if God didn’t withhold His Son for our salvation, what could He possibly not give us [Romans 8:31-32]?
Why does all this matter? Unfortunately, it’s easy to discount the implications of God’s love as our world lurches from one crisis to the next. Many of us face uncertain futures, while some are currently going through wretched seasons. It’s easy to despair when the walls are caving in, but that’s when we need to hold onto the truth and implications of John 3:16. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the fact that even God’s children may have to navigate harrowing experiences. Some of the maladies Paul lists in the same passage he eloquently describes the implications of God’s love make me shiver [Romans 8:35]. Many people are currently experiencing these things. For others, it’s a reality looming large. Yet, the truth of Scripture is that Calvary didn’t eliminate suffering, pain or death from our lives. Life can be a rough, wretched ride, but Calvary guarantees that there will be a happy ending. In fact, what lies ahead is so good that when we get there, we won’t even remember today’s pain and suffering [2 Corinthians 4:17-18].
My message this week is one of hope – a hope anchored on God’s love. Many people are dreading the coming weeks and months. If we believe the news, many will be facing unprecedented hardships. For some, there will be a miraculous deliverance or provision, but for others, it will be tough. Yet, even in those difficult moments, God is faithful and will give us the grace to endure. Therefore, it’s important to hold firm to the conviction that the troubles of this life are transient. A better story awaits. So, we don’t have to face life cowered and browbeaten by our circumstances because our God promises to lead us in a triumphant procession and use us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him even as we encounter difficult seasons [2 Corinthians 2:14].
Dire circumstances may challenge our convictions of God’s love and cause us to question His power and ability to keep His promises. Even John the Baptist doubted Jesus when the going got tough [Luke 7:19-20]. Nevertheless, the God of the Bible isn’t fretting about our future. He has it all under control. Furthermore, He’s on our side, and we can trust Him not to abandon us because of the price to ransom us in the first place [Romans 8:31]. So, whatever you’re dreading or going through, remember Calvary – that God is with you and for you, so it’s going to be ok. He has also promised that those who trust Him will not end up in shame and defeat [Romans 10:11]. Jesus did say we’d experience trials in this life [John 16:33]. But He also promised that a time is coming when we’ll wave goodbye to pain, anxiety, suffering, and death forever [Revelation 21:4-5]. His empty tomb makes these promises trustworthy.