I’m not sure when I was taught John 3:16, but it sure seems it was right about the same time me and a bunch of other kids my age learned that Jesus loves the little children. Red and yellow, black and white, Jesus loves the children of the world.
And He surely does. There’s nothing wrong with teaching children that Jesus loves all children.
Some time not long after learning “the Gospel in a nutshell” I was also taught to insert my name into that verse: “For God so loved Dan Jones, etc…”
And that’s not wrong either. God does love me so much that He sent His one and only Son to die for me.
But, as I got to thinking about John 3:16 and 17, something kinda hit me square between the eyes:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (ESV)
In the span of two sentences, there is one word that’s repeated four times: “World.”
Now, without diminishing my salvation or what Jesus did for me, what if the bigger picture here is that this verse is NOT actually and primarily about the personal salvation of Dan Jones, but is in fact about God’s bigger and greater and more glorious plan for the whole wide world?
And, when we actually look at these verses in context, we find that Jesus Himself said them in a secret dead-of-night meeting as He was explaining God’s whole grand plan to a big-shot Pharisee named Nicodemus. He was talking about being born all over again and fulfillment of prophecy and the work of the Holy Spirit and an absolute, radical overturning of the way Nicodemus and the religious leaders of the day understood salvation and God and their traditions and man’s very relationship with God Himself.
This was jaw-dropping, amazing, radical stuff.
So, while it’s not wrong to teach children that Jesus loves every one of them and died and rose again to save them, it’s also not right to let it rest at that. At some point, the child should be taught the appropriate response from each and every one of us who have been saved by the LORD Jesus –and it is not sitting back in our recliners eating junk food while watching TV after our once-a-week trip to church and being very, very happy that our ticket for heaven’s been punched. It is not that the rest of the world is doomed to hell because they’re a bunch of sinners who are beyond all hope but we who have been saved are all okay. No, the appropriate response is to go and tell the world the Good News like it is the most amazing, radical, earth-changing thing anyone has ever heard!
The New Testament very clearly describes what it was like to be a Christian, and it’s anything but lukewarm and cozy. Paul is very clear in 2 Corinthians 11 that his life has been no bed of roses. And, we know that all of the disciples faced incredible hardships and all of them died martyr’s deaths. (Except for John, who somehow survived being boiled in oil.)
The point is not that we are supposed to suffer and die horrible, remarkably painful deaths. No. The point is that this Jesus thing is much bigger than our personal salvation. All throughout the Bible, God’s concern is for humanity as a whole. That’s actually far more glorious and wonderful and grand than Jesus dying for my personal salvation because it means Jesus died for my participation in the grand, amazing plan to save the whole wide world.
I am not called to be a sideline Christian. I am not called to be a “regular” Christian. (Whatever that is.) I am called as a disciple to follow Him wherever He leads me and in the process see and participate in the wonders He has in store for all the people of the world. That is far more exciting and amazing than just saving me so I can sit around and binge-watch old westerns in comfort and peace.
“And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.” (NLT)