John 3:16,17 is well up there in the most quoted lists. 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
I sometimes like to put my name in these verses to personalise it: For God so loved Alan that he gave his one and only Son, that believing in him he would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world [including Alan] through him.
“Actions,” they say, “speak louder than words.” And God has taken decisively loud action to declare how much he loves us. He has gone to extraordinary lengths in order to take our sin out of the equation, put us back on track and restore our relationship. It’s all to do with Jesus, God’s Son. The apostle Paul wrote this: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
At Christmas Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus in a small village called Bethlehem. But this was no ordinary baby. Jesus was God in human flesh (‘God incarnate’ is the more technical way of expressing this). He was deliberately given the name Jesus because of what it means – ‘God saves’. (See Matthew 1:21). He went on to live the perfect human life (which means that he was not guilty of any sin) in obedience to God his Father.
At Easter Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many of the things that Jesus said and did got him into trouble with the authorities of his day (both religious and secular). He was found guilty of blasphemy and was accused of being a threat to Caesar. Pilate, the Roman Governor therefore reluctantly gave the order that he should be flogged and executed by crucifixion. And so Jesus died and no doubt would have passed into historical oblivion were it not for the remarkable events that soon followed. Having been securely buried in a guarded tomb, the tomb was nonetheless found to be empty on the following Sunday morning. Reports began to circulate that he had been seen alive. Jesus had conquered death and the grave!
But what does all this mean for you and me? It is one thing to say that Jesus died and rose again. It is another thing to say that Jesus died and rose again for you and me. The first is a statement of impersonal historical fact (‘Jesus died and rose’); the other is a statement of personal significance (‘for me’). The bottom line is that through his death and resurrection, Jesus secured the forgiveness of our sins, thus paving the way for the eventual restoration of the full glory of our humanity. The New Testament uses a number of distinct but interrelated words to help us grasp what all this means.
The New Testament contains
the language of friendship: RECONCILIATION
the language of wholeness: SALVATION
the language of family: ADOPTION
the language of the law court: JUSTIFICATION
the language of the slave market: REDEMPTION
the language of the temple altar: PROPITIATION
the language of rescue: DELIVERANCE
Put all these words together and we are left with a breath-taking insight into how far God was prepared to go - and all because he loves us.
At Pentecost (also known as Whitsun), Christians celebrate the gift of God’s Spirit to his people. (The story of what happed can be found in Acts 2). According to Peter, repentance and personal faith in Jesus results in two great things: One, our sins are forgiven by God; Two, all who believe receive the wonderful gift of God’s Spirit (Acts 2:38).
According to Paul, one of the vital aspects of the Spirit’s ‘job description’ is to open our eyes to how much we are loved. In his letter to Christians living in Rome, he says that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5) In fact, according to Jesus, the Holy Spirit also brings home to us how guilty of sin we are as well (John 15:8). But the two are related. Once we begin to realise how guilty we are before a holy God, only then can we truly appreciate the enormity of our forgiveness and therefore how much God must love us.
Much, much more could be said about the Holy Spirit, but that will have to do for now!