Read John 3
The Confession of Faith for Cumberland Presbyterians notes in the very first part of the introduction that John 3:16 is the gospel in miniature. It is likely the most memorized verse among Christians.
It was not first proclaimed from a mountain top but in an evening conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was having a hard time getting his head around this whole born again concept. We shouldn’t be too critical looking back across the centuries to the other side of the cross.
It is that cross where we begin today. Jesus told Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be lifted up and gave him a comparison to something that he would have been familiar with. In the wilderness, God’s Chosen People had spoken against God and against Moses and God sent snakes.
They were not just cute garden snakes. These snakes were biting people and the people were dying. The people confessed their sins and asked Moses for relief. Moses petitioned God. God told him to make a snake and put it atop of a pole.
When the people who hand been bitten looked upon the snake on the top of the pole, they lived.
There is a circuitous rabbit trail to venture down some day about God telling Moses to make this rather odd image and use it for healing, but for now—at least for then—it was something that Nicodemus would be able to relate to, for he was surely experiencing some dissonance over this whole born again thing.
It’s important to understand that Jesus is making this connection with this point of the Son of Man being lifted up. We know that to be the crucifixion. Jesus proceeded to statements of increasing significance, each connected to a previous statement.
John uses the word for which in Greek is gar (γάρ). It is a conjunction as you might expect but it not only ties the current thought with one previous to it, but makes the full thought one of increasing succession.
So, let’s build upon this thought of the Son of Man being lifted up and expand that to how much God loves the world. He loved it enough to give his one and only Son that those who would believe in him would have eternal life.
That’s the verse that we all like and say Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, Amen, and Cool Beans.
But the succession of this greater thought continues. For—this is the word connected the two previous thoughts—For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.
The person who does not believe is already condemned. That person is dead already. Death is a pre-existing condition. Later on, Jesus would explain that when a person believed, he passed from death to life. We think of death as the end. Jesus explained it as a state of existence without God.
Now we come to the third for, which is omitted from the NIV. This third section is about evidence. When we studied James, I called this Forensic Christianity. There will be evidence of our faith.
For the one who has believed and received this gift of life, he will be compelled to live in the light. He does not desire to hide his deeds because they are evil, but to display them for they are good and bring glory to God.
So, this whole business about Jesus being lifted up is because of God’s love which we received instead of condemnation which gives us life through which we can finally bring glory to God.
So, we give a word of thanks to Nicodemus who didn’t pick up this whole born again thing right away and led to a glimpse of what was to come.
Jesus would go to the cross and be lifted up so that we might be healed from sin and saved from death, even though we deserved condemnation.
When all that is said and done, we can live in the light and do the good works that God planned for us from the beginning.