Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
… so that everyone who believes in him may not perish …
The words that Jesus speaks to Nicodemus in today’s reading are so well known. For some they are familiar as the text of a short choral composition by John Stainer and set at the heart of his musical meditation on the events of Holy Week: The Crucifixion. For some, these words are an essential text which succinctly summarizes Christ’s earthly mission of love and service. For some, these are words of consolation and hope recited at the beginning of the funeral service. Whatever context you may give these words, and whether or not you remember that Jesus first spoke them to Nicodemus, they are a compact and powerful reminder of all that Jesus did for humanity.
Throughout scripture there is an ongoing theme of sacrifice. In earlier times there were many references to the sacrificing of animals. There is also talk of tithing, the sacrificial giving of one-tenth of our worldly wealth for the furtherance of God’s mission in this world. There are also accounts of those who have given all as acts of love and service to God. Early in scripture we read of the readiness of faithful Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, because it was commanded by God. Of course, we go on to read that Abraham’s unswerving faith was rewarded and that Isaac was spared. But … that is not the case in today’s famous reading from John’s gospel. Today we are reminded of the playing out of the sacrifice of God’s own Son … right to the bitter end.
Less than two weeks ago we shared in the desolation of Golgotha. We gathered at the foot of the cross and we wept as Jesus died the cruel sacrificial death of crucifixion. But … three days later our despair turned to indescribable joy. Yes, the human Jesus died, but the divine Jesus then conquered death in a way that had never been seen before, and will never be seen again. And, furthermore, that sacrificial death and the subsequent resurrection was not just a display of personal power, but a sacrificial gift for the whole of humanity, for ever.
The sacrifices we are called to make in our daily lives give rise to much anger and resentment but, in reality, they are inconsequential when measured against the level of sacrifice offered by Jesus, God’s own Son. He gave his life … for us. He overcame the power of death … for us. He took the sins of the world upon himself … for us. He offers, through his sacrifice, forgiveness to each and every one of us, that we may not perish.
Let us give thanks that God does, indeed, love this world so much.