“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14–16, ESV)
Our passage this morning tells us just how simple is the way of salvation. Look and live! Believe and be saved! This is the gospel. God could have asked for much more from us; He surely could not have asked for less? What costs us nothing to receive, cost God His Son to offer. Surely, we must ask the question, why? Why would God go to such lengths to provide such an easy, such an undemanding way of salvation?
John could have answered this question a number of ways. He could have said, God did it this way because He knew there was absolutely nothing we could do to save ourselves. And, He would have been quite correct to have said this. Whitfield said it well, “Works? It would be easier to climb to the moon on a rope of sand than to climb up to heaven by our own good works!”
But that’s not the explanation John gives here. Notice how the “For” functions at the beginning of the famous 16th verse of John chapter 2. Why did God provide such a free and easy way of salvation as faith alone in Jesus Christ alone? He did it because He loved us — not because there was any goodness in us to attract his affection, but simply and only because of the overflowing goodness of His own kindly heart.
This is even more amazing when we consider the objects of God’s astounding affection. God loved the world! When John speaks of world he is not so much describing the bigness of the world, but rather its badness. The world in John’s writings denotes mankind adrift from God, mankind in the darkness, mankind under the power of the evil one. The world is a place where sin looks normal and righteousness looks weird, where men live for what feels good to their bodies and what looks good in their eyes, where they live for themselves and not for God (1John 2:15-17). Yet God loved the world despite all these things, and responded to our lostness by sending His Son — not to judge us, but to save us (John 3:17). Jesus is the only way God has provided for man to escape His judgment (v.18). What a cost God paid to save us from Himself!
The amazing nature of God’s love is seen even further, when we consider the way the world responded to God’s generous offer. Surely, you might think, the world would have gathered far and wide to witness the Savior’s birth. Apparently, it was not a secret (Matthew 2:1ff). The signs where all there, yet no one came. People were nonplussed . They always are in the face of Jesus. They wanted to pretend it was business as usual, that nothing special had just happened in Bethlehem.
None of this surprises John. He knows human nature too well. The reason for our reticence does not lie in the conditions of God's offer; no, the problem lies in the condition of our hearts. Quite simply, we prefer the darkness to the light. The darkness allows us to hide our true nature and our just deserts. The light, by contrast, shows us up for who and for what we really are. So, we would rather kill the light than come to it.
And yet, at great cost to Himself, God loves us still -- and with such a love that's its energy flows entirely from the goodness of God. It is a self-existent love that requires nothing outside of itself to keep itself in being. It doesn't need to be attracted by any goodness in the creature. Which is good news, because we have no goodness to present before it. No, just like with the being of God, God's love is its own cause. He loves because He loves, and once He loves, he will never stop loving. Electing love provides all that it needs to keep us safe forever.
Well did the hymn writer say:
1 Here is love, vast as the ocean,
loving kindness as the flood,
when the Prince of life, our ransom,
shed for us his precious blood.
Who his love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing his praise?
He can never be forgotten
throughout heaven's eternal days.
2 On the mount of crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide;
through the floodgates of God's mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
poured incessant from above,
and heaven's peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love